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Could Dawuane Smoot step up for the Jacksonville Jaguars, following attrition along the defensive line?

NFL: New York Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the first practice in pads today, Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone addressed the media. Marrone spoke about many topics, including the recent news that defensive lineman Rodney Gunter has to step away from football due to a heart condition, and the signing of fellow defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan. Another topic that came up is the role fourth-year defensive end Dawuane Smoot will play in 2020.

Around the 11:50 mark of the above video, Marrone had this to say on Smoot:

“He’s changed,” Marrone said of the defensive end. “I think you guys (who) are out there have seen, when talking about his body type, he’s bigger, he’s stronger. He’s really been trying to take advantage of the reps that he has. I know he will be able to help us, and now it’s just a matter of seeing how much. I feel very good about where he’s at. I think he’s worked extremely hard, and it shows. I think these next couple of weeks, like with a lot of these players, we’ll see what ability they have to help us win.”

Attrition on the defensive line continues to hit the Jaguars hard. In fact, Marrone also noted that from the past couple of seasons to now, this is probably the most change he’s faced on the defensive line throughout his entire coaching career.

In the offseason, Jacksonville, of course, traded defensive leader Calais Campbell to the Baltimore Ravens and parted ways with defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The Jags then signed veterans Gunter and Al Woods in the offseason. As mentioned, Gunter will not play this season, nor will Woods, who decided to opt out due to COVID-19. Another defensive lineman/outside linebacker, Lerentee McCray, also opted out earlier this offseason. Second-year defensive tackle Dontavius Russell is currently on the injured reserve list with a hip injury. Meanwhile, Yannick Ngakoue is still yet to report to training camp, although he has recently had some contact with general manager Dave Caldwell.

With all of that movement, there is an opportunity for somebody to step up in the defensive trenches. Gunter was expected to play a similar role to Campbell as a “big end,” which meant he may have spent time both at defensive end and in the interior of the defensive line. Ngakoue of course plays at end. Josh Allen and rookie K’Lavon Chaisson both have the ability to play with their hand in the dirt or standing up. Others on the roster, such as Cassius Marsh and Aaron Lynch, also have that kind of versatility to play at end or linebacker. Newly-signed defensive ends Adam Gotsis and Josh Mauro now have a chance to make the roster and get reps as well. But it was Smoot who Marrone praised today.

Update: Aaron Lynch has now decided to retire, which is yet another hit to the defensive line for the Jaguars.

Smoot has done a really good job and I told him that,” Marrone said. “I like the way he’s practicing. I like where his mind is — he’s really focused and he’s really working on things to make our team a better football team, which I think is important. I’m just really happy, and if it does get on his plate where he does have to do more, I don’t have an issue with that, either. You’re dealing with a player (who) is going to give you everything he has every time. Whether it’s good enough or not, we’ll see, but that’s what we’re working for.”

Smoot is coming off of his most productive season yet. After failing to register a sack in his first two seasons, the Illinois product recorded six sacks in 2019. He has also accumulated 41 total tackles, including nine tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits and one fumble recovery in 40 career games, according to Pro Football Reference.

It sounds as if Marrone is confident in Smoot’s ability if his number is called, but Smoot still has work to do and a lot to prove. This may be the former third-round pick’s best chance yet to earn a starting spot or at least a heavy rotational role. A lot of it could come down to where Chaisson ends up playing (defensive end, strong-side linebacker, etc.), but given all of the attrition, the opportunity is there for Smoot to shine in 2020.