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Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Safety

Who are the safeties to look out for that can play a big role for the Jaguars this fall?
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The Jacksonville Jaguars are a few weeks away from kicking off Doug Pederson’s first training camp at the helm, giving us plenty of time to take a look at each of the team’s position groups before the 2022 season.

Jacksonville wasn’t afraid to make a number of big moves on both sides of the ball this offseason, both via free agency and the draft. Now, they have a new-look roster that contrasts in a big way from the roster we saw the team field in Week 1 of 2021.

Related: Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Quarterback

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Related: Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Linebacker

Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Offensive Tackle

Next up: the safety position. What does it look like today, what changes did the Jaguars make, and what needs to be addressed ahead of camp?

The depth chart

Rayshawn Jenkins

Age/Experience: 28/sixth season

2021 stats:

  • 73 total tackles (56 solo, 17 assists)
  • 3 passes defended
  • 4 stuffs
  • 9.9% missed tackle rate

Jenkins emerged last season as a bright spot for an otherwise dismal Jaguars defense. Missed tackles were an issue for the entire unit last season, but Jenkins held up his end of the deal in that category, missing just eight total tackles (the lowest mark of his career). The former 2017 undrafted free agent spent the first four years of his career with the Los Angeles Chargers, where he developed into a solid tackler and threat from the box, in addition to showing some glimpses in coverage (5 total interceptions and 8 passes defended in his last two years with LA). His exemplary vocal leadership and veteran experience earned him a defensive captain nod with the Jags last season. The only knock on Jenkins is that he struggled to make any game-changing plays, but that is something the entire Jags defensive unit struggled with. Expect Jenkins to get more looks near the line of scrimmage this season, as defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell’s scheme places a premium on blitzing and aggressiveness.

Andre Cisco

Age/Experience: 22/second season

2021 stats:

  • 26 total tackles (19 solo, 7 assists)
  • 2 forced fumbles
  • 2 passes defended

Cisco spent most of his rookie season as a reserve, appearing in 11 games total with three total starts towards the end of the 2021 campaign. The 2021 third-round pick was a force to be reckoned with at Syracuse, finishing his collegiate career with 13 interceptions in 24 games, using his fluid hip movements and change of direction ability to consistently make plays on the football and find the throwing lane in zone coverage. Cisco’s competitive spirit and motivation earned him expanded opportunities this offseason, and it is clear that Head Coach Doug Pederson is excited for Cisco to realize his potential.

“He’s done a really nice job this offseason coming in there,” Pederson said. “He’s a great communicator, just watching him with the defense and how he moves and how he fits. Again, it’s going to be really good for him once we do get the pads on and see his physicality and how he can play. He’s a really good football player for us and I’m excited to watch him during training camp.”

Cisco is currently listed as the starting free safety and is a potential breakout candidate as a sophomore. All eyes are on him entering training camp.

Andrew Wingard

Age/Experience: 25/ fourth season

2021 stats:

  • 88 combined tackles (57 solo, 31 assists)
  • 2 tackles for loss
  • 1 interception
  • 1 sack
  • 1 pass defended

Wingard emerged as a full-time starter in 2021, starting 15 of a possible 17 games. The 2019 undrafted free agent was aggressive in run support and makes his best impact around the ball, where his physicality and linebacker-like instincts are on full display. Wingard was also effective in zone coverage, displaying excellent footwork and balance while being able to guard bigger tight ends in man coverage.

However, Wingard was one of the main culprits of the Jags' inability to complete tackles, as he accounted for 21 of those misses. His struggles with tackling paved the way for fellow young free safety Andre Cisco to see more valuable snaps as the season progressed and be the frontrunner for the starting gig going into training camp. Despite this weakness, Wingard is still a solid young safety with starting experience and plenty of time to further develop. The Jags have a great problem on their hands at the free safety spot.

Daniel Thomas

Age/Experience: 24/third season

2021 stats:

  • 27 total tackles (17 solo, 10 assists)

Thomas mostly played as a reserve in his second season and dealt with a lingering arm injury that ended his season prematurely after 6 games. In his limited playing time, the 2020 fifth-round pick proved to be a valuable contributor to the special teams unit and was outstanding in kick coverage. Thomas has shown some effectiveness as a blitzer in the backfield, making him a scheme fit in coordinator Mike Caldwell’s defense. Entering training camp, Thomas projects to compete for a backup/special teams spot.

Brandon Rusnak

Age/Experience: 27/fourth season

2021 stats:

  • 1 tackle
  • 4 games played

Rusnak concluded his third year with the Jags with a single tackle in 4 games played, mostly in reserve and on special teams. The 2019 undrafted free agent had his best season during 2020, appearing in 16 games and recording 24 total tackles. He spent the majority of the 2021 campaign floating between the active roster and the practice squad, last appearing in on January 2nd against the Patriots and the regular season finale against the Colts. Heading into training camp, Rusnak is projected to compete for a backup role and as a special teams contributor. With the emergence of Andre Cisco and established players such as Andrew Wingard, Rayshawn Jenkins, and fellow backup Daniel Thomas already on the roster, Rusnak is facing an uphill battle for a roster spot.

Ayo Oyelola

Age/Experience: 23/first season

2021 stats (CFL):

  • 1 game played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Ayo Oyelola is one of thirteen invitees from the NFL’s International Pathway Program as he looks to make his NFL Dreams a reality. The U.K. native originally played linebacker but is looking to transition to safety at the NFL level. At 5’11” and 215 pounds, Oyelola has the size and speed to cover wide receivers at the next level, but will have a hard time making the 53 man roster because of the depth that the Jags have in the secondary. With that being said, Oyelola does have a decent chance of making the roster as a member of the practice squad, as NFL clubs are eligible for an international player practice squad exemption per Carlos Sanchez of Fansided. Oyelola is a raw prospect, but has the size and the work ethic necessary to garner an opportunity. Training camp will be Oyelola’s first true test in his quest to prove the doubters wrong.

How the room changed this offseason

The Jaguars did not make any changes to the safety room this offseason. As a younger position group, the team is prioritizing the development of their assets over a quick fix. Rayshawn Jenkins, the veteran of the group, is entering the second year of a four-year, $35 million pact that includes $16 million in guarantees. The other guys such as Oyelola, Cisco, Wingard, and Rusnak are all either on rookie-scale contracts or prove-it deals. The team appears to be content with rolling with a Jenkins at one safety spot, and a competition between Andrew Wingard and Andre Cisco at the other. This position group, while very young, has the potential to be a solid backend of the secondary over time with more reps.

The biggest storyline surrounding the group following the offseason

Who will win the free safety battle? The Jaguars and media pundits alike view Andre Cisco as an x-factor heading into training camp, as he showed massive strides towards the end of last season and through the offseason program thus far. Andrew Wingard will not make it easy for Cisco to run away with the job and this is quickly shaping up to be an intriguing battle as training camp rapidly approaches. Both of the young safeties took valuable snaps last season and have shown incremental improvement each year as they look to take their games to the next level. Their improvement can elevate the Jags secondary to a whole new level.