The Jaguars' new-era defense will be represented in the Pro Bowl by Marcus Stroud, who becomes the symbol of the defense's rise to prominence under new head coach Jack Del Rio.
"It means a lot. It was a goal I set for myself at the beginning of the season. There are other people who are deserving and didn't make it. I'm just glad to represent my team and the city of Jacksonville," Stroud said following today's practice.
He is the only Jaguars player selected to the AFC squad for the Feb. 8 game in Honolulu. It marks the first time Stroud has been named to the Pro Bowl, and he becomes the second Jaguars defensive tackle so honored. Gary Walker was named to the 2001 AFC team.
Tom Coughlin made Stroud the 13th pick of the 2001 draft, which produced several defensive tackles, including Georgia teammate Richard Seymour. Cleveland selected Gerard Warren, Pittsburgh drafted Casey Hampton and Detroit picked Shaun Rogers.
Seymour and Hampton were immediately successful, but Stroud struggled through much of his rookie season. He endured a long afternoon in Seattle in the fourth game of that season, when he was dominated by Seahawks rookie guard Steve Hutchinson, who the Jaguars had also considered for their first-round pick.
"I had a horrible game in the Seattle game," Stroud said, referring to that contest as one of two turning points in his career. Following that game he re-dedicated himself and his play gradually improved throughout the year.
The second turning-point game in Stroud's career occurred at midseason last year in New York, where Stroud suffered a minor knee injury when he was chop-blocked by Giants offensive lineman Mike Rosenthal. Stroud was enraged by what he considered to be a dirty tactic, though Rosenthal was not fined by the league. Stroud limped off the field, then returned to play the most inspired football of his young career.
"You have to hunt all of the time. That's the mentality I had. I wasn't playing as hard as I could to protect myself. From that day on, I played as hard as I could to protect myself," Stroud said in recalling that game.
Stroud climbed the ladder of respect for defensive tackles last season, but it was impossible to earn honors on a defense that was 25th in the league against the run. This year, the Jaguars are second in the league in run-defense and, as much as anything, that's the reason Stroud was named to the Pro Bowl. He is the symbol of the Jaguars' turnaround.
"He's representing our defense. We're making a name for ourselves. It's a start. It opens the door," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said of Stroud's selection.
"Very deserving; if anybody, I thought he was our top guy. Everything starts with the defensive line. If they play well, I'm going to play well," Peterson added.
Stroud came to training camp this past summer 10 pounds lighter than he had been in his first two seasons, and he's maintained that weight difference throughout the season. He's playing at 310 pounds. He also dedicated himself to being in better condition physically, and he credits his success to that.
"It helps my legs last a little longer," he said.
And of the overall improvement in his performance: "I can see things coming a little better before they happen," he added.
Through 14 games this season, Stroud ranks fourth on the team with 90 tackles (73 solo). He's second on the team with 4.5 sacks, and he's also credited with two forced fumbles and 31 quarterback pressures.