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Jaguars hire new defensive coordinator from Falcons

The Jacksonville Jaguars hired former Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen to lead the team’s defense, replacing fired defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, the team announced Monday evening.

‘We’re excited to welcome Ryan and have him lead our defense moving forward,’ said Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson in a statement released by the team. ‘Ryan is an outstanding football coach and his defenses with the Falcons and Saints were always fundamentally sound in both their physicality and concepts. He has the rare ability to both teach and connect with his players.

‘He builds lasting, two-way relationships predicated on trust. He establishes accountability, first from himself, then the players. What I’ve most admired about Ryan’s defenses – and we saw this in London back in October – was their shared intensity and enthusiasm to get the job done and impact the game.’

Pederson fired nearly all of the team’s defensive coaches after the team’s season-ending loss to the Tennessee Titans, resulting in them missing the playoffs.

During their late-season collapse through the final six games of the season, Jacksonville’s defense gave up an average of 29.2 points per game and 146.8 rushing yards per game through five losses. They began the season 8-3, ultimately ending 9-8.

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Jacksonville reportedly interviewed others, including the Ravens’ Chris Hewitt, Jets’ Marquand Manuel, Titans’ Chris Harris and Shane Bowen and former Giants defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale.

Nielsen, 44, most recently was the defensive coordinator of the Falcons. He finished his first season improving the Atlanta defense from 23rd to 18th in points allowed per game and from 27th to 11th in yards allowed per game. The Falcons also doubled their sack total (42) from the 2022 season (21).

Atlanta ranked 12th in EPA (expected points added) per play last season. The Falcons are undergoing a coaching change after firing head coach Arthur Smith after the season. Nielsen was initially blocked from taking defensive coordinator interviews before being granted permission.

Before joining the Falcons, Nielsen coached with the New Orleans Saints from 2017-2022, holding multiple roles including defensive line coach, assistant head coach/defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach. He began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant with Southern California in 2002, finishing his collegiate coaching career with NC State as the team’s defensive line coach/run game coordinator.

Nielsen becomes Pederson’s latest hire after the head coach took the job ahead of the 2022 season. It marks Pederson’s first major coaching change in his tenure.

Now that it’s official, the Jaguars will need to fill out the remainder of their defensive coaching staff. The only defensive coaches that were retained are assistant defensive line coach Rory Segrest, outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey and defensive quality control coach Patrick Reilly.

Demetrius Harvey is the Jacksonville Jaguars reporter for the Florida Times-Union. You can follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @Demetrius82.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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