Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Decisions to Make: Jaguars Need A Lot

Most teams out of playoff contention use the final four games of the year to assess their situation going forward.

What do we need?

How can we get better?

While the Jaguars have needs all over the field, the game against Indianapolis exposed the glaring weaknesses they have if they have any thought of getting better.

Andrew Luck is an excellent quarterback and even without Reggie Wayne, he’s figured out how to find the open guy and get it to him on a regular basis. He showed over and over that the Jaguars biggest need is creating a pass rush.

It’s not just somebody on the defensive line; it’s anybody who can get to the quarterback. Whether it’s an edge rusher from defensive end or linebacker or somebody who can push the pocket backwards towards the quarterback, the Jaguars defense will always be on their heels without that kind of pressure up front. Sen’Derrick Marks is a good building block and Andre Branch seems to have figured that part of the game out but without any fear of a pass rush, opposing quarterbacks will continue to have fun anytime they face the Jaguars.

At linebacker, Paul Posluszny is the only sure thing. Either one of the current guys has to emerge or GM Dave Caldwell will have to find something better. Guys who can cover and stop the run are hard to find but it’s a necessity they have to be willing to spend to get either in free agency or with a high pick in the draft.

The defensive backfield is more complicated. Jonathan Cyprien is a guy you can build around; everybody else has been a little slower than anticipated to develop. While the Jaguars spent a lot of time, money and picks on that position last year, they might have to go back to the drawing board to upgrade.

Everybody knows the Jaguars need a quarterback.

Nobody can agree on what to do about it right now.

Without a clear-cut franchise player in the draft at that position, it might be another year before the team has a new starter. There are no franchise-type QB’s in free agency that are coming to Jacksonville and there are no saviors in the draft either. But that doesn’t mean the Jaguars future QB isn’t out there. I just don’t think he’s there in the first round. With 10 draft picks, selecting a quarterback somewhere in the first three rounds, looking for somebody to develop is imperative. Watching Chad Henne miss open receivers against the Colts was painful. But it’s something Jaguars fans should expect for at least half the season in 2014. A.J. McCarron would be a good fit and available at the right spot in the draft.

It’s hard to predict what they’ll do at wide receiver since Justin Blackmon’s indefinite suspension leaves his situation up in the air. There’s no downside to keeping Blackmon and taking advantage of his skills. They don’t owe him that much and one more transgression and he’s out of the league permanently. After his injury history, it’s not hard to understand if the Jaguars have a little question as to whether Cecil Shorts can stay healthy enough to be a regular contributor. The rest of the guys on the roster at that position are nice slot receivers and backups but without a solid number one or number two, it’s where Caldwell and Gus Bradley will earn their money.

With less emphasis on the running back position in general in the NFL, finding guys who can run and block isn’t that difficult. They’re out there. But I do think the Jaguars will offer Maurice Jones Drew a deal he’ll probably take. He’s lost that second-level speed but can be a good compliment to Jordan Todman or anybody else they find.

At tight end, Marcedes Lewis has a decision to make on his own. He has superstar, Pro Bowl skills, but he hasn’t been that kind of consistent offensive presence you hope to have from an eight-year veteran. Sometimes he’s a force, other times he plays as if it’s the paycheck and not the performance that counts.

On the offensive line is where I think the Jaguars will be active in free agency. Potentially at center and guard. They like Luke Joeckel at tackle and Bradfield and Pasztor have been serviceable and they like one of those guys to develop into a legitimate starter.

If most NFL rosters have about a 40% turnover, the Jaguars will be substantially higher than that. With the number 3 pick in the draft (finishing 4-12) and a pocketful of cap space and money to spend, you have to put some faith in Caldwell and Bradley to make the right decisions.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Meester’s Day

Never one to say much, Jaguars Center Brad Meester said a lot on Sunday in his final home game for the Jaguars. “I’ve talked more this week than I have in my entire career,” Meester joked after the Jaguars fell 20-16 to Tennessee.

While this week was mainly focused on the Titans, Meester was a close second when it came to what the team was playing for.

“He taught me how to act,” Marcedes Lewis told us in the locker room. “Any time I needed to know what to do when I came in the league, I just looked at Brad and followed that.”

“It started to hit me when I was walking through the Prowl,” Meester admitted. “I got a emotional realizing it was my last time walking on that field as a player.”

The Jaguars introduced Meester and only Meester during the pre-game player introductions; something he said was very special.

“I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before. I saw the signs; I heard the fans calling my name. After the catch I heard the stadium calling my name, I’ve never had anything like that happen to me in my career.”

Oh yeah, the catch.

During the week, the Jaguars installed a “Jumbo” package that put Meester as an eligible receiver at tight end. As they approached the goal line, Gus Bradley and Offensive coordinator Judd Fisch called the play that was going to give Meester a chance to make his first catch in the NFL. They had practiced it three times, walking through it each time during the week.

“I was exhausted,” Brad explained after the game. We had just run a zone run and I had a bunch of guys pile on top of me. As I went back to the huddle I heard “Jumbo, Jumbo” which is the call for me to go to tight end. I was nervous. I’ve always played inside.”

When “63 eligible” was announced, Meester thought the Titans would figure it out right away. But they didn’t. He engaged the guy in front of him and slipped outside.

“I was open and I was thinking, ‘Now what?’ All I was concentrating on was not dropping the ball. ‘Catch it, catch is what I was saying to myself. Once I caught it I started to run and ran right into somebody (Nwaneri). And I didn’t know where to go. So I ran left. I’m sorry I didn’t score but I did get the first down.”

Meester’s first down allowed the Jaguars to then throw it to Marcedes Lewis for his 4th straight game with a TD. It was Meester’s first catch ever, at any level.

“I had some interceptions in high school because I played some defense. And I recovered a few fumbles, but that’s my first catch. Ever.

One scribe did the match at the game and estimated Brad had played nearly 14,000 snaps before making a catch.

“I’ll remember that for a long time,” Meester said afterwards. “That ball has to go in my office somewhere.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Don’t Have Enough

You never know what to expect from two teams not going to the playoffs facing each other at the end of the season. The Jaguars are going to play hard; you know that from what they’ve done all year. Tennessee also played hard, kind of surprising since they weren’t going anywhere and their backup quarterback was still their starter.

At 4-10 and 5-9 (amazingly with second place on the line in the division) both coaches played the game as you would have hoped: loose, entertaining and with a little edge. In the first half alone, the Jaguars and Titans went for it on 4th down 4 times. One Tennessee attempt was at 4th and goal on the 1. One Jaguars attempt was a mid field. While you might not think that’s sound football judgment, when you’re not playing for anything but to win THIS game, I like it.

The Jaguars put together a nifty two-minute drill at the end of the half to take a 13-6 lead. Inexplicably, the PAT was blocked by a guy coming off the edge, leaving the Jaguars lead at 7 instead of eight.

As the second half started, you could sense a momentum shift towards the titans. Despite another successful 4th down attempt by the Jaguars, they could only muster a field goal and lead 16-6. For the next 12 minutes it was all Titans. Two TD drives, helped along by Jaguars penalties and obvious defensive mistakes, gave Tennessee a 20-16 lead.

Playing with backups and third stringers, attrition stared to deplete the Jaguars lineup in pretty stark ways. They started the day without Geno Hayes and Russell Allen at linebacker and lost DT Brandon Deadrick in the first half. So it was relatively easy for the Titans to take advantage of that. One thing Head Coach Gus Bradley had talked about this week was better communication in the defensive backfield. That didn’t happen, allowing the Titans a pretty simple TD to take a 3rd quarter lead.

Working the ball downfield and down 4 points, the Jaguars faced 4th down inside the Tennessee 35 yard line. Bradley decided to stay aggressive and went for it, only to have MJD stoned at the line of scrimmage. As much as I like that attitude at this point in the season, I think I’d have taken the 3 points there to pull within one FG of a win.

Instead, the Titans ran the ball in their 4-minute offense to perfection, barely giving the Jaguars a chance to make a difference.

Chad Henne tried to sneak one over the nickel back to Marcedes Lewis one too many times and was intercepted to end the game.

The Jaguars are now 4-11 and will finish in the 3rd spot in the AFC South (making a difference in their schedule next year, probably for the better.)

In their final home game of the year, the Jaguars proved two things:
1) They still can and do play hard.
2) They still need a lot of help.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: Who Wants To Be Here?

Toward the end of any NFL season, teams are going in all kinds of different directions. Some are already looking ahead to the playoffs. Others are fighting for a spot in the postseason and still others are looking ahead to next year, checking their current roster to see who might be able to help them in the future.

The Jaguars are unique among that latter group because they’re playing with an intensity that would suggest there’s more football to play. Instead, they know their season ends in Indianapolis in two weeks but the players also know what they do this week and next will have a big impact on whether they’ll get a chance to be on this team next year.

Is that what they really want anyway?

I’ve been surprised how the locker room has reacted to Gus Bradley and what he and Dave Caldwell are trying to build with the Jaguars franchise. “I want to be here,” Paul Posluszny said as the second half of the season started. “I’d like to stay here,” Maurice Jones Drew echoed two weeks ago, knowing his contract is ending and he’ll be a free agent.

No question Bradley has this group of players believing that he’s building a winner that won’t go away soon. They won’t win soon either, but once they start, they won’t stop. The culture of empowerment that the players are a part of gets the most out of their talent. Sometimes that’s not even enough to win games, but when the talent level starts to rise, the outcome will different.

“I don’t want the players to be motivated by wins and losses,” Bradley said last week. “I want them to be motivated by performing at their personal best.” That would have been considered heresy in the league 20 years ago, but to give the players the power and to act as a “servant leader” is what Gus Bradley has adopted.

Mel Tucker was the same way. “I want to be here to help the players become the best they can be,” Tucker said during his tenure as the Jaguars interim head coach.

In 2013, Gus Bradley has said the scenario has developed “perfectly.” “We had a stretch where we didn’t win, then we had a little success, then we got punched in the mouth a little but. We were going to find out if this team can take a punch. And we found out they can.”

Bradley never talks about winning but always about “getting better.” And he knows at the end of this year the team is a bit thin at certain positions because of injury, like most teams in the league. He’s adjusted the practice regimen because of it and moved some players around, trying to stay competitive.

“We really weren’t sure as a coaching staff where our depth was early in the year so we had to really work on developing guys,” Bradley said while preparing for Sunday’s match with the Titans. “But that’s our job, developing guys, brining them up off the practice squad and seeing if they can play. It’s been pretty good.”

Without the playoffs as a goal, the Jaguars have continued to strive according to Bradley. “It hasn’t changed,” he said about their motivation. “When they get in the meetings, in the locker room, the practice field, they’re still working hard. I don’t see any difference. They’re still trying to get better.”

And he was able to cite some specific examples of guys getting in games and perhaps performing better than the coaching staff expected.

“Austin Pasztor and Cam Bradfield, we didn’t know what they might do. As a coaching staff we went ‘uh-oh’ but we put them in there and they did great.”

Bradley also named Kerry Taylor as an example. “Sometimes guys just need a chance to compete and they show you what they can do.

That’s what the coaching staff will be looking for in the last two weeks, and what we should be looking at as well.

Who wants to be here?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Meeter Retires: The REAL Pride of the Jaguars

When a coach and general manager start looking to build on the offensive and defensive lines, you often hear the phrase, “He can be a cornerstone there for the next decade,” a lot. That rarely happens between injury, free agency and the vagaries of the NFL Having more than 10 years in the league as a productive player is difficult.

