A closer look at Jacksonville DT possibilities

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars think John Henderson can return to the form he showed in back in 2006. Whether he can or can't, defensive tackle may be the Jaguars biggest question mark.

I'm sure they hate when we harp on ancient history. But when the Jaguars had Henderson and Marcus Stroud side by side, teams knew they were in for a physical battle. The duo provided the identity not just of the defense, but of the team.

Can they get it back?

If they do it'll be because Henderson rebounds and a collection of lesser known players combine to be productive around him. Last year Rob Meier was the second starter, but the team has since concluded less is more with him in terms of snaps.

I talked with defensive line coach Ted Monachino and asked him to share an assessment of the interior guys beyond Henderson:

Derek Landri: "His dominant traits are his effort and his quickness. When you tie those things together, he can change plays to help your defense win games. Some of the things that he needs to continue to work on and improve on are just lining up across from a guy and whopping him physically in the run game. But we did enough with Derek that he can still be an effective run player. I think his chances are excellent to be a big player in what we do."

Meier: "What we'd like to do with Rob is get him enough snaps so that he can be effective for every one of them. Rob has a tendency to go in there and spend himself in a hurry. If we try to get 50 snaps out of a guy who plays best when he only plays 30, then that's our fault. We don't ever have to worry about Rob not playing the best he can play when he puts his hand down. Does he have some liabilities? Sure he does. There are things he can get better at. He's similar to Derek. He's got a bigger body and a bigger frame than Derek does, but he's still more of an edgy, penetrating, disrupting defensive tackle. We think he's got plenty of gas left in the tank to contribute. I think the number is 25 to 30 plays."

Atiyyah Ellison: "He's got to be in the right system to perform well. Being in an attacking front that involves some movement and allows for some flexibility in his charges, I think, makes a difference with him. If he had to line up head up and two-gap somebody, which is what they were doing with him in San Francisco, he did a great job at giving great effort to do that, but I think he's more suited to do what we do here. He has been a very pleasant surprise. We didn't have low expectations, but for him to come in and put in the body of work he's put in, that's a very pleasant surprise. Very strong and explosive, a real thick body, but has some legitimate quickness and athletic ability as a pass rusher." [More on Ellison sometime soon.]

Terrance Knighton: "He's a young guy that needs to do some things physically to get himself into position where he can play as hard as he can for as long as possible. We need to get him into a manageable area when it comes to body weight. [He's listed at 325.] I'm talking about what is the best weight that he plays at? We've got to figure that out, we've got to figure out can he play a 60-snap game at the weight he's at? Right now we're seeing great things out of him as far as being able to physically whip blockers, his ability to get off and make some athletic plays in the run game and he's also got a little bit of sneaky pass rush ability."

Two others in the mix are Jonathan Lewis (a worker) and Montavious Stanley (who knows the scheme from a previous stint.)

Will any of those guys be Stroud in his prime? That would be a big surprise. Is there enough there to piece together effective play? The Jaguars sure believe so.

Said GM Gene Smith: "We may have some unknown guys or some unproven guys in that group, but there are some talented guys and it's a very competitive group right now. So, it's going to be interesting to see the cream rise to the top. There is still an evaluation period that needs to take place. We think we've got strength in numbers. We'd like for a couple guys to emerge, guys that take three and four hands to block."

Keeping track of the developments here may be as significant as any in camp.