AFC South: Dwight Lowery

ORLANDO -- Fourteen Jacksonville Jaguars received performance-based incentives of more than $100,000, led by rookie safety Josh Evans.

Evans, a sixth-round pick out of Florida in 2013, was thrust into a starting role because Dwight Lowery sustained a concussion in a Week 3 loss to Seattle. Evans was expected to spend the season in a reserve role but instead ended up playing 653 of a possible 1,016 snaps (64.3 percent). That additional playing time earned him $181,381.06 to bring his total compensation for 2013 to $437,205.

Performance-based pay compensates players whose playing time was much higher than what their salary would have paid. Players whose base salaries are very low -- which is usually low-round draft picks and undrafted free agents –--stand to earn the most money under the program.

In addition to Evans, the following players earned more than $100,000: offensive tackle Austin Pasztor ($175,996.58), offensive tackle Cameron Bradfield ($155,588.53), receiver Mike Brown ($142,384.82), cornerback Will Blackmon ($134,617,61), cornerback Alan Ball ($129,120.82), receiver Ace Sanders ($127,592.32), safety Winston Guy ($112,796.88), cornerback Mike Harris ($110,352.63), fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou ($108,097.31), safety Johnathan Cyprien ($108,018.59), receiver Cecil Shorts ($104,795.99), cornerback Demetrius McCray ($104,681.44) and tight end Clay Harbor ($102,227.69).

On the other end of the spectrum was running back Delone Carter, who received $182.17.

Jaguars players received a total of $3.46 million in performance-based pay, which is the league limit for each team. However, the players will not be paid until April 1, 2016.

Rookie safeties ready for Manning

October, 9, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars rookie safeties Josh Evans and Johnathan Cyprien grew up watching Peyton Manning shred NFL defenses.

On Sunday they’ll try to stop him from doing it their defense.

In preparing to play against Manning and the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Evans and Cyprien were struck by the situation. They’ve admired Manning for more than half their lives and now they’re going to be on the same field with him.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Cyprien
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceRookie safety Johnathan Cyprien is trying to treat Sunday's game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos like any other game.
Playing against him. Trying to confuse him. Hoping to pick off one of his passes.

"I wouldn’t say it’s weird, but it is amazing to grow up watching him," Evans said. "I think he got drafted when I was like 9 or something, so now I’m going to play against him is kind of crazy."

Cyprien said he had a similar feeling two weeks ago when the Jaguars played host to the Indianapolis Colts and he had to cover Reggie Wayne, a player he watched at Miami while growing up in North Miami Beach, Fla.

But being on the same field as Manning is another level.

"There’s been a couple players that I felt weird about like that," Cyprien said. "Reggie Wayne, growing up and watching him play and then I played versus him. I went through the weird process. It’ll probably be a different type of weird when I see [Manning]. But it is what it is and it’ll be time to play football."

Don’t get the idea that Evans and Cyprien are starstruck. They are most certainly not. They’re respectful of Manning and his ability, but they’re not approaching Sunday’s game any differently than they did the St. Louis game last Sunday. Practice, meetings, film study.

"We’re going against a lot of veteran guys who are pretty crafty and know what they’re doing, as you can see leading the league in passing," said Evans, who has 15 tackles and one pass breakup. "So now it’s just going out there and figuring out a way how we can stop them."

That’s not going to be easy. Manning has thrown 20 touchdown passes and only one interception, the Broncos are averaging nearly 50 points per game, and they’ve won 16 regular-season games in a row, including all five games this season by an average of 18.2 points.

Plus, don’t you think Manning is eager to go after a pair of rookie safeties?

"Maybe he is," said Cyprien, the Jaguars’ second-round pick last April. “He’s a competitor and he probably has that mindset, but me and Josh have a mindset as far as going into the game, too. If that’s the case I hope we have a lot of opportunities to make some plays."

