The Jaguars made a few things priorities in the 2015 season. Surround Blake Bortles with more talent? Check. Beef up the OL? Check. Upgrade the pass rush? Ch---ehhhh.
The Jaguars 2 big moves along the DL in 2015 were signing DL Jared Odrick and drafting University of Florida DE Dante Fowler #3 overall. After the Fowler selection, it appeared Gus Bradley finally had his horses for a DL that was found in shambles when he arrived in Jacksonville in 2013.
A lot of that went out the window when Dante Fowler tore his ACL one hour into his first NFL practice, sidelining him for the entirety of his rookie season. My expectations for Fowler were not extremely high for his rookie season, but he was pretty clearly the best Edge Rushing talent Jax had. With him gone, it is back to the same Edge Rush group that was used in 2014: Chris Clemons, Andre Branch, Ryan Davis, and Chris Smith.
Jacksonville tied for 6th in the NFL in Team Sacks last year with 45. Clemmons had 8. Branch had 3 (in limited action due to injury.) Davis had 6.5, and Chris Smith, getting snaps at the end of the season, finished with 3. That is 20.5 of the team's 45 sacks coming from the DE group. That is now great, not bad. But the sack total does not tell the whole story.
Truth is, Jacksonville did not have an Edge rushing threat in 2014. If they did, they would not have drafted a DE at #3 and expect him to start week 1 (Don't kid yourself, he would have.).
Clemons was productive, but he feasted on inferior OTs for a good chunk of his sacks, and went long stretches without getting pressure. My thoughts on Andre Branch have been documented for 2 years, but it is safe to say he is not who you should bank on for pass rush. Chris Smith flashed some talent, but he has 2 veterans in front of him with Branch and Clemons, and it is hard to predict if he will get enough snaps to produce.
That leaves Ryan Davis.
Davis is a peculiar case because despite have a LEO body type, he has been more productive as DT on pass downs. This isn't because he has shown he is a poor edge rusher, but because he is an incredibly efficient interior rusher.
Davis is able to win inside because he knows how to utilize leverage, quickness, and technique as a rusher. He never has the size advantage, but it rarely matters. In training camp last year, Jaguars DL coach Todd Wash said this about Davis: "He shows he can rush inside, and he also has given our tackles some problems on the edge...He's a technician, and he knows he has to be technician"
A good example of this would be Davis' 1st sack in 2014, in week 1 vs the Eagles.
On 3rd down, Davis lined up in his typical Nickel alignment, shading the outside shoulder of the LG, in this case All Pro OG Evan Mathis.
Davis fires out of his stance with a low center of gravity. For him to be able to maximize his speed advantage and minimise his strength and size disadvantage, playing with good leverage is his best bet. He is able to get under Mathis' pads and force Mathis to play on his heels instead of being able to anchor.
Davos then uses his quickness, leverage, and technique to blow past Mathis. Since he is working the outside half of Mathis, he can shoot past Mathis as long as he keeps leverage and protects himself. He protects himself by shooting his hands inside Mathis' frame, keeping him off balance and unable to shift or anchor.
He then rips his hands through as soon as he creates space for himself, winning the rush.
Davis' next sack came the next week, vs the Washington Redskins.
His alignment on this play was different than vs the Eagles, and was more of a stunt package than a 4 man rush. Still, we got to see his technique when working against a RT as opposed to an OG.
Davis shoots outside and uses his length to keep the OT's hands off of him.
The Redskins RT is well.....bad. He is still looking for a stunting defender despite being engaged with Davis on the edge. Davis is able to take advantage of this though, using his awareness to shed the blocker (loosely used term in this case.)
Week 8 against the Dolphins, Davis registered 2 sacks from 2 different alignments.
Sack #1 came from a Nickel DT alignment, like his week 1 sack.
This play is an absolute clinic on how to win with technique as a pass rusher.
This is why Davis is as good of a pass rusher as he is. He has shown he has worked on his craft endlessly, because you won't find many players who consistently show the technique that he shows on a constant basis. Combine this with DE quickness, and you have a matchup nightmare.
Davis' 2nd sack vs Miami was a similar type of play compared to his week 2 sack, but this time the OT offered much more resistance.
Alas, the end result is the same.
Here is Davis rushing from LEO, something that rarely occurred.
Davis shows the proficient technique that he showed on the inside, and even some bend, leading to a forced fumble.
We have a VERY small sample size Davis rushing off the edge, but I think he should see more snaps at LEO in 2015. The team likely sees him as a situational rusher who will stay inside, but with Jared Odrick and Michael Bennett now on the roster, Davis isn't as needed there anymore. They can help shoulder the expected loss of Sen'Derrick Marks productivity and give Davis the chance to show he can win as a LEO.
The Jaguars know what they have in Andre Branch and Chris Clemons as LEO's. Why not see what you have in Davis?
Regardless of where Davis plays in 2015, I expect him to play a big role. He took a huge step last season, and with Fowler down and Marks fresh off a torn ACL, he is now clearly the top dog among the Jaguars pass rushers, even if the team doesn't know it yet.