It has been about a year since Jaguars General Manager hired Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to be the head man of the team down in Jacksonville after firing former coach Mike Mularkey just days prior.
It was made clear from the get-go that Bradley was going to incorporate a hybrid, Seattle-like defense, full of faster, hard-hitting athletes, as opposed to prototypical players in a conventional defense. Arguably the most popular feature of this new defensive scheme is the inclusion of a pass-rush specialist – called a “LEO” – whose primary job is to make the quarterback’s life hell for 60 minutes.
The team spent ample time evaluating its players, releasing the ones who were not an ideal fit in this new scheme, and signing guys off the street who were. Ultimately, veteran defensive end Jason Babin and second-year player Andre Branch became the team’s two LEO players, as the team continues to find more talent to upgrade that position.
Veteran defensive tackle Tyson Alualu had his position tweaked in this new defense, as he moved to defensive end, playing a role similar to the one Red Bryant has played with Seattle, which is the guy who doesn’t get a lot of sacks, yet still clogs the line and allows for the outside pass rushers to penetrate and cause disruption. Alualu, who was widely looked at as another first-round bust for Jacksonville during his first few seasons, actually thrived in this role in 2013, and looks like he could be a long-term contributor for the Jaguars, after all.
Last April, the team drafted Florida International safety Johnathan Cyprien with the first pick in the second round of the draft. Cyprien, who many pundits foresaw being drafted in round one, is a hard-hitting, physically-intimidating enforcer for the Jaguars – basically, he’s doing what Kam Chancellor currently does for the Seahawks. Cyprien, like Chancellor, often plays close to the line of scrimmage and can often be mistaken for a linebacker. Cyprien played that role in 2013, and progressed tremendously as the season went on. The promising young safety looks to be a staple in Jacksonville’s revamped defense for the next decade.
Jacksonville’s cornerback corps is made up of Dwyane Gratz, Alan Ball, Will Blackmon, Mike Harris, and Demetrius McCray – who all play press-coverage, for the most part. While there may not be a Richard Sherman-type talent in this secondary, this flock of corners played admirably through adversity all season long, especially Gratz and Ball.
Expect the Jaguars to add even more to this defense in the upcoming offseason through, as Caldwell points out, “B” and “C” type free agents, along with the draft. Despite a different defensive philosophy, the team still struggled to get to the quarterback with consistency in 2013, so expect the team to look for a pass rusher in both free agency and come draft day, given the plethora of enticing pass rushers that will be available through the first two days of the draft, at least.
Offensively, there are a slew of differences between Seattle and Jacksonville, with the most obvious one being talent – especially at the quarterback position. The Jaguars do not have a signal caller like Russell Wilson. However, this upcoming draft may change that. I hear there is this guy from Texas A&M who can play some football. Not to compare Johnny Manziel to Wilson, because they are very different players, but the Jaguars may be eying the former Heisman Trophy candidate to be their leader at quarterback, as Wilson is for Seattle.
Of course, the Jaguars have a LONG way to go until they can even be mentioned in the same breath as a juggernaut like Seattle, but it looks like they are working their way towards achieving that. If the groundwork that was achieved last year continues through the next couple of seasons, the Jaguars may become just as prestigious a football club as the Seahawks currently are. Time will tell, but Jaguars fans have reason to be optimistic.
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