Tyson Alualu has been a much maligned player for the Jacksonville Jaguars. There were calls all offseason for him to be cut, the cries of a Top 10 NFL Draft bust, after his first three seasons in the league resulted in just a handful of quarterback sacks or memorable plays.
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Alualu was a shocking selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, but was played up to fans as a pass rushing defensive tackle that the rest of the league was sleeping on. He might have been that, but because of poor decisions by the then coaching staff Alualu injured his knee on the very first day of practice and ended up playing through it his first two seasons. The injury led him to finally have minor microfracture surgery on his knee, which has seemed to fix whatever issues he had.
When the Jaguars hired Gus Bradley from the Seattle Seahawks and we learned the style of defense they would be playing, many thought the Jaguars could move Alualu to the defensive end position, which was probably where he should have been playing all along in the NFL, albeit in a 3-4 defensive front.
While the position is called a defensive end in the traditional sense, it's not the tradition defensive end position. It's more of a run stopping position.
"That position isn’t one that’s going to get a lot of sacks," Jaguars defensive line coach Todd Wash told The Florida Times-Union.
There's still a lot of criticism locally about Alualu's production in the Jaguars defensive scheme, even so far as for some to project he'll be released after the season because he's struggling. That couldn't be further from the truth however, as Alualu has actually settling into the position since around the mid-way point of the season and has been a key reason the Jaguars run defense has improved dramatically.
According to Pro Football Focus, Alualu is the highest graded starting Jaguars defender against the run and after starting the season off with a negative grade each week, has been on the positive side of grading in six of the past seven games. He's even provided a little bit of a pass rush from the position, picking up two sacks, hitting the quarterback seven times, and nearly double digit pressures.
"If you get one or two out of that position [sacks], that’s pretty good in this defense," Wash continued. "What we ask him to do is anchor against the run and take up two blockers. Keep the tackle off our linebacker. Since the bye week, he’s playing extremely well at that position. He’s made a lot of impact plays in the run game."
At training camp Alualu told me even though it was similar to the position he played in college, it was still going to take game reps for him to get used to playing the position again.
Halfway through the season, it appears it's finally started to click for him. In fact, Alualu's PFF scores are very similar to Seattle Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant's scores his first full season in the defensive front.
"Getting repetitions and being in games, you start to get more and more comfortable with the scheme," Alualu told Hays Carlyon of The Florida Times-Union. "I'm understanding my job and trying to do it to the best of my ability. That understanding has helped me play faster."
As mentioned, many people still don't really get the role that Alualu plays in the Jaguars defense and can't seem to come to grips with the fact that his role is not to rush the passer, but if you talk to the Jaguars coaching staff you can tell that they're pleased with what Alualu is giving them on the field and how he fits in the scheme going forward. His salary has a minimal increase next season and there's no reason for the Jaguars not to bring him back, especially with his play steadily improving as he settles into his role.