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For the Jaguars, a Shut-Down Cornerback is an Absolute Must

miller-article1In the NFL this past season, all the rage has been about finding a shut-down caliber cornerback. With professional football, there is a new fad just about every year. Recently, it has been a premier pass-rusher – after the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLII over the New England Patriots – and a two-headed rushing attack. Who knows what it will be next season? It might be a head coach with a gelled do or a wide receiver that can only run slant patterns.

The talk of shut-down cornerbacks really became prevalent with the emergence of Champ Bailey, a 1999 first-round draft pick out of the University of Georgia. In his 11 NFL seasons, the 31-year-old Bailey, who has spent the last six with the Denver Broncos, has possessed the key component to qualify as a shut-down corner. While he is defending, opposing wide receivers do not catch balls because he is stuck to them like glue. And, if Bailey allows the wide receiver he is defending to catch a pass, the receiver gets nowhere after the reception. That’s a big “if” considering that Bailey, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, has 46 interceptions in those 11 years. Head coaches, offensive coordinators and quarterbacks fear throwing in Bailey’s general vicinity, which becomes the ultimate compliment for any cornerback.

With the Jacksonville Jaguars’ hoping to improve upon last season’s 7-9 record, the organization needs a cornerback to blossom into a secondary, shut-down machine. Most likely, at this point, it will be second-year man Derek Cox. In 16 starts last season, playing across from seven-year veteran Rashean Mathis, the 23-year-old Cox recorded four interceptions and 58 total tackles. In Cox’s first season, he also notched 11 pass deflections, tying Mathis’ third-highest yearly total.

If the Jaguars have a shut-down corner, the defense can focus more on linebacker and defensive line play. With five cornerbacks on Jacksonville’s roster, only Cox and Mathis, a Jacksonville native, are above-average defenders. Before all the injuries, Mathis could have been categorized as shut-down. But, having missed 12 games in the last three regular seasons, Mathis’ numbers have dropped drastically – especially taking into account that Mathis started all 64 games in his first four years. In each of the past three seasons, Mathis has not reached his production total from his 2006 Pro Bowl and All-Pro year, which included 56 tackles, 12 deflected passes and eight interceptions. For Mathis, he is not what he once was. At 29, in my opinion, Mathis has already reached the apex of his career.

Across from Mathis, Cox has the potential and talent to emerge as a shut-down cornerback. As a 2009 second-round pick out of William & Mary, Cox has proven the doubters wrong about how the Jaguars should not have traded up to acquire him. He has the ability to one day be grouped with the top-tier, shut-down men – Oakland Raider Nnamdi Asomugha, New York Jet Darrelle Revis and Bailey among others.

However, it would not hurt if the Jaguars focused their efforts on selecting another cornerback in this year’s NFL Draft. Depth has been proven to carry teams far into the playoffs and even aid in bringing home the Lombardi Trophy. Highly-coveted cornerbacks in this draft are Florida’s Joe Haden, Boise State Bronco Kyle Wilson and Rutgers’ Devin McCourty – all being predicted as first- or high second-rounders. Other talented corners that Jacksonville could pursue are Florida State’s Patrick Robinson, South Florida’s Jerome Murphy and Alabama’s Kareem Jackson.

Jacksonville has numerous needs to improve upon its young squad. Defensive end, linebacker and center are just a few that come to mind. One of the Jaguars’ six draft picks should be used to obtain a cornerback with a promising future. Not to say that Cox cannot be a shut-down cornerback, but his position has become one of the NFL’s premier with the continued growth of the passing game.

An All-Pro level corner would improve Jacksonville’s measly defense from last year. It ranked as the ninth-highest in points allowed, tied for sixth-worst in yards allowed per play and the 10th defense in terms of yards allowed per game. Whether or not Cox can become that shut-down corner of the future, Jacksonville should draft one to play beside him in the seasons to come.

Richard Miller is a national broadcaster for Jacksonville Jaguars’ home games on Sporting News Radio.

Additionally, he can be heard on ABC 1320 WBOB in Jacksonville at 5:45 p.m. on Wednesdays with The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show. Richard also contributes to Inside the Game every Saturday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on WBOB.

Currently, Richard is writing David Lamm’s biography entitled Lamm at Large: The David Lamm Story, which will be available in 2010.

Follow Richard’s daily blog on The Jacksonville Observer.

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