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Stronger down the middle

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He smiled wearily, yet happily.

This was General Manager Gene Smith early Friday evening, just before the team made official several free agent signings that drastically altered the makeup of not only the Jaguars' defense, but of the offensive line, too:

Linebacker Paul Posluszny, linebacker Clint Session, offensive guard/center Jason Spitz . . .

All officially became Jaguars early Friday evening.

As they did, a week for which Smith had waited and planned for more than four months neared a satisfying, optimistic end.

"This week has been good pain," Smith told jaguars.com. "It's like when you haven't run in six months and you get out there and you have to run a 10k or a 5k. You know what the objective is and you know what you want to get done, but going in, there's a level of unknown of what you can get done."

Smith, after using the first three selections in the 2011 NFL Draft on offense, said throughout the rest of the off-season that the once free agency began, the Jaguars would address defense in free agency, potentially targeting multiple starters at linebacker and one at safety.

The Jaguars did just that, with Posluszny – a 2007 second-round selection by the Buffalo Bills – expected to start in the middle and Session – a 2007 fourth-round selection by Indianapolis – expected to be the weak-side starter.

 "The goal going in was to get stronger down the middle of our defense at the second and third level," Smith said. "That's what I expressed after our post-season roster evaluation that the player personnel and coaching staff went through. I think it's very important to know your team first, and then put a plan in place. It takes a little bit of luck, and I've said it before in the draft: you make some of your luck by how you prepare.

"Without question, I think we've done some things on defense that will allow our team to take the next step."

Smith said the trio also will fit into the Jaguars' locker room in terms of their approach to the game on and off the field.

"I tell the scouts, 'Talent identifies the prospect, then adding character and competitiveness identifies a Jaguar,'" Smith said. "I really believe the players we're bringing in – what we've identified in them as players and as people, when they walk into our locker room they'll identify that in our players – and in turn, they'll identify it in them.

"A big thing for me is chemistry. You have some players who are coming in as players for the first time, and some of them have a good reputation in the league as players. I think they'll mesh well with what we have here."

Posluszny, Session and Spitz are 26, 26 and 28, respectively, which puts them in what Smith considers the Jaguars' ideal range for free agents – i.e., players entering their second contracts who are still in ascension.

"The goal when you're trying to acquire a starter is to get somebody coming into the prime of their career so that we get their best," Smith said.

The Jaguars' heavy foray into free agency came in perhaps the most unusual off-season in NFL history. In this season, unlike past seasons, pro free agency occurred after the draft. Smith said the promise of a strong defensive free agent class influenced the overall off-season approach.

 "To me, it was OK, because some of the positions in the draft weren't as strong as pro free agency," Smith said. "If you stay true to best-available player in the draft whether pro free agency is before or after really isn't going to impact much anyway."

Smith said because of the circumstances surrounding the off-season, free agents could have added value compared to rookies. Whereas a rookie because of the 136-day lockout is just getting acclimated to the NFL, a free agent should join a new team relatively ready to play and contribute immediately.

 "They (rookies) just got the playbook when they showed up (this week), with the exception of (quarterback) Blaine (Gabbert)," Smith said. "The thought was with the anticipation of a possible lockout – and it being an extended period of time we could miss – you were better with less draft picks knowing you were going to be active in pro free agency.

"The vets could come in and learn it right away. They have been in an NFL system. They know the rosters."

General Manager Gene Smith discusses the three free-agent signings announced by the Jaguars Friday:

PAUL POSLUSZNY

Projection:Likely will start at middle linebacker.

Quick look: A fifth-year veteran, Posluszny (6-feet-1, 238 pounds) originally was selected in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, with whom he played his first four seasons. Posluszny, who played collegiately at Penn State, started 44 of 44 games for the Bills, registering 100 or more tackles each of the last three seasons. He has four career interceptions, three sacks, 14 passes defenses and four forced fumbles with a fumble recovery. He also led the Bills in tackles each of the last two seasons.

Says Smith:"If you did him coming out of college, he was a very productive Mike 'backer in a 4-3 scheme. Obviously, they (the Bills) became a 3-4 team. I personally think his fit and where he feels more comfortable is as a middle linebacker in a 4-3. I think this was attractive for him for a number of reasons. We had done a lot of work on him coming out, so he knew our staff: Mark Duffner and Jack Del Rio. He had trained with Luke Richesson, so that was natural. We did interview him when he came out, but I think he saw (now) an opportunity to get with a team that is stable at the top, from an ownership standpoint and certainly a chance where he feels it's an ascending football team where he'll ultimately have a chance to win a Super Bowl. I think he feels there's a definite commitment being made that way. We fit what he wants, the type of environment he wants to be in. We have a group of defensive tackles who can enable him to in essence play clean and line up over the ball and be involved in the majority of plays. Mike linebacker should be our leading tackler. I think this just looked like a mutual fit for him in a lot of ways."

CLINT SESSION

Project:Likely will start at weak side linebacker.

Quick look:A fourth-year veteran from Pittsburgh, Session (6-0, 235) originally was selected in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft by Indianapolis and he spent his first four seasons with the Colts. He played mostly a reserve role in 2007, moving into the starting lineup at strong side linebacker in 2008. He started 15 games in '08, then moved to weak side 'backer in 2009, where he started 13 games. He started the first give games last season before sustaining an elbow injury that kept him out the rest of the season.

Smith on Session:"He has played well against us, No. 1. He's an explosive player. He plays with an edge and an attitude. Him and Poz have the ability and the skill set to play every down. I know he saw an immediate fit. He's really a Will in a 4-3, so it's a fit. He has a chance to stay in a division he knows very well. He is from the state of Florida, so it's a little bit of a coming home. Again, it's about fit. He fit the scheme."

JASON SPITZ

Projection:Likely will compete at guard and/or center.

Quick look:Spitz (6-3, 305), who played collegiately at Louisville, is a Jacksonville native who played at The Bolles School and was originally selected by Green Bay in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He spent five seasons with the Packers, starting 45 of 65 games, with 37 starts at guard and eight at center.

Smith on Spitz: "He has a lot of starts in the NFL. He can play center as well as guard. He's a guy who's a good fit here, he has played all three spots inside, he has the right makeup and was a teammate of Aaron Kampman's (in Green Bay). We did a lot of work on him coming out of Louisville and he just happens to be from Jacksonville, so again, it's a fit. It's not just a fit for him. It's a fit for us. When you get a chance to match up with players in pro free agency, you want it to become a marriage."

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