Jaguars cuts: Is Andre Branch on the roster bubble?

Andre Branch, readying the windmill - Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jaguars second-year defensive end Andre Branch was supposed to be a perfect fit at the LEO, but right now he's shooting blanks.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been searching for a pass rush for literally a decade, ever since Tony Brackens was cut from the team after he couldn't get healthy. There have been some spot players who looked like they'd be the answer, but there's also been a long line of free agent and draft busts.

In the 2012 NFL Draft, the Jaguars used their second-round pick on Clemson defensive end/linebacker Andre Branch with the hopes that he would be an answer to the pass rush. Branch looked like he was going to be in training camp his rookie year, where he also got sacks and pressures in the 2012 preseason.

Once the regular season rolled around however, he seemed to disappear on the stat sheet and with his snap counts. Fast forward to the 2013 season and a new defensive scheme with head coach Gus Bradley, which utilized a pass rushing end called the "LEO", it should have played right into Branch's skill-set.

Branch is a tall, fast defensive end who played both standing up and with his hand on the ground at Clemson and the LEO end plays like a hybrid end/linebacker.

Branch drew rave reviews early in workouts and OTAs, but once the pads came on in training camp he once again disappeared. Through the first two preseason games he's once again disappeared.

So what's the problem?

Branch doesn't bend.

On his first attempt to rush the passer on 3rd-and-4 against the New York Jets on Saturday, Branch seems to do everything right, technique wise, until it comes time for him to bend the edge and actually get to the quarterback.

Branchcantbend1_medium

Branch attempts to come with an inside swim move, but quickly counters to the outside as he should, but he just can't turn the corner. You want the defensive end to be able to plant his outside foot and come down the lane at the quarterback, but for whatever reason Branch just cannot do it, despite beating the tackle on the play.

On the next drive of the game, a similar situation happens with Branch and his inability to plant his foot and cut inside rears it's ugly head.

Branchcantbend2_medium

Branch comes inside on the offensive tackle right off the snap and appears as if he's going to win on an inside dip move, but once Branch dips and stands back up he fails again to plant his foot and cut inside at the quarterback to apply the pressure. Since he fails to do so, the quarterback simply slides a step while Branch is run completely out of the play by the offensive lineman he just beat on an inside move.

The next play everyone knows as the "windmill", which is Branch trying to turn the edge and flailing his outside arm.

Branchcantbend3_medium

Branch beats the offensive tackle off the snap with a speed rush and should have gotten a clear shot at the quarterback, but like Branch seems to do with all his outside rushes he takes a long path, because he can't bend the edge. You can see branch getting past the left tackle initially, then he tries to plant his outside foot and come back in, but he just can't do it, which is why he's flailing his outside arm trying to come back inside. It allows the quarterback just to step up in the pocket and the lineman to recover and push Branch wide.

As Jaguars defensive line coach Todd Wash aptly put it, Branch is just a one-trick pony right now, but his one-trick isn't even that good. Branch can beat guys off the snap with a speed rush, but he can't finish the deal. This is why when getting an edge rusher, flexibility and the ability to bend around the edge is so important. A lot of guys can beat a player off the snap on a speed rush, but the good pass rushers are the ones who can plant that foot and bend inside.

Personally I think the Jaguars probably hold on to Branch for this season at the least, but there is some belief that he could be on the roster bubble if he doesn't step up the next two games. Dave Caldwell is shown he's not afraid to admit mistakes and cut players, despite their salary.

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