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Calais Campbell sees potential on Jaguars defensive line

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars-OTA Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest signings (pun intended) for the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason was veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell. Campbell has been a productive defensive lineman in the NFL with the team who drafted him, the Arizona Cardinals, since 2008. Campbell has never been a pass rusher that teams had to fear because he racked up numbers, but he’s been a consistent disruptive presence during his long career.

Bringing Campbell in provides some consistency to a defensive line that, while talented, has lacked the ability to be counted on in big spots. The team had a bright spot in rookie Yannick Ngakoue and have some talented players like Abry Jones and a star in Malik Jackson, but consistency and credibility has been a big issue and that’s something that Campbell brings to the table. Not that someone like Jackson isn’t a credible player, but Campbell is more well known throughout the league.

Campbell does think the Jaguars have a lot of young potential on the defensive line.

“[Yannick Ngakoue] is hungry. He’s always trying to get better. Working on little, small things every day. Whether it’s his hands, hand placement, his first step, the way he comes off moves – he’s working every day on something different,” Campbell said on Thursday last week when asked about young players having success early in their career. “You see his progression. He’s getting better every day, too. He had a great year last year, but I think he’s getting ready to become one of those premier pass rushers.”

Campbell didn’t stop at just singling out Ngakoue, who set the Jaguars franchise record for sacks for a rookie, giving a glowing review of rookie third-round pick Dawuane Smoot and noting how much of an athlete Fowler is on the field.

“We’re just in shorts, so you can never get too excited, but he has flashed a little bit,” Campbell said of Smoot. “I told him, ‘Don’t disappear on me when the pads come on. I need you to keep this same stuff up when the pads come on.’ He has a lot of potential.”

The big thing for the Jaguars is the development and maturation of these young players, in combination with the addition of Campbell on the defensive line. Campbell things the maturity and develop comes with hard work, or at least it did for him.

“My mentality is come in and grind, so the guys can see. I feel like I’m a pretty good player, I’ve been consistent. A good player, but it’s because of my work ethic and it’s because of the stuff I have trained on and practiced,” Campbell said.

Many expect Campbell to come in right away and be a veteran leader for the Jaguars, but it sounds like Campbell is more the lead by example type. He talks to players, gives them advice, but he’s not going to be like Telvin Smith or Roy Miller, hyping players up and being animated on the field.

He wants to just come in and work his tail off, because he said that’s what he saw the good players, like Larry Fitzgerald, doing when he came into the league. He saw it pay off for those players, himself and now he trying to get that message to the young Jaguars defenders.

“When I’m out there or meeting with those other guys I’m always encouraging them to study themselves and study the players that they like and see why guys are consistently the best in the game, even the guys that are done playing,” Campbell continued. “Go back and look at film of other greats and compare your tape to theirs. What are you doing that they are not? Also, by just working on whatever something is to get better.”

Most expect the Jaguars defense to be good in 2017, and it should be on paper. There are still a few question marks about it however, and question marks that can lower the ceiling on how good the defense can become. The pass rush from the defensive line, even with the presence of Jackson and Campbell, is still a big questions. Will Ngakoue fal off from his rookie season? Can Fowler develop a rush move and become more consistent? Can Smoot bring anything as a rookie as part of the rotation?

If players like Ngakoue and Fowler, or even just one of them, take that next step for the Jaguars, it will make that defense that much better in 2017. From what we know so far, the Jaguars are going to lean on their defense, so everything helps.