It's no secret Jaguars general manager Gene Smith wanted to upgrade the defense in 2011 and one of his main areas of focus was at linebacker. Through nine games, it appears the Jaguars have found the perfect combination in Daryl Smith, Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, with all three playing the position that suits them best. Both Session and Posluszny were signed as unrestricted free agents and joined Smith, who is in his eighth season with the Jaguars.
Smith is the only starter on defense who has been with the club for the past four seasons and he ranks second on the team with 98 tackles, two away from marking his sixth straight season with 100-plus stops. In addition, he leads the team with eight tackles for loss along with 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one quarterback pressure.
Posluszny was a top priority for the Jaguars in free agency and his addition has played a major role in the defense ranking fourth heading into Sunday. The fifth-year pro leads the team with 111 tackles, with double-digit tackles in seven games, and has missed only one snap in nine games. In two of the last three games he has combined for 31 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception and split a sack last Sunday at Indianapolis. * *
Session, who played against the Jaguars for four seasons with the Colts, is the fastest of the group and also brings a physical presence to the unit. After missing 11 games a year ago with an elbow injury, he has played in eight games for the Jaguars and produced 38 tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
I caught up with the Jaguars general manager and the linebacker trio this week to talk about their first season together and what each brings to the defense.
On Paul Posluszny
Clint Session –"Paul brings his technique and fundamentals to work with him every single day. Whenever you are wondering how you are going to do it, you can always look to Paul and he will be showing you how to do it. I look forward to seeing Paul every day because he reminds me to bring that fundamental mindset."* *
Gene Smith – "Paul is a true 4-3 middle backer with top read and react skills. He's a physical downhill player with outstanding range for his size to chase ball carriers down outside the tackle box. He's a three-down player with good awareness in zone coverage. He has a competitive spirit and will assert himself in the huddle and when making pre-snap adjustments, and his teammates are very confident in him getting them lined up properly."
Daryl Smith – "He is someone that I can trust and I know he's going to be in the right place. There are times where I have blockers coming my way and I may not make it but I know if I go in he's coming right behind me. He's fast, physical and he will strike you when he gets there."
On Daryl Smith
Gene Smith – "Daryl is a true 4-3 Sam linebacker and the most versatile linebacker we have, as he can and has played all three positions for us. I would say throughout his career he's been as reliable and plays as consistent as Brad Meester. He has tremendous natural strength to stack and shed blocks. The strongside backer must be stout enough to play on the line of scrimmage over a tight end at times and athletic enough to displace and man-cover offensive skill players."
Paul Posluszny – "The thing about Daryl is he is such a well-rounded and talented linebacker. He can do everything. When it's 11 personnel and we have him come in during passing situations he can cover a tight end. When we want the pressure he can pressure and beat a back. He's very physical in the run game. He's able to do everything on the field for us."
Clint Session – "I have really learned how he approaches the game. He's a savvy guy and he has nothing but consistent and positive qualities. Whatever he's doing it's something I'm going to model myself after because it's got him eight years and counting. He approaches the game like a true pro."
On Clint Session
Daryl Smith –"Watching him the past few years with the Colts, any time you would turn on the film he was flying to the ball. When he was getting there, bad stuff was happening and he was destroying ball carriers."* *
Paul Posluszny –"Clint is that special player who can make the big plays and that's why it's great to have him on the field. He's very fluid and moves very well. He's a guy that is going to get a big hit, big play, he ignites the whole defense with his passion and his personality."* *
Gene Smith – "Clint is a true 4-3 Will linebacker with speed and space ability. He's got a knack for run and pass blitzing, as he knows how to time his blitzes and can dip and rip to get narrow in a gap, which allows him to effectively penetrate and be disruptive. He's MJD playing defense, because he's built low to the round and is explosive on contact. He's the fastest linebacker we have and he plays the game with combative intent. "
Pro Bowl voting
In the latest Pro Bowl fan voting, Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee ranks second among AFC kickers and running back Maurice Jones-Drew is fourth among running backs. Scobee and Jones-Drew are the only Jaguars ranked among the top five at their respective positions.
2012 Pro Bowl voting will continue online and on web-enabled mobile phones by going to NFL.com/probowl through Monday, December 19. The teams will be announced on Tuesday, December 27. The 2012 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 29 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Enjoy the present
The talk in Jacksonville for the last couple of years is about the club pursuing an elite pass rusher through the draft or free agency. The Jaguars acquired two-time Pro Bowl selection Aaron Kampman in 2010 and he had four sacks in his first eight games before suffering a knee injury. Kampman is working his way back into the rotation. But it's hard to overlook the production of fourth-year defensive end Jeremy Mincey.
