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A third starter

Posted Jun 19, 2012

C.J. Mosley develops from free agent to key part of Jaguars defensive tackle rotation.

He can live with his situation – being overlooked at times, having to work harder, having to prove himself a bit more than his teammates.

C.J. Mosley said there’s a simple reason he has accepted his circumstances – namely, that he doesn’t have much choice.

“I have to be OK with it,” Mosley said.

That’s how it is when you’re a sixth-round draft selection: Notoriety and job security come hard, but here’s the thing about the Jaguars defensive tackle.

He may not have notoriety, but he now has more job security than before, and besides, around the Jaguars, none of that matters much in terms of how they think of the eighth-year veteran. Because around the Jaguars, he’s not overlooked – and all of that work and proving himself?

It has paid off, at least in terms of his stature in the organization.

“C.J., to me, is a starter,” defensive line coach Joe Cullen said.

That wasn’t something that seemed likely for a long time, not even when he first arrived in Jacksonville. That was 2010, Cullen’s first season with the team, and when Mosley first arrived as a free agent, Cullen wasn’t sure, exactly, what Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith had seen in the new acquisition.

Soon enough, he did.

Mosley worked himself up to playing 10-to-12 plays a game by the end of 2010, and last season, with second-year veteran D’Anthony Smith missing a second consecutive season with an injury, Mosley spent spent much of the season as the third defensive tackle behind Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu.

Since Alualu became a rookie starter in 2010, when people have talked about the interior of the Jaguars’ defense, they have talked about a solid, young tandem. Last season, the interior of the line was a big reason the defense ranked No. 6 in the NFL.

But there is more to the interior than the young tandem. Mosley last season played in 15 games, and started three. He finished the season with 24 tackles and a sack, and it was during his three games starting in place of Knighton in November that he solidified himself as a critical member of the line rotation.

Yes, Knighton was missed, and yes, Knighton is part of the team’s core, but middle linebacker Paul Posluszny at the time also said there wasn’t a huge drop-off from Knighton to Mosley.

“That’s what you want,” Mosley said. “You want to have the confidence of your teammates and your coaches, that they can go out and trust the job you’re here to do. I can’t thank them enough for trusting me.”

Said Cullen, “The way he played at the end of last year, to me, we have three starting defensive tackles. There wasn’t a drop off.”

Cullen said that’s critical, because while fans and observers may focus on starters, to talk only of four starting down linemen is to miss NFL reality these days. You need depth and typically need at least one reserve who can play each position and play it like a starter to have an effective line, and Mosley is indeed that sort of player at tackle.

“Your third has to be able to play both, and you really don’t miss a beat when he’s in there,” Cullen said of Mosley. “That’s what he has become. I can rotate those three and not worry. So we have really good depth there.”

The depth that Mosley provides is borne of work, and perseverance.

Originally a sixth-round selection by the Minnesota Vikings from Missouri in the 2005 NFL Draft, Mosley played as a backup that season, but was traded to the New York Jets the following offseason for quarterback Brooks Bollinger. He played three seasons with the Jets, then signed with the Cleveland Browns in the offseason before the 2009 season.

He sustained a broken right ankle with the Browns, and was out of football when the Jaguars signed him in October 2010.

“Gene saw something and did a good job getting him here,” Cullen said. “You saw some qualities you liked, but he didn’t start showing things until he was here about a month or so.”

Mosley said he did the same thing in Jacksonville he did throughout his career – essentially, prove himself every season.

“I was part of several coaching changes,” Mosley said. “I’ve had to make the team every year. A new coach comes in, they don’t know anything about you. It’s hard.”

The Jaguars in March decided they knew enough about Mosley to sign him to a multi-year extension, and Cullen recently offered a vivid reason why.

On the first play of a recent practice in organized team activities, the Jaguars’ offense started practice with a screen pass to running back Rashad Jennings. Mosley, running with the first team because of injuries to Knighton and Alualu, was “blocked” early in the play – there is little real blocking or contact in the off-season – and as Jennings ran downfield, Mosley pursued. The play started on the 25, Mosley began running at the 22 and chased Jennings down near the other 45-yard line.

Cullen recently ran the tape back and forth several times, lauding the effort.

“Usually, you see a guy go four or five steps and done,” Cullen said. “That’s turning, going and sprinting.”

That’s effort, and it’s the sort of work that has earned Mosley a spot on the roster and something closer to long-term security than he had before. Not that he’ll approach it that way.

“As a sixth-round draft pick, I don’t feel that way,” Mosley said. “I don’t think, ‘I’ve made it.’ I just work hard. I’m just really happy and blessed to be here. I don’t want to have regrets in terms of my career. I just want to keep helping this team however possible.

“I’m just happy to be thought of. That’s really the truth.”

And as long as he is, he can accept that. Not that he has much choice.

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