Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators in Elite Eight: Want More

As expected, it wasn’t easy.

Florida withstood a run by UCLA in the second half with poise and tough defense as they beat the Bruins 79-68 to advance to the Elite Eight for the fourth consecutive year.

“Done it before,” Will Yeguete said in the post-game locker room. “Go back to the hotel, get some treatment, get some rest, look at the scouting and go again. It’s fun.”

Taking a six-point lead to halftime, the Gators came out in the second half and extended that out to 11 as freshman Chris Walker made some unexpected contributions off the bench.

“I just try to be ready when coach calls my name,” Walker said with a big smile sitting in front of his locker. “I go in and play good defense, give some energy to my teammates, block some shots and then see what I can do on offense.”

Walker only played six minutes in the game but his 7 points were a necessary bonus with Patric Young and Casey Prather on the bench with foul trouble.

“We know when we go to the bench that the other five guys on the floor are going to play great defense,” Young explained to a media throng gathered around his locker. “I was a little frustrated so my role was more cheerleader than anything else. I did contribute a little there in the second half but this is really a team win.”

Prather agreed that the team gets the credit, not unexpectedly. “All the guys contribute. It’s been that way all year. Dodo, Kasey, Chris gave us big minutes. We’re just thankful that we get to play again on Saturday.”

UCLA’s early zone defense allowed the perimeter of the Gators offense open shots, and for the first time in this tournament, Michael Frazier II made them pay. Frazier finished with 19 points, hitting 5-three pointers to lead the Gators in scoring. Apparently he didn’t like the rims at the Amway Arena in Florida’s first two games but he found the ones at the FedEx Forum to his liking. When he scores like that, it opens up the floor for a lot of other offensive options for the Gators; and they have plenty.

“He’s (Frazier) been working really hard the last few days, working on his shot. He’s a shooter, so he’s got to get that confidence going,” Yeguette explained. “When he was open, he made it.”

For the fourth consecutive year, Florida is back in the Elite Eight, this time against Dayton (6:09 Saturday TBS from Memphis). The Flyers are in the Regional finals for the first time since 1984. The Gators on the other hand, are familiar with this position. It’s the one they’ve gone home from the last three years.

“It’s crazy that it’s here already, ” Young said about going back all four years of his tenure in Gainesville. “You never want to take it for granted but we’ve been blessed and we’re here again. Hopefully we can go farther this time.”

Against the Bruins the Gators leaned on some of the close victories they grabbed during the regular season. In fact, it felt like a late season conference game in the second half. They didn’t panic; they leaned on their seniors and advanced.

“The seniors really lead by example,” Dorian Finney-Smith said at his locker still sporting a Band-Aid over his right eye. “When they don’t panic, we don’t panic. It got to be a one point lead and we just settled down, played good defense and Scottie hit a couple of shots.

This team is accustomed to the quick turnaround and Donovan can look back over the last 8 years and see what worked and what hasn’t once the team got to this point.

Obviously, motivation won’t be a factor.

“I’ve never been to the Final Four,” Young said earnestly. “We’ve got a chance to be the best team in Florida history. We’ve got an opportunity to win a National Championship. What more motivation do you need to go out and play your best?”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators vs. UCLA: Toughest Test Yet

It’s like a traveling road show when teams go deep into the NCAA tournament. Like that old saying, this week it’s “If it’s Wednesday this must be Memphis.” Adapting to that kind of travel and schedule, new arena’s, new locker rooms, new environments favor a veteran team in college basketball and certainly the 2014 Gators are that. Lead by 4 seniors, they’ve played on the road, had late nights, strange schedules and bad plane rides in their careers. But it’s all gotten them to this place in the Sweet 16 against UCLA.

“You have to have a routine,” Senior center Patric Young said lounging in front of his locker on Wednesday afternoon. “Everybody has the little things that they do before a game and you have to keep doing those things. The coaches do a great job of setting things up so we don’t have to worry about a thing.”

Since the NCAA went to a standardized floor at all of the sites a few years ago, it was striking how similar the FedEx Forum looked like Amway Arena from floor level.

“The floor is always the same so it’s not much to worry about,” Senior Guard Scotty Wilbekin surmised right before the Gators shoot around. “The floor’s the same, the basket’s the same. We just need to be ready to play our best.”

