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Sporting-News Magazine Article... Weekend Link #1

Posted: June 27, 2008

What is more likely to boost the sack total is the change at defensive coordinator. Mike Smith left to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, and the Jags jumped at the chance to hire Gregg Williams (who didn't become head coach of the Washington Redskins) as Smith's replacement.

The Jaguars' defense is blessed to have two of the game's best defensive minds, Williams and head coach Jack Del Rio, presiding over it. Expect them to dial up the pressure from last season without weakening the unit in other areas, giving the Jags an even stronger overall defense.

Nelson, who had five of the team's 22 interceptions last season, will be put in position to make plays all over the field, and he should become more consistent in his second NFL season. Another athletic second-year defender, linebacker Justin Durant, will get more chances to use his speed and quickness moving forward...

The rest is behind the fold!

For example, Rashean Mathis and former Charger Drayton Florence give the Jaguars a pretty good pair of physical cover cornerbacks, so Williams can be creative in sending different men after the quarterback. Linebackers Mike Peterson, Clint Ingram and Daryl Smith, along with free safety Reggie Nelson, are all capable of getting to the passer when flying upfield as blitzers. This foursome, in more of an attack mode, should combine for more than the 5 1/2 sacks they produced last season.

Last season, the Jaguars tied for ninth in the league in sacks with 37. Considering only New England, San Diego and Tennessee produced more among AFC teams, it was a decent total. The personnel turnover alone should allow the Jags to maintain their sack production in '08.

The Jaguars do return their most productive pass rusher, left end Paul Spicer (7 1/2 sacks). Harvey should take over at starting right end for Reggie Hayward, a former double-digit sack man in Denver who has been hampered by injuries during his two years in Jacksonville. Groves will probably see most of his rookie action as a situational pass rusher.

But the Jaguars also lost two of their key defensive linemen during the offseason: tackle Marcus Stroud (traded to Buffalo) and end Bobby McCray (signed with New Orleans).

There wasn't much wrong with the 2007 Jacksonville Jaguars. Outside of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, they were the best non-division winner in the NFL. The Jags belong right up there with New England, Indianapolis and San Diego as an elite AFC power.

Of course, the ultimate goal is finishing like those Giants did, so there's still work to be done to get over the hump. Make that two humps -- the Patriots and Colts -- two teams that were responsible for half of Jacksonville's six losses last season.

True to the league's copycat fashion, the Jaguars aggressively tried to upgrade the position that was the trademark of the Giants' surprise run: defensive end. They did so by trading up twice in the first two rounds of the draft to land Florida's Derrick Harvey (eighth overall) and Auburn's Quentin Groves (52nd overall).

One word sums up Williams' defensive philosophy: Aggressive. In 2003, the year before Williams took over as the Redskins' coordinator (a position he held under Joe Gibbs for four seasons), Washington had 27 sacks. In Williams' first season, they produced 40 sacks.

In '06, the Redskins dipped back to a league-worst 19 sacks. In '07, Williams helped boost that total back up to 33, which contributed to the team returning to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

In Washington, Williams was still trying to put pieces together everywhere on the defense, and he didn't have an established, successful unit with the same kind of talent Jacksonville has.