The 2021 offseason completely revamped the Jacksonville Jaguars. The maligned franchise had every aspect of its organization inspected, weighed, measured and often found wanting. A new head coach and fresh set of standards were the first steps. Then through the draft, free agency and ultimatums to current players, the staff put together what is essentially a brand new roster.
After a season in which the Jags finished 1-15 (an unenviable feat but one that beget Trevor Lawrence), the club really has nowhere to go but up in the first season featuring 17 regular season games.
Head Coach Urban Meyer and players have said consistently this offseason that they’re working to win now. As admirable and understandable as that goal is, the reality is, this team is in a massive rebuilding process. When in the midst of a rebuilding process, every single piece counts and it’s ok to take time making sure each is perfect to do the job. This is especially true when rebuilding a team. Each player contributing will be of the utmost importance; but some will have the onus put on them more than others.
As we move closer to the 2021 schedule, we take a look at the 10 most important Jaguars for the coming season.
No. 8 Tyson Campbell/Tre Herndon
Campbell and Herndon are presented as one entry because we make the rules and can break them as we like.
Actually the simple reason is, they are tentatively expected to play the same position. Whatever one does will affect the other so they’re interlocked. What’s really being ranked here is the nickel role.
Former defensive back D.J. Hayden held down the role for the Jaguars in recent years. However early in the 2020 season, Week 4, Hayden left the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals with an injury and Tre Herndon slid inside to take over for Hayden. He stayed there for the next five games, accumulating 21 tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack and one pass defended.
Herndon has the size, coverage ability, and pure tenacity to fit the nickel role well. He can tackle, blitz and flash his cover corner skills. Statistically he was more efficient outside in 2020, but with Hayden out, Herndon was clearly the Jaguars' best choice at the spot.
Campbell was a safety in high school and corner in college with the Georgia Bulldogs. Head Coach Urban Meyer and Defensive Coordinator Joe Cullen are planning to combine those skill sets and turn the rookie into a nickel defensive back. Asked if he’s comfortable with the possibility of moving inside, Campbell told local media after being drafted, “Yes, I do. I trust my feet, I trust my hips, feel like I could run with anybody.”
The words Meyer likes to apply to Campbell are “versatile” and “flexible” which are the basis of every great nickel, some of whom Meyer has coached.
“The thing Tyson Campbell gave is flexibility at something other — he was a safety in high school and he’s a very physical player, great blitzer. Those are all qualities of the nickel. They’re very hard to find. I go back to Florida days, a Will Hill or an Ahmad Black, but they’re hard to find, the guys that can go inside and outside.”
Campbell has spent much of the offseason work thus far injured, meaning he hasn’t had much opportunity to practice at his new possible position. This, coupled with the experience Herndon has in the position, it’s likely we’ll see Herndon getting the first-team reps at nickel in training camp and into the season. This utilizes the fourth-year corner best, keeping him on the field despite the additional corners signed/drafted this offseason. It also gives Campbell time to learn without the pressure of having to perform right away.
Suffice to say, the Jaguars are developing depth to play nickel defense at their leisure. But as mentioned above, this ranking isn't so much about Herndon and Campbell themselves, but more so the nickel position as a whole.
The nickel—to sum up quickly—is a fifth defensive back on the field. They typically play shallow, and even on the line at times, allowing for a speedy blitz. They must be able to support run coverage, man the middle of the field and have the fluidity and speed to drop deep into center field coverage as well.
The Jaguars are reportedly switching to a base 3-4/4-3 defense under Cullen. In this defense, the nickel is crucial in passing situations. That’s typically when the third linebacker is taken off of the field and the fifth DB is inserted. They’re tasked with much the same responsibilities, just with the assumption that the responsibilities will require pass coverage skills in that particular play. But as mentioned, the ability to assist in run stopping is also necessary, in case the play is changed.
In a division that includes the Tennessee Titans, for example—kings of the RPO—the nickel can change the complexity of the Jags defense. Having someone with the capability to read Ryan Tannehill’s eyes and the talent to follow up on what’s needed is vital.
The Jaguars believe they have their future at the position. They also have an unexpected converted corner more than qualified to start now. Getting the most out of both of them will be one of the more important aspects to the defense being successful this season.