Multiple Alignments and Disguised Looks Will Define Jaguars' Defensive Scheme
Josh Allen can already see it; he’ll roam the line of scrimmage, dropping, then approaching. Disguising each move with another, watching the quarterback watch him.
“This dude does not know what I’m about to do, but I’m going to kill him regardless.”
It’s the luxury allowed to defensive ends—particularly guys like Josh Allen—in the scheme under new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen. After years of running an old Seattle-based scheme that was outdated in today’s NFL, the Jaguars are shifting to more of a 3-4/4-3 scheme that in and of itself allows for a more multiple defense.
“We will be multiple in our scheme where we can have four-man fronts and then basically we can have three-man fronts, five men fronts with five down," explained Cullen last week.
The implementation of this defense is essentially finished. Now, as the Jaguars continue to work through training camp, the focus becomes tailoring the looks around the talent. The Jaguars have pass rushers on the edge, but aren’t incredibly deep in that area. So Cullen will get creative; something that he has freedom to do within this defense.
“With the guys we have up front and the competition — we will have different package groupings that you won’t know who’s coming, who’s blitzing and what personnel grouping we’re in. We will have all DB’s and then five guys up front, so I think we will be able to once everything is settled, really hone in on different packages.”
The ability to be so flexible will come largely because of Cullen’s dedication to cross-training his athletes. The old non-funny joke is that the NFL stands for “Not For Long,” meaning any given Sunday, teams could find themselves without a player they previously depended on, due to injury, trade or any number of factors, especially in today’s pandemic environment. As such, the key to success is depth. And when the roster numbers aren’t allowed to exceed certain limitations, cross-training is the best way to field a defense in this pliant defense.
"Every year as a defensive line if you want to add value to yourself and stay in this league then you better learn more than one position,” expounded Cullen. “If I am a five-technique or a defensive end I am going to have to learn the three-technique or nose [tackle] because at the snap of a finger someone gets hurt in a game and you don’t have the body then guess what? Someone has to be trained at two different spots. Same thing at the linebacker — putting Myles [Jack] outside and inside, you have to know those rules and coaches have to move their guys around so that comes second nature.”
As Cullen alluded to, he is moving WILL linebacker Myles Jack around the field. It’s another luxury this staff has due to the talent already in place, as Assistant Head Coach and Linebackers coach Charlie Strong explained.
“Myles [Jack] is just — you look at him and he can do a lot of different things for you. You know he is good enough where you get him in a coverage where he can cover the running backs and cover the tight ends and then he is physical enough that when they run the football, he can go hit the ball and run down guys, but you know the thing about Myles is he knows he has got to get better and what we’re asking of him and it’s been great just the way he has come out here working, but he is very versatile.”
Moreso, within this scheme, players like Josh Allen also have the freedom to move around at will, lining themselves up mere seconds before the snap, dependent on where they believe the play will take place. It’s the defense most commonly used in college now, as it combats the spread offense. So it’s a defense—and a mindset—with which Josh Allen feels extremely comfortable.
“I’m back to where I can just move around, I can disguise, and I can get back to the swag. I feel like defense is all about swagger. I feel like when you are moving around and you are standing, [the defense] doesn’t know what that person is going to do, that’s always a good [thing].”
Still, even within a more free defense, there are technicalities. When it comes time to polish those aspects of the playbook, Cullen is leaning on someone who already knows the scheme backward and forward. Defensive end Jihad Ward came to Jacksonville with Cullen from the Baltimore Ravens, bringing with him a knowledge of what his coach wants to see on the field.
“I think obviously having players that have played in your scheme, maybe they simplify things for the players at times, but I think it helps,” said Cullen of Ward’s presence.
The overhauled Jaguars defense has yet to be seen in its entirety. Tuesday will be the first day of training camp where pads are donned and the leash is loosened somewhat on the defense. But the pieces are coming together, according to Strong.
“You have to be very disruptive because you can’t allow the offense to control the tempo of the game, so we need to come up with different looks and we’re going to have to do a lot of different things where you mix it up with man coverage, zone coverage. You got to be able to apply pressure, and I think that’s what we’re doing right now.”