Jaguars seek improved pass rush, more sacks in '14
The routine included an imaginary cellphone and a selfie.
It drew chuckles from Branch and nearby teammates. It surely would get an even better reception on the field. After all, the Jaguars are desperate to improve their pass rush - and sack totals - this season.
''Disrupting the quarterback is the most important thing to be able to do as a team,'' veteran defensive end Chris Clemons said. ''That's where you can get a lot accomplished. We definitely have the right guys to get after the quarterback. We've got guys all over the place that can get it done.''
The Jaguars haven't gotten it done lately, though.
They have the NFL's most inept pass rush over the last six years, totaling a league-low 151 sacks while changing players, coaches and schemes. Jacksonville has 17 fewer sacks than the next closest team, Tampa Bay, and more than 100 behind NFL leaders Minnesota (259) and Pittsburgh (252).
Second-year head coach Gus Bradley and defensive line coach Todd Wash believe the unit is better equipped to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They point to better talent and more depth across the front, and more experience in the secondary's aggressive, bump-and-run coverage scheme that's designed to disrupt timing between quarterbacks and receivers.
''I think we'll disrupt the quarterback more than we did last year,'' Wash said.
The Jaguars have failed so many times in recent years to generate more pressure.
They whiffed by drafting defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves in the first and second rounds, respectively, in 2008. They got even less out of free agent Aaron Kampman, who signed a four-year contract worth $25 million in 2010 but never fully recovered from tearing ligaments in both knees.
They used their top four draft picks on defensive linemen that same year, but none of them panned out.
They even brought in the Canadian Football League's Most Outstanding Defensive Player (John Chick) with the hope that he could find similar success in the NFL. Chick finished with 2 1/2 sacks in 19 games - not bad for the Jaguars.
The team's last player to record double-digit sacks was Bobby McCray in 2006.
Sure, sack numbers can be overrated. But pressuring quarterbacks and making them uncomfortable in the pocket are keys to defensive success in the NFL these days.
Players and coaches point out all the moving parts in the process: stopping the run, pushing the pocket from the middle, covering receivers and getting help from the offense. The Jaguars struggled to do those last season, thus ranking 27th in the league in total defense.
General manager Dave Caldwell responded by overhauling the line. He gave Clemons a four-year, $17.5 million deal just days after he was released by Super Bowl champion Seattle. He signed former Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant to a four-year, $19.5 million deal. He also brought in former Pittsburgh nose tackle Ziggy Hood and drafted Arkansas pass rusher Chris Smith in the fifth round.
''This is the best talent I've been around since I've been in Jacksonville,'' said Branch, a second-round draft pick in 2012 who has seven sacks. ''We're two-deep across the board, maybe three-deep at certain positions. They're expecting a lot out of us and we're going to hold ourselves to a high standard.''
The standard has been pretty low in recent years. With Clemons, Bryant and others, the bar could be raised in 2014 and sack celebrations could become common.
''Once we get this group together and gel, and get everybody moving on the same accord, it's going to be awesome,'' Clemons said. ''It's going to be something to watch.''
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