Jaguars center Brad Meester not only met those goals, he by far exceeded them in his 14-year career. Meester announced on Wednesday that he’s retiring at the end of this season, making Sunday’s game against Tennessee his final appearance at home.

It would be hard to overstate the positive effect Meester has had on the Jaguars throughout his career. Rarely injured, Meester holds the record for most consecutive starts at 92 and is currently tied for second in that category as well. He’s blocked for both Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones Drew, being a part of the offensive line that helped MJD to the rushing title three years ago.

He’s played for ever one of the Jaguars head coaches, adapting to each of their styles with ease. “Its different,” Brad told me after the Thursday night win over the Texans referring to Gus Bradley’s coaching philosophy. “Way different, but it’s working.” Along the way, different offensive line coaches and offensive coordinators have wanted different things out of their veteran center. One set wanted speed, so Brad came to camp well under 300 lbs. Another wanted power up front so he came in over 330 (and didn’t like it).

Football fans know the center position is difficult, blending speed, quickness and toughness with a cerebral capacity to recognize defenses and make the appropriate line calls to combat them.

Although he started his career at guard (48 starts) after being the Jaguars second round draft pick, everybody knew he was the center of the future. It was easy to recognize that Meester had all of the qualities necessary to do that job and do it well.

He said after the Buffalo game last Sunday he stayed up late and thought about whether he might retire or not, and decided the time was right. “People don’t realize what goes on in a locker room. And that’s probably what I’ll miss most. The time with the guys, before, during and after games, it’s something special.”

To a man, players say the same thing about Meester: He’s the guy they looked to when they wanted to know how to act like a pro, on and off the field. He’s exemplified what it means to be a professional athlete in his performance and his persona.

That’s why they should put Brad in the Pride of the Jaguars as soon as possible. He’s exactly what the Pride is about: professionalism, performance, hard work, and community standing. He’s a guy the Jaguars can always be proud to say he wore their uniform.

If they don’t put him in, they should take the rest of the names off the wall because when you look up there and see BRAD MEESTER 2000-2013, that’ll be something to be proud of.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: Three Forward One Back

Coaches talk all the time about “overcoming adversity.” When it comes to a young team like the Jaguars, sometimes the adversity is self-imposed. For the first eight games of the season, they made mistakes and failed to capitalize on the mistakes of their opponents enroute to an 0-8 record. For that adversity, Head Coach Gus Bradley kept the team together and told him they were getting better and hang in there.

That’s how they got to 4-1 in the second half of the year.

Almost as if the first 8 games hadn’t happened.

Early against the Buffalo Bills, Chad Henne threw an interception that lead to three points. No problem, they bounced back from that to tie the game at 3 with a Josh Scobee field goal. They even took a 10-7 lead on a nifty play by Ace Sanders. Say one thing for Jedd Fisch: He’s designing plays that take advantage of the players’ talents. Sanders doesn’t have great straight line speed but he can juke with the best of them. So getting the ball to him in open space in short yardage is a very positive move.

So things are going well for the Jaguars, even backing the Bills up inside their own ten after a punt and a penalty. But then the adversity or a “lull’ started to creep in. The Bills completed a 29-yard pass on third down and subsequently marched right down the field for a 94-yard touchdown drive. After a 3 and out from the Jaguars offense, the Bills went right down the field again for 73 yards to make it17-10. And when the Jaguars looked like they were going to at least get a field goal on the half’s final drive, Mike Brown’s drop was ruled a fumble, leading to a field goal and a 20-10 halftime lead for Buffalo.

So how do the Jaguars respond to that adversity?

They stop the Bills on a 3 and out to open the second half and march right down field, only to have Denard Robinson fumble the ball at the goal line while he was trying to reach into the end zone. (Instead of just plowing through the goal line) Those are the kind of plays you hope young players like Robinson learn from. Secure the ball in this league all the way to the ground if you have to.

The guys in the NFL are pretty good and know what to do, even out of desperation.

Instead of folding, the Jaguars still hung in there. You have to think that all of the bad things they’ve been through and some of the success they’ve had are allowing them to focus on what they’re doing RIGHT NOW instead of wallowing in either their success or failure.

Bradley’s philosophy of being motivated “be being your personal best” doesn’t involve the scoreboard. It encourages the players to go play to play without thinking about the past or the future. It’s why you see the Jaguars playing hard at the end of games, even if they’re out of it.

So each time Buffalo did something good, the Jaguars would answer.

At some point their youth, inexperience and lack of talent will catch up with them in these situations where they let the other team stay in the game with turnovers and mistakes. But against Buffalo, an equally challenged team, they stayed in it until the end. They had their chances but a 4th turnover (Henne’s second INT) stopped a Jaguars drive right at the goal line. I’m not sure why you would throw a “jump ball” to Jordan Todman, a 5’10” running back instead of 6’6″ Marcedes Lewis doesn’t make any sense and Henne and the Jaguars paid for it.

Even if the defense did force a Buffalo punt, the Jaguars just didn’t have enough talent, especially at receiver to mount a drive. Henne’s 4th down pass was well out of bounds anyway, and the Bills win 27-20.

If there’s still no such think as a moral victory in the league, the Jaguars just come away with a loss but to turn it over 4 times and have a mid-game lapse that put the Bills ahead . . .and still be in it at the end is another step in the right direction for Bradley’s troops.

If the team had taken three steps forward during the three game winning streak, the loss to the Bills as at least a half step backwards.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Texans Again: Learning How to Win

“Learning how to win” sounds like such a trite phrase but when it comes to a pretty equal competition, it’s the team that knows how to win, or figures it out that comes out on top.

My friend and ten-time Grand Slam champion Tony Trabert attributes winning to “knowing how to play the big points” in tennis.

In the second half of the season, the Jaguars look like they’re learning how “to play the big points.” In the first half of the year, the Jaguars looked outmanned every time they took the field. And save for Oakland and St. Louis, they were. But since the bye, Tennessee, Houston and Cleveland have had problems of their own equal to the Jaguars. And in those games the Jags have held their own, taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes. And that’s how you win in the NFL.

You have to prepare, you have to execute, but when the opponent gives you an opportunity, you have to make them pay.

In the first half against Houston, the Jaguars did just that. Penalties and miscues by the Texans gave the Jaguars several “second” chances and they pounced on them, scoring 17 points.

While Houston had lost 10 straight coming into this game, they still have a lot of talent on their roster and remember, this is a team that was one of the favorites to go to the Super Bowl in 2013. They also know how to win, they just forgot for a while.

So when the Jaguars stopped producing on offense, the Texans took advantage of field position and made a game of it. It didn’t hurt Houston that Head Coach Gary Kubiak put Matt Schaub in the game at quarterback. Schaub has played road games in the Jacksonville and knows the Jaguars aren’t going to put a lot of pressure on him in the pocket. So in his first drive he marched the Texans right down the field for a way-too-easy TD, 24-17 Jaguars.

You could tell Schaub was playing “angry” with some real purpose in his actions. In fact, he brought some life to a heretofore-lifeless Texans team.

And this is where the Jaguars started making crucial mistakes.

Houston sends in their kicker to attempt a 51-yard field goal on 4th and 10. He misses it but the Jaguars are penalized for 12 men on the field. So Kubiak sends his offense back on the field and they convert easily. A much easier 30-yarder is made and it’s 24-20 Jaguars.

What a team does in times of stress is a good measure of who they actually are. In this situation the Jaguars could have stayed on their heels and let the Texans take control of the game. Instead, they relied on their instincts, went back to what they do best and that’s play hard. They’re not going to “out talent” anybody and when they are successful it’s usually pretty. But if you’re looking for effort, they’ll deliver.

Two different times, the Texans had the ball with a chance to take the lead but instead the defense for the Jaguars made a play. Once on fourth down and another with an interception by Geno Hayes that lead to a Scobee field goal and a 27-20 lead.

Say what you want about the quality of the opponents or how their winning but there’s something going on with Gus Bradley and the Jaguars that has a very positive feel about it.

Maybe this win didn’t change any minds of those watching around the country who like to make fun of Jacksonville and the Jaguars but here in town, and inside the stadium, there’s a momentum being built that has the potential to create a lot of fun.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Florida/FSU: Different Directions?

It’s a pretty simple story at the Florida/FSU game this year:
Are the Gators as bad as they seem? Is FSU worthy of a shot at the National Championship?

As usual, the answers fall somewhere between yes and no on both counts.

In front of a big home crowd, (90,454) Florida played a spirited first half against the ‘Noles, making some stops on defense and making Jameis Winston look ordinary. But on a couple of occasions, Winston looked extraordinary, firing passes for long 3rd down completions and TD’s that added up to a 17-0 score at halftime.

While Florida’s defense still has some bite, FSU’s explosive play potential can be demoralizing because it can happen anywhere on the field. Winston is good, no question, but with three receivers, a tight end and a couple of backs to throw it to, he has a lot of options. He’s pretty comfortable in the pocket as he surveys the field and is bigger than most opponents expect until they actually confront him face-to-face. He’s had so much success and has put up such gaudy numbers that when things aren’t going right you have to remind yourself that he’s just a redshirt freshman. He is a little anxious for the big play but after all of the success he’s had, that’s understandable.

FSU is also big up front, with four juniors and a senior starting on the O-line. If they chose to just pound away at their opponents, no doubt they could wear opponents down and win games that way as well. It seemed as if they realized that about halfway through the first quarter, running the football at the Gators and taking some sting out of the Florida defensive charge.

Florida’s problem is getting anything done on offense. Besides underestimating what having Jeff Driskel meant at quarterback, the Gators offensive philosophy has plays that are slow to develop. No match for the ‘Noles speed on defense.

And that’s the dilemma they’ll face going forward.

Bringing Brent Pease in from Boise State came with great expectations of a “spread” offense that came at a defense from all kinds of directions. Instead, it’s been an attempt at a plodding, power game that hasn’t materialized. Did Will Muschamp overrule what Pease wanted to do? I guess we’ll never know that.

If there’s an advantage in the state of Florida when it comes to recruiting home-grown players, speed is the difference between the Sunshine State and everywhere else. And for two decades, the Gators took advantage of that resource and won big. Now, the emphasis seems to be on time management and ball control over blinding speed.

If you’re a 5-star recruit as a QB, WR or RB are you going to go to Gainesville these days? Heck no. FSU, Miami and a half dozen other schools are throwing it around and look like they’re having fun. Muschamp is going to have to decide whether he’s willing to cede the control of the offense to somebody else and open it up, or continue to try and win low-scoring, defense-dominated games.

Against Florida State this year, that didn’t get it done leaving the ‘Noles just one win away from a berth in the National Championship game and the Gators pondering a very uncertain future.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars 2nd Half: “Better But Not Good”

It’s not hard to like the improvement the Jaguars have made from the first of the year. They look like a NFL football team, albeit one that has a lot of holes in it, but they’re competitive even if they’re outmanned. At home on Sunday, they held their own, even getting a variety of bad breaks in the second half thanks to a less-than-perfect officiating crew. A muffed punt, a questionable timeout and a very generous spot on a first down all went the Cardinals way.

Against Arizona, the Jaguars used their will, coaching and even some deception to take the lead early.

Chad Henne has solidified his spot as the starting quarterback, mainly for just staying in the game and keeping the Jaguars afloat. He doesn’t do a lot of great things, but most of the game he’s making the right decisions and the other players on offense have confidence in him. Getting the team into the right play on offense and executing it when it’s open is all the Jaguars want at quarterback right now, and a majority of the time, Henne is doing just that.