Defensive coordinator Bob Babich admits it’s not an ideal situation to have two rookies on the back end of the defense in a game against Manning. He’s not going to overload Evans and Cyprien with information or have them show several coverages before the snap in an attempt to confuse Manning. That would more than likely end up confusing them more.

"The thing with Peyton is he’s so smart," Babich said. "Obviously he does a great job of finding out exactly how a defense wants to attack him, so you want to try to do things to try to stop that a little bit with maybe some disguises or blitzes or whatever. The younger you are obviously the tougher it becomes but our guys, what we’re going to do is we’re going to go out, use our fundamentals, and see where it takes us."

Evans, the team’s sixth-round pick, and Cyprien were expected to eventually become the starting tandem and backbone of the secondary. Cyprien was immediately inserted into the starting lineup in training camp and has responded with 35 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles. Evans played just four snaps combined in the first two games but hasn’t missed one since Dwight Lowery suffered a concussion against Seattle.

He’s not coming out either. The team put Lowery on injured reserve on Tuesday and coach Gus Bradley said Wednesday the plan is to cut Lowery once he has been declared healthy.

So it’s Evans and Cyprien for the rest of this season -- and beyond.

"We’ve been very pleased with their development," Babich said. "They’re young guys that are extremely athletic and they’re playing extremely hard. They’re making mistakes, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time they’re making plays so the more they play the better they’re going to get."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tight end Marcedes Lewis will miss Sunday’s game against St. Louis with the calf injury that has only allowed him to get on the field for two plays this season.

Receiver Cecil Shorts, who has a team-high 26 catches, is listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report but is expected to play. Shorts did not practice on Friday because of a groin injury he suffered earlier in the week.

Cornerback Alan Ball (groin), linebacker Geno Hayes (hip flexor), defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder), and receiver Denard Robinson (hamstring) are listed as probable.

As expected, receiver Mike Brown (back), receiver Stephen Burton (concussion), cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle), safety Dwight Lowery (concussion) and defensive end Jeremy Mincey (concussion) were declared out. None of them practiced at all this week.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Cecil Shorts was limited in practice on Thursday with a groin injury, but the Jacksonville Jaguars' leading receiver should play against St. Louis on Sunday. It doesn't look like tight end Marcedes Lewis will join him.

Lewis (calf) was one of eight players who did not practice on Thursday. Receiver Mike Brown (back), receiver Stephen Burton (concussion), cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle), linebacker Geno Hayes (hip flexor), safety Dwight Lowery (concussion) and defensive end Jeremy Mincey (concussion) sat out because of injuries. Cornerback Mike Harris was excused from practice for personal reasons.

In addition to Shorts, receiver Denard Robinson (hamstring) and defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder) were limited.

Lewis has been on the field for just two plays this season. He missed the first three games with the calf injury, and aggravated it early in the Jaguars' loss to Indianapolis last Sunday. He said earlier this week he's continuing to rehab his calf, but it's likely to be a couple weeks before he can play.

Burton, Lowery and Mincey are still in the NFL's concussion program.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts missed Wednesday's practice with a groin injury that he suffered during the team's morning walk-through.

Coach Gus Bradley said the injury doesn't appear to be serious. Bradley said Shorts, who is 10th in the NFL with 26 catches, felt his groin tighten up during the walk-through, and the team held him out of the afternoon practice as a precautionary measure.

Six other players missed practice on Wednesday because of injuries: receiver Mike Brown (back), receiver Stephen Burton (concussion), cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle), tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf), safety Dwight Lowery (concussion) and defensive end Jeremy Mincey (concussion).

Defensive end Jason Babin, center Brad Meester, and defensive tackle Roy Miller were given the day off.

Cornerback Alan Ball (groin), linebacker Geno Hayes (hip flexor) and receiver Denard Robinson (hamstring) were limited.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are now down two starters in the secondary after safety Dwight Lowery was ruled out of Sunday’s game with Indianapolis because of a concussion.

