Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash was pleased with his unit's production last season but he is still searching for improvement.
The Jaguars were the top passing defense in the league but regressed from a run-stopping standpoint. Wash plans to focus on improving the group's output against the run this offseason.
"We've got to do a better job of stopping the run, obviously," Wash said Tuesday at the Children's Miracle Network's Medicine and Miracles Celebrity Dinner.
"We weren't where we normally are [last season] stopping the run, so we've got to do better there but the biggest thing is we had a decent year last year defensively. There are areas where we can improve and the biggest thing we're talking about to the defense is 'can we and will we.' Can we get better from where we were a year ago?"
In an effort to improve an already successful defense, the Jaguars selected Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan in the first round of last month's draft. The front office also selected Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison and Wisconsin linebacker Leon Jacobs in the third and seventh rounds, respectively.
Wash was able to work with the talented trio for the first time during this past weekend's rookie minicamp. He was impressed by the rookies during their first grouping of practices.
"It's a really athletic group, which is a credit again to [the front office] for bringing in those types of players," Wash said. "But you also see a very intelligent group. There's a lot that goes into our defensive package above the neck and they did extremely well picking everything up, especially the last couple of days."
Wash was also given a few new veterans to work with during the offseason. The Jaguars added cornerback D.J. Hayden and safeties Cody Davis and Don Carey during free agency.
The defensive coordinator has one of the most impressive depth charts in the league. However, despite the appealing optics of the new arrivals, Wash is going to continue to demand improvement from every member of the defense, especially from those who have been around the organization during its recent renaissance.
"We're going to put a lot of pressure on them coaching staff-wise and the players are putting a lot of pressure on themselves, which is exactly what you want when we're at the stage we are defensively."
Kessler discusses Lee's 'Killer Instinct'
New Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler joined the team with an already established network of confidants in the Jacksonville locker room. He had a history with fellow quarterback Blake Bortles and played at USC with wide receiver Marqise Lee.
The two former Trojans had a connection on the field during Kessler's first year as a starting quarterback at USC in 2013. Lee produced 57 catches for 791 yards and four touchdowns, despite suffering from a lingering knee injury.
The Jaguars selected Lee in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He has since become a fixture of the offense and was signed to a long-term deal during free agency in March.
Despite the new deal and four years of NFL experience, Kessler believes Lee is still as competitive as he has ever been.
"I've known [Marqise] for a long time now, we came into USC together," Kessler said.
"It was cool, it was awesome [to reunite with him]. I saw him in the locker room and getting to talk to him was pretty cool. Just where he is today and the cool thing about Marqise is he still has the same mentality he had when we were at USC. That killer instinct on the field: just go get the ball, playmaker, one of the most competitive players I've ever met in my entire life, which is a guy you want to surround yourself with."
Kessler will work with Lee throughout the offseason program, as both look to establish themselves in the Jaguars' offense moving forward. While Kessler is pegged to be a backup quarterback, he will probably have opportunities with the starters during individual drills.
The young quarterback is looking forward to working with his former college teammate again. He is glad to see that Lee's career has taken off the way it has.
"Obviously, he got a new contract and it's very well-deserved for him," Kessler said. "He's worked really hard to get here."
Players and coaches serve as waiters at charity event
The Jaguars were center stage at the 17th Annual Children's Miracle Network's Medicine and Miracles Celebrity Dinner at Morton's Steakhouse in downtown Jacksonville on Tuesday night.
The event benefited the Wolfson Children's Hospital and UF Health Jacksonville, who are furthering their efforts to save the lives of children battling life-threatening illnesses.
Members of the Jaguars' coaching staff and several players served as celebrity waiters, using tips to help increase donations for the cause.
Jaguars offensive lineman Tyler Shatley has taken part in the event in each of the last four years. Now the father of a 15-month-old son, the event means even more to him than it has in the past.
"It's good to kind of reset and re-focus on the important things in life," Shatley said.
"Football is important and it's how I make a living, it's how I provide for my family but in the grand scheme of things, there's so much more to be thankful for and I think this really drives that home for me, just to see these kids and see what they've gone through. It kind of resets you and reminds you what it's really all about."
Wash has also been a mainstay of the annual event. He is an ambassador for the event as well, as he continually makes sure his fellow coaches are aware of the cause.
"I think any time you're dealing with children - having three of my own - and you see all of the struggles other families have to go through, obviously we've been blessed with healthy children, so I think any time you can go out and try to help families and little kids, it's a win-win situation," Wash said.
This year's "Miracle Family," the Breedings, were able to spotlight their two-year-old daughter, Zoe, during the event. Before she was born, Zoe was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that caused her to undergo two open-heart surgeries since her birth. The Breedings anticipate a third surgery for Zoe down the road.
"My kid falls down and it kills me just to see him cry just a single tear, I can't imagine what these parents go through," Shatley said.
Former Jaguars linebacker Jeff Lagemen served as the master of ceremonies while former player and current wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell gave a heartfelt speech as the event's chair.
"You don't have to do much recruiting at all," Wash said. "There's a lot of people who want to help little children."
Bryan was among the big names representing the Jaguars' locker room at the event. He was joined by the likes of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, wide receiver DJ Chark, punter Logan Cooke and many others.
"It's an awesome deal, they've got a girl here who has had a couple of heart surgeries and it's just nice to go out, wait on a couple of tables, get some tips and try to help her out," Bryan said regarding his first community event in Jacksonville.
To learn more about the Children's Miracle Network, click here.
FORMER JAGUARS NEWS
- Former Jaguars guard Avery Gennesy was waived by Jacksonville on Monday. On Tuesday, he was claimed off waivers by the Browns. Gennesy spent the majority of his rookie season with the Jaguars on the team's practice squad injured reserve.
- The Philadelphia Eagles signed former Jaguars linebacker LaRoy Reynolds on Tuesday. Reynolds played for the Jaguars from 2013-2015. He was mostly used on special teams.
Reynolds spent the last two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter: @Mike_E_Kaye.