INDIANAPOLIS -- Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey had a season worthy of his being named the Defensive Rookie of the Year. It could have been even better, he said, had he not been limited by the team’s defensive system.
Ramsey said the defense former head coach Gus Bradley brought with him from the Seattle Seahawks was too restrictive and didn’t take advantage of the team's talent. The best solution to that would be a clean sweep to go with a new head coach.
"I learned a lot from this season," Ramsey said after the Jaguars’ 24-20 loss at the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. "I learned a lot from these coaches, but I think a new beginning will serve us great here. There’s a lot of guys, a lot of talent on this team that’s, I guess, hidden right now [and] not showing.
"It’s frustrating for all of us, but hopefully it’s complete, complete change. [A] complete flip will serve us good."
Bradley’s defense, which is run by former Seattle assistant Todd Wash, is a variation of the 3-4. It uses what is called a leo (weakside defensive end) and a big end (strongside defense end). The leo’s job is to get pressure on the quarterback on first and second down, and the big end’s job is to set the edge against the run. On third down, there are multiple leos on the field.
The defense also relies on cornerbacks playing press man coverage, the strong safety playing closer to the line of scrimmage to help with run support and the free safety in the middle of the field responsible for eliminating explosive plays. The Jaguars mix things up a bit, but for the most part, they keep things simple, especially in the secondary, where the defensive backs are drilled to stay on top to avoid giving up big plays.
Ramsey said he could have made more of an impact if given the flexibility to play different techniques, blitz more and play multiple positions, the way he did in college at Florida State. That's what got him drafted fifth overall.
Ramsey said he spoke with the coaches about doing some of those things but was denied.
"Every week, we ran the same defense," said Ramsey, who finished his rookie season with 55 tackles, 14 pass breakups and two interceptions. "We never changed defenses. We never changed plays. What we were running on first down at the beginning of the season we were running on first down at the end of the season. What we were running on second down, third down, same. Nothing ever changed."
Free safety Tashaun Gipson, who agreed to a five-year, $36 million ($12 million guaranteed) contract in March, wasn’t happy with his role this season, either. He said he felt misused playing as a single high safety, even though the Jaguars signed him with that intention.
He had 13 interceptions from 2013-15 but just one with two passes broken up this season. He made 39 tackles, the fewest he has made in a season since his rookie year in 2012 (29). The most memorable play of his season was the interception he knocked out of teammate Prince Amukamara's hands against the Kansas City Chiefs. Like Ramsey, Gipson said he could have been more of a factor if he were allowed more flexibility.
"I called myself the babysitter, man," Gipson said. "I saved touchdowns [with tackles on run plays]. I’m blamed when I don’t catch six picks, but what can you do? Rush and cover go together. … I’ll never make an excuse. There’s plays that I left out there, 100 percent, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re plus-one, 15 yards in the middle of the field 98 percent of the time. Like I said, if you go back, I’ve never been that type of player in my career. This was definitely new to me. I can’t say that I did my research before coming here, but again I wouldn’t change it for the world."
The scheme has worked well in Seattle, but the Seahawks have different personnel with different skill sets. However, the Jaguars have had success with it this season: They entered the weekend ranked fourth in total defense and third in pass defense. However, they also entered the weekend last in interceptions (six, though they got one Sunday) and tied for 26th in sacks (29, but they got four against Indy).
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson might not be a perfect fit for the scheme, either, but he made it work, with 6.5 sacks and a team-high 19 quarterback hits playing as a three-technique defensive tackle. He said players should just play as hard as they can within the system.
"When you come to a team, you have to adapt to what the team needs," Jackson said. "To be complaining about, ‘Oh, the scheme’ and all this, it is what it is. I’m a D-tackle, so I need to do D-tackle s---, so that’s all it comes down to. Some of us might not be happy with the situation, but we need to make the best of it. We don’t care about crying about what you don’t like."