In both 2018 and 2019, the Jacksonville Jaguars took first-round defenders with the idea to let them slowly develop in their first years. Both Taven Bryan and Josh Allen were drafted as year one backups, though Allen was clearly able to make a significant impact despite rarely being a starter.
But chances are in 2020 the Jaguars will be taking a different approach to their new rookie defenders. In this April's draft, the Jaguars selected two defenders in the first round with Florida cornerback CJ Henderson and LSU defensive end/outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson, and it looks like the Jaguars may have to lean on their new youthful defenders earlier than in past years.
"Well, I think, you know, we want both of them to be plugged in the first game and playing a majority of the reps," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash told local media on Friday.
"We know that they have the physical skills to play at this level, obviously, you know, both of them being drafted in the first round. But we anticipate both of them to be solid impact players for us, you know, week one. Once again, we're going to figure a lot more about that once we get on grass in training camp, but both of them physically have the abilities to be impact players early in their career."
Obviously rookies will be at a disadvantage this season in terms of learning the ins and outs of their new schemes as a result of COVID-19 turning this offseason into a completely virtual one. For young players like Chaisson and Henderson, this will need to be considered as the Jaguars attempt to prepare them for Week 1, but Wash is cognizant of the obstacles ahead of the team and its rookie class.
In fact, the rookie class are not the only players who have to adjust. Following the departures of Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus, and other contributors, the Jaguars have enough new faces on defense to make Wash's job similar when it comes to both veterans and rookies.
"Well, I mean, it's gonna be for the most part, like you said, there are about three or four guys, they're still the same, but it's a totally new roster on the defensive side. And I know that was a plan from Doug and Dave in this offseason; for us to get young and get real athletic. And I think we've done that," Wash said.
"But I mean being young, we're obviously not, we're not going to force feed stuff as much as you can with a veteran unit, I think it's more important that they have the ability to go out and execute. It's really maybe not so much how much we do. It's how well we play it. I think that's the biggest thing. As a coaching staff, we have to keep a pulse on it. It's not what we know. It's what our players know. So our install, we have had an extremely slow install in this offseason that we've just finished up with. And the same thing will happen. Once we get into training camp, it will be a slower install, and we want to make sure we're executing long before we're trying to do too much and you can't play up to the athletic ability of our team."
As Wash and the rest of Jacksonville's defensive staff help their newest defenders adjust to the NFL, they will undoubtedly eventually be starting a number of rookies. Jacksonville didn't select Henderson and Chaisson in the top-20 for them to sit on the bench, even early on. They will need their contributions sooner than later, but as of now Wash isn't ready to confirm Henderson or Chaisson as a starter.
"You know, obviously, we'll see where that is as we go along. Once we get through training camp, you know, I don't think there's only about three or four guys on our defense right now that are penciled in starters, because we're so young and new. So we'll see how that all obviously, takes care of itself during training camp."