JACKSONVILLE – He's not where he wants to be. Not yet.
But as Paul Posluszny reflected on 2014 and looked toward what he says is a critical offseason and season, he said his return from a torn pectoral muscle that made the last few months the hardest of his NFL career is progressing nicely.
"I'm pretty much back to normal," Posluszny said Monday.
Back to normal doesn't mean back to ideal strength. The Jaguars' starting middle linebacker since 2011, Posluszny missed the last nine weeks of the season. Surgery meant a few more weeks than that away from his normal routine.
But now he is back to lifting, and if he's not lifting nearly as much as he did before the injury or as much as he will soon, he's moving normally and he's healthy.
As for the start of the offseason program in mid-April?
"I'll be 100 percent," he said. "That shouldn't be an issue for us."
Posluszny said that's good, not only because sitting out the last two and a half months of the season was as difficult as anything he has faced professionally, but because he realizes the Jaguars are entering a critical offseason – with a critical season waiting after that.
Posluszny, the lone defensive starter remaining from before Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley and David Caldwell took over in 2013, was clear on Monday he believes the Jaguars have improved significantly in the last two seasons. Yes, the team went 4-12 in 2013 and 3-13 this past season, but Posluszny said the talent has improved significantly. More speed. More depth. A promising draft class.
Were the Jaguars better in 2014 than 2013?
Yes, Posluszny said he no question believes that – and he believes, too, that the team's direction is unquestionably the correct one.
"I don't think there's any doubt about it," Posluszny said. "You get a sense that all the right pieces are being put in place. We have the quarterback of the future. We have the left tackle. Our defense is coming together. In the first couple of years (under Bradley and Caldwell), we were slowly building and now let's take that next step and really see some big improvements."
Still, Posluszny said the time for slow building and marginal progressions is over – and the part about needing a next step?
Well, that's a very true – and very significant – part.
"As players, we have to say, 'It's time to raise the bar for us and for our team,'" Posluszny said. "Coach Bradley has given us the correct mindset, and the way to approach things. From our perspective, we have to say, 'It's time to bring things to a different level and see the results we want as well.'"
That the Jaguars have the ability to raise that bar is something of which Posluszny said he is absolutely certain. He's just as sure that he appreciates the opportunity to be a part of raising it.
Posluszny's future has been a hot topic among Jaguars followers at the end of each of the past two seasons. His salary is large and his salary cap number is, too, but Posluszny made it clear at the end of last season he wanted to return and Caldwell and Bradley each just as clearly wanted him back. That's not something Posluszny takes for granted. Not even close.
That's not always how it is for veteran players.
It's especially not always how it is for veteran players who pre-date regimes.
"At this point in my career, I want to make sure I do everything I can so they say, 'OK, let's keep him another year because we want him part of the organization,'" Posluszny said. "You're fortunate to be in that spot."
And while Posluszny has never been unappreciative of his NFL opportunity, he said he enters this offseason a little more aware.
Posluszny for the most part has been healthy during his NFL career, particularly since joining the Jaguars. He missed 13 games as a rookie with the Buffalo Bills with an elbow injury, and then missed six more games in 2009 and 2010. In the first three years with the Jaguars, he missed just one game, missing a loss to Arizona in 2013 with concussion.
Missing time this past season was different than his rookie season, he said. He was a team captain, a veteran leader on a young team. Missing time meant not only missing time playing, it meant not being there for young teammates and a team – and a front office and coaching staff – that trusted him.
"This was the most difficult thing I've had to deal with in a long time in my NFL career," Posluszny said. "Being a team captain, then coming up short on my end, not being able to play, not being able to be with the guys … it makes you realize how much you love football when you can't do it.
"You feel like you're not doing your part to help the team and win. That wears on you."
Posluszny will get another chance at the game he loves next season, and he'll get a chance to do it with a team – and for a coach and a general manager – he believes in strongly. He'll also get a chance to do it with a team that, as he says, "has the greatest team atmosphere I've ever been a part of."
And none of that is anything Posluszny takes for granted. Not even close.