There might not be any playoff football to discuss right now, but that doesn’t mean the last seven days have been quiet for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here is the week in quotes:
“Heck of a season”
In a week dominated by staff hirings - one in particular, it was actually a member of the playing staff that helped produced the first quote-worthy news of the week. Anton Harrison, the rookie right tackle, underwent shoulder surgery shortly after the season ended - an ailment he had been dealing with the entire year. Whilst he missed some time in training camp due to the problem, Harrison suited up and started in every game in 2023 - a testament to his durability. Considering the injury, the fact that he delivered a very impressive first season in Jacksonville did not go unnoticed by head coach Doug Pederson:
“Anton, heck of a season. He played hurt and banged up and we’ve talked about it in here, he had an edge rusher every week, just about. He held up really well. I know our guys talking about him know that he’s going to be a great player. That’s one we’re excited about.”
A strong start for Harrison - and with his shoulder on the mend, hopefully even more to come.
“There’s been some buzz…”
According to Albert Breer in his latest mailbag, "there was at least some buzz the past few weeks of the season that the Jacksonville Jaguars’ front office, led by [Trent ] Baalke, was looking hard at where the offense is under [Press] Taylor."https://t.co/HSvMWxBAVf— Jaguar Report (@JaguarReport) January 18, 2024
Now over to the coaching ranks, where the Jaguars have - and in some cases haven’t - made moves. Obviously with Mike Caldwell being relieved of his duties, all eyes were on who the Jags were bringing in to interview for defensive coordinator. But Albert Breer from Sports Illustrated caused something of a stir when he suggested that the front office were also evaluating the performance of the offense last year:
“There was at least some buzz the past few weeks of the season that the Jacksonville Jaguars’ front office, led by Baalke, was looking hard at where the offense was under Taylor. And if you remember, Pederson’s loyalty to his coaches is what, in the end, wound up leading to his firing with the Philadelphia Eagles.”
Hmm. Much ado about nothing, or smoke and fire? Pederson has been steadfast in his support for Press Taylor all year - backing his offensive coordinator when asked about his playcalling abilities - a duty only bestowed upon him this season. As Breer alluded to, it’s unlikely that the Jaguars head coach would be happy to have Baalke questioning staffing decisions - leading to rumors of a power struggle between the two. With the GM in front of the media earlier on Thursday - you can read his thoughts on a variety of subjects here - and Taylor still in a job, this might rumble on…
“An outstanding football coach”
We have hired Ryan Nielsen as defensive coordinator. pic.twitter.com/Am0b6SuXSg— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) January 22, 2024
Okay. Over to the big news of the week, which was the Jaguars landing on Ryan Nielsen to be their new defensive coordinator. Jacksonville’s initial request to interview Nielson was rebuffed by the Atlanta Falcons, leading the team to speak to a whole host of different candidates. However, the Falcons later allowed Nielsen the opportunity after it became clear any head coach they appointed would likely bring their own DC in - and Nielsen was everything the Jags hoped for. Doug Pederson was delighted to get his man:
“We’re excited to welcome Ryan and have him lead our defense moving forward. Ryan is an outstanding football coach and his defenses with the Falcons and Saints were always fundamentally sound in both their physicality and concepts. He has the rare ability to both teach and connect with his players. He builds lasting, two-way relationships predicated on trust. He establishes accountability, first from himself, then the players. What I’ve most admired about Ryan’s defenses - and we saw this in London back in October - was their shared intensity and enthusiasm to get the job done and impact the game.”
Fan reaction to the hiring of Nielsen has been positive. Last year, the Falcons defense ranked 3rd in third-down conversions, 4th in red zone efficiency and 11th in yards per game. Nielsen’s defense also tied for the second-most forced fumbles in the NFL - the kind of statistic that changes games. Next up? Fleshing out his own coaching staff; with Dave Huxtable and Matt House already announced, and Kris Richard rumored to be interviewed. Watch this space.
“The best possible hire”
As a man who has covered the Jaguars for five years, John Shipley has been through his fair share of staff changes. So it means something when - on the Jaguars Report podcast with our very own Gus Logue - he says that bringing in Nielsen as DC might be the best hire in that timespan. Not only that, but in his latest article for the Fan Nation site, Shipley argues that Nielsen was the best candidate available in this hiring cycle:
“Kudos to the Jaguars. They just hired the best possible available defensive coordinator candidate, and it might not be very close. Not only is Nielsen a respected defensive line maestro, but the Falcons’ defense improved by leaps and bounds in just one short season under his guidance. Plus, the Jaguars weren’t the only team looking at him.”
In years past, staff with a choice of destinations may have gone elsewhere. It’s a testament to how far the Jaguars have come as a franchise the last two seasons - and the level of talent on the roster - that Nielsen had options and came to Duval County regardless.
“They can’t afford to let him leave the building”
Where would this column be without a quote from Demetrius Harvey? As the Florida Times-Union beat writer quite rightly pointed out, there are some significant decisions to be made in terms of contract extensions this offseason. At the top of the list is edge rusher Josh Allen, who after a huge year would be an ideal piece for new coordinator Ryan Nielsen to build around. Allen is at the end of his rookie deal, and he won’t come cheap - but Harvey argues it’s a price that must be paid:
“The Jaguars simply don’t have the luxury of allowing Allen to walk out the door. Allen and second-year OLB Travon Walker accounted for 68.75% of the team’s sacks this year. Applying a franchise tag and forcing Allen to play on it this season is a non-starter. No matter the method used, Allen should be locked into a deal with Jacksonville before training camp.”
No franchise tag, no prolonged negotiations, no holdouts - get it done Mr. Baalke!