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.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Impactful Rookies

In our continuing look at the last 20 years of the Jaguars in town, this week in honor of Blake Bortles first start, as a rookie, we’re looking at the Top 20 Impact Rookies in Jaguars history. This list actually comes in three parts: The top few are players who were strong as rookies and continued their career as standouts for the Jaguars. The middle is players who had solid if unspectacular careers in Jacksonville but were in the lineup from Day One. And the third group is guys who were in the lineup as rookies and never fulfilled the promise they showed in their first year or just never made it here or anywhere else.

Our top rookie could be debated for the brevity of his career but Tony Boselli is number one on our list. He missed the first two games of his rookie season, and didn’t start in game three but once he got in the lineup, he was a stalwart and dominant from his left tackle position. I mentioned to Tony on our pregame show last week that he “was the best offensive lineman for five years of his career,” to which he responded (playfully I hope), “What, my first year doesn’t count.” Boselli was not only the best player at his position; he was the best player on the Jaguars and the best offensive lineman in the game. On his way to a Hall of Fame career, only injury cut that path short, starting with his rookie year. That’s why he’s our #1.

In our second spot, Fred Taylor easily fits the description of a rookie who was in the lineup and fulfilled most of the promise he showed during his first year in the NFL. Taylor started 12 games, had more than 1,600 total yards and scored 17 TD’s as a rookie.

Third on the list is Blake Bortles. How can Bortles be on the list when he’s only played 30 minutes of football for the Jaguars? Because he’s given hope to a franchise that’s been downtrodden for nearly a decade. He has an “it” factor that hasn’t been seen around here in a while. Bortles has created a buzz unlike any for a rookie in recent memory. He might do nothing. He might go to the Hall of Fame. But right here, right now as a rookie, he’s on the list.

Fourth on the list is the player who I think should be next in the Pride of the Jaguars, Brad Meester. Meester started at guard as a rookie and never left the lineup. He’s the guy who it seemed every year the Jaguars were talking about replacing, but never could. Too valuable, too talented, too smart, too durable. Meester makes the list and should be on the wall of the stadium soon.

Fifth and sixth are kickers, Mike Hollis and Josh Scobee. There’s a thought in the NFL that your kicker should be good enough to neutralize the opposing kicker and clutch enough to win the game for you at the end. Hollis and Scobee fit that description and more and have done that since their rookie seasons. The both started as rookies, kept the job, excelled and have had long careers in Jaguars uniforms.

Rashean Mathis is 7th on our list. He came in as a 2nd round pick out of BCC, started immediately and you knew you could pencil his name in there every week. That’s why Derek Cox is 8th. Same thing. Started as a rookie, never had to worry about him, although his career here was shorter than expected.

We liked James Stewart in the 9th spot. As a rookie in 1995, Stewart was the back Coach Tom Coughlin was looking for when it came to running, catching and durability. Stewart perhaps never got the credit he deserved from Jacksonville fans, but was certainly an impact rookie.

In the 10th position we have Marcus Stroud. Played and started as a rookie, had most of his best years in Jacksonville and has an easy position on this list. Same with John Henderson at eleven. Rookie impact, solid career, Henderson and Stroud will always be linked in their Jaguars history.

You could easily make an argument that Daryl Smith should be higher than 12th on this list and you probably could convince us. Smith came in as a rookie and started and stayed there. Still the most underrated player in Jaguars history.

Thirteenth is Vince Manuai. Drafted out of the University of Hawaii to be plugged into the starting lineup, he didn’t disappoint. Manuai started as a rookie and held his position in a fashion that never gave the coaches any worry.

Fourteen is Eugene Monroe. Drafted as the starting left tackle, he stepped in there and developed into the Jaguars best player in some lean years. He might have his best years in Baltimore, that’s why he’s in our second ten.

And this is where it starts to get a little strange. Fifteen is Kevin Hardy. Second player picked overall, he had impact as a rookie but never fulfilled the promise of his talent. For whatever reason, he never got there. Sixteen and 17 are two guys who were drafted to be plugged into the lineup as starters and did just that as rookies, and struggled the rest of the way. Brian DeMarco was supposed to be the other bookend to Tony Boselli but despite all of his starts as a rookie, he never played any better. And Eben Britton was supposed to be the bookend to Eugene Monroe, but injuries and whatever ended his stay in Jacksonville early.

Eighteen is Renaldo Wynn. A first round pick, Wynn had a solid if unspectacular career in Jacksonville. A starter as a rookie, he continued his career in Washington in the same fashion.

Byron Leftwich is nineteenth on our list. Thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie, he looked the part of a long-term solution at QB. But he never developed into the player they were hoping for, but certainly had an impact.

And 20th, is Terrance Knighton. A starter as a rookie, he could have easily played his whole career in Jacksonville but coaching changes and a change in scheme have put him in Denver.

