The Jacksonville Jaguars will begin shaping their team for the 2021 season, as the team opens training camp Tuesday. With a new head coach in Urban Meyer, and the hottest name on the quarterback circuit in years, Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars have the potential to turn the franchise in an entirely—well—new direction.
There are still plenty of questions surrounding this team though; position battles and roster cuts and scheme decisions that will shape the 2021 Jaguars just as much if not more than Lawrence. To prepare you for training camp, Jaguar Report's John Shipley and Kassidy Hill take a look at some of the biggest questions facing the Jags defense and special teams as camp begins, in Part 2 of our training camp roundtable.
Where will the pass-rush come from?
Shipley: It is going to have to be a team effort. While many Jaguars fans see a pass-rush and consistent pressure on the quarterback and think of the defensive line thanks to the 2017 Sacksonville unit, that just isn't going to be the set up of this year's pass-rush. Instead, the team is going to have to call on edge defenders, inside linebackers, interior linemen, cornerbacks, and safeties to all lend a hand and assist in the goal to improving a defense that finished 31st in sacks a year ago.
"We’re excited and I’ll tell you it’s going to come from a lot of different area. It’s going to come from the pressure that we bring in terms of blitzes, it’s going to come from a four-man rush, and really, it’s going to come from a collective unit defensively, our rush work, but also our coverage being able to make the quarterback hold the ball," Cullen said in June. "It’s going to go hand in hand but I’m excited and really, we’ll find out in the fall.”
That in essence sums up where the Jaguars' defense is in terms of pass-rush prospects. Josh Allen has double-digit sack potential, but the Jaguars have little in established talent behind him. K'Lavon Chaisson and Jordan Smith give the Jaguars two young pass-rushers to develop alongside Allen, while players like Roy Robertson-Harris, Dawuane Smoot and even safety Rayshawn Jenkins will play big roles as pass-rushers as well.
Hill: Jacksonville went from Sacksonville to a team that couldn't generate a pass rush if their life depended on it, in just three years. The NFL leader in sacks, TJ Watt, finished just three shy (15) of what the Jaguars defense had overall (18). That's going to change in 2021 purely as a result of the switch to a 3-4/4-3 scheme.
Josh Allen, who is already a Pro-Bowler and capable of being a sack leader, will be back in the position he's most comfortable. This scheme will stand him up in a two-point stance on the edge more often. Coaches have mentioned moving K'Lavon Chaisson into the SAM linebacker role, from where he could still be involved in the pass rush. Corner and safety blitzes are more common in this aggressive defense and everyone will have to get involved to put more emphasis on the pass rush.
But the onus will primarily be up front. The secondary is young and unproven as a unit, so the front seven will be responsible for getting to the quarterback quickly to minimize their coverage time.
Allen and Chaisson, along with ends Roy Robertson-Harris, Dawuane Smoot and Adam Gotsis, and lithe lineman like rookie Jordan Smith, the pieces are there for a formidable pass rush. A needed change in scheme will benefit them as well and they can spend the next few weeks of camp fully immersing themselves into Cullen's defense.
Will There Be Two Set Corners Or A Rotation Between Four?
Hill: There are four legitimate contributors at corner, all of whom could start if needed. For that matter, they could start just as a luxury. All young guys with tenacity and ball skills, Shaquill Griffin, Sidney Jones IV, CJ Henderson and Tyson Campbell are four corners who can fight for a starting role. Griffin in pretty much a shoe-in for one spot. Jones and Henderson have both proven themselves capable of being a CB1, but were hampered with injuries. Campbell has the potential to be a star rookie, but he is still that, a rookie.
All of that to say, do the Jags set a depth chart with two clear starters on the outside? Or do they set a rotation to implement all four? Most teams elect for the former option, given that corners are capable of playing most of, if not all, the defensive snaps in a game. But there is something to be said for a rotation, especially in the beginning of the season. Even if that rotation means Griffin in one spot, and the other three trading off opposite him and in his relief when needed. It gives the Jags a chance to have different looks for their opponent, add a level of gamesmanship and provide rest for a position that rarely receives any.
Training camp is as good a time as any to test both of those options and see if maybe, just maybe, a rotation could work in the regular season.
Shipley: Joe Cullen is stepping into his first coordinator role fresh off a tenure with the Baltimore Ravens, where Cullen was able to see first-hand the type of value a deep secondary can bring to the defense. I truly wouldn't be shocked to see the Jaguars have a few different starting combinations throughout the season, and I would expect that all of Shaquill Griffin, CJ Henderson, Sidney Jones, Tyson Campbell, and Tre Herndon have a consistent role week in and week out.
We know Griffin will man down one cornerback spot as long as he is on the field. Across from him, Henderson and Campbell are the two high-ceiling draft picks who are the favorites to start on the outside and in the slot, but Jones and Herndon give the Jaguars two reliable veteran options who can more or less be insurance for their young corners.
The Jaguars overhauled the cornerback room this offseason with the additions of Griffin and Campbell -- and they didn't do it to let the status quo state of the room continue.
Kicker Battle? Kicker Battle.
Hill: It sounds almost sacrilegious to imagine a world in which Josh Lambo isn't the unquestioned starter for the Jaguars.
“He had some injuries, struggled a little bit, but [Josh] Lambo’s got a great history around here as far as execution and accuracy and competition brings out the best," said Meyer back in March. "[Special Teams Coordinator] Brian Schneider feels very strongly about [Aldrick] Rosas too."
Rosas was brought in last season to replace an injured Lambo. He spent time in suspension for a June 2020 hit-and-run. In the six games in which Rosas appeared, he went 8-11 on field goals, including 3-6 on those 40 yards or more, with a long 54-yards. He was 100% on extra points.
No one can argue Rosas is talented, but Lambo has become a reliable player in the clutch. That can't always be translated in camp, so don't be surprised if this battle continues right up to the final cutdown.
Shipley: Somehow and someway, the most accurate kicker in Jaguars' franchise history is preparing to enter a battle for his job and entire place on the roster. But perhaps that shouldn't be such an eyebrow-raiser after the 2020 that Josh Lambo and the Jaguars had, an injury-plauged year that saw Lambo appear in four games and forced the Jaguars to trout out six different kickers throughout the course of the season.
Ultimately, the Jaguars need to ensure they never get a repeat of their 2020 kicking situation. Lambo is one of the league's best when healthy, but he still has to show the new staff he is fully recovered and is still the same top-tier kicker he has been since he joined the Jaguars in 2017. And while doing so, he will have to fend off Aldrick Rosas.
Rosas makes sense to push Lambo, but he doesn't compare to the Jaguars' veteran on an equal playing field. As long as Lambo is healthy, he is the best kicker on the roster and should be expected to establish himself as such.