It would seem the farther a team gets in the tournament, the tougher the competition might be. While that doesn’t always happen, in this case, UCLA will be the most difficult opponent the Gators have seen. Tall, strong, offensive minded, the Bruins like to score a lot of points while Florida is among the best at limiting their opponent.

Wilbekin broke it down pretty simply when asked about UCLA’s high scoring offensive game. “We’re going to play defense, be we’re also going to have to play offense They’re going to play offense, but they’re also going to have to play defense. So it’s just going to be a battle.”

Senior forward Will Yeguete said it might come down to a battle of wills. “We’re going to stick to our principles and just play the way we’ve been playing and we’re just going to have to limit them because we know they’re going to score tough shots.”

Three times in the last eight years Florida has eliminated UCLA in the NCAA tournament. In their title years the Gators beat the Bruins in the title game and in the semi-finals. Three years ago they ousted them in the second round. While some would think that means Florida has UCLA figured out, the players say none of that matters.

When asked, Wilbekin could recall an end-of-game sequence when Florida sent the Bruins packing in 2011 in Tampa. Other than that, he says it’ll have zero impact on the game Thursday night. “I don’t think it’ll affect the game at all honestly,” Wilbekin said while seated at the formal podium interview.

Pushing out all of the “distractions” as coaches call it will be a big plus for Florida. They’re still the #1 seed and top ranked in the polls. They’re the target for everybody and they’re the favorite. The veteran leadership on this team has helped them get to this point and has refocused the Gators on what’s possible.

“The coaches asked us who we wanted to be,” Young recalled from last week. “They reminded us that we have a chance to be one of the best teams in Florida history if we just focus on the things we can do. Play the kind of defense we’re capable of, do the little things. It’s right there within our grasp.”

Have they retained the mindset that propelled them to victory over Pittsburgh last Saturday in Orlando?

“I didn’t want to talk to anybody before the game Saturday,” Young explained. “I was just focused on going out there. I don’t expect to want to talk to anybody tomorrow either.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Looking To Upgrade Team, Self

While looking for a constant upgrade in the draft and through free agency, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley isn’t forgetting what last year was like. The ups and downs, the teaching and the learning and how he can take that and move forward.

“I know this sounds bad,” Bradley qualified his statement before going on Tuesday morning. “But I enjoyed last year. I’m not going to miss that opportunity to use our experiences to teach our players and to get better. Not the record, but the things we talked about. Don’t be consumed by defeats and don’t be overwhelmed by victories. I’m not going to miss out on that.”

At the AFC coaches breakfast, all 16 head coaches in the conference are at separate tables throughout a large ballroom with name placards and seats around the table. Some eat; some spend their time talking to some reporters as old friends. Some seem to be enduring the torture, knowing it’s only an hour. Bradley is experiencing this for the second time, but last year was nothing like today. As the hour wore on, more and more reporters made their way to the Jaguars table until there was no room.

“More people at the Jaguars table since what, 1999?” I asked one of the Jaguars PR staff.

“Oh, no,” he laughed, “EVER.”

While the Jaguars were a know force in the late 90’s, then Head Coach Tom Coughlin was considered just this side of what Bill Belichick is now. Bradley is on the other side of the spectrum: funny, engaging, honestly interested in answering questions and giving out what information he can. It’s all part of the “transparency” he thinks is important to success.

Owner Shad Khan mentioned that while in Orlando yesterday, praising both Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell for keeping things open and honest.

“I’m glad he said that,” Bradley commented when I told him about Khan’s observations.

“Because I think that’s important, not just for our staff and the owner, but for our relationship with the players as well. If they’re having a problem, they need to know that they can come talk to anybody, anytime.”

Bradley said his policy of always getting better applies to him as well at these meetings. He said he’s meeting with fellow coaches to see how they’re doing things and how it compares.

“I did that this morning with another coach, talking about (the culture in) the locker room. How’s he do it? Does he walk through there? If I didn’t do that I might think ‘I got it” and you know those are the three most dangerous words.