Part of the problem on offense is who to throw it to. With Justin Blackmon out for the year, virtually nobody is open when Henne goes back to throw. When I asked Gus Bradley about the 50% increase in passing yards when Blackmon was in the game, he agreed that “He’s special,” but only said he’d expect more from everybody else on how to replace that kind of production.

So far, that’s not happening.

The Jaguars will have to get more out of guys like Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor and Stephen Burton if they’re going to improve on offense. Note I didn’t say “win games” because while that’s always the ultimate goal, Bradley and company are still working on who can play as much as the final score.

Against the Cardinals they got production from guys like Danny Noble and Clay Harbor, but not enough from their offensive line.

At halftime the Jaguars had 12 yards rushing. If you’re going to expect rookies or guys in their first season to contribute, you have to give them a chance in all phases of the game. They didn’t convert a 3rd down in the first half and allowed Arizona to convert more than half the time. That’s a stat that can usually point to the final score. If you’re not getting off the field on defense and not staying on it on offense, your opportunity to be successful is pretty small.

Even bringing a blitz against Carson Palmer backfired as he found an open receiver time after time, converting first downs and even a 91-yard TD to Michael Floyd. Part of that was just bad coverage and worse tackling by Will Blackmon and the rest of the secondary but anytime Palmer had the time, he found somebody open.

While the defense did what they could (giving up one really big play but keeping the Cardinals to field goals) the offense couldn’t muster enough after the first quarter and eventually the Jaguars came out on the short end of a 27-14 score.

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Maurice Jones Drew to the player he was two years ago when he won the rushing title, but in 2013 he’s not nearly that effective. Maybe he’ll never be. But coming off an injury, it might be the smart thing to do to offer him a one-year deal at the end of the season. He might not take it, figuring near the end of his career he wants to play for a winner but at least he’s a known quantity. He can be one of those “bridge” players who keeps things going while the team is being rebuilt.

In retrospect, I wonder if Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell shouldn’t have kept a couple of those players around (Montel Owens, Daryl Smith) in order to create a locker room culture that at least had some memory of winning.

Going on the road for the next two weeks might be good for this Jaguars team. They continue to have a positive outlook despite the losses, and being away from the distractions of home could be the right tonic for a young squad.

Of course, save for the trip to Tennessee, so far the right tonic for the opposition has been to have the Jaguars come to town.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Locker Room Culture: Off Limits?

In any gathering of “elites” there’s always a sorting out process. Whether it’s in an NFL locker room, a fighter pilot’s ready room or a fraternity initiation. Because these people reached the top of their profession doesn’t mean the competition ends. Ribbing, teasing and hazing has been a part of that sorting out process since the beginning of competition. It’s always been considered a right of passage. But it takes a strong culture of respect and leadership to walk that line between bringing the “new guy” into the fold and downright abuse.

I’ve been in thousands of locker rooms and it’s a sacred place to the players who gather there, from high school to the pros. Anybody who’s ever tested themselves in that situation knows a level of hazing exists and for those who haven’t experienced it, it’s shocking. They’re appalled at it on any level.

Things are said in a locker room setting that wouldn’t be acceptable in any other situation. Ethnicity, sexual orientation, the clothes you wear the people you hang out with, nothing is off limits. But there is a line between bantering among teammates and mean-spirited comments, and everybody knows where that line is.

Somewhere in the timeline of allegedly “toughing up” of Jonathan Martin, that line was crossed.

It takes a veteran club to police that kind of behavior and the Miami Dolphins had a void of leadership in their locker room for somebody not to say “that’s enough.” There’s no excuse for Richie Incognito alleged vile language, even if he says it’s how he and Martin communicated. And there’s no excuse for Martin to accept it, pass it around to his teammates and laugh it off, only to walk out on the team 6 months after the voice mail was left.

There’s something missing to this story that’s yet to come out. And yet, there’s no situation where that’s acceptable.

The NFLPA’s Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, an African-American, said Monday night, the use of what’s commonly now referred to as the “n-word” has no place in sports, music or everyday conversation. Not among African-American’s, European-Americans or whatever ethnic group you chose to claim, locker room talk or not. Smith’s point is the historical significance of that word far outweighs any form of modern colloquial expression.

And he’s right.

Good leadership knows when to criticize and when to praise, when to tease and when to knock it off. Clearly Incognito and the leaders in the Dolphins locker room were lacking that perspective.

I’m sure there’s more to come.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Victory: A Lot More Than Just One Win

I’ve gotten so used to seeing the Jaguars lose over the last two years I fought against the constant thought when the Titans had the ball, every play was about to go for a touchdown.

That didn’t happen in the first half as the Jaguars took a 13-7 lead into the locker room.

While Maurice Jones Drew isn’t the player he was two years ago when he lead the lead in rushing, he was pretty effective in the first half against Tennessee, especially in the first quarter. The Jaguars have to get him involved in the offense either running the ball or throwing it to him in space in order to be successful.

He’s still the key to getting the offense going.

That’s how the Jaguars scored their first TD in their first possession of the year, feeing MJD the ball to take a 7-0 lead.

A ball knocked out of Chris Johnson’s hand rolls right to Paul Posluszny for a turnover. That hadn’t happened since 2007. Johnson can’t get the handle on the ball near the goal line and the Jaguars come up with the ball at the bottom of a pile.

And an overthrow by Jake Locker is intercepted by Dwayne Gratz, a nice catch that we haven’t seen in ten years. As I said in the preseason, wouldn’t it be nice if Gratz is one of those guys the ball finds in the secondary and he can make those plays.

Despite those turnovers, the Jaguars were only able to muster two Josh Scobee field goals and lead 13-7. If you’re the Jaguars you’re happy to have your first halftime lead of the year. If you’re the Titans, you’re happy to only be down six after turning it over three times in one half.

I was asked during the first half, “Are we on fire?” to which I responded, “No, this is how you’re supposed to play.”

These are all plays professionals are supposed to make. Young, old, experienced or not, when the play is there, you have to make it if you want any chance to win. You can’t have silly penalties, dropped balls, dumb throws and missed blocks.

The team knows they have a quarterback deficiency and they know Chad Henne will turn into, well Chad Henne a couple of times a game. He did that with two turnovers that lead to points for Tennessee and gave the Titans some momentum.

So with a 20-13 lead, a young Jaguars team, without a win this year, was trying to figure out a way to come up with a victory. Small things, like downing a punt at the one without your foot going into the end zone help contribute to that. Which means the Titans have to throw out of their end zone. That leads to a safety and a 22-13, two score lead.

“Luck is the residue of design,” is one of my favorite sayings. Branch Rickey coined it in the 40’s and it rings true today. You make your own luck, good and bad.

My least favorite term in football is “prevent defense” because all it usually does is “prevent” you from winning. So when the Jaguars gave up a TD to Ryan Fitzpatrick with over 4 minutes to play, the inevitable seemed to be on the horizon. An ill-conceived three and out solidified that feeling as Tennessee had the ball needing only a field goal to win. That’s when the Jaguars playing the ENTIRE game paid off with a Will Blackmon strip and score for a 29-20 lead.

They’ve played through the final whistle for Gus Bradley all year long and in this time it paid off.

And of course, it comes down to one play, an onside kick. Recover, and the game is over. Give it up, and the Titans have a chance to win. A nice play by Jonathan Cyprien secured the Jaguars victory, the first for Gus Bradley as a head coach in the NFL.

Who cares how they got it. It’s in the books.

And one versus none is a lot different than just one notch up in the “W” column.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Do We Worry About Blackmon?

It’s been a varied response to Justin Blackmon’s suspension to say the least. Fans are outraged that he could be so selfish and violate the NFL’s substance abuse policy for a third time. The Jaguars brass is exasperated but says they’ll help him and not “cut him loose” according the GM Dave Caldwell.

And many of Blackmon’s teammates are defiantly supportive, saying Blackmon’s actions don’t represent who he actually is.

One thing’s for sure: the Jaguars have had an odd run in their history when it comes to wide receivers and substance abuse. Jimmy Smith, RJ Soward, Matt Jones, Reggie Williams and now Blackmon form a straight line from nearly the beginning of the franchise to the present with problems off the field at WR.

I don’t know if it’s the position or a strange run of bad luck but it’s certainly odd that most of the substance abuse problems in Jaguars history have come at that position.

Clearly Blackmon has a problem. The one blemish on his record while he was at Oklahoma State was the only black mark during his tenure there and after extensive research, the Jaguars overlooked that and picked him in the first round. They were rewarded almost immediately with another drinking and driving charge followed by an apology by Blackmon and a spot in the league’s substance abuse program.

One thing about each of Blackmon’s arrests/violations/suspensions, he consistently apologizes and says it doesn’t represent who he is but he never acknowledges that he has a problem and needs to address it. Too may young players seem to think that a quick “I’m sorry” absolves them of any wrongdoing and allows them back to their regular life.

In the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players union, players are given multiple chances to receive professional help overcoming any substance abuse problems they might have. In order to get reinstated by the league, a player has to complete a variety of steps in the program to the league’s satisfaction.

Blackmon has done that twice, both times apologizing to his team, the coaches, ownership and the fans. Both times he was sullen and withdrawn when talking to the media when he came back to the team but was very productive on the field and popular among his teammates.

Of course he was.

He was making them better.

And as he became more and more productive, they became closer and closer as a team and better as an offensive unit. So it’s no surprise that his teammates vehemently supported him with each transgression, including this one.

Being there to help when he needs it is one thing. Enabling his continued destructive behavior is wrong and misguided. His teammates need to get out of the way and let him get his life fixed.

Fans have every right to scream and yell about how spoiled and selfish Blackmon is as a professional athlete. And the Jaguars coaching staff is doing the right thing, hoping he’ll get his life together and help them move the franchise forward.

It’s up to Blackmon though. He’s the one who can ask for help and get it or keep ignoring the symptoms and just say he’s sorry.

Again and again.

Eventually, will anybody listen?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Florida/Georgia: It’s Never Easy

I was at the game and I’m still trying to figure out how Florida was even in it at the end. Georgia did everything right while the sun was shining, getting Todd Gurley back and having Aaron Murray play well, leading them to a 17-0 and 23-3 lead at halftime.

Then a strange sequence of events started with a backwards pass that Georgia thought was an incompletion and stopped and watched as the Gators scooped the ball up and returned it to the 17. Somewhere, Florida found life on offense and scored a TD to make it 23-10.

The ‘Dogs still seemed to be in command until a series of field position possessions left Georgia with the ball at their own 2. Aaron Murray’s play-action fooled nobody and he was sacked in the end zone for a safety, 23-12 Bulldogs. That’s when the momentum really turned and the Gator offense found some holes in Georgia’s defensive scheme, especially when it came to covering the quarterback, Tyler Murphy. A couple of Murphy scrambles and Florida was suddenly back in it 23-20 after a two point conversion.

And that’s when it really got strange.

Georgia started to move the ball but at their own 40, Mark Richt decided to go for it on 4th and 1 with a couple of timeouts and trick plays and formations, only to fall short and give the Gators the ball back. By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever seen 5 unsportsmanlike penalties called on the same play, but I can’t say that anymore.

Because of the nature of the fans in the stadium, that’s when things really started to get loud with both sides trying to support their defenses and heckling the other side. It spilled over onto the field as well, the emotion of the game, in essence an elimination contest for the SEC, getting the better of some of the players.

