There has been one constant theme when it came to the Jacksonville Jaguars' overhaul of their defensive personnel this offseason: run defense.
Whether it be Joe Schobert, Rodney Gunter, Al Woods or DaVon Hamilton, the Jaguars made numerous additions to the front seven this season in hopes of rebuilding a defense that was among the worst teams in the entire league at stopping the run last year.
Last season, the Jaguars allowed 2,229 rushing yard son 435 carries, and the 5.1 yard per carry mark was the second-worst in the NFL. They also allowed 23 rushing scores, again the second-worst mark in the league, and 114 first downs via runs, the sixth-worst figure in the league.
The mantra for Jacksonville's defense all offseason has been to put 2019 behind and move forward with a run defense that won't be at the mercy of opposing offenses. They know what needs to be done and they know the importance of the job.
“We have no choice. To be able to rush the passer, you have to stop the run and that’s something we’ve been emphasizing this year this offseason and talking to (Defensive Coordinator) Coach (Todd) Wash and talking to (Defensive Line Coach) Coach (Jason) Rebrovich," edge defender Josh Allen said during a video press conference on Wednesday.
"Stopping the run is priority number one to us right now. I feel like the guys we have brought in do a really good job with that. That is why I said, instead of just working on my pass rushing this year, I tried to work on more of the run and try to be more physical up front so I can do a better job at stopping the run."
However, the job got a good bit tougher last week when Woods, an 11th-year veteran nose tackle, opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Woods was brought in to help replace former nose tackle Marcell Dareus, and the splits without Dareus in the lineup last season show just how vital Woods was set to be in 2020.
In the 10 games without Dareus (Week 1, then Weeks 9 through 17) Jacksonville allowed 1,522 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. This is an average of 152.2 rushing yards per game and 1.7 rushing scores allowed each week. In comparison, Jacksonville allowed 707 rushing yards (117.83 yards per game) and six rushing touchdowns (one per game) in the six games Dareus played in 2019.
The obvious alternatives to Woods, who is eligible to return to the Jaguars in 2021, are Hamilton and Abry Jones. The Jaguars just invested a third-round pick into Hamilton this April, so it is clear the team is at least high on what he can potentially do in Woods' place.
“We drafted a nose tackle high [in DaVon Hamilton]. Some people said they may be too high for a two-down player, but we really feel [Hamilton] is a good player. He can play in there," Marrone said during his video press conference on Monday.
"Abry [Jones] can play in there. We have some guys that can play in there. We’ll see where we are. Like anything else, roster-wise, you are kind of just waiting to see what you have before you look other places. I think the first thing you are going to do is if something happens, you are going to look to fill from within. We feel that we have people that can play there and obviously we’ll see how it goes between now and the start of the season.”
With internal options such as Hamilton and Jones prepared to replace Woods at nose tackle, the Jaguars will need the rest of their defense to gel together and change the narrative of their run defense -- even Allen.
"I know I didn’t do a good job or as good of a job as I could have done last year and I’m looking to improve on that," Allen said.
"So stopping the run is our main key, and I feel like we have a good scheme and we have good players this year that can be able to do that for us.”