His competitors in the division already know what to expect when playing a Gus Bradley coached team. Chuck Pagano, the Colts coach and at three years the most tenured in the division said they knew Bradley’s teams would be ready but afterwards realized, despite their record, they weren’t giving up.

“They played hard that’s for sure,” Pagano said this morning. “From snap to whistle, they gave it a full effort. They never backed off and played until the game was over. You don’t always find that.”

“I don’t know what their record was when we played them,” new Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt remembered this morning at his table. He faced the Jaguars last year as the Cardinals head coach. “But they didn’t have any wins and they played hard. There was no ‘give-up’ in that team. Spend 5 minutes with Gus and you see why.”

Bradley is careful to not criticize any of the players on last year’s roster, but is clearly excited about the upgrade.

“Maybe 30 new guys?” he guessed.

Take Bradley’s enthusiasm, transfer it to his team, add in the upgraded talent and it’s possible, the Jaguars could be the most improved team in the league.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators Change Mindset, Beat Pitt

It really is all about defense for the Florida basketball team. And while that’s a given for most teams, the Gators have bought into it.’

“This was about to our standard,” Senior Patric Young said in the post-game locker room after Florida’s 61-45 win over the 9th seeded Pitt Panthers. “We can’t always control whether the ball goes in the basket or not on offense but on defense, we can play hard and we did that.”

Following a lackluster first round win over Albany, Head Coach Billy Donovan challenged his team on Friday during practice to come to the court Saturday with a different mindset.

“Yeah, Coach was really getting on us,” Scotty Wilbekin noted after the game. “He was challenging us and just asking us if that was the team that we wanted to be in these last couple of games that we have.” Wilbekin clearly responded to the challenge, scoring 21 points, 13 in the last six minutes of the game, leading the Gators to 10 steals and forcing 11 turnovers.

The Gators went on a 9-0 run in the second half to create a little breathing room and held Pitt without a basket for more than 5 minutes.

“I could see it in our guy’s eyes in the locker room before the game,” Sophomore Michael Frazier said about the change in focus for the top ranked Gators. “We were locked in and ready to go. Much different than Thursday.”

As big as Pitt is across the front line, Florida was able to control the paint, part of their focus going in. “We knew it was going to be a battle,” Will Yeguette said after the Florida win. “I think we did a good job boxing out and the guards got in there, got a lot of rebounds. So that helped us move those guys to get in there and rebound the ball and help us out.”

Donovan was determined to change how the Gators approached the game against Pitt after what he considered a sub par effort against Albany.

“We didn’t play to our identity there (Thursday) and I was disappointed by that because we really hadn’t done that all year long,” Billy explained. “I wanted to make sure they understood that and we got back to who we were. I don’t think any of them disagreed with anything I had to say.”

“Coach Donovan is the perfect coach in that sense,” Young explained when asked about the change in mindset. “He challenged us and he was right. Do we want to be that team we showed on Thursday? No. So we were able to get back to more of who we are today.”

Florida will play in Memphis next Thursday in the Sweet 16, most likely against UCLA. The Gators beat the Bruins enroute to both of their national titles and again in 2011 to advance to the Sweet 16. Florida will try to move into the Elite 8 for the fourth straight year. It’s where they’ve been eliminated in each of the past three seasons.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators “Survive and Advance”

It’s difficult to be such a favorite in college basketball. A team that shoots well, and executes their game plan, no matter what their talent level, size or speed, can make things difficult. Florida found that out in the first half against the Albany Great Danes in their first game in the NCAA tournament in Orlando.

Florida had every advantage you could ask for: size and speed and even depth, but Albany couldn’t miss for a while and kept it close. Maybe it’s the setting or the bigness of being the top seed, but the Gators looked out of sorts and a bit skittish in the first half. It wasn’t until about halfway through that they found their range, finishing the half shooting 56% and taking a 34-28 lead. Statistically, the Gators dominated across the board, but couldn’t shake the Danes. In some cases it was trying to do too much, and in others it was a bit of disbelief I’m sure that Albany was being so efficient. Anytime you’re the top seed, any lower seeded team slows it down, limits the number of possessions and if they hit their shots as the clock winds down, they can keep it close. That was clearly Albany’s strategy, and they kept it close.