There’s a whole other list of guys who were “impactful” as rookies but had virtually no career here in town. Rob Johnson didn’t play much as a rookie but turned into Fred Taylor when the Jaguars traded for him. Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey, Quinton Groves and Justin Blackmon qualify as impactful rookies who’s career’s never went anywhere in Jacksonville.

Blaine Gabbert could have been anywhere on the list as an “impactful” player since the team pinned their hopes on him and he flamed out. So in terms of negative impact, he might be number one.

Here are other rookies who played, had an impact, but didn’t make the top 20:

  • Pete Mitchell
  • Willie Jackson
  • Bryan Schwartz
  • Aaron Beasley
  • Donovin Darius
  • Fernando Bryant
  • Micah Ross (the first JU player on the Jaguars roster)
  • Mike Pearson and
  • Tyson Alualu

And who knows where these guys might end up but all have contributed as rookies.

  • Jonathan Cyprien
  • Luke Joeckel
  • Denard Robinson
  • Ace Sanders
  • Luke Bowanko
  • Allen Hurns
  • Brandon Linder
  • Allen Robinson

Did we miss somebody? Let us know your thoughts on twitter with the hashtag #jagstop20 or @sports4jax.

We’ll reveal your thoughts on Jaguars Friday Night at 11:20.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Colts Preview: Race to Maturity Needs to be Fast

No doubt it was a tough week for Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley. After being overwhelmed in Washington, Bradley’s charge was to “fix it” and fix it fast. After giving up 10 sacks, the offensive line was the first place to look. So after looking at video of the game, Bradley announced some changes on the line among the starters and cut Cameron Bradfield, the player who started at right tackle just two days prior.

“It’s hard,” Bradley said this week of making those changes. “Guys come in here, work hard, do what you ask and then things change and you have to do something so yeah, it’s hard. But everybody understands it’s the NFL and we’ll move forward.” It is a harsh reality sometimes that the league is built on performance and if that disappears, so does a playe’rs spot on the team. Bradfield had been a good swing guy for the Jaguars, playing in several spots. But he was obviously beaten on some of those 10 sacks and based on the “accountability” mantra espoused by Bradley; somebody had to be held accountable.

That leaves Sam Young at right tackle, Brandon Linder at right guard, Luke Bowanko at center, Zane Beadles at left guard and Luke Joeckel at left tackle. They have differing amounts of experience but pretty much any way you cut it, the Jaguars are starting four rookies up front.

So where does that put the team in Bradley’s goal of a “Race to Maturity? Agreed, these players have talent and as the head coach has said a couple of times this week, the “look the part.” And they do. At about 6’5″ and 320 at each position, when they stand there, they look the part. But playing the part is a different story. Perhaps if you’re going to have growing pains, why not have them all together. Bradley agreed that there’s a way to look at these guys progressing as a positive.

“They all want to get there fast, and maybe doing it together will create some camaraderie,” the head coach noted when asked if they could all get to maturity together.

Getting their offensive line to play solid and consistent football is a priority for the Jaguars because for what they want to do on offense, without and offensive line doing their job, they can’t get anything done.

Throw the inexperience at wide receiver in the mix and you don’t have much of a chance for production on offense. With Cecil Shorts nursing a hamstring, the team has relied on mostly rookies and second year Mike Brown as the receiving corps. Shorts might return this week and Alan Hurns is also listed as probable. Marquis Lee has already been declared out. So again, not much experience at wide receiver could hurt the passing game performance. Subtract Marcedes Lewis from the equation because of the high ankle sprain, and the who offense remains in question.

So for all of the problems they’ve had in the last six quarters, quarterback Chad Henne has performed as well, if not better than expected. Although he took responsibility for a couple of sacks last week, the pressure Henne has been under has been daunting. Nonetheless, he’s stood in there and for the most part, thrown the ball to the open receiver. He’s had numerous drops, and wrong routes run by receivers but he hasn’t complained, despite the pounding.

Calls to put Blake Bortles in the game are premature, considering the state of disarray the rest of the offense is currently in. Getting something consistent and something you can lean on will allow the coaches to put Bortles in the game to start the process toward what they hope is consistent winning.

“When it’s time to put Blake in the game, you’ll know it,” I said to Bradley during the taping of his show.

“That’s right,” he said, confident that he’ll recognize the right situation.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Lose Game, Ground

If you look at the play sheet from an NFL game, you can pretty easily pick out where the game changes. Usually somewhere in the first half there’s a missed opportunity and somewhere in the second half one team makes a critical play to either stop a drive or keep one going. For the Jaguars you have to go back to their first possession on offense against Washington to see where things changed, immediately. On 2nd and 10 from their own 24, Chad Henne pumped, rolled to his right and saw Alan Hurns running down the sideline, right past the man who was covering him. Hurns was 5 yards in the clear when Henne hit him in stride for a sure 76-yard TD and a 7-0 lead on the road.

