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Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith quietly among NFL’s best

Posted Aug 27, 2012

MLB Paul Posluszny on Jaguars outside linebacker Daryl Smith: “He’s our best defender.”

He’s quiet, low-key and often overlooked.

If the last part bothers him, Jaguars veteran outside linebacker Daryl Smith rarely lets it show. Not to the media, not to fans and apparently, not even to teammates.

“He’s definitely underrated,” Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “What I love about him is he doesn’t care.”

Smith, of course, has been answering questions about being overlooked as long as he can remember – “that’s just me,” he said – but here’s what’s even more important about the nine-year veteran from Georgia Tech: He’s good. Really good.

And he’s more important to the Jaguars’ defense than many realize.

“He’s our best defender,” Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said.

“Daryl Smith is a very solid player,” Mincey said. “He’s probably one of our most reliable guys. He has been doing it for nine years now. He’s been doing the same thing over and over.”

Smith, who missed the first three games of the preseason with a groin injury and who is expected to play against Atlanta Thursday, is indeed reliable. But Posluszny said to call him simply solid is to overlook just how valuable Smith is, and how good he is not only for the Jaguars, but in comparison to his NFL linebacking peers.

So, why is he overlooked?

“You tell me,” Posluszny said, laughing. “I really don’t know. When I was in Buffalo, and we watched Jacksonville, we watched No. 52. He stood out.

“He has for years. He is an elite linebacker.”

Smith, a second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, is the all-time leading tackler in franchise history. Last season, he had one of the quietest elite-level seasons a guy can have, setting a franchise record for tackles for loss (15) for a Top 10 defense and still not making the Pro Bowl.

“He’s a really good football player that you don’t hear a lot about,” Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey said. “He’s an important to the defense as anybody. He doesn’t look for the limelight. He doesn’t do anything that says me, me, me.

“He’s absolute leader in his own way. It’s good to have him back.”

There are, of course, a variety of reasons Smith has been overlooked for post-season honors. He plays in a small market, and doesn’t say flashy things when interviewed. Also, as he said Monday, the Jaguars haven’t won consistently during his career, and with winning often comes recognition.

 “At the end of the day, more stuff will happen if we win,” he said. “We have to win ball games and get to the playoffs. If we win, there are a lot of guys around here who people will know.”

Whatever his level of recognition, the effect of his presence on the Jaguars’ defense is significant, Posluszny said.

“We’re able to do different things with our defense when he’s on the field,” Posluszny said.

In NFL circles, players are judged in many ways. Perhaps most important to players and coaches is a player’s ability to change how opponents prepare. A player that forces an opponent to change a game plan based on his presence is at the top of the list when it comes to value because not only does that alter what the opponent does, but it allows the player’s team to know what to expect from the opponent.

“When he (Smith) is on the field, opposing offenses are always looking for him, because he’s the guy who brings pressure for us,” Posluszny said. “He draws a lot of attention, so he opens things up for other guys, so now Mince has a one-one-one block instead of having two guys on him. They have to account for Daryl. That changes things. When he’s on the field, the other team has to know where he is, and we are able to run certain defenses, because we know, ‘That’s Daryl Smith’s job and he’s going to do it well.’

“That helps everybody. The way that he fits the run, I know he’s going to do his job so I can fit right off him. He makes things clean and easy. There’s a certain comfort level playing with an elite guy like him when you know he’s always going to be on the field.”

Smith, for his part, said having a teammate say that speaks more than a lot of other words from other sources.

“It’s about being accountable to your teammates,” he said. “It’s not going to change. That’s been my approach. It’s really not going to change. You start thinking about other things, for me, it’s laser-beam focus.”

And to do it any other way?

“I wouldn’t take that chance,” he said, smiling.

Smith’s teammates will tell you that approach is one that not only has brought him success on the field, but respect within the locker room. Asked about Smith this week, Mincey talked about his ability to make plays, to force turnovers, to make takes for loss. But it was when asked about Smith’s overall approach as a player that Mincey smiled the widest.

“That’s how you’re supposed to feel, when you know your ability and know what you bring to the table,” Mincey said. “You don’t care about what people say: just go do your thing. He doesn’t say much. He just speaks with his actions. Actions speak louder than words. That’s what I love about Daryl.”

In Smith’s case, actions have spoken plenty loudly for eight years. That much, he wouldn’t change.

Even if he could.

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