Once it became clear that the Kansas City Chiefs would take an offensive tackle with the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft, most mock drafters and fans expected the Jacksonville Jaguars to take Dion Jordan. Because of Gus Bradley’s past success with the Seattle Seahawks and the importance of the Leo position in his defensive scheme, the defensive end from Oregon seemed like a perfect fit.
However, it quickly became clear that the Jaguars were going to take another offensive tackle, Luke Joeckel, and in turn take their first philosophical step towards crafting an identity.
Because Bradley’s defensive scheme is easy to see, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that he will do everything he can to find players who fit in that scheme at the expense of his offense. However, much more important than his schematic approach with the Seahawks was his philosophical approach. Bradley didn’t become a success in Seattle because of a perfectly designed scheme, he did so because he got the best out of players who were overlooked elsewhere.
Bradley didn’t join the Seahawks with Pete Carroll. He arrived in 2009 when Jim Mora Jr was the head coach. His defensive unit needed to be revamped from a personnel point of view and Bradley set about doing that by rebuilding his defensive line. The 2009 unit was led by Patrick Kerney, Brandon Mebane, Colin Cole and Lawrence Jackson. Kerney and Jackson weren’t impact defensive ends or perfect fits in Bradley’s scheme.
It takes time to re-tool a defense in the NFL, but just 12 months later, Bradley had already found his two new starters and he had paid next to nothing for both of them.
Reserve defensive tackle Red Bryant, who had struggled to produce or stay healthy after being taken in the fourth round of the 2008 draft, was to move to defensive end and become a starter. Bryant wasn’t your typical defensive end, but he fit exactly what Bradley wanted from a scheme point of view. In fact, neither of Bradley’s starting defensive ends for the 2010 season could be considered typical.
Bryant would start across from Chris Clemons, a defensive end who had a completely different skill-set. Clemons was jettisoned by the Philadelphia Eagles in a trade for Daryl Tapp. The Eagles sent over Clemons as the add-on to the fourth-round-pick that was Tapp’s price. Back then, Clemons was a 28-year-old veteran who had seven sacks over the previous two seasons despite not starting a single game. Much like Bryant, his career before Gus Bradley came along was underwhelming at best.
After going undrafted in 2003, Clemons missed his rookie season because of a torn ACL. He would be released by the Redskins during training camp of 2004, before re-signing with the team in late November. Clemons impressed in a limited role as a pass-rusher. He impressed enough to land a practice squad role with the Cleveland Browns entering the 2005 season. The Redskins claimed him early on in the season, but Clemons failed to live up to his production of the previous season over an extended period.
He didn’t play in the NFL in 2006, before landing a situational pass-rusher role with the Oakland Raiders in 2007. His eight sacks earned him a five-year-contract from the Philadelphia Eagles, but Andy Reid’s coaching staff never trusted him enough to put him into a starting role. It was there where Gus Bradley would snap him up for Daryl Tapp, a player who has less career sacks than Clemons has since the trade.
Clemons and Bryant entered the 2010 season as the Seahawks’ starting defensive ends. Players who had no real reputations to precede them and no real recognition to identify them. Yet, Bryant would play 291 very effective snaps in seven games before being injured as a starter, while Clemons played over 1,000 snaps in the Leo role across from him. Neither was a top five pick, but both would immediately be effective players on the field who later developed into star players for their defensive coordinator.
What does this have to do with the Jacksonville Jaguars?
Bradley is taking the same approach in his new role with the Jaguars. After passing on Dion Jordan, he is left with Jeremy Mincey, Jason Babin and Andre Branch as players who have the skill-set to play the Leo position in his defense, while former first round pick Tyson Alualu has followed in Red Bryant’s footsteps by moving from defensive tackle to defensive end. Alualu has all the talent to excel in the same role Bryant filled, while Kyle Love, Sen’Derrick Marks, Roy Miller and Brandon Deaderick have all come in as overlooked free agents to play defensive tackle.
It’s that Leo role that will have the greatest impact for the Jaguars however. The team has lacked a real pass-rushing threat in recent years. Of course, having a leaky secondary played a major part in their inability to consistently get to the quarterback, but adding a Leo and other situational pass-rushers would go a long way to making the defense decent.
Jason Babin has an awful lot in common with Chris Clemons. Babin is a former pro-bowl player, but he has bounced around the league and was released by the Eagles during last season. The knock on Babin has always been that he is a pass-rusher who can’t stop the run. Babin excelled in the wide-9 alignment under Jim Washburn, but will need to reap huge benefits from Bradley’s coaching if he is to become a relevant Leo at 32 years of age. At the very least, Babin could fill the situational pass-rusher role that Bruce Irvin filled during Bradley’s final season in Seattle.
Andre Branch was the 38th overall pick of the 2012 draft and will turn 24 before the start of next season. He managed just one sack in 258 pass-rush snaps and played 421 total. Branch had an underwhelming start to his career, but he arrived in a difficult situation where his production was always going to be limited. He may need a lot of refining from Bradley, but he definitely has talent and is more of an unknown commodity than a bust at this point in his career.
Jeremy Mincey must be the favorite to start across from Alualu, presuming that Alualu will indeed start the season at defensive end. Mincey has quietly been an impressive player for the Jaguars over the last three years. He’s not as young as one might think, he’s 29 and has been in the league since 2006. He was selected in the sixth round by the New England Patriots in the 2006 draft, before debuting for the Jaguars in 2007. Mincey did very little until 2010, but he has managed 16 sacks on a porous Jaguars defense since then.
Even if some sections of the fan-base are still lamenting the loss of Dion Jordan or questioning the overall lack of investment in the team’s defense this off-season, save for a flurry of rookie additions to the secondary, they can trust in their head coach’s history and rely on the hope that comes with the Gus Bradley Way.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf