So what happened?
Last year’s Jaguars team was, according to Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, “one whistle away” from going to the Super Bowl. And with virtually the same players, some free agents and draft picks sprinkled in, the Jaguars fell on their face in 2018.
“Aren’t you going to fill other pieces in and try to be as good as you can be?” Coughlin said this week during his Jay Fund annual radio fundraiser. “Well, the nature of the game got us, so we go back to the drawing board. But I’ll put the gloves on with anybody that wants to talk about what [moves the team made].”
It is kind of amusing to hear Coughlin say “put the gloves on” (figuratively I’m sure) when questioned after he’s turned down numerous interview requests this year from local media, including mine. I get that he wants the team to “speak with one voice” (Doug Marrone’s) but with all of the personnel issues between injuries and lack of performance, explaining it away by saying it’s the “nature of the game” just isn’t enough. Injuries are part of the game and the inexact science of personnel decisions (i.e. Bryce Paup, Tory Holt, etc.) can make it a literal crapshoot.
Everything on the Jaguars defense was the same at the start of this year. They even used their first round pick on defense, selecting Taven Bryan, a defensive lineman. Eight players on the Jaguars defense have been selected to the Pro Bowl. Yet their production was significantly worse this year than last.
One piece that’s missing is Linebacker Paul Posluszny, who retired after last season. Poz is a beloved figure in Jaguars history. He and his family have stayed in Jacksonville where he hopes to live while attending graduate school to study for an MBA. (He’s already been accepted at three prestigious Universities)
When I talked to him this week, he quickly admitted that he hasn’t watched Jaguars football since Week Two. Not because he didn’t want to. He just couldn’t.
“First one or two games I was glued to the TV,” he said. “I wanted to watch every play, every minute. I couldn’t get enough. But I found I loved it too much.”
Admittedly struggling with his transition to “post-football” life, Paul spoke with one of his mentors who had the same difficulty leaving the Marine Corps.
“He said he had to disconnect, in a respectful way. And I had to do that. I wanted to be there more than I wanted to watch. So I haven’t watched for a couple months.”
But after two weeks of watching, Posluszny was convinced this Jaguars team was on their way to greatness.
“It’s going to be so awesome,” he said recalling the team’s 2-0 start. “Realizing it’s all the same people with some improvements, this team is going to win the Super Bowl.”
By coincidence, Poz stopped watching the Jaguars as the team’s problems began to show themselves. Despite a 3-1 start, locker room leaders knew they weren’t playing well and called two “players only” meetings. Injuries eroded the offense at wide receiver, the offensive line and tight end.
Despite not watching the games, Paul admits that injuries anywhere can cause all kinds of problems.
“There’s no doubt about that, especially when it’s a recurring theme,” he said. “The offense and the defense have to be so supportive of each other, if one gets skewed, the other side can’t do their job. That’s why it’s the ultimate team game.”
We’ve heard often from Head Coach Doug Marrone about “communication” issues on defense. It seems odd when that crew is made up of veteran players who are playing in the same system as 2017 when they were ranked second in the NFL.
How does that communication work? I asked the guy whose job it was to communicate last year.
“Getting the call from the sideline and getting it to the huddle is the simple part,” Posluszny explained. “Once the offense gets into their formation and motion, it can change what the defense does. It has to be seamlessly communicated from player to player.”
Then, without seeing any of the last nine games, Paul explained what can happen and what we’ve seen too often this year from the Jaguars defense.
“If there’s a guy who missed a call, that’s when you see blown coverages. That becomes a total group effort. The defensive backs and linebackers have to have crystal clear and simple communication. Everybody has to be completely confident in what coverage you’re in.”
And he was quick to point out that it would be unfair to point the finger at one or two players.
“The ‘Mike’ (middle) linebacker does the majority of it, but the entire linebacker corps and the defensive backs are all involved in the calls.”
When I noted that he accurately had explained what was going on, I asked if Telvin Smith and Myles Jack could be losing their effectiveness because of the other opponent’s game plan.
He doubted that theory.
“I know the way those guys study and the way the coaches prepare them, I know how much work they’re putting in,” he said. “Other teams are trying to make it hard for them but that’s what I love about them, they want to win.”
As the most disappointing season in Jaguars history plays out, Paul says he knows all too well about playing games that will bring the season to a finite end.
“It can be extremely challenging at times,” Poz said. “But we always had a core group of guys who were great professionals, regardless of the situation.”
“We still have a job to do. It’s hard late in the year. That’s when your true level of professionalism shows up. You’re playing for your team, your city, and your fans, regardless of the situation.”
Fans are angry as well as being disappointed. That feeling is not lost on the locker room according to Poz.
“We get it,” he explained “But our job is to compete at the highest level. We know all of Northeast Florida is better off when the Jaguars are winning. You saw what happened last year. You want that to continue. Not just for the players, but for everybody.”
Does the whole thing need to be blown up again? Without passing judgment, Posluszny doesn’t think so, simply because he believes in the strength of character at the core of the Jaguars locker room. He thinks it can be fixed.
“I think so,” he said. “Those guys are so powerful, Telvin, Calais, those guys are so powerful with a strong message, you can tell they love the game, the team, and they want to win. There’s no doubt they can find that.”