Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Off-Season Underway

Cleaning out lockers, going through exit interviews and physicals, and saying good-bye to teammates is all part of the process of ending the season in the NFL. Only one of the thirty-two teams finishes happy, the rest lament “what could have been.” Most teams finish when the regular season is over. Now known as “Black Monday” it’s the day after the final game when coaches are fired, general managers are shown the door and owners are looking to the future. Players have their own version of “Black Monday” knowing that the team they just finished playing for will never be the same. Guys are cut or traded, retire or sign somewhere else. It’s a fact of life in the league that about 40% of the roster turns over every year. Twenty of the fifty-three players on the Jaguars squad in 2014 won’t be there in 2015.

Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell knows he has to upgrade the roster and is hoping he can keep the turnover to less than half. At his year end press conference Caldwell admitted he didn’t think it would be a quick fix to make the Jaguars competitive.

“I didn’t think we’d win a bunch of games this year or last,” he said. “In fact, I’m kind of surprised we won as many as we did.” When asked if they’d spend a bunch of money in this offseason (they have the most to spend under the salary cap in the league) Caldwell demurred, saying the Jaguars don’t have to spend that money until before 2017 under the league rules.

But he believes the current young players on the roster are part of the solution. “I expect they’ll make their most improvement between year one and year two,” he said, following the mantra when talking about most rookies. “I don’t expect them to all be Pro Bowlers next year but I do think they’ll be significantly better.

Head Coach Gus Bradley also held his year-end press conference on Tuesday, first announcing that he had dismissed offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. While he said all of the normal “coach-speak” things about Fisch during his opening statement, when pressed, Bradley admitted that it was a difference in philosophy that prompted the change.

“We just saw it differently,” Bradley explained. “We wanted to bring Blake (QB Bortles) along slowly and sometimes we put too much on his plate to let him play anxiety free.” Clearly Fisch was willing to challenge Bortles to accelerate his learning curve while Bradley wanted things simplified to bring him along slowly. Whatever the reasons, Fisch and Bradley didn’t mesh enough to get anything done on offense that would allow the Jaguars a chance to win. They finished at the bottom or near the bottom in just about every offensive category and scored six offensive TDs in their last six games of 2014.

“When you make a move like this you expect to take a step backward,” Bradley admitted. “But you hope it goes along with one or two steps forward as well.” Bortles and the offense will have to learn a new scheme and adjust to what a new coordinator might bring as far as a philosophy of how to get things done.

Bradley said he hadn’t thought about a replacement but two names come to mind quickly. Marc Trestman newly fired as head coach of the Chicago Bears is considered a quarterback guru and is a friend of Gus’. Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator for the 49’ers under Jim Harbaugh, is also available and was Dave Caldwell’s roommate in college at John Carroll.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Bucs passed on coaching in the Senior Bowl this year and the Jaguars volunteered to go to Mobile later this month. Gus Bradley and his staff will coach the South squad for the second consecutive year. Not good based on where you have to finish in order to be one of the game’s coaching staffs, but good from the standpoint of getting to know the players very well during that week. Last year the Jaguars mined several draft picks out of that experience including Aaron Colvin who suffered a torn ACL that week but still played this year. The hope is twofold: That they find some more talent in the game and that they don’t go back there for a while.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

FSU “The Most Hated Team”: Why?

Having never played there before, in a quirk of luck, the FSU Seminoles will play in the Rose Bowl for the second straight year. While last year was for the National Championship against a familiar Auburn team, this year the ‘Noles are in the semi-final against an unknown in Oregon. Sure they’ll have seen plenty of tape, studied the Ducks tendencies and will be prepared for whatever the Pac 12 champs bring, it’s still an unknown for FSU.

We saw that when Oregon played Auburn for the National Championship a few years ago. Oregon had an up-tempo offense, great skill players and lots of speed. But Auburn had speed and size, something the Ducks couldn’t match. Same thing with Alabama and Notre Dame. The Irish had made their way to the top of the polls with solid athletes, strong effort and good speed. But the Tide overwhelmed them from the first snap, showing speed, size and quickness that Notre Dame couldn’t match.

Odds makers have made the Seminoles more than a touchdown underdog in this game, strange for a team that hasn’t lost since 2012. Also strange for a team that averages 6’5″ and 325 lbs. on the offensive line, has a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and a record setting wide receiver, tight end and running back. So what do they know that we don’t?

Bettors have flocked to the ‘Noles in Las Vegas sports books, figuring that a team that has found a way to win games they’ve been behind in all year would at least be able to stay within a touchdown of just about anybody. That’s why this is such a hard game to predict. Even Head Coach Jimbo Fisher says having played in the Rose Bowl last year has helped FSU in their preparation this season. They know what to expect.

At today’s press conference, Head Coach Jimbo Fisher was asked a couple of times about being the “most hated team in America” and if he was tired of defending both the ‘Noles character and their record.

“I hate it for the kids,” Fisher responded. “I know how hard they work, what they’re like. The biggest mis-perception of Jameis Winston is that he’s a bad guy. He’s not. He’s one of the most kind hearted people ever.”

You could tell Fisher was ready for that kind of question and knew what he was going to say, but you could also tell that he was genuinely dismayed that his team has their current reputation and that all of that “noise” has followed FSU despite not having lost since 2012.

Normally a fast talker, Fisher had it going at twice his normal rate today, clearly excited to have his team in the national championship picture for the second year in a row. Having three weeks to prepare is something that he knows how to use to his advantage. He’s experienced in big games and loves to say, “It’s not about winning, it’s about working.”

While they’ve won plenty of games with a fortuitous bounce in their streak, Mark Helfrich, the head coach at Oregon was quick to point out, “You don’t win all of those games with luck. They’re just a good team, no denying that.”

Oregon has speed and quickness. FSU has size and experience and perhaps is a bit underrated when it comes to their speed. Winston is the X-Factor. If he plays well and they don’t fall behind early, the Noles will win in a walk. If not, if could be a long and frustrating night for Florida State.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Fall To Texans, Finish 3-13

On a cold, dreary and rainy day in Houston, the Jaguars were finishing out the season against a division opponent with not much motivation but pride to fuel them. Former Jaguar (and Texan) Tony Boselli said prior to the game that he wasn’t worried about the fight in the Jaguars but that they would have to withstand an initial “onslaught” from Houston since the Texans still had something to play for. With an outside chance at the post-season, Houston needed a win to keep their hopes alive.

That proved to be true as the Jaguars punted on their first possession only to see the Texans go 83 yards in just 5 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Missed assignments and missed tackles were fully on display during that drive with defensive backs looking befuddled each time Case Keenum dropped back to pass.

In their next possession, the Jaguars moved the ball with a couple of nice runs by Jordan Todman and some scrambling by Blake Bortles but JJ Watt recorded back-to-back sacks to force a 53 yard FBG by Josh Scobee to make it 7-3. Watt beat Luke Joeckel on one play to force a sack and a fumble (that Joeckel recovered) and ran right by Toby Gerhart on the next play making it 19.5 this year.

The Texans had no problem moving the ball against the Jaguars either on the ground or in the air, and they were aided by a couple of early Jaguars penalties as well. But the Jaguars caught a break when Keenum threw behind a wide open crossing receiver, dropping it into Dwayne Gratz’s hands who returned it for a 55 yard TD and a 10-7 Jaguars lead. It’s only the 6th interception of the year for the Jaguars defense.

Head Coach Gus Bradley has talked about consistency or the lack of it for the Jaguars all year and it was on full display against the Texans early. Demetrius McCray made a couple of very nice plays on the edge against the run and the pass but then was called for penalties leading to first downs for Houston. Blake Bortles was sharp on some throws to Cecil shorts and Alan Hurns but then missed Marcedes Lewis on third and two. That has to be an automatic bread-and-butter play for a quarterback and a tight end. Because of that inconsistency, it was apparently on each Texans drive that the Jaguars need help at linebacker and at defensive back. Houston moved the ball at will, scoring on another long drive in the second quarter to take a 14-10 lead. Between the seven guys in the “back” of the Jaguars defense, there was plenty of blame to go around.

Too often in the first half the Jaguars failed to convert on 3rd and short while Houston was able to covert on 3rd and long. While the Jaguars moved into FG territory on some nice improvisation by Bortles and Ace Sanders, a holding penalty moved them back to mid-field and the half ended with the Jaguars down by 4.

After a nice stop on the opening possession by the Texans, the Jaguars offense was driving but again failed to covert on short yardage. Josh Scobee’s 51 yard attempt hit off the left upright and it remained 14-10.

You hate to think your punter is a difference maker, but Bryan Anger kept flipping the field in favor of the Jaguars, banging out 61-yard punts with good coverage to keep the Texans at bay. A good defensive stand forced a Case Keenum fumble and the Jaguars recovered at the 23. That’s when they went deep into the playbook again with the throwback from Shorts to Todman for a TD and a 17-14 lead. It was kind of surprising to see Todman that wide open since the Jaguars had just run that play last week, and they beat the Texans with that play last year. All of this going on while San Diego and Baltimore were both losing, giving Houston a chance at the playoffs for the time being.

In all, through three quarters the Jaguars had lost Toby Gerhart, Sen’Derrick Marks, Brandon Linder, Alan Hurns and a few others during the course of the game. Marks and Gerhart did not return and without Roy Miller in the lineup, the Jaguars defensive line was a bit thin. Houston took advantage even without Arian Foster in the game. Alfred Blue running and Andre Johnson catching drove the ball right downfield for 80 yards in 12 plays to have Houston re-take the lead at 21-17.

On 4th and short in the 4th quarter from near mid-field, Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien chose to punt, not fearing the Jaguars offense at all and their ability to drive the ball the length of the field. He turned out to be right as the Jaguars had the ball on their own seven but JJ Watt sacked Bortles in the end zone for a safety and a 23-17 lead. It’s unrealistic to think that Luke Joeckel or anybody else could hold off Watt one on one but Bortles has to be aware of that as well and be ready to get rid of that ball. Call it what you want but somewhere the Jaguars are going to have to learn from that to block better, get rid of the ball quicker or perhaps don’t call that play in that situation.

Still, the defense stiffened and forced the Texans to give the ball back to the Jaguars. Helped by the third face mask penalty of the day, the Jaguars moved the ball to midfield and then Bortles scrambled down to the 10 giving the Jaguars a real chance to win the game. Incomplete on first down with Lee and Shorts running to the same spot (Shorts could have caught the ball but short-armed it a bit) and Lee went out of the game with a leg injury. A 5 yard gain to Hurns gave the Jaguars two plays to win it. They got the matchup they wanted on third down with Marcedes Lewis matched up one on one with a 5-11 cornerback but Bortles pass was a bullet, way high to bring up 4th down. That pass was thrown too wide and Shorts caught it out of bounds to essentially end the game.

The Texans missed the playoffs despite the win since the Ravens victory put them in as the 6th seed. The Jaguars will most likely get the third pick in the upcoming draft finishing 3-13.

Bradley and Caldwell have a lot of work to do.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Stories to Cover

For our final Top 20 of the year recognizing the 20th anniversary of the Jaguars, we’re being a bit self-indulgent. Our topic is “Top 20 Stories to Cover” fun or not, newsworthy or just small anecdotes. While a majority of the list was compiled by Sports Director Sam Kouvaris, Senior Photographer/Producer Matt Kingston and Senior Producer/Photographer Kevin Talley, we solicited opinions from Channel 4 reporters and anchors, past and present to see what their favorite stories have been in the last 20 years. Some were a consensus; others were things that perhaps only the reporter would know that made the story that much more special.

We thought it was interesting that the list seems to come from both ends of the Jaguars history. Much of the “fun” stuff from the beginning and the success under Tom Coughlin, and stories created by the current leadership both on and off the field. Not much during the Del Rio era made it onto our list.

You’d have to be a “veteran” at Channel 4 to have been a part of our top story in Jaguars history and that’s actually getting a team. Channel 4 Anchorman Tom Wills and Sam Kouvaris were in Chicago for the announcement. Sam’s time in the Jaguars private suite when they were told they were getting a team along with the look on his face (according to Tom) when he peaked behind the curtain to see a “Jacksonville Jaguars” banner being prepared for the announcement were pretty incredible. The spontaneous celebration in town was like nothing we’ve seen before or since and covering that, nonstop for 8 hours from Jacksonville and Chicago and the happiness it brought so many people remains at number one.

Getting plenty of support at the top from contributors like Executive Producer Sharon Siegel-Cohen and Channel 4 Anchor Joy Purdy, the coverage of the flight home from Denver after beating the Broncos in the 1996 playoffs is at number two. Most of our contributors named this in the top two or three. The fly over of the stadium and the spontaneous arrival of 40,000 people at the downtown, as well as our spontaneous coverage, is sometimes hard to believe in retrospect. Our colleague Cole Pepper noted how it solidified just what a sports team and its success can do for a city.

Sam put the press box scene in Denver in 1996 in the 3rd spot, although he was the only one there. Noted Denver writers were hacking on the Jaguars and Jacksonville all throughout the game, asking if this was a real game or just an “exhibition with the USFL.” They were only slowed down when Sam noted at halftime in a loud voice, “USFL 13, NFL 12.” The Jaguars went on to back that up with a 30-27 victory over the heavily favored Broncos.

Beating Buffalo the week before in the playoffs in Buffalo by an identical score was also a fun story to be a part of. Tom and Sam were also on that trip, with Tom finding Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s sisters in the corner of the parking lot tailgating with a Jaguars flag flying. He asked them if they’d ever seen their brother smile and they answered in unison, “Only when he wins!” Tom caught Coughlin after the game and related the story to the Jaguars head coach, who broke out into a memorable smile. At the end of the game, Sam and Photographer Kevin Talley were going down the elevator to the field with about 2:00 to play. They arrived in the tunnel just as Bills QB Jim Kelly was arriving on a cart, clearly suffering from a concussion after a hit by Chris Hudson. Kelly stepped off the cart and started walking down the hall, the wrong way. Sam grabbed him and turned him around saying “this way Jim” as Buffalo medical personnel were scrambling for their quarterback.

When Kevin and Sam got to the end line of the field with about a minute to play, the fans were pretty hostile. The end line isn’t that far from the low wall of the stands and the constant barrage of four-letter words eventually lead Kevin to turn around and say, “We might (stink), but you have to live here.” To which Sam asked Kevin if he was crazy and hastened their move to midfield for some interviews.

A similar thing happened in Pittsburgh at Three Rivers the first time the Jaguars beat the Steelers there. Fans were so hostile the players instructed Sam and other reporters to “stay close” walking off the field. “We’ll keep out helmets on. They won’t throw anything if you have out helmets on.”

Jaguars Defensive End Jeff Lageman thought the bus ride home from the airport to the stadium after the Buffalo win was the best story of that year that might have been only known to the players. “The road was packed with cars and pickups, the busses could only go about 5 miles an hour because of all the fans lined up and cheering.” Pretty cool inside stuff.

The win over Atlanta in 1996 that put the Jaguars in the playoffs for the first time rounds out the top five. It was an unlikely scenario and just when it appeared the Jaguars would win the game, the Falcons ripped off a long screen pass that Tony Brackens came out of nowhere to stop inside the 20. Atlanta sent one of the all time great kickers in league history, Morten Andersen on to kick the game winning FG, only to see him miss wide left. Bedlam ensued. Sam says it’s the only time in his career that he couldn’t watch. “Too painful,” he said about the prospect of getting beat like that.

Hosting the Super Bowl here starts the second five. Despite all of the criticism, the league was very happy with the city’s ability to handle the game. More cabs and another luxury hotel would have to be in place to ever host the game again but the owners made a ton of money, stayed at Amelia Island and we had great weather from Thursday through the game. A Super bowl in Jacksonville? Really?

Shad Khan occupies spots 7 and eight. Although he was supposed to buy the St. Louis Rams the year before, he came out of nowhere to be the Jaguars owner. He and Wayne Weaver had gotten to know each other in the process of selling the Rams and when that didn’t happen, they eventually made a deal for the Jaguars. Weaver rejected suitors who wanted to buy the team and potentially move it to California (i.e. Fidelity’s Bill Foley) and put a deal in place for Khan to keep the team here. He also fired Del Rio that day (who didn’t know about the sale until Channel 4 told him in front of his house during an interview) and extended Gene Smith’s contract as General Manager. Pretty big day for the franchise and multiple great stories.

It’s only been a few times, but anytime we get a chance to sit down with Shad Khan it always provides insight to his thought process for the Jaguars. He’s a businessman first, but he has big ideas for the team and for the city and is honest in his assessment of both.

Growing into a ‘big city” can bring big city problems and the shooting of Richard Collier is at nine because of that. While none of the reporting there has been fun, it did show the “celebrity” status that players have in town and covering Richard’s fight to stay alive, his spirit and continuing commitment to the community is an important thread in Jaguars history.

If you saw the end of the Cleveland game where they showered the field with debris because they didn’t like a call, you knew that would be on this list somewhere. It makes it as #10, not only for what happened on the field, but for the goofy way the game ended. The Jaguars and Browns left the field for their safety and Referee Jeff Triplett called the game with three seconds on the clock. During the post game press conference, the commissioner’s office called to say they had to “finish the game.” Players from both teams scrambled for uniforms and rushed out onto the field together. QB Mark Brunell knelt on it one time and they ran off. We’re pretty sure Brunell was wearing somebody else’s pants for that play.

By the way, some of the debris being thrown on the field at the end of the game included full beer bottles, obviously not full of beer. Because of that game, the league changed their policy on alcohol sales in the 4th quarter and now when you buy a beer at the stadium, they hand you the bottle with the top off.

Covering that 1999 season was a great story for everybody. The Jaguars went 14-2, they galvanized the city and were the best team in football. Once things got rolling, sports became news with most of the top stories each night on the newscasts involving the Jaguars on and off the field. While everybody has their favorite stories from 1999, the season itself was a great story to cover. Until the end.

You might know that Sam is the Pro Football Hall of Fame representative for Jacksonville. Weaver asked him to sit on that committee of (at the time) just 32 members so he slipped it in at number 12. Going to his first meeting in Phoenix, the committee makeup was a who’s who of 1st generation reporters covering the NFL from its infancy. John Steadman, Edwin Pope, Furman Bishop, Tom McEwen, Will McDonough, Jack Buck and others were the leaders on the committee. Pretty memorable when Jacksonville got a vote among those titans of what was then, “Sports journalism.”

We put the introduction press conferences of both Mike Mularkey and Gus Bradley in at thirteen. Both are nice people who, on that day, were full of hope and optimism. We’ll never know if given the same chance Mularkey would have been able to rebuild and the jury is still out on Bradley. But on those days, it was nothing but sunshine and roses.

When Khan took over the team, you knew it was going to be different and it has been. Among the changes is how the Jaguars fit into the league structure. No longer mentioned as the first city to lose their team elsewhere, Khan instead has expanded the Jaguars brand internationally. His announcement with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the Jaguars would be the league’s “home” team in London for 4 years (and possibly beyond) hammered home the difference between Khan’s ideas and what had come before him. The league might eventually have a team in London, and Shad Khan might own it, but moving the Jaguars there right now is not an option.

The rest of our list is filled out with personal reflections on stories we’ve covered. Coughlin’s relationship with ALS patient Rick Murray was a reminder of the reality of life but what small gestures and just simple kindness can do for the human spirit. Kyle Brady’s interest in flight was fueled by Sam’s pilot training and to see a football player branch out into something completely different was good insight into the different kinds of people it takes to make up a team. (Brady went on to also get his financial adviser certification and is now a lawyer in town as well.) Despite the long days and schedule during the season, Jaguars players and coaches are out on a regular basis, helping with charities and foundations in the community. The amount of money the Weaver’s have donated is staggering in itself. Always great stories to be a part of. And while you have to have some history behind you to become part of the Pride of the Jaguars, those inductions are reminders of the good play and good times had in the past.

