Brash Jaguars want to 'dominate world' with stacked defense
By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Standing on the sideline and watching one-on-one drills, Jalen Ramsey had an up-close look at this touchdown.
The receiver used a triple move to beat one of Ramsey’s fellow defensive backs.
Ramsey shook his head in disbelief and hollered a few choice words across the practice field.
“That ain’t happening in a game,” Ramsey said, noting how long it took the play to develop. “Our defense is too good.”
Ramsey was being modest. Jacksonville’s D has a chance to be great, maybe even generational.
The bold, brash Jaguars , who relied on stout defense to win the AFC South and reach the conference title game last season, believe they will be even better on that side of the ball this fall. The unit allowed too many rushing yards early in 2017 and gave up too many big plays late, but pinned those problems on having three newcomers and three second-year players learning how to mesh while honing the details of coordinator Todd Wash’s 4-3 scheme.
Nowadays, they feel like they’ve figured out each other and the playbook.
And in a Super Bowl-or-bust season for Jacksonville, the talent-laden group plans to do whatever it takes to hoist the Lombardi Trophy and join a list of revered defenses that have carried teams to championships.
“Every great defense has won it all,” Pro Bowl linebacker Telvin Smith said. “That is what we want to be. A great defense is not mediocre. It is not to say you won a couple (division) championships. No, we want to say we dominated the world. That is the next step.”
The Jaguars finished second in the NFL in yards (286.1 per game), points (15.8), sacks (55), takeaways (33) and interceptions (21) last year. Players wanted more and were admittedly disappointed with the final rankings.
Coach Doug Marrone has since used it as motivation, publicly and privately needling his defenders.
“Make no mistake about it, I like it when people have a chip on their shoulder,” Marrone said. “I have a boulder on my shoulder.”
The Jaguars feel they have plenty to prove, mostly because of how last season ended .
Jacksonville squandered a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game at New England. The vaunted defense gave up an 85-yard touchdown drive — the key play was a 21-yard completion on third and 18 that left players openly questioning the scheme — and then allowed Tom Brady and Danny Amendola to hook up again for another score late.
“I would be lying if I said that didn’t keep me up all offseason,” said safety Tashaun Gipson, who blamed himself for the rare conversion. “Got lax. … I have to make that play.”
Even though they don’t want to look back, the Jaguars will try to make amends.
Jacksonville returns 12 of its top 14 defenders from 2017, including six Pro Bowl selections. The only guys missing are veteran linebacker Paul Posluszny, who retired from the NFL after 11 seasons , and nickel cornerback Aaron Colvin, who signed a four-year, $34 million contract with division rival Houston.
Even without them, the Jags will have eight starters on that side of the ball who have made the Pro Bowl in the last four years. That’s talent at every level of the defense, a mix of youth and experience.
All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell is coming off a career year that included 14 1/2 sacks and is the undisputed leader of what is widely considered the most disruptive front in the league. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (20 sacks and an NFL-leading 10 forced fumbles in two seasons) is a budding star. Malik Jackson is one of the most complete defensive tackles in the league. Fellow inside guy Marcell Dareus, acquired from Buffalo in late October, helped shore up a shaky run defense. Jacksonville ranked 30th in the league without him and eighth with him.
Speedy linebackers Smith and Myles Jack benefit most from the star-studded D-line, free to chase ball-carriers and make plays all over the field. Smith and Jack had a hand in three of Jacksonville’s seven defensive touchdowns in 2017.
The secondary scored just once, but was nonetheless a big part of the group’s success.
Jacksonville led the league in passing defense, giving up 20 yards a game fewer than anyone else, and was the only team in the league to have four players with at least four interceptions. Ramsey, Gipson and fellow safety Barry Church had four apiece.
While Ramsey emerged as the league’s best — and most vocal — lock-down cornerback, A.J. Bouye was just as good on the opposite side. Bouye had six interceptions, knocked down a dozen more passes and didn’t allow a touchdown in the regular season. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks posted the lowest passer rating in the league when throwing his way.
“We put up all those numbers, but it is a new year,” Bouye said. “There are teams that are really studying us now as a defense. We are just going to be ready for everything and we are going to continue to make plays.”
The Jags can only hope to get their money’s worth.
Their defense is the most expensive ever assembled, with the small-market franchise slotted to pay more than $110 million to the D in 2018.
The Jags are built to win now, and even though a number of rising stars have Jacksonville well-positioned for years to come, the defense may never been stacked like this again.
It has drawn comparisons to some of the NFL’s greats, including the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 2008 Steelers, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks and the 2015 Denver Broncos.
All those teams have a Super Bowl victory in common.
So there’s only one way for Jacksonville to join the list. And in a league that seems to make playing physical defense more difficult every year, it’s nothing short of a daunting task. But the Jaguars welcome the challenge.
“I’m sure everybody has different opinions on what they believe elite is,” Ramsey said. “As a defense, we are going to set our goals and figure it out. But ‘win’ is at the top of everything.”
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