At the linebacker position, Gene Smith sees the undeniable reality.
The reality is this:
The Jaguars need to improve in the area, and need to do so by next season. But Smith – who is entering his third season as the Jaguars' general manager -- said while that's true, it's just as true that there is strength at the position.
That's primarily because of the presence of Daryl Smith.
Smith, an eight-year NFL veteran and a second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft from Georgia Tech, has been during seven professional seasons everything a team wants in a veteran defensive leader.
What he hasn't been is outspoken and vocal, but while describing the linebacker recently, the Jaguars' general manager offered significantly high praise to a player who is as quiet and understated off the field as he is productive on it.
"Daryl Smith to our defense is what (veteran center) Brad Meester is to our offense," Smith said recently in an interview for this story on the Jaguars' linebackers, part of a position-by-position series on the team's roster running on jaguars.com.
That, the general manager, is not only about what he does on the field, but the example he sets on and off it. Because while Smith the linebacker doesn't say much publicly, nor is he particularly demonstrative or honored nationally, Smith the general manager said the linebacker's strengths go beyond post-season awards.
"They're two players (Smith and Meester) who if there is one word on them it's 'steady,''' Smith said. "They play winning football virtually every week. They're probably the two most consistent, reliable players since I've been here.
"You know they're on the field by the way they play. Neither one of them are outgoing. But they're probably the two most-consistent players throughout their career that I've been around."
Smith, who has started at middle linebacker and outside, has missed just four games in seven NFL seasons, and has started 106 of a possible 112 games during that span. He is the Jaguars' all-time leading tackler with 918 and three times has led the team in tackles.
One of those seasons was 2010, when Smith registered 156 tackles according to team statistics, including 109 solo tackles. He had 3.5 sacks, a half sack short of his career high, and also had a forced fumble, an interception, four passed defensed and eight tackles for loss.
"Daryl Smith is an every-down linebacker who is both consistent and versatile," Smith said. "Throughout his career he has made his presence felt more by his on-field performance than by words."
Smith called the rest of the linebacker group more uncertain, with one high-profile question area being the future of linebackers Justin Durant and Kirk Morrison. While Durant won't return, Smith said Morrison could have an opportunity to do so.
Morrison, acquired in a draft-day trade for a fourth-round selection from the Oakland Raiders in 2010, has started 95 consecutive games, including 16 last season for the Jaguars. He finished the season second on the Jaguars in tackles with a career-high 141.
"Kirk is a true middle linebacker-type who brought 79 starts and vocal leadership to our linebacker group last year," Smith said. "Daryl and Kirk are two experienced and trusted veterans with passion for their profession."
While Smith said Morrison likely will test free agency, he said the Jaguars have told Morrison to maintain contact during that period with the idea he might return. The ongoing lockout makes that a greater possibility than it might be in a normal year, Smith said.
"What happens with this unique year we're in is there's a short window to go somewhere else and learn a new system and get evaluated and have a chance to compete and make a roster," Smith said. "To him, it might be in his best interest to stay here."
Smith said Morrison had a solid season in 2009 for the Raiders, and played well in spots for the Jaguars last season, particularly in games against Oakland and Cleveland.
"Most of the year before he played as he did in those two games," Smith said. "He came here and there was a new system and a new adjustment, but he has started almost every game in his career. He has been very durable and is passionate about his profession."
Russell Allen has started nine games the past two seasons after making the team as a rookie free agent in 2009. He had four tackles for loss last season, and Alvin Bowen spent two games on the roster at a position Smith has said throughout the off-season will be addressed in professional free agency.
While many analysts expected the Jaguars to select a linebacker in the draft, Smith said in late April and early May that the position will be better addressed in the free agent market. He also said he expects that position, along with the safety position, to improve before the start of the 2011 season.
"We'll add one or two guys," Smith said of the linebacker position. "We need to be more productive down the middle of our defense at the second and third levels."