On a strictly “insider” basis, traveling with the team on charter flights is a story that might never be told. If so, it’ll have to be by a player who’s retired and had some fun. The amount of food and fun had on those flights, particularly by winning teams, is legendary. And get somebody to tell you the “Kyle Brady as Mango” story if you can. Hilarious.

And finally, watching such promise devolve into addiction and hopefully redemption makes the list. Former Channel 4 Sports Reporter Sean Woodland noted Jimmy Smith and Justin Blackmon but Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, R.J. Soward and others have been brought to Jacksonville and the NFL by the Jaguars with such high hopes, to see those hopes end, is a story that reminds you of how fleeting success, and especially fame, can be.

  • 1. Getting the team
  • 2. Flight home from Denver
  • 3. Press Box in Denver
  • 4. Win in Buffalo and coming home
  • 5. Beating Atlanta at home in 1996
  • 6. Super Bowl here
  • 7. Khan, Weaver, firing Del Rio, extending Gene Smith
  • 8. Khan 1 on 1 interviews
  • 9. Richard Collier shooting
  • 10. Cleveland game re-start
  • 11. 1999 season
  • 12. First Hall of Fame Meeting
  • 13. Mularkey, Bradley introduction press conferences
  • 14. Jaguars commit to London announcement
  • 15. Tom Coughlin and Rick Murray
  • 16. Flying with Kyle Brady
  • 17. Jaguars in the community
  • 18. Pride of the Jaguars Inductions
  • 19. Team Charter flights
  • 20. Jimmy Smith, Justin Blackmon problems

Others noted: Chris Hanson “chopping wood, Jaguars playing other sports (basketball, softball, taking BP at the baseball grounds). Fulham’s visit and Hugo Rodallega kicking a 35-yard FG in practice. Coach Robert Saleh’s story about his brother being in the World Trade Center during September 11th and how it changed his life. Anytime we talked with Mark Duffner, Dick Jauron, Dom Capers or Mel Tucker, all assistants who “got it.” The evolution of Fred Taylor from high school kid to full-time dad. Talking with John Jurkovic. Unveiling the new video boards and pools. The Jaguars relationship with JT Townsend. Leftwich released. Tony Boselli available to “expansion draft.”

Did we miss something? Let us know with #JagsTop20 on Twitter or email us at sports@wjxt.com. We’ll talk about this list with Jeff Lageman this week on Jaguars Friday Night at 11:20.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Titans Preview: Worth it?

While the question today is “Will Blake Bortles play?” Perhaps the real question is “Should he?” Suffering a mid-foot sprain against Baltimore last week, Bortles finished the game but afterwards was in the locker room and in his press conference wearing a protective boot. He didn’t practice early in the week but was “limited” in practice leading up to tonight’s game. Officially the Jaguars have him listed as “questionable” which is defined by the league as about a 50% chance he’ll play. Bortles said in the locker room that, if he could, he’d upgrade himself to “probable” giving him a 75% chance to play. Head Coach Gus Bradley admitted he’s leaning toward letting Bortles play against the Titans.

“He’s really progressed,” Bradley said on Wednesday noting Bortles performance in practice. “He’s gotten a lot better and with another day, we’ll know. We’ll have him run around before the game and see how he does. But we’re leaning toward having him play.”

Having a short week has made this a tough decision for the Jaguars. If the game was Sunday, Bortles would have recuperated enough to play. But with a quick turnaround, he’s still treating that foot a bit gingerly. If he’s not somewhere north of 90%, he shouldn’t play.

At 2-12, the Jaguars aren’t going anywhere and while they’re not officially looking toward next season, the final two games are good evaluation exercises for the coaching staff to see which players they’re going to take forward to try and be competitive in 2015.

And then there’s the issue of the Draft.

With two quarterbacks expected to be in demand at the top of the draft, Heisman winner Marcus Mariotta and Jameis Winston, there will be teams willing to get to the top two picks in order to try and solve their quarterback situation. Of all the Jaguars needs, quarterback doesn’t seem to be one of them. So having one of those picks could be valuable on the trade market, allowing the Jaguars to acquire more picks, move down in the first round and still take a player who can step in and help right away.

So while Indianapolis fans were willing to have the Colts “Suck for Luck” should Jaguars fans be “Shameless for Jameis?”

“That’s not going to happen,” Jaguars DT Sen’Derrick Marks said this week when asked about tanking for a higher draft pick. “That’ll be unacceptable. Not just for here but for how people view you in the league.” By the way, Marks is reportedly in line for a $600,000 bonus if he can record 1/2 of a sack over the next two games. He’ll be playing like a beast. (And should go to the Pro Bowl).

And then there’s the issue of what motivation the Titans have tonight as well. Also with two wins, Tennessee is in contention for the top pick (research indicates the Jaguars have the best chance for #1 at just over 32%) and could use a quarterback to settle their situation at that position. Despite picking Zach Mettenberger in the 6th round last year, Tennessee isn’t committed to him as their long-term solution.

So look for effort tonight on the field, especially in the second half. If one team or another jumps out to an early lead, does it matter enough on the field to still hang in there? That’s a more likely scenario if the Jaguars take a lead, playing at home and still learning. If the Jaguars are behind, they’ll still play hard, looking for solutions, particularly on offense.

We’ll update you on the Bortles situation beginning on News4Jax at 5pm and on our pregame show live from the stadium starting at 7.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars beat Titans, Show 2nd Half Spark

Sometimes I’m perplexed by the Jaguars play calling and lack of offense. When you see them prepare, they seem to get it. But in games, it becomes a different story. Opening the game down 7-0 after giving up an game starting drive of 84 yards (to Charlie Whitehurst) the Jaguars ran the ball a couple of times with Toby Gerhart for a first down. Then, perhaps going on a script, a throw to Cecil Shorts wasn’t perfect, and he dropped it. So Gerhart gets three on the stretch play (that I hate) and it brings up third and 7. As we know, the 3-yard pass is always open on 3rd and 7, so Blake Bortles throws it to Jordan Todman in the flat, covered, for a loss of 4 and the Jaguars punt. Not only did they stop executing, it seemed that the play selection was doomed to fail as well. Not a lot of movement, not a lot of play action or anything else. Just basic plays that either work or they don’t. And when they don’t, which is more often than not these days, there aren’t a lot of options.

More of the same followed for the Jaguars offense, mustering 16 yards on 4 possessions. If you’re a fan of punting, Bryan Anger put on a display, especially a 61-yarder that was up there forever.

On defense, it was a different unit than the one that played against Baltimore on Sunday. Big chunks of yardage were given up, especially over the middle to wide-open receivers, especially the tight end. Head Coach Gus Bradley has said if guys are running wide open, then it’s a blown assignment. Somebody back there clearly has a problem with that assignment because it’s always open and teams know it. The Titans took advantage of holes in the secondary to get inside the Jaguars 40 and kick a field goal to make it 10-0.

Right before the 2-minute warning, the Jaguars offense finally got untracked, sort of. Gerhart was getting the ball going at the line of scrimmage and finding creases, running people over and doubled the Jaguars offensive production in two carries. A nice roll out throw by Bortles to Marqise Lee put the ball in Titans territory. But for some reason, Gerhart came out of the game and the Jaguars went backwards. Lee made another nice catch, Marcedes Lewis fell down on the 23 and Bortles bailed himself out by scrambling for a 1st down. There was a Cecil Shorts sighting and he fought to the 4-yard line.

This is where the Jaguars have struggled for most of the season. Again, some of it execution and some of it play selection. But finding Lewis singled up against a cornerback, Bortles fired a bullet that Lewis snatched out of the air and fought to hold on to for a TD. It might be the single best play of his entire career and should have been a staple of the offense every time he’s healthy. Nonetheless, TD Jaguars and they went to the half down 10-7. After mustering only 16 yards of offense through most of the first half, they gobbled up 80 on that drive alone. Part execution, part play selection.

Since Tennessee won the toss and took the ball to start the game, the Jaguars had the ball to start the second half and took advantage of it right away. One of the reasons the team has so much hope for the future is how things sometimes click so perfectly. Bortles hit Lee over the middle for 34 yards and then twice to Hurns for 8 and 15 yards to threaten for some points. A little trick throwback from Shorts to Jordan Todman made it first and goal and after a defensive holding call, the Jaguars actually gave the ball to Gerhart from the 1 for a TD and a 14-10 lead.

Then it went back to a punt-fest.

The defense stiffened with 6 minutes to go in the game and stopped the Titans on 4th and 2. Jordan Todman followed that with a 62-yard TD run to give the Jaguars a 21-10 lead. Three offensive TD’s in this game vs. none in the past two combined.

They gave up a FG and then it was only a matter of whether the offense could control the ball for the rest of the game and secure the victory. They couldn’t and Bradley eschewed a FG attempt in favor of a punt with a minute to play that went into the end zone for a touchback and the Titans took over on the 20.

They moved it to midfield pretty easily but were running out of time. Whitehurst was looking around for a chance to throw a Hail Mary into the end zone when Sen’Derrick Marks sacked him to end the game. Not only did that secure the win but it also gave marks 8.5 sacks this year, earning him a $600,000 bonus.

With three wins the Jaguars have a chance to equal last years record in the final game at Houston. Once they opened up the offense, they moved the ball but not with the consistency they’d like to have.

You’d rather be a Jaguar fan than a Titan fan at this point. While the Jaguars are hoping their young players emerge, the Titans will be searching for a quarterback and other young players for a few years.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Road Trips

Recognizing the Jaguars 20th anniversary, this week’s top twenty is Top 20 road trips. This top twenty is about what road trips to take to see the Jaguars play taking into account ease of travel, stadiums, hotels, proximity and things to do. While it’s easy to name some great things about all of the cities on the Jaguars travel list over the years, our list comes from our personal experiences as well as perhaps some of the Jaguars results while we were there. It also got us thinking, where would Jacksonville rank on other teams fan’s travel list? Probably not near the top, which means they’ve never been here!

Even though the Jaguars are the home team, we put London at the top of the list for every Jaguars fan. Not only is it one of the great international cities of the world, it’s not that hard, or expensive to get to from Jacksonville. Once you’re there, the history and the nightlife are incomparable with anything else on the list. Wembley is one of the great stadiums as well. Now if the Jaguars could only win a game there!

Domestically, just about any city in the top ten could qualify as number one. As we mentioned, ease of travel, stadium and proximity to the stadium from everything else went into account on this list. That’s why Nashville is at the top. Non-stop flights (Southwest), a chance to go every year, great nightlife and restaurants, sightseeing and nice hotels put Music City in this spot. Also, the stadium is close by so it’s no big deal to get over there on game day. Not a great stadium, but not terrible either.

You might be surprised to see Baltimore this high but even a survey of Jaguars staffers puts “Charm City” near the top. Easy to get to on a nonstop flight (Southwest), downtown isn’t far from the airport and the stadium (and the whole sports complex) is close by. In fact, you can walk just about anywhere you want to go, the Inner Harbor, Camden Yards, all if it is right there.

Chicago is one of the great cities in America and the ability to get there on one flight and everything in walking distance makes it a fun trip. If you can get to a Jaguars game at historic Soldier Field on a day the Cubs are playing at home at Wrigley, it’ll be a memorable experience.

New York would be higher because well, it’s New York. Easy to get to but actually going to the game is a giant pain. Other than that, the New York trip can be fun. Just don’t wear your Jaguars gear to the stadium of we’re playing the Jets. Honest.

While hard to get to, San Diego is a great trip because of what they’ve done with downtown. In a lesson that Jacksonville could learn, they installed light rail and completely re-did what’s now called the “Gas Lamp District.” Great weather, good sights, easy to get around. The light rail goes directly to the stadium. If the Chargers stay in San Diego, it’s worth the trip. The stadium’s not much, but it is easy to get to on the rail line from downtown.

Seattle is also hard to get to but their sports complex and the city itself make it worth the trip. Nice hotels downtown a really cool stadium and passionate fans would make it memorable. Just plan an extra day or two for travel. And sightseeing.

If it was easier to get to, New Orleans might top this list. There used to be non-stops to the Crescent City but now it’s not easy to get over there. Obviously the food and the atmosphere is classic Americana. The Superdome renovation has upgraded it to a nice spot and you can just about walk to everything. At least once, this is a trip worth taking.

Surprisingly, Indy and Philly make it into our top ten. Both have non-stops, both have nice stadiums, fairly new. Philadelphia is full of American history if you’ve never taken the time to explore it, absolutely worth the time. Great restaurants all downtown near hotels. Indy has a bustling downtown with nice restaurants within walking distance.

Nearly impossible to get to, Lambeau Field should be a “must visit” for all football fans. Plan an extra couple of hours once you get there to go through the Packers Hall of Fame Museum. They have the best Bloody Mary Bar you’ve ever seen in their new atrium and great fans.

While San Francisco and Oakland are long trips, the Bay Area is a great place to visit. The ‘Niners new Levi’s Stadium is state of the art but not easy to get to. Oakland Coliseum is old and decrepit but if you want to see crazies in person, it’s the place to be for a Raiders game. Again, don’t wear your Jaguars gear if you go to Oakland. They seriously will hurt you.

Nice weather will follow you to Tampa and Miami. While Tampa is fairly non-descript, it’s easy to get around and easy to get to the stadium. Miami has a lot to offer and a trip to South Beach should be on any visiting fans itinerary. The stadium is nowhere near the city, so have a plan to get there, and get out.

Good weather might not follow you to Buffalo, but with very serious fans, you might see the largest collection of brown liquor ever during the tailgate before the game. Any trip to Buffalo should include a stop at Niagara Falls.

Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Cleveland might not seem like great travel spots for fans to visit but all three have nice downtown areas and easy proximity from the hotels to restaurants and the stadium. A trip to Cincinnati should include a stop at the Montgomery Inn, a famous barbeque spot on the river. If the Reds are at home, that’s a plus as well. If it’s chilly, you never have to go outside in Minneapolis, everything’s connected through walk bridges and tunnels. It might be difficult for the next couple of years because they’re building their new stadium. And Cleveland has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well.

The new stadium in Dallas should be on any sports fans list to see. While it’s close to nothing, it’s a destination itself. Downtown Dallas has plenty of options. Take an extra hour to look at the Museum at Dealy Plaza and you’ll be surprised by so much that’s apparent and accessible there regarding the Kennedy assassination.

Carolina makes the list but Atlanta or a variety of the other cities could be in this 20th spot because they’re easy to get to. They still call their downtown “Uptown” but lots of nice restaurants and easy access to the stadium. Arizona would be here or higher but the stadium in Glendale is in the middle of nowhere. Kansas City has great barbeque and great fans and St. Louis is worth the trip if the Cardinals are also in town. Plus a trip under the Arch to the Museum of Western Expansion is a surprise for any visitor. Denver can be fun if you include a couple of days skiing. We’d like to put Detroit somewhere on the list but the best thing they have going for them is Ford Field. And if the Tigers are at home, it’s right next door. Washington is worth a trip to see our Nation’s Capital but FedEx Field is not much and is in the middle of nowhere and hard to get to. No parking either. Houston has a great stadium and if the Astros are at home, probably worth the trip as well. If you’ve never been to Pittsburgh, a trip there will show real NFL passion, that’s for sure.

We’re sure you have an opinion! Let us know with #JagsTop20 on Twitter or email us at Sports@wjxt.com. We’ll talk about the list this week on “Jaguars Friday Night.”

1. London
2. Nashville
3. Baltimore
4. Chicago
5. New York
6. San Diego
7. Seattle
8. New Orleans
9. Indianapolis
10. Philadelphia
11. Green Bay
12. San Francisco/Oakland
13. Tampa
14. Miami
15. Buffalo
16. Cincinnati
17. Minneapolis
18. Cleveland
19. Dallas
20. Carolina

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Ravens Preview: Still Learning?

At 2-11 most NFL teams are already making plans for the future. Players are lining up vacation time, golf trips and how quickly they can get away after the final game. For the Jaguars, that doesn’t appear to be the case. With three games to play, it was business as usual for the team this week preparing to play in Baltimore.

And some observers think that’s the problem.

During the taping of the Gus Bradley Show this week, I asked the Head Coach if his “no stress” philosophy allowed him to put some heat on the players to perform.

“There’s pressure,” he quickly responded. “They know there’s pressure and hopefully it’s self-imposed. Pressure to perform, pressure to get results.”

That’s where the Jaguars have faltered, producing results in 2014 that were different than last year. Finishing with a 4-12 record in 2013, most people inside and outside of the organization thought this was a 7 or 8 win team this year. But the rebuilding continued and as my colleague Cole Pepper has noted, for the second straight year it was just an extended preseason. A chance to evaluate, for players to start to understand and get used to playing in the NFL and for the coaches to find a team identity.

Perhaps the evaluation continues and players are getting more comfortable, but a team identity hasn’t emerged. Former Jaguars linebacker Tom McManus said this week on “Jaguars Friday Night” that he thinks that’s a problem.

“You know what the D-Line’s identity is, they get after you. The O-Line? Ehh? Who are they?”

Mostly, inconsistency has cost the Jaguars all season long, and some of that can be attributed to how young the team is this year. But that is starting to sound line an excuse and not a reason.

“They’re not rookies anymore,” former Jaguar great Tony Boselli said this week. “They’ve played 13 games, they’ve been through camp and meetings and all that stuff. They just have to get the job done now.” They have started as many as nine rookie or first year players this year on offense, more than any team in the history of the league, but Boselli says the learning curve should be starting to flatten out.

“These guys are starting to see the same things for a second and third time. They should be figuring it out.”

And that goes for Blake Bortles as well. He’s thrown league high 16 interceptions to go along with his 10 touchdowns. He’s gone through the “newness” phase and through the “don’t turn it over phase” and now into the “I’m only in a light fog” phase. He’s admitted “I’m killin’ us” and last week felt the sting of unhappy fans when he and the offense couldn’t get anything done in the second half.

While the Jaguars are still trying to compete and get better, the Ravens are starting a playoff push. In fact, this could be considered their first playoff game. Win out, and they’re in the post-season.

Another good test for a young Jaguars team that will see how a very “professional” team operates deep into the season.

Hopefully they’ll be learning enough to, as GM Dave Caldwell says, not have this same discussion next year.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Second Half Woes (again), Jaguars lose to Ravens

Sometimes things crystalize right in front of your eyes when you’re watching the Jaguars play. In their opening drive against the Ravens, they drove the ball to midfield with a good blend of Toby Gerhart running and Blake Bortles passing. Gerhart’s healthy and running hard while Bortles looks confident.

Then things fall apart.

A wide-open Marcedes Lewis drops a perfect pass for a first down to keep a drive going and former Jaguar Daryl Smith tips a pass on 3rd down to force a punt. Will Ta’ufo’ou misses a block on the punt team and it’s blocked and returned for a TD. 7-0 Baltimore.

If Lewis catches the ball, the drive’s still happening. If Will makes the block, the Ravens field position is not good. In the span of a couple plays, the whole Jaguars season just happened right before your eyes. That’s why coming in to Baltimore, they’re 2-11. Flashes of what they can do but mind-blowing inconsistency and not just by young players.

Although the special teams have allowed 5 blocked kicks this year (2 punts and 3 FG’s) the one constant has been Josh Scobee. His two field goals in the first quarter from 53 and 45 yards kept the Jaguars in the game in the first quarter, 7-6.

More of the same in the second quarter. Mostly good defense, stuffing Justin Forsett and forcing him out of the game. They forced a fumble (18th of the year, tying a franchise record) and Scobee kicked another FG to make it 9-7.