For a long time, the Florida/Georgia game was fairly uninteresting. Vince Dooley had the Gators number and Georgia rolled through Jacksonville for most of the 70’s and 80’s as the Dogs contended for SEC and National Titles. Steve Spurrier was determined to change that and he did as the Gators took control in the 90’s and beyond while Florida owned the conference and emerged as a national power. Urban Meyer continued that, but Mark Richt eventually figured it out and that leaves us where we are right now: Two teams, pretty evenly matched with a lot to play for when the come to Jacksonville around Halloween.

I was pretty impressed when Murray announced after last season that he was coming back for his senior year at Georgia. It made sense, but so many guys (see Blaine Gabbert) come out before they should I figured Murray was looking for the NFL riches he would have commanded. By coming back, he’s probably enhanced his draft stock but also showed what he’s learned in his 5 years in Athens.

So leading by 3 with over 8 minutes on the clock, Georgia got the ball with Murray at the controls deep in their own territory. With some strong runs, a couple of key pass completions and a key hands to the face penalty (the officials had a tough time controlling the game all day), the ‘Dogs ran out the clock and came away victorious for the third year in a row.

Murray becomes the first Georgia QB since Buck Belue in ’79, ’80 and ’81 to win three straight against the Gators and the Bulldogs stay in the SEC race.


For Florida, any hope of an SEC title is now gone and at 4-4 with three straight losses they’re reeling with four games remaining. With games at South Carolina and home against FSU among those four, Gator fans are hoping the team finishes above .500.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell: Jacksonville’s on a Global Stage

At the fan forum today, NFL Commissioner answered a wide range of questions from selected fans at the Landmark Hotel’s Grand Ballroom. Goodell did a double take when he entered the room as 90% of the 150 or so invited fans in attendance were in some NFL team jersey.

“People would be surprised by the passion and the knowledge these fans have,” Goodell told me in a short interview when the forum was over. “Their questions are so good they could be members of the media,” he added with a smile.

When asked if there would be a franchise in London or LA first, Goodell laughed and said, “I’ve heard that before. I’d like to see one in both. We won’t go back to LA until it’s right. We’re still exploring what’s right for London with our International Series. You’re showing that you’re interested by selling out these games. That’s why we’ll have a third game here next year.”

He dismissed playing a Super Bowl in London, explaining that the NFL’s championship game will always be played in one of the league’s franchise cities.

I asked Goodell about Khan’s commitment to 4 games in London, and if that has made a difference in the attitude in the UK toward the International Series. “I like it because Shad is doing it for all the right reasons,” the commissioner said. “He’s doing it for the Jaguars, he’s doing it for his community, he’s doing it for the NFL. He’s trying to promote the game over here and that’s a great thing for us.

This game puts Jacksonville and the Jaguars on the global stage. They’ll be on TV a lot more here in the UK because they’ve committed to 4 games.

Talking to several UK Jaguars fans after the appearance by Goodell that included for Jaguars Lineman Tony Boselli and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana, they used the word “we” in describing the Jaguars fortunes as in “I hope we get better and we will.”

When one fans asked what “marquee” team the league might pair with the Jaguars in 2015 after the 49ers and the Cowboys will provide the opposition this year and next, Goodell said that’s the goal, to always send “marquee” franchises to participate in the London game. Boselli added, “If things go the way we hope, by 2015 the Jaguars will be the marquee team playing here as the home team.”

Clearly Goodell is a big Khan fan and would like to see Jacksonville flourish as a franchise: He was the league’s biggest proponent of putting a team in Jacksonville during the expansion process 20 years ago. With the Jaguars committing to 4 years as the home team in London, Goodell says he’s seen an increase in the fan interest and awareness in this game. It means more for the Jaguars and Jacksonville than just this week on the schedule.

“Shad’s a great owner. He’s enthusiastic about everything. We’re lucky to have him. It’s not just the game that’s going to make the difference here. We have an overall mission to present them as the home team and in that way the game will grow.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Shad Khan “Living The Dream”

With a smile and a handshake, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan greeted me at Craven Cottage saying, “You know, you’re on Anne Boleyn’s hunting ground here.” Craven Cottage is the home stadium or “grounds” of Khan’s English Premier League soccer team, Fulham. He was, in good spirits and outlined most of the history of the club and the surrounding neighborhood with the ease of somebody who clearly had studied the subject.

“Fulham is a unique club,” he continued. “We have a neutral stand (generally in England the two opponents fans are not allowed to sit together) and we’re a popular club all over London.”

The Cottagers (aka the “Whites”) were founded as a club in 1879 and have been in the same stadium since 1886. They have the most affluent fan base of any team in the EPL and, unlike most teams, nobody hates them.

“I found that everybody likes Fulham,” Khan added, echoing others who call them everybody’s “second favorite club.”

It’s an easy walk from the Putney Bridge stop on the London Underground, locally known as the Tube, down to Craven Cottage. The nearly one mile trek goes past antique book stores and flower shops, through neighborhoods and Bishop’s Park, hard along the Thames. In fact, both of Shad’s teams play in stadiums by a river. In Jacksonville, over 75,000 can see a game. In London, 25,000.

Much like he’s doing in Jacksonville, Khan has plans to renovate and expand Craven Cottage.

“The City of London is giving us 30 more feet along the Thames to expand the riverside stand,” he explained. They’ll demolish the current stands and rebuild them. He plans to have high-end hospitality there, as he does at home. “It’s an important part of what we’re doing,’ he explained waving his hand across the pitch.

While his purchase of the Jaguars and Fulham seemed rather fast paced, Khan says it wasn’t part of any grand scheme. He felt like there was some synergy between the two leagues. Owning both clubs is part of a business plan to attract sponsors to both Fulham and the Jaguars.

“We’re looking for more fans for the Jaguars,” he continued. “It’s all about expanding the fans, and Jacksonville’s economic development. The Jaguars don’t have enough sponsors and some have left. In some cases I don’t blame them, but we need to find some more. There’s a synergy between the two, a cross-pollination if you will, that I think will work.” Khan plans to operate the two sports clubs as separate entities but thinks there’s plenty of opportunity to engage business and fans that have an overall interest in both.

Shad’s not worried, at least short term, about the Jaguars start under Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley. “That’s not sustainable but it is what it is right now. We’re trying to rebuild the whole thing.” Khan often notes that he couldn’t do that with Fulham because of the EPL’s “relegation” policy. (The bottom three teams get dropped to a lower division and the top three from there get promoted.) “Fulham’s been 12 straight years without relegation and it’s important we stay in the Premiership.”

I noted that it was a big week for him and it got started off right with Fulham’s 4-1 win at Crystal Palace Monday night. “A breakout win for them. They have the talent. Now let’s see where they go from here,” he agreed.

“Pretty exciting,” I said.

“Very exciting,” he added. “It’s an exciting week, a big week, an important week. It’s good to be me!” he said with a laugh and without a bit of smugness.

He’s having so much fun it makes you wonder, “What’s he going to do next?”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Building for the “Distant” Future

If it was supposed to be some kind of secret, it’s out there now: the Jaguars don’t have to win this year. It’s a luxury that GM Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley have for 2013.

But for only one year. And maybe a little of 2014.

There are a few ways to run an NFL team and a couple of ways to rebuild one and clearly the Jaguars have chosen the “building from the bottom up” path. Caldwell has been given the reins of the franchise and he’s making football decisions for the long haul. He could have cobbled a team together in 2013 that looked like it was a player or two away, won some games and continued along that grinding path. Instead he’s literally gutting the franchise and looking for pillars and stars that he can build a winner on that will last.

It’s hard to watch George Selvie, Rashad Jennings, Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith, Montel Owens and now Eugene Monroe go to other teams with productive years left on their NFL careers. Nobody would argue that the Jaguars would be a better team in 2013 with those guys on the roster. But would they be better in 2014 or 2015 if those players were taking up spots and playing time from players you hoped to develop into long-term contributors?

Clearly Caldwell, and Bradley for that matter, have told Shad Khan that it’s a rebuilding project that will take time. Perhaps three years. And Khan has bought into that, partly because he trusts that those guys are making the right decisions and partly because he can.

The Jaguars under Wayne Weaver could never afford to be historically bad as they’re threatening to do this year. Weaver’s Jaguars had to win some games to keep fans at least mildly interested and as potential season ticket holders. Khan isn’t worried about that right now. He’s not blacking out games and he’s not worried about the percentage of fans that won’t re-up next year if the team drops to historical lows in 2013.

He’s also looking to the future and the long-term possibility of having a solid base to build on over and over. It’s easy to pick those franchises out in the NFL. They’re the ones who are in the playoffs year after year and are the favorites week after week. That takes some short-term pain in exchange for the hope that there are better days ahead.

Khan wouldn’t have minded that last year but since he didn’t have much NFL experience he listened to his football “people” Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey. Their thought was that adding a few free agents and a high draft pick would make the Jaguars competitive in the division. So Khan spent the $60 million and for that got two wins. In his world, that means the decision making process is broken so he changed the decision makers.

You could argue that the Jaguars traded their best offensive player for draft picks. If Monroe wasn’t the best player on offense, he was at least 1A. So if they’re willing to do that, who might be next?

“That thought does run through your mind,” said Marcedes Lewis, one of a couple of Jaguars players who might have some trade value this season. “But if you’re thinking about that, your mind’s in the wrong place.”

“I want to stay here,” said Paul Posluszny, the most valuable player on the Jaguars roster when it comes to what he would bring on the trade market. There’s not a team that wouldn’t want Posluszny on their roster. “I hope that doesn’t happen. I want to play for Coach Bradley, for these guys. You just have to compete one day at a time and not worry about any of that other stuff.”

That’s the right theory but it wasn’t to hard to see the furrowed brows and the worried glances in the locker room as Monroe’s departure sent a noticeable ripple from locker to locker.

“It might make the running game better,” Bradley said before practice. When pushed on that statement Gus stood by his position. “I have to think that way. That’s the way I’ve been in my life. If something changes, it could make it better. That’s the way I think.”

Which means with what Caldwell is doing, Bradley is the right man for the job. Any other attitude and they wouldn’t take the field.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: Not Getting Better Soon

With an announced 59, 695 tickets distributed for the Jaguars/Colts game today it’s a shame that so much of the Jaguars performance was sub-standard. While the offense didn’t produce the defense had so many lapses on long yardage situations that it made it easy for Indianapolis.

Blaine Gabbert appeared early in the game to be playing with the “freedom” Gus Bradley encouraged him to play with this week but after a couple of drops by Cecil Shorts and one run back for a TD, Gabbert reverted to the Gabbert we’re all too familiar with.

It’s clear the Jaguars are outmanned on both sides of the ball, but the mental mistakes, the penalties on a veteran like Jason Babin and the flat out missed coverages are too glaring to overlook. Some players need to pay a bigger price for their mistakes. I know Bradley is trying to keep the culture upbeat but there are too many times guys look like they don’t know what they’re doing.

So where do they start?

While panicking doesn’t help anybody, I think the team needs a little shake up. Maybe not this week but certainly Bradley needs to send a message that this kind of play, and the lack of focus and mental errors will not be tolerated.

Cut Jason Babin.

Even thought Bradley said it’s not time to start cutting anybody.

Cut Babin.

I know he’s a veteran and has talent on a team that doesn’t have any to spare but Bradley needs to grab the team by it’s shirt and shake it a bit. At the very least a heavy fine or a benching sends a message to the rest of the team.

Next week Justin Blackmon returns and while you can’t put a lot of hope in him changing what happens on offense, it’s at least what your offense is supposed to look like. Marcedes Lewis played about a series in the Colts game so it’s clear he’s not right and you can’t count on him perhaps for the entire year. So I guess you can’t actually judge Gabbert on what has happened early this year but looking at his body of work over three years it’s hard to project him as a starting quarterback with a future of production in the NFL.

