Selecting defensive end Josh Allen at seventh overall was — by many observers — a complete steal by the Jaguars. Now, the young pass rusher is honing his craft to become one of the best in the league.
Throughout the offseason, preseason, and now shortly into the regular season, Jaguars fans and the Jaguars coaching staff have seen the type of versatility, pass rush, and skill set Josh Allen can provide to the team.
Whether it’s playing linebacker, defensive end, or defensive tackle, Allen can do it all. Coming into the 2019 NFL Draft, Allen was thought of as more of a 3-4 outside linebacker. However, in just a few months the now-275-pound athlete is proving otherwise.
“The most I can do man is the better I can be,” Allen told Locked on Jaguars shortly after practice this week when asked about his versatility. “It means I can be out there on the field more, doing more things. I love being a versatile player, I love being able to do a lot of different things so I can stay on that field as much as I can and make plays for my team.”
The Jaguars rookie played 75% of the team’s defensive snaps last week (51/68 plays) while seeing action at three separate positions — defensive end, defensive tackle, and outside linebacker. Allen has also shown he can defend the pass, especially in the flats as seen during the team’s third preseason game against the Miami Dolphins.
The fiery pass-rusher dons the number 41, a number in which he himself admits is unconventional, and while at first, he did not care for it, it eventually grew on him.
“My freshman year I thought it was my locker number,” Allen said while laughing. “I wasn’t happy when I got it. I was trying to change it, to be real. You know they told me I couldn’t and it just stuck with me and I just kept wearing it.”
Typically a player’s number has some sort of significance to it, but that is not the case for Allen. What is significant to him, however, is his son. The absolute reason why he suits up and plays with the intensity that he does on the gridiron. While Allen wants to be the best player, his son has always, and will always come first.
“You know I got in this game to give my family a better opportunity at life, and now that I’m here man, it’s just my main focus is to provide for my family and provide for myself.”
While at Kentucky, Allen nearly entered the draft as a junior, but once his son was born he had a different perspective on life, and on football. As a junior, Allen posted seven sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss. Respectable numbers which likely would slot him in the first to the third-round range. Allen took it as a challenge and flourished.
During his senior year, Allen posted record-setting numbers with 17 sacks and 21.5 tackles-for-loss which — for a Kentucky defensive player — is unheard of. To that end, Allen quickly climbed draft boards, many slotting him in as a top-three pick.
Now in the NFL, Allen is striving for even more. “Of course I want to be the best,” Allen said. “I got a little bit on my shoulders, but I’m willing to go a long mile with that.”
The defensive end will have a lot on his shoulders this Sunday. With his partner-in-crime Yannick Ngakoue out with a hamstring issue, many assume Allen will need to pick up the slack left by the pro bowler’s absence, but that is not his mentality at all. Instead, Allen looks at it in a rather selfless, team-oriented perspective.
“It is what it is,” Allen said when asked about Ngakoue being out on Sunday and him playing a little more. “I pray he gets better. That’s main priority number one, is for him to get healthy. It’s not about me playing more or him not being here. It’s about him being healthy and us playing 100% on the defense.”
Allen has been about the team more than himself since college, illustrating that with his desire to suit up in a bowl game he didn’t necessarily have to play in. Now in Jacksonville, that perspective has not changed. Similar to his role on Sunday.
“My role hasn’t changed any,” Allen said. “I played when he was in the game, played when he (Ngakoue) wasn’t in the game. It’s not gonna be a big change for me, but I just pray he gets better so we can be a complete unit.”
While Allen’s role may not change for Sunday, not having Ngakoue will most definitely affect the Jaguars chances of winning. Ngakoue has yet to miss a game during his four-year career, and has been the most productive edge rusher on the team during that span, along with defensive end Calais Campbell.
Allen didn’t grow up a football player, and instead played basketball the majority of his life. Once he put the football pads on, however, Allen says he started studying all kinds of pass rushers. Allen would go on to list them off. (Bears defensive end) Khalil Mack, (Broncos outside linebacker) Von Miller, (Former Broncos outside linebacker) DeMarcus Ware, (Colts defensive end) Justin Houston. Some of the best defensive ends, and football players of the past decade. “I feel like I can do the stuff they do,” Allen quipped.
Allen has drawn comparisons to Mack and Miller throughout the draft process and even now shortly into his professional career. If Allen can “do the stuff they do”, he will have been an absolute steal as many pundits predicted.
For now, Allen will continue to hone his craft and stay under the wings of Campbell and Ngakoue. He has leaned on both players for guidance throughout the offseason, and into the regular season. “Calais has been in the league for a long time, Yan for a little bit of time — he’s one of those primetime players,” Allen said. “Having them in my corner has been a blessing, a big help. Not only is it gonna help me, but they’re gonna help the whole team as well.”
