This is part five of my six article breakdown of the Jaguars roster based on performance, statistics and the all important eyeball test.
Well, we're coming down to the home stretch. So far I've been able to stay relatively positive in my assessment of each group, but that's about to end right now. With only the linebacking corps and secondary left to review, expect some negative feedback. It's not because I'm a downer, or a hater or anything like that, it's simply because the Jaguars lack talent at the linebacker position in a big way. Depth is terrible, starters are inconsistent and... well, just click the jump and you'll see.
Smith reached 97 tackles to lead the team, and added an INT, 1 FF, and 3.5 sacks. That's right, ALL of the big plays made by linebackers were Smith. He was the clear playmaker of the back 7. Smith is an all-around linebacker, and was extremely effective blitzing from the outside. If you had three Daryl Smiths on the field, your defense would look ten times better. He was moved back to his outside linebacker position from MLB due to the Jaguars magicking away Kirk Morrison for next to nothing. Smith was right back in his comfort zone, and teams knew to avoid him. He's a real thumper, he's got very good quickness, and he is a consistent talent whose success was hidden by the terrible defense he was playing for.
Kirk Morrison on the other hand... Now there's a let down for ya. Morrison came over super cheap from the Raiders after being a 100 tackle player for every year of his career. He wound up making on 87 tackles while playing every game. He was passable in the passing game, but dropped the ball in the running game. When we were talking about how great of a trade the Morrison deal was on the site, I remember one Raiders fan who came on and told Jaguars fans not to feel to happy about the deal. He essentially told the site that Morrison is not very instinctive, and that he often takes bad angles on run plays and gets eaten up too easily. I can think of 3 plays off the top of my head (one actually in the Raiders game) where Morrison did just what we were warned about, and the defense gave up a TD. We got him for cheap, he was an excellent placeholder player, but I'm of the opinion that he's not a long term solution, and if I had to pick, I'd keep Justin Durant instead.
With that said, Durant can't stay on the field. He missed 6 games last season, and came away with 55 tackles in his 10 games. He has the potential to run with tight ends, and can be a solid coverage guy, but consistency is important. I'd keep him and hope he can come back and make plays now that he's entering his 5th year. He sure didn't make any in 2010...
When he was out, however, things got worse. Beyond those three guys, the Jaguars have no depth. Just so we're clear here, the Jaguars have only 6 linebackers on the roster and the backups on the depth chart are: Slade Norris, Alvin Bowen and Russell Allen. Of those three, Allen actually saw some significant time. More than enough time to show that he belongs on the bench. Allen was burned by tight ends, mostly lost in the running game, and clearly lacked the physical skill set to be an NFL starter. Ideally, he'd only be on the team as a special teamer.
The solution here is that the Jaguars needs jars on the shelf. Honestly, everyone but Daryl Smith is replaceable, and nothing would make me happier than seeing Russell Allen buried so deep on the depth chart that he gets diagnosed with a vitamin E deficiency. (Vitamin E comes from taking in direct sunlight.) Hopefully, Morrison will be allowed to walk, the Jaguars will find a solid, reliable free agent, and then draft a future starter somewhere in the top 4 rounds. That'd at least get us four-deep at linebacker, and still allow us to potentially (based on other signings/releases) finagle a compensatory pick next year. Our linebackers need an infusion of young talent and quick, because the unit, which is usually a strength of the Jags' team, really held the defense back last year.