Except Hurns dropped the ball.

That lead to a sack, a punt, a momentum shift and zero yards gained in the first quarter. With nothing going on for the offense, the defense was worn out quickly and it was 21-0 Washington before you knew it.

And this was without Robert Griffin III who left in the first quarter with an ankle injury and DeSean Jackson who also left with a shoulder problem.

I didn’t think these kinds of games were still in the Jaguars repertoire. Historically bad, double-digit losses were supposed to be a thing of the past.

A nice throw and catch and a run down the sideline put the Jaguars on the scoreboard 21-7. It was the longest gain of Lewis’ career. But with only 5 first downs through nearly three full quarters, something was amiss on offense. The offensive line was overwhelmed in nearly every situation. No holes open for the run game, and when Henne went to pass, he was under pressure and swamped consistently. Add in a couple of Mike Brown drops and the lack of production isn’t surprising. To succeed, everything has to be “precise” according to Gus Bradley. Without that kind of precision up front on the offensive line, everybody else has to be perfect. And they’re not.

In the 4th quarter we saw Luke Bowanko at center and Sam Young at right tackle. Perhaps that’s the combination the Jaguars need now to have five guys who can just grow together.

“Disappointed rather than embarrassed,” Gus Bradley said after the game. ”

“Disappointed because I know we can make those plays. We just didn’t,” Chad Henne said in his post-game press conference.

Without a running game, Henne was sacked repeatedly.

“You start to know you don’t have much time so we tried to go to the short game and they had that covered. We wanted to throw the ball downfield but didn’t have time for that,” he added.

They didn’t have the kind of improvement you would like to see from week one to week two. “We talk about getting better, we didn’t do that this week,” Bradley explained. “We’ll have to. It’s a race we’re in a race to maturity and we’ve got to get going.”

Marcedes Lewis has a high ankle sprain and was wearing a boot on his left foot as he left the stadium. The Jaguars said Alan Hurns was being “evaluated” after he suffered an injury to his left leg on the second to the last play of the game. His didn’t look good and if Hurns is injured, an already depleted wide receiver corps will need help.

Next week is the first home game of the year for the Jaguars. Indianapolis is the opponent at 1 o’clock.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 ‘Moments

It’s up for debate what the “Top 20 Moments” are in the 20 years the Jaguars have played in the NFL. And actually, some of the moments were before they started playing football at all. There might be even a debate about what the number one moment in team history could be, but we picked the announcement of a team as our number one. After 14 years of pursuing the NFL through “Colt Fever” and the USFL, when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the name “Jacksonville” as the next franchise in the league, it’s as if time stopped for a second or so and the city would never be the same.

Second on our list is the return trip from Denver after beating the Broncos in the Divisional Playoff game in 1996, 30-27 despite being heavy underdogs. At Channel 4 we stayed on the air continuously after the game up until the team returned to Jacksonville. Perhaps because we were on the air and a lot of people were excited and watching, fans spontaneously flocked to the stadium, looking for a communal place to celebrate. City leaders didn’t know what to do, but did the right thing by mobilizing some staff and security and getting the cooperation of the JSO, opened the stadium and turned the lights on. No concessions, no game, just a place to high-five fellow revelers. It must have been some scene from the team charter when they flew over the stadium and rocked their wings in acknowledgement. Fans wouldn’t give up and the team buses brought the players to the stadium for a victory lap around the field. This is a pretty good candidate for the top spot on this list and I could probably be convinced either way.

Without the win in Denver the celebration wouldn’t have happened so the game vs. the Broncos is our third choice. A famous writer in the Denver press box heckled me before the game asking what we were doing there since we were “a USFL team anyway.” I ignored him then (as I do now although he’s risen to unexplained national prominence) but did say after the game walking out of the locker room, “USFL in the Conference Championship game, NFL staying home.” I guess it’s no wonder he hasn’t spoken to me since! (Which is OK) I remember standing on a rooftop in Denver doing live television in about 12 degrees for 4 hours. Our field producer happened to be my boss at the time (he had lived in Denver) and told me to “come inside and warm up.” I was so into it I just said,, “Really? Our team just beat the Broncos and is going to the AFC Title game and I’m coming inside because I’m cold? No!” We both got a laugh out of that in the subsequent years.

