This week, it was revealed that recently released Jaguars linebacker Russell Allen suffered a stroke on the field on December 15. He will never play football again. Sam Kouvaris and Cole Pepper talk about Allen and the impact that his story will have on the Jaguars and the NFL.
Reporting day at training camp is rarely eventful. Even with a new coaching staff, new players and a new look, the Jaguars first day of camp was rather uneventful. That should change tomorrow when the team takes the field for the first time.
This year’s version of the Jaguars has a wave of novelty, whether players, coaches, schemes, the logo, the jersey or the helmet, but on thing remains the same: training camp is a mental pressure cooker.
“I think that’s what training camp is for,” said linebacker Russell Allen. “We all know how to play football. It’s about making this harder than the game so the game seems easy.”
The Jaguars linebackers will have one new starter this year. Geno Atkins figures to replace the departed Daryl Smith. In the secondary, there will be three new starters–two of them likely rookies–with free safety Dwight Lowery as the lone returning starter from that position group.
“Training camp, when you are doing it day in and day out, you learn about a guy, not only on the field, but off the field,” said Lowery. “When there’s adversity, how they handle those situations. You learn a lot and it accelerates the learning process.”
The new Jaguars brass really focused on improving the lines in the off-season. While they made a number of moves in free agency on the defensive line, the most significant move on the offensive side was the drafting of Luke Joeckel. He’ll play right tackle while 5th year veteran Eugene Monroe anchors the left side. Monroe admits that he doesn’t feel like a grizzled veteran, but he found himself giving some advice like one.
“Just be yourself and do what got you here,” Monroe said. “[The biggest mistake is] trying to do something extra or extreme that is just unnecessary and in the end can be detrimental. Just stay hungry, stay focused and work. It’s a simple formula.”
While this day is old hat for veterans like Allen, Lowery and Monroe, nobody on the Jaguars can match the longevity of Brad Meester, who begins his 14th training camp, the longest tenure in team history.
Conversely, its the first training camp for Joeckel, who told me that his biggest goal for training camp was to settle into his new position.
“I just want to feel more comfortable at the right tackle position,” Joeckel said. “I need to be 100% comfortable there. I don’t want to go into the season knowing that my [comfort level on the right] is as good as it is on the left.”
For second round pick Jonathan Cyprien, his first camp figures to start a little later due to a leg injury sustained while training at home in Miami. He’s awaiting word from trainers to clear him to work. Then, he’ll be able to put some of the advice he has received from veterans to work.
“They tell me your rookie year is going to be the longest one,” Cyprien said. “They said it was going to be long, it’s going to be a grind, but everyone has gone through it.”
The Jaguars first practice is Friday at 9:55am. It is the first of eight sessions that are open to the public this year.
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.