AFC South: Antwuan Molden

Reassessing the Jaguars' needs

April, 4, 2013
The Jacksonville Jaguars have not been afraid to say they are in a rebuild. It’s a rebuild that will be centered on drafts and be quiet in free agency.

Still, some of their additions have adjusted their needs. Understanding they need just about everything, let’s look at the big question mark positions and how free agency has affected them.

[+] EnlargeRoy MIller
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsNew Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller should help solidfy Jacksonville's defensive line.
Offensive line -- This remains a giant need. General manager David Caldwell indicated early in the offseason that the Jaguars didn’t have people they thought could start at left guard and right tackle. And they’ve added nothing to address the issue. A tackle is certainly in play with the No. 2 overall pick, and it will be a surprise if the Jaguars don’t draft two offensive linemen.

Cornerback -- Alan Ball didn’t play well for the Texans last year, but perhaps another change of scenery and Gus Bradley’s system will resurrect him. Still, the Jaguars are quite thin at corner, with well-regarded second-year man Mike Harris joined by young Kevin Rutland and journeyman Antwaun Molden. It’s hard to look at this group and feel like it can slow Andre Johnson or Reggie Wayne. Corner is a major need.

Safety -- They cut the expensive Dawan Landry. So aside from Dwight Lowery, they are very thin. Strong safety is a blank spot that needs filling and ranks right there with offensive line and corner in the desperate need category.

Quarterback -- No, I don’t think Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne is a long-term answer. So if the new regime loves a guy in this draft, it certainly can add a quarterback. But given the holes on this team, it would make perfect sense to build up the infrastructure that would make Jacksonville a better landing spot for a quarterback in a year.

Defensive end -- The Jaguars had fewer sacks as a team last season than Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt had on his own. They haven’t added an end and absolutely need a dynamic pass-rusher.

Running back -- Justin Forsett was a nice addition as Maurice Jones-Drew's primary relief. But MJD could be in his last year with the team, so a running back of the future could arrive in the draft.

Linebacker -- Geno Hayes could be a starter on the outside as it doesn’t appear Daryl Smith is going to be back. Russell Allen is serviceable, so maybe the team has its two starting OLBs. Not as pressing in the draft as some other areas, but if they see one they like they won’t steer away.

Fullback -- Greg Jones is gone to Houston and indications are the team plans on using a fullback. Maybe a late draft pick. But it’s a niche spot that a lot of teams may fill with an undrafted guy.

Defensive tackle -- They’ve added Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks. Those two and a healthy Tyson Alualu could be sufficient along with competition for a back-end spot between D'Anthony Smith, Jeris Pendleton and an undrafted guy or two. I could see the Jaguars leaving this spot alone now.
It wasn’t a popular decision. It wasn’t ideal, either. But the Houston Texans like their three young corners and decided their up-and-comers can handle two games a year against Peyton Manning as their franchise tries to keep up with the Colts.

[+] EnlargeBrice McCain
AP Photo/David J. PhillipCornerback Brice McCain will play in the nickel package for Houston.
So first-round pick Kareem Jackson and second-year man Glover Quin will start Sunday at Reliant Stadium. In the nickel package, Brice McCain will take Glover’s spot outside as Glover shifts to the slot.

This piece on the "Kiddie Corners" from Dale Robertson suggests they have the right bravado for the job. Quin told his wife he’d like his first pick to come against Manning, and that if it did he’d try to get the quarterback to sign the ball for him.

McCain already picked off Manning, in a 2-minute situation last year in one of the Texans' two losses to Indianapolis.

I talked to McCain this week, and he said the trio isn’t looking for a game to ease into things. They like going against a top-flight passing offense immediately.

“It doesn’t matter who we play, you’ve got to go in with the same mindset that you’re a veteran corner,” he said. “As a whole group we have to come in and try to be consistent. No matter if it’s Peyton in front of you, no matter what receivers are in front of you.”

“… We’re just three young corners trying to make a mark. … We’d get a lot of respect from a lot of teams if we came out and played well against Peyton. But one game isn’t enough. We need to do it game-in, game-out. We’re trying to be respected around the league -- that’s one of our goals.”

While he wasn’t always involved, McCain estimated the Texans played 80 percent nickel in their two games against the Colts in 2009. Minus suspended outside linebacker Brian Cushing, the Texans could be even quicker to turn to it if they prefer having McCain on the field to Cushing’s replacement, Xavier Adibi.

Reggie Wayne tends to stay on the left for the Colts, though they sometimes put him in the slot. Otherwise, McCain said the defensive backs expect a mix of Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie along with Dallas Clark.

The Colts have offensive line issues, and pressure from Houston’s front that makes Manning work faster than he would like is something those corners will need to hold up.

“That’s every game,” McCain said. “If you want to be a great defense, a great secondary, it starts with the front.”

It’s a trial-by-fire scenario, though Quin got excellent experience in his rookie season and McCain got some. The Texans have talked up how NFL-ready Jackson is as a result of playing for Nick Saban at Alabama.

It’s not like the Texans have veteran insurance behind them. The oft-injured Antwaun Molden, who's been out this week with an ankle issue, is in his third season and two other rookies are backups -- Jamar Wall and Sherrick McManis. Gone are veterans Dunta Robinson, Fred Bennett and Jacques Reeves. It’s hard to blame the Texans for giving up on any of them, as Robinson’s price was too high and Bennett and Reeves were too inconsistent.

But the Texans’ season could well hinge on the secondary, and Manning’s not the only top quarterback Houston faces.

Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers are on the docket in the first half of the season. Things ease up from there.

McCain will play against their receivers more physically than he did last year. He’s up only five pounds but is stronger and has adjusted his attitude.

“Last year I started to carry the reputation of being a cover corner, but I wanted to change that perception,” he said. “I think I am a much better player by being more physical now. I gained weight, I’m stronger than I was last year and I am a better tackler.”