If there's one group that can appreciate a transformation story, it's Dave Caldwell and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The current Jaguars regime has now spent three years changing -- a process headed by general manager Caldwell but practiced by the entire organization.
Tashaun Gipson, former Cleveland Browns safety, has also puttered with change. It took Gipson the same three years to transform from an undrafted rookie cornerback into a Pro Bowl safety.
That's change the Jaguars can believe in. The team recently inked Gipson to a deal worth $35 million over five years -- a sizable step from where it all started for Gipson.
Following the conclusion of his senior season at Wyoming, Gipson arrived at the NFL's doorstep with prototypical safety size but very little safety experience -- probably one of the reasons that all 32 teams passed on drafting him in 2012. As an undrafted rookie defensive back, Gipson would go on to steal the Cleveland Browns' starting free safety spot without ever looking back.
Gipson is a near-flawless illustration of a cover safety -- a ball-hawking defensive back with fluid hips and a knack for back-pedaling into interceptions. However, Gipson's ball-hawk label doesn't paint the entire picture -- there's plenty more to his game.
Gifted with the instincts of a modern nickel corner, Gipson brings an aggressive finality to the free safety position. Gipson's decision-making process is as quick as his feet are, allowing him the ability to meet the ball wherever it travels to.
In fact, Gipson meets the ball quite a bit -- five interceptions in 2013 and six interceptions through the first eight games in 2014. Gipson finished second in the league in picks in 2014 despite sitting out the last five games with a sprained MCL. Since the beginning of 2012, only Richard Sherman has recorded more total interceptions.
I should point out -- I have included zero Gipson interceptions in this film room breakdown.
That might sound pretty stupid considering I just droned on about Gipson's flashy interception totals, but here's my issue -- most of Gipson's on-field impact is far from flashy. This isn't to say Gipson's impact isn't substantial, of course, because it is. Somewhere behind his rising interception numbers, Gipson has developed a knack for hitting hard and disrupting offensive momentum. Gipson matured into an established leader on the Browns' defense, and a lot of it had to do with plays similar to the four examples I have handpicked from hours and hours of footage.
I have done my best to compile a cluster of plays that serves as an illustration of what Gipson may bring to the field on any given Sunday. Gipson's value lies within his instincts and his nose for the ball -- overall, he's a damn good centerfielder with a game that mirrors Eric Weddle's, in a way.
The first play, below, is a great depiction of a classic issue that over-top safeties face. Gipson, unsurprisingly, handles the situation well.
It might not seem like it in the still frame above, but Tashaun Gipson (red) is alone. The Bengals' two outside receivers (yellow) are going to push deep, while a seam tight end is going to pull in Gipson's fellow safety teammate. The worst thing Gipson could do here is get caught in on the wrong side of the field.
As Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton approaches the last step in his drop, Gipson maintains a steady back pedal. Gipson is waiting on any kind of indication from Dalton of which direction the ball is heading.
As Dalton shifts his focus to Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, so does Gipson. Gipson accelerates to the top of the frame, choosing a careful angle in order to meet the ball at the same moment that Green does.
As Browns cornerback Joe Haden remains planted to Green's outside hip, Gipson makes his way overtop.
The ball lands right in front of Green. Unfortunately for him, so does Tashaun Gipson. In the end, Gipson wins the route by making a swift decision and covering the top side.
The ball falls anticlimactically to the ground -- almost another addition to Gipson's collection of interceptions.
Satisfied with his pass-breakup, Gipson trots back to the action to set up for the next down.
Gipson doesn't always rely on his ability to aid overtop, however. Sometimes, Gipson has to rely on his instincts under the first-down marker.
New York Jets wide receiver Chris Owusu (yellow) lines up outside. His route (also yellow) will carry him across the field, where he'll eventually be met by Gipson (red).
At the snap, Gipson opens his hips and remains in position. Like a hawk in a tree, Gipson is reading the play development from above.
Before Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick even winds up to throw, Gipson takes off towards Owusu, now beginning his cut across the field. Gipson is taking action before the pass is thrown.
As the ball approaches Owusu, Gipson approaches from the opposite direction. Gipson closes in fast and decisively, like a linebacker.
Gipson meets Owusu when the ball does. Gipson is unable to disrupt the catch, but holds Owusu to a gain of four.
The play above is a great example of Gipson's instincts and ability to sniff out a play. Of course, you might consider the double-edged sword that comes attached to playing decisively -- often times, a quarterback can dislodge a safety with a glance or a pump-fake. Gipson is not immune to QB demeanor, but he does enjoy most of the traits that Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley would be looking for in a safety -- fast feet, willingness to fly around, and a quick decision-making process. Generally, that's a good thing.
Gipson chooses his targets with more determination than consideration, allowing him to play with speed and certainty. And when Gipson hits, man -- does he hit hard.
This is another play from Gipson's 2014 Pro Bowl season. Bengal's tight end Jermaine Gresham (yellow) is going to run a deep stick route, and he's going to be open.
As Gresham turns away from the linebacker in an effort to open himself to his quarterback, Gipson (red) reads the situation and takes off towards the tight end.
When Gresham makes contact with the ball, Gipson is still about four yards away. This should be an easy catch for the 6'5 tight end. Then again, Gipson is flying.
Gipson turns his speed into momentum, launching himself into Gresham's midsection.
The ball is dislodged and falls to the ground. Gresham has to take a play off to catch his breath. This is one of my favorite Gipson plays -- pure recognition, speed, and brute force.
Of course, covering a receiver is hardly ever about brute force. A lot of the time, a defensive back has to utilize proper angles and timing to disrupt a pass play when they get stuck in a one-on-one responsibility. Below is a great example Gipson's cornerback aptitude rising to the surface for a play.
It might seems that, against their own goalline, a safety's role gets diminished due to lack of space. Actually, the opposite is true -- a safety is asked to do more in a goalline scenario since an offense will typical shift to close-range tactics. In this play, Gipson (red) will find himself with a running back flat responsibility.
Before the snap, Ravens running back Justin Forsett is sent in motion. Gipson reacts -- you can see him use a call out in the frame above.
At the snap, Forsett pushes his route up towards the endzone. Gipson refuses to give up ground.
Suddenly, Forsett breaks out to the left. Gipson reacts quickly, rushing to beat the ball.
It's difficult to see from this angle, but not only does Gipson meet Forsett at the catch to keep the running back out of the endzone -- he deflects the pass as well. The ball falls to the ground and Gipson wraps up his kill.
Gipson puts up the fin with his hand. A shark, indeed -- one of the deadliest in the aquarium.
Gipson's game demands respect -- it's as simple as that. The still frames and commentary help people like you and me appreciate the things that this guy does on Sundays, but trust me, it doesn't carry much weight -- Gipson has already earned the respect and admiration of other players and coaches.
Gipson's Browns teammates deemed him a leader, the fans voted him into the Pro Bowl, and the NFL named him the 67th best player in the league in 2015.
So what can Gipson accomplish as part of a young defense in Jacksonville? I'd say the sky is the limit.