It's 9 a.m. on Monday and the Jaguars weight room is full of life with several players sweating through a workout and music is blaring through the speakers. Most of the players in attendance are rehabbing from last year's injuries including Eben Britton, Ashton Youboty, Zach Miller and Derek Cox.
It's hard not to do a double-take when linebacker Paul Posluszny comes into sight. Posluszny is a regular visitor to the weight room but he's now sporting a sling over his left shoulder, just two weeks following surgery. While shoulder exercises are prohibited right now, the former Penn State linebacker is concentrating on cardio and his lower body.
Posluszny is doing what he does best, leading by example. It's one of the reasons he was the top target for Jaguars general manager Gene Smith in free agency in 2011. Posluszny proved to be the perfect fit for the Jaguars, leading the team with 192 tackles which were the second-most in team history. He played all but one snap for the Jaguars until injuring his shoulder in the season finale. His only missed snap prior to the last game was when his shoe came off in week two at the Jets.
The 2011 season was a tough one for all involved with the club's 5-11 record, changes in coaching staff and ownership. Poslusnzy also had to deal with the situation at his alma mater, Penn State, where legendary head coach Joe Paterno lost his job and passed away earlier this month.
For all the adversity, Posluszny is ready to move forward to the 2012 season in which the Jaguars' sixth-ranked defense is expected to return its core group of players. Injuries decimated the group but leadership prevailed to keep the unit one of the NFL's best.
I sat down with Posluszny to discuss a variety of topics this week including his love for Jacksonville, the two defensive tackles playing in front of him, Blaine Gabbert, and how the defense maintained its focus throughout the season.
*Let me begin by asking a question I probably already know the answer to. Have you had a chance to relax the last month? *
The surgery on my shoulder changed that a little bit but even with the rehab in the morning, I still have time off the rest of the day to enjoy Jacksonville, spend some time at the beach, so it's been nice.
You enjoying life on the First Coast?
I really do. You can't beat the weather. You wake up every day and it's gorgeous. It's a nice area with really good people. I'm really comfortable down here and my family loves it. My parents are already talking about how they want to retire down here. They made it to about every home game and they love being down here.
I see you in the weight room with one arm in a sling. Is it fair to say it would be impossible for you to just relax for a couple months? You don't seem wired that way.
I can go three weeks and then I start to get antsy. You get the itch to go work out, get some movement, just to try and keep a baseline. I don't like to sit around for too long because I feel like I get out of my routine. The next thing you know I start to lose weight so it's better for me to be active.
Have you had a chance to talk with new head coach Mike Mularkey?
We got to sit down and talk for about 10 minutes and you get a great feel for his energy and the passion he is going to bring to us. He has a great plan, a great idea of what he wants to do with this team. It's exciting to have a guy who really has a strong desire to be here and he wants us to be as successful as we can be as players.
The coaching staff is complete and includes two coaches that mean a lot to you in linebackers coach Mark Duffner and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. How nice is it to have those guys back for 2012?
It's great because we're coming off a situation where we had some turnover on the staff. To have the core guys on our defense back is unbelievable. It's such a great thing for our defense to have Coach Tucker lead our defense and continue to do a great job. Personally for me and the linebackers, Coach Duff really means a lot to us. He's a great linebacker coach and a great guy. We're really excited he's going to be with us.
It's a pretty unique situation in the NFL these days that you will have all three starting linebackers back in 2012 with Daryl Smith and Clint Session. Is that a first for you?
This will be the first time for me. We will know our core group of guys. We got to work together for a year and we can continue to build on that. That is really exciting to know that you're going to be lining up with these guys on a consistent basis.
*Let me take you back to last season, which I know is one you would like to forget. So many different things happened with this team and for you personally. You were a free agent for the first time, the head coach gets fired during the season, the owner sells the team and then you have the situation at Penn State. *
I don't think I will ever go through that again with that amount of changes. You can go all the way back to the lockout, trying to make a quick decision in free agency so you can get to camp and then not being able to compete right away because of certain rules in the collective bargaining agreement. The beginning of the offseason and then the season itself with the type of season we had. Coming into Jacksonville I thought David Garrard was going to be the starting quarterback. I competed against him before and have a lot of respect for him. I thought he was going to be the guy and we decided to make a change there then we make a change with the head coach, ownership; the amount of things that changed in one year I don't think will ever happen again. Plus, we had a lot of guys placed on injured reserve.
I thought it was a testament to the defense to lose four starters (Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Matt Roth, Clint Session) in consecutive weeks and still finish sixth at the end of the year. What happened behind the scenes to keep this defense on the right track?
The coaches did a great job of devising a plan for us. They looked at our strengths and weaknesses and said, 'This is what we can do with these guys on the field.' That would change a little bit from week to week depending on who was healthy and who wasn't. They did a great job of putting a plan together where they knew the players on the field could execute these specific defenses. We also had a good core group of guys that stuck together. Daryl Smith played unbelievable all year. Our interior lineman played well. Tyson played well when he was in there. Terrance (Knighton) got nicked a little bit but you could count on him when he was in there. Jeremy Mincey and Dawan Landry were solid. We had a core group of guys that were able to stick together and stay healthy all year long. That really helped out.
