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Defensive line changes are an opportunity for Jaguars' Smoot, Taven Bryan

For two players that have struggled to find a consistent role on the Jaguars, 2020 is the golden opportunity

Dawuane Smoot is the first to admit it: during his previous three seasons in Jacksonville, at times, he was all over. Literally.

"I mean I came in as a rush [end], then I got moved to big end and now I’m a big end or am I a rush? I don’t really know, and I’ve played every position on the line at the point," the fourth-year defensive lineman laughed on Tuesday. 

Then there were the struggles with his diet (Smoot tried going vegan to lose weight to become a stronger edge rusher in 2017-2018. He scrapped it after losing his strength). Changes in off-season workouts followed. 

And yet, up until last season, his third in the league, Smoot had zero NFL sacks to show for it. 

"He’s had probably a little chip on his shoulder since his first rookie year, until really transitioning into more of a role player," explained defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich. Smoot would go onto register 6.0 sacks in 2019. "Sometimes it takes some guys some learning curve and understanding what we’re doing from a technique standpoint, scheme standpoint."

Especially when they're trying to understand multiple positions.

Four years in, Smoot sees his previous struggles as an opportunity, especially with the Jaguars' ravaged by attrition along the defensive line. 

"The great point about that is that I know every position, so people are able to come to me and ask me questions and stuff."

"People" like another defensive lineman who has been "all over" during his tenure in Jacksonville: 2018 first-round selection Taven Bryan. 

"We transitioned him, as you guys know, playing a little bit more [defensive] end early in his career to kind of pick up the speed and obviously now transition him down to his home position as a three technique," Rebrovich said of Bryan. "So, yeah there’s a learning curve, there’s a growth."

Just as there was with 2017 draftee Smoot.

"[Taven's] my boy. I know he’s probably going to see this and smile," Smoot chuckled. "But yeah, we really lean on each other."

In two professional seasons, Bryan has registered just three sacks and one forced fumble in 32 games. But the man who lines up alongside him -- and knows the mental and emotional toll of learning so many positions -- says there's a lot more to Taven Bryan than meets the eye. 

"Just because the stat sheet doesn’t show it [that] doesn’t mean he’s not out here grinding," Smoot explained. "If you really pay attention to every single play, whenever Taven [Bryan]’s out there, he wrecks. He’s freaking knocking people off blocks and knocking off pulls and everything like that. That’s his role. That’s what he does. He’s a wrecking ball. He’s going to get vertical and he’s going to knock off blocks and do what he has to do to open up plays for our linebackers.  

"He just stays in his role. He knows what he can do and that’s what he’s going to do.”

With just four other returners along the defensive line from last year's team, Bryan will have to take on a bigger "role." Smoot will, too; and they have.

"You know, sometimes you look at that room and you say—you try to point out who the leaders are and you’ve got Abe [Abry Jones] and you’ve got Josh [Allen] and Timmy Jernigan has been a real good pleasure to come in here, a guy that’s been in the league a bunch of years. But Dawuane Smoot is one heck of a leader in that room. People listen to him and people understand what he can do and what he can bring," Rebrovich noted.

"[And] Taven Bryan is having one heck of a camp now. He’s showing up quite a bit in his running, in his toughness at the point of attack and how he strains, it’s showing. And I’m going to tell you this, his confidence level is coming with that, too."

Both their "roles" will never be that of a number one, de facto pass rusher. But that doesn't diminish the raised ceiling Smoot and Bryan both recognize this season has afforded them.

"I definitely thought that I was going to be in a different place of course. I mean everybody coming in after college just thinks they’re just going to keep rolling and getting 8.0, 9.0., 10.0 sacks and go crazy, be like a Josh Allen," Smoot laughed. "I’m definitely comfortable I would say within my role like leadership wise and being able to help out all the guys but I’m definitely not comfortable with any of my stats or like what I’m able to do on the field. I’m trying to get more. I’m trying to go for more.

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Quick Hits

Herndon shines on Tuesday

Now one of the de facto, elder statesmen in the Defensive Backs Room, third-year corner Tre Herndon had a tremendous pass break-up during red-zone drills (a would-be touchdown from Gardner Minshew to D.J. Chark, no less). He added a strong, goal-line tackle of Terry Godwin during red-zone drills. 

Herndon was always on the field with the first team defense, but the Jaguars rotated rookies C.J. Henderson and Luq Barcoo at the opposite corner. Henderson returned Monday after a prolonged, non COVID-19-related illness. 

Terry Godwin will make WR Decision tough

Seemingly everyone has the Jaguars six, wide receiver slots on the active roster filled: the incumbent D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley and Keelan Cole and the rookie draftees Laviska Shenault and Collin Johnson.

But last year's mid-season pick-up Godwin is going to make the Jaguars' staff think long and hard about who they pick.

The former Georgia Bulldog, who spent last season on the Jaguars' practice squad, hauled in no less than five catches during team drills Tuesday. He caught a touchdown in stride from Mike Glennon during red-zone drills, prompting cheers from the offense -- especially Chark and Leonard Fournette. Slot or go-routes -- he's shown he can do it all and has caught at least three catches each of the last four days of team drills. He can't be ignored. If Godwin continues this level of consistency in Saturday's scrimmage, Doug Marrone, Dave Caldwell and Co. will have a tough decision to make; for if they send Godwin to the practice squad once again, another club could -- and should -- most certainly pick him up.

Charting Minshew and his back-up's

QB1 began the day a perfect 5 of 5 in team drills before succumbing to pressure from Carl Davis and Cassius Marsh on back to back plays. In the later team periods, Minshew alternated miscues (overthrowing Laviska Shenault during red-zone drills) with dimes (a touchdown throw to Chris Thompson at the pylon that Minshew fit into a shoebox over Josh Jones). 

Minshew's prettiest throw came in the final team period, a 30-plus yard, over-the-shoulder catch by D.J. Chark. The duo makes this sequence look easy; that was clearly demonstrated when, on the next play, Josh Dobbs attempted a similar throw to Michael Walker to no avail. 

Mike Glennon once again saw most of the second-team reps, and he, too, had to take off running to avoid pressure more than once on Tuesday. He and Terry Godwin continued their solid connection, including the aforementioned, back-of-the-endzone touchdown (Collin Johnson provided a fantastic block to set up Glennon's pocket, for what it's worth). Glennon also had a pretty, second-and-long throw to Keelan Cole, who high pointed and tapped his toes in for the catch. But Glennon also threw behind and at receivers' feet more than once. 

Josh Dobbs didn't see as many reps, but had a beautiful throw right into Marvelle Ross' bread basket on a go-route during team drills. Rookie Jake Luton also saw the pressure Tuesday, as he, too, was "sacked" by Davis. 

Quick Hits

- Carl Davis, Cassius Marsh, and Adam Gotsis all had would-be sacks during team drills, showing maybe "Sacksonville" isn't as decimated as many previously believed.

- After a few runs, Leonard Fournette seemingly handed off the baton to Chris Thompson for the rest of the day -- and Thompson continued the consistency he has shown all camp. As Doug Marrone alluded to Monday, Thompson also saw kick return duty during the special teams period. 

- Chris Claybrooks may be the odd-man-out when it comes to the third cornerback spot, but the return specialist continues to grow as a defensive back. He broke up a post route from Dobbs to Josh Hammond in team drills, once again displaying his athleticism.