Playing the Role of Dave Caldwell: Tuning the Jags Defense.

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(Image from Jacksonville.com)
(Image from Jacksonville.com)

By: James Johnson

Alright so you guys seen part 1 of this series so there isn’t much to explain. As promised, here is a follow up of my last article as we now will look at the defensive side of the ball. That said, lets simply hop into it by starting with those on the Jags defensive roster who will be free agents.

Jaguars defensive free agents.

Name Position Age Type of FA
 
Brandon Deaderick DT 26 UFA
Kyle Love DT 27 UFA
Will Blackmon CB 29 UFA

As I did before, I’ll start with the teams’ free agents on this side of the ball. Fortunately for the Jags they don’t have many free agents on this side of the ball and none of them are true starters, though Blackmon started in the place of Dwayne Gratz when he was lost to injury. In his time as a starter Blackmon played very well, and, of the 3 defensive free agents above, he is the one the Jags really need to retain. All signs point to that happening on a 1 year deal according to insiders such as Ryan O’Holloran and John Oehser. Blackmon recently appeared on an episode of Jaguars live which to me points to him signing with the team. His return would be one well worth it as Byron Maxwell of the Seattle Seahawks proved that it’s good to have another starting caliber corner on the roster just in case you lose one late in the season.

Areas of need on defense heading into the offseason: DE (LEO), Depth the DT  Positions,  LB’s, S.  Alright so just as the Jags need starters all over their offense, they need some all over their defense. That said, the biggest and most important is the need for a pass-rusher as the team has finished last in sacks the past two seasons. On top of that, reports have been surfacing that they will likely release veteran DE Jason Babin soon (Update: Babin opted out of his contract ), making the need for a pass-rusher even more pressing. Originally, I thought it was a position that Dave Caldwell would address early in the draft (rather that was in round 1,2, or 3), but there have been a lot of reports surfacing that the Jags could very well look to address the DE position in free agency with a top-tier guy due to their abundance of cap space. Two of the names that have surfaced as top dogs at this position are Seahawks DE Micheal Bennett and Bengals DE Micheal Johnson. Bennett of course is a fit seeing as he played for the Seahawks, however, he came to Seattle after Gus Bradley left to become the Jaguars head coach. Another key factor to remember about him is that he isn’t exactly what you would sum up as a natural LEO pass rusher since Seattle lined him up all over the field as a pass-rusher, not just at the glorified position of Bradley’s defense.

(Update: Bennett resigned a 4-year deal with Seattle)

 

Johnson, on the other hand, appears to be a pure LEO and is also a year younger at 27 years old. For those reasons I feel Johnson maybe the better fit of the two. With the amount of money Bennett and Johnson will ask for, I personally feel you should aim for the younger of the two. That way you get more years of the player in his prime for the huge amount of money they’ll likely command. The issue with Johnson is he’s already proven to be a commodity as the Vikings and Bucs appear to be hot on his trail for his services once Tuesday hits. The Jags will have plenty of competition if they are to acquire him. That said, the cap space is certainly there to outbid the two.

Just as the Jags could look to their Seahawk brethren for a pass-rusher like Bennett, they may look to their free agent pool to address some other positions (click here to view them). In my opinion, a big problem for the Jags on defense is the lack of depth for the defensive line as a whole, which is why I feel the latest addition of former Seahawk DL Red Bryant is a great one. I think the Jags should take a similar approach to sure up the DT position where Sen’Derrick Marks plays, otherwise know as the 3-technique. Marks, one of the Jags’ free agent signings from last year, played admirably at the position and earned a new contract in the process. He also proved to be the Jags best pass-rusher, but in the process played a ridiculous amount of snaps. I feel that if the Jags are able to find a solid swing 3-technique behind him, Marks and the team as a whole could be a better pass-rushing unit. I believe a soon to be free agent like Clinton McDonald of the Seahawks would be the perfect answer to backup Marks and rotate with him to help keep the teams best defensive player fresh. The good folks at Fieldgulls.com (s/o to my man Davis), can tell you a bit more on him as they felt he “Balled out” last season and is capable of playing both the 3-tech and 1-tech (aka the nose-tackle position). Another player that has been identified as a potential Jags target from the Seahawks is one of their backup LB’s, O’Brien Schofield. Though he wasn’t a true starter in Seattle, the Jaguars could use some competition at the LB position, and I’ve also long felt none of the Jaguars LB’s are a true fit for this defense. Schofield could come in and compete with current starting SAM LB Russell Allen, who hasn’t exactly been spectacular at the position. Schofield also played a bit of LEO and could be a guy you have as the 3rd or 4th rusher on your roster. Being that he isn’t a starter, he shouldn’t come at a high price, and I’d personally give him a 1-2 year prove it deal similar to the deals the Jags handed out last year in free agency.