Lowery suffered the injury early in the Jaguars’ 45-17 loss to Seattle last Sunday. He was replaced by rookie Josh Evans, the team’s sixth-round draft pick, and Evans will start in Lowery’s place. The Jaguars are already without starting cornerback Dwayne Gratz because of a high ankle sprain.

There is some good news for the struggling offense because tight end Marcedes Lewis is set to make his season debut on Sunday. He’s a reliable, familiar target for quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who was announced as the starter on Monday after he missed the past two games because of a cut on his right hand.

Lewis will need to have an impact in the passing game because the Jaguars (0-3) will be without receivers Stephen Burton (concussion-like symptoms) and Mike Brown (back). Justin Blackmon is also serving the final game of his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse program.

The Colts (2-1) will be without running back Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois (groin) and safety LaRon Landry (ankle).

Power Rankings: No. 32 Jacksonville

September, 24, 2013
A weekly examination of the Jaguars’ Power Ranking:

Preseason: 29 | Last Week: 32 | Power Ranking since 2002

Nobody expected the Jaguars to make a run at the playoffs. Heck, not many expected them to win more than five games.

But it is a little surprising how poorly the team has played through the first three weeks of the season. Granted, the Jaguars have been missing some key players (Justin Blackmon, Marcedes Lewis, Blaine Gabbert), and there have been some injuries (Maurice Jones-Drew, Dwight Lowery, Dwayne Gratz), but they haven’t even been competitive in losses to Kansas City, Oakland and Seattle. That’s why they remain last in’s NFL Power Rankings.

They’re also last -- or almost last -- in every major statistical category on offense: scoring (9.3 PPG, 32nd), total offense (230.3 YPG, 32nd), passing (178.3 YPG, 29th), and rushing (52.0 YPG, 30th). The rushing stat in particular is an indication of how poorly the offensive line has played.

Maybe things will get better this week. Gabbert is set to return from a hand injury. Lewis may be back after missing the first three games with a calf injury, and his impact as a blocker can be significant. Then again, the Jaguars are playing host to an Indianapolis team that just held San Francisco to seven points in Candlestick Park.
SEATTLE -- It was already not an ideal situation in the secondary for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But it got much worse -- and there was nothing the team could do but suffer through it.

One starting cornerback (Dwayne Gratz) was already out with a high ankle sprain. Then the other starter, Alan Ball, was ruled out in pre-game warm-ups because of a groin injury.

[+] EnlargeDemetrius McCray
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsStarting in his first NFL game, rookie cornerback Demetrius McCray had seven tackles in the Jaguars' Week 3 loss at Seattle.
Starting safety Dwight Lowery -- the team’s most experienced defensive back -- left the game with a head injury in the first quarter. That left the Jaguars with three rookies and a waiver-wire pickup in the defensive backfield.

So it wasn’t surprising that Seattle quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson combined to throw for 323 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-17 victory or that outside receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate combined to catch 10 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

"In this style of defense you have to be able to play on the perimeter and be able to handle those shots that they took," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "There’s some inexperience back there and they’ll grow from what they had happen to them today."

It certainly wasn’t pretty, especially for corner Demetrius McCray. The Seahawks obviously targeted the Jaguars’ seventh-round draft pick early and often. He made a nice play on the first deep ball Wilson threw to Tate down the sideline, but he struggled after that.

It wasn’t surprising that he’d have trouble against veteran receivers or that the Seahawks would keep going after him. The only thing quarterbacks like better than rookie cornerbacks are limping pass rushers.

"I kind of expected it," McCray said. "Being a rookie out there, a first-time starter, I kind of had it in the back of my mind.

"There’s always going to be good and there’s always going to be bad. You’ve just got to learn from it. I’m still young. I still can learn from it. That’s the positive, because I can still learn from this game."

