Jaguars DE Chris Smith says he can handle bigger role

Jaguars DE Chris Smith says he's ready for the challenge of an expanded role in 2015. AP/Chris Keane

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Chris Smith says he’s ready for an expanded role in 2015.

He better be, because the Jaguars don’t really have an alternative available.

With Andre Branch out with a sprained left MCL the Jaguars are turning to Smith to be the team’s leo (pass-rushing defensive end) on first and second down, which is a significantly bigger role than the one he had as a rookie in 2014.

"I’m ready for the challenge," Smith said. "The coaches have challenged me to step up to the plate and that’s what I’ve got to do."

Smith was inactive -- not on the roster or on the practice squad -- for the first seven weeks of the 2014 season, but played in seven of the final nine games and finished with 3.0 sacks. He mainly played on third down, though, and he said there’s a different approach he has to take when playing on first and second down.

He can’t only concentrate on rushing the passer. He has to play the run, too, which means holding the point of attack and setting the edge. It’s new for him and he’s had to alter his preparation.

"I’ve got to watch more film because last year I kind of only watched third downs," Smith said. "Now I’ve got to watch first and second down. Guys like [defensive tackle] Roy [Miller] and [defensive tackle] Sen'Derrick [Marks], they’re real good guys on their run fits and the backfield fits and stuff like that. So I’m going to get with those guys and team up."

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been working on his pass rush. Though the Jaguars managed only six sacks in the preseason, Smith had two of them. He said he has more moves available than just bull rushing.

"That’s all I did my rookie year -- try to bull rush and the try to run around guys," Smith said. "In the NFL, that’s not going to work because they get paid too. I’m just trying to add moves and trying to watch other players. [Defensive end] Ryan [Davis] has the spike move and Branch has the punch-chop so I try to learn from those guys and add that to what I do."

Coach Gus Bradley has noticed, which is why he approved the plan of Smith taking over on first and second down.

"He’s always been a really high effort guy, a guy that you can count on to play with tremendous effort and those guys can be successful," Bradley said. "I think that we saw enough rush from him that … he can do some good things."