“We like his traits,” is how Bradley justified their confidence in putting Gabbert back in the game this week but Gabbert just doesn’t seem to “get it.” Instead of stepping up in the pocket, he’s trying to run around. His decision-making in crucial situations tends to allow the other team to grab the advantage instead of moving the Jaguars forward.

Do you make a change there?

I’d be in favor of that but it probably won’t happen until the full complement of the offense is together for a couple of games. I don’t think that’ll make a difference but the Jaguars want to make absolutely sure this is the right move. “I’m standing strong with Blaine,” Bradley said when asked in his post-game press conference. So we’ll see more of #11 at least for the foreseeable future.

It’s painful to watch right now because Bradley is upbeat about the effort and the positive message but seems to realize after four weeks of the regular season that his team isn’t getting that message in the right way. It’s one thing to compete, and it’s one thing to be in position to make the play. But it’s a whole other thing, and a professional expectation that you’ll execute that play. That’s what you’re getting paid for. To make plays.

It appears the Jaguars as a whole are playing not to make mistakes and without the confidence to compete against other NFL players and teams. Fifty-fifty balls are going to the opposition consistently. All the breaks are going against the Jaguars because in that league you make your own breaks.

If their stated goal is to put the best players on the field, it’s hard not to think that this team wouldn’t be better with Daryl Smith, Montel Owens and even Derrick Cox on the roster.

So Jaguars fans can only hope that Bradley and Caldwell know what they’re doing.

Because this isn’t getting any better anytime soon.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars in London: Fun and Frustration:Equal Parts of Both

Walking to Wembley Stadium to attend the Jaguars/Niners game was much like walking to a Super Bowl venue. “Next to the Super Bowl, this is the biggest production we have,” one NFL insider told me.

From the badging around the stadium featuring the Jacksonville skyline and Jaguars players to the pregame show by recording star Neo, this game felt like something special.

“What a great atmosphere,” Jeremy Mincey told me in the locker room after the game. “This was really fantastic. Lots of Jags fans. It hurts me when we disappoint them like that.”

And that seemed to be the prevailing thought among the players after falling to muster much competition for the 49ers in a 42-10 loss.

“We’re just not making those plays,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said when I asked him if some opportunities were there early in the game. “We’re missing some things. I don’t think it’s because the players are tight, we want them to play freely. But they need to get to their technique and execute and right now we’re not doing that.”

Consistently the Jaguars make enough mistakes to beat themselves in 2013, thus leading to the most one-sided scores not only in franchise but also in league history.

“We missed a lot of opportunities today,” Maurice Jones Drew said when I inquired about another slow start. “That’s kind of been our MO throughout the season. It just seems like we have chance to do things. It is on all 11 of us.”

Too often the Jaguars will play well for a few plays but then give up a big gain or drop a crucial third down throw.

Paul Posluszny said the Jaguars got to the situations they wanted, but couldn’t continue to execute when it counted. “We felt like if we could get them to third and a favorable (yardage) for us, we would have the highest success rate. “Kaepernick scrambled for some first downs where normally we would get off the field in those situations.”

Posluszny brought it down to its essence when I pointed out some busted coverages and guys not making a play. “That’s what it comes down to. At the end of the day, technique and fundamentals. This league is about playmakers. You have to have a guy or a group of guys that are able to make a big play when you need it the most. We are struggling with that right now.

Jones Drew agreed. “”We have to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. It takes time to do that, but we’re working toward that. Mike Brewster and Mike Brown stepped up. We have to continue to build off that.”

Bradley’s thankful for little things like that right now.

“Mike Brown made that catch. We have to like that, things like that. He was open, he saw him, he caught it and, touchdown.”

This has been such a different year to cover the Jaguars. When a team doesn’t get the job done because of poor execution or no passion, it’s easy to be hard on the players or the coaching staff or both. But this team is just overmatched and out-manned.

You can see it at the snap of the ball when the line of scrimmage moves in the Jaguars direction and not the other way. You can see it when the opposing QB drops back and is able to survey the field without rushing. And you can see it when no matter who is at quarterback for the Jaguars, their time to throw is very limited.

When asked earlier in the week at a fan forum in London about what the difference between the early expansion teams he played on and what’s happening now with the Jaguars, Tony Boselli said, “It’s about good players. We had a lot of good players on those teams. Now we’re trying to get back to that.”

The game against the 49ers spotlighted the difference between the two. San Francisco was in the Super Bowl last year and looked like a team that can go back. The Jaguars looked like a team trying to figure out who can play and who can’t .

Niner’s All Pro Linebacker Patrick Willis remembers when the Niners were a struggling team, much like the Jaguars. “We know what that’s like. You have to build on that,” he said after shutting down the Jaguars offense most of the night. “We like where we are, we don’t want to go back. ”

Hopefully we’ll hear that from a Jaguars player after a game at Wembley Stadium sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Results Not Unexpected

I liked the effort.

Outside of that, there were too many deficiencies in the Jaguars lineup to overcome a very talented Seattle Seahawks team.

Early on you could tell the Jaguars were a bit overwhelmed by just about everything Seattle came up with on offense and defense. A mobile quarterback like Russell Wilson creates difficulty for just about every defense and when you combine his talent with the Jaguars inexperience, bad things can happen if you’re in teal and black.

It’s not hard to look past just flat out getting beat. Seattle might go to the Super Bowl and at times against the Jaguars they looked like that team. They covered Jaguars receivers, they harassed Chad Henne and took advantage of every opportunity. What bothers me is when there’s illegal procedure in punt formation or other silly penalties.

If you’re deficient when it comes to talent, you have to be disciplined and focused in every situation. You can’t have hands to the face. You can’t have illegal formations and you can’t back yourself up at anytime. Gus Bradley says the teams has to “clean those things up” but it’s got to be more than that.

It’s too easy to fall into a culture of losing where you figure you’ll take a short cut here and there and hope to get buy. But there is no shortcut to getting better and that has to be the Jaguars goal every week. Get better to the point where winning will be one of the options every week.

They’ll look at this game and see some improvement over what happened in week one and two.

A solid defensive play on a tipped ball lead to the first TD for the Jaguars. The Chad Henne/Cecil Shorts combination moved the ball pretty consistently when called on late in the game. Occasionally the defense was pretty stout against the run but the tackling sometimes was so horrendous it was hard to watch.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Jaguars fan base treats the team as they return this week from their two-week road trip. Will they get behind the guys and show some support for the effort or will they write off the season as a lost cause and head to the beach or other pursuits that are calling.

There are other teams in the league that are winless. Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Washington, the New York Giants. The Jaguars were expected to struggle so it’s no surprise that they’re 0-3. Are they better or worse off than those other teams at 0-3? The Jaguars can identify their problems. And they are many.

“We’ll get some of these things resolved and get this thing turned around, ” Cecil Shorts said after the game.

Hopefully he’s right.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Ups and Downs

Leaning on the perspective of history you learn that it’s never as bad as it seems or as good as it looks when it comes to the NFL. That’s why watching Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley after the 19-9 loss to Oakland was a study in how “team building” is part of his philosophy as a young head coach. He told us when he was hired that he was excited to now lead the whole team instead of just the defense and he’s putting that theory into play.

And he’s been tested early.

There wasn’t much good to go on in the opening day loss to Kansas City and Bradley admitted that adding, “We competed like crazy, but sometimes the wrong way.” And while that was harsh on the ears at first, it made sense that a young, inexperienced team was having difficulty just doing their job, following their training and talent and going out and playing.

He could have spent some time calling guys out, singling players out for their mistakes, but instead called on the players as a whole to “buy in” and the coaching staff to re-evaluate how they were trying to teach.

Following the Oakland loss, Bradley said there were “small victories” and if you look at the glass “half-full” it’s easy to see some of them. The Raiders scored one touchdown against the Jaguars defense, and that was on a short field created by special teams. The rest of Oakland’s points came from Sebastian Janikowski’s foot.

Bradley singled out Chad Henne from a statistical standpoint and said that the running backs did a decent job after Maurice Jones Drew left the game. He acknowledged that Luke Joeckel was anxious during the two-minute drill and jumped early twice, and was critical of his team’s mental errors causing penalties, noting that a “hands to the face penalty kept a drive going. We have to clean that up.”

I’ll admit that Bradley is an easy guy to like. Good listener, honest, not a bunch of baloney coming from him when you ask him a question whether it’s hard or a softball. And his ability to direct his team to “take the next step” without crushing either their enthusiasm or their motivation has showed up at important times.

It would be easy to fall into a culture of losing where the players start doing their own thing, figuring they’re going to be on the wrong end of the scoreboard no matter what.

And that’s where Bradley’s challenge gets a little steeper.

How do you keep veterans like Jones Drew, Monroe, Lewis, Babin and others engaged in the process of getting better when in the short term they might not have much success in beating opponents on the field?

In his acceptance of a complete rebuild, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan said it made him think “Why didn’t I start this a year sooner” leaving him with the understanding that it’s going to take some time to build a consistent winner. Because of some bad decisions made by Wayne Weaver, Gene Smith, James Harris and Jack Del Rio the Jaguars missed their “cyclical uptick” about 3 or four years ago.

They beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs and were one win away from the AFC Championship game but got off track in the off-season and got lost. That means they’ve been in the losing doldrums for an inordinate amount of time by NFL standards. That doesn’t make the fans happy and rightfully so.

But I’ve never understood that segment of fans that say “they’re not winning so why don’t they just move?” If that were the case in the last hundred years of watching sports the Cubs would be out of Chicago, the Red Sox could easily be in south Florida and the Lions would have left Detroit decades ago. They haven’t won in ages.

No, it’s a process with peaks and valleys and right now the Jaguars and their fans probably feel like they’re in the Marianas Trench of losing.

Does Bradley know how to get the most out of his guys? Is Dave Caldwell the personnel whiz that most people in the league think he is?

We’ll know the answers to those questions soon enough when you measure it against the NFL’s timetable. It wasn’t that long ago in “NFL time” that San Francisco, New Orleans, Baltimore and even New England were lowly bottom feeders in the league. As Shad Khan sees it, this group of his football management has some time to build a winner.

As I’ve said before.

Not lots of time.

But some.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Not What They Were Expecting

Full of hope and enthusiasm, the Jaguars opened the 2013 season how they wanted to early against the Chiefs. Decent stops on defense and then a great special teams play leading to a blocked punt and a safety and a 2-0 lead. From there, the team looked like it slipped into their 2012 persona with dropped passes, not much pressure on defense and good field position for the Chiefs thanks to spotty special teams play.

Head Coach Gus Bradley was afraid of guys trying too hard instead of letting their talent and their training guide them through each situation. “We had some of the older guys talk to the young guys last night about doing your job. Some guys think they need to do something different than what they’re trained to do,” the Head Coach said in his post game press conference. “We need to settle down as a team. The defense started to do that, but we need that for the whole team.”

That’s what the offense looked like early. Without much rhythm, they were mechanical, not flowing and subsequently had dropped passes, bad reads and not many first downs. On defense it looked the same, with not much pressure on the quarterback by the front four and tackles that weren’t quite competed that allowed Kansas City to move the ball downfield and execute their offensive game plan. Of course, the Chiefs didn’t have to be great because they had great field position starting almost every drive on offense in the first half.

What was disappointing is how it appeared the defensive line was being pushed around in the running game, giving the Chiefs good down-and-distance opportunities as they marched towards the end zone.

