Each day this week I'll take a look at a stat that will play a key role for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014. It could be something the team must improve or something the team did well that must continue. It will go beyond just the basic stats and provide a more in-depth look at the team.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sacks aren't always the best way to judge whether a pass rush is effective. Bothering the quarterback, making him rush a throw, or throwing off balance are just as important.
But to have a great defense you need to have a very good pass rush, which usually means having at least one stud pass-rusher. That's something the Jaguars haven't had since Tony Brackens compiled 55 sacks from 1996-2003, including the top two seasons in team history (12 in 1999 and 11 in 2001).
The Jaguars recorded just 51 sacks over the past two seasons, including an NFL-worst 20 in 2012. Jason Babin led the team with 7.5 in 2013 and Tyson Alualu led the team with 3.5 in 2012. It's clear that one of the team's biggest priorities moving forward is to improve the pass rush.
Here's a stat that illustrates how pedestrian it has been: The Jaguars haven't had a player record double-digit sacks since Bobby McCray had 10 in 2006. In the seven seasons since then 123 players in the NFL have had 10 or more sacks, but no Jaguars player had more than eight (Jeremy Mincey in 2011).
There is some hope for 2014 at the Leo position, though. Andre Branch, the team's second-round pick in 2012, finally began practicing and playing with consistent effort and finished his second season with six sacks. Coach Gus Bradley praised Branch's work in the offseason and was impressed with his quickness and burst during OTAs and minicamp.
The Jaguars signed free agent Chris Clemons, who has 58 sacks in his nine-year career with Washington, Oakland and Seattle. He had 33.5 sacks from 2010-12 before suffering a torn ACL during the 2012 playoffs. He had just 4.5 sacks in 2013 but said he didn't really feel completely recovered until the 2013 playoffs.
The Jaguars also signed free-agent linebacker Dekoda Watson and drafted defensive end Chris Smith in the fifth round. Watson is the team's new Otto linebacker, which is essentially another defensive end/linebacker hybrid with more emphasis on the linebacker skills, and will be used as a third-down rusher, too.
Chris Smith doesn't fit the Jaguars' typical measurable for what they want in a Leo but they liked what they saw from him during Senior Bowl week so they took a chance. The 6-foot-1, 266-pound Smith is a little shorter than ideal but he's got long arms and runs well.
The addition of Clemons and the development of the younger players is part of the reason the Jaguars cut Babin on the final day of minicamp.
The pass rush should be better, but will it be good enough to finally produce another player with double-digit sacks?