Lowery is in his sixth season. His replacement was Josh Evans, the Jaguars’ sixth-round draft pick. He had played mainly on special teams until Sunday. His inexperienced showed, particularly on Rice’s second touchdown catch.

Evans drifted back in coverage into the end zone and Wilson fired a pass straight at him -- in fact, replays showed Wilson reacted as if he had made a mistake by throwing the ball -- and Evans put up his hands for an easy interception. He didn’t attack the ball, though, which allowed Rice to slide in front of him for a 23-yard touchdown.

Bradley said he needed to be more aggressive going after the ball at this level than he did at Florida.

"You get put in there and you learn new things," Evans said. "That’s something that you take back and study and work on how you could make it better. I should have attacked it instead of waiting for it to drop but he made a great play on the ball and I moved on and played the next play."

The Jaguars became even more short-handed when defensive back Will Blackmon, whom the team signed on Aug. 28, left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury. That put second-year pro Mike Harris on the field.

It wasn’t all bad from the rookies, though. Safety John Cyprien, the team’s second-round draft pick, sacked Wilson on a blitz and forced a fumble the Jaguars recovered.

But he was inconsistent, too, which is what you expect from rookies. The problem is with having too many of them on the field in the secondary at one time. You can overcome that along the defensive line and at linebacker because there are players behind them to cover their mistakes. That’s not the case in the secondary and that’s what burned the Jaguars on Sunday.

"We like our youth," Bradley said. "We like their speed. But their inexperience at times comes back and at critical times can bite us."

Which it did Sunday. Over and over again.
SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 45-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

What it means: This was another dismal offensive performance for the Jaguars. Granted, it came against the league’s best defense, but the Jaguars never gave themselves a chance. They turned it over three times -- including once when Chad Henne's pass bounced off center Brad Meester's helmet -- and managed just 52 yards and four first downs in the first half. The offensive line continues to be pushed around, and the receivers, other than Cecil Shorts, are not able to get separation. It is probably a little unfair to pile on the lack of production in the passing game considering Henne is throwing to guys named Allen Reisner, Clay Harbor, Ace Sanders and Stephen Burton. That’s not exactly a formidable list. Things should get a little better in the next few weeks because Marcedes Lewis (calf) should return next Sunday and Justin Blackmon will finish his four-game suspension and return in two weeks.

Stock watch: By the middle of the first quarter, the Jaguars secondary was comprised of three rookies -- safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Demetrius McCray and safety Josh Evans -- after safety Dwight Lowery left the game with a head injury and did not return. That was a huge blow because he was the most experienced player in the secondary. The Seahawks took advantage by picking on McCray, a seventh-round pick forced to start because of Alan Ball's groin injury. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice combined to catch 10 passes for 187 yards, and Russell Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson combined to throw five touchdown passes. Evans got burned on one because he stood waiting for the ball instead of going to get it and Rice slid in front of him to make the catch. Cyprien did force a fumble for the second consecutive week.

Unloaded weapon: The Jaguars had hoped to get Denard Robinson more involved on offense today. He carried once for minus-2 yards and also fumbled when he tried to pull the ball out of Sanders’ stomach on a read-option play. That is an inexcusable turnover, especially since Robinson ran the read-option countless times in his career at Michigan.

What’s next: The Jaguars play host to Indianapolis and the Seahawks play at Houston next Sunday.

Jaguars roster breakdown

September, 2, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars made one roster move on Monday, adding rookie fullback Lonnie Pryor to the practice squad.

That was a pretty quiet day compared to Sunday, when the Jaguars were awarded seven players off waivers, cut seven players and signed seven more players to the practice squad, the Jaguars front office was pretty quiet. And while things won't be as busy as they were Sunday, GM Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley have said they will be aggressive in terms of trying to improve the bottom part of the roster and special-teams play, which means the team will be signing and cutting players on a somewhat regular basis.