My Draft Approach.

(By Jeffrey D. Allred of Deseret News )
(By Jeffrey D. Allred of Deseret News )

With the addition of Schofield, I’d still look to the draft to address these needs starting with LB being that he doesn’t have much starting experience. That said, I’ve noticed a decline in BYU’s own LB/DE  Kyle Van Noy draft stock. Multiple mocks have him going to the Jags in the second round, and I must say it’s a match made in heaven. Van Noy is one of my personal favorite prospects in the draft, and he fits Bradley’s scheme like a glove in my opinion.  According to reports he practiced well at the Senior Bowl (in which he was coached by the Jags staff) and I feel it’s possible he can replace Russell Allen in day one. If he’s available he’d be my pick in round two. Jacksonville native in NT Louis Nix of Notre Dame would also be a great addition to rotate with Roy Miller, but the odds of Nix being there to me are very slim. That validates the Jags taking a guy like Van Noy even more at this spot.

Next in the 3rd round I’d address the LEO position just in case I can’t land Micheal Johnson in free agency, and even if I do you can never have two many pass rushers in my book. That said, a prospect I’ve been long intrigued by is Marcus Smith of Louisville. Under the wings of Charlie Strong, Smith was a leader of Louisville’s offense and was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the American Conference. His statistics weren’t too bad either as he finished atop the college ranks in sack (14.5), and 18.5 tackles for loss. I think he’s a player Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Todd Wash could develop into a very good contributor at the LEO position. He’d also make solid competition for Andre Branch at the position which we all know is the name of the game for Gus Bradley. Even if Micheal Johnson is added I think drafting a player like Smith can only benefit the Jags looking at how many bodies the Seahawks had to rotate at the LEO position. Based on their playoff and Super Bowl success, I’d certainly say having numbers at the position served them well and aided the team to become the most feared defense in the league.

Furthermore, we continue on into the draft and head into the 5th round where the Jags have 3 picks. At this point in the draft it’s unlikely that you’d find a starter, but you most definitely can find a role player with the potential to be a starter. A prospect I feel fits that mold is DT Justin Ellis of Louisiana Tech. He’s someone that could fill the last of the four DL backup roles that I haven’t addressed yet, and that position is as a 1-technique backup for Roy Miller. Miller, just like Marks, could use a player to rotate with him as he played most of the season injured. He is also on the last year of his contract so it might be wise to start looking for a replacement for him, anyway. Ellis could both learn under Miller as a nose-tackle and reduce Miller’s snaps to keep him fresh, thus killing two birds with one stone so to speak.

(Image by Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

With two 5th rounders remaining I would then look to the safety position. Though at this point, as I stated earlier, it’s unlikely to find a starter at this position, I could add a player here to create some competition for Josh Evans who struggled a bit in his rookie season. Problem is this safety class isn’t too impressive at the bottom. But there is a CB that intrigues me who I’ve seen on multiple mocks still available here. His name…. Phillip Gaines of Rice, and he’s another riser in the draft community that impressed at the combine. Standing tall at 6-0, and weighing 193 lbs, Gaines ran  a 4.38 at the combine and may very well have the speed to play free safety from center field, just as Gus Bradley did with Earl Thomas of Seattle. If not, he could simply compete at his original position of cornerback. Yeah, this part of the roster is crowded, but keep in mind Dwayne Gratz battled injuries all season and Alan Ball (who played very well as a starter) is on the last year of his contract, so in the future Gaines maybe needed here.

