Starting with Sunday’s home game against the New York Jets (1-5), the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) will be tasked with filling a large void on defense for the foreseeable future, but their hope is they have to pieces to weather the storm.
Starting defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was placed on Jacksonville’s injured/reserve list on Friday after he underwent surgery for a core muscle injury on Thursday. While Dareus may be eligible to be a designated return from the list, the earliest he’d be able to play is Week 16, meaning Jacksonville will have to lean on their defensive line depth for at least the next two months.
This means second-year defensive tackle Taven Bryan, third-year defensive line chess piece Dawuane Smoot and rookie nose tackle Dontavius Russell will all likely see a larger role moving forward. As of now, Bryan appears to be the one taking Dareus’ place in the starting lineup.
“Obviously, Taven is going to play more,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said Thursday.
“I think Taven’s gotten better and better each week, and he’s getting more and more reps. You’ve seen some splash plays last week out of Taven, so it’s going to be fun to watch him get his first NFL start this week.”
Bryan did start one game in his rookie season, but that was a season largely worth forgetting after he failed to live up to his first-round draft status. But this season has been an improvement for the physically gifted Bryan, and he was already seeing his role increase before Dareus was ever injured.
“I think he has been doing a good job. I think it is one of those things where you increase the snaps and see if we can get the same type of production,” head coach Doug Marrone said about Bryan on Friday.
Smoot is another young defensive lineman who was already elevating his game this season. He has split time at defensive end and defensive tackle, but his most success has game as an interior pass rusher. He has recorded each of the first three sacks in his career this season, and each has came from the defensive tackle position.
“Just like with everything, it is a next man up mentality,” Smoot said Friday. “I mean, this is something that we always prepare for.”
With Dareus sidelined, Bryan and Smoot are undoubtedly the two players the Jaguars will lean on to fill the void along the interior, but Wash said they have other options for Sunday’s game against the Jets as well.
“So, they’re going to major a lot in 11-personnel, that’s what [Jets Head Coach] Adam’s [Gase] has done when he was down in Miami and obviously what he’s doing in New York,” Wash said. “So, I think we can play Calais [Campbell] a little bit more down inside and things like that, but we’ll still have a three-way rotation. We feel comfortable.”
The Jaguars’ locker room is confident in the players they have behind Dareus. Campbell himself said Thursday he thinks Bryan and Smoot will play “great” with the opportunities in front of them.
But even with that confidence, Dareus’ absence is still a loss due to the fact that he has done a lot of the dirty work for Jacksonville’s defense, such as taking on double teams.
“Make no mistake about it, Marcell is a big part of our team. He allows us to have so much more freedom and range because he is such a good player,” Campbell said. “But we have young guys who have been stepping up and are eager for the opportunity.”