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Star Lotulelei gears up for physical test vs. Jaguars, ex-teammate

Star Lotulelei was limited to just 22 snaps in New York because the Jets fell behind early and were forced to throw.

A light workload is not in the forecast for the Buffalo Bills’ big defensive tackle Sunday against Jacksonville.

The Jaguars figure to be in ground-and-pound mode now that their elite running back, Leonard Fournette, has returned from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for six games this season.

Furthermore, Lotulelei has a tough matchup against the Jaguars’ best offensive lineman, guard Andrew Norwell, who made first-team All-Pro last season.

Norwell and Lotulelei need no introduction. They spent the past four seasons as Carolina Panthers teammates and lined up against each other every training camp.

“He’s a real good player,” Lotulelei said. “He’s a tough dude, real physical. He’s earned everything he got. He came into the league as a free agent, got a big contract, deserves it.”

The Jaguars gave Norwell a five-year, $66.5 million contract, which made him the second-highest paid guard in the NFL, behind Dallas’ Zack Martin.

Lotulelei hit the free-agent jackpot, too, getting a five-year, $50 million deal from the Bills, which puts him 14th on the defensive tackle pay ranking.

The Bills’ defense ranks No. 2 in yards allowed and No. 10 in rushing yards allowed, up from No. 29 last season. Lotulelei has done his job clogging up the middle.

“His nickname is Star Maker because of what he did for the linebackers down in Carolina,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of Lotulelei. “You see why once you are around him. You see his impact on your run defense, as well as some of the things he gives you to push in pass defense. He lives up to his nickname. He makes our linebackers better.”

“As a defense I think we’re playing well,” Lotulelei said. “We had a couple games where it was ugly and things got out of hand quick. But for the most part, I think we’ve done our best to keep our team in games, give our team a chance to win. I think the stats show that. Were a top defense in a lot of categories. But there’s things we need to work on. We can be a better tackling defense, recognizing our run fits, being where we need to be. There’s small things we can do to make our defense better.”

Lotulelei usually lines up over the shoulder of the center, so he won’t be solely in a one-on-one matchup with Norwell. But Lotulelei usually is on Norwell’s side of the ball.

Norwell has been one of the few constants on the Jaguars’ offensive line, which has lost starting center Brandon Linder for the season and was down to its fourth left tackle last week.

Nevertheless, Fournette is the engine of Jacksonville’s offense. The No. 4 overall pick in 2017 gained 1,040 yards as a rookie last year. The Jaguars led the NFL in rushing last season on the way to a 10-6 finish. Jacksonville played an ultra-conservative game plan against the Bills in the playoffs. Fournette managed 57 yards on 21 carries in a 10-3 Jaguars win.

This year, with Fournette missing six games, the Jaguars have sunk to 22nd in rushing.

They looked a lot like last year’s Jaguars in Pittsburgh.

“There’s not a whole lot of teams that do what these guys can do,” Lotulelei said. “That last team we played that tried to do that was Tennessee, and even they came out passing more than we thought they were going to.”

“You always look forward to a challenge, especially when you know a team is about to come in and try to establish the run game, play physical."

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, the former Bills coach, said he remains "confident" in the Jaguars' philosophy of running the ball and playing strong defense.

"That doesn’t mean because you have that philosophy that you cannot score points," Marrone told reporters in Jacksonville. "That is the one thing we are not doing now and now the philosophy looks not good if you aren’t scoring points. If you are running the football and your play-action pass, you have explosive plays, you play good defense, you are holding the ball more, you are not creating penalties and you are playing sound football. It is pretty good. I think it is more consistent.”

 

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