It’s OK for a 2-1 team to try a little trickery so an on-side kick followed with Jonathan Cyprien’s recovery and the Jaguars were in business again. But this time, they squandered the opportunity with Scobee missing from 42 yards, still 9-7.

Joe Flacco is one of the premier QB’s in the game (They introduce him here as the “MVP of Super Bowl XLIV”) and he can find open guys. The middle of the field remains a problem for the Jaguars and Flacco exploited it, moving the ball inside the 10 with three minutes to play. But the D stiffened again and forced a FG, 10-9 Ravens.

But playing with a sense of confidence and moving the ball in big chunks, Bortles hit Alan Hurns across the middle for a 23 yard gain to give them a chance at the end zone. A better pass to Marqise Lee would have been a TD but instead, Scobee hit another FG to give the Jaguars a 12-10 lead.

Can they remember last week and not fall apart the same way they did against the Texans? Gus Bradley said he was partly responsible for that and promised he’ll have the team more ready to play. But it felt like a half of missed opportunity. No points off the onside kick, no TD’s and some good field position without a much to show for it. The Jaguars gave up four sacks for the 5th week in a row and held the ravens to 13 yards rushing but still only lead by two.

The third quarter looked like the third quarter from last week. Exchange of punts, not much offense for the Jaguars and a sustained, six play, 80-yard drive by the opposition to take a lead. Again the Jaguars didn’t cover the middle of the field and missed tackles. The Ravens had Owen Daniels wide open a couple of times, including off play action in the end zone and lead 17-12.

There were a few opportunities for the Jaguars offense as they moved into the 4th quarter. A fake punt worked for a first down but no points. A couple of good stands by the defense gave them good field position, but no points. A Ravens missed field goal gave them the ball near midfield, but two sacks (61 given up this year) forced a punt. No points. A good defensive sequence forced the Ravens to punt from their end zone. Ace Sanders returned it 13 yards and a holding penalty put the ball at the 50. Turned it over on downs, still, no points.

Meanwhile the Ravens very professionally ground the clock, ran the ball and gained first downs. Flacco even ran for a 1st down on 3rd and 5 late in the 4th quarter on a designed running play for the QB.

That led to a FG and a 20-12 victory for the Ravens, somewhat reminiscent of last week’s loss to Houston. Halftime lead, nothing in the second half.

Being in Baltimore reminded me of the years the Jaguars had the Ravens in their division and the great games the two teams played. The Jaguars ruled the series and looked like a regular playoff contender for years to come. But as they lost their way on the field, the operation of the franchise suffered as well. As I’ve noted before, Wayne Weaver was loyal to a fault to his friends when their time had been up in the front office for a while. The Ravens “do a lot of things right” as one Jaguars staffer told me, on the field and off.

While 30 years ago then-Mayor Jake Godbold pointed to Baltimore as a good model for Jacksonville to follow, (the city lost their way on that mission) perhaps a thorough inspection of the Raven is in order for the Jaguars as well. They’ve made great strides as an organization under Shad Khan but could still learn a few things from other teams around the league, the Ravens being one of them.

Let’s hope those lessons are applied quickly, on and off the field and perhaps the days of 71,000 in the stands, as there were on this day in Baltimore, can return to Jacksonville.


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Individual Performances

This week’s Top 20 in recognition of the Jaguars 20th anniversary is the Top 20 individual performances in Jaguars history. What brought this list to life was Josh Scobee’s two field goals last week putting him over 1000 points in his career, the first Jaguars player to accomplish that. Scobee makes this list for his efforts.

At number one we put Mark Brunell’s performance against Denver in the playoffs after the 1996 season leading to a 30-27 upset over the Broncos on the road. He might have had better games statistically, but there was no better performance when it comes to leadership, game management and making a play when it counted. His run in the 4th quarter was a near Herculean effort to seal the victory for the Jaguars.

Tony Boselli is in at 2 and 3. He dominated Bruce Smith in the playoffs so dramatically that the Jaguars were able to upset the Bills in Buffalo. His waving to JasonTaylor in front of a national television audience is one of the iconic images in Jaguars history.

Underappreciated, James Stewart was a very solid contributor for the Jaguars in their early years. Sometimes it’s the luck of the play calling but obviously Tom Coughlin had a lot of confidence in him at the goal line. Stewart’s 5TD’s and 30 points scored against the Eagles remain team records in the Jaguars’ 20th season.

Because it happened in the playoffs, Fred Taylor’s run against the Dolphins to open the scoring in the Jaguars rout is in at number five. Great individual effort, breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage and then just running away from everybody.

No job is lonelier than kicker so Josh Scobee’s 59-yarder to beat the Colts is in at number six. Kicking might be the most individual of pursuits in football once the snapper and the holder do their job, so a 59-yard game winner is pretty special for the individual. And Scobee’s helmet raised run around the field is another iconic image in Jaguars history.

For Brad Meester just being in the game deserves a spot on this list. It seemed like they tried to replace him every year in the second half of his 14-year career but he just kept winning the job. Meester was a “known entity” for the Jaguars and they could pencil his name in the lineup virtually every week. He played heavy or light at the team’s request and knew what he was doing up front. His consecutive game streaks are team records and Brad should be the next name put in the Pride of the Jaguars.

When it comes to consecutive game streaks, Mike Hollis’ 67-game scoring record makes the list. He was the beneficiary of playing on some pretty good Jaguars teams but scoring in every game in over 4 seasons remains a Jaguars record.

Even though it was in a loss, Jimmy Smith’s day against the Ravens in Baltimore is in at number nine. Fifteen catches, 291 yards and 3 TD’s wasn’t enough to secure a victory for the Jaguars.

Fred’s individual games of 234 yards against Pittsburgh and 194 against New Orleans are in at 10 and 11. It’d be something special to see numbers from a running back like that again. Maurice Jones Drew ran for 186 yards in a shootout against Tennessee. He had TD runs of 80 and 79 yards in that game and he’s number 12 on this list for that day. He’s also at #13 for leading the league in rushing in 2011. His 1,606 yards were a source of pride for the offense on a bad team.

Catching the football takes somebody else throwing it, but Smith’s 116 catches in 1999 and Keenan McCardell’s 16 caches and 232 yards against St. Louis in 1996 both make the list at 14 and 15. Although he didn’t play much (so far) Justin Blackmon’s 14 reception day against Denver last year in one of the 4 games he played is in at number sixteen. He kept the Jaguars from being blown out.

Some performances seem surreal in this era of 4 win Jaguars teams. Do you remember when Taylor ran for 100 yards or more in 9 straight games in 2000? How would that be received today?

That’s why Sen’Derrick Marks’ 8.5 sacks (so far) this year is on the list. He’s playing defensive tackle, and in most games teams aren’t throwing it much in the second half because they’re just trying to grind the clock and leave with a win. Eight and a half is already a huge number for Sen’Derrick.

You might have forgotten how versatile MJD was in his early years. He’s on the list at 19 for his 303 all-purpose yards against Indy in 2006. He got to that number rushing, receiving AND returning kicks.

And at #20 Rashean Mathis’ 30 career interceptions finishes our list. He had eight in 2006, a number that seems unattainable for anybody on recent or current Jaguars teams. Hopefully that changes.

We know this list can have plenty of disagreement. Did we miss something? Pete Mitchell’s 10-catch game as a rookie tight end? Let us know on twitter with #JagsTop20 or email us at sports@wjxt.com. We’ll talk about the list this week on Jaguars Friday Night at 11:20.

1. Brunell vs. Denver 1996
2. Boselli vs. Bruce Smith
3. Boselli vs. Jason Taylor
4. James Stewart 5 TD’s
5. Fred Taylor TD Run vs. Miami
6. Josh Scobee 59 yard FG
7. Brad Meester Service
8. Mike Hollis 67 consecutive games scoring
9. Jimmy Smith vs. Baltimore 15 catches 291yds 3 td’s
10. Fred vs. Pitt 234 yds
11. Fred vs NO 194 yards
12. MJD vs Tenn 186 80 yd 79 yd
13. MJD 2011 lead league 1,606
14. Jimmy Smith 116 catches 1999
15. Keenan 16 catches 232 yds. 1996 vs stl
16. Blackmon 14 catches vs Denver 2013
17. Fred 9 straight 100 yd games in 2000
18. Sen’Derrick Marks 8.5 Sacks in 2014
19. MJD all purpose yds. 303 vs Indy 2006
20. Rashean Mathis 30 career INT’s 8 n 2006

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Texans preview: Keep the Momentum?

Everybody talks about the “eye test” in sports. Looking at the Jaguars early in the year, the “eye test” showed them as a young, flawed team with a long way to go before they scared anybody in the NFL. As the year has progressed, the “eye test” didn’t change any opinions as the losses mounted. A few glimpses, beating the Browns, end of the Titans game but generally it felt like another extended preseason as the Jaguars coaches were looking for which players on this year’s team would help them win in the future, as in next year.

But at the end of the Giants game, things changed. After not doing much on offense for most of the game, the Jaguars and Blake Bortles came to life. Starting deep in their own territory but only needing a field goal to win, Bortles took command. A little extra zip on his passes. Positive decision-making, good footwork and some solid throws gave the Jaguars the ball near midfield. The receivers routes were crisp. The offensive line had their best blocking sequence of the day. That’s when Bortles ran the read-option, twice, overcoming penalties, getting to the NY 25 and setting Josh Scobee up for the game winning FG.

And according to the “eye test” the Jaguars looked like a different team.

“He’s a baller,” veteran Tight End Marcedes Lewis said of Bortles in the post-game locker room. “He took command. You could see it. You could hear it in the huddle. I’ll play with that guy anytime.” Without many veterans on the team, Lewis is one of the players who can give some perspective on where this team is.

“This changes things,” he added. “He believes. We believe in him.” “That’s what we see in practice every day,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said during the week. “The command, the sense of urgency, its part of the process.”

Oh yes, “the process.”

As the Jaguars go on “this journey” as Bradley likes to call what’s going on, “the process” has shown improvement but it’s been slow. Painfully slow.

Against the Texans today we’ll see if that process has sped up at all after last week’s win. Sometimes the lessons are hard in the NFL, but sometimes they come fast and furious. Can the Jaguars offense transfer that confidence they displayed in the final drive against the Giants directly into the first quarter against Houston? Those crisp routes, that quick decision-making and that sense of urgency are what this team needs in every drive to compete. Their margin of error is small, so the precision that Bradley has talked about all year is necessary to be in games with a chance to win in the 4th quarter.

Houston is the perfect opponent for today’s test. They’re good but not great. With JJ Watt having an MVP-type year and Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing six TD’s last week, they can do a lot of things well when they get some confidence and momentum. Can the Jaguars match that?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Falter in 2nd Half, Lose to Texans

Having swept the Texans last year for two of their four wins, the Jaguars were fairly confident this week at home against Houston. Coming off a last-second win against the Giants they could see improvement and how “the process” was taking hold. Not that Houston was any kind of pushover. With JJ Watt playing at an MVP level, Arian Foster looking like the Pro Bowl back he is, and Ryan Fitzpatrick coming off a 6-TD performance, it’s a pretty good test for the home team.

Again this week Sen’Derrick Marks played at a Pro Bowl level, recording 1.5 sacks in the first quarter to get the Jaguars in good field position. Marks is scheduled for a big payday if he gets to 8 sacks from the DT position. That’s a huge number coming from that spot on the field on a team that has won 2 games and isn’t usually harassing the QB because the opposition is throwing it all the time trying to catch up.

Taking advantage of the short field, the Jaguars drove the ball in from the 50 with a nice blend of runs by Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart and a back-shoulder 26 yard pass from Blake Bortles to Marqis Lee to take a 7-0 lead. The TD pass was impressive because the Jaguars used their bootleg roll to the right goal line play but the Texans sniffed it out and covered everybody coming out of the backfield and the tight end off the line of scrimmage. Bortles kept the play alive rolling to the right and final Allen Hurns danced away from his man enough for Bortles to fit it in there for a touchdown.

Anytime Foster is in the game the Texans have a chance. When he’s healthy and playing, he gets a hundred yards a game pretty much all the time. The Jaguars were keeping him in check until one of their “fits” from the defensive secondary didn’t work on a running play and he ripped off 51-yards into Jaguars territory. Along the way he stiff-armed Josh Evans so hard that he de-cleated Evans at midfield. The Texans got a FG to make it 7-3. On the ensuing possession, Houston got the short field and scored on a Fitzpatrick run (following a 19 yard Foster carry) 10-7 Houston.

A lot of fans have been down on some of the free agent acquisitions for the Jaguars in the offseason. They cut Dekota Watson, Zane Beadles hasn’t had much to work with and Toby Gerhart isn’t the guy everybody thought he’d be. Hard to say if Beadles is just suffering from all the young guys around him or not. But it’s clear that Gerhart hasn’t been healthy until now. He’s running hard and is a good combination with Denard Robinson in the backfield. The Jaguars gave it to him on 3rd and 9 and he powered through the line and ran over a couple of guys on the next level for a first down. Scobee kicked another field goal to make it 10-10. And with Bortles running around looking for somebody, he checked down to Gerhart who blasted through a few guys again for a first down. Another Scobee FG made it 13-10 at halftime.

Bortles is playing more like the guy who came in during the second half of the third game of the year. He’s avoiding the rush, finding open receivers and not making the same mistakes he made in that five game stretch. Hard to say if he’s peeking out of the fog or not but he looks like that guy the Jaguars thought they drafted.

After halftime, the weather turned a little worse with a light mist and a cold wind blowing through the stadium. Apparently the Jaguars didn’t like the weather shift because the 3rd quarter was all Houston. They went on an 84 yard, 16 play TD drive to take a17-13 lead and intercepted Bortles at the 25 near the end of quarter and scored to start the 4th to take a 24-14 lead. The second touchdown was particularly galling because the Texans went for it on 4th down only to have Foster stoned at the goal line but slip away backwards and skirt untouched around the left end for the TD. There was a big swing of emotion on the play, elation when Foster was stopped but despair when it was apparent nobody tackled him and he slipped in for the score.

Houston controlled the clock on offense and stifled the Jaguars with their defense for most of the second half. With eight minutes to go in the game Bortles and the offense had officially -1 yards on the books. Cecil Shorts had a critical drop on a slant that he’d still be running on and the Jaguars gave it back to the Texans. Houston kicked another FG to make it 27-13.

Right when the Jaguars looked like they’d make a game of it by gaining 51 yards on two plays and getting to the Texans 29 yard line, they started going backwards with sacks and penalties. Houston did their best to grind the clock, Foster professionally and smartly staying in bounds to get it under 3 minutes before giving it back to the Jaguars.

I’m not sure if they’ll be able to pinpoint exactly why there was no production in the second half on either side of the ball. Critical drops (Shorts et al) and penalties, along with an inability to keep Bortles upright all contributed to their problems. Certainly his interception deep in their own territory didn’t help but it felt like a small step forward for Bortles in game management, performance and playing with more freedom than in the past.

While they had the lead at halftime, the Jaguars never felt in control of this game and while you’d like to say it was entertaining and fun to be there, in the second half it was anything but that. In fact, the stands were mostly empty as people retreated inside because of the rain and the cold.

Houston knelt on it for the final 2 minutes to add insult to injury, a wound that the Jaguars can only salve by being able to do the same to the Texans in the final game of the season.

One more home game on the 18th against Tennessee on a Thursday night that could be fun, and winnable.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

McElwain Introduced at Florida: Wins the Press Conference

Starting his public Gator career at his introductory press conference, Head Coach Jim McElwain approached the podium without any prepared remarks and said, “How you doin?” It’s that kind of folksy, human connection that the Gator Nation has longed for since the departure of Steve Spurrier.

McElwain was glib, funny, a good storyteller, and seemingly open about his courtship with the University of Florida and his desire to become the head coach in Gainesville.

“When you look at the quality, it’s something special here at Florida. It’s a privilege to be here,” McElwain noted.

He’s a blend of Gus Bradley’s message and Steve Spurrier’s ability to control a room, whether it’s reporters, boosters, football players or the assembled media.

“Let’s be a part of being a positive influence on the people around us,” he said about his general philosophy, not talking about offense or defense. “It’s about investing in the young men who are (already) here.”

When pressed about what he’ll do on offense since that’s his specialty, the new Gators coach said, “I’m the dog they dropped off at the humane society. I have a lot of breeds in me. You have to pick the right breed for the situation and bring that out.” It’s that kind of self-deprecating humor that will endear him to Gators fans, especially if he can back it up with a wide-open offense that produces wins.

“It’s depends on who you have,” McElwain said when asked how wide-open he’d be. “Who you have determines whether you throw it 40 or 80 times a game.”

When Athletic Director Jeremy Foley started focusing in on McElwain as a candidate he said all he heard was, “Mac is a great guy a great guy. But when you talk to him, at his home with his family around it was obvious that he was that and more.”

While McElwain demurred when asked about how the deal got done, he said he had a “hunch” that it would happen and feels no pressure from the money reportedly spent by the University to acquire him from Colorado State.

“Pressure. If there’s one thing that I love it’s pressure. I like to think I don’t feel the pressure, I apply the pressure. If there’s no pressure, why wake up in the morning. ”

McElwain said that it wasn’t just recently that he became interested in the job in Gainesville. “That happened the first time I recruited this state for the University of Louisville. I’m excited about rekindling the relationships that I started then.

Born in Kalispell, Montana and raised in Missoula, McElwain left the state to play football at Eastern Washington. He started his coaching career there as well. So he’s grateful to Nick Saban for brining him East to the University of Alabama where he was Offensive Coordinator form 2008-2011. “I owe him everything for taking a chance on a guy from out West.”

He joked that some people might not say he coached in the NFL, “I coached the Raiders.” McElwain said he’ll have his first team meeting Monday morning and will give a look at the roster and the quarterbacks currently on it to see what they can do. “I’m the kind of guy who thinks I can win with my dog Clara Bell at quarterback,” he quipped.

On his message to the team: “You’re Gators, I’m a Gator. Give me an opportunity to make a positive impact on your life. Develop trust.”

On his message to recruits: “You have a chance to win a National Championship here. But It’s not just about the ball. It’s about making a brand for yourself and making a brand for the rest of your life.”

McElwain won’t coach the Gators in their bowl game instead saying he’ll be “eating popcorn. I want to see what the normal guy does.

When asked about McElwain’s performance, one Florida administrator told me, “That’s important. It might not be important everywhere but its important here.”

That kind of understanding of what it means to be the University of Florida head football coach these days makes McElwain 1-0. He won the press conference.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Comebacks

Here’s our top 20 for this week in recognition of the Jaguars 20th anniversary. To mark their comeback win over the Giants last Sunday, it’s the top 20 comebacks in Jaguars history. They’re all not actual comebacks in games, but all represent a comeback of sorts surrounding the Jaguars.

At number 1, the city of Jacksonville made a huge comeback to even still be in the game to get a franchise. The announcement on November 30, 1993 represents the biggest comeback ever in franchise history.

A close second is 1990. Certain leaders in the Jacksonville community had convinced local politicians that getting NFL franchise wasn’t a very important thing for city growth. A whole other group thought it was very important, including Don Davis, a prominent local politician and convinced the Mayor that this was an important thing. Behind the scenes, Touchdown Jacksonville was reconnected with the City and the rest, is history.

Third is the comeback in 2013 to beat Cleveland on the road. Dramatic, last second win. Fourth is also dramatic, in overtime as Rashean Mathis scored the game winner for the Jaguars. Fifth is the Mike Thomas Hail Mary catch against the Texans. It was so sudden and dramatic and it’s made a lot of these lists this year.

