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'13 review: The linebackers


JACKSONVILLE – The part was a reflection of the whole.

Bob Babich said while that was true of several areas of the Jaguars' defense this season, it was certainly true of the linebacker unit.

The Jaguars' defense, after struggling at times to start the season, improved dramatically as the season continued, not only improving against the run but as a pass-rushing unit. Babich said that overall progress wouldn't have happened without the linebackers.

And while much of the storyline throughout the season focused on the play of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, Babich – who next season will enter his second season as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator – said the contribution came from inside and outside, as well as from an improving young group of backups.

"As the defense got better, they got better," Babich said recently in an interview with for this series on the Jaguars' position groups, a series that continues with this story focusing on the linebackers.

"They started to understand more about the defensive scheme and what was expected. I think the natural progression is to get better as the season goes on. Those guys did a very good job."

Babich said that was particularly true of Posluszny.

Posluszny, a seven-year veteran, started 15 of 16 games, not only leading the Jaguars in tackles for a third consecutive season with 161, but improving as a playmaking linebacker. He intercepted two passes, defensed nine, had six tackles for loss and forced and recovered a fumble.

Posluszny in late January was named to the Pro Bowl, the only Jaguars player so honored this season.

Duval, you know which team you'll be rooting for in the #2014ProBowl: #TeamSanders all day! — Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) January 23, 2014

"Paul was the quarterback of our defense, and took a lot of pride in it," Babich said. "He was extremely vocal as far as calling things out and making sure everybody was on the same page. He was very productive, and not only was he very productive with tackles, he also had some sacks and had a couple of picks. It was fun to see him have the production he did have."

Babich said Posluszny also was integral off the field. Head Coach Gus Bradley and Babich installed a new defensive system last season, and Babich said Posluszny was key as a young – sometimes rapidly changing – roster adapted to it.

"He helped make sure everybody was aligned properly and in the proper defense," Babich said. "Paul with the vocal aspect of it was instrumental in our progression that we needed as a defensive unit."

Babich said the Jaguars got solid play from the two outside linebackers as well, with 2013 unrestricted free agent Geno Hayes starting 14 games and veteran Russell Allen starting 13 of the first 14 before a season-ending Week 15 concussion.

Hayes, a six-year veteran who worked with Babich in 2012 in Chicago and with Bradley in 2008 in Tampa Bay, made 78 tackles at the weak-side linebacker position, and also had four passes defensed, two interceptions, a sack, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

"Geno got better as the season went on," Babich said. "Geno has playmaking ability, so we expect Geno to make some plays. He got a couple of picks later in the year and did a very good job. We think of him as a big-play guy. That's what we'd like him to do.

"That position that he plays is put into position make plays."

Allen, who originally signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent following the 2009 NFL Draft, started 12 games at strong-side linebacker, and moved inside to start in place of Posluszny when the latter missed a loss to Arizona with a concussion.

He finished with 63 tackles, one sack, two fumble recoveries and four tackles for losses before missing the final two games, which represented the first regular-season games he ever had missed in high school, college or professional football.

"He's flexible and a smart guy, so when Paul didn't play, he was able to go in and play and get us aligned and be the vocal leader that we needed," Babich said. "Playing the same position, he did a good job. He gave us an option at both Will and Mike."

The Jaguars do not currently have a linebacker who was drafted by the team, but several young linebackers emerged late in the season, with rookie LaRoy Reynolds, rookie John Lotulelei and first-year veteran Nate Stupar getting significant playing time in the final weeks. At one point in the season-ending loss to Indianapolis, all three were on the field at the same time, with Lotulelei starting two games and making nine tackles and Reynolds finishing with nine tackles and a pass defensed.

"We do have some young guys who have shown the abilities we're looking for," Babich said. "LaRoy got an opportunity in that game to play and he showed he can run to the football and play physical, so that was good to see. They all have a long way to go. I think going through the spring and the training camp is going to do nothing but help these guys."

And Babich said in a season in which the defense established its foundation and tone for the future, the same was true overall of the linebacker group as well.

"As a defensive unit, for us to progress, we needed everybody to get better," Babich said. "The linebackers played a big part of any defensive improvement we had throughout the season. The linebackers are usually put in the position to make the plays, and if they're not making plays, it's hard to get better.

"This unit did do a good job helping this unit move in the direction we wanted to go. Every position we're going to keep working. It will be fun to see how spring works."

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