From 2003 through 2007, current Falcons head coach Mike Smith served as the defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville jaguars, During that time, one of Smith's primary playmakers was defensive end Paul Spicer. In that five-year period, Spicer racked up 154 tackles and 18 sacks in 64 games. But Spicer has always been about more than the sum of his stats -- he's that rare end who's as good against the run as the pass, and he provided a physical presence to Jacksonville's disappointing defensive line in 2008 that was sorely lacking. Now, the news that the Jags are ready to let the nine-year veteran go, the victim of a "get younger now" movement.
The Falcons are known to need consistent run and pass pressure opposite John Abraham, and the Jamaal Anderson/Chauncey Davis combo didn't do it at an elite level in 2008. Might a reunion with his old defensive coach be just what the doctor ordered for Spicer? We asked Charlie Bernstein, Publisher of JagNation.com, why the Jags are letting the veteran go, and what Spicer has left in the tank.
Paul Spicer is the prototypical "lunch pail" guy who has got the most out of his limited talent throughout his career. A former undrafted rookie free agent, Spicer began his career in Seattle before getting waived and then landing in Detroit. After one season with the Lions, he went to Jacksonville in 2000 and has been a member of the team from then until Friday. Spicer has been an extremely hard worker and a great example for some the team's younger players.
The main reason Spicer and the Jaguars are parting ways is because of the youth movement taking place in north Florida. The writing was on the wall when the team used not one, but their first two draft picks on defensive ends in last April's draft. Former Jaguars VP of Player Personnel rewarded Spicer with a new deal last year, and then Spicer had one of his most unproductive seasons in many years. Paul Spicer will give 100% on every snap and never takes plays off, but he has always been an effort guy who got the most out of his marginal talent. His talent is now fading quickly, and at this point in his career he can be a rotational end or even a defensive tackle, as he plays the run better than he rushes the passer. A reunion with his former defensive coordinator may be just what Spicer needs to add some length to his career.
Spicer put up 3.5 sacks in 2008, played in all 16 games, and would seem to have just enough to add something special to an Atlanta line that is very much in transition. I wrote an article about Jacksonville's front four in Week 15 of the 2007 season for Football Outsiders, and Spicer really impressed me.
Spicer is a force at left end and occasionally on the right side. He had Pittsburgh tackles Willie Colon and Marvel Smith muttering to themselves all day. Quick enough to beat tackles inside or outside, strong enough to bull a guard back into a ballcarrier on a twist, and effective against the run, Spicer reinforced my opinion that he is one of the NFL's best defensive ends.
Spicer was on all day, but a few plays really stood out. There was the second-and-9 from the Pittsburgh 21, when Spicer was fanned out of the play by Smith, a good three yards behind Ben Roethlisberger at the end of his drop. However, Spicer regained his bearings and, with incredible closing speed, knocked the ball out of Big Ben's hand just as he was about to throw. The Steelers recovered, but it was a great example of Spicer's speed and determination.
Spicer's best play came in the Steelers' second drive of the second half. Roethlisberger took the ball in a shotgun set on first-and-10 with 2:46 left in the third quarter, then rolled right as he looked for an open man. Spicer shook off the blocks of Colon and running back Willie Parker and moved up in the pocket to bring the quarterback down. Big Ben went with the "I'm gonna throw the ball downward and short before I get sacked" strategy, which worked since he was out of the pocket and a fumble wasn't called. Spicer's strength was obvious and impressive. He's also good at sniffing out the direction of running plays and getting across the field to help with tackles. The Jags were extremely wise to give Spicer a two-year, $8 million contract extension in the preseason, locking him up through 2010.
The Falcons would be extremely wise to give due diligence to the idea that Paul Spicer could be the missing ingredient to their defensive line.
Doug Farrar is the Publisher of FalconInsider.com. You can also find his work on Football Outsiders, ESPN.com, the Washington Post, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to contact Doug here.