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Peterson pays dividend


The Jaguars spent a lot of money on Mike Peterson, then they raised a lot of eyebrows when they moved that money to middle linebacker. Middle linebacker? For a 6-1, 230-pound guy who had never played the position?

And in the early weeks of the season, critics of that move were saying, "I told you so." But that changed at midseason, when Peterson began raising eyebrows for all of the right reasons. As a result of his strong second-half-of-the-season showing, Peterson has been selected as Jaguars Inside Report's Jaguars defensive player of the year.

"It was something I felt I could do and wanted to do. I felt I could show my athletic ability more than playing the weakside," Peterson said of making the position switch.

He had only ever been a weakside linebacker. At Florida and with the Indianapolis Colts, Peterson's reputation was that of a "run-around Wil" whose speed overcame his lack of size. The last thing anyone expected was for the Jaguars to move their prized free-agent acquisition out of position.

But head coach Jack Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith saw something in Peterson that led them to make the move. After seeing Peterson play the position in spring drills, Del Rio and Smith decided to make the move permanent.

"Too often, people get concerned with perameters. There are a number of examples throughout the league of guys who don't have the size-speed measurable. It's all about production and Mike is a very, very productive player," Smith said.

How about this production? Peterson was the Jaguars' total-tackles leader and also led the team in interceptions with three. He had six passes-defensed, four tackles for loss, three quarterback pressures, a sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

But most importantly, his production spiked in the second half of the season, when he began playing what might be the best middle linebacker in the franchise's history. And it's no coincidence the overall performance of the defense spiked with Peterson.

"Mike has become the leader of the defense," Smith said. "He's stepped up and has been the signal-caller. He's who everyone in that huddle has to feed off and he's done a pretty good job."

"Indianapolis was when I (started) rolling. Sometime around Baltimore is when I said, 'I got this,'" Peterson said of the midway point in the season.

Until then, there was a hesitation in Peterson's performance. He was learning a new position. He was being asked to do things weakside linebackers aren't expected to do. He was having to take on blocks and shed, then go find the ball.

"There was a lot of adjustment to it; taking on blocks, getting off blocks, learning the scheme. I feel like I'm still learning the position. I'm definitely not at the top of my game," Peterson said.

And that may be the best news of all. He believes he has another level in him.

"Doing everything 100 percent; no hesitation as far as taking on the scheme, and instead of thinking, 'I've got this guy or I've got that guy.' Leadership is going to come when I feel 100 percent sure of what I need to do," he said.

"As he became more comfortable, his production rose significantly. He has a real good feel for the run," Smith said. "He's still learning. When he sees something and it's the first time he's seen it, it doesn't happen to him twice."

Peterson and defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson form an interior triangle that is the foundation of the Jaguars' future on defense. It begs comparison to what Del Rio and Smith enjoyed in Baltimore, where Ray Lewis benefited from the awesome presence of defensive tackles Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams.

"I tease them; let me make some more plays," Peterson said of Stroud and Henderson. "They keep guys off me. It's one thing having two big guys in front of you. It's another thing having two big guys who can run."

All of this makes for a very bright future for the Jaguars defense, which joined the ranks of the league's elite defenses this year. The Jaguars were the league's second-ranked run-defense; first in average yards allowed per rushing attempt.

"The scariest thing about it is we're making mental errors. These are things we can correct. The sky is the limit, as far as what we can be. There's not really a weak spot on this defense," Peterson said.

Previous defensive players of the year are: Marcus Stroud, 2002; Seth Payne, 2001; Gary Walker, 2000; Aaron Beasley, 1999; Kevin Hardy, 1998; Jeff Lageman, 1997; John Jurkovic, 1996; Harry Colon, 1995.

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