At this point in the offseason, it appears that the only thing that can separate the Jaguars from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders is a pass rush. Free agency came and went (for the most part), and there were very few pass rushers available, and those that were available received nearly record-setting contracts from desperate suitors. The Jaguars decided not to throw outrageous money at the Justin Smith's, Antoine Odom's, and Calvin Pace's of the world, in the hopes that they would magically transform from above average guys into premiere rush-ends.
Jacksonville will likely choose to draft some help for their defensive line, but the Jaguars experienced just enough success in 2007 to likely keep them out of the running for an impact pass rusher early on in the draft, as they hold the 26th overall selection. Although the team received an extra third and fifth-round selection (71st and 143rd overall) for the rights to oft-injured defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, Jacksonville will still likely not have enough ammo to move up to select one of the impact defensive ends, such as Chris Long, Vernon Gholston, or Derrick Harvey.
"It's something we'll definitely be looking for, but not to the point where we overvalue the position," said James "Shack" Harris, the Jaguars' vice president of player personnel.
The possibility of a trade for an experienced pass rusher exists, as Miami will likely be shopping Pro Bowler and former Defensive Player of the Year, Jason Taylor, despite what Dolphins new Vice President Bill Parcells may currently say. At this point, it is nothing but pure speculation as to if Taylor is even on the trading block, or what the compensation will be, but it certainly makes sense that Miami wouldn't choose to rebuild around a 33-year old defensive end when they can use his value to get some much needed draft picks as they need help at nearly every position on the field.
(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Jaguars have a host of others currently on the roster that are situational defensive lineman, and the team is hoping that they can catch "lightning in a bottle" with one or more of those players. Brent Hawkins, James Wyche, Brian Smith, Jeremy Mincey, Kenny Pettway, are the candidates, and you can even throw in Rob Meier who can fill in at defensive end as well. Between the first five candidates, they have a grand total of zero NFL starts, and 9.5 career sacks. Meier is one of the best situational defensive tackles in the game, but he may have to start on the inside due to the exportation of Marcus Stroud.
Assuming the Jaguars cannot make a deal for a Jason Taylor, and if they can't fill their needs on the end in the draft (which is looking more and more like a possibility), they will have to make due with what they currently have. We're now going to examine each player, beginning with Brent Hawkins. Hawkins is a classic tweener, a player who is very quick on the edge, but can't be an every downs defensive end due to his lack of size (6'2", 250 lbs.). Hawkins has a nice spin move, but can't play the run effectively, and hasn't experienced much success in two seasons (just 5.5 sacks while playing mostly in passing situations).
Next up is James Wyche. Wyche is a former seventh-round pick (2006) who certainly has the size 6'5", 275 lbs. to be the every downs defensive end that the team is looking for. Unfortunately for Wyche, he missed all of 2007 with a groin injury, and he hasn't played in any games in his two-year career. Although Wyche has looked solid in camps, he couldn't be much farther from a sure thing.
Brian Smith may be even more of an unknown than James Wyche. Smith was drafted in the fourth-round in 2007 out of the University of Missouri, where he was a prolific pass rusher (32 sacks in 44 games). Smith is another tweener, at 6'4", 239 lbs., but he missed all of 2007 as he was nursing a broken hip that he suffered in college. The team has high hopes for Smith, but he must first prove himself to be at the very least healthy enough to practice.
Jeremy Mincey and Kenny Pettway are two bargain basement type of players that the Jaguars signed as free agents. Mincey is a 6'3", 285 lb. University of Florida product who played in six games for the team in 2007 and registered 10 tackles and a sack. Pettway is another undersized OLB/DE at 6'4", 238 lbs. who played in 10 games with the team last year and recorded 9 tackles and a sack. Both Mincey and Pettway are young, high energy type of players who have more will than talent at this point in their respective careers.
(Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
The Jaguars certainly have some questions on the defensive line this year, but every team in the NFL has a question mark at some position or positions. Jacksonville strengthened its secondary and its offense even further, and if with the draft pending as well as some of the young unrefined talent currently on the roster, it is more than possible that someone could step up and be the consistent pass rusher that the Jaguars are looking for. If so, they could wrestle away the division title from the grasp of the Indianapolis Colts, just for starters.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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