Jags Linebackers – Core of the Defense


A lot has been said about Jacksonville’s pass rush.  A lot has been said about Jacksonville’s secondary.  But not a lot gets said about the Jaguars second-level defense: the linebackers.

Even for Jags fans, the linebackers rarely get attention outside of saying how underrated outside linebacker Daryl Smith is. Paul Posluszny receives some attention (mostly for his big signing last offseason), and Clint Session may as well be a part of the field.  Russell Allen, the only real backup at all three linebacking positions, can play well wherever he is needed and is appreciated for the great depth he provides – but he could be so much more.

This article isn’t going to be about projecting the great numbers that are bound to come from the linebacking trio that the Jaguars field.  It won’t be about whining that the players are often overlooked either.  But it will be about focusing the attention of the team on the linebackers.

In Mel Tucker’s 4-3 defense, a lot of the pressure and focus is placed on the defensive front four.  The defensive tackles and defensive ends set the pace and the tone for how the defense will play.  Pressure on the quarterback rarely comes from blitzes and the effect of the front four’s play is felt in the linebacking corps and the secondary.  As a result, a lot of attention is rightly placed on the defensive front four.

But the true difference makers of the defense are the linebackers.

Daryl Smith had 107 tackles last year, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception in 2011.  Posluszny had 119 tackles, two sacks, one fumble forced and two interceptions in 2011.  Clint Session: 30 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble in nine games (six started).  Russell Allen: 42 tackles, two forced fumbles, one pick, and half a sack in 16 games (six started).

Combined, the top four linebackers on the depth chart contributed 298 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, and four picks in 2011.  Three of the top six defenders for Jacksonville were linebackers (Russell Allen was 6th, well ahead of Clint Session).  Linebackers accounted for 22.5% of the teams sacks, were in on 47% of the team’s total tackles, were 21% of the forced fumbles on the team, and were 23% of the interceptions.

The linebackers managed to be the effective second line of defense they are required to be in Mel Tucker’s 4-3 scheme.  The depth proved to be more than adequate with Russell Allen making plays whenever called upon.  The team is heavily reliant on the linebackers to make finish plays and clean up mistakes. Daryl Smith and Paul Posluszny are expected to run sideline to sideline and cover much more than the half-field responsibility they are given.  Russell Allen and Clint Session are similarly expected to hold their gap responsibilities and provide force through the field.

Everything being asked of the linebackers is being achieved.

A lot can be said about the Jaguars’ lack of a pass rush.  31 sacks in 16 games isn’t very good after all. A lot can be said about a lack of secondary depth.  But a lot can also be said about the steller play of the linebackers.

Teams like Houston and Green Bay get the glory for their 3-4 rush linebackers.  They wreak havoc on the opposition, forcing the offense to bend to their muscled will.  That’s all well and good, but it isn’t the scheme that the Jags play.

It isn’t a scheme that a lot of teams play actually.

It’s rare for standout linebackers in the 4-3 to truly be recognized as the core of the defense that they are.  The middle linebacker position is becoming outdated (yes, Ray Lewis, it’s true).  The linebacker that makes a lot of tackles is becoming outmoded.  A lot more is expected from the fanbase.  A lot more pressure is expected for the big play, the bone crushing hits that cause offenses to whimper in fear.

But that is rarely the case.  Clay Matthews would not be Clay Matthews in a 4-3 scheme.  He would simply be another Daryl Smith, glanced over by many but appreciated by the coaches.

The 4-3 requires superb linebacker play.  The emphasis will always be on the front four, but without good linebackers, the defense may as well give up.

The Jaguars have the linebacking corps to be effective, and they’ve proven it.  The men lining up in the second-level for the Jaguars are nearly unparalleled in the NFL.

They are truly the core around which the defense is built.

– Luke N. Sims