Jacksonville Jaguars: Calais Campbell imposes his will on TNF (PFN Film Room)

Since joining the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, Calais Campbell has set the tone for a surging defensive unit despite his age. Now at 33, Campbell continues his effective ways as the Jaguars defense looks to regain their once-dominant ways.

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell is one of the more overlooked players of his generation. During his career, Campbell has been a constant producer at the three-technique and five-technique in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes.

After a nine-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals, Campbell made his way to Jacksonville after his former team deemed the price tag to retain him was too high. Ironically, everyone laughed at him when he brought up how good the Jaguars defense could be before the start of the 2017 season.

As we would find out, the defense was better than good by establishing a dominant unit during that season. In turn, Campbell was the apparent leader accumulating a career-high 14 sacks and helping them reach the AFC championship game.

While the team would regress in 2018, Campbell added another 10.5 sacks to his resume and made his fourth career Pro Bowl. He continued to be a force inside even when the rest of the team was struggling to duplicate the previous season’s success.

Now in his third year with the Jaguars and at the ripe age of 33, not much has changed with Campbell’s production. For instance, this past Thursday he put on a dominant performance against the Tennessee Titans. Campbell controlled the line of scrimmage against the run and was a force versus the pass with three sacks.

So what allowed Campbell to dominate on Thursday Night Football? After studying the film, NFL fans will see a player with advanced technique and hand placement.

Calais Campbell’s upfield burst

One of the essential traits for a defensive lineman is upfield burst. The best defensive ends and defensive tackles in the league understand snap counts and key the football to get a head start against the opposing offensive lineman. By doing so, defensive linemen can better beat opposing players to their spots and disrupt the backfield.

As one of Campbell’s best traits, an elite burst helps him win at a high rate while forcing linemen out of position. Late in the first quarter, the offense was driving but faced a second-and-19. Campbell is lined up at the three-technique on the right side of the defensive line. The Titans will be running an outside zone with the offensive lineman wanting to execute reach blocks.

Campbell displays his upfield burst by not allowing the center to complete his blocking assignment. The veteran takes on the block and makes the tackle in the backfield, creating a significant loss on second down.

On the very next play, we see another example of his upfield burst. After Campbell disrupted the previous play, it was now third-and-24, and the Titans attempted a wide receiver screen pass.

Lined up to the left here, Campbell’s explosiveness at the snap is elite. He gets in the backfield quickly enough that Mariota can’t even throw a quick screen. This was his first sack of the game.

Use of hands

Hand usage is another trait that aides defensive linemen in beating blocks. It may very well be Campbell’s best overall trait. While he is both quick and athletic at 6’8″ and 300 pounds, the way he uses his hands to gain leverage or counter offensive linemen is something to behold. 

At a critical moment in the game, the Titans faced a fourth-and-six at the Jaguars 11-yard line already down 14-0. After struggling for much of the first half, the Titans were desperate to get back into the game. Campbell had different plans.

When the ball is snapped, Campbell does a great job using his hands to club the guard’s arms. The force of the swing drops the guard’s hand placement knocking him off balance. Campbell then finishes the play with a sack, deflating the Titans long drive.


A high motor is a part of the pursuit trait many scouts look for when determining which defensive lineman to draft/acquire. This attribute is coveted for its tendency to mask possible athletic shortcomings that a player might have by being a ruthless pass rusher.

Campbell has as good a motor as anyone in the league. He is relentless when rushing the passer.

With his third sack against the Titans, we see this pursuance on full display. Initially, Campbell is double-teamed on the play. His hand placement is still top-notch with him gaining leverage over the left tackle to shed him if need be.

The inside pressure from Yannick Ngakoue forces Mariota to step left and into Campbell for a cleanup sack. While clean up sacks aren’t as celebrated these days due to analytics, a sack is a sack. A high motor better positions players to be around the football where good things can happen.

Campbell is one of the best defensive tackles in football and continues to be a force in his 12th season. He sets the tone for the Jaguars defensive line with his technique and relentless pursuit.

On top of this, his personality is infectious and the players gravitate to him and his leadership. The media may not always give him the love he deserves. However, Campbell is in the top echelon of interior defensive linemen in all of the NFL. And teams better start preparing as such, or we’ll see opposing offensive lines embarrassed by him all season long.

Marcus Johnson is a writer for Pro Football Network’s Film Room. Follow him on Twitter @TheMarcJohnNFL.