Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell failed to pull punches during his season-ending press conference in January. Jacksonville's top decision-maker made it clear that the team needed a game-changing free safety.
Caldwell went as far as to compare the search for an elite free safety to that of a franchise quarterback. In free agency, the Jaguars set their sights on a player to not only complete the team's secondary but also lead and create turnovers.
After just a few weeks of organized team activities, it seems the Jaguars found their guy. Former Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson was added early in free agency and since his introductory press conference he has established himself as a marquee addition.
Coaches and teammates have been effusive in their praise of Gipson, who has already assumed the responsibility of being a leader in the secondary. A former Pro Bowl selection, Gipson has brought experience and a history of play-making to the Jaguars. Both attributes were seriously lacking over the past three seasons.
Teammates have gone out of their way to discuss how Gipson has changed the way the secondary looks at things. Gipson's signing has not only changed the way the Jaguars' free safety position is played, but how the entire secondary works.
“He’s helping [the safety group] a lot,” safety Peyton Thompson said last week. “I think the changes that were made at free safety from last year to this year, they’ve kind of altered it to fit him better. I feel like that’s why they put me there too because I can also get red line to red line like he can. He’s helped out a lot, giving suggestions and helped me a lot too so we can alter that position to be effective in our scheme.”
Gipson has benefited from attacking the ball. His skills have allowed him to become proficient in coverage, which has taken a lot of pressure off the strong safety position. Strong safety James Sample has already experienced the benefits of having Gipson in the lineup.
"[Gipson] helps out a lot because you know he's going to be over the top," Sample said. "We've got that help and he's known for it. It's good for us."
While he has yet to play a down for the Jaguars, Gipson has seemingly filled a role that could be defense-altering for the Jaguars. The potential benefits could stretch beyond the film room to the field on Sundays.
In four seasons, Gipson has produced 14 interceptions. That type of production is unparalleled on the Jaguars' roster.
The numbers are not a mirage or a tease of what could never be. Gipson has excelled in his first grouping of practices with his new team, standing out in coverage and coaching on the sidelines.
If Gipson's offseason continues to display his value, it will be hard to not peg him as the key to the Jaguars defense. In the early going of Gus Bradley's fourth campaign as head coach, Gipson seems to be the most obvious upgrade on the roster at his position.
However, what matters most is how Gipson's presence transforms the secondary, defense and team. Given the small glimpses in practice, he is off to a solid start.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.