JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and Jaguars/NFL media analyst Bucky Brooks examine the Jaguars’ defensive front in this position-by-position analysis of the ’22 offseason:
Position coaches: Brentson Buckner.
2021 starters: DT Malcom Brown (17), NT DaVon Hamilton (8), Roy Robertson-Harris (14), Adam Gotsis (3).
Others: Taven Bryan, Jay Tufele, Jihad Ward, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Raequan Williams.
2021 in a nutshell: The Jaguars in 2021 went through a transition on defense – and specifically, on the defensive front. They went from a 4-3 defensive scheme run by former defensive coordinator Todd Wash to a 3-4 scheme executed by 2021 defensive coordinator Joe Cullen. A group tasked with helping to improve a racing defense that had struggled a lot in the previous two seasons has taken significant steps in this direction. While the defense still struggled with the rush at times in 2021, the Jaguars’ league ranking of 23rd with 125.1 yards per game was a step up from 30th with 144.2 yards per game the previous season. Robertson-Harris and Brown, acquired via free agency from the Chicago Bears and traded to the New Orleans Saints in the 2021 offseason, respectively, proved to be capable seasoned veterans and helped bolster the area. Brown finished seventh on the team with 57 tackles and had four tackles to lose with three pressures and two sacks; Robertson-Harris had 37 tackles with four tackles to lose and nine pressures with three sacks. Hamilton had 46 tackles with a sack and Gotsis had 27 tackles with six tackles for a loss and three sacks.
Offseason Plot: This area, like many others around the Jaguars, has gone through significant changes this offseason — and that really has been the case so far. The idea is to continue making the necessary improvements in relation to the race. “Just look at our division,” said head coach Doug Pederson, referring to an AFC South that features two of the best running backs in the NFL – Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans and Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts. “It’s very important to stop the race.” Some significant departures were Gotsis, who was a major contributor on the defensive front in two seasons with the team, and Bryan — a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft who never lived up to pre-draft expectations and ended his career. Jaguars career with 17 starts in 63 games played with 5.5 sacks and 24 quarterback runs. Gotsis started 17 games and played 32 in two Jaguars seasons, recording three sacks and 10 quarterback runs. The Jaguars’ main offseason acquisition here: the signing as an unrestricted free agent of defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi, a high-profile quarterback who served as team captain for the New York Jets in 2021.
Top prospects for Bucky Brooks’ defensive line: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia; DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M; Logan Hall, DT, Houston; Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia; Travis Jones, DT, Connecticut.
Offseason Acquisitions: Fatukasi (Jets).
Offseason exits: Gotsis, Bryan (Cleveland Browns), Ward (New York Giants).
Oehser Analysis: The Jaguars, as expected, started this offseason by addressing this area in a meaningful way – not just letting Bryan and Gotsis leave, but signing Fatukasi. The signing of Fatukasi along with Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Foye Oluokun is another step towards solidifying a running defense that is set to continue the steps it made last season under Cullen. The Jaguars haven’t been strong or disruptive enough against the race in recent seasons. This forced them to play with extra defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, leaving the secondary more vulnerable than ideal. The idea of adding Fatukasi and Oluokun is to improve against the run to a point where they can play more honestly unaided, and put opponents in more obvious passing situations on the second and third downs. Pederson has said since joining the Jaguars in early February that he considers the defensive front to be one of the team’s strengths. The addition of Fatukasi could help strengthen that strength.
Brooks Analysis: The Jaguars’ infielders helped the unit improve against the run, but the defense must keep moving forward to stay in a division that features intense attacks in Tennessee, Indianapolis and Houston. The addition of Fatukasi adds a racing stopper to a lineup that features some scrappy veterans – Robertson-Harris and Brown – on the front lines. As defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell puts his mark on a defense that is expected to feature more movement, stunts and pressure, the inner group could add a few more athletic bodies to the mix to create more depth and flexibility within the rotation.