The Jaguars' defensive line has added some valuable resources over the last two offseasons, bringing in notable free agents and spending draft picks on promising young talent.
That's probably why starting nose tackle Abry Jones has been able to keep out of the spotlight during training camp.
Expectations are high for veterans like Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell. Second-year defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has also made fans eager for an encore of his franchise record-setting performance as a rookie.
There is also the potential of defensive ends Dante Fowler and Dawuane Smoot to monitor.
Despite signing a four-year, $16 million deal in February, Jones has somehow been able to keep his head down and just work during the offseason. The importance of a nose tackle is rarely discussed among the general public.
Jones has worked his way up the lineup since joining the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He was able to start nine games last season and supplanted veteran Roy Miller with his strong play.
Still, Jones has quietly slipped under the radar. Knowing the expectations for his counterparts, Jones has taken it upon himself to make sure he is not the unit's biggest weakness.
“I really don’t have a set goal, my whole mindset at all times is not to be the weak link,” Jones said. “We’ve got [Ngakoue], who set the rookie record for sacks and you’ve got [Campbell] who’s been an All-Pro a couple times and then you’ve got Malik who did a great job last year and he’s getting in his comfort zone. I just need to make sure I’m not the guy who’s going to have us lagging on the defensive front."
The Jaguars plan to use a heavy rotation of pass rushers this season. Jones knows he has to serve as the anchor for the defensive line so his teammates can receive one-on-one matchups.
"I feel like we have a lot of guys who are going to come in and contribute, and I know being a nose guard, I know I’m the focal point, so I’m just going to make sure I’m staying strong,” Jones said.
While he is going to be used more for his run-stopping ability, Jones feels like he can play against the pass as well. Most nose tackles are used as two-down players, but Jones said he believes he can play wherever he is needed.
“I feel like it, but we have so many great pass rushers,” Jones said. “If they get tired I can definitely help out.”
Jones failed to record a sack last season but produced 5.5 quarterback takedowns in the previous three years. While nose tackles are typically used as road blocks against the running game, it's clear that Jones is not a normal player at his position. It's part of the reason why he is so valuable to the Jaguars.
“Abes is a big athlete," defensive coordinator Todd Wash said in June. "He’s not a true plugging nose guard. He’s a real good athlete. How we get attacked in our scheme, very few people just come straight downhill at us. He can be the over-lapper on the outside zone stuff. His athleticism, obviously he is about [316 pounds] wavering up to about [320 pounds] at times. The athleticism that Abes brings is important to us.”
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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