"Defense wins Championships." Ah, that old saying never gets old, but it is so true. And who better to head a team than a defensive minded coach in Gus Bradley? It's been over a year since Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey had been fired, and 4 days away from Gus Bradley's hiring. It has also been a year since David Caldwell had been hired. (By the way, I love comparing Jacksonville to Seattle, so, uh, expect that. A lot.)
Caldwell has already shifted this team into a new direction. With the most positive 4-12 team in the NFL, the future is looking bright. There are many pieces that need to be solved, and it may take a couple of years but Jacksonville is in good shape with Caldwell.
Caldwell has began molding Jacksonville into what Seattle's roster consists of. First Step: A physical secondary with cornerbacks capable of pressing wide receivers. During the 2013 draft Caldwell went out and drafted Dwayne Gratz, Demetrius McCray and Jeremy Harris. Gratz and McCray looked promising in their time playing, Harris however was out for the rest of the year with an ACL injury. Caldwell also picked up Alan Ball through free agency and Will Blackmon through the waiver wire. Both proved to be solid starters. While none of these corners did extraordinarily well all of them played good football and showcased a promising 2013 CB group.
The next pieces in the secondary Caldwell both grabbed in the draft: Josh Evans and Jonathan Cyprien. Cyprien was the most consistent rookie of the 2013 class, making consistent improvement and playing good, solid football. Cyprien proved to be a good blitzing safety and tackler while making improvements in his coverage game. Evans played a solid 2013 season. He didn't get his hands on the ball much, but showed promise and held his opponents at bay.
Evans gave Cyprien the ability to move into the box as a 4th linebacker due to his range and ability to play single high safety. This let Cyprien play his strengths in the run game and cover players in a mid-high zone. Much like what Seattle does with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
While the secondary is promising, it wasn't necessarily lights out either. The Jags were ranked 26th in passing yards allowed. It did take the Legion of Boom a couple of years to develop to what it is now, though.
Caldwell found nice pieces in Alan Ball and Sen'Derrick Marks on 'prove it' deals. I fully expect him to find more players through these deals. Austin Pasztor, who had already been on the roster, stepped up big time and has proven to be a reliable starter opposite of Joeckel.
Bradley brings a lot from what he had in Seattle: A heavy run game, physical secondary, big DL + LEO, and an offense heavily reliant on play action. The Jags are missing a lot of pieces to make this successful, though. They lack a quality interior line, they do not have a proven running back, the D-Line needs improvement and they have not yet found a capable LEO.
The front 7 like each other position also needs improvement. Jacksonville ranked 29th in opposing rushing yards and seemed somewhat limited in pass coverage (by linebackers). Roy Miller, Paul Posluszny, Jason Babin/Andre Branch, ain't gonna cut it (Yes I said ain't.) I believe that there is reason for optimism for Marks,Tyson Alualu, Geno Hayes (maybe), and Russell Allen, who in my mind is a solid starter. I think that Ryan Davis would be a great LEO candidate too. I love him.
There are holes at almost literally every position of the roster though. It's a mess. A big mess. The secondary, WR and OT spots are probably the 3 best positions on this roster. And even those could use improvement. Jacksonville is still on their search for a Franchise quarterback, and I don't expect any playoff runs until I see one.