Wembley-bound Jacksonville Jaguars are rebuilding Defense after 2-14 2012 season

Jaguars Stadium

The Wembley-bound Jacksonville Jaguars are taking a defense-first approach to rebuilding after a 2-14 season in 2012.

Despite problems at quarterback, it's the right choice for the team that will play one game in London for the next four years.

Considering Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne were under center in 2012, offense would seem like the obvious priority. But new head coach Gus Bradley earned the job based on his reputation as a defensive coach.

Last season he was coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks and his physical unit ranked first in points allowed. The Jaguars meanwhile experienced an uncharacteristic slump defensively.

Just one season after ranking sixth overall, Jacksonville's defense collapsed. They ranked 30th in points allowed, yards allowed and against the run.

Those are scary numbers considering the Jaguars first Wembley date is against the San Francisco 49ers in October. That's the same 49ers team built on a foundation of power running from Frank Gore and athletic scrambling from quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Of course Bradley knows the 49ers and their schemes well. He planned against them twice a year for the last three seasons.

His most recent meeting with 49ers came on December 23rd, 2012. That night Bradley's defense forced two turnovers, while holding San Fran's vaunted rushing attack to only 82 yards.

The result was an emphatic 42-13 Seahawks win. Bradley is clearly attempting to recreate his Seahawks formula in Jacksonville.

He has used free agency to add two key elements to his defense. The first is improving speed along his front seven.

For years the Jaguars relied on a 2-gap style 4-3 defense. It's almost become archaic in the modern NFL, but was the favoured front of ex-head coach Jack Del Rio.

The scheme relied on size over quickness along the line. The defensive tackles were 2-gappers. They aligned head-up on the offensive guards and had to control both the guard-tackle and the guard-center gaps on their side.

Usually 4-3 linemen only have one gap to attack, as they are the primary playmakers in four-man front defenses. Del Rio's scheme called for his tackles to act more like ends in a 3-4.

To suit this demanding job, the Jaguars regularly recruited hulking, but cumbersome interior linemen. The likes of Marcus Stroud, John Henderson and Terrance Knighton were all selected for their massive frames, rather than their agility.

Bradley is wasting no time altering that formula. He let Knighton depart in free agency and rejoin Del Rio with the Denver Broncos.

Knighton has been replaced with ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starter Roy Miller. The 6'2", 310-pounder certainly offers greater quickness than the Jaguars are used to at the position.

In Bradley's 'under' 4-3 defense, Miller may play a shaded nose tackle. He won't line up head-to-head on an offensive linemen.

Instead he'll choose one gap, probably in between the center and guard and quickly attack it. Bradley has also improved speed at linebacker, by adding Geno Hayes.

The ex-Chicago Bear and Tampa Bay Buccaneer has spent his entire career in the front Bradley favours. At 6'1" and just 226 pounds, Hayes is a cat-quick, sideline-to-sideline pursuit linebacker.

Simply by adding Miller and Hayes, the Jaguars are already a quicker front seven than the last two seasons.

The second area of focus in Bradley's defensive revamp has been to add size to his secondary. His Seahawks unit was noted for its punishing quartet of defensive backs.

The group was headlined by big and physical cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Bradley is trying to recreate that dynamic and has completely overhauled Jacksonville's secondary.

He ditched corners Derek Cox and Aaron Ross. They have been replaced with Alan Ball and Antwaun Molden. Ball stands 6'2" and weighs 191 pounds. Molden is 6'1", 198 pounds.

The Jaguars will need physicality at cornerback , considering the 49ers added Anquan Boldin at wide receiver.

Bradley's defensive makeover is not complete yet. He still needs at least one tough-tackling safety and a hybrid edge pass-rusher is vital for his multiple front schemes along the front seven.

But Bradley is taking the right approach by rebuilding defense-first. Issues at quarterback are still a concern.

But the offense does boast running back Maurice Jones-Drew, tight end Marcedes Lewis and wideout Justin Blackmon.

Only a stouter defense will enable the Jaguars to be more competitive next season and push the 49ers all the way at Wembley.

image: © craigoneal