In the second half it was more of the same but Florida was just too deep, too talented and in the end too determined.

It wasn’t pretty, but in this tournament it’s about “survive and advance.” Florida used 10 points from Casey Hill and a double-double from Patric Young to beat Albany in the first round 67-55.

“We survived but we won’t advance past Saturday if we play like that again,” Scottie Wilbekin said in the post-game locker room.

“Too often we were playing not to lose,” Michael Frazier II chimed in. “We have to go get it. We have to have that mindset.”

I asked Will Yeguette if Florida was aware that they’re the target as the top seed in the tournament. “We’ll get everybody’s best shot,” the Gators senior said. “But we know that. We just weren’t in sync. Give them credit but generally we were all on the same page. We’ll look at film and figure it out.”

It’ll be Billy Donovan’s job to determine how to get his team back into the mindset they carried through the end of the regular season and through the SEC tournament. He wasn’t happy with the defense in the first half, but felt like it was better in the second. And Albany had a lot to do with that.

“The way they play, you know it’s not going to be a high scoring game,” Donovan explained. “I thought we did a pretty good job of forcing the tempo.”

Once again, Young was the one able to put it in perspective. “Looking at this game, we feel moving forward that this isn’t going to be enough to keep our season going. And we know there’s more inside of us and more we can give. We didn’t have our style of of play for 40 minutes. We didn’t sustain that and we’re going to have to do that if we want to make the Sweet 16 because Pitt played exceptionally well today. Hopefully Saturday we’ll have a better mindset and focus.”

In the locker room, it felt like a loss. Which is probably a good thing. Florida hasn’t been beaten in over three months and their biggest hurdle coming into the tournament was finding new motivation to get back to their best basketball.

Every coach will tell you it’s easier to teach after a win. The Gators have the luxury of putting this in the win column (their 33rd of the year) with the players feeling like they got beat. They’re disappointed, understandably.

No better scenario for Donovan and his staff to hammer the message home again: Play well, or anybody can beat you.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators Ranking Doesn’t Matter

It would be pretty easy for the 2013-14 Gator basketball team to strut into Orlando with an attitude. They’ve won 32 games; they’re the only team to ever go 18-0 during the regular season in the SEC. They won the SEC tournament by beating Kentucky for the THIRD time this year and they finished the season ranked #1. Put their number one seeding in the tournament on top of that, and their resume for this season is already pretty impressive.

But they’re not like that.

At all.

“For us being number one is a great honor and a great compliment, but I really don’t know what it means,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said during his press conference on Wednesday. “We’re in a bracket, we’ve got to play tomorrow and that’s the only thing that really matters. When you’re in a one-and-done tournament if you have a game where you don’t play well, chances are you’re not going to advance.”

Sometimes you can get a bunch of different answers from players, but this Gators team stays on message. And that message comes from Donovan.

“Coach D does a good job reminding us that no matter what the rankings are every year, there’s upsets,” the SEC Player of the Year Scotty Wilbekin said prior to the Florida shoot-around at the Orlando Arena. “It really doesn’t matter once the ball goes up. Anything can happen, anybody can beat anybody.”

Patric Young has been on Florida teams that have had some success and plenty of failure. He was able to put Florida’s past record and their current ranking into perspective. “Our first three years here, we were never the number one team in the country, and when we finally achieved that this year, we were just like, okay, I mean, everything is the same, nothing has really changed.”

It’s probably good that the Gators ascended to the top spot in the rankings as early as they did, because they got used to the questions and the attention that goes with that lofty ranking. Donovan reminded everybody, including his players that all that goes with that kind of recognition is that everybody gives you their best shot.

Playing so close to home, Florida will have plenty of fans in orange and blue come game time and it’s pretty much as close to a home game that they could have gotten in this NCAA Tournament. While the players admit that’s a good thing, they’re trying to stick to their routine. One scribe inquired as to why the Gator hadn’t allowed the team Moms to come in and cook for the players.

Actual home cooking.

“We’re going to focus on what we’ve always done,” Donovan said. “We’re not going to change routine. Everything we’re focusing on is what we have the responsibility to do and that’s to prepare, to practice and get ready to play. All the other stuff, we’re going to focus on anything that helps us play our best tomorrow.”