Now, going into his second career game, his next test will be against one of the best offensive tackle’s in the game in Texans offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil. “He’s a big guy, he’s real physical on the point of attack,” Allen said when asked what he’s seen out of Tunsil on tape. “It makes a lot of big plays. He’s [a] real athletic tackle — that doesn’t discredit anything — so we’re still gonna have to put the pressure on him and get to the quarterback.”
It’s clear former Wildcat thinks highly of himself. Last week, Allen was credited with having three pressures and one quarterback hit according to Pro Football Focus — the most amount of overall pressures on the team. Yet, the defensive end described his play as just “alright”, when asked about it.
“I know I can work on some things to get better and plan to do those this week.”
Jaguars’ receiver Dede Westbrook exudes toughness week-in and week-out
Many players have bumps and bruises throughout the season. Jaguars’ receiver Dede Westbrook is no different and has proven over the past several weeks just how tough he is by playing through it.
Jaguars’ receiver Dede Westbrook has been listed as having a neck/shoulder injury for the past couple of weeks now and has yet to miss a game. The soft-spoken, third-year receiver has still been able to “go crazy” with whatever he is tasked to do.
Although he was unable to finish the contest against the New York Jets last week, Westbrook played the entire game against the Cincinnati Bengals in week seven and had one of his best games as a Jaguars’ receiver since entering the league in 2017.
Entering the week seven matchup as questionable, Westbrook hauled in six receptions for 103 yards and added two rushes for 14 yards against the Bengals.
“I don’t know if it happened actually in practice,” Jaguars’ head coach Doug Marrone said on the Friday just before the team’s game against the Bengals. “I don’t know if it came after the game and then it’s one of those things that kind of later on you start to feel a little bit. I think it was probably a little bit of that.”
Westbrook has been on the gridiron ever since, playing as if nothing had occurred just a few days prior either in practice or during their week six matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Regardless, Westbrook has been one of the toughest players on the team for the past couple of years — and especially this season. Although he is small in stature, the former Sooner has an innate ability to run through arm tackles with ease and plays up to his competition.
Credit: CBS Sports/NFL
“He’s tough as hell now for a guy of his stature,” Marrone said following the team’s week seven victory over the Bengals. “Five of his six catches yesterday were for first downs, which is big. And then the one thing I do like about Dede is once he gets the ball in his hands, he always has a chance to do something well with it. He had about 40-something yards after the catch, so he’s important. Obviously, everyone knows the type of player he is and what he did for us last year.”
Marrone says Westbrook is one of the most important pieces to the Jaguars offense. Teams cannot rely on shutting just one player down in the Jaguars offense, and a lot of it has to do with what Westbrook provides on the field as a versatile player.
His offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, has seen just how much grit Westbrook possesses week-in and week-out.
“Incredibly tough, incredibly tough,” DeFilippo said during his Thursday press conference when asked about Westbrook’s toughness. “He plays a lot bigger than his size, and just unbelievably tremendous toughness. Very rarely lets the first guy bring him down ever, I just can’t say enough about Dede [Westbrook].”
Westbrook’s ability to play big at 6’0, 178 lbs., is one of the reasons why he is such a versatile, dynamic playmaker in the Jaguars’ offense.
DeFilippo raved about the third-year receiver’s ability to handle blocks in the run game while also running the gauntlet of routes whenever the team asks him to.
“We ask him to do a lot of things and he handles a lot of things well. We ask him to run option routes, and corners and get in the middle of the field, and there’s a lot of guys in there at times. So, I think he does a great job of doing a lot of the things we ask him to.”
Westbrook is asked to play the team’s ‘F’ position which DeFilippo says is not an easy position to play in the Jaguars’ offense. The ‘F’ receiver is lined up in the slot position on the field, typically played more inside as a bigger tight end or receiver tasked with blocking in the run game, but also must be quick enough to make a play in the passing game when called upon.
“I’m not trying to downplay any other position on our offense in terms of the skill players, but that is probably the toughest position to play on our offense.”
Doing the dirty work is something most receivers wouldn’t be willing to do, but Westbrook does everything the team asks of him, which makes him one of the toughest players on the field.
Jaguars’ receiver DJ Chark Jr. has seen Westbrook playing through injury and knows just how tough the ‘jokester’, as he calls him, is.
“He definitely [doesn’t] mind sticking his neck out there for his teammates,” Chark Jr. told Locked On Jaguars shortly after practice on Wednesday. “Playing, never complaining. That’s the type of teammate that you want.”
Chark Jr. says Westbrook’s physicality helps the mentality of the receiver room, playing though, never complaining, and just sticking their necks out there for their team and teammates. The Jaguars will need that sort of toughness on the field on Sunday against the Houston Texans in London.
Westbrook is not the biggest guy, “Not at all,” Chark says. But, “he’s physical, he’s not stepping out of bounds.”
