|show details 8:35 PM (23 minutes ago)|
I wrote you last year about sacks and Marcedes Lewis. I have some thoughts about the Jaguars safety concerns and what I perceive to be incomplete research on the part of many NFL "experts" when it comes to the finer points of roster construction, what it means to be a "talented" NFL player, and the overall quality of non-star players in general on small market teams. I noticed that ESPN's Scout's Inc. or one of their various representatives characterized the Jaguars safety situation as a competition among back-up caliber players, but I disagree with this statement very strongly, and I expect that their unwillingness to acquire one in the draft ( I know Gene Smith is a tireless BAP advocate, but he has conceded that in the later rounds when the available talent - or more accurately, perceived upside - begins to level off significantly, need does become a more significant factor) reflects the fact that they are not in a panic about their prospects at that position.
There were some strong safety options available late in the draft, but they failed even to add a developmental prospect outside of former Norfolk State standout Terrell Whitehead ( a player to watch, as he was dominant in college) and I think this is primarily because of their hopes for Gerald Alexander's progression in only his 3rd full season.
It seems that everyone considers safety to be the Jaguars biggest weak spot moving into the season, but I feel like that perception needs to be modified somewhat. I felt Gerald Alexander was a player for them last season. He made plays consistently for a team that conspicuously lacked that quality on the defensive side of the ball last season, and outside of Daryl Smith (who I must tell you I believe to be every bit the equal of Clint Session as the best OLB in the AFC South, and who is rated tops at his position by Pro Football Focus), was the only player at his position who seemed to posses the proverbial "nose for the ball" quality essential in a safety. Now, I will modify this by saying that he was inconsistent at times, particularly with his angles to the ball, occasionally leading to missed tackles. However, he was mostly productive and steady, particularly in the second game against Houston, where he caused two turnovers, one on an interception at the goal line - albeit on a poorly conceived play - and the other on a timely hit that jarred the ball from the receiver's grip and into Justin Durant's arms. A play against Tennessee also stands out, when he tracked down Chris Johnson and forced a fumble with an explosive tackle.
Now, I am aware that these vignettes do not demonstrate consistency, but they do speak to his ability, instincts, and most importantly, his potential. It is easy to forget that he was a second round selection by the Lions who developed a reputation at Boise State as a heady, athletic (if not overly fast), and explosive player who had a knack for coming up with big plays in critical situations. He enjoyed a productive rookie season, starting 16 games at FS and finishing with 82 tackles, two sacks, two INTs, seven passes defensed, and two fumble recoveries. Were it not for the fractured vertebrae he suffered in 2008, he may not have become available to the Jaguars before the start of 2009, and I feel certain that the Jacksonville defense, though it was mightily bad at times, would have been noticeably more porous with Sean Considine pressed into pass coverage for an entire season.
Now, all this is but my humble opinion, regardless of how strongly I might hold it. However, Jack Del Rio has made it clear recently (and in the past, though I cannot locate the transcripts) that Alexander is the only clear standout in the team's mediocre safety pool, "I think Gerald Alexander had an outstanding weekend. He played well last year for us. He was the most consistent performer over this weekend. Now that’s one weekend into it, but he’s a player we think can do some things for us." This may be underwhelming, but Del Rio is a fairly honest individual when it comes to appraising a player's abilities and/or performance, and he holds his defensive players to a particularly high standard.
They would certainly like to add a veteran presence on the back end of their defense,as evidenced by their pursuit of Darren Sharper, because Rasean Mathis is not known as a strong organizational presence. After failing to acquire Sharper, I think they are holding out hope that Reggie Nelson will find his game and reestablish himself as a rising talent, and that they are comfortable with Alexander starting at SS. However, with Nelson's development far from a certainty, I would not be surprised to see the Jaguars make a play for OJ Atogwe from St. Louis. If they fail there, I expect them to put their hope in an improved pass rush (even 30 sacks would be tremendous; consider how many close games could have been changed totally by even 10 more sacks, if the Jaguars had reached 24 they might have made the playoffs) and a young, talented, if unproven secondary.
The point? I fully expect Alexander to start, and I feel like he is almost guaranteed this honor so long as he remains consistent throughout the off-season, because he has already proven that he can be an effective player who could develop into an entrenched starter if he continues to progress. Only time will tell, but this is my respectful opinion, and I encourage you to reconsider your impression and perhaps encourage other experts to do more research on players in places like Jacksonville. There really is no evidence that Alexander is just a guy or nondescript back-up material. I think the 2010 season will demonstrate this to those who are in a position - and sufficiently aware of football as a complex sport, where to be effective is not necessarily to stand out in the mainstream eye - to recognize it.