This was how Tyson Alualu has wanted to feel for a long time.
And how he played last Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts... well, that was how the Jaguars' defensive tackle has wanted to play for a long, long time, too.
Alualu, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, has started all 41 games in two and a half NFL seasons. He has played well at times, been a run-stuffing presence at others, and overall, has shown flashes of what made him an early draft selection.
But Thursday was different. A lot different.
"That's probably the best I've felt – it is the best I've felt – since I've been in the league," Alualu said this week as the Jaguars (1-8) prepared to play the Houston Texans (8-1) at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
"Hopefully, I can just build off that and continue to get better."
That's the Jaguars' hope, too.
Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith, who drafted Alualu in '10, told the Jaguars Reporters Radio show this week that the game was Alualu's best of the season, and that Alualu showed significant quickness in the game. And Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey said the game showed clearly the impact Alualu can have on a defense when healthy.
"Tyson's a good player – he's always been a good player," Mincey said. "He looks like himself now. We all knew Tyson would push through it. He's a tough guy."
Alualu in the game not only registered his second sack of the season, he had five tackles, a tackle for loss, one quarterback hurry and a pass defensed.
"It's hard to tell in the moment, but when you watch on film, you see how well he's getting to the ball and how he's getting off blocks better," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "He's much more active. You say, 'OK, he's getting back to the ability he can play when he's healthy.'
"When he's healthy and going, he's going to be tough to block. Some people are going to have to concentrate on him more. It's no longer a quick chip and an offensive lineman is up on the linebacker. They're going to have to stay on him more.''
Said Alualu, "I finally got to get back to playing the way I want to, as far as running to the ball, and being able to get off the ball. I want to build on that."
Alualu said there was a pretty clear reason he felt better – specifically, that the knee that has bothered him the past three years felt better.
"I'm speaking about my knee, but overall as well," Alualu said. "This year, my knee felt pretty good starting off, but ever since the Oakland game, it's the best my knee has felt since I've been in the NFL."
Alualu has played with a knee issue since his rookie season, and early this offseason, he underwent what he called minor microfracture surgery. He was limited much of the offseason, and he played only the team's final three preseason games.
He also early in the season continued a pattern that began last season of not practicing Wednesdays. He had said shortly after the surgery this offseason that he hoped the surgery would allow him to practice every day, and two weeks ago, he went to the team and requested he work Wednesdays.
"It's always been important and I always wanted to get back to that point," Alualu said. "Now that I'm here, it feels good being out there with the guys and getting the looks that I need to prepare me for game day. It all works out in the end and it feels good."
Also on Thursday:
*Fullback Greg Jones (thigh), cornerback Rashean Mathis (groin) and safety Dwight Lowery (ankle) did not practice for a second consecutive day Thursday, leaving their status for Sunday uncertain. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Wednesday there was a chance the players could play Sunday depending on how they progressed. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who Mularkey ruled out Wednesday, also missed practiced while center Brad Meester returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday for non-injury reasons.
*Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said a focus remains improving the running game, an area that has averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry the last four games. Rashad Jennings rushed for 27 yards on 11 carries against the Colts, and Mularkey said one focus moving forward is getting the backs more carries. "It's always two elements," Bratkowski said. "Sure there are some cuts and some holes that we have missed, and there are times where there are no holes or there's a breakdown of one individual that keeps the hole from being there," he added. "Unfortunately it's always a combination of things. The running game is struggling, and we have to get that back as a part of our element. The guys are trying to play physical, they're doing it, but we just haven't been able to be consistent with it. That's hurting us."
*Bratkowski also addressed the Jaguars' passing offense, which ranks 31st in the NFL and which has been criticized at times this season for not being aggressive throwing downfield. "We're still trying to take shots down the field, even though we're not running the ball as well as we like," Bratkowski said. "Some of them either you haven't had time to get them off, you didn't see it, a little bit close and took the conservative route out, which is fine. You don't want to go careless throwing the ball. But, we'll continue to take our shots. We've had a number of them called in games and for one reason or another, either they haven't hooked up on them or they haven't gotten thrown for another reason which could be protection or not seeing it, not being able to see it depth perception-wise; where is that deep safety in comparison to where that receiver is? It's a split-second decision that has to be made by the quarterback. Experience will make that decision-making easier."