On July 31st, 2020, defensive tackle Al Woods — who was signed by the Jaguars during the offseason to help shore up a leaky run defense — informed the team of his decision to opt-out of the 2020 NFL season.
One day later, veteran defensive end Lerentee McCray also decided to opt-out.
On August 9th, second-year defensive tackle Dontavius Russell (hip) and third-year defensive tackle Brian Price (knee) were both placed on IR.
On August 16th, Rodney Gunter, another defensive tackle signed during free agency in 2020, was forced to retire due to an enlarged aortic valve.
The very next day defensive end Aaron Lynch retired due to personal reasons.
That's right. Within a span of three weeks, the Jaguars lost six defensive linemen.
And then there's the Yannick Ngakoue situation. Will he sign his franchise tender or sit out? Will the Jaguars find a suitable trade partner? Who knows at this point, but the talented defensive end has not shown up to camp yet.
Oh, yeah. Josh Mauro and Carl Davis are suspended to start the year for violating the NFL's PED policy. Mauro will miss five games, while Davis will miss four.
Adding insult to injury, Taven Bryan is now dealing with a bone bruise in his knee. He's considered week to week but shouldn't be in danger of missing the season opener. On the bright side, his absence will allow more practice reps for the other guys.
Attrition? You bet.
The Jaguars have added some pieces to the mix in light of the massive losses they've suffered at defensive end. But the only potential difference-maker they've been able to find is Timmy Jernigan. The former Super Bowl champion originally agreed to sign with Houston earlier this offseason, but things fell apart, and Jernigan once again found himself on the free-agent market. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they were able to pounce, adding the versatile defensive tackle to their roster. Jernigan does come with injury concerns — he's played in just 13 games over the last two seasons — but he's a guy that knows how to stop the run and even brings some juice as a pass rusher. Jernigan has provided a boost of energy for the Jaguars' D-Line group.
Jaguars' head coach Doug Marrone spoke about the defensive line group on Monday. He expressed confidence in the players currently on the roster.
"I think we've got guys that can go ahead and stop the run," said Marrone. "I think we've got guys that can rush the passer. I think that we might not have as many of those dual threats on the inside, that can do both, which is fine. So, it's going to be interesting, but I think the same thing. When people always say, we're not actively like 'Oh shoot we've got to go out and we've got to get this guy for this position. But I always want to make sure that everyone understands that if something does become available [and] we feel that it's going to help our football team and we're going to get better; we're going to be able to do that. Because we, along with everyone else in this league, have a list of guys that potentially can help us in case someone gets injured or not. And I think that before [DL] Taven [Bryan] bruised his knee, he's a guy that's really picked it up. I think we saw a little bit of it last year, but this year, he's practicing and performing as well as I've ever seen. That's a plus. [DE/LB] Josh [Allen] is back and it's his second year and you can see some things that he's working on and it's going to be better. A lot of these inside guys that not many people know about, on the outside they may be like 'Well, this guy's a two-down.' You keep hearing this stuff about two-down player, two-down player, and at the end of the day if he can perform well in those two downs to get us to third down, then what the [heck] is wrong with that? And I think we have a lot of guys that do take a lot of pride. Yes, they all want to rush the passer and get sacks, but they have to understand that—Let's make sure we can get to a point where we can get people in third downs."
While quality depth remains an issue, the cupboard is hardly bare along the defensive line.
Josh Allen is one of the premier young pass rushers in football. He picked up 10.5 sacks as a rookie and appears poised to be a dominant force in year two.
The Jaguars also added two defensive linemen early on in the 2020 NFL Draft. With the 20th overall pick, the Jags landed edge rusher K'Lavon Chaisson, and at 73 overall, they nabbed nose tackle DaVon Hamilton. Both players have had impressive moments in camp, and are working towards becoming more consistent contributors.
Taven Bryan, the 2018 first-round selection, will step into a starting role for the first time. If he can carry over his level of play from the back half of 2019, the Jaguars will be in good shape at the three-tech spot.
Jacksonville's defensive line coach, Jason Rebrovich, likes what he sees from Taven Bryan heading into a pivotal third season in the league. "Hopefully all of you guys have watched some tape for the last few 9 or 10 practices, Taven Bryan is having one heck of a camp now," said Rebrovich. "He's showing up quite a bit in his running, in his toughness at the point of attack and how he strains, it's showing. And I'm going to tell you this, his confidence level is coming with that, too."
2017 third-rounder, defensive end Dawuane Smoot, racked up six sacks in 2019 and is looking to build on that performance this year. He too, has had a strong training camp and is taking on a leadership role for the Jaguars' defensive line group. Jason Rebrovich lauded Smoot for his work ethic and his improvement this summer. "I mean, you're talking about a guy that wants to hone in on his craft," Rebrovich commented. "He shows up; he's had probably a little chip on his shoulder since his first rookie year, until really transitioning into more of a role player. Especially in the third-down stuff that we did from a year ago, and he's had one heck of a camp. Sometimes it takes some guys some learning curve and understanding what we're doing from a technique standpoint, scheme standpoint. And Smoot is doing one heck of a job, not only that, but in the classroom and on the field, he's becoming one heck of a leader."
Cassius Marsh was added in free agency. The athletic edge defender has been a productive role player in recent years but has bounced around the league quite a bit.
And of course, there's Abry Jones: the team's longest-tenured player had a disappointing campaign in 2019, but has taken on a leadership role this summer and should be able to bounce back as a rotational player for the Jaguars on the interior. He can play nose tackle or three tech.
Rounding out the defensive tackle room is undrafted rookie Doug Costin. The bottom of the roster at defensive end features Josh Mauro and Adam Gotsis, both of whom have plenty of experience in the NFL.
There certainly isn't a ton of quality depth on the defensive line in Duval, but rare is the team that has legitimate depth at every spot. The Jaguars will need to find a bit of injury luck after all the losses they've seen on the defensive line this year, but the front line talent has enough to make it a viable group. Stopping the run on first and second down will be paramount, and the Jaguars, from the coaching staff to the players, are focused on doing just that.
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