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Turnover time

Posted Jul 28, 2012

Creating turnovers, creating chaos next step for Jaguars improving defense

To Jeremy Mincey, the reality of NFL defense is simple.

There is good and there is great, and while the Jaguars were very good defensively most of last season, Mincey said it’s just as true that too often they were not great.

“You can be a good defense if you don’t force turnovers, but you can’t be a great defense,” Mincey, the Jaguars’ defensive end, said. “A great defense scores touchdowns. A great defense creates turnovers and gives the offense opportunities.”

That makes Mincey’s next thought along these lines pretty obvious.

“That’s the next step,” Mincey said, adding, “We’re taking those steps right now.”

Indeed, if there was a theme around the defense as Jaguars 2012 Training Camp began, that’s it – that while last year was good, it’s time for something more.

This is an experienced group, a confident group. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Saturday it is a group clearly ahead of where it was this time a year ago. Throughout the offseason, it played like what it is supposed to be – a group ahead of the offense, one that understands its role and knows clearly its goals.

And whereas last season, the goal was to make dramatic improvement, this year the objectives are more specific:

To create more chaos. To create more opportunities.

To create more turnovers.

“That’s a part of our defensive philosophy,” cornerback Derek Cox said. “That’s part of our brand.”

That concept – making big, impact plays – is hardly unique, and it isn’t new to the Jaguars this season. Since Tucker’s arrival in 2009, and particularly since he fully took over the defense before last season, it has been a constant theme. Still, at times last season, turnovers came tough.

The Jaguars ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense last season, improving from 28th in yards allowed the season before, and while they forced 28 turnovers – 11th in the NFL – seven came in a 41-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in December.

“You can be a great defense with fundamentals and techniques, and I think turnovers come as a result of that,” Middleton said. “Last year was a great year for our defense, but it wasn’t satisfactory. I know that’s what Coach Tucker and all the defensive staff puts into our points of emphasis.

“Creating more opportunities and giving the ball back to our offense is going to be a bonus for us this year.”

Aside from the Tampa Bay game, the Jaguars forced 21 turnovers, and for the season they had 17 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. And while those were good numbers, the focus during training camp is about turning them into something bigger.

“You get what you emphasize,” Tucker said Saturday.

For Tucker, that has meant a constant message. Drills. Videos. During practice, a ball that hits the ground – whether an incomplete pass or an actual fumble – is treated as a live ball, with defensive players pursuing, recovering and returning.

“You have to make a constant effort to take the ball away,” Tucker said.

Mincey believes the focus will make a difference. He said creating turnovers is about better instincts, better “eyes on the ball” – and yes, about thinking about improving constantly.

“Last year, I had four strips sacks,” Mincey said. “It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it (before), I just didn’t put my mind to it. Now, it’s a point of emphasis that will make us a lot better.”

While emphasis matters, fundamentals do, too. The first step toward being a turnover-based defense is creating situations where turnovers come more often. That’s often third-and-long situations. Cox said that means the first step toward creating more turnovers is continuing to stop the run.

Once that happens, there are more obvious passing situations, which in turn helps the pass rush.

“You’ve got to get some pressure on the quarterback to make a bad decision,” Mincey said.

It’s the bad decisions that most often lead to turnovers, so as Cox sees it, “Once you get stopping the run and rush and coverage working together, it presents opportunities for the defense to force takeaways.”

Dawan Landry, like many around the Jaguars, sees increasing takeaways as the next step, and more important, as a step the defense is capable of taking.

“It’s a step we have to take,” Landry said. “You always want to put the offense in a position to score.”

And Landry will tell you it’s about more than focus, and more, even than fundamentals. Landry signed with the Jaguars last preseason as an unrestricted free agent from Baltimore. The Ravens are a team that long has had a reputation as one of the most-attacking, aggressive, offensive-minded defenses, and Landry said being such a defense often is about getting a turnover or two, then getting into a mindset where the next few come more quickly than the first.

“It’s a momentum thing,” Landry said. “Once the ball comes, it start coming in bunches. That’s what happens. You have to get started. Eventually, it becomes second nature.”

And eventually, that could mean something already very good becoming something great.

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