That’s the sound of an experienced, successful coach. While the Gators have been on this route before, this team, this year, this coaching staff is uniquely different. No matter what experience you’ve had at the tournament, each year has it’s own pitfalls. Donovan’s job is to anticipate those things and navigate around them.

We’ll see how they respond when the ball goes in the air against Albany.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators in Orlando For NCAA’s

No 16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed in the history of the NCAA tournament.

I thought I’d get that out there right away so if there is some kind of jinx, it’ll fade by game time on Thursday.

But the Gators won’t need it.

As the top ranked team in the country for the first time at the end of the regular season, Florida will beat Albany in their opener in Orlando of the NCAA tournament.

Unlike with the back-to-back national championship teams, this Gators squad doesn’t engender a lot of confidence when it comes to the fans expectations. Maybe it’s just the Gator fan mentality, maybe because they don’t have a part of their game that looks dominating, or maybe it’s because they’ve been scared to death at the close calls in the last three weeks. But the fact remains that Florida is still unbeaten since December 3rd when UConn threw up a prayer at the buzzer to beat them. Since then there are a half dozen games that this group of players would have let get away coming down the stretch.

“Absolutely,” Patric Young agreed after beating Kentucky in their final regular season game at home. “But this team believes in each other. We pump each other up. When other teams go on a run, we respond.”

And that’s the biggest difference. This team does respond. Instead of running from the ball with the game on the line, Scottie Wilbekin is looking for his shot. Michael Frazier II accepts, as Billy Donovan calls it, the “responsibility” to take that shot. Young is not afraid with the ball in his hands and can make things happen.

The ability to reach what you might think is the highest of highs, regroup and do it again, and regroup and do it a third time is the key to the Gators continued success.

“It’ll be talked about,” Donovan said when asked if it was the coach’s responsibility to manage the emotional ups of his team. “We all have a stake in that, and I like our guys attitude towards that. They’re concentrating on what they can do instead of all of the potential things going on around them.”

That’s what happens when you have a senior laden team. With Young and Wilbekin in the starting lineup with Will Yeguete and Casey Prather, the Gators put four guys on the floor who have been around college basketball for a while. All are stories that have a bit of redemption in them.

Young was so raw as a freshman it was hard to project him as any kind of offensive threat.

Wilbekin has been suspended from the team multiple times for breaking team rules and was told by Donovan after his injury early this year that if he didn’t change his game, he was going to the bench. Of course, he became the SEC Player of the Year.

Yeguete has battled knee problems and Prather was so far in the dog house in his first two years in Gainesville that most of the talk was about where he’d transfer to.

All have played pivotal roles in the Gators success this year.

But the thing I was most impressed with seeing those guys in person before, during and after games is how they actually stick together. When they’re going to do something, be interviewed, kiss the floor, cut the nets, they do it together.

It’s hard not to think of anything less than a National Championship as a failure. But that would be a shame if they don’t win it if that’s all they’re remembered for. This has been a fun team to watch and a fun team to be around. Donovan calls it the most satisfying, fun regular season he’s ever coached.

Let’s hope it continues.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Free Agency: Impressed, Not Surprised

I’m not surprised, but I am impressed.

For what seems like forever, the Jaguars in free agency were a non-factor. And even when they were a factor, it didn’t matter. Jerry Porter, Drayton Florence and Tory Holt were supposed to make a splash. They did, more looking like a belly flop. A bunch of journeymen fill-ins barely made a ripple. Part of the fault was Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith thinking the Jaguars were better than they were. Just a few tweaks here and there and they’d contend. That turned out not to be true. Even in his first year of ownership, Shad Khan was told that if they acquired CB Aaron Ross, resigned Jeremy Mincey, and picked up WR Laurent Robinson, they’ve have a chance in the division. Instead, they won two games and Khan decided to go back to the drawing board.

In comes a new GM Dave Caldwell and a new head coach, Gus Bradley. A couple of free agent signings in the first year of Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller barely were noticed among the purge of players like Montel Owens, Daryl Smith and others. And while Marks and Miller exceeded expectations, there was no reason to think that the Jaguars of 2014 would be a player in the free-agent market where it would make a difference.

