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Michael Bennett fits Jaguars' scheme, could be big draft-day steal

Michael Bennett could be the interior pass-rusher the Jaguars need while Sen'Derrick Marks recovers from surgery. AP Photo/Gary McCullough

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell had no idea why defensive tackle Michael Bennett was still available when it was time for the Jaguars to make their sixth-round pick.

Not that it mattered. Caldwell was completely fine with taking a player that many draft analysts had pegged as high as a second-round talent.

"Every year in the draft [somebody falls]," Caldwell said. "The same reason why Allen Hurns was there after the draft last year: Guys slip through and sometimes teams draft for needs. I can’t tell you what other teams are thinking or why it wasn’t a great fit for some schemes.

"He is a scheme-fit type of player and fortunately for us he fits our scheme."

The 6-foot-2, 293-pound Bennett is a 3-technique defensive tackle, meaning he lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard. Not many teams were looking for one in the draft, but the Jaguars were and ended up with what Pro Football Focus called one of the 10 biggest draft steals.

It was a scheme fit as well as a need. The Jaguars’ top 3-technique tackle is Sen'Derrick Marks, who suffered a torn right ACL in the 2014 regular-season finale and may not be cleared in time for the 2015 season opener. Ziggy Hood is working with the first team at this point but the Jaguars need additional help at the spot and Bennett will get plenty of work throughout organized team activities (OTAs), minicamp and training camp.

"With every practice I feel it more and more," Bennett said after the Jaguars completed their fifth OTA. "I think I’m built to excel at 3-technique. I definitely think I can learn other positions and possibly do better but I haven’t been given as many reps at those positions throughout college so I don’t know how adept at them I am, but the 3-technique is what I love and that’s what they want me to play.

"The more reps you get the more opportunity you have to get better and prove yourself. I’m thankful that I’m getting a good amount of reps and when the season starts I’m going to try to prove to them that I deserve to be on the field. Ziggy’s going to need people to rotate in and out. This is the NFL. You don’t play entire games by yourself. So I hope to be that guy."

Bennett excelled at the role at Ohio State, where he finished his four-year career with 18 sacks. That’s a high number for a defensive tackle and more than A.J. Hawk, Andy Katzenmoyer and Cameron Heyward compiled in their collegiate careers.

He played the run well, too, ranking in the top 10 among interior defenders in Pro Football Focus’ run defense and pass-rush metrics, but the Jaguars drafted him because of his effectiveness at rushing the passer from the interior.

The Jaguars can certainly use some pass-rush help, especially after first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. was lost for the season with a torn left ACL less than an hour into his first rookie minicamp practice.

Marks was the team’s best rusher in 2014 (team-high 8.5 sacks) but he’s coming off the knee injury. Chris Clemons (8.0 sacks in 2014), the projected starter at the leo (pass-rushing defensive end) turns 34 this season. Andre Branch, Clemons’ top backup, has just 10.0 sacks in 38 career games.

Ryan Davis had 6.5 sacks as a third-down interior rusher last season, but he’s undersized (6-foot-2, 260) for a leo and the Jaguars don’t want to play him much more than 18-20 snaps per game.

"You’ve got to find your niche and interior pass-rusher is my thing," Bennett said. "I can stop the run. I can be a three-down player, but I think I’m making my living at my ability to rush the passer so I take a lot of pride in it."