Injuries, opt-outs force Jags to retool D-line sans Ngakoue
By MARK LONG
AP Pro Football Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — If or when Yannick Ngakoue returns to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the disgruntled defensive end will need several introductions.
The Jaguars have been forced to revamp their defensive line during the first two weeks of training camp, and they donít appear done. Veteran run-stopper Timmy Jernigan visited Jacksonville on Wednesday and is undergoing COVID-19 testing before he can take a physical and potentially sign. Jernigan played in just 13 games over the past two seasons because of neck and foot injuries. He reportedly reached agreement on a one-year, $3.25 million deal with Houston in April, but he didnít end up signing with the Texans.
If he lands with the Jaguars, he would be the fourth defensive lineman to do so in the past week — joining Carl Davis, Josh Mauro and Caraun Reid.
“I’m not going to say it’s not a concern, right?” coach Doug Marrone said. “That would be ridiculous. It would be a lack of awareness. Yes, it’s a concern.”
Jacksonville is down seven guys along its defensive front, with four of them likely out for the season. Veterans Al Woods and Lerentee McCray opted out because of the coronavirus pandemic. Second-year pro Dontavius Russell (hip) and fellow defensive tackle Brian Price (knee) were hurt in the opening days of camp and placed on injured reserve.
Defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, who signed a three-year, $18 million contract in free agency, has yet to practice after starting camp on the non-football injury list. And rookie pass-rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, the 20th overall pick in April’s draft, is sidelined with a strained hamstring.
And then there’s Ngakoue, the only franchise-designated player in the league who chose not to sign his one-year tender this summer. Ngakoue is due to make $17.8 million in 2020 under the franchise tag, and it’s hard to fathom him passing on hefty paychecks to continue making his point.
Ngakoue didn’t get the long-term deal he wanted and lashed out at the franchise publicly, first demanding a trade in March and then ripping the owner’s son a month later.
It’s unclear where the Jaguars and Ngakoue stand now, although general manager Dave Caldwell said they spoke earlier this week after Ngakoue fired his agent.
“Iím going to not speak for Yan out of respect for him,” Caldwell said. “He’s earned the right. He played his contract out. He played four years and he’s earned the right to do what’s best for him and his family.” Ngakoue ranks second in franchise history with 37 1/2 sacks in four seasons, and Jacksonville believes it could have one of the better pass-rusher trios in the league with Ngakoue, Chaisson and Josh Allen, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. It hinges on Ngakoue reversing course and deciding to play for the team that drafted him in the third round in 2016.
“Obviously, he’s a guy that we know what he brings to the table,” Caldwell said. “His coaches love him. His teammates love him. We all love his energy. The fan base loves him. Ideally, we would love to have him here, but I will let him speak on his behalf of what is going on, and I know that he’s making some calculated decisions.”
Jacksonville retooled its roster after last season, parting ways with several high-priced veterans in an effort to create salary cap space and change the team’s chemistry and culture following consecutive last-place finishes in the AFC South.
Veteran defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus were included in the purge that thrust former first-round pick Taven Bryan, Abry Jones and Allen into more prominent roles and opened spots for some newcomers.
Injuries and opt-outs have created even more turnover — and maybe a need for name tags in the position group.
“Just every year, unfortunately, we have good people leave, some people I really see as friends and brothers and stuff like that,” Jones said. “But we always continue to bring great people in. It’s always good to meet new people, new young guys, new vets from around the league to just pass on the knowledge of the game.”
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