What can be said about the Jaguars defensive line in 2009? The unit produced the fifth fewest sacks in NFL history, consistently needed a blitzer to get any pressure, and was quite simply the biggest weak link for the Jaguars last year. The season ending injury to Reggie Hayward was certainly part of the reason for the defensive line's troubles. However, it's not as if Hayward has been an All-Pro in his time in Jacksonville. Derrick Harvey's struggles, John Henderson's decline, and the flip flop from 3-4 to 4-3 all contributed to the mess that the defensive line was last year.
Heading into the offseason, the general consensus was that the Jaguars needed to address the position in a major way. While most had assumed the Jaguars would go after Derrick Morgan or Jason Pierre-Paul during the draft, the Jaguars instead went the free agent route. Despite all of the talk of keeping quiet in free agency, the Jaguars made one of the biggest and riskiest splashes by signing Aaron Kampman. While Kampman certainly has impressive numbers, coming off an ACL injury and being 30 are some concerns. In addition, as reported today, the Jaguars did resign Reggie Hayward. However, that doesn't rule out the Jaguars addressing the position in the draft. However, with the money the #10 pick will be guaranteed, combined with the money Harvey and Kampman will be getting, makes it unlikely the Jaguars will sink so much into one position.
At the defensive tackle spot, there were some reasons to be optimistic. Terrance Knighton was one of the best defensive players taken in last year's class. While he's not a pass rusher, he's an imoveable force that requires multiple blockers. John Henderson play was sporatic last year. Sometime's he was the dominant force of his prime and other's he was the lethargic, and dare I say overrated, player he was after Marcus Stroud was traded.
Groves is heading into a make or break season. When his most notable accomplishment last year was getting into a hit and run, you know you're staring at a 2nd round bust. He beefed up to try and become an every down's defensive end, but was continually pushed around by bigger and stronger tackles.
What was perhaps more concerning was his lack of production even at the 3-4 OLB spot. It was the position many thought he would be best at, yet he continued to struggle. Groves has become a fan favorite because of his openness on network sites like Twitter, but he needs to be a fan favorite for sacking the QB to keep his job in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars 2008 first round pick primarily played as a left end in 2009. This was mostly out of necessity because of the loss of Hayward for the year. He only registered 2 sacks which has caused many to throw out the "Bust" label. However, I think it was more of a product of being the only legitimated pass rusher the Jaguars had. On the rare chances he could get free, a RB could always just deal with him.
However, assuming Aaron Kampman can make an impact early, there will be no excuses for Harvey next year. Harvey should be entering the prime of his career and will have a viable end opposite of him. He's paid to lay big hits to opposing QBs and he needs to do that in bunches next year.
The Jaguars main free agent signing of 2010 was Kampman. Coming off of ACL surgery and the worst year of his professional career, the Jaguars still saw fit to hand him over $10 million in guaranteed money. Kampman is among the league leaders in sack totals over the last few years, but his numbers have declined every year over the last few years.
The Jaguars were desperate to get some help at the defensive end position, and quite frankly, the Kampman at 80% is still better than anyone the Jaguars trotted out at RDE last year.
Hayward resigned with the Jaguars today. Although he's often lumped in with the Jaguars other free agent busts like Hugh Douglas and Jerry Porter, I don't think that's the case. He was effective his first year here, but two season ending injuries did him in as a premiere pass rusher. However, now that he is resigned, Hayward will be the first DE off the bench this year. It may be a good thing, as a rotation between Hayward and Kampman should limit the snaps each sees, and keep their injuries from becoming an issue later in the year.
Big Hen has been having a rough go of it since Marcus Stroud was traded to Buffalo. Some have said that the trade has "exposed" Henderson as overrated. However, I think he played well for the most part in 2009. He showed some good versatility at playing a 3-4 DE as well as being his usual 4-3 tackle. Henderson will need to continue to show he's back to being the player he once was, if he'll be a Jaguar in 2010.
One half of the Jaguars pleasantly surprising third round picks, Knighton was named to numerous All-Rookie teams. Primarily a run stuffer, the Jaguars would like for him to work on his pass rushing skills. However, he's perfectly fitted to his current role of eating up blockers.
Draft Day Plans
The biggest clouds in the Draft crystal ball are at the defensive line. Everyone expects the Jaguars to go with either Derrick Morgan or Jason Pierre-Paul at #10. However, Morgan laying an egg at his Pro Day (where the Jaguars had the largest contingent of scouts, btw) has to make me believe the Jaguars will pass on him. JPP is an intriguing player, but he's the "Swing big" pick Gene Smith has seemingly wanted to avoid.
In addition, the Jaguars could be looking to use Henderson as trade bait in the draft. If the Bills were willing to use a 3 and a 5 to get Marcus Stroud even with his injury issues, the Jaguars must want to try to get a 2 for Henderson. If the Jaguars trade Henderson, look for them to try and get UCLA DT Brian Price. Paired with Knighton, he could very well give the Jaguars the additional pass rush they need.