By Jeff Moeller, Florida Sports Wire
JACKSONVILLE – Experience in any defensive unit is always a plus.
Take a look at any of the great defenses in the league over the years, and you can easily see how experience helped mold them into their legendary stature. Growing up, I remember the Steelers, Vikings, and Bears to name a few.
Can the Jags’ unit eventually fall into that category? Sure. Will it be an overnight sensation? The odds are against it.
Yet, this Jags defensive unit certainly can raise its stature this season. Last year, they held teams to 20.6 points per game, but they ranked 24th in yards per game and 28 in pass defense.
They registered 35 sacks, which was tied for 14th with Carolina. The Jags did allow 119 points over their last eight regular-season games in which they were 7-1.
This season, the offense is expected to turn it up a few notches with Trevor Lawerence and Travis Etienne established in the backfield and Calvin Ridley and a host of others ready to generate together around 30 points a game.
In order for the Jags to gain a firm grip on the AFC South and figure in the mix among the AFC elite, their defense needs to be consistent and take a step at the same time.
Jags’ safety Rashawn Jenkins, who did take a step forward down the stretch last year with some big plays, is confident they can be mentioned in the same breath, say as the New York Jets’ unit.
“We’re a top-five defense in the league and that’s just real,” boasted Jenkins recently. “I feel like we put some good things on film last year, but this year is about being more consistent.”
“It just keeps that chip on our shoulder and that just gives us another thing to come out here and work at. The critics want to say how we’re not this and not that, I don’t even think we had any accolades on defense last year. But that’s just another thing to keep working towards and we’ll get it.”
Jenkins’ rant certainly caught the attention of the league, and there are plenty of doubters in the mix, especially after they had just a one-time spurt last season.
Still, Jenkins likes what he has seen from second-year linebackers Devin Lloyd and Travon Walker, both of whom are expected to raise their level. Lloyd’s and Walker’s production – notably in the pass rush – can be an integral piece of the puzzle.
“They look way more comfortable, a lot of the thinking is out of the game because we’re coming back into a familiar situation, so they don’t have to do too much thinking,” stressed Jenkins. They can just come out here and go off of what they were doing last year, but even better now because they can understand a lot more stuff.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell also has been impressed with Lloyd and Walker, and anticipates lineback K’Lavon Chaisson and lineman Dawaune Smoot to factor heavily in the mix.
In the end, though, the key can be experience.
“They understand themselves and we just try to put them in their best position,” stated Caldwell. “You go back and you look at it, certain guys do certain things well, and we’ll ask them to continue to do that. The main thing is, going back to me being comfortable, anytime it’s your second time going around, the first time everything is new, this time everything is still new, but I have a little more confidence in being able to help the guys put them in certain positions.
At the end of the day, those guys have went back in the offseason, they’ve put in the work, and now it’s time for them to let it show on the field.”
For the Jags, it can materialize with some experience.
(SportsDay columnist Jeff Moeller writes for the Florida Sports Wire)
(SportsDay Photo by Nancy Delander Beecher/Florida Sports Wire)