Harvey, Groves expected to juice Jags' rush

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- On a Saturday in April, Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves forever were linked together.

This fall and winter, the Jacksonville Jaguars would like their two rookie defensive ends to be linked to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady -- or at least getting close to the two quarterbacks who have separated this team from the AFC's elite.

Think back to last season, when Brady seemed to have all day to find receivers (completing 26 of 28 passes) and New England eliminated Jacksonville from the playoffs. Or think back to the Jags' two regular-season games against Indianapolis. Manning threw five touchdown passes as the Colts defeated the Jaguars twice and strolled to their fifth straight AFC South title.

Those three games exploited a weak pass rush that couldn't get near Brady or Manning. If the Jaguars, who appear solid everywhere else, are ever going to close the gap on the Colts, they need a defensive front that can apply some pressure.

That's why Harvey and Groves will be under pressure to produce immediately. They didn't come at a cheap price as the Jaguars traded up in the first round to snag Harvey with the eighth overall pick and jumped up again to get Groves in the second round.

"It was obvious that we weren't going to be able to solve it in free agency, so we really turned our attention to the draft," Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. "We were able to come out with two of the best three or four pass-rushers in the draft."

As the Jaguars began a two-day minicamp Friday, veterans Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward were the ends for the first-team defense. For the moment, Del Rio doesn't want to rush his two rookies.

"What they are now is draft prospects,'' Del Rio said. "They have to get here and pan out. You bring these young men in here with a lot of competition and make them earn their way up the ladder and onto the field. Hopefully, in the end, the by-product of that competitive environment is waves of people that can get there and help you harass the quarterback a little bit better."

But the Jaguars didn't make those draft day trades for Harvey and Groves to come in and sit on the bench.

If you look into Del Rio's history, look to 2002 when he was defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Julius Peppers was taken by the Panthers with the second overall pick in the draft and was working with the first team on the first day of camp. By the end of the season, Peppers was a big reason why the Panthers had one of the league's best defenses.

Spicer and Hayward might play important roles, but you can bet the Jaguars want Harvey in the starting lineup and Groves at least getting a lot of time in the rotation by Week 3. That's when the Jaguars travel to Indianapolis after opening at Tennessee and playing host to Buffalo.

"We have to go into training camp prepared as if we're every-down defensive ends and not just focused on the pass rush,'' Groves said. "When it's time to rush the quarterback, we rush the quarterback. When it's time to play the run, we play the run."

At 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, Harvey has enough size to be an effective run defender. Groves, 6-foot-3 and 259 pounds, might be a little undersized to be a strong run defender. But that might not matter all that much. Both were brought in almost entirely for their ability to rush the passer.

That's what they do best. Groves led Auburn with 7½ sacks as a redshirt freshman and his play only got stronger each year. He also brings some versatility after playing last season at outside linebacker after injuries forced the Tigers to juggle players. Groves often looked awkward as a full-time linebacker, but has the size and potential to be used as a rushing linebacker at times. But the real plan is to let him stay at defensive end, where the Jaguars seem to believe that two rookies are better than one.

Harvey tied for fifth in the SEC with 8½ sacks last season while playing for Florida. Groves gave Auburn steady production throughout his career, finishing tied for fifth in school history with 26 sacks.

The link between Harvey and Groves already is in the minds of Jacksonville fans. As players walked through a gated area at the end of the first practice, fans lined the gates and repeatedly begged Harvey and Groves to sign autographs, while quietly letting some big-name veterans walk by.

Both players stopped and signed for about 10 minutes, Groves chatting away with fans and Harvey quietly scribbling on one item and moving on to the next.

For all their similarities as players and all the similar expectations, Harvey and Groves are about as different as two players can be. Jacksonville's media relations staff is doing its best not to overwhelm the shy Harvey. In a tunnel outside the stadium and away from fans, players and other media members, Harvey did two very short interviews.

He's pleasant, but a man of few words. After a few minutes of conversation, about all Harvey would reveal was he was happy to be staying so close to Gainesville and he had just moved into a condo in downtown Jacksonville.

"I just want to work hard, get better every day and help this team win," Harvey said.

The ice seemed to break a bit as Harvey smiled and laughed when asked about his growing relationship with Groves, but he still delivered a one-sentence answer.

"We help each other with the playbook and we hang out together, too," Harvey said.

A few minutes later, Groves, who likes to talk and doesn't mind doing it in large groups, was brought into a media room where cameras, microphones and tape recorders clicked away. He was asked about his shy new friend.

"He's the same way behind the scenes," Groves said. "You're going to have to talk to Derrick before Derrick talks to you. I try to get him to open up a little bit more. A couple more encounters, a couple more nights out with him, he'll be OK."

If Groves and Harvey can share a few more encounters standing around fallen opposing quarterbacks, the Jaguars might be a lot better than OK.

Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.