Meanwhile the Jaguars running game looked anemic and the passing game mistake-prone. “We didn’t play as a team,” Gabbert said afterwards in his standard locker room comments. “We were never in sync. Some of that’s on me, I can’t throw the ball there,” he added when asked about the two easy interceptions the Chiefs came up with.

I’ve said all along Gabbert is a very “seductive” player when you watch him in practice. He makes all the throws, he has an unbelievable arm and he is a commanding presence in and out of the huddle. But of course there’s nobody chasing him with bad intentions in practice, which might be why he has difficulty translating that performance onto the field for game day.

Maybe missing Marcedes Lewis and Justin Blackmon made a big difference for Gabbert and the rest of the offense. But it appears none of the offensive woes will change until Gabbert becomes a more polished and complete player. He doesn’t have the internal clock that most quarterbacks have when it comes to understanding when to eat it and when to not. While he has good speed and mobility, he doesn’t always know how to use it to a quarterback’s full advantage. He’ll shuffle in the pocket, but then take a sack for holding it too long. He’ll run out of the pocket, only to miss the open guy downfield he just bought himself time to read since he didn’t even see him. And then he’ll decide where he’s throwing it before reading what’s there, sometimes putting the team in danger of a crucial turnover.

I’ll take Bradley at his word that if this team plays in games how it performs on the practice field, we’ll see a better performance with better results. I’ll also buy into the defense playing better if they build on their nine consecutive stops at the end of the game. And I’ll agree that playing within themselves is possible and that too will improve their chances at victory.

But Gabbert’s still the key. If he can’t play better consistently, he won’t get a chance to play much at all.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Give Reason For Hope

When Shad Khan decided to make a change at the top of his football operation last year, it wasn’t because the team went 2-14. It was because the advice he received about how the Jaguars were going to win games didn’t pan out. So he put Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley in charge and changed his timeline for the Jaguars to win. That’s why Caldwell and Bradley have the luxury of not winning this year and maybe not next year either. Sure, they’ll have to show improvement, but being a contender in three years is the timeline for Bradley and Caldwell’s plan to take effect.

So what’s that mean for 2013?

There’s no question they’ve upgraded the roster, if only by a bit. Taking players like Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson from big schools who have played on the big stage gives the roster an uptick almost immediately. And they have some speed. Even on the practice squad, the Jaguars are faster, which makes a difference in the NFL.

“I don’t think Sunday will show just who we are,” Bradley said this week. “We’re a work in progress, looking to get better every week.”

That’s what almost every coach should say, and kudos to Bradley for admitting it. He is one of those guys who appears very straightforward. You see what you get without a lot of deceit. Honest answers and engaging personality. You can’t ask for much more as a reporter when it comes to dealing with the people in charge.

The one thing the team doesn’t have is depth. They need to stay healthy among the first team in order to stay competitive. Last year’s injury to Maurice Jones Drew had a domino effect on the team, and not only at his position. MJD’s health is important for the whole team. He’s what sets up the whole offense and without him, there’s not much the team will accomplish. He looks the same in training camp as in previous years, which is a good thing. Although they’ve gotten better behind him, none of the rest of the running backs on the roster present the same threat that MJD does.

They’re better at wide receiver, even with Justin Blackmon missing the first four games. And can you trust him to be a part of the team each week? Another violation and he’s suspended for a year. Nonetheless, Sanders, Cecil Shorts, Mike Brown and the rest should make them better this year catching the football.

Of course, it’s all about the quarterback in the end and Bradley and his staff have chosen Blaine Gabbert as the starter. He has a thumb injury but it hasn’t seemed to hamper him mechanically in practice. A thumb injury is slow to heal and it hurts. But you can play with it.

Gabbert seems to have bought into the offensive philosophy that Jedd Fisch has brought as the offensive coordinator. If his first read is open, throw it to him. Sounds simple but Gabbert, and in turn Chad Henne always seemed last year to pass up somebody open while they looked downfield. If they’re going to play an up tempo offense, you have to take small chunks and “move the chains.”

Maybe the best, and maybe the funniest thing said in training camp was from Eugene Monroe, the Jaguars offensive tackle and a Pro Bowl type player. “The best thing is that on third down, the same guy is in front of me,” he said when I asked about his conditioning and this offense. “We stay on the field and that means they have to as well. No situational substitutions. And that’s good,” he said with a smile.

On defense it all comes down to pass rush. It looks a little better in the preseason, but it’s hard to tell until the regular season starts. I’m still not sure why they didn’t re-sign Daryl Smith because between Smith, Paul Posluzny and Geno Hayes the linebacking corps would be fairly formidable and something you could build on. The defensive backfield is young but talented and will be picked on. The only way to change that is with a pass rush.

I generally like what they’re doing but don’t have any idea whether they’ll win or not. I do know they have a couple of years to get to be a contender and if they don’t, like they’re predecessors, they’ll be leaving on the same day. Let’s hope that’s way down the road and of their own choice.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

“Better and Improved”: The Jaguars Buzzwords

We saw what looked to be about as close to regular season game speed in the Jaguars Eagles game Saturday night. Bodies were flying around and the hits were real. The starters played into the 3rd quarter and looked respectable, leaving the game leading 24-16.

Two guys, Jordan Todman and Allen Reisner continue to look like guys who just continue to make plays no matter what’s the situation or who else is in their. Playing with the first team, Reisner made a nice catch for a TD and sealed the end on a 63-yard TD run by Todman. The 1st year running back out of Connecticut ran for more than 100 yards and looked like he solidified his spot on the team. He’s been productive from the running back spot and he can contribute on special teams as well.

Both of those guys are the type of player who hasn’t emerged for the Jaguars in the recent past. Players who have been in the league but are available because they haven’t been overwhelming anywhere else. If the Jaguars can get production out of either of those players it’s a bonus.

Luke Joeckel played most of the first half and had good and bad moments but he was healthy enough to play, and that was the important part.

There wasn’t that much emphasis on the quarterback since Blaine Gabbert has been named as the starter but Chad Henne was adequate and continues to be the ideal backup guy. The offensive philosophy is just right for the up tempo style of play. The quarterback needs to get the ball to the guy who’s open RIGHT NOW, instead of checking for something better downfield. Both Gabbert and Henne have looked effective when they take that approach.

Defensively, there was more pressure on the quarterback but it’s hard to really gauge how they’re doing because the opposition was Michael Vick, and he can make anybody look bad running out of the pocket. Jeremy Mincey looks like he’s taking it personally that he’s not considered a starter, and that’s good. There was an Andre Branch sighting on a sack, and the usually solid play by the linebacking corps is going to be a plus.

The defensive backfield looked young at times but those are the growing pains the team will put up with if they develop the way they hope. Dwayne Gratz had another interception, this time on a throw away by Vick but no matter. Wouldn’t it be nice if he turns out to be a guy that the ball just seems to find in those situations? The Jaguars haven’t had one of those in a while.

The team still has some issues on special teams coverage. Too many long returns on both kickoffs and punts. You hope that settles down once they get their regular personell in there instead of a lot of different guys who are just trying to make the team.

Next Thursday you might see Joeckel and perhaps Justin Blackmon play against the Falcons but that might be it among starters on offense. On defense, they might still want to get Johnathan Cyprien some playing time and perhaps some other young DB’s.

The first cuts are Tuesday, down to 75 so that means just 15 guys will be released. After that it’s 22 cuts down to the 53 man roster. That comes after the Atlanta game.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars 2013: It’s Not About Winning

It’s a luxury Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell enjoy in 2013 the virtually no other coach and GM tandem has in the NFL: They don’t have to win.

When Shad Khan bought the team in 2012, then General Manager Gene Smith thought the Jaguars were just a few pieces away from being competitive. When he hired Mike Mularkey as the Head Coach the two of them assessed the roster and thought that through the draft and free agency they might make the Jaguars competitive last year. With that as their template, they told Khan that spending a little money and moving up in the draft would give the Jaguars the pieces they needed to be in the mix at the end of the year. So Khan agreed to spend about $60 million to acquire Aaron Ross, Laurent Robinson and re-sign Jeremy Mincey. They also picked Justin Blackmon in the first round of the draft, filling a glaring need at WR.

And for their money and efforts?

The Jaguars had a two-win season.

It wasn’t that the team only one two games. It was that Khan, as a first year owner, had given the people he put in charge the tools they asked for and they didn’t get it done. So he decided the decision-making was flawed and changed the management team.

In 2013, Bradley and Caldwell didn’t make any promises or even say they’d be competitive this year when it comes to wins and losses. Bradley always says, “We’ll compete till the end,” but there’s never any talk about wins in the Jaguars offices. Because if you lower the expectations, and say you have a plan, there will be a honeymoon period.

How long?

Hard to say but they all know they won’t win this year and any kind of success will be a bonus. Next year they’ll have to be vastly improved and in year three they’ll be expected to compete for the division title. That’s not to say that they can’t catch lightning in a bottle. Look at what the Colts did last year with a rookie quarterback and no expectations.

So while it’s hard to predict what measure of success the Jaguars might have, these guys have some time to get it right.


Not a lot. But some.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Assessment: Is “Not Terrible” Fair?

One of our producers was commenting on one of their colleagues the other day with the assessment, “We’ll, they’re not doing terrible.” We all laughed, but it might be a pretty good assessment of the Jaguars progress so far in 2013. Improved and better and they’re “not doing terrible.”

For the Jaguars first exhibition game against Miami, it was our first look at the team under Gus Bradley in a game situation. As expected, Bradley said, “I liked how we competed on both sides of the ball and as coaches, that’s what we’re looking for. The game showed them improved in some areas but a lot of the same problems. When it was the 1’s vs. the 1’s, the Jaguars defense seemed to hold their own and even put some pressure on the quarterback. Sen’Derrick Marks had an early sack and looked like he could be a factor in a phase of the game the Jaguars have been lacking in since, well it seems since Tony Brackens retired. We saw good effort on defense, some good pass defense and a generally you could see that they should be better.

Offensively, Blaine Gabbert was inconsistent, certainly not the player he’s been in camp for the last 10 days. A good throw looked like it was dropped by Mike Brown and another by Ace Sanders but he airmailed a couple of throws (that comes from hurrying and not setting your feet) and fired one to the fullback on a simple out route that was slightly behind the receiver as well. It was tipped in the air and intercepted and led to the first TD of the game. While you could easily say the fullback should have caught the ball, it’s those little things that Gabbert said this week he wanted to concentrate on.

“Go out and compete, work on the little things and score some points,” is how he put it on Thursday when Gus Bradley named him the starter. He has unbelievable physical skills and I’ve called him a “seductive” player in practice because when you watch him in that setting you wonder how the Jaguars ever lose. In his first two years, and now after the first preseason appearance, he still hasn’t been able to translate that onto the field. Chad Henne was better but nothing spectacular. He managed the game the way you would expect him to and led the Jaguars to their only scoring drive of the night.

Neither quarterback did anything that would change what the coaches are thinking after the first two weeks of training camp. Obviously, Gabbert played without the receivers expected to start in the regular season (Shorts and eventually Blackmon) and Henne played some, but not all of his time with the first team. He went against the Dolphins second team defense as well.

On the bright side, Ace Sanders showed why they drafted him with both punt return ability and as a pass catcher. He fields punts fluidly and makes the first guy miss. Then he’s moving up field looking for positive yardage. You could tell even in this game that he doesn’t have that blazing speed you’d like in a guy doing that job, but he’s certainly an improvement over anybody in teal and black over the last decade or so. He’ll be electric but maybe not a game breaker.

