While the Jaguars finished 2011 with 31 sacks, a big improvement from just 14 in 2009, they still finished in a tie for the 26th on the sacks leaderboard in the NFL. That, coupled with the loss of Matt Roth and a slew of injuries at the defensive end position, has led many to list defensive end as the top need for the Jaguars in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Prospects like Quinton Coples, Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram and Whitney Mercilus, among others, have been talked about as potential first round picks to assume the starting defensive end role opposite newly re-signed Jeremy Mincey.
But defensive line coach Joe Cullen told Tania Ganguli that he believes the pass rush will get better regardless of whether there is new talent added in the draft. In particular, he singled out 2010 5th round draft pick, Austen Lane:
"Each and every one of us can get better...Austen Lane going from a sack, sack-and-a-half to getting six, seven sacks. That’s when you improve your sacks. Whether we get someone in the draft or not I fully expect the pass-rush to improve."
Ganguli notes again later in the article that Cullen is "expecting Austen Lane to take a major step forward" as he "sees the third year as the time when many players show what they can do."
Defensive end, perhaps more so than any other position in the NFL, is a position that features many top players take a few seasons to adjust to the speed of the game. Whether that takes one, two or three years, some of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history struggled out of the gates.
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Austen Lane has just one sack in two seasons with the Jaguars, although his second season was cut short after a shoulder injury sent him to injured reserve six games into the season.