Malik Jackson shook his head several times as he tried to come up with the last Jacksonville Jaguars player to record double-digit sacks in a season.
Close. The Jaguars haven’t had anyone reach the 10-sack mark since Bobby McCray in 2006.
“Who?” Jackson said. “Never heard of him.”
Few have. McCray never had more than six sacks in any of his other five seasons. His career year earned him a $20 million contract with New Orleans in free agency and left Jacksonville with a decade-plus-long search for the franchise’s next double-digit guy.
The Jaguars are still looking as they open the season at Houston on Sunday.
“We have a lot of potential to be great in this D-line and do things a lot of people haven’t done in a while,” Jackson said. “The great thing about this organization is it’s newer to the point where we can accomplish great things and have a lasting legacy here in Jacksonville with this team.
“It’s a great opportunity to break records and create records.”
Jacksonville likely needs to end its sad-sack streak to improve defensively. The unit finished sixth in the NFL in yards (321.7) in 2016, but lacked steady pressure on opposing quarterbacks that leads to game-changing turnovers.
Still, Yannick Ngakoue set a team rookie record with eight sacks and Dante Fowler Jr. flashed while returning from a knee injury that wiped out his first year. But neither was the complete and consistent edge-rusher Jacksonville has sought for so long.
Jaguars czar Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell revamped the line by parting ways with Jared Odrick, Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller in the offseason and signing veteran defensive end Calais Campbell to a four-year, $60 million contract in free agency. Campbell’s role is to be a disruptive presence and a guiding force.
“That’s a guy that does it the right way all the time, each year,” Ngakoue said. “I sit next to him every time we have meetings and soak in every bit of information I can.”
Throw in Jackson, who signed a six-year, $86.1 million in 2016, and the Jaguars believe they’ve got a group capable of controlling the line of scrimmage. They haven’t had that since Henderson and Marcus Stroud anchored the front in the 2000s, the one that helped McCray get 10 sacks.
Since then, the Jaguars have spent millions of dollars and a myriad of draft picks trying to find the right combination.
Derrick Harvey was arguably the most significant mistake. The Jaguars traded four picks to Baltimore to move up 18 spots and select the Florida standout eighth overall in 2008. Harvey managed eight sacks in three seasons and remains one of the biggest busts in franchise history.
Jacksonville spent years trying to fix the mistake. The team drafted Tyson Alualu ($21.5 million), Andre Branch ($5 million) and others. The Jags signed Aaron Kampman ($10 million), Jeremy Mincey ($10.5 million), Jason Babin ($6 million), Chris Clemons ($9.5 million) and Odrick ($17 million). None of them reached 10 sacks or even worked out as planned.
And the search continues. Tampa Bay is the only NFL team with a longer streak without a player with double-digit sacks. Simeon Rice accomplished the feat for the Buccaneers in 2005.
“That’s kind of the benchmark in our league — 10 sacks,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. “The biggest thing is we pressure the quarterback. It doesn’t necessarily mean you got to sack him. You can disrupt him and bad things happen.
“We don’t want those guys to press to try to meet a number. We just want them to play within the scheme and make plays.”