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Jaguars have to fit at least eight new starters on defense together

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell promised to make fixing the defense a priority in the offseason, and he kept his word.

He signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson and free safety Tashaun Gipson and then used six of the Jaguars’ seven draft picks on defensive players, including cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack and end Yannick Ngakoue.

Those additions have made the defense younger, faster and -- the Jaguars hope -- significantly better. It’s up to coach Gus Bradley and first-time defensive coordinator Todd Wash to make it work.

"They have to come together as a team," Caldwell said. "We have a great coaching staff and they have a plan for them, but these guys have to jell, too. You have 11 great football players as individuals, but that is not going to get us where we need to be. Some of these guys are rookies, too, and I have always said if you are counting on a guy to come in and make a huge difference as a rookie, it is tough.

"But we are excited. It beats where we were three years ago."

Actually, it beats where the Jaguars were in 2014. In comparing the starting lineup in the 2014 season opener to the projected starting lineup in 2016, the Jaguars will have at least eight new starters. The only projected starters who also started against Philadelphia on Sept. 7, 2014, are defensive tackle Roy Miller, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and strong safety Johnathan Cyprien.

Cyprien isn’t a lock because he’ll have to beat out James Sample, the team’s fourth-round pick in 2015. If Sample wins the job, the Jaguars will have almost completely rebuilt the defense in just two seasons.

"We’re going to open it up to be a competitive environment and if you’re good enough and you’re doing things well, we’ll find a role for you and we’ll get you on the field," Bradley said.

The Jaguars’ defense has been terrible during Bradley’s three-year tenure, giving up a franchise-record 449 points in 2013 and the second-most points in franchise history (448) in 2015. The Jaguars' defense recorded the fewest interceptions in the NFL (26) and ranked 31st in scoring defense (27.3 points per game), 31st in third-down defense (43.8 percent), and 29th in total defense (375.0 yards per game) over the past three seasons.

The new personnel should make a difference in those numbers.

Jackson has 14.5 sacks over the last three seasons while moving inside and outside. Fowler was the top-rated pass rusher in the 2015 draft. Ngakoue had 21.5 sacks in his career at Maryland, including a team-record 13.5 in 2015.

Jack was one of the top defensive players in the draft and versatile enough to play all three linebacker spots. He also played safety and, in one instance, cornerback at UCLA. He instantly upgrades the speed and athleticism in the middle level of the defense.

Gipson has 13 interceptions over the past three seasons and allows the Jaguars to finally play a single high safety with the ability to go sideline to sideline. Ramsey was the top defensive player in the draft and has the size (6-foot-2, 209 pounds) of a safety with elite cornerback skills.

If Bradley and Wash can work those pieces into a cohesive unit, the Jaguars’ defense should be markedly better.

"To get faster, younger, more athletic, and to help us on third down [was the goal]," Caldwell said. "I think every player we took, we had that in mind. In some way, shape or form that come third-and-13 in the next couple of years, hopefully they make a difference."