Mincey was given the opportunity to play extensively in 2010 and he has produced solid numbers the last two seasons. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks and 24 quarterback pressures through nine games including a career-high 2.5 sacks last Sunday at Indianapolis. He is looking to become only the seventh player in franchise history with at least five sacks in back-to-back seasons and the first since Bobby McCray and Rob Meier accomplished the feat from 2006-07.
In his first season as a starter in 2010, Mincey led the team with five sacks and ranked second with 25 quarterback pressures despite playing part of the season with a broken hand.
The Jaguars have at least two sacks in seven of nine games and are six sacks shy of eclipsing their total for 2010 (26). Thirteen different players have combined for the club's 21 sacks with 13.5 coming from the linemen. Only nine players had a sack in 2010.
Gabbert finds his groove in second half
Blaine Gabbert wasn't pleased with his performance in the first half last Sunday against Indianapolis as he completed six of 12 passes for 48 yards with one interception for a 25.7 rating. Gabbert didn't duplicate the effort in the second half; he finished eight of nine passing for 70 yards with a touchdown in the second half for a 136.1 rating. In the third quarter, Gabbert posted a 139.6 passer rating as he hit on four of five passing attempts including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jarett Dillard.
Smith likes where defense is after nine games
Linebacker Daryl Smith is happy the defense is ranked fourth in the NFL after nine games in yards allowed, but he is far from satisfied. Smith remembers all too well the last four seasons when the unit was not in the top 10.
The Jaguars finished 28th in total defense a year ago and have made tremendous strides without an offseason of work.
"When we were going through that low we were just trying to find a way to get back," Smith said. "I'm happy to be a part of it and have a chance to see it turn around through nine games. We are really just scratching the surface and I think we can be even better if we get everybody healthy.
"We will start trusting each other more and I'm talking about everybody, secondary trusting the linebackers, linebackers trusting the line then it becomes contagious. Hopefully we will continue to get better and feed off each other."
Did you know?
Through nine games the Jaguars have lost only once when they had a positive turnover differential ( 1, New Orleans).
MJD inching closer to franchise record
Maurice Jones-Drew enters Sunday's game only two touchdowns short of tying Jimmy Smith (69) for the second-most in franchise history. Fred Taylor owns the franchise record with 70. Jones-Drew has a touchdown in back-to-back games.
Jones-Drew is looking for his third 100-yard rushing game on the road and fourth overall. He has rushed for 100 yards in his last four games in November. He needs 73 rushing yards to have the most in franchise history after the first 10 games. He holds the record with 926 in 2009.
The Jaguars and Browns are meeting for the fourth consecutive season including the second time in the last three seasons in Cleveland. The Jaguars are 5-1 in games at Cleveland with their only loss in the 2009 season finale. The Jaguars have a 41-28 record against all four teams currently in the AFC North, with a winning record against each team: Cincinnati (11-7), Cleveland (9-4), Baltimore (10-7) and Pittsburgh (11-10). The Jaguars are 8-9 against AFC North opponents under head coach Jack Del Rio including a 1-2 mark in 2011.
Points don't come easy
The Jaguars rank fourth in the NFL with only 155 offensive points allowed through nine games (17.2). Only four opponents have eclipsed 20-plus points, the second-fewest in the NFL, and the defense has allowed seven or fewer points in two of the last three games. Last Sunday the Jaguars held the Colts to their lowest scoring output since September 14, 1997 against Seattle.
The Jaguars have allowed only 10 points in the first half of the last three games and 34 total points (11.3 avg.) in the last three games.
Recipe for success
There are similarities in all three of the Jaguars' wins in 2011: winning the turnover and sack differential. The Jaguars own a plus-three turnover differential and a plus-two sack differential in their three wins. In their six losses, the Jaguars have a combined minus-three turnover differential and minus-five sack differential. The only loss for the Jaguars through nine games with a positive turnover differential was New Orleans ( 1) in week four.
In winning two of the last three games, the Jaguars have recorded a plus-three turnover differential (7 takeaways, 4 giveaways) and sack differential (10 sacks, 7 sacks allowed).
There are 22 new faces among the 53 players on the Jaguars' current roster. Here is the breakdown.
Unrestricted Free Agents (6) - CB Drew Coleman, S Dawan Landry, LB Paul Posluszny, DE Matt Roth, LB Clint Session, G/C Jason Spitz
Veteran Free Agents (4) - DE John Chick, P Nick Harris, DE George Selvie, CB Ashton Youboty
Waivers (1)- WR Brian Robiskie
First-year (2) - TE Fendi Onobun, WR Chastin West
Trade (1) - DB Dwight Lowery
Draft Choices (4) - QB Blaine Gabbert, G/C Will Rackley, WR/RS Cecil Shorts, S Chris Prosinski Undrafted Rookies (4) - OT Cameron Bradfield, CB T.J. Heath, LB Mike Lockley, CB Kevin Rutland