In the 6th spot we have Mark Brunell’s return to the lineup in 1998. He was injured with three games to play and the Jaguars lost two of three to still get into the playoffs. His return allowed them to advance to the second round where they were eventually beat by the Jets. Without Mark, they go nowhere. Same with Fred’s return in 2002. After missing almost all of 2001 with an injury, Taylor came back better than ever and played in more games as a starting running back than any other back in his era after that. So much for “Fragile Fred.” We also put Tony Boselli’s comeback in 1995 on the list. 1995? The first year? Right. Boselli was injured before the season started so it was a big deal for him to “comeback” to the lineup. He recently said he ankle hurt so much that if it was OK to cry in football, he would have. We also put Mark Brunell’s comeback to Jacksonville after his career was over in the 9th spot. After 19 years in the league and a few financial problems, Brunell is the head coach at Episcopal, works for ESPN and has picked Jacksonville as his home. Same for Boselli. He bounced around a few years after his career ended but now is back in town for good it appears.

The next nine are games where the Jaguars came from behind to win, including Sunday’s victory over the Giants. Some of the others you’ll remember, some you might not, but all are come from behind wins.

And in the 20th spot the Jaguars return to Channel 4. We were the official station in the early 2000’s and now that we have it back, we’re trying new things, working with the team to make the broadcasts fun and interesting, no matter what the score on the field. It’s been a great experience so far and we’re looking forward to more!

Did we miss something? Let us know at sports@wjxt.com or tweet us with #jagstop20 and we’ll talk about it on Jaguars Friday Night!

  • 1) 1993
  • 2) 1990
  • 3) 2013 week 13 at Cleveland – Henne to Shorts TD with 40 seconds left for 32-28 win
  • 4) 2005 at Pittsburgh – Rashean Mathis 41 yard INT return for TD in overtime for the 23-17 win
  • 5) Mike Thomas Hail Mary catch
  • 6) Brunell comeback in ’98
  • 7) Taylor comeback in 2002
  • 8) Boselli in 1995
  • 9) Brunell comeback after football
  • 10) 21 points 11/30/14 vs NYG
    trailed 21-0 in the 2nd quarter
  • 11) 15 points, 11/24/96 at BAL,
    trailed 25-10 4th quarter, won 28-25 OT
  • 12) 14 points, 11/10/96 vs. BAL,
    trailed 17-3 3rd quarter, won 30-27
  • 13) 14 points, 12/13/99 vs. DEN,
    trailed 14-0 1st quarter, won 27-24
  • 14) 14 points, 12/11/11 vs. TB,
    trailed 14-0 2nd quarter, won 41-14
  • 15) 13 points, 11/09/03 vs. IND,
    trailed 20-7 at half, won 28-23
  • 16) 12 points, 09/27/98 at TEN,
    trailed 19-7 2nd quarter, won 27-22
  • 17) 11 points, 10/13/96 vs. NYJ,
    trailed 14-3 2nd quarter, won 21-1
  • 18) 11 points, 11/30/97 vs. BAL,
    trailed 14-3 2nd quarter, won 29-27
  • 19) 11 points, 09/23/12 at IND,
    trailed 14-3 at half, won 22-17
  • 20) Jaguars return to Channel 4
Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Defense Shines, Jaguars beat Giants

You know anytime you’re going to face a Tom Coughlin coached football team they’re going to run the football. A lot. Former Jaguar Rashad Jennings is Coughlin’s workhorse in the backfield (another one of those guys like Montel Owens, Justin Forsett and Daryl Smith that I can’t figure out why they’re not on this team) and as expected, the Giants started out running the football. A lot. The Jaguars had three plays in the first quarter for nine yards while the Giants dominated the field and time of possession including a 19-play, 91 yard, 9 minute and 51 second drive for a TD (scored by Jennings) to take an early 7-0 lead. I’ll admit, it’s not what I expected from the Jaguars defense, especially in the middle.

A complete lack of production isn’t what I expected on offense early in the game either. The Giants took a 14-0 lead driving on a short field before the Jaguars even got to ten offensive snaps. Their first two offensive series where both three and out, the one on the goal line including a bad throw, a dropped pass and a batted ball. If Gus Bradley challenged his players and coaches to do more, to step up, it didn’t show in the first 25 minutes of the game. While Blake Bortles tries to find that aggressive side and measure it against turning the ball over, the rest of the offense has to step forward. The receivers have to get open and the offensive line has to move defenders off the ball. Neither of those things is happening.

Taking advantage of another short field, the Giants scored on a 17 yard run by Jennings (again) and took a 21-0 lead.

With the Giants rushing three on third down deep in Jaguars territory, Bortles was able to elude the rush and fire a strike to Alan Hurns downfield. But a defender met Hurns with his should right about the time he was going to catch the ball and delivered a big hit to force an incompletion. Hurns was on the ground for a while.

He did return as the Jaguars got their first drive of the day going. Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fish finally started rolling Bortles out of the pocket and hitting some guys on crossing patterns. Throw in a nice run by Denard Robinson and the Jaguars were inside the Giants ten. But Robinson occasionally still hesitates at the point of attack when there’s not an obvious hole there so the Jaguars went nowhere on first and second down, including a fade throw to Marqis Lee. (Which I don’t understand because no matter what he’s listed at, he’s actually around 5’8″.) A scramble by Bortles with a throw into the end zone to Cecil Shorts was negated by a holding call on Luke Joeckel and the Jaguars settled for a Josh Scobee field goal to make it 21-3.

Looking for a single word to describe the first half performance, “woeful” was the one that kept coming to mind. Without much production on offense, whether because of play calling or execution (or both) the Jaguars were hoping their defense would keep them in the game but that didn’t happen either. It is alumni weekend for the Jaguars and seeing all of those former players on the field had to give the Jaguars fans in attendance a good feeling about what they had at one point. And what they’re hoping for. There were big ovations for several players, including Jimmy Smith who hadn’t been in Jacksonville for a while.

Top open the second half the Jaguars moved the ball near to midfield before having to punt. But a big 61-yard punt by Brian Anger put the ball on the Giants 13. That’s when the defense started to come to life again, Geno Hayes sacking Eli Manning and forcing a fumble that JT Thomas jumped on in the end zone for a TD to make it 21-10 Giants.

Manning was sacked on third down on the Giants next possession as well and appeared to fumble but the officials ruled him down on forward progress and didn’t allow a challenge allowing the Giants to punt to the Jaguars 22.

After an exchange of punts, the Jaguars offense came to life, finally with some exotic play calling. The wildcat formation, the read-option by Bortles and a beautiful throw to Lee on a fade route to the back corner of the end zone from 30 yards out cut the score to 21-16. I know a 2-point conversion cuts it to a 3 point game but with 2 minutes left in the third quarter, all that did was kill the momentum with the pass was batted down at the line.

It’s almost unbelievable what happened next. The Giants were finding some momentum near midfield when Manning hit TE Larry Donnell on a little out route. He was hit high and low by the Jaguars and fumbled the ball on his way to the ground. Rookie Aaron Colvin was in on the tackle and also scooped the ball up for a score giving the Jaguars a 22-21 lead after they went for 2, again, and didn’t make it. Hindsight is 20/20 but going for two in both of those situations seemed a little early.

Meanwhile, I’m sure the Giants were confused. Weren’t they in control of this game 21-0? While the gashed the defensive line early on the ground, they couldn’t find anything that really worked in the second half. Until Eli Manning went to the short rhythm passing game and moved them right down the field. The defense stiffened and the Giants kicked a FG to take a 24-22 lead.

So with just over 3 minutes to play, Blake Bortles and the offense had a chance to redeem themselves. Just a FG wins it. And this is where confidence and careers are formed. Bortles looked decisive hitting Lee and Shorts for midrange gains. He ran the ball on the read-option a couple of times to get first downs. He looked like they were going to WIN THIS GAME. No hesitation, no second-guessing. And sure enough, they moved it to the Giants 25 yard line where Josh Scobee calmly kicked a 43 yarder to win the game, 25-24.

How they did it? If you follow Gus’ commands its about about giving a little more and finding a way. Whatever they were doing before wasn’t enough. And if it takes two defensive touchdowns, then go get two defensive TD’s. Hopefully Bortles and the offense gains some confidence after that game winning drive.

The good news is they get to play at home again next week. And the opponent is Houston.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Giants Preview: It’s About Bortles

In the NFL, it all comes down to the quarterback. Bad teams with good quarterbacks have a chance. Good teams with bad quarterbacks usually don’t. Great running backs don’t take you to the Super Bowl. Walter Payton needed an historic defense to carry his bears to the championship game. Barry Sanders never got there. Quarterbacks make the difference at the highest level.

So for the Jaguars, it’s all about Blake Bortles. The first round, third overall pick looks and acts the part. He’s tall, he’s fast enough. His arm is getting stronger and he has that ‘it’ factor that’s not easily defined, or found when it comes to professional athletes. He likes playing the game but more importantly, he likes playing the position with all the responsibility and criticism that goes with it. Win and the QB usually gets too much credit. Lose, and he usually takes too much of the blame.

When Bortles entered the game against Indianapolis in the second half down 30-0 at home, he threw two touchdowns and two interceptions but gave fans hope. It’s rumored that Shad Khan after the game in the elevator when asked how he felt said, “A lot better now. I’ve seen the future.” And that pretty much summed up what everybody associated with the franchise was thinking. “It’s going to be OK.”

But in the subsequent 8 games, Bortles production has regressed. He’s still capable of playing at a high level, but his production has gone backwards. How does that happen? On one hand, defensive coordinators have a bit of a sample group to look at what Bortles can do and they devise a game plan to attack that. Simple enough, and usually talented players at QB eventually overcome those changes. Sometimes.

Bortles has moved from that free and easy initial feeling when he took over into a fog of whirling defenders and a cacophony voices in his head. He wants to be aggressive, that’s his nature, but he doesn’t want to turn the ball over. He admitted as much this week saying he wanted to “think less” when he’s out there. All quarterbacks get into this fog as their career progresses. They have the ability, they see what’s happening but they have just the slightest bit of doubt creeping around in their thought process that keeps them from making the best decision at that moment.

But the good ones come out of it. And that’s what we should look for with Bortles over the last five games of the year. In that span, he should peek his head out of the fog a few times and see things pretty clearly. He’s not fragile either physically or mentally, so he won’t melt down like some other QB’s have done in this stage of their career. He won’t lose confidence. Head Coach Gus Bradley and Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch have tempered their criticism of Bortles a bit this week, perhaps hoping he’ll start to move out of that fog on his own.

I’m pretty confident Bortles is the right guy for the job. He has the tools and the psyche, as well as the moxie to be a QB in the NFL. He’ll need some help, especially at wide receiver sometime soon. If teams are going to play eight defenders at the line of scrimmage, like both Dallas and Indy did in successive games, and play press man coverage on the WR’s, it’s up to the wideouts to beat that coverage and get open. But they’re not and that leads to tough decisions being made by Bortles.

Look for the Giants to do much of the same today against the Jaguars. They’ll try to bottle up the running game and make Bortles and wide receivers try and beat them. The Jaguars will counter with trying to run the football and rolling Bortles out of the pocket a bit, putting guys in motion and using Marcedes Lewis as a target to give receivers some space and create matchup problems for the NY secondary.

That’s the chess game today. Giants coach Tom Coughlin believes that if his team can control field position and force the Jaguars into long drives, eventually his defense will do something to turn the game. Or the Jaguars will make a mistake and turn it over.

Run the football, move Bortles out of the pocket and don’t turn it over, pretty simple keys for the Jaguars today.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jagaurs vs. Colts Preview

It hasn’t been a good history against with the Colts for the Jaguars. With only 8 wins in 27 games, the Jaguars haven’t figured out what the Colts are all about. Two reasons are obvious though: Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. The Colts have had success in just about every phase of the game against the Jaguars, and their 30-0 lead at halftime in Jacksonville in game three put Blake Bortles in the lineup. There is one stat that goes in the Jaguars favor: They’ve won 2 of the last 3 in Indianapolis.

This week the Jaguars will get Marcedes Lewis back in the lineup and Aaron Colvin will see his first action of the year after suffering an ACL injury at the Senior Bowl. The Colts have injuries of their own with Ahmad Bradshaw out of the backfield.

But they still have Andrew Luck.

“You want to be tested,” Colvin told me at the team hotel on Saturday. “He’s (Luck) a great player, he’ll test what we have, no question.”

Indy is 6-4 this year, so they’re not world-beaters. Last week they were thrashed on the ground, losing to the Patriots, 42-20. That’s what the Jaguars will try to do today, take advantage of the Colts inability to stop the run. With Denard Robinson starting and a healthy Toby Gerhart, look for Bortles to get some help on the ground.

Bortles in just shy of 2,000 yards passing this year with 8 TD’s and 14 interceptions. His passer rating is 72.3. In other words, being judged as anything but a rookie quarterback, he’s been average. But as a rookie QB, Bortles has shown improvement, a tremendous upside and an aggressiveness that can be fun to watch, or get him in trouble.

“It’s those turnovers on the plus side of the 50 that hurt,” he told us this week. “Those take points off the board.”

And his recognition of that is why there’s still optimism for his development this year. “He sees that and knows he can fix it,” Gus Bradley said during the taping of his weekly show. “Limiting turnovers, particularly on our side of the field is one of the things we challenged the players with this week.”

Bradley’s mantra has been all about “getting better” to the point where he’s redefined victory for the Jaguars. For his tenure in Jacksonville so far, fans have been satisfied with his rebuilding of the team. But after the bye week and the loss to Dallas, there’s a sense that they want more.

“We’re trying to give the ownership to the players as the final step,” Bradley said this week, “and we’re getting there.” While that’s a laudable goal, these last six weeks the Jaguars have to show more than just improvement. They have to show the ability to win. They don’t necessarily have to win, but rather look like they are in games and have a chance to grab victory.

If history is a marker, today’s not the day for that, so we should look to be surprised The Jaguars veteran defensive front seven should be able to stop the run and put pressure on Andrew Luck. How they “fit” behind the front seven will determine the Jaguars fate today.

And it could be an indicator for the rest of the year as well.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Sputter vs Indy

Going in to the game against the Colts the Jaguars, coming off their bye week, had some goals they were trying to achieve in the last six weeks of the season. One big one was to stop turning the ball over, particularly on the plus side of the 50 when it looked like they were going to get some points.

As a defense, the Jaguars were shredded by Andrew Luck the last time they met but in the first two series, they shut him down, sacked him twice (by Chris Clemons) and forced a fumble. Sounds good right?

Problem was, Blake Bortles first pass was a bad read and a worse throw, trying to hit Marcedes Lewis on an out pattern. Vontae Davis saw it coming the whole time, jumped the route and picked it off, returning it 46 yards deep into Jaguars territory. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 46 yarder to give Indy a 3-0 lead. By the way, Vinatieri will be 42 years old this December and hasn’t missed this year.

It was pretty clear that the Jaguars defensive line was pumped up in this game. Chris Smith created a fumble with their third sack of the game. Sen’Derrick Marks recovered the fumble and put the Jaguars in business inside the Colts 20. But the offense couldn’t do much, settling for a tipped Josh Scobee field goal to tie the game 3-3.

Another good defensive stand was wasted when Denard Robinson fumbled the ball in the middle of a pile near midfield, giving the Colts the ball back. For a team that was focusing on not turning the ball over, the Jaguars had two in the first quarter.

But neither team had much rhythm. The Jaguars had a sustained drive stall at midfield but the Colts gave up 5 sacks in the first half. Between the two teams there were 5 turnovers and 5 fumbles in the first 26 minutes of play.

The first half was a very solid effort by the Jaguars defense. They harassed Luck, sacked him, forced fumbles and really gave up only one big explosive play toward the end of the half. They held the Colts to just two field goals, six points in the first 30 minutes of the game. The last time these two teams met, the Colts scored 30 in the first half.

When the Jaguars won the toss at the beginning of the game, they deferred, hoping to make something happen in the second half. But in their first series the Jaguars went backwards, Bortles dropping the ball and Jordan Todman dropping a pass. There’s been spotty execution by the offense all season long, but outside of the one drive in the first half, they did nothing to scare the Colts.

Meanwhile you know the Colts are going to score some points. Since the Jaguars offense couldn’t come up with anything, the Colts had a very short field and scored on a 1 yard Trent Richardson run to make it 13-6. Without any offense on the next drive, the Colts had it deep in their own territory. But not for long. Luck hit T.Y. Hilton on a 73-yard go route for a TD that gave Indy a 20-6 lead. It looked a lot like the play Dez Bryant scored on in London against Dewayne Gratz but perhaps he was looking for safety help from Jonathan Cyprien. Either way, Hilton was wide open (Gus “Blown Coverage”) and the game started to get out of hand. It really would have gone south after the ensuing punt by the Jaguars (after another three and out) was returned for a TD but it was called back for an illegal block.

It’s mystifying why the Jaguars couldn’t get anything done on offense. Indianapolis couldn’t stop anybody in the last three weeks and the Jaguars are a legitimate running football team. But Bortles looked a bit gun-shy all day, looking for that blend between being aggressive and not trying to turn the ball over. He had a lot of swing passes in the game plan, nice and safe, and he took advantage of those. But eventually the Colts caught on and shut most of those down. Marqis Lee was getting his chance with Allen Robinson out of the lineup and he had a few catches. One of 37 yards in the 4th quarter got the ball to the one. It might be the first time Lee had ever been caught from behind. And for some reason, Jeff Fisch tried everything but running Toby Gerhart at the line and they turned the ball over on downs. I hated every call in that sequence.

While the Jaguars are not a good football team, occasionally they play well enough to make it interesting. But on this day, they’re a bad football team playing poorly. Gus Bradley will need to reassess what he’s telling the players and what his expectations are and he’ll have to do the same with the fans and probably Shad Khan.

If at this point it’s about the players taking ownership, they can have this one.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Teams

With one win, the Jaguars of 2014 sit near the bottom of the 20 teams who have worn the teal and black of the franchise since it’s inception in 1995. This week’s Top 20 is the best Jaguars teams, top to bottom in their 20 years of existence.

At the top is the 1999 team that went 14-2 in the regular season, demolished Miami in their first playoff game and lost to Tennessee at home if the AFC Title game despite leading 14-10 at halftime. That team had single digit rankings across the board including being the top ranked team in defensive points given up. They’re a clear cut #1.

From there it actually gets a little tricky. It would be easy to put the 1996 team here because they played in the Conference championship game but there are a few other contenders for that spot as well. The ’97 and ’98 teams were playoff teams while the 2005 club went 12-4 during the regular season. We’ll put the ’96 team second because they got hot in the playoffs and had two historic wins on the road in Denver and Buffalo.

We’ll follow that with the ’97 team with all of those Pro Bowlers on it and the ’98 squad that went 11-5 with the 2005 and 2007 playoff teams in the top six.

There are a lot of very average teams after that but the 2004 team had a winning record at 9-7 so they’ll go in at seven. Eight and eight teams of 2010 and 2006 would be 8 and nine. Both teams were huge disappointments under head coach Jack Del Rio, losing their last three games (needing only one win) to be eliminated from playoff contention.

The 7-9 team in 2000 is 10th because they were actually a decent football team that couldn’t get out of their own way. They suffered through a 5 game losing streak in the middle of the year and lost their last two games to finish under .500 for the first time in 5 years.

Historically, the Jaguars have had a losing record in 10 of their 20 years, including this year and 6 of the last eight. The last time the Jaguars had a winning record was 2007. So the 6-10 teams of 2001 and 2002 are in the 11th and 12th spots. It was the end of the Tom Coughlin era and when the Jaguars were going to have to pay for some salary cap issues. Even Del Rio lauded Coughlin’s coaching job with a thin roster for those two squads.

The first year team finished 4-12 but got the most out of the talent on the roster and is in at the 13th spot. Probably should have won only a couple of games in the expansion year. Behind that squad is the7-9 team under Del Rio in 2009 despite being 6-4 after 10 games, they lost 5 of their last six including their last 4 straight to start the end of Del Rio’s coaching career here.