Now with only one fifth rounder remaining I’d look back to a position where the Jags are significantly weak in, and that’s at LB. I already addressed the SAM LB (strongside LB) position with Kyle Van Noy, now to get some competition for the other two spots. Right about here is where I’ve been seeing Lamin Barrow come of the boards and I think he’d be a great addition here to come in to compete and learn from Poz. As most fifth rounders are, he could also be used on special teams while developing over time as the 2nd or 3rd MLB on the team.

Lastly, in the 6th I’d finish things up by grabbing another developmental LB like Kevin Pierre-Louis of Boston College, who could compete at the WILL LB (aka the weakside LB) position. By doing so, I’ve now landed a backup for each of the LB positions where the team was weak in. As for Pierre-Louis, he tested well at the combine as far as speed goes, and could certainly be used as a special teams player just as Barrow would.  He could afford to add a little more to his frame and shed blocks better, but seeing as he’d be a developmental player on the bottom of the depth chart, he’d have plenty of time and coaching to maybe develop into a starter down the road.

Alright so with draft over (hypothetically that is), here are all the additions we’d come away with.

Round Player
   
2nd (39th overall) BYU, OLB/DE – Kyle Van Noy
3rd (170th overall) Louisville, DE – Marcus Smith
5th (132nd overall) Louisiana Tech, DT – Justin Ellis
5th (138th overall) Rice, CB – Phillip Gaines
5th (147th overall) LSU, MLB – Lamin Barrow
6th (163rd overall) Boston College, OLB – Kevin Pierre-Louis

And when you take into account the moves I’d make in free agency, the defensive depth chart may look something like this at the top of the depth chart.

Defensive Tackle (1-Tech) Roy Miller Justin Ellis (Draft)  
Defensive Tackle (3-Tech) Sen’Derrick Marks Clinton McDonald

(FA)

 
Defensive End (5 –Tech) Red Bryant Tyson AluAlu  
Defensive End (LEO) Micheal Johnson (FA) Andre Branch Marcus Smith (Draft)
Outside LB (SAM) Kyle Van Noy (Draft) O’Brien Schofield (FA) Russell Allen/ LaRoy Reynolds
Outside LB (WILL) Geno Hayes Kevin Pierre-Louis (Draft)  
Middle LB Paul Posluszny Lamin Barrow (Draft)  
Cornerback Allan Ball Mike Harris Jamell Fleming
Cornerback Dwayne Gratz Will Blackmon Demetrius McCray
Strong Safety Johnathan Cyprien Winston Guy  
Free Safety Josh Evans Phillip Gaines (Draft)  

Overview

Alright so in a nutshell, I started by going after one of the biggest names on the market in Micheal Johns0n (which maybe a long shot) to come in and be my star pass-rusher at the LEO position. If the Jaguars can in fact land him, it would take a bit more than the deal Micheal Bennett got in Seattle which was a $32 million dollar deal over the course of 4 years, with $16 million dollars guaranteed. I’d say a deal in the ballpark of $20 million guaranteed would get the job done, but it is free agency and you never know.

(Update: Johnson has come to terms on a deal with the Bucs )

Anyhow, I then looked on to my Seahawk brethren for a couple of their “role player” free agents which shouldn’t be costly.  That said, I decided to add McDonald to backup Marks and Schofield to come in and push Russell Allen.

Afterwards, I headed into the draft and added a starter in Van Noy, and a potential starter in Marcus Smith. I then finished things off by adding some depth/competition at the remainder of the LB positions and adding a potential starting DB in Gaines considering Cyprien may need some help on the back end to compete with Josh Evans.

My plan was simple, add a couple starters and get my DL some adequate backup. That way my starting DL could rotate a bit and stay fresh which I believe would go a long way in helping them to be more effective. Next, I targeted a glaring weakness of the team, and that was the lack of LB competition. In the grand scheme of things all I simply did was essentially make the defense deeper and more competitive. And as we all know with competition on your roster, a lot of good things could come of it….. Don’t believe me, just look at the Super Bowl champs and where building a competitive roster got them.

As usual, I appreciate the reads and as always you guys can feel free to follow me on Twitter and give me your thoughts. 

twitter_logo_small @IES_Don

 

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