The Jaguars expect to have a much improved defense in 2011, though the early returns haven’t been good. The revamped unit hopes to make substantial progress in the team’s second preseason game, which will take place Friday at Everbank Field against the defending NFC South champion Falcons.
After finishing near the bottom of nearly every major category on the defensive side last season, the Jaguars spent big this summer in an effort to shore up that area. Four new starters were brought in via free agency, with Jacksonville signing linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session to long-term deals while adding free safety Dawan Landry and end Matt Roth as well.
Unfortunately, the defense resembled more like last year’s model in last week’s matchup at New England, with the Patriots rolling up 476 total yards while playing primarily backups en route to a 47-12 rout.
New England had its way despite reigning league MVP Tom Brady watching on the sidelines, with second-stringer Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett torching the Jags for a combined 335 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
To be fair, most of the Patriots’ damage took place against Jacksonville’s reserves over the game’s final three quarters. The first-team defense, which featured Posluszny, Session and Landry, was on the field for only one of New England’s six touchdowns.
Roth wasn’t signed until the day of the opener and did not play, but the former Cleveland Brown is slated to see some time in Friday’s tilt. Session, however, won’t suit up for this one after sustaining a concussion against the Pats.
The Jaguars also won’t have Maurice Jones-Drew available for their 2011 home debut, as the prolific running back is being brought along slowly from offseason knee surgery, but will get starting quarterback David Garrard back after the veteran sat out last week with a sore back.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville’s first-round pick in last April’s draft, drew the start in place of Garrard against the Patriots and left a so-so first impression, with the rookie completing 9-of-16 passes for 85 yards while working the entire first half.
Atlanta, meanwhile, hopes to have its marquee offseason free-agent addition in the lineup for Friday’s matchup. Defensive end Ray Edwards, signed to a five- year, $30 million contract by the Falcons just prior to camp, resumed practicing this week after sitting out last Friday’s 28-23 loss to Miami while recovering from a knee procedure, though it’s uncertain whether the ex-Viking will play.
Cornerback Dunta Robinson (hamstring), defensive tackle Corey Peters (knee sprain), tight end Justin Peelle (knee) and No. 3 quarterback John Parker Wilson (concussion) are all definitely out for Atlanta, with the team bringing in veteran Reggie Kelly on Wednesday to fill Peelle’s position.
The Falcons’ healthy regulars figure to play the first half of this game after dominating the Dolphins in their short period of time last week. Atlanta roared out to a 17-0 lead on Miami after one quarter, with quarterback Matt Ryan throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to wideout Harry Douglas and the defense coming up with two interceptions of Dolphins’ signal-caller Chad Henne.
Ryan amassed 90 yards on 6-of-10 passing before giving way to Wilson after one quarter, while rookie sensation Julio Jones had two catches totaling 43 yards and added a 12-yard run in his first outing as a Falcon.
Jacksonville recorded a 13-9 victory over the Falcons at EverBank Field in the 2010 preseason finale, giving the Jaguars a 4-3 lead in the overall exhibition series between the teams. The clubs are also set to meet in Atlanta during Week 15 of the upcoming regular season.