In 2003, 2008 and 20011, all under Del Rio, the Jaguars went 5-11 and were never considered a contender.

Which brings us to the bottom 3. Hard to say if this year’s team will get any better but we’ll list them at 17 because at least they have a better roster than the past two. Last year’s team probably was good enough to get four wins so they’re in at 19. And at the bottom of the list is the 2012 team. Mike Mularkey took the head coaching job knowing that it was a massive rebuild and said frequently, “We’ll take our lumps” noting privately the lack of talent on the roster. But he never got a chance to put his plan in place, being dismissed after just one year along with General Manager Gene Smith. That roster probably had about two wins in it, and earned both.

Disagree? Send your ideas to sports@wjxt.com or tweet them with the #JagsTop20 and we’ll talk about it this week on Jaguars Friday Night.

1. 1999
2. 1996
3. 1997
4. 1998
5. 2005
6. 2007
7. 2004
8. 2010
9. 2006
10. 2000
11. 2001
12. 2002
13. 1995
14. 2009
15. 2003
16. 2008
17. 2001
18. 2014
19. 2013
20. 2012

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Muschamp Era Over: Where Now?

It’s a tough job, Head Football Coach at the University of Florida.

Winning is important, but HOW you win is a factor in what the Gators fan base thinks about the job you’re doing. From the outset, Will Muschamp seemed like a paradoxical choice to lead the Florida program.

He is from Gainesville. But he went to Georgia.

He played defense for the Bulldogs and made his mark as a defensive coach. Gator fans had become used to high-flying offenses under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.

From his opening press conference (where we joked that he spoke for 19 minutes straight without taking a breath) Muschamp made it clear things were going to be done his way, and don’t question him about it. He threw down the gauntlet to the media, reminding them that he was in charge no matter how much they wanted to ask about what he was doing.

“We’re going to play power football at the University of Florida,” Muschamp declared as he set out to gather his first recruiting class. “Power Football” can be a loosely defined term, but it seemed strange that Muschamp was going to use players recruited under Meyer’s “Spread” offense to try and dominate teams up front.

Sort of like Alabama.

But without the kind of linemen Alabama reloads with every year, the Gators could never become that kind of team. Early on it was apparent they were trying to put round pegs in square holes.

Perhaps things would change as Muschamp attempted to load the Florida roster with players capable of doing the things he wanted, both on offense and defense.

Muschamp’s offenses ranked 71st, 78th, 113th and currently 62nd among the top tier NCAA schools. Gators fans don’t like that. Muschamp grew up in a culture at Georgia and other places where winning 10-9 was just fine. He was happy to win games 17-14. Florida fans had become accustomed to high scoring games, mostly one-sided. In their favor.

Although the 23-20 overtime loss to South Carolina on Saturday might have been the last straw, eliminating them from SEC contention, it was also indicative of where the Gators are throughout their program. The Gamecocks were giving up an average of over 460 yards per game. Florida could muster only 278. Quarterback Treon Harris seemed to barely throw the football. The Florida defense was adept in holding South Carolina to only 17 points in regulation, but couldn’t get it done in crucial situations. And two special teams blunders, a blocked field goal and a blocked punt, kept Spurrier’s troops in the game.

At the very least, considering his defensive background, I expected Florida to have one of the most dominating defenses in the country. That didn’t happen either.

Will Muschamp’s intensity, his football knowledge, his relationship with the players and his consideration of everybody involved with the Florida football program should be lauded. He seems like a genuine, good and nice guy. But he remained a coordinator or a position coach at heart. When it’s your job to coach football, you can be very narrow focused and thrive occasionally on the emotion of the game. As the head coach, you’re not only the face of the program but you’re the CEO as well. Muschamp never was able to embrace that CEO role, displayed both times when Florida beat Texas A&M and Tennessee on the road. Instead of applauding his team for their tenacity and competitive spirit, all Muschamp could say on both occasions when interviewed on the field after the game was, “Isn’t it great to come in here and disappoint all these people.” The first time I heard it, I chalked it up to the learning curve of being a head coach and the emotion of beating the Aggies, a big rival for his previous employer, the University of Texas. But the second time it was obvious he hadn’t ever adapted to the role. By contrast, Steve Spurrier, a noted smart aleck in his early coaching days, was complimentary of his team and expressed some sympathy for Muschamp and the Gators after South Carolina’s overtime win in the Swamp. Regardless of his true feelings, although Spurrier seemed genuine in his remarks about Muschamp and the Gators, Spurrier was complimentary of his own team without a reference to the atmosphere in Gainesville.

Spurrier and Meyer, by the way, lost a combined 10 games at home in 18 seasons. Muschamp has 8 home losses, six of those coming in his last eight games at Florida Field.

Muschamp technically “resigned” from his position, possibly saving the Florida program some money. His assistants are owed about $2 million for the remainder of their contracts. The statements released by both Muschamp and Athletic Director Jeremy Foley both contained high praise for each other. Foley pointed out how popular Muschamp was among the staff and the workers in Gainesville, saying he’ll be missed. He simply didn’t win enough games.

So where now?

Foley always has a short list, and Muschamp’s hiring was somewhat of a surprise since he had been listed as the ‘coach in waiting” at Texas. A similar situation occurred at Maryland when James Franklin, the next Terps head coach, was hired to take over Vanderbilt.

This time around, Foley will look for somebody with head coaching experience and whose specialty is offense. While that list is large, David Cutcliffe at Duke, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss should be considered. Art Briles at Baylor, Gary Patterson at TCU or Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia also merit a phone call. Despite his success at Mississippi State and his connection to Florida, Dan Mullen doesn’t seem to be a candidate.

Foley will hold a press conference on Monday.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Close to the Tipping Point

I’m not sure what to make of the Jaguars 1-9 record here at the bye week. While I didn’t think they’d be a playoff contender this year, I also didn’t think they’d be this bad. You knew with a young team they’d struggle at times but to look completely out classed in so many situations is pretty unnatural.

What it takes to win in the NFL is a good organization, a coach who knows how to get the best out of his players, talent on the roster, the will to win, and just the occasional bit of luck.

With Shad Khan at the helm, the Jaguars organization seems to be healthy and vibrant. This past week in London when I asked him about winning in the near future he said, “It’s important that everybody knows what Gus and my expectations are.” Which is the kind of culture and leadership they’re building: Here’s what we expect, do your job and we expect results.

In Gus Bradley’s first head coaching job in the NFL, he appears to have the job reined in enough to get his message across to the players and coaches. Some guys ascend to the top of the coaching ladder and aren’t suited for it at all. The job’s not too big for Bradley. His philosophy has worked as a coordinator and it follows what they’re doing in Seattle. It’s a bit cutting edge and experimental but you can see by talking to the players that if it takes root, it’ll flourish. He doesn’t seem to be getting the players best these days but it’s hard to figure out if it’s a lack of talent, youth, or his coaching philosophy isn’t working. It’s probably still too early to definitively find the answer.

The players are frustrated and angry, mostly with themselves. “I think that’s a testament to the character of the guys we have in this locker room” Zane Beadles said after the 31-17 loss to Dallas in London. “Each guy knows they can play better. I know I can play better. We need to put that into action and see hat e can do individually to play better and help the guy next to us. Get away during the bye week and come back ready to go these next six weeks.’

That’s the thing about the Jaguars roster in 2014. With a few exceptions, this group of guys says the right thing and tries to do the right thing, sometimes to their detriment. Instead of just doing their job, they try to do to much. Maybe that’s the hallmark of a young team, or perhaps they still have a few pieces that need to be found and inserted into the lineup. The players believe the answer is among the guys currently on the roster, that they’re going to get it together.

“I really do like this group of guys,” Gus Bradley said at his post game press conference. I”I don’t worry about their effort, their courage, they’re willingness to do the right thing. It’s just the self inflicted things that are giving us problems.”

But at what point do those “self-inflicted” things either stop happening or you move on to somebody else? That’s the question coaches get paid to answer and if the don’t get it right, they’re out of a job. Bradley doesn’t have to worry about that for now, but if the decisions he makes this year about guys being able to grow into solid players from talent rookies don’t pan out as he expects, 2015 could be another year of change for the franchise.

Players like Jonathan Cyprien and Denard Robinson are the new faces of the Jaguars, but they’re still in the learning process when it comes to professional football. I asked Cyprien if he took a bad angle on Dez Bryant that allowed the TD. He was forthright with his answer: “Took a bad angle, made a bad decision to try and tackle and him instead of shove him out of bounds. It’s the kind of play that I’m better than but I need to show it. This isn’t the kind of player I am.”

Robinson echoed those feelings, admitting that the team believes they’re better than what they’re showing. “Oh, yeah, we’re better than this, ” he said after the London game. “It’s those things were doing in games that hurt us. Mistakes, turnovers, we need to clean those up. We’ll get this thing turned around and when we do, it’s going to be something.”

And that’s what we’re all waiting for, the development of young players like Cyprien and Robinson to the point where they don’t take a bad angle and they don’t fumble the ball on extra effort to keep themselves from succeeding. It’s possible they’re right; it’s going to be something. But an equal number of teams have gotten to this point and just never made it to the top. Hard lessons are taught in the league. Whether those lessons are learned or not will play out over the next year.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Shad Khan: Making Jacksonville and the Jaguars a Winner

When you spend anytime with Shad Khan, it’s easy to see why he’s been so successful in just about everything he’s done. He’s passionate about the things he’s involved in. His eyes light up when you talk about car parts. He has a vision for his football team and a vision for what role he can play in helping the city of Jacksonville. The trip to London is a big part of that economic stimulus Khan is looking for. When I spoke to him on Saturday morning in the library of 45 Park Lane, one of his favorite places in London, Khan was relaxed but focused on making this year’s trip a success for Jacksonville and the Jaguars.

“Last year we laid some of the ground work, and I think this year we’re harvesting some of those things,” he said referring to sponsorships that are being developed for the team and the economic ‘trade mission’ this trip has turned into for the City of Jacksonville. Meetings with a variety of potential international partners from Liverpool to South Africa all could be lucrative contacts for the future.

Khan is interesting in development in Jacksonville for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the positive impact it can have on his franchise. “We want to help. Pretty much from day one I felt and have shown it with action, the community has to grow so the team can grow, sort of a rising tide raising all boats kind of a concept,” he commented when I asked about his commitment to economic growth in the city.

“I’ve played a very active role in what do we have to do to attract jobs here. The Shipyards is just one of those projects to try and do that.” Khan is getting ready to make a proposal to develop the Shipyards with a Jaguars theme, rumored to include a practice field, some retail and possibly even an aquarium.

Recently, Khan was quoted as saying “A homeless guy in Detroit has more mojo than the millionaires in Jacksonville.” He knows he’ll have some opposition to his development ideas but sees incredible potential in the city. When I asked him about civic leadership doing it’s job in bringing business to town, he just laughed. But added, “There’s a lot there, but somehow it just doesn’t translate. I think we can play a role in helping with that.”

And while the city as a whole is in Khan’s vision, his focus is on revitalizing downtown.

“If you look at any urban planning, you cannot have a vibrant city without a vibrant downtown. That is absolutely something we’re lacking. We want to rejuvenate the downtown area. It’s right next to the stadium and there’s a lot of synergy. It’s going to help us.”

This year’s opponent seems to have given this game, and Khan’s and the Jaguars’ role in it a bigger stage. He even brought up Dallas’ image on a national scale. “We’re playing Dallas, they’re America’s Team,” Shad said. “We want to be the face of the league NFL International.”

Part of Khan’ excitement regarding this year’s game is the fact that Dallas is the opponent. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones has been one of his mentors in the NFL ownership circle. “Jerry Jones couldn’t be kinder to me. Took me though the idiots guide to owning an NFL team. He’s an Iconic guy, I love him.”

Jones mentioned this week in a press conference that he expected Khan to have a bigger commitment to London. Khan said he’ll assess that shortly. “For us, we want to do the right thing for the franchise and the right thing for the city. We don’t have the growth in the Jacksonville, We know that. How do we stabilize the team. This is the second year of our 4 year commitment, so next year maybe we’ll say that’s the time to say ‘Hey, what do we do.'”

If you watch Khan operate, you see that he has a plan with whatever he’s doing. That certainly applies to his NFL team where the “rebirth and rebuilding” is in it’s second year. “We’ve gone through a process, we’ve got the youngest team in the league. What’s encouraging to me is that the last three or four games have come down to the last few plays. The players have to mature; we can’t lose all those games. It’s up to Gus and myself to get our expectations out clearly.” Which means the players, and coaches, will know exactly what Shad thinks when it comes to wins and losses starting next year.

Recently, Khan was named the most “popular NFL owner” by one publication. Certainly interesting for a guy who’s only been in the public eye for two years. He clearly has embraced that part of ownership but admitted the celebrity aspect of being an NFL owner kind of surprised him.

“I had no experience. The business I had is not a public business. Part of sports is you have to have a public profile. (You) were not interviewing me when we were doing auto parts. Some of the craziest things. Look at the boat on the Thames, who would have thought, I mean this is London, but it’s become a major curiosity. ”

Khan did bring his new boat “Kismet” to London and anchored just east of Tower Bridge. It has caused a stir with tourists constantly stopping to take pictures and make comments.

Khan has a plan for the boat and executed it. It’s Jaguars themed throughout, including a silver Jaguar on the bow with a teal light in its eye. He has the same kind of plan for the city and his football team. The boat was a six-year project. He’s hoping the plan for the team and the city takes less than that.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Don’t Get Better

It’s a big deal whenever the NFL gets involved in any kind of production and this week in London is no exception. Jeff Beck and Joss Stone in the pregame show, fireworks, a minute of silence for Remembrance Day, the US National Anthem, and a rousing rendition of “God Save The Queen.” In fact, it sounded like all 85,000 at Wembley were singing.

Plenty of Cowboys fans at Wembley for the game, but also lots of Cowboys haters, or Jaguars fans, you really couldn’t tell the difference.

When DeMarco Murray broke off a 23-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, it brought back memories of last year’s blowout at the hands of the 49ers. And a following screen pass put Dallas in Jaguars territory. But the defense stiffened, kind of. Tony Romo missed a wide open Jason Witten on third down, obviously a blown coverage, and the Cowboys settled for a field goal, 3-0.

The Jaguars came right back, with a couple of good throws by Blake Bortles to Allen Robinson and a nice post patter to Cecil Shorts to get into Dallas territory. That’s when Denard Robinson got through a whole at the line of scrimmage, broke a tackle and went 33 yards for a TD to give the Jaguars a 7-3 lead. The stadium erupted.

With a veteran defensive front, the Jaguars settled into a solid game plan against Romo and company, forcing a punt. It’s a shame that Ace Sanders muffed it because it stole the momentum from the home team. Make that kind of mistake in the NFL and you pay for it, TD Dallas, 10-7. Same thing with defensive assignments. Jonathan Cyprien took a bad angle on Dez Bryant and missed him after a five-yard gain. Bryant did the rest, running for a TD, 17-7 Dallas. And after gaining some momentum on a 51-yard catch and run from Bortles to Cecil Shorts, Denard Robinson fumbled the ball at the 2-minute warning, keeping the Jaguars from putting any points up.

While Dallas was driving in for another score, Cole Beasley fumbled and Josh Evans recovered it. Good solid hit by the Jaguars and the first break of the day that went their way. But they couldn’t convert and punted it away to the Cowboys. Fair enough, go into the locker room down by 10 and regroup. But instead, Dwayne Gratz does the inexcusable, allowing Bryant to get behind him for a 68-yard TD catch from Romo and instead the Jaguars were down 24-7.

So to recap, the Jaguars had a muffed punt, a fumble, missed assignments, bad tackling, bad angles and inexcusable coverage at the end of the half to trail 24-7. For how they played, that’s about the correct score. Watching the Jaguars can drive you crazy with all the mistakes they make to keep themselves from succeeding.

Earlier in the week, General Manager Dave Caldwell said they’d be less forgiving of mistakes made by young players next year. It can’t get here fast enough. If they’re going to make those mistakes over and over though, maybe they shouldn’t be as forgiving right now.

A couple more miss “fits” on defense against the Dallas run allowed the Cowboys to take a 31-7 lead with 7 minutes left in the third. How is it that a team can appear to have the talent and the will but be so outclassed when the bell rings? At the beginning of the game the Jaguars believed they could play with the Cowboys and showed it early. But after the Ace Sanders fumble, their confidence disappeared and it went downhill from there.

Both teams noodled around in the third quarter with the Jaguars getting stoned on 4th down and converting another. But no more scoring. The 4th quarter had weird stuff happening as both teams got a little chippy. The Cowboys had holding called in the end zone for a safety and as the Jaguars were driving, Bortles threw an interception at the 10. Dallas leveled Shorts on the play, but after the INT and kept the ball at the 5.

While you can call it a productive week when you look at how these guys are a team in the truest sense, I don’t think they got better today.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Prep Cowboys on Saturday

This is the second of four years the Jaguars are the “home” team in London as part of the NFL’s International Series. And as the home team, they get first pick of hotels, practice facilities and everything else that goes with the game.

But it’s still a lot of work.

The Jaguars left for London directly after their trip to Cincinnati, arriving mid-morning in the UK. For there they boarded busses to the outskirts of the city to the bedroom town of Watford and “London’s Country Estate” The Grove, their home for the next five days. And on Friday they packed up again and headed in town to the Wembley Hilton, across the street from the stadium.

“We’ll take this show anywhere, anytime,” Sen’Derricks said as the players settled into their newest “home” for a couple of nights. “Gus (Bradley) has done a good job with that message to the team, especially the young guys.”

Marks said he’s enjoyed the trip, his time in London and the practices in the UK. “There was a little sluggishness at the beginning of practice on Wednesday but we got over that real quick. Wednesday was a good practice and Thursday was even better. We’re on ‘go.'”

Things were set up so meticulously in London that the Jaguars had a bus to take them to the stadium for Saturday’s practice. Despite that it was just over 100 yards to the field. “They want to emulate just about everything that’s going on for Sunday,” one staffer told me. “They’ll ride to the stadium on Sunday so they’ll miss the crowd. So they’re riding over there today.”

This year’s trip had a familiar feel for many of the Jaguars and their fans. But it seemed there were fewer fans in black and teal to be found. A trip to Trafalgar turned up nary a Jaguars fan among the street performers, monuments and poppy memorial. We did see two young girls, perhaps 4th graders, in Jaguars print coats but that was it. So it was off to Westminster and the crowded corner overlooking the Cathedral, Parliament, and the London Eye.

We weren’t there long when Michael and Tammy Heath walked by, proudly sporting Jaguars gear. “We were here last year and it was great,” Michael said without prompting. “There aren’t as many Jaguars fans here and Cowboys fans aren’t representing. We’ll be walking by and they’ll say ‘Boo, Hiss, Go Cowboys’ and we’ll look around and they won’t be wearing any stuff. Maybe the cold has everybody bundling up,”

“Last year we did a bunch of stuff but we haven’t seen so we’re doing that today,” Tammy told us. “We did go down and see Shad’s boat,” she told us. When asked if it would fit under the Parliament Bridge she said, “I bloody well don’t think so.” Khan’s yacht “Kismet” drew a crowd on both banks of the Thames, with thousands of photos taken each hour.

Khan hosted dinners at Parliament and Kensington Palace, cocktails on his boat two nights, had sponsors at Craven Cottage for the Fulham match (they won 3-1) and guests at Wembley on Sunday. He’s been busy.

Sure would be a good weekend for Shad if the Jaguars could come up with a victory but not many people think that’s possible against Dallas. The Jaguars are a decided underdog in the game, especially with Tony Romo saying he’s playing.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Focusing on Cowboys

“It should be an old school 15-round fight,” is how Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart described the upcoming game against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Jaguars settled into their regular game week routine on Wednesday and clearly by Thursday their focus was on the upcoming game.