So while things are (relatively) quiet for now, here’s a quick breakdown of the 54-man roster (we’re including WR Justin Blackmon, who is suspended for the first four games):

According to data collected by The Philadelphia Inquirer and posted on its website, the Jaguars have the league’s fifth-youngest roster in the NFL. The numbers may not be 100 percent accurate now because the website used the rosters as of 9 p.m. Saturday and teams continued to add and cut players on Sunday, but it shouldn’t make too much of a difference in the final results.

Here’s how the Jaguars roster breaks down in terms of age:

The Jaguars have 38 players 26 years old or younger, including 12 projected starters: WR Cecil Shorts (25), LT Eugene Monroe (26), LG Will Rackley (23), RT Luke Joeckel (21), WR Justin Blackmon (23), QB Blaine Gabbert (23), DT Tyson Alualu (26), DT Roy Miller (26), DT Sen’Derrick Marks (26), LB Geno Hayes (26), CB Dwayne Gratz (23), S Johnathan Cyprien (23).

They have 12 players between 27 and 30 years old, including six starters: RG Uche Nwaneri (29), TE Marcedes Lewis (29), FB Will Ta’ufo’ou (27), RB Maurice Jones-Drew (28), LB Paul Posluszny (28) and S Dwight Lowery (27).

There are only three players older than 30, all of which are starters: DE Jason Babin (33), C Brad Meester (36) and K Josh Scobee (31).

Sixteen players are either rookies or first-year players.

The Jaguars have four players on the roster who were drafted under GM Shack Harris (2003-08) and 10 players who were drafted under GM Gene Smith (2009-12).

If you eliminate the 2012 draft class because those players are only in their second year and should still be on the roster (four of the six picks are), the number remaining from Smith’s tenure drops to six. The 2009 and 2010 drafts should have produced the core group of players that should be the strength of this year’s team since they would be entering their fourth and fifth seasons, which is when most players enter their prime. But only two of the 15 players taken in those two drafts remain: Monroe and Alualu.
We pick up our series in which’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, ranks the AFC South position-by-position.

Today, we examine defensive backs.

Williamson’s AFC South defensive backs rankings:
1) Texans (Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning, Ed Reed, Kareem Jackson, Brice McCain, D.J. Swearinger, Brandon Harris, Roc Carmichael)
2) Titans (Jason McCourty, Bernard Pollard, Michael Griffin, Alterraun Verner, George Wilson, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh)
3) Colts (Vontae Davis, LaRon Landry, Antoine Bethea, Greg Toler, Darius Butler, John Boyett, Cassius Vaughn)
4) Jaguars (Dwayne Gratz, Johnathan Cyprien, Dwight Lowery, Alan Ball, Josh Evans, Mike Harris, Marcus Trufant, Jeremy Harris, Demetrius McCray)

I think this order is virtually impossible to debate, and you should be clicking the top entry in the poll to the right.


Matt Williamson's ranking of AFC South defensive back units is:


Discuss (Total votes: 1,681)

My questions for Williamson based off of his list:

Your overall assessment please:

“Overall thoughts are I really like Houston's secondary and really dislike Jacksonville's. The other two? I would say are pretty much the definition of middle of the road.”

What's the gap between Texans and Titans?

“The gap between Houston and Tennessee is substantial. That isn't to say that the Titans have a poor secondary -- and I would say they did improve it at both corner and safety.”

What's Ed Reed have left and what can he do for the Texans?

“Reed's best days are long behind him, but I love the addition to the Texans for one huge reason: He is a winner from a great organization and what he brings behind the scenes could pay off HUGE. The Texans really are not that far from being an expansion team and most of their best players are all home grown players-that have never won the big one. Reed, a future Hall of Famer coming off a SB win brings instant credibility to the locker room and even if he doesn't play at a real high level, is a great addition-and something Houston should have done long ago.”

If you were just ranking CBs what order would you have them in? If you were just ranking safeties?

