Jacksonville Jaguars Roster Retrospective: Defensive Line

This is part four of my six article breakdown of the Jaguars roster based on performance, statistics and the all important eyeball test.

I finished up on the offensive side last time, so now it's time to get on the other side of the ball. The Jaguars' defense last year was borderline offensive, but there were bright spots, mostly up front. While the Jaguars managed 26 sacks last year to almost double 2009's historic lows, the team was still tied for 30th in overall sack totals. A lot of people see needs on the defensive line in the upcoming draft. I won't deny that, but let's take a look at what we have before we decide how much of a priority D-line will be.

Defensive Tackle: DT actually looks pretty good. Actually, the only reason I say pretty good and not great is that the team showed a lack of quality depth at the position last year. Terrance Knighton is an absolute beast. He's as stout as his 330+ pounds would suggest in the run game, and had four sacks due to his surprising level of mobility. He may be a big man, but big man can scoot. Tyson Alualu showed a lot of potential as well. He was a staple in the middle this year, and had 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks in his first 8 pro games. For a DT, especially a rookie DT, those are good numbers. He showed that with a season under his belt already and a lot of game experience, he can take that step up and give the Jaguars a powerful 1-2 punch up the middle. Knighton, IMO, stands a pretty good chance of being a Pro Bowler next year.

 

The problem is, beyond those two, there's pretty much no one. The other DT from the 2010 class, D'Anthony Smith, flashed some real pass rushing skill and quickness, but he was knocked out in the preseason with an Achilles injury. Without him, the Jaguars had a 3 man rotation with Leger Douzable, who earned the name "Reusable Douzable" because he's just a guy you plug in when there's nothing else available. It would be nice for the Jaguars to find someone at the DT position who could come in and just hold the line in the running game so they could spell Knighton next year. The Jags don't really need to add an all-star or a starter, but finding a legitimate backup in cheap free agency or late in the draft would be good.

Defensive End:  A lot of people see DE as a trouble spot. It's always important to have lots of pass rushers, but I can't say that I really see a whole lot of trouble with our guys at End. Aaron Kampman is an absolute stud. He got us 3.5 sacks in his first 8 games, and he didn't even get a second shot at the Colts terrible O-line, or the Browns, or the Texans even once. Yes he's coming off of his second consecutive ACL tear, but this offseason is looking like a repeat of last year for him, and he told Jaguars.com recently that he feels better this year then he did at the same point in his rehab last year. Austen Lane stepped up and made himself fairly useful in his rookie year. He faced a difficult challenge, because teams came after him early and often in games. I think he'll be better in 2011 than he was in 2010, largely because producing and being called on often in your rookie year is difficult. Jeramy Mincey was a nice find for the Jaguars also. He'll likely start across from Kampman next season, unless Lane shows something special in training camp.

Again, the defensive ends suffered greatly from losing Kampman. If he is back, and back at full strength, then Kampman, Mincey, and Lane sounds pretty good. Derrick Harvey is a little better than a scrub at the left DE, which is a run stuffing position, but even he managed to get on the board with a sack last season. Add in a couple pass rush specialists in Larry Hart and Aaron Morgan and I feel pretty good about the group. It would be great if the team could find another premier pass rusher given Kampman's age, but another year in pro-level workouts will make a big difference for a group that was dominated by rookies.

As a whole, I'd like to address the quality of play from the D-line throughout the year. As the season wore on, the team got weaker and weaker up front. That issue needs to be addressed. Probably that means adding depth and, oh I don't know, giving your starters more than 2 plays off per game. We'll see next year if the rookies continue to grow into their roles and can save a little bit of energy for a late-season push. Let's face it, the whole defense fell apart entirely starting about week 12, and that includes the D-line as much as any other position.

Adrian Clayborn is at the top of my draft wish list. If that happens, the Jaguars rotation would be 7 deep: Kampman, Clayborn, Mincey and Lane at DE and Pot Roast, Alualu and Smith at DT. Seriously, that sounds like a group that could get a team 30-35 sacks pretty easily.

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