“They play hard,” Ryan Davis told us outside the hotel before practice. “They don’t take plays off, they keep coming. But in the end it’s about us. The one on one matchups and beating the man in front of you.” Davis echoed Gus Bradley’s overriding mantra for the team since he arrived in Jacksonville. Bradley wants the team, individually and as a whole to concentrate on getting better, take care of themselves, win the individual battles and the rest will take care of itself.

“But that’s not the goal,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said when asked if he had seen the team make progress. “We’re getting better. I can see us winning those games in the future. But the goal is to win.”

Caldwell laughed when I asked him if part of his planning during the rebuild of the team included starting eight rookies on offense. “We knew last year that some of the offensive line was getting older and often injured. So we knew we’d have to rebuild. And we wanted to take advantage of free agency and the draft. It was a deep draft. We thought we’d have a few guys coming back, Marcedes, Cecil, but part of the plan didn’t include starting eight rookies.”

Gus Bradley was Caldwell’s first choice as the Jaguars leader in this rebuild project and noted that today. “It’s one of the reasons we’ hired Gus as our head coach. His ability to develop young players. I give credit to the coaching staff. They’ve been patient, they’ve worked with our players and I can see them getting better.”

But when asked about when he expects the team to be more competitive on the scoreboard, Caldwell was pretty straightforward. “I think we’ll be less forgiving of the mistakes being made by young players next year. They haven’t used being young as an excuse. But I don’t expect we’ll be having this conversation next season.”

Bradley sees improvement across the board, and especially likes the attitude the players bring every day. “That’s something that we stressed from the beginning. Be relentless. Play hard every play. Our offensive line has really taken to that and it’s one of the reasons we’ve been more successful running the ball.”

Dallas has lost two straight but is still considered one of the elite teams in the league. Quarterback Tony Romo practiced today and Cowboys Owner/GM Jerry Jones said he expected him to play Sunday.

Jones came over on the Cowboys charter and has participated in the daily press conferences (Shad Khan will be available on Saturday morning). Jones was very complimentary toward Khan today, noting how he conducted his business, his business acumen and overall success story. He also said he expected Khan to have a bigger commitment to London.

After today’s announcement, the Jaguars will play the Bills next season on October 25th, the second of three games scheduled for London next year. There was talk that the Jaguars would play a home and away game in London, possibly back to back weeks. But six teams will be involved in the NFL International series next year with a game the following week of the Jaguars/Bills game. It’s the first time the league has tried back-to-back games in consecutive weeks.

Based on what Jones said, there are several possibilities. The simple answer would be the Jaguars extending their commitment to London past their current agreement that ends in 2016. Conspiracy theorists have the Jaguars moving to London as soon as 2017, permanently. Khan’s commitment to Jacksonville from an economic standpoint would make that unlikely, particularly if he continues on his path of development of the Jacksonville Shipyards and potentially putting a cover on the stadium. If the NFL puts a team in London permanently, and that’s a big overall if, a more likely scenario, but still remote, would be Khan becoming the owner in London and selling the Jaguars. All speculation, especially since the attendance is up at the games and sponsorship dollars have also increased, in and out of London. Notice the talk about franchise relocation to Los Angeles recently hasn’t included the Jaguars as one of the teams as a potential tenant.

Notes: Brandon Linder and Cecil Shorts didn’t practice today for the Jaguars. Gus Bradley said he expected Shorts to play on Sunday and they were looking at Shatley potentially at right tackle and moving Austin Pasztor into the right guard spot if Linder can’t play. It didn’t rain at practice today, but it was a bit chillier. After practice tomorrow, the Jaguars will leave their practice facility in the northwest suburbs and move into London near Wembley Stadium.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Arrive in London

Two road games in two weeks without coming home is a difficult task for any NFL team. The Jaguars have made this kind of trip two years in a row. In 2013 they traveled to Oakland and Seattle, staying on the West Coast in between the games and practicing in San Jose. Last year, they lost both games.

This year, the trip over two weeks has been bumpy from the start. In Cincinnati, the Jaguars had a couple of chances with momentum against a pretty good team but squandered them with mistakes and a turnover. Turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean at 39,000 feet ensured not much sleep for anybody onboard the team charter although some of the players might have gotten some rest. In an unusual and very well received team building move, Gus Bradley and the coaching staff, normally first class occupants on team charters, gave up their seats and allowed veteran players and starters (allocated by seniority and a sort of “lottery’) to fly ‘up front’ in the 47 transcontinental “lie-flat” cubicles available on the Virgin Atlantic Airbus 340-600. The coaches and senior staff sat in what Virgin Atlantic calls “Upper Class” sort of like a domestic first class seat in the US. While there were plenty of bumps going over and regular reminders to keep your seatbelt on (it was bumpy enough that if you weren’t wearing it you might get bounced out of your seat) one senior Jaguars staffer looked in on the players up front only to find them asleep. “Every one of them, sacked out,” he told me with a laugh.

If you’ve ever gone through London’s Gatwick airport, you know it’s a long slog to get to immigration, then off to baggage and customs. Of course, on arrival, it started to rain. While sponsors were whisked off to a luxury hotel in downtown London for the week, the team and the football staff boarded buses for the 1 ½ ride to their home for most of the week, The Grove Hotel. Outside of the city but accessable by “motorway” and the train, the Grove is a resort not unlike but smaller than the Greenbriar or the Homestead in the US. The NFL has used it as a base for one of the teams playing, building a football field for practice and erecting a temporary locker room right next to it. They also have a world class golf course that hosted a World Golf Championship event in 2006. Tiger Woods won it at 23 under par.

Of course when the team pulled up to the Grove, it rained a little harder.

Not to worry, the team grabbed their room keys and reported to the locker room for a quick workout and a ‘meet and greet.’ About 100 members of the Union Jax, the UK’s Jaguars fan club, were invited to the practice to watch, shake hands and have their picture taken with the players and coaches. And it actually stopped raining for a while.

UK Jaguars fans are rabid, coming from all over the country to see ‘their team” practice. Most were in jerseys. There were about a half dozen members of the British military there as well as athletes from the Invictus Games, a competition for wounded veterans.

When the formalities were concluded, the Jaguars UK coordinator introduced Head Coach Gus Bradley to the group and said, “So Coach, if you’ll do the honors?” Bradley stepped up and addressed the group, then led them in an impromptu version of the “We Believe In Victory” chant we saw him do in the locker room after the Browns victory.

“Did you know you were going to do that,” I asked Gus afterwards.

“NO,” he quickly responded and laughed. “Absolutely not. But we talk about engaging the fans at home and here as well. What better way to do that? Our fans are great and they’re growing. At home and here. They’re great!”

The players met with the coaching staff, went over the Cincinnati game and had the rest of the day off. Most took advantage of the bus provided to take them into Central London. The coaches worked on the game plan.

On Tuesday the players split into groups and went into the surrounding community to meet with local fans as well as students and military veterans. More than a dozen went to the NFL’s “Play 60” event in the nearest town and worked with 8 and 9 year olds on “American Football.”

“These are real American football players and they’re teaching us,” one young girl told us with wide eyes and real astonishment.

“You have to tackle and sometimes ‘budge’ somebody,’ one boy explained. “Yes, budge’ he emphasized apparently incredulous that you’d actually take somebody to the ground and it would be OK under the rules.

The rest of the day was the players day off, with most going into town and the rest playing ping pong, PlayStation in the players lounge, or just resting on the grounds of the Grove. A couple played the golf course and reported it was “spectacular.”

The team will start practice with “Competition Wednesday” and stay at the Grove through Friday afternoon. They’ll then transfer into London for their Saturday walk-thru and the game Sunday against the Cowboys.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Road Trip: Play Anywhere, Anytime

Two road games in two weeks without coming home is a difficult task for any NFL team. The Jaguars have made this kind of trip two years in a row. In 2013 they traveled to Oakland and Seattle, staying on the West Coast in between the games and practicing in San Jose. Last year, they lost both games.

This year, the trip over two weeks has been bumpy from the start. In Cincinnati, the Jaguars had a couple of chances with momentum against a pretty good team but squandered them with mistakes and a turnover. Turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean at 39,000 feet ensured not much sleep for anybody onboard the team charter although some of the players might have gotten some rest. In an unusual and very well received team building move, Gus Bradley and the coaching staff, normally first class occupants on team charters, gave up their seats and allowed veteran players and starters (allocated by seniority and a sort of “lottery’) to fly ‘up front’ in the 47 transcontinental “lie-flat” cubicles available on the Virgin Atlantic Airbus 340-600. The coaches and senior staff sat in what Virgin Atlantic calls “Upper Class” sort of like a domestic first class seat in the US. While there were plenty of bumps going over and regular reminders to keep your seatbelt on (it was bumpy enough that if you weren’t wearing it you might get bounced out of your seat) one senior Jaguars staffer looked in on the players up front only to find them asleep. “Every one of them, sacked out,” he told me with a laugh.

If you’ve ever gone through London’s Gatwick airport, you know it’s a long slog to get to immigration, then off to baggage and customs. Of course, on arrival, it started to rain. While sponsors were whisked off to a luxury hotel in downtown London for the week, the team and the football staff boarded buses for the 1 ½ ride to their home for most of the week, The Grove Hotel. Outside of the city but accessable by “motorway” and the train, the Grove is a resort not unlike but smaller than the Greenbriar or the Homestead in the US. The NFL has used it as a base for one of the teams playing, building a football field for practice and erecting a temporary locker room right next to it. They also have a world class golf course that hosted a World Golf Championship event in 2006. Tiger Woods won it at 23 under par.

Of course when the team pulled up to the Grove, it rained a little harder.

Not to worry, the team grabbed their room keys and reported to the locker room for a quick workout and a ‘meet and greet.’ About 100 members of the Union Jax, the UK’s Jaguars fan club, were invited to the practice to watch, shake hands and have their picture taken with the players and coaches. And it actually stopped raining for a while.

UK Jaguars fans are rabid, coming from all over the country to see ‘their team” practice. Most were in jerseys. There were about a half dozen members of the British military there as well as athletes from the Invictus Games, a competition for wounded veterans.

When the formalities were concluded, the Jaguars UK coordinator introduced Head Coach Gus Bradley to the group and said, “So Coach, if you’ll do the honors?” Bradley stepped up and addressed the group, then led them in an impromptu version of the “We Believe In Victory” chant we saw him do in the locker room after the Browns victory.

“Did you know you were going to do that,” I asked Gus afterwards.

“NO,” he quickly responded and laughed. “Absolutely not. But we talk about engaging the fans at home and here as well. What better way to do that? Our fans are great and they’re growing. At home and here. They’re great!”

The players met with the coaching staff, went over the Cincinnati game and had the rest of the day off. Most took advantage of the bus provided to take them into Central London. The coaches worked on the game plan.

On Tuesday the players split into groups and went into the surrounding community to meet with local fans as well as students and military veterans. More than a dozen went to the NFL’s “Play 60” event in the nearest town and worked with 8 and 9 year olds on “American Football.”

“These are real American football players and they’re teaching us,” one young girl told us with wide eyes and real astonishment.

“You have to tackle and sometimes ‘budge’ somebody,’ one boy explained. “Yes, budge’ he emphasized apparently incredulous that you’d actually take somebody to the ground and it would be OK under the rules.

The rest of the day was the players day off, with most going into town and the rest playing ping pong, PlayStation in the players lounge, or just resting on the grounds of the Grove. A couple played the golf course and reported it was “spectacular.”

The team will start practice with “Competition Wednesday” and stay at the Grove through Friday afternoon. They’ll then transfer into London for their Saturday walk-thru and the game Sunday against the Cowboys.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Mistakes Cost Them Again

Leading up to the game in Cincinnati, the Jaguars knew they’d be making some changes in their lineup and the Bengals would be a mixed bag of personnel who had gotten them to four victories this year. The Bengals are thin on the defensive line and at linebacker and their best running back; Giovanni Bernard is banged up and out. AJ Green is returning to the Bengals lineup after missing time with a toe injury. But on defense, Cincy has six first round picks among their safeties and cornerbacks.

Blake Bortles had an “attacking” week at practice according to Head Coach Gus Bradley, focusing on not turning the ball over. With a nice mix of the pass and run, the Jaguars moved the ball with only one heart-skipping moment when Bortles threw a pass right to a Cincy defensive back but Toby Gerhart, healthy, and Denard Robinson, again, moved the ball downfield leading to a Josh Scobee FB, 3-0 Jaguars. It was a little conservative when it came inside the red zone but points are points and the Jaguars took an early lead.

It wasn’t a shock when the Jaguars defense stuffed the Bengals rushing attack, forcing Andy Dalton to go to the air to try to move the ball. With a week to prepare with Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz at corners and Sherrod Martin knowing he was going to play, the Jaguars defensive backfield looked well organized early in the game against the Bengals passing attack. All three made nice plays on Dalton passes to keep Cincinnati at bay. But between Green and Mohammed Sanu, the Bengals have a formidable duo heading downfield. So when they started to get on rhythm with Dalton, it was not good news for the Jaguars. Using those two and the occasional run from Jeremy Hill the Cincinnati marched down the field on a 10-play 80 yard 4:33 drive to take a 7-3 lead.

It was a few early mistakes that cost the Jaguars good opportunities. A couple of penalties on the offensive line on Zane Beadles and Austin Pasztor and a missed tackle on defense by Telvin Smith either snuffed out drives for the Jaguars or kept things going for the Bengals early. Those mistakes are the kinds of things that get you beat, the little things that are magnified when you’re at least competitive.

Good teams usually get some breaks. The Jaguars forced AJ Green into a fumble but Abry Jones couldn’t control it at the 10-yard line and Sanu recovered. It’s the kind of play good teams get and the Jaguars haven’t gotten there yet. It was a good defensive stand helped by an offside penalty against Green that wiped out his TD catch. A field goal ensued and the Jaguars trailed 10-3.

Maybe it’s because they’re young or maybe that’s just an excuse but the Jaguars small mistakes are blatant enough to keep them from succeeding and allowing the other team second, or easy chances. Telvin Smith missed a tackle that would have forced a Cincinnati punt. Then he apparently missed a block on the punt that allowed the Bengals to come up with a block in the end zone that resulted in a safety, 12-3 Bengals. And at the end of the half, Smith was called for unnecessary roughness after the punt on the final play of the half, pushing the kickoff back to the 20 to open the second half.

The Bengals made the Jaguars pay for that penalty, taking advantage of the field position gained and scored on their opening drive to take a 19-3 lead. And just when you thought that might be the game-got-out-of-hand moment, Blake Bortles ran the naked bootleg and threw a long pass to Alan Hurns for a TD. Hurns made a great adjustment on the ball and perhaps Bortles under threw it on purpose but either way the Jaguars scored to make it 19-10.

After a nice interception by Sherrod Martin where he broke on the ball in front of the receiver, it was the small things that kept the Jaguars from scoring. Denard Robinson ran through a gaping hole only to get in front of himself trying to run down field and fell after a decent but not great gain. Then on 2nd down Bortles didn’t throw the ball downfield enough for Toby Gerhart to go get it, incomplete. Incomplete on third down and they were forced to punt. The plays were there; the jaguars just didn’t make them when it counted.

Special teams bit the Jaguars again, allowing a long punt return by Adam (Pacman) Jones followed by a TD pass from Dalton to Green, again, 26-10 Bengals.

Again, the Jaguars fight back, scoring on another nice adjustment by Hurns in the end zone against double coverage made the score 26-16 and the Jaguars decided to go for two. Cecil Shorts couldn’t hold the conversion in the end zone and they were still down by 10. I know the card probably says go for 2 there but why not kick the PAT and be down by nine where a FG and a TD wins the game for you?

Still, a really nice play by JT Thomas called an interception on a Dalton fumble/pass led to a TD for the Jaguars and they’re now down by 2, 26-23 with just over 8 minutes to play. It’s the first game with two interceptions for the Jaguars in 2014. That’s where with 10 minutes to play I think you kick the PAT and have a chance to win the game. I know if you had made the 2-pt conversion you’d be playing for a chance to tie, but that’s hindsight.

No matter though because Josh Scobee kicked the ball out of bounds on the kickoff, giving the ball to the Bengals at the 40. On the first play, Jeremy Hill ripped off a 60-yard TD, breaking tackles along the way to give Cincy a 33-23 lead. Again, little things, like a kick out of bounds by a veteran player gave the Bengals a chance. And they cashed it in.

But again the Jaguars responded, marching down the field with a couple of nice catches by Hurns and a strong run by Gerhart on third down that showed what he can do when healthy. But again, Bortles threw into traffic in the end zone and the ball was intercepted ending the rally. Bad decision by Blake after looking at his first two reads and finding nobody open, in that situation, he needs to throw it into the stands and live to play another day. Instead, Cincinnati got the ball and ground the clock.

Again this week, it’s the little things that look big that got the Jaguars beat. They fall to 1-8 and head to London to face the Cowboys. Fortunes can change in this league quickly, just look at Dallas. Riding high and getting accolades as potentially the best team in the league, the Cowboys have lost two straight and probably won’t have Tony Romo in London to face the Jaguars.

If Gus wants a “take this show anywhere” philosophy, it’ll be tested this week, that’s for sure.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 “Florida Connections”

For this week’s Top 20, recognizing the Jaguars’ 20th anniversary, we’re looking at the Jaguars players and coaches who are associated with the state of Florida, one way or another. Some are from here, other’s played college football in the state but all have a Sunshine State connection.

Not hard to list Fred Taylor at #1. Fred is from Belle Glade and played his college ball at Florida. As a Jaguars #1 pick, he fulfilled just about every expectation as a Jaguar and, as most players, got a little bit of a raw deal at the end of his career when he was released in favor of Maurice Jones Drew. Nonetheless, Fred is still involved with the organization, hosting a pre game and halftime in-stadium show as well as participating in the post-game radio broadcast. And of course, Fred is in the Pride of the Jaguars.

At #2, Rashean Mathis easily qualifies. A star at Englewood High School, Mathis was slated to go to FSU but broke his leg as a senior and the Seminoles backed off his commitment. When Bethune Cookman hung in there, Rashean’s mother convinced him that was the right place to go. He was a dominant player at that level and is one of the most productive second round picks in the history of the franchise. He’s continued his career in Detroit and still lives here in the off-season.

Third is Blake Bortles. Despite his short tenure, he is from Orlando, played at UCF and was the Jaguars first round pick. He’s also stepped into the starting role and looks to be the quarterback the Jaguars can build on.

Leon Searcy’s spot at 4th might surprise some people but whenever you talk about the Jaguars teams of the 90’s and their playoff runs, every player points to Searcy as one of the additions to the team as a free agent that made a difference.

Greg Jones at 5 was easy. He’s a guy you could pencil in every year at his position and was probably underrated league-wide because he was the best fullback in the game. Good hands and a good runner as well, he was happy to block linebackers, linemen, safeties, whomever got in his way.

At 6 Mike Peterson might be a little too high. But signed as a free agent, he stepped in as the starter at middle linebacker and never left there. That is until he challenged Jack Del Rio once in a meeting and was unceremoniously dumped at the end of the season. He played well for the Falcons for a while after that.

Willie Jackson made an impact at wide receiver early in the Jaguars history so he’s in at seven. Plus as a Gator, he revved up the interest in the team early. Todd Fordham was one of the hardest working guys to ever wear the Jaguars uniform and is in at #8.

Nobody expected Quinn Gray to do much when he came to the team from FAMU. But called on to perform, Gray was meticulous in his preparation and got the most out of his opportunity.

Micah Ross is such a great athlete that he switched from basketball to football at JU and made the team as a free agent after only a short time on the field.

