To help get through the boring NFL offseason, we're going to attempt a series of breaking down the Jacksonville Jaguars 90-man roster. This is obviously subject to change with Dave Caldwell's wont to churn the roster and I'm sure that trend will continue going forward. Nevertheless, we'll start going down the roster sheet in alphabetical order and touch on why a player might improve, or regress and their chances of making the roster.
Next up, LEO end Andre Branch.
Branch originally joined the Jaguars as a second round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and looked promising early on in both training camp and the preseason, but once the regular season rolled around he disappeared and didn't make much impact, getting benched and losing snaps as the season went on. When the Jaguars hired Gus Bradley as their head coach and changed their defensive scheme, many (including myself) thought Branch was due to break out as a LEO end, given his skill set.
It didn't really workout that way, as he was on the roster bubble last training camp and didn't do much until the second half of the season when the coaching staff began scheming rush situations for him.
Why he might improve:
Branch will be in his second season of the Jaguars new defensive scheme playing a position that seems like he was built for. He finished last season with six sacks, just below the team lead held by now released veteran Jason Babin. Branch will still be the second fiddle on the Jaguars defensive line behind newly signed Chris Clemons, but this should also allow the team to continue to work him into the lineup in favorable situations. Typically NFL pass rushers take until their second or third season to really breakout and adjust to the NFL, which means it's time for Branch to punch the clock.
Why he might regress:
Branch still seemingly lacks the ability to bend around the edge and generate consistent pressure on his own accord. Early in the 2013 season he was wholly ineffective rushing the passer, generating just a single sack and seven hurries according to Pro Football Focus. He played about half the defensive snaps, often less and just didn't seem to get much going rushing the passer. His second half improved in both the sacks and pressure department, but the former significantly more than the latter. This was because the Jaguars began stunting on the defensive line quite a bit when Branch was on the field, giving him free running lanes to the quarterback. This is in part why his sack production spiked, but his overall pressure on the quarterback didn't change much. He still wasn't consistently getting pressure off the edge. Being able to bend is more a natural ability than a learned one, so it will be interesting to see what Branch can do in the preseason when the team is unlikely to stunt and manufacture pressure.
Chances of making the final roster:
With the release of Jason Babin, Branch's chances of making the final roster have shot up significantly. In my way-too-early final 53-man guess, I didn't have Branch but did have Babin. Realistically, it's likely Branch is on the final roster now that Babin is out. I'd suspect the Jaguars go heavy on the defensive line and keep Clemons, Branch, rookie Chris Smith and Ryan Davis. Branch's biggest competition right now for a roster spot would seem to be Davis, who has also looked good so far in OTA practices. The team tried to trade Branch last offseason after a lack luster preseason, but unless someone comes calling for him this year he'll probably make the cut.