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.