Last season the Jacksonville Jaguars defense was a complete mess. Half of the season was played in the 3-4 front, the other half was played in the 4-3 front.
All of it was bad.
The Jaguars began the season with a hybrid 3-4 defensive front that new defensive coordinator brought from his stint with the Cleveland Browns. Through the first 7 games the team played primarily out of a 3-man front on defense, but in Week 8 got throttled by Tennessee Titans runningback Chris Johnson. This game included about 476 missed tackles by the Jacksonville defense, which sparked a lot of criticism from the local media, and deservedly so.
After that debacle, the Jaguars went back to the read-and-react 4-3 alignment that they had run primarily under Jack Del Rio's tenure. It was a successful defense under Jack Del Rio and now current Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, but began to wain as pieces were lost and never replaced. One aspect of that defense that was so good was it's stoutness up the middle. Former Jaguar and current Buffalo Bill defensive lineman Marcus Stroud battled injuries and then was traded. Mike Peterson was let go in free agency, Deon Grant left the team for Seattle, and defensive end Reggie Hayward constantly battled injuries.
The read-and-react defense simply didn't work anymore. The two massive defensive tackles in the middle of the field that siphoned everything to the linebackers were gone. The constant leader in the secondary was replaced with first round draft pick Reggie Nelson, who's currently fighting for playing time and was benched to end the 2009 season. Instead of the mammoth defensive tackles, the team now has a squat nose tackle and a rookie with an endless motor who played all over the line of scrimmage in college at California.
The new Jacksonville Jaguars defense is going to be an attacking defense. The defensive line isn't going to siphon plays anymore, they're going to attack them. "It’s going to be a penetrating, attacking, up-the-field, 4-3 front, and that’s a philosophy that we feel we can go with and be sound and solid. We’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback and it starts up front with our defensive line….If it’s a run, we’ll stop it, and if it’s not a run, we’re to the quarterback," said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
Think the old Tampa Bay defense, with Warren Sapp. That's the kind of tackle that Tyson Alualu and D'Anthony Smith have both been compared to, an up the field pass rusher. "All the qualities you talk about in Warren Sapp, he has it. He’s explosive, really fluid in his hips, and he has a knack for rushing the passer, and that’s what we need at that position," said Joe Cullen of D'Anthony Smith. Both players excelled at collapsing the pocket from the inside in college. Then, on the outside at the end positions you will have, hopefully, a healthy Aaron Kampman flanked by a lighter, quicker Derrick Harvey. The idea is to have the defensive line get into the back field and cause havoc.
This may sound overly dramatic, but it's a significant change in defensive philosophy from what the Jacksonville Jaguars were previously. If you can't remember the old Warren Sapp Tampa Bay defenses, just look to a division rival in the Indianapolis Colts. While the Colts line has been notoriously un-beefy up the middle, it's gotten the job done. Unlike the Colts however, the Jaguars have a player by the name of Terrance Knighton who simply just sucks up space and will not be moved, allowing the other 3 players on the line of scrimmage to get up the field.
I'm not proclaiming the Jaguars will be one of the top sack teams in the league next year, but they will be sure to have a lot more than just 35 hits on the opposing teams quarterback.