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Monday, May 11, 2009
Jaguars' weakness: Defensive tackle

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Williamson

We examine each AFC South team's "weak spot" based on its 2008 performance. In this post, we explore the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive tackle position.

Selecting Virginia offensive lineman Eugene Monroe, a potential franchise left tackle, in the first round of the 2009 draft was a smart move for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But picking Boston College DT BJ Raji instead might have yielded a more immediate return on their investment. This became apparent after Arizona's Eben Britton also fell into Jacksonville's lap in the draft's second round, as there obviously were far fewer defensive tackles of top pedigree compared to offensive linemen. That is obviously an argument that is easy to make now and surely the Jaguars could not have predicted that Britton would have been available so late in the process. But in 2008 Jacksonville's defense was not as stout as it has been, especially after the Jags shipped Marcus Stroud to the Buffalo Bills.

As a result, their defensive tackle position appears to be a liability.

  Henderson

One of the true calling cards of the successful Jaguars' teams in recent memory was their massive defensive tackle tandem in Stroud and John Henderson. They were two first- round selections with rare size, movement skills and sheer power. Every offense that faces the Jaguars had to specifically account for Jacksonville's monsters in the middle of the defense. Few teams in recent memory have had a pair as formidable.

A lot went wrong with the Jaguars last season and I will not contend that defensive tackle was a bigger weakness in 2008 than the decimated Jacksonville offensive line, but the loss of Stroud was certainly felt in a big way. No longer were offenses afraid to attack the middle of this defense. Passing lanes were easier to discover. Offensive linemen got to the Jaguars' linebackers with more ease. Getting off the field was more difficult for Jacksonville's defense. Opposing offenses didn't have to face as many third-and-long situations. Adding Raji next to Henderson, whose play fell off as he was the center of attention, surely would help alleviate those concerns.

Now the Jaguars are left with Henderson, 30, and Rob Meier, 31, as the likely other starter. Meier has never proven to be anything more than an average starter. He's more suited to be a rotational player at this stage of his career. Derek Landri is much younger and has an excellent motor, but is quite undersized for the position on a full time basis. This doesn't add up to a good situation, especially when/if injuries occur.

Scouts Inc.: Weaknesses
• AFC: South | East
• NFC: North | South

Also, there has been some speculation that the Jaguars will employ more 3-4 looks this season. Presently, there isn't a suitable candidate to man the nose tackle spot unless third-round pick Terrance Knighton makes an immediate impact and shows the ability to occupy anchor against consistent double teams, which is asking a lot for a player as raw as Knighton. Raji would have been that nose tackle for their odd front.

It certainly isn't a knock on Monroe, who could become a great player. He's also surely will help an ailing offensive line along with being the cleaner prospect than Raji in terms of potential character concerns. But Raji would have filled the more immediate need and the Jaguars are quite weak at what was once a tremendous area of strength.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.