by Cole Pepper
Paul Posluszny is back. So is Russell Allen. But there will be a big hole left in the Jaguars linebacking corps this year. Daryl Smith is gone.
Smith was the Jaguars Mr. Reliable over the past decade. From his rookie year in 2004 until the 2011 season, Smith never missed more than two games in a season, piled up tackles and collected rave reviews from everyone who played with or coached him.
Posluszny called him “our best defender” last season. That was when Smith, for the first time in his career, missed significant time due to a groin injury. Smith was a free agent this off-season and the new regime, including GM Dave Caldwell decided to let Smith explore his options. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens. At the age of 31, Smith still has some good years left in him, although most 31 year old linebackers are on the downhill slope of their time on the field.
So what are the Jaguars left with? Let’s start with this: the Jaguars linebackers are going to be asked to do some things a little differently this year with new head coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich installing a new system.
That begs the question: what are the linebackers expected to do? That may impact who makes up this group in the future, but for now, it is clear who the starters will be.
Posluszny, for one, will start in the middle. He authored one of the more memorable snapshots of the NFL season last year with his “bloody battle face” in Houston (see above). He’s the dictionary definition of a middle linebacker, although that definition may be changing in the NFL. Tough, smart, dedicated and chiseled from granite. If you were casting a middle linebacker for a movie, Posluszny is your guy. He also could have served as the stunt double for Thor until he cut his hair short.
Russell Allen has been an NFL success story. Undrafted out of San Diego State, he earned a spot on the roster playing special teams in 2009, working his way into spot duty at linebacker due to injuries. As each year passed, Allen improved as a player and he started every game last season. In his four years in the NFL, he’s never missed a game and has played all three linebacker positions in the 4-3.
The third linebacker spot will almost certainly be manned by free agent acquisition Geno Hayes. The former Florida State Seminoles signed with the Jaguars after one season with the Bears. He was originally drafted by Tampa Bay and played four years there. He has connections to both Bradley and Babich. Bradley was on the Buccaneers staff in 2009 when Hayes came into the league and Babich served as the Bears defensive coordinator in Hayes’ one and only season in Chicago.
As for the reserves, Julian Stanford is most intriguing. He showed some ability in the preseason last year and started six games for the Jaguars, but most of the time was taken off the field in nickle and dime situations. He bears watching.
As a group, the Jaguars have a chance to be solid at linebacker, but not spectacular. You can win with that formula if the pass rush and pass coverage stands out. That’s exactly what the Jaguars coaches are hoping for this year.
Projected Linebacker Depth Chart: