Head Coach Jack Del Rio foresees the Jaguars pass rush improving in 2009. "We'll be more disruptive to the quarterbacks this year. That I can assure you," Del Rio said. "To what level? I know what our aspirations are. We're going to work at it, we're going to commit to it, and we'll see. We get to prove what we're capable of."
JagNation Editor Charlie Bernstein summed up the questions facing Jacksonville's defensive line succinctly in his recent weekly matchup column: "The Jaguars have some questions on the defensive line as they will be counting on greater production from last year's first-day picks, Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves. Throw in a seemingly healthy Reggie Hayward and the team has more questions than answers at defensive end. On the interior, there are just as many questions as John Henderson needs to show that he's not on the decline and the team will be depending on rookie Terrence Knighton and a bigger Derek Landri.
Hayward has had success against Diem in the past
So, the main question confronting the Jaguars D-line — and more specifically, its pass rushers — is a simple two-part inquiry: what happened in 2008, and can it be fixed? If improvement is going to happen it must start with Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves. Jacksonville traded draft picks to move up and select these players — Harvey in the first round and Groves in the second. They hoped Groves and Harvey would develop quickly and become the pass-rush of the future, but that hasn't quite happened yet.
Harvey finished with 19 tackles and 3.5 sacks as he started nine of the 16 games during his rookie campaign. Similarly, Groves had 2.5 sacks last season. JagNation Editor Charlie Bernstein talked about the development and futures of both in this week's "Behind Enemy Lines": "Derrick Harvey is still somewhat behind schedule for an eight-overall pick in the draft, but has shown flashes of being explosive. Groves is clearly a 3-4 OLB, and he simply can't hold up with his hand on the ground against the run. When the Jaguars completely switch to a 3-4 both will be more effective."
As Jaguars.com Editor Vic Ketcham notes, "A year later, the expectations have become demands: They (Harvey and Groves) must sack the quarterback." If those numbers do not improve the word "busts" will start to ring even louder in North Florida."
Jaguar defenders know getting pressure on Colts QB Peyton Manning is integral to success. "You just want to feel good about putting pressure on any quarterback, especially when you have to go against Peyton Manning [in the season opener on Sept. 13]," defensive end Reggie Hayward said. "You want to get in his face, put some pressure on him and knock him down a few times."
Hayward has had some success in the past against Colts RT Ryan Diem, registering two sacks in a game back in 2005. That day Hayward's speed and first step seemed to have success getting Diem off balance and out of position. Though that was nearly 4 seasons ago, Hayward can still get after the quarterback.
Besides slowing down an old nemesis like Hayward, Diem will also likely see plenty of Quentin Groves on passing downs and if and when Jacksonville shows a 3-4 look. Groves believes he is on the road to dramatically improving his sack total this season, thanks in large part to now having a year of experience and from the fact that he's added 11 pounds of muscle mass. "It's not to look pretty or look big. I'm trying to deliver a blow and finish," he said. When he's on the field, expect Jacksonville to move Groves around as they search out the best match up for this speed rusher.
The same will be true with Derrick Harvey. This preseason Harvey lined up at both ends of the four-man front, as an end in three-man fronts, and standing up as an outside linebacker. Still, Harvey will likely see a majority of his snaps at right end. This presents a matchup Colt fans will be watching with baited breath. Harvey may still be behind schedule for an eighth overall pick in the draft; however, the kid has size, speed and athleticism you want in a defensive end.
Coming out of the University of Florida in 2008, draft expert Thomas Scott had this to say about Harvey's pass-rushing skills: "Harvey is simply a beast as a pass rusher, with his speed equal to his strength. He is known for getting great jumps off the ball and his technique is exceptional. He puts the heat on offensive linemen and virtually demands to be double-teamed."
Harvey is coming off a training camp where head coach Jack Del Rio considered him one of the team's top performers. Colts OT Charlie Johnson is coming off a training camp that saw him elevate up the depth chart past Tony Ugoh, a move that surprised many outside observers.
Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz explains why Johnson won the job: "If the competition at left tackle was based solely on raw physical skills, Ugoh probably would have won. Ugoh's size and athleticism are two of the reasons the Colts spent first- and fourth-round draft choices to move up and select him in the second round of the 2007 draft. But Johnson has intangibles. He is a fighter. He has a motor. He won't take plays off."
Along those same lines Head Coach Jim Caldwell said he earned the job by being "very steady." "Charlie handled his responsibilities extremely well," Caldwell said. "He's a guy that is very athletic. He certainly understands our offense extremely well, having been in it a few years now. He is very versatile. He was able to nail down that position in terms of the run and pass game and did it quite effectively. We've had a lot of faith in him, and he has shown he can do it on a consistent basis."
Saturday will have plenty of responsibilities against the Jags' line
If Johnson falters against Harvey, it will have residual effect on the Colts offense. The Indianapolis Star season preview explains why. "Mudd won't leave Manning's back exposed in pass protection, which might require providing help with a tight end or running back. That potentially takes away a target from Manning as coordinator Tom Moore likes to overwhelm defenses by sending out five receivers."
Johnson will need to use his motor to match the explosiveness of Harvey. But more importantly, it will probably be those intangibles that Johnson possesses which make the difference against a defensive end still refining his technique and improving on the advanced aspects of his position.
On the interior the focus is on two former Pro Bowlers and an All-Pro, both of whom are starting to hear whispers — DT John Henderson and C Jeff Saturday. Both are coming off tough seasons in 2008. John Henderson regressed following the trade of his longtime linemate Marcus Stroud. Saturday struggled with a knee injury and just didn't show the consistency we've come to expect, especially as a run blocker.
Saturday and John Henderson are extremely familiar with each other. For eight years these two have battled each other. Without Marcus Stroud beside him, the choice was easy for opposing offense lines last year . . . double John Henderson.
This season, Henderson has a new interior running partner in rookie DT Terrance Knighton. The Sports Exchange had this to say about Knighton and the impact he could have for Jacksonville this season, "Knighton was not highly coveted by all teams, but with the Jaguars he has a chance to make an immediate impact. The team needs someone who can line up next to John Henderson and make an impact in the defensive line. Knighton has clocked sub-5.0 speed in the 40-yard dash and at 317 has the size that he'll be tough for opponents to move. The question is the caliber of player he played against in college and how that could impact his immediate contribution to the Jaguars."
If Knighton shows something it'll present a challenge for Howard Mudd similar to the Henderson-Stroud days: What to do with Jeff Saturday? Use him to help RG Mike Pollak with Henderson or help LG Ryan Lilja with LDT Terrance Knighton? Now given that Knighton has been scouted as better against the run compared to the pass, Henderson will likely see a heavy dose of Pollak and Saturday on passing downs. Henderson can still use his size and strength to collapse the pocket.
Moving these two mammoths is easier said than done, so look for the Colts to bounce runs outside. That will require OTs Diem and Johnson to seal the edge and for interior line to get out and upfield quickly.
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