The Jaguars announced on Friday that DE Aaron Kampman will miss the remainder of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee during practice on Thursday. Kampman suffered the same injury to his left knee a little more than a year ago.
Before the injury, Kampman had been everything the Jaguars could ask for and more since signing a four-year deal with the club in March. The veteran, who was brought in to help fix the league's worst pass rush unit in 2009, was doing just that, leading the team in sacks (four), while becoming the leader of the "D." After tallying only 14 sacks in all of 2009, Kampman had helped the Jags record 14 sacks in the first eight games this season.
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There is no sugarcoating what a devastating blow this is for the Jaguars. Not only do they lose their best pass rusher, they also lose the one player on defense that regularly commanded double-teams. The jobs of DTs Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu, two of the biggest beneficiaries of Kampman's strong showing in the first eight games, just got a lot more difficult.
The same can be said for one of the worst secondaries in the league. CBs Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox, both of whom struggled mightily in the first half before playing their best games of the season against the Cowboys in Week Eight, will have to somehow build on that momentum. Mathis, who holds the franchise record for interceptions, must find a way to make more plays with less pressure up front — a very tall order.
And in the back end, second-year players, FS Don Carey and SS Courtney Greene, must continue learning on the fly and limiting their mistakes. Head coach Jack Del Rio has asked a lot from his young safeties in recent weeks, and the pressure will only grow.
The Jaguars were dangerously thin along the defensive line before this injury. Rookie DT D'Anthony Smith was placed on injured reserve before the season began, and the Week One starter at left defensive end, former first-rounder Derrick Harvey, was benched three weeks ago for poor performance.
Making matters worse, the guy who was pegged as Harvey's short-term replacement, Jeremy Mincey, broke his hand during practice only days after he was promoted, and it is not known when he will return. That leaves Jacksonville with only three healthy ends — Harvey, and a pair of unproven rookies, Austen Lane and Larry Hart. While the club is likely to make at least one roster move, don't expect a player from the practice squad or someone that is currently out on the street to come and save the day.
Lane, who made his first career start in Week Eight against the Cowboys, almost certainly will remain in the starting lineup. Given the fact that Hart is more of a situational pass rusher, Harvey likely will get the call opposite Lane.
So while we thought the dreaded bust label had been stamped on Harvey earlier this season, it appears the player that the Jaguars viewed as a can't-miss pass-rushing prospect out of the University of Florida three years ago will get one more chance at redemption.
New defensive line coach Joe Cullen raved about Harvey's work in the offseason, but it didn't carry over into the season. Insiders say the most disappointing part of Harvey's benching was that he didn't seem to be affected by it. We're going to find out real fast if that was the case.
It's scary to think that the Jaguars are suddenly so reliant on an unproven cast of characters, highlighted by an underachiever who has managed only six sacks in 2½ years — including only half a sack this season — to save their season, but that is where the club finds itself if it hopes to overcome the loss of its best defensive player.