Shared practice, goal: Jaguars, Falcons aim for better pass rush

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard easily moved his offense through the Atlanta Falcons' defense.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was just as impressive against the Jaguars' defense, and Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio couldn't turn away.

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Maybe Ryan and Garrard were just having good practices. Maybe the Jaguars' and Falcons' defenses will improve this season.

Or maybe both teams are still trying to solve some of the problems that kept them out of the playoffs last season.

Del Rio didn't know that Garrard completed all of his passes in red-zone drills because he was watching the Jaguars' defense on another field.

"Glad to hear that," Del Rio said. "I didn't get a look over there. We were spending a lot of time over here dealing with Matt Ryan."

Falcons coach Mike Smith, once a member of Del Rio's Jaguars staff, believed his run defense was solid, but there are still too many gaps in zone coverage, and some players are too slow in their route progressions.

"We've been seeing the same type of routes from our offense for 31 practices and we've seen some different ones here over the last day and a half," Smith said. "I think it's good for us. Not only does it stimulate our players, but it stimulates our coaches in terms of how we've got to get our guys ready to go."

Jacksonville and Atlanta ranked among the NFL's worst pass defenses last season. The Jaguars' 14 sacks were a league low. Opponents completed 67.6 percent of their passes, second-highest in the NFL.

The Falcons allowed 55 completions of 20 or more yards, second-most in the NFC and fifth overall. Atlanta's run and pass defense combined gave up the league's highest percentage on third down at 45.3 percent.

Both the Jaguars and Falcons have attempted to upgrade their defensive lines over the past two offseasons.

Atlanta drafted tackle Peria Jerry 24th overall last year and chose Corey Peters in the third round this year. Jerry, however, has missed much of training camp after sitting out 15 games with a knee injury last year.

Jacksonville picked tackle Tyson Alualu 10th overall and used a third-round spot to take tackle D'Anthony Smith. However, Smith might not take a snap this season after suffering an Achilles' injury last week.

The Falcons and Jaguars also acquired help at linebacker to improve their coverage of curl routes, screens and other short passing attempts that can hurt a defense.

Atlanta drafted outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon 19th overall, and it will be no surprise if he starts the season opener at Pittsburgh. Weatherspoon has impressed Falcons coaches since camp started.

The Jaguars traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders for middle linebacker Kirk Morrison. His arrival allowed Daryl Smith to stay outside, where the Jaguars can use his speed off the edge.

The right end spots for Atlanta and Jacksonville will be critical in creating pressure in the pocket. John Abraham of the Falcons is coming off his lowest sack total (5.5) in the six seasons he has been healthy enough to play in all 16 games.

Aaron Kampman, who signed with the Jaguars as a free agent in the spring, left a Packers defense that had switched to a 3-4 front and moved him to outside linebacker in 2009. He tore a knee ligament, suffered a concussion and finished with 3.5 sacks, his lowest in four years.

Del Rio believes Kampman can help left end Derrick Harvey become the force the Jaguars envisioned when they drafted him No. 8 overall two years ago.

"This is a guy that wants to lead by example," Del Rio said of Kampman. "He wants to lead it in talking and challenging the guys when he needs to, but he'sgoing to provide the example in how he does things."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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