Speaking of the interior linemen. You have played with and seen a lot of players during your time in this league. How special can the duo of Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu be moving forward?
They can be such a great tandem because they work so well together. Terrance is a big, strong body in the middle of the field that commands two blocks. Tyson is able to do some different things athletically that most three techniques can't do. It's a great combination to have because they are very talented and they can do different things that not a lot of players at those positions can do.
How quick did you make your decision in free agency?
Twenty-four hours. Once it started, certain teams called right away and we narrowed it down to the organizations we want to be a part of and where we could see us being a good fit. It really came down to having a great feeling about Jacksonville and the people here. It really was basically just talking on the phone with them, Coach Duff, Coach Tucker and Gene Smith. You get a feel for the people you are going to be dealing with and then you make a decision.
You have talked in the past about the Jaguars' recruiting pitch and what Gene Smith said to you. Did all those things ring true in your first year?
Gene stressed when I talked to him that he wants high character guys that are dedicated to winning football games, not anything else. That's what we have and that showed when things didn't go right this year. It could have very easily been a situation where the guys folded when we knew we weren't going to make the playoffs and just stopped competing. That wasn't the case at all. We have too many high character guys that want to do things the right way all the time.
Being around you for a year, I can tell you're not a real vocal guy off the field. But it appeared it didn't take you long to step into a leadership role even though it was your first season with the club. Was that more of the nature of the position where you were calling the defense?
I think part of it is being the mike linebacker and calling the defense, making all the checks. You have to have some presence in the huddle. Honestly I knew coming in there were veteran guys on this defense and I didn't feel like it was right to just step in and say, 'Hey, I'm the guy.' I didn't want to take that attitude at all. When you have guys like Daryl Smith, Aaron Kampman and Rashean Mathis, those are veteran guys that have been around the league for a long time. I wanted to look to those guys first for their leadership and they did a great job.
Have you always been a lead by example person?
I'm not vocal. I would very much rather just lead by example. Do things the right way and let my actions do the majority of the talking for me.
*The defense was upgraded in the offseason with the addition of five unrestricted free agents and safety Dwight Lowery was acquired in a trade. With that many new faces and the lockout, it was a tough task for this defense to mesh that many guys into the lineup in a short amount of time. *
We all stuck to the plan and we knew when we looked around that we had a lot of different faces and guys that had been with other teams. We all knew we were a bunch of players and all these guys can get to the ball and they are all fast and physical. We knew that once we started to communicate and work together as a group that we could be a big-time defense. We've got a lot of excitement going into this year because we have a core group of guys coming back. We will have an offseason to learn together and work together so we're excited about that opportunity.
I remember a lot of doubts in the preseason after the club finished 31st in defense. Do you remember the questions early on?
It was tough in the beginning. We barely knew each other's name. It's tough in the beginning but we had confidence in each other and our abilities. Once we started to mesh together as a group then everything came together.
Let's switch over to the offensive side of the ball and talk about someone you faced in practice every day this year, Blaine Gabbert. I know you came into the league with Trent Edwards at Buffalo, another young quarterback that was thrust into a starting role. What do you see in Blaine's future?
I think he has the potential to be a great NFL quarterback. He has all the physical tools. I have said it before but he's got that moxie. He's got courage. I like his attitude because he knows he can be successful and he wants to do whatever it takes to get to that level. Obviously this year was tough for any rookie quarterback, especially with all the uncertainty he had to go through in his particular situation. It would be tough to expect a lot from him. I know in the future he's going to learn and will be a great quarterback for us.
The NFL is becoming such a passing league. You look at the Super Bowl on Sunday and it features two of the best quarterbacks in the game in Eli Manning and Tom Brady. Do you feel offenses are more geared toward passing the ball now?
For our position, the backbone of it is always going to be you have to play physical in the run game when they do run the ball. We're going to have adapt more and more to these advanced passing attacks that we face every year. It's becoming more of a thing we are going to have to work on, being in coverage, understanding routes, linebackers blitzing, being able to rush the passer. So it's another challenge. That's the way the game is adapting and going to so we're going to have to go with it.
You have now played five seasons in the NFL but yet to play in a postseason game. How difficult is it to watch these games with you not being a participant?
I watch all the games. I try to learn something and watch other linebackers play. I like to see how the opposing offenses are attacking the defenses they're playing against. We all want to be in those games so bad. I watch them but all I can think about is next year and being in that spot.
Personally I know the Penn State situation was tough on you. Have you spent time talking to a lot of former players? Are you confident Penn State can move forward and get back to where it was?
I think so. The tradition of the program is so rich and so important to a lot of different people. The new staff will do things the right way, the Penn State way, and it will continue to be a great program. It might take a couple of years, especially to rebuild that tradition and that brand. In the end, I think Penn State will continue to be an excellent program.
How much influence did Joe Paterno have on you as a person? Two different worlds from when I came there and when I left, from how to act and how to handle yourself in a professional way. That is where he made his biggest impact on people. He knew he was preparing us for life other than football. Obviously he did a great job with the football, aspect but he was preparing us for everything else.