“Just CBs: I think I would keep it exactly the same. Just safeties? Tough to really gauge Jacksonville, but they still have to be last and again, I think I would keep the order the same. More so than some of the other position groups in the division, this order is pretty clear to me.”

What rookies do you expect to have the biggest impact?

“The rookie defensive back that I expect to make the biggest impact is definitely Cyprien. I think he will be a star in this league, was a great value where Jacksonville took him and will been all around impact player, even early in his career.”

The Titans view McCourty as a solid No. 1 and the Colts feel the same about Davis. Can you compare and contrast them?

“I think both are good cornerbacks, but neither is truly a No. 1. To me, Davis is more talented and more equipped to play coverage against the opponent's No. 1 receiver, but also is more inconsistent overall.”

Can you rate the nickel situations?

“Butler has played well at times for the Colts, but I would say they are a little deficient when they go to sub packages, where Tennessee should be in better shape with their top three corners, as I think Wreh-Wilson should do a fine job (despite some rookie struggles) on the outside in nickel, but this makes the Titans' slot situation very good.”

As for me…

Jackson really blossomed last season when Joseph dealt with a bunch of injuries. If a healthy Joseph returns to form, they could be one of the best cornerback duos in the league. I’ve written about Reed’s swagger and like Williamson, I expect he’ll have a great effect even if he isn’t always playing or isn’t playing quite up to his standards.

Pollard has been outspoken and brings an attitude the Titans have been lacking on defense. He’s an upgrade for certain on early downs. But George Wilson may be the better overall player. I know the Titans will find snaps for all three of their guys and not just in a three-safety nickel or dime package.

The Colts secondary improvement is likely to hinge on health. Can Toller stay on the field after dealing with elbow, back, foot, hip and hamstring injuries in his first four seasons? Landry has a repaired Achilles but recovered for a complete season last year with the Jets. Without either of them, depth would quickly be tested with guys like Cassius Vaughn or Joe Lefeged potentially in nickel and dime packages.

A lot of people are going to have terrible expectations of the Jaguars. But kids can play well quickly in the secondary, and from what I saw at minicamp, Cyprien is my pick for defensive breakout player in the division. Gratz looked good too. Lowery is solid as the other safety. They need cornerbacks to emerge but could surpass expectations.
How does each AFC South team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Houston Texans

News that No. 1 cornerback Johnathan Joseph had sports hernias repaired early in the offseason was actually a good development. He was even more hurt than we knew last year, which serves to explain why he was hardly the player in 2012 he had been in 2011. A healthy Joseph will be much better. Kareem Jackson blossomed as the second corner, and Brice McCain returns as a fairly steady nickel. Danieal Manning is the strong safety with Ed Reed roaming and ball hawking as the deeper guy. Rookie D.J. Swearinger should work as the third safety and be an upgrade over the two guys who played in that role a year ago. He’s also insurance for the aging Reed. Corner depth is a concern, but isn’t that the case for almost every team? I expect big things from this group.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are counting on free-agent addition Greg Toler as a starting corner opposite Vontae Davis. If he pans out as they project, they will improve. If he doesn’t, the depth is poor with Cassius Vaughn still in the mix. Darius Butler is a quality nickel cornerback. Antoine Bethea should be back to form when given a better partner at safety in free-agent acquisition LaRon Landry, provided Landry stays healthy. Safety depth has Joe Lefeged at the head of the line. He can be productive in spot duty, but if they need him for a long stretch, it’ll be an issue. Toler’s production in an expanded role and Landry’s health are the two big keys.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have an incredibly young group. Safety Dwight Lowery and likely starting cornerback Alan Ball are entering their sixth seasons. The other starting safety will be John Cyprien, a second-round pick, and the other starting cornerback will be Dwayne Gratz, a third-rounder. Depth is a major question. The nickelback could be the wise old man of the group -- Marcus Trufant -- or second-year man Mike Harris or a player to be determined. Primary depth will come from three more rookies: corner Demetrius McCray and Jeremy Harris and safety Josh Evans. Cyprien already looks excellent, and Gratz was very good in minicamp. Still, inexperience will be a big factor in this defensive backfield.

