Every team will harp on competition this fall as they have both new additions and old faces fight for roles on the depth chart and in the starting lineups. This is no different for the Jaguars, who brought a sea of change to their roster this offseason with over a dozen free-agent additions and nine draft picks.
But which battles will be the most important to watch in Jacksonville later this month and into August? Which will help determine how far the Jaguars can go in year one of a new era? We have picked five to evaluate and will do so individually over the course of the pre-training camp period.
We started with the kicker competition between Josh Lambo and Aldrick Rosas. Second, we looked at the backup quarterback battle between Gardner Minshew and C.J. Beathard, and then the three-way battle at running back between James Robinson, Travis Etienne and Carlos Hyde. Wrapping up on the offensive side of the ball was the battle for the No. 4 wide receiver role between Phillip Dorsett and Collin Johnson.
Now we move to the defensive side of the ball, first asking this: who can edge out and secure the three-technique defensive tackle spot? Taven Bryan has the experience, Doug Costin has the best tape and Jay Tufele has the highest upside. We take a look at the upcoming battle below.
We are so close. Rookies have reported to training camp and the 2021 NFL season is nearly here to usher in a new age in Jaguars football. With so many new pieces around the Jaguars, there are going to be plenty of battles throughout training camp here in the next few weeks.
Today we look at one of the more underrated, yet most important battles. Malcom Brown, Jihad Ward, Roy Robertson-Harris Dawuane Smoot, Davon Hamilton and others will be the primary defensive linemen for new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen’s defense line. However, there will be a lot of rotation in order to keep guys fresh, especially along the interior. So, who will take the reigns for the three-technique?
The battle will come down to former first-round pick and four-year veteran Bryan, second-year standout Costin and rookie fourth-round pick Tufele.
Let's start with Bryan. He is the former incumbent starter but if you were to poll the fan base the results would not be favorable for Bryan. In three seasons he has yet to showcase much first-round ability on tape and has failed to consistently carve out a role.
In his three seasons to date, Bryan has started 17 of 48 games, but appeared in all 48 and totaled 71 tackles, 41 solo, 11 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hits.
However, there is still potential there and with a new defensive scheme and coaching staff, Bryan cannot be given up on. His combination of size and strength is something the Jaguars need at this spot so there is some upside. And their new defensive lineman coach sees that.
"Taven is a dangerous combination of speed and power,” Tosh Lupoi said. “He has [an] elite skillset and talent, we just have to channel that and focus that where we need to help us most. If we do that, he can make a major impact.
"The guy’s got extreme explosive attributes to him from an athletic standpoint. That’s what we need to do is get him focused, confident of where he needs to align, assign, and execute. If we can put that together, he can be a great contributor this season.”
Next up is a player who many, including last year's Jaguars' staff, thought outperformed Bryan last year in Doug Costin. As a rookie Costin appeared in 12 games. He totaled 32 tackles, 12 solo, three tackles for loss, two passes defended, one fumble recovery and one QB hit.
"Doug [Costin]’s been training really well. I think he’s done a great job applying that training so you can see the benefits of his strength gains and where he’s working to get his body, his body fat composition, and getting in the right shape to play ball. I thought he ended really well," Lupoi said in June.
"He was a guy that was consistent with operating to the standard, running to the ball, finishing plays down the field. Numerous times you’ll see him 20, 25 yards down the field finishing on plays, and I think that’s a testament to the work he’s put in throughout the entire offseason, going back to when he reported here voluntarily in early April before we even had organized things going on.”
While he may not have the potential ceiling Bryan does Costin has the production and the motor. And while potential is great, it’s not always tangible. On the flip side, Costin has done nothing but produce since he stepped foot in Jacksonville last year.
He may not be the best pass-rusher, but his ability against the run last season was solid. If Costin can adapt to Cullen’s scheme and show what he did last season as a rookie, building off that start it would make for an interesting decision for Lupoi to make and we may have a new starter at the three-technique.
Finally, we have the rookie in Jay Tufele. The Southern California product is the biggest wildcard of the three. He has a lot of ideal traits Jacksonville’s new coaching staff desires. He is very athletic, is solid against the run, and can rush the pass rusher well.
"He’s a guy that attacks everything, the weight room, the treatment, the field, the same way,” Lupoi said. “I think as he gets more comfortable in the system and he continues to get his body to where it needs to be, he could be a dangerous addition for us.”
On paper, Tufele seems like he will eventually become the mainstay at this spot. However, as a rookie, there’s no telling at how fast Tufele will adapt to the NFL game. He also opted out in 2020 after a great year in 2019 so it’s been two years since he has played in a game. Overall, though, his upside is very high, and if he can adapt to the NFL game quickly then we will see more of him as the season goes on.
Ultimately, it should be an interesting battle. All three of these guys will see the field as part of the rotation for the three-technique defensive tackle spot, but how much time they will see is what we will find out in training camp.