Being such a star in college could have given Denard Robinson a sense of entitlement as a professional but he’s worked as hard as anybody to adapt at this level. From an “offensive weapon” to a full time tailback, Robinson has figured out how to stay in the “pay for play” world.

Jonathan Cyprien went right from his position in college as a starter to the same spot in the pros. He was one of the early draftee’s in the Caldwell/Bradley era they were most excited about.

Jeremy Mincey’s spot at 13 could have been higher but something happened to him during the coaching shift and he couldn’t figure out how to continue his career here. He’s still productive in Dallas.

Reggie Nelson and Derrick Harvey at 14 and 15 could have been in the same spot as a tandem. Both first round picks that never got it done in Jacksonville. Harvey couldn’t figure out what his role was on defense and Nelson had never been asked to fit into a defensive scheme so as a professional he struggled early. He’s still playing in Cincinnati.

The last five guys are all recent additions to the Jaguars that have a Florida connection. It’s interesting that early on the team wasn’t too interested in drafting or signing Florida players, thinking that they didn’t need the PR boost and players elsewhere were just as talented. There was even a stretch from 2009-2012 that the Jaguars were the only one of the 32 teams in the NFL to not draft a player from the Southeastern Conference. That’s all changed with the SEC dominating college football and providing up flight talent. Ryan Davis, Allen Hurns, JT Thomas, Ace Sanders and Brandon Linder all have a chance to be big contributors to the Jaguars in the coming years.

Did we miss somebody? Who’s your number one? Send your ideas to sports@wjxt.com or on twitter #JagsTop20. We’ll let everybody know what you think on our weekly show, Jaguars Friday Night.

  • 1) Fred Taylor UF Belle Glade
  • 2) Rashean Mathis BCU Jax Englewood.
  • 3) Blake Bortles UCF Orlando
  • 4) Leon Searcy Miami Greg Jones FSU
  • 5) Greg Jones FSU
  • 6) Mike Peterson UF Gainesville
  • 7) Willie Jackson UF
  • 8) Todd Fordham FSU
  • 9) Quinn Gray FAMU Miami
  • 10) Micah Ross JU Jax
  • 11) Denard Robinson Deerfield Beach
  • 12) Jonathan Cyprien FIU Miami
  • 13) Jeremy Mincey UF
  • 14) Reggie Nelson UF Palm Bay
  • 15) Derrick Harvey UF
  • 16) Ryan Davis BCU Tampa
  • 17) Ace Sanders Bradenton
  • 18) Allen Hurns Miami Miami
  • 19) JT Thomas Ft. Lauderdale
  • 20) Brandon Linder St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Mike Smith Defensive Coordinator Daytona
  • Larry Smith FSU
  • Stacey Mack Orlando
  • Marlon McCree Orlando
  • Mike Pearson UF
  • Bobby McCray UF Miami
  • Terry Cousin Miami
  • Jamaal Fudge Jax
  • Dee Webb UF Jax
  • Mike Sims Walker UCF Orlando
  • George Selvie USF Pensacola
Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Browns Preview: Winnable?

“Run the football, stop the run.” That’s the mantra of almost every NFL coach but for the Jaguars this year, half of that equation has been non-existent. Trying to change things on the offensive line, the scheme and the backs running the ball, the Jaguars have gone nowhere on the ground, currently 32nd in rushing in the league.

“Running the ball changes so many things, makes so many things easier,” head coach Gus Bradley said this week. “It forces the 8 in the box to respect the run, and the play action opens up the passing game. It changes things.”

Bradley’s right, but the Jaguars have been so ineffective with the run that other teams don’t even respect it. With a very young offensive line and backs that are still learning the position and the professional game, it’s been tough sledding for the Jaguars. Even the addition of Toby Gerhart in the offseason is still a work in progress. Gerhart hasn’t been completely healthy since week one and won’t play again this week against the Browns.

Statistically, quarterback Blake Bortles has been somewhat average, but he’s giving the Jaguars fans hope and a glimpse into a brighter future. Athletic and smart, Bortles moves in the pocket, looks downfield and makes some beautiful throws. Conversely, he’s thrown the ball to the other team too often, gets fooled by disguised coverages and occasionally has missed wide-open receivers. In other words, he’s a rookie learning the game. But he’s learning along with the other rookies on offense. The Jaguars are playing with six rookies on offense (Bortles, Johnson, Robinson, Lee, Bowanko, Linder) and rookies Alan Hurns and Nic Jacobs will also play. Add Luke Joeckel, technically still a rookie (he only played 5 games last year) and you have an unprecedented number of young players in the game at the same time. That’s not generally a recipe for success in the NFL. Even some of the greatest players in the game struggled their first year in the league. Troy Aikman won one game his rookie year. Peyton Manning won three.

So the focus is still on getting better, but at least Gus Bradley has admitted that so far it hasn’t been good enough. “If we’ve been striving for victory,” he said this week, “maybe we need to strain for victory. So far, we haven’t earned it.”

And that’s what it comes down to again for the Jaguars franchise. For all the moves, talk and histrionics about who’s playing where and when things will start to turn around, the key is just playing better. Sometimes that takes more time than most people would like to give. For the rest of 2014 the Jaguars will be an underdog in every game, including today against Cleveland. Realistically there are only a handful of games left you’d think the Jaguars have enough firepower and talent on the roster to win, and today is one of them. Perhaps next week against Miami, the home game against Tennessee and the two matchups remaining against Houston.

Today would be nice though.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars 1st Win: Beat Browns

It didn’t take long in their game against the Browns to see the Jaguars game plan: Stop the run, and run the football. Cleveland is ranked 3rd in the league running the football but the Jaguars stuffed them early on the ground, making the Browns rely on Bran Hoyer to throw the football down field. On their first two possessions, the Browns were forced to punt.

Meanwhile on offense, Denard Robinson gained 14 yards on first down on just a straight, off tackle handoff. They got to third and 2 and for some reason offensive coordinator Jeff Fisch spread the receivers out and decided to throw the football. Bad call and bad result as Allen Robinson got the wind knocked out of him on a high throw by Blake Bortles. Luckily, Robinson did return. But Bortles held the ball a little too long on the Jaguars next possession and was crushed in the pocket as he went to throw it resulting in an easy interception by the Browns. Solid defense, with a little help from a loud crowd held Cleveland to a FG, 3-0 Browns.

On defense the Jaguars can stop the run and they were doing just that against the vaunted Browns’ running game. Hoyer missed a couple of wide-open guys and the Jaguars offense wasn’t getting anything done. Two interceptions thrown by Blake Bortles and the Jaguars trailed 6-0 with nine minutes left in the second quarter.

Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch was running through the playbook, apparently also through the scripted plays early in the game and Bortles wasn’t sharp. The combination of those two things bogged things down and the Jaguars offense was going nowhere. That’s when a questionable call by Browns coach Mike Pettine benefited the home team. On 4th and 1 Cleveland went for it at the Jaguars 24 and couldn’t convert. That gave Bortles, Fisch and the Jaguars offense just under two minutes to try and get something done. And in the 2-minute drill, Bortles looks more comfortable, freer. He hit Clay Harbor for a nice gain and then Allen Robinson broke away from two defenders in the middle of the field for a TD and a 7-6 lead. Finally. Sometimes I think coaches are too stubborn and so married to their game plan that they can’t see what might work until an unusual situation drops it in their lap. With that TD, the Jaguars took a lead to the halftime locker room. Pretty loud ovation as they left the field.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the play calling was still lacking and the Jaguars weren’t doing much on offense. But the defense forced a turnover, hitting Hoyer as he threw causing a fumble that Paul Posluszny recovered. Josh Scobee kicked a FG to give the Jaguars a 10-6 lead.

While Hoyer and the Browns got a lot of run from the national media this week after their win over Pittsburgh, a different team showed up for Cleveland this week. Dropped passes and not much running game kept the Jaguars in the game well into the third quarter.

Mixing the run and the pass, the Jaguars drove the ball into Browns territory, Robinson and Jordan Todman along with a Bortles scramble moving the ball rather smartly. A really nice call on third and long letting Bortles run the naked bootleg put the ball inside the 20.

But another rookie mistake by Bortles cost the Jaguars points. He had a chance to gain the first down scrambling inside the 10 but instead tried to throw it to Cecil Shorts in the middle of the field. Easy pick for the Browns and switched the momentum right there.

But after moving the ball to midfield, the Browns were stopped and had the weirdest sequence on 4th down. They sent the punt team on the field on 4th and 4, then changed their mind and sent their offense back out there. So the Jaguars defense had to hustle back on the field, and the stopped the Browns with 10 men on the field. Cleveland tried some weird option play that didn’t work.

Then things started to fall the Jaguars way. An ill-advised attempt to field a punt at the 2-yard line was fumbled off the player’s facemask and recovered by the Jaguars. One play later Denard Robinson scored to make it 17-6, and the place was rockin’. Robinson had over 100 yards rushing against the Browns, the first time he’s done that in his career.

Looking for a quick jolt, the Browns went to a short passing game but the ball was tipped over the middle and intercepted by Telvin Smith. One play later Storm Johnson scored and the Jaguars lead 24-6. And the place was really rockin’!

Fisch told me earlier this week he was hoping to grind the football on the ground in the 4th quarter if the Jaguars had a lead. He got his wish against Cleveland, just pounding it as time expired in the Jaguars first victory of the year.

While it wasn’t the most well played game in NFL history, the Jaguars took advantage of the breaks they got, scored TD’s instead of field goals and won. And that’s the key. Take wins when you can. Beat teams when you have them down, no matter their reputation or yours.

There are a lot of shoulda, coulda, woulda’s this year including the games against the Steelers and the Titans. But they’re over and it’s time to move forward.

One win. And Miami at home next week.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Let One Slip Away

Sometimes it’s not about the stats, first downs, time of possession, completions, rushing yards and the like. Sometimes it’s about the eye test. And having seen every play the Jaguars have run this year, when it comes to the eye test, there’s no question they’re getting better. Health has something to do with it and the Jaguars were as healthy as they’ve been all year against the Titans. Only Toby Gerhart was out of this game because of injury.

In the first quarter against Tennessee having a healthy receiving corps showed as the Jaguars took the opening drive 80 yards in 7 plays to take a 7-0 lead. It’s the second straight game the Jaguars have scored on the opening possession. Blake Bortles threw a beautiful pass to Clay Harbor going away from him at an angle for a 59-yard gain. Storm Johnson got a one-yard carry for the TD.

With that momentum on their side, the Jaguars immediately gave up a 50-yard return by Jacksonville native Leon Washington. The defense was incredibly inconsistent, stopping the Titans cold occasionally and then letting receivers run free through the secondary with blown assignments.

All of that resulted in a 7-3 lead after the 1st quarter. Bortles is growing into the part, a real leader on offense. His footwork is key, creating both velocity and accuracy on his passes. Some were high against the Titans but the healthy receiving corps hauled them in and the Jaguars moved the ball offensively.

It came to a grinding halt as the Titans put the clamps on the Jaguars offense, pressuring Bortles and recording three sacks in the half. On defense, the Titans had receivers running free through the secondary, a sign of a blown assignment, especially in the middle of the field. They still haven’t figured out how to cover the tight end, no matter who’s in the game for the Jaguars. They started Demetrius McCray at corner but he must have looked out of place once too often and was replaced by Dwayne Gratz. McCray returned to the lineup in the third quarter. Jonathan Cyprien and Josh Evans are always a step late covering a crossing pattern and without enough pressure, that play is always open.

It was more of the same as the second half started. Open receivers combined with two third down penalties on the Jaguars kept Tennessee’s drive alive. A good stop on the goal line by Telvin Smith forced the Titans into a field goal and a 13-7 lead.

With about half of the third quarter gone is where good teams stick their foot in the ground and start to force their will on the other side. While the Jaguars are far from a good team, the Titans are no great shakes either. So this is where a game can either get interesting, or start to slip away.

The Jaguars backed themselves up with a penalty on the kick return but with a couple of key third down conversions had a good drive going as the 3rd quarter wound down. Just one score behind, any points would continue the momentum. When Gus Bradley talks about consistency, he’s talking about two failed plays on that drive that changed everything. They had Jordan Todman singled up on a defensive end, running down the field and while the ball was just a hair underthrown, Todman couldn’t make the catch. Two plays later, Bortles missed a wide-open Harbor on a simple out route about 20 yards down the field leading to a third down. Because they couldn’t covert on either of those plays, Bortles was in a third and long and went to Alan Hurns for the first down but Hurns slipped and the ball was intercepted.

So while the Titans weren’t exactly forcing their will on the Jaguars, the Jaguars couldn’t get out of their own way. Tennessee kicked a field goal to make it 16-7, a two score game.

Back on offense the Jaguars started to move the ball downfield, running and passing, some planned, some improvisation. Just when they got in some rhythm, driving toward the goal line, Cecil Shorts coughed the ball up inside the 10 and the game seemed over right there. Of all the players, Shorts is the one who’s supposed to know how important it is in that situation to cover and protect the football.

A TD pass from Bortles to Harbor with 30 seconds left brought the Jaguars within 2 and the Jaguars recovered the on-side kick. With no timeouts they moved close enough for Josh Scobee to attempt a field goal from 55-yards but it was blocked and 16-14 was the final.

It’s there, you can see it, but too many mistakes at crucial times cost the Jaguars chances to win their first game of the year.

They let this one slip away.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars vs. Titans Preview

On a foggy day in Nashville, the Jaguars will try and get their first win of the year against the Titans. Hard to say if weather will be a factor but throughout the morning there was a thick layer over the stadium and a tarp on the field. While the Jaguars had a chance last week against the Steelers, the titans are still smarting from the best comeback ever in their loss to the Browns.

Fans in Nashville have about the same thoughts regarding the Titans as Jaguars fans do in Jacksonville. Ken Whisenhunt is working on a rebuilding project for the Titans much like Gus Bradley is doing for the Jaguars. At this point though, the Titans are without a quarterback they trust. Jake Locker won’t play against the Jaguars because of injury so they’ll go with Charlie Whitehurst. Zac Mettenberger might be their quarterback of the future, but they don’t seem ready to give him the ball.

“We can feel it coming,” Dennard Robinson said on Saturday. “It’s those little things that make a difference and we’re cleaning them up. When it comes, it’ll come in bunches.”

The Jaguars could use a big game from Robinson from the running back position. Toby Gerhart won’t play in this game because of a lingering foot problem so Robinson, Jordan Todman and Storm Johnson will carry the ball. A solid effort running the ball would go a long way for the Jaguars toward getting their first victory.

Blake Bortles is getting his third start for the Jaguars. He’s thrown six interceptions in 10 quarters, something not unexpected for a rookie quarterback. But Bortles doesn’t think he’s a rookie anymore. This week he told us there are no excuses for bad plays, no matter how young you are.

It’s an attitude that Gus Bradley agrees with. “At some point, you’re not a rookie anymore. You’re just a player. That’s where we’re at.”

And although the Jaguars are getting better, improvement is still no excuse for losing.

“Getting better is the goal, but that’s no excuse for getting beat,” the head coach said this week.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Top 20 Jaguars “Personalities”

This week’s Top 20 in recognition of the Jaguars 20th anniversary looks back at the top 20 personalities in Jaguars history. There have been a few standouts that were obvious and would be obvious to hard-core or casual fans of the Jaguars franchise. Others were a bit subtler and as we got to know these players through interviews, locker room chats, charity work or developed personal relationships with some of them, parts of their personalities were revealed that you never would have believed.

A lot of candidates for the top of the list but John Jurkovic comes in at number one. Funny, frank, sometimes so blunt you wanted to ask him if he really wanted to say that, “Jurko” was part of the daily conversation among anybody interested in the Jaguars during his time here. Called his gut “the boiler” and delivered the needle to everybody. Parlayed his personality to a second career as a sports talk radio host in Chicago.

Trying to change the culture of a downtrodden franchise is a difficult task. As good of a coach as he seems to be, Gus Bradley is also a big personality, capable of getting the team to “buy in” to a winning way of thinking. Could have been at number one.

Shad Khan has cut such a wide swath since buying the Jaguars he could also qualify in the top spot. He clearly enjoys the “celebrity” aspect of being a NFL owner but is truly engaging, smart, fun to listen to and fun to be around. His moustache and hair are also so distinctive that they’ve helped catapult him to the number one spot among popularity when it comes to NFL owners.

Jeff Fisher makes the top five, right in front of Tom Coughlin because he became the first personality Jaguars fans loved to hate. He had the needle out for Jacksonville since day one in public. Privately he told friends he loved to beat Coughlin because Tom acted “like he invented football.”

Coughlin is in the top 5 and has such a multi-faceted personality that he could easily make the top spot. Over the twenty years since 1995, Coughlin has morphed into somebody who understands the culture of the modern day player a bit better. If he had been willing to change his ways sooner, he’d probably still be the Jaguars Head Coach. Super smart, engaging, loyal to his friends, Coughlin is qualified virtually in any spot on this list.

Tony Boselli has a big personality and it showed on the field and in the locker room as a players. Since returning to Jacksonville, Tony has dipped his toe into politics, been part of what could be some of the solutions to civic problems with his foundation and has emerged as an easy listen as an analyst on Jaguars broadcasts.

Despite his recent troubles, for a guy who doesn’t talk, Jaxon De Ville is one of the big personalities of the Jaguars. Easily the best mascot in the NFL, Jaxon has such a big personality that he’s part of the landscape of the Jaguars in the league and internationally.

You might not think of Kyle Brady as a “personality” but I laugh every time I think of going with him on the Jaguars charter flights. He’d grab the flight attendant microphone, do imitations, and Coughlin would storm to the back of the plane. Hilarious. He once showed up at a Halloween party as the Hulk, having painted his whole body green. Very authentic. Brady has a wicked sense of humor and might be the smartest guy to ever wear the Jaguars uniform. A commercial pilot, Kyle is also a licensed financial planner and a lawyer who recently passed the bar in Florida.

Maurice Jones Drew played and spoke with a chip on his shoulder. Quirky, somewhat inconsistent, but definitely a personality. Tom McManus had the same personality as a player as he had on his popular radio show. Big opinions, sure of his position, McManus wrote screenplays in his spare time and has stayed in town to raise his family. One of the most intense players in the history of the franchise, Jeff Lageman gave no quarter to anybody not giving a hundred percent, in anything. A graduate from Virginia in economics, Lageman has used that analytical part of his brain to flourish on Jaguars broadcasts.

Linebacker Brant Boyer kept his teammates in stiches with his physical comedy. An undersized player for his position, Boyer knew how to get the needle out and leave ’em laughing.

Reggie Williams was so strange; we weren’t sure where he fit on this list. He was big on “grills” as a fashion statement and even admitted he probably lived on “Planet Reggie.” John Henderson was genuinely funny and anybody who had a trainer slap him in the face to get him ready for games had to be in the top 20. I think John was also an interior decorator in his spare time. Josh Scobee and Joe Zelenka might have broadcasting careers in front of them if they like. They both see the irony in some things that happen in football and have been staples on Jaguars.com interviewing their teammates.

Sen’Derrick Marks is always honest and fun and you can tell something goes on in the locker room when the media’s not there. His teammates are always all over him when it comes to anything he says. Nobody can joke with his teammates on this current team like Sen’Derrick.

Taking a line from Al Michaels, Dave Widell cemented his place in Jaguars history when he grabbed the mic at the stadium after the win in Denver and asked, “Do you believe in miracles,” to the assembled spontaneous crowd. Widell would give you an honest answer anytime you asked. Known all over town for his charity work and his willingness to help, he should probably be higher on this list.

Andre Branch has a sense of humor and a sardonic sense of style that spills over into his personality. The owner of more than 500 pairs of shoes, all of which he wears, he’ll intern for GQ this coming summer.