Denard Robinson is a dynamic player with the ball in his hands and it’ll be interesting to see how they try to get him involved in the offense. He nearly got his head taken off when the Jaguars put him in their version of the Wildcat formation but coming out of the backfield he found openings and showed some of that burst you saw when he was in college.

It’s still training camp, so they’ll be back to work on Sunday. “It’s preseason,” Bradley said after the game. “And that’s what preseason is for. We need to clean things up and we’ll work on that and challenge our players to do that. The more comfort level they get in these situations the better it’ll be.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Camp: No Surprises But Not Routine

In the first 5 days of camp I’ve seen Gus Bradley just light up one of his players. I’ve seen a quarterback go down like a ton of bricks. I’ve seen Denard Robinson look clueless and like a Pro Bowler – all within 5 minutes. And I’ve seen Cecil Shorts have the best camp of anybody.

Which means it’s been a pretty typical camp when it comes to work and production. Not too many surprises and not much unexpected. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to be upbeat about.

Bradley’s heated dressing down of one of his linebackers in practice isn’t completely new. He’s a defensive coach, coming off a defensive coordinators job and now running a camp as a head coach for the first time. He wants it right. And he wants it right now. Bradley has said all along that it would be up-tempo, uncomfortable and hot and it’s been all three. So the players have to keep up and perform at a high level over and over. Every movement is recorded for review in practice and with every job up for grabs, it could be the little things that are the difference between staying on the team or leaving or being a backup or a starter.

If there is a quarterback competition going on, Chad Henne might have a slight edge but all of this posturing early in camp isn’t going to determine who starts or even who plays the most once the regular season starts. We’ve seen Gabbert be brilliant in practice but not be able to transfer that kind of production on to the field in games. Gabbert went down at the end of practice Monday when he was clipped on the ankle by an offensive lineman but was back on the field Wednesday.

We’ve seen Henne be a serviceable quarterback who might not get you beat, but he hasn’t shown that he’s the “franchise” guy who can win a game nearly by himself. The coaches are putting a lot of heat on the quarterbacks to perform and we’ve seen them be sharp and not so much in practice. But Bradley always says he’s looking for who can bounce back from adversity as well as who can put two and three good practices together.

When it comes to that, it’s hard not to overlook three guys: Cecil Shorts, Mike Brown and Luke Joeckel. I asked my photographer, Matt Kingston if he thought Shorts had gotten taller. “No,” he said, “that’s just what better looks like.” (It’s my favorite quote of camp so far.) But he’s exactly right. Shorts is by far the most consistent and best receiver on the field. Sharp routes, open on deep balls and maybe one drop in five days. He’s had a great camp.

Near him is Mike Brown at WR. Bradley singled him out on Monday saying “He’s put some good practices together back to back. He’s doing a real nice job.” And Joeckel is, according to Bradley, the “quietest number two pick ever in camp.” And he’s right. Joeckel has been plugged in at the right tackle spot and looks like he’s been there ten years. Knows the plays, works hard, listens and performs. In other words, just what you were hoping to get with the number two pick.

And everybody’s paying attention at camp when Denard Robinson lines up in the backfield. It’s been called a “wildcat” formation but Robinson brings so much more to the position than just somebody who’s a run threat. He’s the most dynamic player on the field (with Ace Sanders a close second) and it’s fascinating to see all the things he can do. The Jaguars are right to call him an “OW” (offensive weapon) because he’s certainly that.

Week one of practice is a good time to establish a routine for both coaches and players and to get a sense of expectations. It’s the second week where the players start to separate themselves as contenders or pretenders. We’ll know more about that perhaps after the scrimmage on Saturday night.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gus Bradley’s First Camp: “Slow Down!”

It’s been a few years but the Jaguars have all 90 players under contract in camp on time in the first year under new head coach Gus Bradley. “It’s about trust,” Bradley said this week. “We can immediately trust them from a coach’s perspective as players to do the things necessary to win. The other way might take some time. They need to learn to trust us as coaches that what we’re doing is going to work.”

Bradley’s right and part of that is because his style is so different from anything in the past. Full time music, up tempo timing and non-stop work will be the hallmarks of Bradley’s first Jaguars camp as head coach. He’s excited and is trying to temper that.

“We’ll have to slow down a bit,” he told us on Thursday. “We’re so excited to get on the field and get started we’ll be going a million miles a hour so we need to be aware of that and slow down.”

Bradley has emphasized that there’s an open competition at every position, so the focus and effort.

This year’s Jaguars team has players who know what to say and how to say it. Chad Henne had just about every cliché you can think of in just one sentence. “Of course I want to be the starter but I’m here to compete. I’m here to help the team and get better. I’m competing against myself. I want to get better every day. That’s the key.”

Of course they didn’t become cliché’s because they weren’t true. Henne is right when it comes to the attitude of this year’s Jaguars team and what kind of chord you have to strike going into training camp. You can’t pace yourself on the field, because you’re being evaluated on every play. But you need to know how to get the job done, day after day with tired legs and a worn out brain.

“I’m going to lean on the veterans to see how it’s done,” first round draft pick Luke Joeckel said as he reported to his first camp. “Camp’s a grind and everybody knows that. You just have to handle it,”

And he’s right. You can’t win a job or lose it in the first week. In the second week, guys start to separate themselves both physically and mentally. But this first week is a blur, a whirlwind of action and emotion.

Jaguars training camp is open to the public thru the scrimmage at the stadium next Saturday night, August 3rd except for Tuesday which is the players day off.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Big Thinking Khan Style

When it comes to business acumen, Shad Khan’s is well documented. So it initially seemed strange when it was revealed that he was interested in buying a Premier League team.

Earlier this year and in 2012, Khan said he “didn’t like the business model” in the EPL. “They don’t have a salary cap.”

But clearly he changed his mind and negotiated to buy Fulham, a team that’s stayed in the Premiership for the past 12 years.

“Things change,” he told me after introducing the Fulham management and their captain. “They have a new television contract, they’ve gotten their sponsorship in place and it’s all about revenue. They can create revenue.”

Khan believes Fulham can be a profitable club especially with some stadium improvements and expansion and whatever synergy they can create with the Jaguars of the NFL. “They’re a fan friendly club. They have a neutral stand (for fans) where you don’t have to be a supporter of the home club. They’re in the right part of the city. Their grounds are on the banks of the Thames. They’re a perfect fit for us.”

Although they will operate as separate business entities, Khan believes there is plenty of opportunity for cross promotion, cross sponsorship and cross money-making.

“Every time they talk about Fulham, they’ll talk about Shad Khan, the Jaguars and Jacksonville,” said Jaguars President Mark Lamping who will also serve as a Director for Fulham. “There will be chances to for the synergy of the two clubs to come together but this does nothing but raise the profile of Jacksonville.”

Khan noted that every game in the EPL will be televised and as the most popular league in the world, it’s possible that 300-million viewers could be watching Fulham play some of their games against high profile opponents like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

At the informal introduction of Fulham’s CEO, their Manager and the team Captain, there was real excitement in the room when the Fulham reps talked about Khan and his “custodianship” of the Cottagers. They were impressed by the facility the Jaguars have put together to practice and play games in and were genuinely excited at the prospect of playing a game at our stadium some time next year.

“About this time in 2014, Fulham will play a game here,” Khan said when talking about the two cities and the two clubs. “It’s important that our EPL team was in London to raise the profile of the Jaguars in that city and internationally. The chance to enhance the revenue for both clubs is great. There’s a lot going on here (in Jacksonville) that we can take advantage of. It seems easy that the equation of two plus two can equal ten. You just have to have the right two plus two.”

When it was noted early on in Khan’s tenure as the Jaguars owner that the Weavers had “passed the baton to a faster runner,” I’m not sure anybody realized just how fast this runner was. Khan is a big thinker and is trying to drag the city and the city leadership along. When it comes to building the franchise, Khan will make that happen and raise the profile of Jacksonville internationally as well.

A few wins wouldn’t hurt either.

Get on board.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Its Summer, It’s Hot, No Kidding!

I’m always amused when people I meet find out I’m from Florida and the first thing they say is, “How can you stand it? It’s so hot there in the summer!” They’re right; it is hot here in the summer. So what do we do? We stay inside. That’s how Florida got be so popular as a place to live: Mosquito control and air conditioning (and no state income tax).

Same as they do in Chicago in February. It’s cold; it’s snowing so they stay in.

When Demi Moore was shooting “GI Jane” here in town her then-husband Bruce Willis came to visit in the summer. He was on a late night talk show when the host noted he had “just been in Florida.” “Yup,” Willis quipped, “in Jacksonville, hottest place on Earth.” I laughed out loud when I heard that because he’s right, it’s hot. High temperatures and humidity mean it’s uncomfortable for a few months.

While a lot of places start thinking about fall and what they call “football weather” right after Labor Day, our summer is still in full blaze. Been to a Jaguars or a Gators game at home in September? The most precious commodity isn’t points scored but rather water.

Golf courses are empty for most of the days in the summer. Early morning tee times are hard to come by as nobody wants to be out over a three-footer at noon in August.

In fact, most of the summer play is by visitors.

Including at the beach.

Save for a few weekends, Floridians don’t go to the beach in the summer. Most people you see on the beach in the summer are tourists. For natives, it’s too hot.

Maybe that’s why it seems so incongruous that the SEC has their media days in July in Birmingham. It’s about as hot as it can be in Alabama in late July, yet the assembled media flocks to the meetings looking for one morsel of information. Not much comes out of those meetings except the nuance of how coaches act when they know they’re going to be good.

Or bad.

Football practice starts in late July for some and sometime in early August for the rest. The latest technology is supposed to protect the players from overheating and threatening their health. NFL teams in Florida have their largest players swallow pills that work through their system and can be read from the outside to check their core temperatures. And to think we survived three-a-days with no water and salt pills until the mid ’80’s!

The summer is a good time to relax. Slow down. Read a book. Travel. Do something different. People say all the time that they can’t wait for “football season” to get here. It’ll be here soon enough.

Enjoy the summer.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Ever Expanding “Season”

With the announcement that the NFL draft will move to early May in 2014, the league continue to take steps toward year-’round awareness. Citing a “scheduling conflict” with Radio City Music Hall, next year’s draft will be May 8-10 (yes, the Thursday, Friday, Saturday of The Players.)

It’s not that they want to play games in the spring (which would still be a good idea for another league) but rather they want to be in the front of your mind all the time.


Because they’ll have shirts and hats on sale all year long, and you might buy one. In fact, you will buy one if they make enough noise and make sure you’re thinking about NFL Football in mid-May. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the expansion of all of the professional sports leagues has made the overlap of seasons full time.

One of the great trivia questions is “Which two days of the year are there no professional sports scheduled?” The answer now is only the day before and the day after the Major League Baseball All-star game.

There used to be a variety of days during the year when there was only one sport per season but now with everybody playing all the time, those are the only two days. So every other day of the year you will be exposed to some kind of marketing by some professional sport.

How much do you spend on “gear” that has some kind of logo on it? Whether it’s your favorite sports team or some manufacture with stripes or a swoosh, it’s amazing how much money is spent to get you to advertise their stuff. Watch any of the networks owned by the different leagues. In any of the commercial breaks there’s an advertisement encouraging you to “support your team” buy their stuff!

Expansion of the “season” is across the board in professional sports. MLB has a “Mr. October” but soon might need a “Mr. November” if the World Series continues to move into colder weather. The NBA starts up in October and it’s mid-June before they crown a champion. The NHL seems to only have about a month off between the Stanley Cup Finals and when camp starts.