“He [doesn’t] like to call fair catches, but I tell him he should — a lot. But it’s part of the game, and if you’re gonna play a game like this at the highest level you gotta be able to have that chip on your shoulder. He has it. And I can see him playing this game for a long time.”
While Westbrook has 13 fair catches through eight games this season, he has returned a punt 14 other times and never goes down without a fight.
“Dede’s done a lot of things for this team, playing through injury, playing through pain. He knows that’s what a football player has to do to help his team succeed,” Jaguars’ receiver Chris Conley told Locked On Jaguars shortly after practice on Wednesday.
Conley says he’s proud of the way Westbrook has battled through an injury and hopes the receiver can “get things fixed up and be ready to go” for Sunday’s matchup against the Texans.
“He’s gonna make a play in any way possible, and that he’s gonna keep it alive if he can. He’s not a guy that’s running out of bounds or who’s gonna go down. He’s gonna bounce off [of] people and see if he can make stuff happen.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Westbrook has seven AVT (Avoided tackles after reception) thus far this season which ranks fourth-most in the entire NFL.
“That’s just his mentality”
Jaguars’ unorthodox plan working as Will Richardson finds his groove
The Jaguars deploy one of the most unorthodox transitions along the offensive line in the NFL. They’ll continue to do so until one player exceeds expectations.
When the Jaguars came into the season, there was an impression that fifth-year right guard A.J. Cann — given his contract — was the unquestioned starter along the offensive line. Since the season opener, much has changed. Not only due to Cann’s play — which has not been poor –, but also due to the emergence of a young offensive lineman trying to find his role.
A few weeks ago, Will Richardson told Locked On Jaguars he was excited to finally settle into a role at the right guard position. The second-year player out of NC State was asked to play multiple positions during the preseason and into the season including left tackle, left guard, right tackle, and finally right guard.
Being able to play at one position has been great for Richardson’s development, however, the Jaguars had one catch — he would have to split the repetitions with Cann as a way to get the most production out of the position as possible.
Over the course of the last four games, the Jaguars have used Richardson and Cann at the right guard position by swapping the two players every two drives. There really isn’t any precedent for this type of platooning along the offensive line, at least not during the game, and definitely not for this long into the season.
Marrone has said multiple times over the course of the season he will not simply name a starter. For now, he is perfectly fine with staying the course and allowing the production out of the position to speak for itself.
Now, four weeks into settling his role at right guard, Richardson says he’s grown immensely. “It’s been a huge difference just from the first game, to this last game — just in footwork, where my eyes should be, where my eyes shouldn’t be,” Richardson told Locked On Jaguars shortly after practice on Wednesday. “I’ve been picking up a lot of these things and they’re starting to become second nature”
Richardson has worked on his hand placement among other more technical skills to grow accustomed to his role.
One might assume the Jaguars are stunting his growth or consistency by continuously swapping him out, but Richardson says that’s simply not the case. “Gotta stay warm,” Richardson quipped. “I feel like that’s the biggest thing. We’re switching every two drives — we might come out at halftime with us having the ball AJ [Cann] starts his two drives, and I might not touch the field from the second quarter to the fourth quarter, so it’s just being able to stay warm.”
Having to stay warm is extremely important, especially for an offensive lineman. If you are constantly going in and out during a game your muscles can tighten up, and you won’t be as physically prepared. Instead of sitting down during defensive possessions, Richardson stands up, makes sure he gets a few squats and leg pumps in and gets ready to play on the following possession.
“I’ll take a few little sits on the sideline, but usually at the end that offensive drive when [the] defense is out, that’s when I kind of prepare, just to make sure I’m still loose.”
Another area of concern when being platooned with Cann is paying attention to what’s going on in the game, Richardson says. When you aren’t playing a lot, you typically aren’t able to see the things you wouldn’t see in practice. That includes tendencies and knowing what changes to make on a drive-to-drive basis.
One solution to that problem has been exchanging notes with Cann on the sideline during defensive possessions. “Every time A.J. [Cann] comes off the field — he just finishes his drive — and I’ll go up to him and ask him what’s he’s getting, what type of moves is he getting in the pass[ing] game, what type of stunts is he getting on third-down,” Richardson said. “In the run game ‘are they playing hard in the double teams?’ And this is every time.”
Richardson says the same goes for Cann when Richardson is done with a possession. The two will typically grab their iPads and get to work on keying in on specific pressures, looks, and plays the opposing team is giving them so the two can get a better understanding of how they’re playing.
Over the next several weeks Richardson will look to remain consistent and says it starts with technique. The team has done a fantastic job of running to the left side of the offensive line as opposed to the right side. A fair question to ask is: Is platooning two players at right guard affecting the overall play?
During the last four weeks of the season, the two guards have allowed 0 sacks and eight pressures (each with four) combined according to Pro Football Focus. The transition is absolutely working, and the team might want to consider using it throughout the season until it becomes clear and obvious who the better player is.