You might not know Pete Carmichael. He was the receivers coach under Coughlin. Anybody who stood in front of Coughlin at practice, moving around so Coughlin couldn’t see the team on the field, on purpose, every day, for six years, and had a laugh about it, has to be on this list.

And you might wonder why Andre Rison made the list. He’s in at #20 because he’s the nuttiest player ever to be on the team. Kooky, head shaking, eye rolling off his rocker. He’d be #1 on any list of nuts in teal and black. So he’s here.

1) John Jurkovic
2) Gus Bradley
3) Shad Khan
4) Jeff Fisher
5) Tom Coughlin
6) Tony Boselli
7) Jaxon De Ville
8) Kyle Brady
9) Maurice Jones Drew
9) Tom McManus
10) Jeff Lageman
11) Brant Boyer
12) Reggie Williams
13) John Henderson
14) Josh Scobee
15) Joe Zelenka
16) Sen’Derrick Marks
17) Dave Widdell
18) Andre Branch
19) Pete Carmichael
20) Andre Rison

Among the honorable mentions: Mike Tice as an assistant coach was likeable, a cutup, and sociable enough to say hi if he saw you out somewhere. Fred Taylor and Mark Brunell fit into a similar category but I’m not sure if it’s because of who they’ve become after their careers were over or just how long I’ve known them but both are thoughtful, funnier than you might think and guys who are trying to raise families and impact their kids.

I hosted the End Zone with Keenan McCardell so there are a few stories there from off-air that wouldn’t be fair to share but suffice to say, Keenan likes the finer things. He was always dressed impeccably, carrying a Louis Vuitton bag and gave me wristwatch envy on several occasions. Keenan also brought a “winning” and a “losing” outfit to the locker room each Sunday.

Aaron Beasley was a locker room cut up, but he saved it for his teammates. Ty Hallock was among the smartest guys to ever wear a Jaguars uniform and his dry sense of humor was never lost on his teammates. Mike Smith as the Jaguars defensive coordinator left an impact in town. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll meet and did tireless charity work while he was here.

Jeff Novak was a riot to his teammates. Mark Duffner was about as subtle as you could be and still make a whole room laugh. Pete Mitchell was thoughtful and a go-to interview while Damon Jones might say anything so you had to talk with him. Plus with a nickname of “Big Sofa” you get a glimpse into his personality. Richard Collier was such a funny, engaging guy as a player and looked to be on his way to a solid career. It’s hard not to think what “might have been.

TJ Slaughter had his own clothing line and was a model. Paul Spicer and Jeremy Mincey were engaging in the locker room and funnier when the cameras were off. Mincey couldn’t live in the Gus Bradley world and that’s a shame because he could be a contributor on this team right now. He’s also passionate about his music business. Montel Owens also qualifies as one of the smartest guys to ever wear Teal and Black. A University of Maine graduate, Owens made the team as an undrafted free agent. He’s an accomplished trumpet player as well. I still scratch my head about his release. He seems like a perfect fit for the current Jaguars.

Terrance Knighton is showing the personality we knew in the locker room on his current Bridgestone tire ads. Gary Walker and Kelvin Pritchett didn’t mind calling out, fans, teammates or even the media if they thought necessary. Danny Clark saw himself as more than a football player and Paul Posluszny couldn’t be more engaging when he’s around (and not working) He’s also currently working toward his Private Pilot’s license.

And Leon Searcy deserves a mention here. Not a guy to talk much, when he did, it was usually something meaningful. He also remains the only guy in Jaguars history that, by consensus in the Channel 4 Sports Department, we wouldn’t want on the other side in an alley fight. No thanks.

Did we miss anybody? Tweet us at #jagstop20 or @Sports4Jax or just send us a note on Facebook. We’ll talk about your adds on Jaguars Friday Night.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Steelers Beat Jaguars But More Respectable

While the Steelers are not the Steelers of old, the game started with an old feeling of a rivalry renewed. Pittsburgh was the model Tom Coughlin used when the Jaguars first came into the league and while the Steelers are still built around the same concepts, they don’t have the same personnel who used to drive the Jaguars crazy. Particularly on defense. You wouldn’t recognize virtually any names on the Pittsburgh D outside of Polamalu and Taylor. They’ve brought back Brett Keisel and James Harrison as stopgap measures in their front seven. But Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau is 17-2 against rookie quarterbacks in his career and did his best to confuse Black Bortles.

Early on, Bortles used a combination of his athletic ability and the Jaguars scheme to move the ball downfield. The naked bootleg with a pass to a crossing receiver is a bread and butter play for Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch. It always seems to be there, but Alan Hurns is suffering from a case of the drops and consequently the Jaguars can’t always convert. Some of those are tough catches but those are the catches you have to make to be successful in the NFL. The two teams exchanged field goals through the first 17 minutes with the Jaguars leading after the first quarter for the second time this season.

In a weird sequence, the Steelers had to kick off three times because of penalties and the Jaguars had back to back holding calls on Luke Bowanko to move the ball back to the nine. Hurns was also called for holding in that sequence as well. Bortles threw it up on a one on one situation for Allen Robinson but the ball was intercepted. Sort of like a punt from your own end zone but I’m not sure Robinson has the kind of speed necessary to get behind cornerbacks in the league.

In the middle of the field, the Jaguars defense couldn’t stop the run, giving up big chunks of yardage. That’s somewhat mystifying because with the players on the defensive line, stopping the run should be their calling card. Still, the Steelers went to the pass inside the ten, and finally converting on a TD pass from the 1-inch line, 10-3 Steelers.

A nice execution of the 2-minute drill by Bortles ended with a delay of game penalty and a Scobee 35-yard field goal, 10-6 Pittsburgh at halftime. Respectable.

The second half was a battle of field position with Ben Roethlisberger picking apart the Jaguars defense from the pocket. With the pressure from the first quarter gone, the Steelers moved the ball up and down the field but couldn’t convert. The Jaguars forced their first turnover since the Philadelphia game to stop a drive and things were looking up.

But as we’ve come to expect, there are some growing pains with young players, especially quarterbacks. Bortles threw to the wrong spot in the wrong situation and the Steelers took advantage, grabbing the interception and running it back for a TD. 17-9, Pittsburgh.

Although the Jaguars got the ball back they couldn’t do much with it and the Steelers just ground the clock out to end the game with a win.

It’s a more respectable outcome for the Jaguars but still a loss, leaving them at 0-5 for the second straight year. They’ll travel to Nashville to face the Titans next week before back to back home games at the stadium to finish out October.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Make London Routine

As the assembled local and international media filed into “The Greenhouse” on the grounds of The Grove where the Jaguars are staying and practicing, a definite chill was in the air and the occasional sprinkle fell from the sky as the sun peeked in and out from behind passing clouds.

“It’s a lovely day isn’t it,” a hostess said at the door with all sincerity. Since it is November and we’re outside the city of London it actually could qualify as a “lovely” day for this time of year. This trip for the Jaguars is two weeks later than last year, so the change in the season is more defined this time around.

“It’s fine,” Allen Hurns said when asked about the weather. “Just a little different than home this time of year but no big deal.”

Hurns was appreciative of the help he’s gotten from the veteran players preparing for this trip. “Cecil (Shorts) and Cyp (Jonathan Cyprien) told us what to look for, how to prepare our bodies as professional athletes so it’s been good.”

With a day and a half to get acclimated, the Jaguars went back to work on their custom built field on the grounds at The Grove on Wednesday.

“My mind is but my body’s not,” Sen’Derrick Marks answered with a chuckle when asked if he had settled into the time change. “But I’ll be right by Sunday,” he added. If last year is any indication, Marks said the time here early in the week is a plus for adjusting, and coming a day earlier is even better. “Leaving right after the game and flying at night is better,” he told me on Monday. “Getting that rest and being able to sleep on the way over helps.” Forty-seven Jaguars players were given the first class lie-flat cabin seats for the trip over as the coaches moved back to ‘upper class” on the charter.

Starting with Wednesday, the Jaguars will have a “normal” schedule in the UK, practicing, meeting, eating and sleeping at the same times they would back home.

“It makes it seem as normal as possible,” Blake Bortles said during his press conference. “Meeting, sleeping, eating, practicing the same as home is all part of the routine.”

The players all seem to appreciate the non-scheduled time as well. Some spend time in the player’s lounge on video games, others play Ping-Pong and some sit in the “meal room” just whiling the time away with conversation.

“I noticed that a lot of guys are just hanging out together,” Gus Bradley said when asked if this trip makes the team a more close-knit group. “And not in their regular groups. Different guys are sitting together. I see that and that’s good. We’re already a close team, but maybe this will make it even better.”

Bortles agreed, “It’s like training camp just hanging around with the guys. It definitely makes us a closer team.”

Notes: Cecil Shorts stepped out of practice with a tight hamstring. Marqis Lee rolled his ankle in practice and was limited in his workout. Brandon Linder worked on the side but was held out of practice. If he can’t play the Jaguars will look at Shatley and McClendon at the RG spot. Josh Scobee said he expects the grass to be a little higher at Wembley stadium, similar to the practice field so it’s important to pick the right cleats for the game. Bradley said DeMarco Murray of the Cowboys is the rare combination of speed and “can make people miss.” Marks said Murray is “hard to bring down.” Bortles noted that the Cowboys on defense “Don’t do much, but what they do, they do very well.” Blake said that OC Jedd Fisch and Chad Henne have helped him look at other options when he turns the ball over. “If I don’t ask them, they’ll tell me.”

It’s consistently about 5 to 8 degrees (F) colder where the Jaguars are practicing this week as compared to London. Temperatures at their practice facility tonight are expected to go just below freezing. Between a 50 and 80% chance of rain is predicted for the rest of the week both where the Jaguars are staying and in London for the game. The forecast is for just around 50 degrees (F) at kickoff and going down from there.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Simple Jaguars Solution: Play Better

Since day one, Gus Bradley has preached “get better every day.” It’s a good mantra for anybody, especially a professional sports team. With all of the time they spend together, practicing, meeting and preparing, they have a lot of chances to get better. But after starting the season with a 0-4 record for the second straight year, where’s the “get better” part?

“I can see it,” Gus Bradley said this week. “It’s a matter of consistency. We have to be consistently better, not just one or two plays. We have to do it over and over and over to get where we want to be.” Of course he’s right about that, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see the team get beat by double digits week in and week out.

“It hurts,” Bradley admitted. “In our business you want to be surrounded by passionate people. We love our fans and we want them to be passionate about it like we are. Our guys are taking ownership of it. They don’t own it yet but they’re starting.

On that point, he’s exactly right. Walking through the locker room is a whole different experience than it’s been in recent years. Last season it was understood that learning and getting better was the big priority. This year a marked improvement was expected. Maybe not a contender, but one that was in games and looked like they had a chance. So far, that hasn’t happened.

But Bradley says he can see on film and in meetings, they’re getting closer.

“Friend time is over,” the head coach said when asked about the ownership of getting better. “We need to be more of a family, calling each other out. We’re getting there. They have to be willing to say to each other, ‘that’s not acceptable.'”

So far, the coaching staff has sent the right messages, letting players know that “Do your job” is more than just a saying. Cameron Bradfield and Winston Guy found out the hard way after not performing up to standard. Both were starters at the beginning of the season but when they didn’t earn the right to keep that spot, they were released. Mike Brewster found the same thing in the preseason.

In 1995 I once asked Tom Coughlin about the prospects for the second half of the season. It was an expansion year with a roster full of expansion players, some free-agents and some draft picks. “These are our players,” Coughlin said in the best four-word answer possible. He didn’t elaborate and he didn’t have to. The Jaguars players in ’95 weren’t any better than a 4-12 team. And that’s the question 20 years later.

Trying to teach and learn and adapt with a young team do they have the players to get it done? It appears that this roster is better than the one last year and the one the year before that.

So the solution to winning some games and proving that they’re better seems pretty simple.

Play better.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Lose To Chargers: Still Learning

Starting the game, the Jaguars defense looked like it had a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Last in the league in just about every measurable category, their pride is injured. Former Jaguars defensive end and current radio color analyst Jeff Lageman said as much in the pregame show,

“These guys are veterans. Two won a Super Bowl last year. Nobody is more frustrated and angry than they are. I expect them to play better.”

He turned out to be prophetic early on. When you look at the array of talent on offense for San Diego, it’s hard not to shudder based on the Jaguars lack of ability to stop anybody. Phillip Rivers is one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. Antonio Gates might go to the Hall of Fame. Add a running game and wide receivers who can fly, and you have the makings of a blowout.

But early in the half the Jaguars defensive line put the stops on the Chargers running game and harassed Rivers enough to keep it close.

The offense also did it’s job, putting up 12 first downs in the first half on 15-17 passing by rookie Quarterback Blake Bortles. Making his first NFL start, Bortles looked poised and made the tough throws when he needed to guiding the Jaguars to 14 points.

Give Rivers credit though. He was 16-18 in the first half for 207 yards and two TD’s, the last one a beautiful crossing route to Eddie Royal (his second TD catch of the day) beating Winston Guy to give the Chargers a 17-14 lead. Giving up 17 points to the Chargers in one half is respectable, only trailing by 3 after 30 minutes is like being on a different planet than last week.

To start the second half, the Chargers took the kickoff and marched down the field in 9 plays, a 24 yard Rivers to Malcolm Floyd TD pass for the score. 24-14 SD. Demetrius McCray was in man coverage against Floyd and Rivers got just the coverage and time he was looking for. When a backup corner comes in the game, the top QB’s recognize it and go after them.

When you go with a rookie QB you’re going to have growing pains. Bortles was baited into an interception by veteran DB Brandon Flowers. While Cecil Shorts didn’t do him any favors by just standing there, Bortles didn’t see Flowers hiding behind Shorts and thought he was open. Instead Flowers stepped up and picked it off. The defense held them to a FG, 27-14. Bortles will learn not to throw that pass but Shorts has to keep moving after he sits in his spot and isn’t the primary target.

Through three quarters the defense had only given up 22 yards on the ground but a whopping 353 in the air. I wouldn’t say the offense didn’t help a bit because they did put together a few sustained drives but somewhere, pass coverage and pass rush aren’t getting the job done. Once Gratz left the game the Jaguars were putting together makeshift coverage, especially in their nickel package and Rivers always found the open man.

I wasn’t sure what Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch was doing on offense in the 3rd quarter either, constantly going to the short route and some kind of misdirection. Nothing downfield. Maybe he didn’t think the young offensive line could protect well enough but occasionally you have to air it out. And even though they had some success with Gerhart running the ball on third and short, they didn’t stick to it and turned it over on downs. If you have a power back on your roster, give him the ball, twice if necessary, to gain a yard.

The rest of the game was try this, try that for both teams. Bortles did make an incredible athletic play to hit Clay Harbor on 3rd down for 30 yards to keep one drive alive. Last week, he threw that ball in that situation across the field and it was picked off. He admitted after the game he learned from that play and looked downfield instead.

While there are no moral victories in pro sports, this one felt a little better with flashes of what the possibilities might be.

“It’s about consistency,” Zane Beadles said in the locker room. “Blake’s right, you have to make those plays over and over and while we did it in the first half, we didn’t in the second.”

The defense is suffering from almost the exact same thing. First and second down are going well, but big chunks of yardage are being given up on third down, especially to teams that can throw the ball.

“We need consistency,” Andre Branch said. “All of us need to do our job. On every play. It doesn’t work any other way unless you do your job and trust what we’re doing.”

I wouldn’t say Branch called out any of his teammates but it was obvious that he was biting his tongue, not naming names but knowing where the problems lie.

Somewhere in the secondary, the Jaguars need help and need to get the kind of consistent play that would give them a chance to stay in games. Josh Evans replaced Winston Guy in the lineup this week, but with the injury to Dwayne Gratz, Guy was pressed into service in the nickel package. He was the player chasing Eddie Royal on his second TD. That’s the kind of play that lacks consistency and enables other teams to get the big play.

This week the Jaguars will work on that, but if they don’t get it fixed, the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger will have a similar day as Phillip Rivers.

And nobody wants to see that again.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars prep Chargers in San Diego

Perhaps a change in their routine will change the results on the West Coast for the Jaguars. A Friday arrival in San Diego to get “acclimated” according Head Coach Gus Bradley instead of their usual day before game departure.. They’ve never won in Southern California in their first 19 years as a franchise. Their only two wins in the Pacific Time Zone have come in Northern California against the Raiders in ’97 and 2004.

Toby Gerhart grew up in Southern California and played college football at Stanford. He says it doesn’t matter where you travel, it’s hard to win on the road.

“It’s a hostile environment, strange stadium, we had a five hour flight. You have to put all of that out of your mind and go out and play. It’s us against everybody else.

There can be a “circle the wagons” mentality for a team on the road, especially a young team like the Jaguars. They’ll start so many rookies and first year players on offense, maybe they can ignore all of the road “noise” and just go play football.

“You hope that’s what happens,” Bradley said this week. “You hope they grow together and establish themselves.”

It’s been 10 years since the Jaguars traveled across the country and came home with a win. When they last won out west, Blake Bortles was in the 7th grade. Tomorrow he’ll get his first start in the NFL after a productive half last week at home.

“I’m just trying to be as prepared as I can be and go play,” the rookie quarterback said on Wednesday. “We’re going to play Sunday one way or another so I might as well be as prepared as I can be.”

Bortles “has been the same” according to his coaches and teammates as he prepared for his first start. He’s been getting the reps in practice, running the offensive meetings – Can he be the difference?

“We all have to play better,” veteran Defensive Tackle Roy Miller said in the locker room as the Jaguars were preparing for the Chargers. “It’s hard to work this hard, to be in the league this long and to get these kinds of results. You have to own it, you’re a part of it, and you have to fix it.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bortles First Week as Starter

There are a lot of “firsts” this week for the Jaguars and Blake Bortles. The Jaguars rookie quarterback is preparing for his first start in a regular season NFL game. While you’d think he was excited about it, his comments seem to say the opposite.

“I’ve prepared like I was going to start every week. I learned that, and a lot of other things from watching Chad (Henne)” Bortles said in front of the assembled media before the Wednesday practice. “I’m going to go play football. I’m going to be as ready as I can. We’re going to play Sunday either way so I might as well try to be as ready as I can be.”

Bortles was named the starter after playing the second half against the Colts and helping produce 17 points.

“My focus is on this team and making us better,” he noted. “I don’t have a lot of time for anything else.”

“He has the pen last,” Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch said before practice as well. “I asked him what he wanted to take out (of the game plan) and he gave me a couple of plays right away. He has to be comfortable with what we’re doing.”

Being named the starter, Bortles is sitting “In the first chair” in the quarterback meeting room according to Fisch.

“He’s been second chair. He hasn’t had to run the remote, meet with the Oline, the receivers when the coaches aren’t in there. It’s his first time. .”

“He went to meetings, more meetings,” according to Head Coach Gus Bradley. “His demeanor didn’t change. He’s the same. Competitiveness didn’t change. His mentality hasn’t changed a bit.”

Bradley says often “The game isn’t too big for him” when talking about Bortles. That seems to be the case so far. He likes to play football and while that sounds pretty basic, there have been some guys in that job with the Jaguars who didn’t particularly like the game, or didn’t act like it. To Bortles, it’s football, and he enjoys it.

“I had no idea if it would be this year or five years down the road when I got to start in an NFL game. I think it was huge to be with Chad and watch him prepare every week.”

As the starter, Bortles will take a majority of the snaps in each offensive period in practice. “It helps the more reps you get. You get a feel for it after doing it over and over in games and in practice.”

It’s a role reversal between he and Henne, but the transition seems to be smooth.

“I’ll be his biggest cheerleader. I hope he’s successful,” Henne said.