Tennessee Titans

Free safety Michael Griffin's game has dropped off significantly in recent years. At least part of it has been the team’s inability to allow him to be the center fielder, which is what he should be best at. With veterans Bernard Pollard and George Wilson added to man the strong safety spot, Griffin has a chance to be a lot better. Jason McCourty is a topflight corner. The other job can be wrestled away from Alterraun Verner as the Titans look to play more man coverage with Tommie Campbell or rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson in contention. Coty Sensabaugh is a developing nickel, and Verner has a knack for the job as well. They need a better push up front to help them all out.
Johnathan CyprienRobert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsSecond-round safety Johnathan Cyprien is one of five draft picks the Jags added to their secondary.
With the second pick in the first round, the Jacksonville Jaguars got themselves a rock of an offensive tackle in Luke Joeckel.

What did they get with the first pick of the second round?

A team in dire need of cornerstones might have found one for the defense in Johnathan Cyprien, the strong safety out of Florida International.

Initial reports out of Jacksonville are very solid. It’s obviously early, but Cyprien could be the linchpin of a young secondary that grows up together, helping slow the run and cover the sort of tight ends who are increasingly posing matchup issues around the league.

“The thing we really enjoyed about evaluating him was his football instincts," said DeWayne Walker, the Jaguars' defensive backs coach. “Some guys, they have that halo effect where they kind of feel the game, and he has a real good feel for the game.

"We’re going to have to smooth him out, and we’re going to have to polish him up a little bit. At the same time, he definitely brings a lot of good tools to the table.”

Not too may years ago, the AFC South had a major dearth of quality safeties. Gradually, the position has gotten better. If Cyprien can be an impact guy, he and free safety Dwight Lowery can make the position one of the Jaguars’ most solid.

Cyprien comes across as a polite, confident young man eager to learn and to prove himself. He grew up admiring Sean Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas, who went to the same high school and ranks as a friend who has offered a great deal of encouragement.

A late bloomer at North Miami Beach (Fla.) High School, Cyprien dreamed of playing at Texas, but had just two scholarship offers -- from Central Michigan and FIU. He stayed in Florida, and a big senior season in college turned him into a borderline first-round pick.

The Jaguars surely could have gotten good value by trading out of the 33rd position in the draft, but stayed put and jumped on him.

“It’s a big position, a big role in this defense,” Cyprien said. “You’re allowed to do a lot of things. You’re allowed to have a lot of fun. I’m planning on having a lot of fun playing that position.

“I guess you could say it could be hard for a rookie to be a leader. I wouldn’t define it as that, personally. I’m just taking it head on.”

Of eight picks in the draft, the Jaguars spent five on defensive backs: Cyprien in the second round; UConn cornerback Dwayne Gratz in the third; Florida free safety Josh Evans in the sixth; and New Mexico State cornerback Jeremy Harris and Appalachian State cornerback Demetrius McCray both in the seventh.

The Jaguars have a handful of guys with experience for the kids to look to.

Marcus Trufant, a 10-year veteran corner, played on coach Gus Bradley’s defense in Seattle, and could be the nickelback. Another free-agent cornerback, Alan Ball, has played five seasons, but struggled in Houston last year. Safety Chris Prosinski, a fourth-rounder from 2011, should be a backup at best with Cyprien on board. Mike Harris could be a nice nickel candidate in his second season.

Given the uncertainty at the position, I rank the Jaguars’ cornerback group as the most competitive unit in the division.

If Jacksonville is going to be any good on the back end, it’s likely to be because of the draft class’ contribution.

