All eyes will be on the Jaguars passing game as training camp opens, and with good reason. In 2011 Jaguars were ranked 32nd in passing offense and total offense. The quarterback play, wide receiver play, and passing game as a whole were at best inefficient, and at worst embarrassing.
Great strides have been taken to improve in this area, including the hiring of an impressive offensive coaching staff and adding wide receivers through free agency and the draft. If these efforts pay off the Jaguars will have fixed a long-time problem.
However, there is another long-time problem that the Jaguars have tried to remedy but have yet to fix - finding a pass rush, specifically sacks.
As the years went by with Jack Del Rio as the coach, the team constantly struggled in this statistical area, even going as far as saying that although sacks were a goal they weren't everything, using phrases like "affecting the quarterback" or "moving him off the spot." Hopefully we'll start hearing something like, "the quarterback must go down" now because it is a truth that the most effective defenses sack the quarterback and do it in abundance.
Tony Brackens has been the only Jaguars player to produce statistically as a top pass rusher in the NFL. His 55 career sacks dwarf the sack totals of the rest of the team's defense players.
Jaguars Career Sack Leaders
1. Tony Brackens 55.0
2. Joel Smeenge 34.0
3. John Henderson 29.0
4. (tie) Kevin Hardy 28.5
Paul Spicer 28.5
But Brackens only eclipsed the threshold of 10 sacks in a season twice in his career. In fact, there have only been 3 seasons in the 17 years of Jaguars football that any Jaguars player has achieved this feat. Each year that it has happened, the Jaguars have had a highly-rated defensive unit.
Jaguars Seasons with 10+ sack producers
1999 - Tony Brackens 12.0 sacks
Kevin Hardy 10.5 sacks
Gary Walker 10.0 sacks
Jaguars Defensive ranking: yards = 4th; points = 1st
2001 - Tony Brackens 11.0 sacks
Jaguars Defensive ranking: yards = 17th; points = 10th
2006 - Bobby McCray 10.0 sacks
Jaguars Defensive ranking: yards = 2nd ; points = 4th
Sacks matter in football. In today's game, with an emphasis on passing, they matter more than ever. Last year the Jaguars defense was ranked 6th in yards allowed, but 11th in points allowed. They were ranked 25th in sacks with 31. The league average was 37 sacks.
A star pass rusher has eluded the team since Brackens retired. Jeremy Mincey has led the team in sacks the last two years, but has been far down the list of league leaders in that category.
Jaguars sack leader / league ranking
2011 - Jeremy Mincey 8.0 sacks (29th)
2010 - Jeremy Mincey 5.0 sacks (56th)
2009 - John Henderson 3.0 sacks (108th)
2008 - Reggie Hayward 4.5 sacks (62nd)
2007 - Paul Spicer 7.5 sacks (29th)
2006 - Bobby McCray 10.0 sacks (16th)
2005 - Reggie Hayward 8.5 sacks (20th)
2004 - Greg Favors sacks 5.5 sacks (51st)
John Henderson 5.5 sacks (51st)
2003 - Tony Brackens 6.0 sacks (36th)
2002 - John Henderson 6.5 sacks (42nd)
Marcus Stroud 6.5 sacks (42nd)
2001 - Tony Brackens 11.0 sacks (11th)
2000 - Tony Brackens 7.5 sacks (33rd)
1999 - Tony Brackens 12.0 sacks (7th)
1998 - Joel Smeenge 7.5 sacks (35th)
1997 - Clyde Simmons 8.5 sacks (25th)
1996 - Clyde Simmons 7.5 sacks (33rd)
1995 - Joel Smeenge 4.0 sacks (87th)
Only once in their history have the Jaguars produced a top 10 individual sack performance. Maybe this year the pieces are falling into place.
Mincey claimed he just missed on several sacks last year and should have been in double digits. Gene Smith must have believed him to give him the free agent deal that kept him in Jacksonville. Austen Lane is returning to health after spending the end of last year on IR. The Jaguars spent their second round draft pick on Andre Branch, a defensive end from Clemson. The interior of the defensive line looks to be healthier and deeper than in years past. The linebackers appear to be healthy and could contribute to the pass rush.
Also, an improved offense may put the defense in more pass rushing opportunities by scoring more points and playing with a lead, or at least keeping it close.
The offense may be under the most scrutiny this year, but the sack production needs a hard look as well.