Paul Posluszny will tell you finding motivation is no issue this week.
Posluszny, the Jaguars' veteran middle linebacker, said not only is there more than enough incentive for the Jaguars to win Saturday, there's an underlying goal among defensive players. Through most of the season the unit has played at a high level, and with two games remaining, the unit has a chance to attain a season-long goal.
Posluszny said now is no time to give up on that objective.
"By all means, we just want to continue to improve," Posluszny said Wednesday afternoon as the Jaguars (4-10) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (7-7) at LP Field in downtown Nashville, Tenn., Saturday at 1 p.m.
"We don't want to have it be a case where in the last two weeks our play starts to decrease and everything we've worked so hard for throughout the year goes out the window."
The Jaguars, after ranking 28th in the NFL in total defense last season, signed a slew of veteran free agents early in training camp, a list that included not only Posluszny, but linebacker Clint Session, nickelback Drew Coleman, defensive end Matt Roth and safety Dawan Landry.
Those additions, plus the presence of returning players such as defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu, prompted then-Head Coach Jack Del Rio to say he believed the Jaguars would be a Top 10 defense this season.
Through 14 games, the Jaguars are ranked fourth in the NFL defensively.
They have maintained a Top 10 ranking much of the season, and have continued to do so in recent weeks despite season-ending injuries to not only Session, but cornerbacks Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and Will Middleton, safety Chris Prosinski and defensive ends Aaron Kampman and John Chick.
"It just shows that all the hard work we put in pays off," Alualu said. "I'll take wins over that any day, but that shows we have the right personnel on defense – not just players, but coaches and everybody doing a good job. I know there's room for improvement and it's been a rough season, but we do want to finish strong."
Knighton said finishing the season with a Top 5 ranking "is very important."
"It goes to show we put in the work on defense to compete and be in every game," Knighton said.
"That's absolutely where we want to be – four or five, that's ideal," Posluszny said. "We're going to work as hard as we can to be there. Guys are going to get injured, especially this late in the season. We want to have the ability to say, 'You know what? We were in tough circumstances and we didn't have all of our guys, but we were still able to come together and play great defense, and be considered a great defense on a national level.'''
Also around the Jaguars Wednesday:
*The Jaguars' injury list grew this week when the team placed recently-acquired safety Darcel McBath on injured reserve. The team now has 23 players on IR. "That's just part of the league, you know?" Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "You get injuries. Guys get pulled up. Guys get called up. You just have to continue to play. They have to learn the scheme and keep playing. I think we've done a pretty decent job with the cards we've been dealt. We just have to keep working and figure out how to get a victory in the next game." Four players – cornerback Kevin Rutland, cornerback Ashton Youboty, defensive end Leger Douzable and linebacker Russell Allen – have moved into the starting lineup in the last month on defense because of injuries, and there are 16 players on the active roster who weren't on the opening-day roster. "It feels like 20-25 guys," Knighton said. "You're looking back and saying, 'Who? Who is that guy?' That's how it has been all season. The guys have responded well to it. We understand what we're going through as a team with the injuries and as a team, we just have to stay positive."
*Special teams coordinator Russ Purnell called touchdowns by Colin Cloherty and Zach Potter the last two weeks "the highlight of the season so far" on special teams. Cloherty returned a fumbled punt eight yards for a touchdown against Tampa Bay two weeks ago and Potter returned a blocked punt 46 yards for a touchdown against Atlanta last Thursday.
*Purnell said it's no coincidence the special teams unit has improved in the second half of the season with the return to health of Kassim Osgood and Montell Owens. "They're darn good players," Purnell said. "They've gone to Pro Bowls for a reason. Having their presence not only on the field during the game, but during practice; they practice at a high level and they play at a high level, so that's contagious." Osgood made three Pro Bowls with the San Diego Chargers and Owens made the game last season. Osgood missed four games in the first half of the season and Owens missed three.
*Akwasi Owusu-Ansah could get his first NFL start at safety for the Jaguars Sunday. He played 71 of 72 plays in place of Dwight Lowery last Thursday after Lowery left the game with a shoulder injury that kept him out the previous week against Atlanta. Lowery has been limited in practice this week. "You just approach it the same way, as if you're going to be a starter," Owusu-Ansah said. "I always thought I've been good at preparing myself for the game. You just have to fulfill your role and do your job and everything will fall into place." Owusu-Ansah had five tackles against Atlanta. "I didn't expect it at all," he said of the extended playing time. "But it's something I've been preparing for. I didn't feel nervous or anything. I was just ready to go, so it was my time to step in."
*Tight end Marcedes Lewis did not practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury, while offensive tackle Guy Whimper also did not practice because of a knee injury. DE Matt Roth (concussion) and wide receiver Mike Thomas (concussion) did not practice, nor did wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring).
*Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (not injury related), fullback Greg Jones (knee), running back Maurice Jones-Drew (ankle) and Lowery were limited.