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‘A sense of urgency’: Will Jaguars DL Taven Bryan make the cut under Urban Meyer?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars placed defensive tackle Taven Bryan on the non-football injury list on Wednesday — the first day of training camp — after he failed to pass his physical.

It’s unclear for now why he failed, but it’s not exactly the ideal way to start what is the most important stretch of his career.

Bryant — the Jaguars’ first-round pick in 2018 — is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, and his first three seasons have been unimpressive enough that he is far from a lock to make the final 53-man roster. It’s not his physical skills that are the problem, but rather his inconsistency and lack of big plays.

And it sounds like his inner drive needs work, too.

“I hope Taven actually gets a sense of urgency from myself and us every day when he wakes up,” defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi said. “He was an individual here weeks before our starting date [in the spring]. Taven is a dangerous combination of speed and power. He has [an] elite skill set and talent, we just have to channel that and focus that where we need to help us most.

“If we do that, he can make a major impact. The guy’s got extreme explosive attributes to him from an athletic standpoint. What we need to do is get him focused, confident of where he needs to align, assign and execute. If we can put that together, he can be a great contributor this season.”

When the Jaguars drafted Bryan 29th overall in 2018, they envisioned him as someone who could be disruptive in the backfield because of his quickness and strength. Instead, he’s been a rotational player who has played well in spurts.

He hasn’t missed a game in three seasons but has started only 17 and has 71 tackles (11 for loss), 3.5 sacks and one pass breakup at the line of scrimmage. Bryan started the first seven games last season before losing that job to undrafted rookie Doug Costin, who finished the season with 32 tackles (three for loss) and recovered one fumble. Costin also broke up a pass at the line of scrimmage, giving him the same number as Bryan in 36 fewer games.

The Jaguars played Bryan on the edge at times in 2020 and Lupoi said that he’s planning on Bryan playing inside and outside in camp, and if he thrives at one spot over the other that may be where he gets most of his reps in 2021.

“He’s got a versatile skill set, so I think he has the ability to play on the edge — he’s demonstrated that already — and certainly has the power to play inside as well,” Lupoi said. “So, we’ll ask some multiple assignments of him, but it’s our job to not overcomplicate that and make sure we’re not putting him in a whole bunch of roles and asking too much of him.

“As he proves what he can handle and do best to help us win, that’s where he’ll be placed.”

Defensive line was the Jaguars’ biggest weakness on defense last season, and coach Urban Meyer and GM Trent Baalke started the rebuild this spring by signing defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris and tackle/end Jihad Ward, trading for nose tackle Malcom Brown, and drafting tackle Jay Tufele.

With Bryan, Costin, end Dawuane Smoot, end Adam Gotsis, and tackle DaVon Hamilton (who played for Meyer at Ohio State) returning, there are a lot of roles still left to be defined — and if Bryan doesn’t stand out there’s a real chance he won’t make the final roster.

Unfortunately, a first-round pick failing to reach the end of his four-year rookie contract isn’t a rare occurrence for the Jaguars. Bryan would become the sixth first-round pick from 2011-18 to do so:

  • Quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2011) was traded before his fourth season, defensive end Dante Fowler (2015) was traded during his third, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey (2016) was traded during his fourth.

  • Receiver Justin Blackmon (2012) was suspended indefinitely in his second season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and hasn’t played since.

  • Running back Leonard Fournette (2017) was cut during camp last season and went on to win a Super Bowl title with Tampa Bay.

All were top-10 picks.

The only first-round picks to finish out their rookie deals with the Jaguars from 2011-18 are left tackle Luke Joeckel (who left in free agency) and quarterback Blake Bortles (who signed an extension).

The lack of success with those first-round picks — whether it was on-field performance or off-field issues — is one of the main reasons the Jaguars have become the league’s worst franchise over the past decade (nine seasons with 10 or more losses).

Bryan wasn’t a high first-round pick, but this camp could be his last chance to avoid being added to that list.

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