But all along Caldwell and Bradley have talked about “the plan” and clearly in the second year of their plan, free agency was a major part of the upgrade of the roster.

Before it even officially began, the Jaguars had agreed to terms with Red Bryant. Bryant, a DT off Seattle’s world championship team was a team captain and brought in for not only his ability to stop the run, but his leadership as a locker room guy. Upgrade.

When the free agency period began, OG Zane Beadles signed here from the Broncos and will be plugged in as a starter. “I’m only entering my 5th year. In some people’s eyes, that’s not hugely experienced. But I’ve played a lot of football, a lot of snaps and been through a lot of situations.” Upgrade

Shortly thereafter, RB Toby Gerhardt, the backup to Adrian Peterson in Minnesota signed a deal to play in a Jaguars uniform. Four years in the league, Gerhardt has less than 260 carries. “I’m a veteran without a lot of miles on these legs,” is how he put his level of experience. He expects to start. Upgrade

Dekoda Watson wasn’t impressed when he first saw downtown Jacksonville. “This is it? Is what I thought,” he said with a laugh at his press conference announcing his signing. “But then they took me over the bridge and I said, O, K, !” Watson will plug holes AND rush the passer from the edge. Upgrade.

After day one, the Jaguars were a better team. Day two brought the signings of DL Ziggy Hood and DE Chris Clemons. Clemons had more than 30 sacks in three years playing under Gus Bradley in Seattle. Hood started every game for the Steelers last year. Upgrade.

In kind of a surprise, Jason Babin re-signed with the Jaguars saying it was the plan all along. “They knew this is where I wanted to be. They knew all along I would void my contract.” While Babin is a known quantity, clearly Bradley thinks he brings enough to the table to give him a shot in competing for a spot here.

Add Will Blackmon’s signing as a free agent and you get a picture of what the Jaguars are trying to do before the draft. Just about all of these guys are in their late 20’s, have been around the league for 4 or 5 years, have played on some good and bad teams but all are either in, or about to be in the prime of their careers. They can be a core nucleus for Bradley and Caldwell going forward.

The other interesting part is how the players have gravitated to the Jaguars as a choice. Almost all said they heard about the energy Bradley brings to the team and admitted that they were curious but not convinced: Until they got here. Bradley’s culture has a reputation in the league already, and it has some players curious. Besides their age and experience, the other thread that runs through these free agents is their work ethic. All are know for going full bore, competing and hard work. In other words, according to Bradley, they love football.

They still need help at WR (Emmanuel Sanders?) and on the offensive line but year two of the three year plan is starting to take shape.

Whether they do a little more in free agency or wait until the draft (right now they have 11 picks in 2014) they’ll continue to follow Gus’ mantra of “Get Better.”

They are.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gabbert Gone

Walking off the practice field last summer during Gus Bradley’s first training camp as the head coach of the Jaguars, I found myself at the back of the pack walking with the Jaguars new leader.

“What the biggest surprise,” I asked as the two of us made our way to the locker room.

“Just the scope of it,” Bradley said, spreading his arms wide. “As the DC you’re in charge of the defense but as the head coach it all falls to you. It’s exciting.”

I’ve come to learn that that’s a pretty typical Bradley response. Assessing the situation, grasping the solution, rising to the challenge and excelling at the execution.

During this first real conversation one-on-one between the two of us, I asked him what he thought of Blaine Gabbert.

“He has all the tools, great arm, right size, nice speed,” he explained, outlining all of the things everybody sees when they get a look at Gabbert on the practice field.

“What you’ll find is that he’s the most seductive practice player you’ll ever see,” I said, echoing my sentiment since about day one of Gabbert’s tenure in Jacksonville.

“What the heck is that supposed to mean,” Gus said with a playful poke to my shoulder.

“It’s just that when you watch him in practice, it makes you wonder how do we ever lose?” I explained. “He has all of the tools, size, speed, arm strength. He makes all the throws, has a command of the offense and runs the team like he owns it out here,” I added pointing to the practice field.

“But taking that from here, to there,” I said pointing to the stadium, “seems to elude him.”

