HOUSTON – All his football life, Paul Posluszny has been accustomed to being involved in violent collisions and at a higher frequency than just about anybody.
The seventh-year Jaguar is an old-school middle linebacker in the Dick Butkus/Mike Singletary mode, a proud man from Pennsylvania football stock who never wants to come off the field.
But at some point, every NFL player is forced to make age concessions. Posluszny, the epitome of a team-first guy, found himself facing that transition in a big way Sunday for the first time in his career.
During one of the biggest high points in recent franchise history, a 29-7 rout of the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium, a diminished role for Posluszny in the Jaguars’ defense resulted in him getting on the field for a career-low eight snaps.
That’s not a misprint. Eight snaps!
Let that marinate in your mind for a second. Poz, the second-leading tackler (920) in team history behind only Daryl Smith, was on the sideline for 61 of Houston’s 69 offensive snaps. That seems almost inconceivable.
Yet in the postgame locker room, Posluszny was as happy as I’ve ever seen him. Not to say he doesn’t miss being an every-down linebacker in the worst way, but the warm feeling Posluszny felt over a potential momentum-turning day for the Jaguars trumped everything.
“The most important thing was I was so excited about beating a [AFC South] division opponent on the road,” Posluszny said. “To me, at this point in my career, nothing else matters besides winning. We haven’t had success in so long, that’s the only thing you truly want. You just want the wins so bad more than anything else.”
Understand, Posluszny played 1,057 (98.2 percent) of the team’s 1,075 snaps last year, an average of 66 per game. He’s always been a football mule, leading the Jaguars in tackles five of his six seasons and was the first player at Penn State (Linebacker U.) to record 100-plus tackles three times in a career.
Posluszny rarely comes off the field unless he’s on a cart or limping off due to an injury. But one month shy of his 33rd birthday, he’s in a different role.
Unless opponents are in two-back, two-tight end or three-tight end personnel, or maybe a goal-line situation, Posluszny is chained to the bench when the Jaguars are in nickel/dime packages. With Houston trailing by double digits most of Sunday’s game, the Jaguars weren’t in base defenses nearly as often on early downs and his snap count fell to an abysmally low number.
Yet there was no stewing from Posluszny or looking forlorn about his reduced playing time. Never did he not act genuinely happy that linebacker Myles Jack, who occupies his old position on passing downs, collected a game-high 14 tackles and was all over the field thumping people like the Poz of years past.
“[Jack] played great, it’s awesome,” said Posluszny. “If I’m not out there, I’m there to support Myles and Telvin [Smith] and help them any way I can because I want them to play at the highest level.”
That attitude from an 11-year NFL veteran has made Posluszny an organization favorite. Front-office czar Tom Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone, both of whom feel strongly about his locker-room presence, and teammates admire Posluszny for checking his ego at the door.
“Poz is the most selfless guy that I know, which is why I care about him so much because he just wants his team to do great,” said Smith. “Don’t get me wrong, I know it hurt him not to be on that field [against Houston] with us playing as hard as we were and as great as we were.
“But inside him, he knows he’s a bigger part of it. More goes into [winning] than just being out there on Sunday. That’s a testament to him as a man, to say ‘I’ll take a pay cut, and I’ll take snap cuts.’ He keeps taking less and less to be around [the Jaguars].”
Remember, too, the Jaguars jerked him around this offseason, telling Posluszny he was moving to strong-side linebacker so Jack could go to the middle. Then shortly into the preseason, the team moved him back to his old spot in base defense without specifying why they switched, though Posluszny felt more comfortable returning to the middle.
The larger point is, under no circumstances is Posluszny going to get defensive about his situation. Like a true company man, No. 51 will play the cards he’s dealt and be happy as long as it benefits the team.
It’s why he took a pay cut in 2015 and the accompanying contract extension. It’s why he wanted his main team, wife Elizabeth and two infant daughters, to do what was best safety-wise before Hurricane Irma could potentially impact their Jacksonville home.
“I said, ‘Whenever you can get out, whenever you feel comfortable leaving, leave as fast as you can,’ “ said Posluszny. “My wife wanted to go [to Pennsylvania] and I wanted to have the peace of mind to know she’s with friends and family back home.”
Posluszny is also at peace with his new football lot. It may not be ideal in terms of playing time, though Marrone says his snap count will vary based on how opponents choose to attack the Jaguars’ defense. Sunday’s game against the run-centric Tennessee Titans could well be a 35-plus snap game for Posluszny.
Right now, the only number Posluszny finds relevant is 1-0, especially if the resounding road win over Houston provides a launching pad for a turnaround Jaguars’ season. After 10 losing years in the NFL — a combined record in Buffalo and Jacksonville of 46-114 for a winning percentage of .287 – he’s desperate to be part of a winner.
“To not have a winning season for 10 years in the NFL, that’s what you play for, to have an opportunity to win and be in the playoffs,” Posluszny said. “To not experience that is difficult.”
So if changing that narrative means Posluszny must stay off the field more than he’s ever done in his life, he can accept that. Providing the payoff translates into the Jaguars getting off the losing treadmill.
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