Jacksonville Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien came right out balling as a rookie in 2013. He isn't the biggest safety you will ever see at 6'0 and 217 pounds, but he gets where he's going in a hurry and knocks the shit out of people on a regular basis. Every time I watched the Jags play in 2013, he'd be all over the damn place blowing people's chests up and making plays. Unfortunately, he didn't have much help on defense so the team ended up with a 4-12 record and a coaching staff that was run out of town.
Gus Bradley's defense appeared to be perfectly suited to Cyprien's skill set. He could be physical and play down in the box, like Kam Chancellor, and he also had enough range to play deep in coverage like Earl Thomas. Okay, he wouldn't be quite as good as Thomas playing back there, but then again, who is?
I was excited to see what Cyprien would do for an encore after his rookie season. The results were ... mixed.
Cyprien still had his uncanny ability to track ball carriers and show up to meet them with a bunch of bad intentions. He's still a sure tackler who can blow people the fuck up, a testament to his fundamentally sound approach to taking people to the ground. I don't remember him getting any unnecessary roughness penalties for hitting above the neck last season even though he regularly lowered the boom on people (admittedly, I might have missed one or two). Like those aforementioned Seahawks safeties, Cyprien did a great job of lowering his aiming point so he could still blast fools without making helmet-to-helmet contact for the most part. That is a huge deal in an ever-evolving era of player safety.
Okay, so that was the good news.
The bad news is Cyprien's production slipped in just about every category last year. No interceptions, no sacks, no forced fumbles and half (three) the passes defensed he had in 2013.
Having watched quite a bit of Cyprien on film, I feel comfortable saying that at least two major factors played into his regression. First, I think it took him a while to get comfortable with the defense. This was, after all, a whole new system. It can take some time to learn.
Second, and maybe most important, his teammates in the secondary were even more confused than he was on most passing plays. Now, I know a little football, okay? But there were times last season where I just couldn't figure out what the fuck the Jaguars were even trying to do in coverage. That obviously is not an optimal situation for a safety when he and the guys in front of him don't appear to be on the same page.
This made Cyprien more hesitant in coverage than he had been as a rookie. Over the course of the season, he was often juuuuuust a hair late getting where he needed to be to make a big play while the ball was in the air. Sure, he might've made the tackle, but the receiver made the catch, the chains moved and the Jaguars were still on the field. It's hard to say he should have been more aggressive when you see corners who are supposed to be playing cover three (deep 1/3 of the field) jumping on short routes over and over and over again. When Joe Average Fan sees a receiver catch a deep ball and the only person on the screen is the safety, guess who they're gonna blame?
What should be encouraging for Jaguars fans is that this is the team's third year in that system. The entire defense should be much more comfortable with it, not just Cyprien. There will also be at least two new starters in the secondary this year, which should raise the talent level.
Being more comfortable with the scheme and the mental part of the system, as well as having better talent around him, should allow Cyprien to really turn it loose this year.
I have no doubt that Cyprien can be one hell of a playmaking safety for the Jaguars.