The Need for Speed Focus Shifts to Defenses

By Prisco, Pete | The Florida Times Union, August 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Need for Speed Focus Shifts to Defenses


Prisco, Pete, The Florida Times Union


Those poor defensive players.

Every year, or so it seems, the NFL seems to do more and more to

increase scoring in the league. Offense, after all, is what

people want to see.

Defense be damned.

"People want scoring," said Jaguars defensive tackle John

Jurkovic. "Three-to-nothing games do nothing for anyone."

Rules changes through the years have transformed the NFL from a

game of power to something remindful of a game you might see the

neighbor kids playing in the street: Nothing but throwers and

receivers.

Last year, 16 quarterbacks passed for 3,000 yards. Nine

receivers caught 100 or more passes. Of the 19 times a player

has caught 100 or more passes in a season, all but three have

come in the 1990s, with 12 coming in the past two seasons.

And we think the Canadian Football League is wide-open?

"The offenses of today put a lot of pressure on the defenses,"

said Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin. "The rules changes have made it

that way. You have to try and do things to offset that."

That way is with speed. Where defenses once ruled with power,

the trend now is toward speed.

For the Jaguars, three new players -- rookies Kevin Hardy and

Tony Brackens and freeagent signee Eddie Robinson -- will ensure

that the defensive team speed is much better than a year ago.

"They all bring a lot more speed," said Coughlin.

A year ago, the Jaguars were slow on defense, and it showed.

Players were able to cut back for big gains, some almost

embarrassing.

One need look only to the Jaguars' 47-30 loss to the Seattle

Seahawks to see how a lack of speed on defense can be a killer.

That day in November, Seattle wide receiver Joey Galloway made

perhaps the offensive play of the year.

Galloway took a reverse, headed right, but was penned in on the

sidelines by several defenders. But in an instant, Galloway

escaped.

And then he was gone. Galloway reversed his field for an

electrifying 86-yard touchdown run.

All the while, Jaguars defenders appeared stuck in the mud.

"We're much faster now," said Jaguars defensive coordinator Dick

Jauron. "I don't want to take anything away from the guys on

that first defense, because they played their hearts out, but we

are faster on defense this year. And that will be a big help."

The players have noticed, too. Last year, wide receiver Keenan

McCardell faced the Jaguars' defense twice as a member of the

Cleveland Browns. The second time, in the Jaguars' 24-21 victory

on Christmas Eve, McCardell had seven catches for 75 yards.

He remembers a much different Jaguars defense that day.

"I've definitely noticed a difference," said McCardell. "We're

working toward winning a Super Bowl here. And to win a Super

Bowl, you have to have speed on defense. With so much speed on

offense, you better have it on defense."

THE TOP PICK

"Wow."

During his first mini-camp with the Jaguars in late April, Kevin

Hardy prompted that response on one play from the media huddled

in the stands to see if he was for real.

Hardy, the second pick in the NFL Draft, had just run

stride-for-stride 40 yards down the field with tight end Derek

Brown. It was as if he was a strong safety in a linebacker's

body -- a big linebacker's body.

"Kevin has the speed to make that play," said Coughlin. "He can

run. We knew that when we picked him."

Hardy's speed allows him to cover tight ends deep, yet he also

is quick enough to get around the corner as a pass rusher. …

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