“I think it’s fun for all of us,” Walker said. “These guys were needed. We’re going to be pretty young. It’s fun for all of us to get this group and develop it and prove people wrong …

“Being able to talk with them about the league, these guys are pretty mature. Coach Bradley, [defensive coordinator] Bob Babich, all of our coaches do a good job saying the right things to these guys to get them acclimated. So I think all of our rookies, not only the rookies in the secondary, have come into a situation where we are here to help them, we are here to develop them to be competitive football players.”

Walker, who was the head coach at New Mexico State from 2009 to 2012, where he posted a 10-40 record, left in January to join Bradley's staff. Previously, Walker coached defensive backs for the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, New England Patriots and at Cal. He was also defensive coordinator at UCLA.

The assistant coach is a straight shooter who has been telling the rookies about the identity he wants his players to have, Cyprien said. They need to be sound in the techniques they are taught, and they should all look the same on tape.

“I think it’s a challenge for him, I think it’s good for him,” Cyprien said of the influx of youth in the secondary. “I know we have him excited, because we just want to run around, and we’re hungry to learn and we’re asking a lot of questions.”
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

In a radio interview, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips offered a bit about the health status of linebackers Brooks Reed and Daryl Sharpton, says Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans added Deji Karim to their roster, and he will compete with four undrafted rookies for the No. 3 running back job, says Ganguli.

A detailed, technical look at D.J. Swearinger’s coverage techniques and capabilities that delves into shuffle vs. backpedal, from Brett Kollmann of Battle Red Blog.

Indianapolis Colts

An update on the Colts and the salary cap from Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

There is no discernable disconnect between Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton with regard to using Andrew Luck in read-option situations, says Kyle Rodriguez of Colts Authority. There is an old video of a Hamilton interview that was interpreted as new in one write-up, causing some confusion.

Projecting the impact of draft picks with Tyler Brooke of Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Veteran safety Dwight Lowery is already doing a lot to help his rookie partner, Johnathan Cyprien, find his way on the field, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

Justin Blackmon is responding to Gus Bradley just the way Bradley hopes he will, says Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

Undrafted quarterback Jordan Rodgers is out until training camp after having a sports hernia repaired, says Stellino.

Details on what unfolded for Jimmy Smith and landed him in jail, from Stellino.

The Jaguars claimed former Patriots defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick off waivers, says O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

Bernard Pollard brings encouraging words to a defense desperately in need of an edge, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

“The Titans waived tackle Matt Sewell, one of two undrafted free agents from Canada on the team’s roster, The Tennessean reports. “The move came with a transaction wire notation that Sewell had left the team.”

What’s the future hold for Karl Klug at a more competitive defensive tackle spot? John Glennon of The Tennessean considers.

To which I say: I don’t see Klug getting a look outside. As Glennon points out, Klug’s best characteristics make him best operating in tight quarters, not out in space.

Some thoughts on Lavelle Hawkins signing with the Patriots from Mike Rodak and Mike Reiss at ESPN Boston. I contributed.
The Jacksonville Jaguars look to have a second quality rookie option at safety.

They drafted Johnathan Cyprien from Florida International in the second round. Now they’ve added Josh Evans of Florida in the sixth round, 169th overall.

Cyprien looks like a lead candidate to start at strong safety. Evans is more of a free safety and played next to strong safety Matt Elam for the Gators. Elam went to Baltimore with the final pick of the first round.

Evans is 6-foot-1, 201 pounds so he gives the Jaguars the sort of secondary height they are trying to add.

I like Dwight Lowery, a cerebral player who’s a couple inches shorter but 10 pounds heavier than Evans. But Lowery only played nine games at free safety last season because of ankle and foot injuries.

Here’s NFL Draft Scout on Evans:
"Lean, athletic build with very long arms. Attacking mentality stands out on film. Isn't afraid to get physical and competes when the ball is in the air and after the catch, always attempting to rip it out of the ballcarrier's grasp. Attacks the line of scrimmage when he reads run or when allowed to blitz. Good balance and lateral agility to break down and make the effective open-field tackle or when avoiding backs as a pass rusher."