In 2008, the writing was on the wall for an era in Jaguars history. Since Jack Del Rio's tenure as head coach began, the Jaguars were defined by having the most physical defense in the NFL. Two massive defensive tackles, a no holds barred MLB, and other players combined to make Jacksonville the team you didn't want to play in the NFL.
However, that all began to change in 2007. With the departure of Bobby McCray and injuries to Marcus Stroud, the defensive line began to erode. Then in 2008, MLB Mike Peterson spent more time harping on his contract and was unceremoniously let go. After year's of spending picks on wide receiver busts and ignoring the defense, coupled with two wiffs in the first round, the Jaguars once proud defense had become a shell.
After 2008, with Gene Smith's promotion to General manager, it has become clear the team has a renewed focus on the defense. The Jaguars will have possibly 7 new starters on defense in 2010 compared to the 2008 defense. Gone are Rob Meier, John Henderson, Brian Williams, Mike Peterson, Gerald Sensabaugh, and possibly Reggie Nelson. In are Aaron Kampman, Terrance Knighton, Tyson Alualu, Kirk Morrison, Derex Cox, Gerald Alexander, and possibly Darren Sharper.
Now, let's take a look at each change and was it for the better. Just a quick note, I'm not going to compared Kampman vs Hayward since Hayward is still on the roster and who knows how Hayward's career would've gone had he not had two season ending injuries in three years. Also, I won't do one on Sharper vs Nelson until it's confirmed Shaper has signed with Jacksonville. I'm going to compare the 2008 performance vs what the new starter has to offer.
Rob Meier vs Terrance Knighton
When the Jaguars traded Marcus Stroud to Buffalo, most thought there wouldn't be much of a dropoff. Pundits thought Meier could've started on any team that ran the 4-3 besides Jacksonville. Well, that didn't turn out to be the case. Meier simply couldn't handle being the full time starter and was constantly pushed aside.
Knighton was a surprise 3rd round pick in 2008. Playing both NT in the 3-4 and DT in the 4-3, Knighton was a physical force wherever he was placed. A powerful run stuffer who commanded double teams, Knighton certainly could become one of the top DT's in the NFL.
John Henderson vs Tyson Alualu
Big John was a two time Pro Bowler during his stay in Jacksonville. When paired with Marcus Stroud, they formed the most dominating defensive interior in the NFL. However, since Stroud was traded, Henderson's production went down as well. Despite a slight revival in 2009, Henderson was still released earlier this week.
Alualu was the surprise pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. The Jaguars clearly have a lot of faith in Alualu, but how much of an impact will he have as a rookie? The Cal DT had a productive college career and great combine numbers, but the NFL is a whole different ballgame.
Advantage: Henderson (For now)
Kirk Morrison vs Mike Peterson
Peterson was the heart and soul of Jacksonville defense from 2003 until 2008. If any RB ever managed to escape through the middle, he was always there waiting to lay a big hit. However, age and injuries began to take their toll on him. Combined with spending an offseason complaining about a new contract and under performing, it led to his release in 2009.
Morrison has led the Raiders in tackling the last four years and comes to Jacksonville in much the same situation Peterson came to Jacksonville back in 2003. Cast out for not being "Good enough" Morrison is still in his prime and is the perfect fit for the Jaguars at MLB.
Derek Cox vs Brian Williams
Brian Williams was yet another high priced free agent during the Shack Harris era. Williams was a decent cover guy across from Rashean Mathis, but you don't give a guy $25 million to make only two interceptions and get beaten like a drum by Reggie Wayne twice a year.
Derek Cox had four interceptions in 2009 to lead the Jaguars. Not to mention he managed to pick off Peyton Manning on his first NFL drive. Enough said
Gerald Sensabuagh vs Gerald Alexander
Sensabaugh was the only highlight for the Jags defense in 2008. He took over for Donovin Darius admirably and was a force to be reckoned with over the middle. However, Sensabuagh sealed his fate by being arrested while in possession of illegal guns in his hometown.
Alexander was one of several players the Jaguars used in rotation at the safety spot in Sensabuagh's place, but he's the only one with any long term prospects. Still, he was underwhelming in 2009.
Overall, the Jaguars have clearly upgraded their defense. With the exception of Alexander, all of the replacements have exceeded the performances of their 2008 counterparts, or in Alualu's case, certainly have the potential to do so. The Jaguars will have a new look in 2010, and it will be the look of a revitalized defense.