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Jaguars Defense Needs to Establish Its Trench

miller-article1I have heard for years how football games are won in the trenches. I did not believe it until last year. And all summer I have pondered over how one could be so blind to common sense.

Watching the Jacksonville Jaguars every Sunday in 2008, it was not hard to realize that the Jaguars’ trench warfare was less than stellar.

The success the Jaguars had in the trenches, consisting of offensive and defensive lines, was hampered by injuries and poor play.

Win the line of scrimmage, and a football team gives itself a much better chance at a win. Lose that line, and a team is fortunate to end the season 5-11.

To obtain the “expert” predictions of a regular season record at either 7-9, 8-8 or 9-7, Jacksonville needs to control the line of scrimmage.
On the offensive side of the ball, I’m not concerned with the line play. Instead, my attention is on the defensive line.

Blame has been tossed in just about every direction for the defense’s struggles the last two seasons.

Last year’s defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who currently holds the same assignment with the New Orleans Saints, received a good portion of that blame. His play-calling was too risky and was meant for players he didn’t have.

As well, the loss of defensive tackle Marcus Stroud to the Buffalo Bills after the 2007 season has been tossed into the mix. Since Stroud’s departure, two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle (DT) John Henderson hasn’t had a somewhat-comparable partner in the trench. Nobody has complemented Henderson as well as Stroud did.

Henderson doesn’t have a dance partner for game days.

Surprisingly, head coach Jack Del Rio has struggled with his defensive roots. However, it is not that shocking when you look at the numbers.

After Del Rio’s first season as head coach in 2003, the Jaguars ranked sixth in the league in defense with 291.1 yards allowed per game.
The following year, the team dropped to eleventh with 320.9 yards. In 2005, the Jaguars jumped back to sixth with 290.9.

Once the 2006 season concluded, Jacksonville was second in the league, only behind the Baltimore Ravens, with 283.6 yards allowed per game.

The next two seasons, the Jaguars defense struggled mightily. Finishing 12th and 17th in 2007 and 2008, the team lost value in its emphasis as a defensive-minded team. In fact, the 2008 defense was the worst Jaguars defense since Tom Coughlin’s final year in 2002, which was ranked 20th with 333.4 yards.

A near-perfect combination of age, experience and talent played an enormous role in the accomplishments of the 2006 defense. Most notably, the interior line play of Henderson and Stroud caught most of the attention. They were hailed as one of the most formidable DT duos.

Plus, in 2006, then Jaguars Paul Spicer (31), Tony McDaniel (21) and Bobby McCray (24) with current Jaguar Rob Meier (29) were much younger. Henderson and Stroud were 27 and 28, respectively.

Also, luck can sometimes complete that special blend. Spicer, who signed with the Saints in the offseason, stepped up after Reggie Hayward went down in Game 1 with a torn Achilles’ tendon. Play like that from Spicer is expected, but not always guaranteed.

So, unless Del Rio and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker work some magic into the dough, the Jaguars defense is in store for a continued downward spiral.

Only three current Jaguars defensive linemen have more than five years in the NFL. They are Hayward, Henderson and Meier. The trench needs more experience than 24 seasons among those three veterans.

When you look at age and talent, the defensive ends are too young for Pro Bowl accolades. Second-year players Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey along with former Florida Gator Jeremy Mincey have a combined nine starts (all from Harvey).

At defensive tackle, depending on how often the Jaguars play a 4-3 scheme (four men on the line with three linebackers), Henderson needs a dance partner. Temple rookie Terrance Knighton won’t be able to doe-see-doe just yet.

And, as we saw last season, Meier cannot be the Stroud-replacement that the Jag Nation so desperately desired.

Third-year DTs Atiyyah Ellison, Derek Landri and Jonathan Lewis will be given opportunities to strut their stuff. I’m positive they would love to be compared to Stroud one day.

There are a little more than five weeks until opening day against the Indianapolis Colts. Including training camp and preseason games, that’s plenty of time for a defensive lineman to make his mark.

Now is the time when star athletes distance themselves from the rest of the pack. Jacksonville needs a beast of a defensive lineman. He has to be one who can dominate the trench, bury the quarterback and complement Henderson.

If a Jaguar shines while possessing those qualities, it might be enough to get Henderson dancing excitedly again when he hears, “Let’s go!” over the loud speakers in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

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Richard Miller is currently attending Jaguars training camp and can be heard on the Jacksonville Observer Radio show every Wednesday at 5pm on ABC 1320 WBOB.

10 Responses »

  1. I heard you on the radio last night. Good job !

  2. Very interesting analysis. I think you are absolutely correct in that the defense needs some real focus and work. Dig the trench and "let's go" Jaguars!!

  3. I just want the Jaguars to fill the stadium so those HOT summer days I can stay in the comfort of my home and watch the BIG SCREEN. Go Jaguars !

  4. Heard you on the radio yesterday. Hope to hear more about the Jaguars. Since you are at the training camp, I feel that you can give us a real inside take on what to expect in the upcoming football season for the Jags. Unfortunately, I am stuck inside a concrete building downtown so I can't join you. Keep us posted on the defense and whether the Jags are going to be able to pull it together. I'm a loyal fan, but I need to see some real improvement before I am able to make the decision to buy my family some tickets. How about talk the Jags into a family day with some special prices!!!

  5. Hope you will be covering the Jags all season. That's what Jacksonville wants to hear. Also, heard you on the radio yesterday. It's cool to hear you take such a solid stand. Hey, you were right about Tiger Woods being the very best! I guess he experienced a very minor slump in his game and it didn't last long at all. I sure hope you are right about the black outs. We, as fans, very desperately want to watch the games. Sadly, not all of us have enough "big bucks" to attend. So, come on, somebody buy some tickets so us poor folks can watch too!!!

  6. I was at the training camp yesterday. You were right, it was a hot one. I cannot believe that they don't have misting machines on the field for the players, let alone the fans. They have had problems in the past with heat related injuries so I think they would learn. The heat emanating from the artificial turf is unbearable. Get the poor guys a Cool Zone misting machine before you have a problem.

  7. Finally, my favorite time of the year is here!!! It's fantastic to hear the talk, yes, the football talk. My wife says that's all I think about. Yeh, man. What's wrong with that? Hope to hear you on the radio each Wednesday with your "take." Makes the ride home on JTB tolerable.

  8. I will be keeping tabs on the trench. But, let's keep our eye on the offense too. It's a balancing act. The radio show with Tom Patton and you was great.

  9. Congratulations on a great article. Keep up the good work. I will listen on Wednesday to your radio update.

  10. Another good article by one of my favorite columnists. Thanks for keeping me up-to-date on the Jaguars, Richard!