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.
First up, defensive end Tyson Alualu.
As we're well aware, and often reminded, Alualu was the No. 10 overall picking the 2010 NFL Draft. It was one of the biggest shockers in the entire draft and took virtually everyone by surprise. It wasn't that Alualu was a complete unknown of a player, but more that he was expected to go to a 3-4 base team and go somewhere in the late first round or early second round. Instead, then general manager Gene Smith, pulled the trigger on the versatile defensive lineman with the intent to make him a pass rusher on the inside.
Well, that didn't work.
Alualu wasn't necessarily bad in the Jaguars four-man front, but he just wasn't what you'd expect out of a defensive tackle picked in the Top 10 with the intent on him being an interior disruptor. Alualu's rookie season was promising, but ultimately his production and play tapered off. It didn't help that Alualu had micro-fracture surgery on his knee, which is typically a death knell for a lineman.
For the 2013 season, Alualu was shifted to what many would consider his natural position at the five-technique defensive end spot in Gus Bradley's hybrid 4-3 defensive front. There were growing pains early in the season, but Alualu settled in the back half of the season and did an adequate job. The biggest issue however is that Alualu had no help at the position and was really the team's only true five-technique end outside of undrafted rookie Abry Jones.
Why he might improve:
Many think Alualu is a bubble player on the Jaguars roster and will have a tough time making the team. There is a very good chance Alualu improves from last season, which to be fair left a lot to be desired. For one, Alualu was transitioning back to the defensive end position after playing in the NFL for three years as a defensive tackle. It should be a natural switch for him since it's similar to what he did in college, but changing positions on the fly while learning a new defensive system is going to come with its own issues. Alualu now has that full season, plus an offseason training at the position under his belt and should feel more comfortable at the spot now.
The Jaguars also added Red Bryant to the squad, who is expected to be the starting five-technique going forward, which should allow Alualu to be more of a fresh off-the-bench rotational player, which might actually be his best spot in this Jaguars defense. He can come in and give Bryant a breather and also provide depth to the interior line if necessary. Alualu played too much last season and it showed, as he'd wear down late in games down the stretch, similar to that of Sen'Derrick Marks.
Why he might regress:
Alualu has simply been an average player for the Jaguars ever since his rookie season. He seemed to plateau there and never really improve much. Alualu is at that point however, where simply not improving in his fourth season in the NFL will constitute regression, because if you're not getting better someone else is, and that means you're getting worse.
Alualu was solid setting the edge for the Jaguars, which is what the team expects out of that position, but he'll need to do more than just simply set the edge going forward. He's dealt with some minor injuries and micro-fracture surgery in his career, so the NFL wear on his body could force him to decline in play.
Odds of making the roster:
While the signing of Red Bryant have made a lot of Jaguars fans assume it spells the end for Alualu, I don't think it's that cut and dry. For starters, Bryant is 30 years old and played less than 500 total snaps in 2013 and they have steadily declined since he took over as a starter in 2011. While I would expect Bryant to play over 500 snaps for the Jaguars in 2014 as a primary starter, he's going to need someone capable on the roster to give him a breather during games and in case he's injury. At worst, Alualu provides that whereas we don't know if anyone else on the roster can.
You also have to consider the financial side of things with Alualu, as well. While the Jaguars are not in a dire cap situation and can afford to eat dead money if they need to, cutting Alualu provides no relief on the salary cap. The team is paying him the same whether he's on the final 53-man roster or not. This, to me, would lean more to the team keeping him the final year of his deal rather than dumping a perfectly capable back up/rotational player for no gain on the cap.