Chances are most Jacksonville Jaguars fans have already forgotten for which squad Paul Posluszny played last month in the Pro Bowl. What they’re far more likely to remember is that, thanks to withdrawls by San Francisco 49ers linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman following the NFC championship game, Posluszny became the first Jaguar defensive player to head to Honolulu since 2006.
Posluszny’s third year with the Jaguars saw him lead a group of linebackers that helped the defense recover from a rough first half of the regular season. In the first eight weeks, the Jaguars gave up an average of almost 162 yards on the ground, including games of 226 yards by the Oakland Raiders and 221 by the 49ers. But in their final eight games, that average dropped by 60 yards.
When Posluszny was unable to play against Arizona because of a concussion, the defense held the Cardinals to only 14 yards on 24 rushing attempts. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Carson Palmer lit them up for 419 passing yards.
Poszluszny and outside linebacker Russell Allen were among the few starters on defense remaining from a team which finished with a 2-14 record in 2012. The Jaguars doubled their win total in Gus Bradley’s first season as coach, but their defense still spent too much time on the field. Only three other teams gave up more third-down conversions, and only two teams had a greater disadvantage in time of possession.
Paul Posluszny, MLB — In addition to his first trip to the Pro Bowl, Posluszny scored the first touchdown of his seven-year NFL career against the Denver Broncos with a 59-yard return of an errant Peyton Manning pass. Despite playing in one fewer game than the year before, he increased the number of tackles in which he was involved from 139 to 161. Well-liked by teammates, coaches and fans, he is the closest thing to the face of the franchise.
Geno Hayes, OLB — The first of the seven unrestricted free agents signed last spring, Hayes was a bit of a steal for the Jaguars considering his two-year contract was reportedly worth less than $2 million. The former Florida State standout started the first 14 games before soreness in his right knee caused him to sit out the final two weeks. Even with the knee flaring up, he was able to return the second of his two interceptions 28 yards against Buffalo.
Russell Allen, OLB — A streak of 78 consecutive games played since being signed as an undrafted rookie in 2009 came to an end when a concussion sent Allen to the injured reserve list in December. His two fumble recoveries were second on the Jaguars only to tackle Sen’Derrick Marks. He is under contract for another year with them.
LaRoy Reynolds, MLB — Injuries to Hayes and Allen caused Reynolds to receive more playing time over the final two weeks. He was one of three undrafted rookies to open the season on their roster but had to sit out four games later on after being suspended by the league for violating its substance abuse policy.
J.T. Thomas, OLB — A week after being claimed off waivers from the Chicago Bears, Thomas accounted for the first points of the Jaguars’ season when he blocked a punt by Dustin Colquitt of the Kansas City Chiefs and the ball rolled through the end zone for a safety.
John Lotulelei, OLB — After playing against them in Week 3 while a member of the Seattle Seahawks, the Jaguars claimed Lotulelei off waivers Oct. 3. At 5-foot-11, he’s one of the shortest linebackers in the league.
Nate Stupar, MLB — Another player whom the Jaguars claimed off waivers after the regular season began. He was signed Nov. 4 after the 49ers let him go.
POSSIBLE FREE-AGENT TARGETS
It’s a thin crop of unrestricted free agents. Brian Orakpo of the Washington Redskins might be the most well-known name out there, although O’Brien Schofield of the Seattle Seahawks would be a more likely target considering he’ll probably be available at a bargain price.
BEST DRAFT OPTIONS
If the Jaguars don’t use the overall No. 3 pick on a quarterback, they might end up selecting Anthony Barr of UCLA, who’s a converted running back. Telvin Smith of Florida State had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, where Bradley and most of his staff were on hand to coach.
The lack of quality depth in this area was noticeable over the season’s final weeks. Posluszny is a Pro Bowl player and Allen is a classic overachiever, but neither one of them are indestructible.