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Not bad for starters


From one perspective, this was a perfect start.

Looking from a defensive lens, that's how Paul Posluszny saw the Jaguars' 16-14, grind-it-out-then-get-out victory over the Tennessee Titans in a sun-cooked, flag-draped 2011 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday.

Not perfect in an on-field sense.

The Jaguars made mistakes. They allowed a big play. And there were mistakes that against better teams, better quarterbacks and better-gelled offenses certainly would be more exposed.

But from Posluszny's view, that made Sunday perfect. Because while it was true that the Jaguars had flaws Sunday, they played well without playing perfect. That's something Polsuszny , a middle linebacker and one of a slew of defensive newcomers, and a lot of others in an optimistic Jaguars locker room Sunday took as a very good sign.

"There's room for improvement – there's a lot of room for improvement," Posluszny said after the Jaguars held Titans running back Chris Johnson – a 2,000-yard rusher two years ago – to 24 yards on the ground.

"The good thing defensively is we came out, got a win, and played well against the run against a big-time running team, so that was great. There are a lot of things we're going to be able to improve on as well, so that was good for us."

Such was the mood in the Jaguars locker room Sunday. It was a victory, and considering what the Jaguars had been through all week – the release of quarterback David Garrard and the subsequent criticism and pessimism -- any victory was very much needed.

But the truth is the mood of the locker room – and Sunday's result – didn't come as any sort of a surprise to those involved.

Because while observers and fans were gnashing their teeth over the release of Garrard and the rocky results of an overanalyzed preseason, the Jaguars never wavered on a couple of key points. One was that they still had a chance to be pretty good.

Another was that a reason they were going to be pretty good was the defense.

Posluszny. Linebacker Clint Session.

Defensive end Matt Roth. Safety Dawan Landry. Cornerback Drew Coleman.

Safety Dwight Lowery.

All had been added since the start of training camp, with the first five signing as free agents and Lowery being acquired in a trade, and the Jaguars believed the result would be a vastly improved unit from the one that finished 28th in the NFL a year ago.

At times last year, there were times the personnel just wasn't good enough defensively to win.

For all of the ups and downs and quick-draw analysis of the preseason, the Jaguars believed that making that no longer true couldn't help but make them significantly better this season.

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio was consistent throughout the preseason that if anything was true of this team it was that it was going to play good defense, that it would get back to the level it played from 2004-06, when it was perennially one of the NFL's best defenses.

Nothing he saw Sunday changed that.

"We have a good combination of veteran players who have been added to a good core of young players," Del Rio said. "We're going to play good defense again. It's been a number of years since I felt this way about us defensively. We're going to be a strong unit and I have a lot of confidence in that because of the players we acquired and the way they're attacking. The attention to detail and assignments; the little things that make a difference, the temperament they have. 

"They are going to want to go after people; they're going to be stout; they're going to shed blocks; they're going to strike; they're going to play with courage. We'll play together. Those are all things I've been seeing in practice and we'll continue to see.  It's just going to grow and we'll get better and gain confidence as the year goes on.

"We're going to become a heck of a football team and I think our defense will play a large role in that."

The Titans aren't the Saints and the Packers, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck may be past his prime, but running back Chris Johnson is one of the NFL's best. Two years ago, he rushed for more than 2,000 yards. On Sunday, he carried nine times for 24 yards.

The Titans as a team finished with 43 yards rushing on 13 carries, and though Hasselbeck threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, the Jaguars finished with two sacks, and applied enough pressure throughout to give you a good feeling about the pass rush moving forward.

"Get used to this," Jaguars defensive tackle Terrence Knighton said. "We're going to be relentless and we're going to fly around. We have the right type of guys in here. All this is a building block of what we can be on defense. We really feel like nobody is going to run on us. I've said it before, we want to be one of the best in the league. We just have to keep getting better from today."

It wasn't insignificant that the Jaguars did what they did Sunday without defensive end Aaron Kampman. The veteran defensive end, returning from a second ACL tear in two years, was unable to play Sunday.

Nor was it insignificant that many of the big plays came from new faces. Roth registered a sack on the game's first play. Coleman had a sack on a blitz later. Lowery's interception late ended the Titans' final drive.

Yes, this was only a first step. And yes, there were flaws, particularly an 80-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to Kenny Britt, continuing a preseason trend of allowing a long pass play each game.

Still, while the Jaguars didn't shut down one of the NFL's elite offenses, what they did was all they could do Sunday. They shut down the team they played, a team with an elite running game. They played well enough not only to win, but to make you think they have a legitimate chance of continuing to play legitimate defense.

And if that wasn't perfect, for openers, it wasn't bad.

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