Nickerson out to plug titanic hole


Hardy Nickerson can help the Jacksonville Jaguars with his tackling, toughness and as an answer to the Tennessee Titans.

The five-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker was signed as a free agent to bring some fight to the Jaguars defense. Though Jacksonville was fourth overall in total defense last season, it was overpowered in its only three losses last season, all to the Tennessee Titans.

"We think he's the ingredient that has been missing from our defense," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said.

The addition of Nickerson, who left Tampa Bay as its all-time leading tackler, allows Lonnie Marts to move back to the strong side.

Although Nickerson has the speed and power to play the run, his best asset to the Jaguars will be his pass-coverage ability. Jacksonville has struggled with its coverage by linebackers, a weakness exposed regularly by Tennessee.

In their three victories over the Jaguars, the Titans targeted their throws to the tight ends and to the backs, the two general assignments for the linebackers. Of the 54 total completions against Jacksonville, 22 went to the Titans' tight ends, 12 to the backs.

The Jaguars expect that to change just by Nickerson's leadership alone.

"He's not overly vocal, but when he says something, you'll find that people are listening to him," Coughlin said. "I can't tell you how badly we need that here."

But can Jacksonville rely on Nickerson, who may start to show wear and tear entering his 14th NFL season?

"I've got a lot of gas left," said Nickerson, who turns 35 today. "People can say what they want about age. I've been blessed. For me, age hasn't been a factor."

Jaguars vs. Ravens

Key for Ravens: Getting over the mental hump. The Ravens are 0-8 against the Jaguars, who scored 23 fourth-quarter points to win their last meeting.

Biggest headache: Receiver Jimmy Smith. In the past two seasons against the Ravens, he has averaged nearly six catches and 94 yards receiving while scoring a total of three touchdowns.

Stat to watch: Generally matched up with left tackle Jonathan Ogden, Jaguars defensive end Tony Brackens has had two sacks in his past five games against the Ravens. Against other teams, Brackens has recorded 20.5 in his past 37 games.

Billick's impression: "Jacksonville, although injuries not withstanding, still has the best talent on paper. And they have a mission. They realize there's only one goal for them that will do. But at the same token, they have some ghosts to chase. When you get beat three times by somebody [Tennessee], that's something to deal with. But Jacksonville clearly has the talent to win not only the division, but the AFC."

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