Will new DC Nielsen change how the Jaguars use Travon Walker?

The 2022 No. 1 overall pick increased his sack production in 2023 -- totalling 10 sacks on the year vs. 3.5 during his rookie campaign. David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

JACKSONVILLE -- Travon Walker's role has primarily been to rush the quarterback as an outside linebacker through two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

However, there is a chance Walker could spend more time as a pass-rusher lining up along the interior of the defensive line in the upcoming season, as new coordinator Ryan Nielsen looks for ways to improve the defense.

Nielsen isn't committing to anything when it comes to the Jaguars' 2022 No. 1 overall pick -- or any other player -- in 2024, but the door to change is open. Right now, Nielsen's priority is getting to know the players.

"Here's our philosophy with the players: We're going to put the player in a position that he can have success first, over the scheme," Nielsen said at his first news conference with the Jaguars. "We're going to evaluate everything that he does well, then if he can rush inside, we'll put him inside. If he's a better outside rusher, we'll keep him outside."

Walker found some success as an interior pass-rusher during his three seasons at Georgia. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he lined up at either defensive tackle or nose tackle for 39% of 951 total snaps. He had 21 pressures and 2.5 sacks on the 282 pass rushes he had at the three interior line spots -- meaning he accounted for roughly a quarter of his 9.5 career sacks while rushing from the interior.

Walker hasn't spent anywhere close to that amount of time as an interior rusher with the Jaguars. General manager Trent Baalke loved Walker's size (6-foot-5, 272 pounds) and quickness and believed Walker could make the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense in the NFL and become a game-wrecking pass-rusher.

In two seasons, Walker has lined up at defensive tackle for 3.4% of his snaps. He has rushed the passer on 34 of those snaps and had three pressures and one sack, per ESPN Stats & Information and NFL Next Gen Stats.

Since Walker has spent the overwhelming majority of his snaps lining up everywhere else besides the interior of the defensive line (1,459 snaps have come at right or left outside linebacker), it doesn't seem there is a significant enough body of work on film to evaluate whether Walker should spend more time lining up inside than he has so far in his career.

"We've evaluated those things, but [34] snaps is not enough to say that, 'Yes, he can do that,' or, 'He can't do that,'" Nielsen said. "We'll identify that once we get to OTAs. The process is never-ending. We'll put our guys in the best positions for them to have success and ultimately we will have success on defense and as a team."

Walker did take a major step forward as a pass-rusher in his second season. His 10 sacks nearly tripled his rookie season total (3.5) and his 56 pressures were 23 more than what he had as a rookie (33), so maybe keeping Walker outside to continue his growth as a pass-rusher and playing a handful of snaps here and there inside would be the best move.

It may be, but Nielsen said he and his staff will take plenty of time before deciding. He has a process that he followed when he left the New Orleans Saints as a defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator to become Atlanta's defensive coordinator in 2023.

And that process seemed to work out pretty well. The Falcons finished eighth in the NFL in passing defense (202.9 yards per game) and were third in third-down defense (33.8%) and fourth in red zone defense (45.3%). Atlanta doubled its sack total under Nielsen, going from 21 in 2022 to 42 in 2023, and held seven opponents to less than 20 points.

"That was a great process," Nielsen said. "It was one of my favorite times coaching in that we threw up a template and said, 'Hey, this is what's been done before, let's make it us.' That's the process we're going through right now. All the coaches are having input on what we're doing, so it's all of our defense.

"We have a pretty good idea of where we'll start with our players and some of the techniques we'd like to teach them. Then, we'll start moving them around to see what else they can do well. That process we just did, we're kind of doing it again. Some similarities and some differences, but the ultimate is that this is going to be Jacksonville's defense."