Richardson says playing along the offensive line and remaining consistent is more about technique than anything else. “Just going back to technical, so when I’m taking a pull making sure that I don’t have my eyes on the linebacker and I have my eyes on the gap and trusting it,” Richardson said. “As far as like pass protection it’s just making sure my feet are solid. When I throw my punch making sure I have tight hands so little things like that.”
— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) October 1, 2019
When it comes down to the run game, the second-year player out of NC State says it is all about “Will, want-to, and footwork and just beating the guy in front of you.”
Richardson will have another opportunity to get better going up against one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL in Geno Atkins on Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) take on the Cincinnati Bengals (0-6) on Sunday.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue knows the defense has room to grow
The Jaguars have been known as a defensive powerhouse for the past several years, however recently the tides have turned. One constant that’s remained is defensive end Yannick Ngakoue who is still turning the corner.
When the Jaguars’ offseason began, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue staged a holdout in hopes of becoming one of the highest-paid defensive ends in the NFL. His hold out only lasted a week or so, but it was a stance he was willing to take entering the final year of his contract.
Ngakoue easily could have held out — thus hurting the team defensively — for the betterment of himself, but he decided to come back anyway. His coaches have admired his dedication to his craft for years, and it shows by the production he has put on the field since he was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
“As soon as the game was over, I texted him right away. Because he comes to work every day. He’s passionate about what he does. He’s very good at what he does, so it’s good to see him have some individual success last Sunday with two sacks,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said on Thursday when asked about Ngakoue’s recent success. “But knowing Yannick [Ngakoue], the first thing he texts back is, ‘I feel like hell because we lost.’ And that’s the type of person that Yannick is. He’s more team than [an] individual, and that’s why we love him.”
The Jaguars defense struggled in their 27-34 loss against the Caroline Panthers, and Ngakoue feels rather than this week being about staying in their gaps as a defensive line, it is moreso just working on technique.
Ngakoue clearing the corner with incredible footwork & quickness for the TFL. Reads the kick-out & syncs up his hands & feet beautifully to defeat it. Yannick's play speed is just outstanding. pic.twitter.com/cx7JMZnzgo
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) October 10, 2019
Now, entering week six Ngakoue registered his first sacks of the season last Sunday after getting to Panthers’ quarterback Kyle Allen twice over the course of the game. Early-season struggles due to a nagging hamstring injury have limited some of Ngakoue’s production during his contract season. However, the young defensive end isn’t worried about himself, he’s worried about the team.
In some contract-dispute situations players can have the tendency to press or feel down because they aren’t producing well enough to earn a contract they may feel is acceptable to them. Ngakoue has always held himself to a different standard, putting God and the team first before anything.
“All glory to God, God put me in position and I executed,” Ngakoue told Locked On Jaguars on Thursday when asked how it felt to finally get a sack this season. “So like I say all glory to God, all glory to heaven. Also, major respect to my teammates because they did their job in those specific plays to help me get back there.”
Unpromoted, and unsolicited, Ngakoue credits his teammates with every success he has individually instead of implying he wanted more or had to step his own game up for himself. There is zero selfishness within him.
In week six, the Jaguars need to get back to being who they are, but at this point, the 2017 team has to be forgotten, and Ngakoue agrees. “We did a lot of great things in 2017,” Ngakoue told Locked On Jaguars on Thursday. “But we can’t keep looking back at that because ultimately everybody always mentions it because that was the standard that we set, and we’re just trying to pass that standard.”
The Jaguars defense has taken a backseat to their offense this season. In years past, the Jaguars offense would essentially have been carried through the season because of the performance on defense. Now the tables have turned, however, Ngakoue still has a strong belief in this team and its defense.
“It’s still a long season you know we still got — its the second quarter of the season, there’s still a lot we can do. ”
Earlier this week, Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell spoke about the offense. He said, for the first time since he has been with the team, the offense can be relied upon to score points, and the confidence on that side of the ball has skyrocketed.
Ngakoue agrees and mentions quarterback Garnder Minshew, wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., and running back Leonard Fournette as the key pieces which form the offense and its success thus far this season.
“Absolutely, we got an offense that compliments each other,” Ngakoue said when asked about the success of the offense and how different it is from years past. “We used to be a defensive-minded team — in the outside world, we were known for defense. But at the end of the day, we got a great offense too.”
The Jaguars currently rank sixth in total offense according to NFL.com. Much of that is due to the play of Minshew who has thrown for 1,279 yards, nine touchdowns, and one interception thus far this season.
If the Jaguars continue their success on offense and build a defense even closely resembling that of 2017, the team will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Their next task will be stopping the unstoppable in New Orleans Saints’ running back Alvin Kamara and receiver Michael Thomas.
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