The Jacksonville Jaguars defense will look much different in 2013 than it did in 2012, but not just because of the churn of players on that side of the football. The Jaguars may have new starters at up to seven new positions, but a lot of players who will be returning starters will be in new roles, including second-year defensive end Andre Branch.
The Jaguars drafted Branch in the second round of the 2012 Draft and he looked like he would be an impact player int he preseason, but it just never materialized when the regular season started. According to Pro Football Focus, Branch picked up 11 quarterback hurries, two quarterback hits, and a single sack, the majority of which was in the first six weeks of the 2012 season, and then his production fell off a cliff.
Whether it was hitting the rookie wall, poor coaching, poor scheme, poor effort, or whatever Branch wasn't getting the job done rushing the passer. New general manager Dave Caldwell however was on high Branch in the draft and believes he can still become an impact player.
"Certain things we did last year kind of held me back," Branch told Jaguars.com back in March. "That's not an excuse, but at the same time, I feel like they're going to bring every aspect of my game out this year."
In Gus Bradley's defense, one of the pass rusher roles is referred to as a LEO or an open-side end, and both Branch and veteran Jason Babin would seem to fit that role.
"It would be awesome if we could have two," Bradley said about the LEO position back in February. "That's the style we're looking at. Branch has some qualities. We looked at him last year in the draft as a Leo."
When Branch was at Clemson in college he played in a role similar to that of a LEO-end, often standing up and rushing the passer as well as lining up wide with his hand on the ground. Branch seems to be comfortable in space, which would allow the Jaguars to move him around as a stand up pass rusher and get both Branch and Babin on the field at the same time, similar to what the Seattle Seahawks did with Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin in 2012.
"I feel like they're going to use my athleticism. Last year, it pretty much wasn't about athleticism. It was about somebody being in the right spot," Branch told Jaguars.com. "They have different things and different packages for me. I'm a very athletic player. I'm a playmaker. I feel that way about myself and about my game.
"A lot of people on the outside looking in think a player should dominate regardless, but a certain scheme fits a certain player. I feel like this is a scheme I can't wait to play in."