“I guess I’ll have to see that for myself,” Bradley quickly replied. He went on to outline the research they’d done on Gabbert, noting that he completed over 80% of his passes when given a reasonable amount of time in the pocket and how he was like having a first round pick on the roster.

“Fair enough,” I said as we shook hands. “I hope you’re right.”

And Bradley named Gabbert the starter for game one before training camp was over.

Almost four years into his tenure with the Jaguars Gabbert has finally been given a chance to perhaps to make it elsewhere, traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a 6th round draft pick this year. The Jaguars could get another pick next year if Gabbert gets some significant playing time in San Francisco this season.

While Gabbert was surly and sullen generally during his time talking to the media in Jacksonville, it’ll be interesting to see if he can take his talents from the practice field to the game field at the same level with a fresh start. If you look at the Niners starter Colin Kaepernick and Gabbert in terms of what the NFL people call “measurables,” they match up pretty well. But that’s where the similarities end. Kaepernick has outperformed his draft position (2nd round) while Gabbert has never lived up to his (10th overall.)

Some of that can be blamed on Jack Del Rio putting Gabbert in the game as a rookie before he was ready. With no summer (strike/lockout) and only a few weeks of training camp, Del Rio threw Gabbert into the game three weeks into the season because Luke McCown had thrown a bunch of interceptions the week before. Gabbert was in way over his head, didn’t know much of the offense, couldn’t figure out the speed of the game and started looking for the rush instead of looking downfield. John Gruden called him out on a Monday Night Football national broadcast and Gabbert’s reputation as “afraid” in the pocket was cemented. That’s followed him around since then, and he’s done nothing to prove that theory wrong.

Given the benefit of the doubt and every chance to ascend to a true starting quarterback role in the National Football League, in Jacksonville, Blaine Gabbert never got it done. Maybe the West Coast will be the tonic that allows him to flourish.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators Still “Chasing Greatness”

“This is just goal number one,” Patric Young said with a big smile on his face after the Gators finished an undefeated regular season in conference play. Florida jumped out to a 21-point lead at halftime over Kentucky, weathered a 15-0 run by the Wildcats in the second half and finished with an 84-65 win on Senior Day at the O’Connell Center.

“I love Senior Day and I hate it,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said after calling this the best regular season he’s ever been a part of.

“That’s the best sendoff I’ve seen in my 18 years here for our 4 seniors. And with all of that emotion, I didn’t know how they’d come out and play.”

Donovan needn’t worried.

Jacksonville’s Pat Young got things started, scoring on a variety of jump hooks, dunks and short jumpers as Florida took control early. “It fired me up,” Young said of the Senior Day festivities before the game. “I just wanted the ball to get in the air to get started. I was ready to go.”

In a reference to the “one and done” history recently for the Wildcats under John Calapari, one fan held up a sign before the game, “Hey Kentucky, this is what Senior Day looks like.” Florida leaned on their seniors with Young getting 14 points in the first half enroute to their big lead.

“Coach told us it was going to be a dogfight at halftime,” senior guard Scotty Wilbekin said afterwards. “We believed him. Kentucky’s a good team, they can score. We just had to weather that storm.”

Wilbekin put an end to that 15-0 Kentucky run in the second half with a big 3-point shot. “I was looking for that” he noted as the lead was cut to just six. His shot pushed it back to nine with 12 minutes left in the second half. Young hit a hook from the lane and Casey Prather made a layup and a free throw on a great drive to the basket to push Florida’s lead back to 17 and they never looked back.

The Gators earned a first round bye in the SEC tournament by winning the regular season title. They’ll next play in Atlanta in a second round game next weekend.

“We’ll enjoy this for now, take tomorrow off and work on getting our minds and bodies right for the next thing we have to do,” Donovan said with a smile in his press conference.

The SEC played an 18-game conference schedule from 1967 through 1991 but no team went undefeated in conference play in that stretch. Kentucky (twice) and LSU went 17-1 over that period of time. Now that the league has expanded, the Gators become the first team to go undefeated through conference play. “We’re not perfect,” Donovan noted, admitting that the record says otherwise. “We’ve played some bad games and have managed to win. We can still better. Our goal is to “chase greatness” by being as good as we can be. The rest will take care of itself.”

When they’re that good, they’re unbeatable.