While a lot of these decisions are based on television and the money it generates, it never hurts that you might buy a Red Wings sweater in July, or a Celtics jersey in August.

Looking back at the early Super Bowls, they were played in mid-January at the latest. Now the first weekend of February is nearly a national holiday to celebrate the game.

Just imagine when the NFL expands to 18 regular season games.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


As always happens this time of year, the debate gets stirred up as to where The Players stands among golf tournaments.

Is it just another tournament?

Is it a Major?

The answer to both of those questions right now is no.

It’s far from just another tournament.

With all due respect to the volunteer forces around the country who put on weekly PGA Tour events, The Players is a couple of notches above any of those.

Being the showcase for the PGA Tour, in it’s backyard, they spare no expense to make it the marquee event on Tour. It’s their time to shine and they take advantage of it. I’ve said several times before and still believe it: this tournament isn’t only the best run golf tournament, it’s one of the best run sporting events in the world. It needs some tweaking, no doubt, but it’s way up there on the list of what a big event feels like.

But it’s not a major either, at least not yet. What it is is the championship of the PGA Tour.

Each of the four Majors has it’s on cachet.

The Masters is about the reverence for the game, the traditions of the game and the southern hospitality they consistently show at Augusta National. It’s very much about the game of golf.

The US Open is our national championship. If you think you’re good enough you can sign up somewhere in your town and have a chance to win the national title. Through qualifying and competition, anybody can get there.

The Open Championship honors the beginnings of the game, the elements and in some respects the way the game was invented to be played: through the elements. It also serves as the world championship for many, having been around (the game that is) before some countries were even formed.

The PGA Championship was a math play event as invented, mimicking the game most of us play among our “friends.” It also honors the nearly 30,000 professionals who keep the game alive in public and private clubs and continually try to grow the game.

The Players is none of those.

It’s about the fans, corporate hospitality, charity, television and a performance by the players as entertainment for the fans with a large amount of money on the line.

I heard several analysts last week say the 17th hole “holds the tournament back.”

From what?

The Tour itself is mirrored by the 17th hole. It’s difficult, corporate tents surround it, fans are everywhere and television has installed a dozen or so cameras to catch every angle of what happens.

Some have suggested it would be a better hole if it was somewhere else on the golf course so you might have a chance to recoup any lost strokes that might happen there. Actually it’s perfect where it is. It’s a lonely shot when you play there by yourself, standing out on that peninsula with nothing but water and the green in front of you. As the 71st hole in a championship, it should define the decision-making, the nerves and the execution it takes go finish the job.

Hit it or don’t. It’s that simple.

Seventeen isn’t holding the tournament back.

It defines what The Players is all about.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


“Its about the angles and that makes it tough.”

And with that, Tiger Woods explained why the TPC Stadium course is so difficult for the best players in the world.

Pete Dye intended that way, and Tiger acknowledged that in his annual pre-tournament press conference.

“It’s pretty typical Pete. There aren’t many holes where you can just let out the driver. You have to find the right angles. And if you miss on the greens, you have some of the funkiest chips and lies you’ll ever see,” he explained.

Woods’ average finish is 21st at The Players at the Stadium Course. He won in 2001 but doesn’t see the course in it’s current form favoring any type of player.

“You have to hit it straight,” Tiger added to no one’s surprise.

“But you also have to have it in the right spot to come in to the green from the right angle.”

The change to Bermuda greens has also made the course more difficult according to the world’s number one player.

“Since the change to Bermuda it’s made some of these greets hot. It’s tough to get it close. And if you miss, you need a little luck.”

After his appearance at the Masters, Tiger said he took a week off and did nothing to do with golf and got back to training and working on his game about a week and a half ago. He’s a bit trimmer than he was a year ago, probably attributed to his ability to work out at the level he wants to without being injured.

When asked about his game after playing only 4 holes and going to the range, Tiger said he’s “very pleased,” with his game, which of course, is bad news for the rest of the field.

He’s part of the afternoon/morning tee grouping on Thursday and Friday at this year’s Players.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Needs: Everything

What a difference a year makes when it comes to the Jaguars draft. Obviously the people inside the draft room are different but the whole situation has changed when it comes to acquiring players.

Last year in Shad Khan’s first draft as an NFL owner, the Jaguars were trying to fill some holes to be competitive. “I was told last year that we were just a few players away from competing for the playoffs. We got some players but didn’t get there,” Khan said when making some moves at the top of the football hierarchy at the end of the 2012 season.

Prior to the 2013 draft Khan had no trouble admitting the Jaguars were in a rebuilding year. “It makes me think that we should have started this process a year earlier. But we’re on our way.”

Standing in the middle of the Jaguars locker room two weeks ago it was eerily empty. With the number of cuts made by the team since the first of the year, the roster was under 60 players. “Not only isn’t there anybody in here,” one veteran player told me, “I don’t know anybody’s name!”

Which means an entirely different mind-set was in place for the Jaguars to begin anew in acquiring players: Get the best ones available.

Most teams go into the draft with specific needs, holes they’re trying to fill or looking for players who can shore up one side of the ball or the other.

In 2012 they were looking for a wide receiver and jumped up to get Justin Blackmon. They dabbled in free-agency to keep Jeremy Mincey, and sign Aaron Ross, filling immediate needs.

In 2013 in a stated rebuilding process the draft process and consequently the free-agent process as well were simple: figure out who you think the next best player is on the board and pick him.

Taking Luke Joeckel was simple in 2013. He was the best player available in that spot, so they picked him. “When best player available and need matchup,” Gus Bradley said on Day Two of the NFL draft, “You’re on to something special.”

That’s where the Jaguars were with their second and third round picks. It just so happened that Johnathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz were the next best players available AND they played positions of need for the Jaguars.

Easy picks.

And those two, along with Joeckel, will be expected to start in 2013.

No projects here.

Picking Ace Sanders in the 4th round is another “best and need” situation for the Jaguars. Their woeful return game gets somebody who is expected to contribute immediately and without using a high pick to fill that spot. Taking Dennard Robinson is a bit of a novelty choice but he has something the Jaguars lacked last year: speed. He instantly makes them faster no matter when he ends up on the roster.

The rest of the draft, Josh Evans, Jeremy Harris and Demetrius McCray, are special teams additions or late bloomers whom you hope develop into something they’re not right now.

But that’s still only 8 players and they need more than that. So some of the 23 undrafted free agents need to be good enough to not only make the team but contribute somewhere, especially on special teams.

Add in some free-agent acquisitions as we move toward the 2013 kickoff (and beyond) and you have the “ground floor” of a rebuilding project.

Jaguars fans hope that the draft picks will help immediately because in one way, it was the easiest draft ever.

Whomever they picked, they needed him!

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Golf in North Florida: It is (and isn’t) all about The Players

While most of the country is waiting for the “golf season” to start, we’re in the height of it here in North Florida. I know we generally never go out of the golf season, but there’s not a better time to play here than spring through early summer. The days are longer, the weather is milder and the golf courses are all nearly perfect. For three decades, The Players (TPC, Players Championship for those of you who have been around for a while) ramped up our thirst to play, scheduled in March. First at the beginning, then in the middle and finally at the end before making it’s move to May to occupy the spot open between the Masters and the US Open.

The move to May for The Players has mixed reviews so far. In the current spot on the calendar, it’s a natural “big tournament” for professional golf, filling the month-long void between the majors in April (The Masters) and June (The U.S. Open.) But if The Players is to every be considered a major it’ll take time, the respect of the players themselves, and a fan base that just can’t get enough. Right now, buying a ticket to The Players early in the week is not a problem. If you want to see the best players in the world “up close and personal” buy a Tuesday or Wednesday practice round ticket and head to TPC Sawgrass. It might be the easiest and best ticket in sports. The Players is not only the best run golf tournament in the world; it might be the best run sporting event around. Fan friendly, easy access, reasonably priced, plenty of food and drink and the best in the world at what they do right there.

Its taken a while for The Players to find a true identity. Deane Beman’s dream was to create a fifth major, run by the PGA Tour, a true Players Championship. But you can’t force things like that and the media, and a lot of fans rebelled. The move to a permanent home was met with some resistance by Tour players who were building a golf course design business of their own and didn’t think the Tour should be their competition. The Stadium Course itself struggled early-on with problems associated with being built in a swamp. And did the Tour want the winning score to be Greg Norman’s -24 or David Duval’s -3 on their home course?

The Tour is in Ponte Vedra because Beman brought it here. The success and the size of the volunteer force at the Greater Jacksonville Open convinced him that North Florida was the right place. The tournament is here because, through a few machinations, Deane couldn’t buy Sawgrass Country Club and the Fletcher’s had the foresight to sell the land to the Tour for $1 to build their course.

They’ve gone through a lot of growing pains to get where they are now, even forgetting that Jacksonville, and all of North Florida and South Georgia is where their bread’s buttered. Nonetheless, the tournament’s in the right spot, and in the right hands, with the right leadership, poised to grow in the players, the fans and the media’s eye every year. So when’s your tee time?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Long Ago and Far Away: Sports Heroes of a Different Time

People ask me all the time how I got into sports journalism. “Did you always want to be a sportscaster?” is a regular question. “No, I always wanted to play third base for the Baltimore Orioles. This seemed like the next best thing. Since quarterbacking the Colts was being occupied by John Unitas.”

I guess I’ve always been interested in sports, always playing something and always active. My mother says I would definitely have been called “hyper active” by today’s analysts and probably been put on some kind of medication. But when it was clear I wasn’t going to make money playing sports, reporting on them would keep me close to the games.

While I had my heroes, Unitas, John Mackey, Brooks and Frank Robinson, the media shielded me from their failings, softly reporting on their “slumps” on the field and never talking about what might be going on “Outside the Lines.” I’ve often wondered how I might have reacted if Brooks or Frank had been dissected the way modern day athletes are while under the glare of constant inspection.

Perhaps because of my job I never let my own children participate in the kind of hero-worship that was a de facto part of my childhood. Maybe I deprived them of something they should have, but dealing with superstar athletes and coaches as part of my job exposed them as people with extraordinary talent but people nonetheless.

Not to name drop, but when Russell Crowe was in town a few years ago with his rugby team, he talked about how the Rabbitohs reflected the neighborhood they represented, South Sydney. “They played the game the way people in that part of town expected them to play. Hard, the right way. It helped form my personality.”

I had a chance to talk to him about that at length one day while he was here and reflected on my own upbringing in Baltimore and how the Orioles, and the Colts helped form my sensibilities. There was an “Oriole Way.” They wrote books about it. It was the right way to play baseball.


Earl Weaver’s death reminded me of that.

For all the media coverage of his temper tantrums and ejections, Weaver wanted the game played the right way, the Oriole Way, and that lead them to being the most successful franchise in sports during his tenure.

Being raised in an American League city, those guys in the National League seemed very far away. Only Saturday afternoon games on television brought them to life and the World Series often defined their careers. I knew all about Mantle and Maris, McLain and Lolich, and Yaz. Mays was a towering figure regardless of what league he was playing in but Bob Gibson could have been playing in another country until October rolled around.

Stan Musial was different though. He was mythical. You’d hear radio reports, read box scores or follow television commentators who talked about his hits, doubles, consistency and unfailing charm. He couldn’t be real? Could he?

Perhaps like Oriole fans of that generation, Cardinal fans are glad there was a bit of distance between their on-field hero and us mere mortals. We’re missing some of that mystery these days. Musial would have have been the perfect Oriole.