I guess most of these “moments” get onto the list because if you’ve followed the Jaguars; you know right where you were when they happened. That’s why Morten Anderson missing the field goal that put the Jaguars in the playoffs in the first place in 1996 occupies the 4th spot. I’ve had so many people over the years say, “I was standing in my seat,” or “I was crossing my fingers screaming from the upper deck,” when they talk about the win over the Falcons here at home. I was part of the “I can’t watch” segment. It’s the only time I’ve ever done that, but I couldn’t bear to watch the dream go away in an instant. That’s why I turned my back on it and stood next to my friend and colleague Todd on the sidelines when Anderson lined up for the chip shot to win it. I remember Todd saying very calmly (the first time) “He missed it.” I was like, “What?!” And then he screamed, “He missed it, he missed it” and jumped up and down with the rest of the people in the stadium.

People still talk about Tony Boselli waving Jason Taylor downfield as the Jaguars beat the Dolphins on national television. It was one of the validations of the teams of the ’90’s. It’s in the top five. In our sixth spot, the playoff win over the Dolphins was such a demolition that the game seemed to be over just when it started. Some think it might be the best home win in franchise history. It ended the careers of both Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson.

In defining a “moment” it’s a pretty nebulous term ,but for this list it’s the times you have seared in your memory of Jaguars history. Driving to the stadium for the first game in 1995 is a memory most people who lived here then will remember whether they were Jaguars fans or not. An NFL game in our city with our team? It’s seemed impossible but there it was, Jaguars vs. Oilers right next to the Green Bay, New England and Pittsburgh scores. It made it real. Mark Brunell’s run against Denver in the win there makes the list at number 8 because it might have been the first time most fans thought, “Hey, this team is hot and pretty good. They might be able to pull this off!”

A few weeks into the inaugural season, the Jaguars win against the Oilers in Houston makes the list as a milestone and a relief that the team wouldn’t go winless in their expansion season. An unproven coach coming out of college with a bunch of expansion castoffs was a complete unknown.

Going to Pittsburgh and beating the Steelers in 2007 was made possible by an improbable run by QB David Garrard. Steeler fans to this day scream “What about the holding” when you bring that play up. That certainly makes it memorable at number ten. Eleventh was hotly debated but the way Josh Scobee ran around the field with his helmet in the air after beating the Colts with a 59 yard field goal in 2010 qualifies. Maybe because the Colts were the Jaguars nemesis at the time, but we thought it belonged here. And ditto for Fred Taylor’s run against the Dolphins to open the scoring. Never really given his due while he was playing, Taylor showed the speed and power that very few backs have for a moment many Jaguars, and Dolphins fans won’t forget.

We put the Jack Del Rio firing and the Wayne Weaver selling the team as one entry, 13th on the list. Weaver had kept his intention to sell the team so quiet that when he fired Del Rio, he didn’t even tell Jack when he sent him home. It wasn’t a surprise that Del Rio was shown the door but in retrospect, firing Jack before he got here was probably one of Shad Khan’s “asks” when the deal was getting done. (Or maybe Weaver just wanted the pleasure of doing it.) It also solidified Jacksonville as the Jaguars home. Despite the constant drumbeat regarding the team moving to LA, the sale to Shad Khan was Weaver’s parting gift to the city. He acknowledged that he had spurned offers from “groups in California” instead opting for Khan and his commitment to keep the team in town. So far, Khan hasn’t done anything to make anybody think to the contrary.

In fact, 14th on the list is one of those wild things that Khan thinks up and then makes happen: World’s largest video boards. New technology, new look, when they were unveiled in July of 2014 it was hard not to be impressed. More than 53,000 showed up in a scene reminiscent of the “old days” where people just liked coming to the stadium to be together. A nice soccer match, a concert and the unveiling were all nice but “being there” was the thing that counted.

Our 15th selection happened on the road, or it might have been higher. Fred Taylor ran all over the Steelers for 275 yards at Three Rivers, the most for an opponent all-time vs. Pittsburgh. At the time, the Jaguars were in the AFC Central and Tom Coughlin had used the Steelers as the gold standard when building his team. Manhandling the vaunted Steeler defense by running it right at them put the Jaguars on the map as a tough, physical team.

Sixteenth is a little obscure and wasn’t seen by many people but everybody who was there says the same thing: “That was really cool.” When Aaron Ross signed with the Jaguars he was the second best athlete in his household. His wife, Sonja Richards Ross was an Olympian and the favorite in the 200 meters in London. Head Coach Mike Mularkey arranged for her race to be shown live on the screens in the stadium and surprised his team with a shortened practice and a walk onto the field to watch. Richards Ross lost the lead in the middle of the race but finished strong to win the gold. Perhaps the best outcome any football coach could have asked for to show his team how to get the job done. Mularkey never got that chance, unlucky again as the Head Coach in the wrong situation. Very cool moment though.

Three plays make the 17-19 spots on the list. Mike Thomas’ catch of the Hail Mary for a TD is still talked about, perhaps mainly because it’s so improbable it generally never happens. If you were at that New Orleans game here and remember it being cold and dank, the lateral filled TD they scored in the games waning moments certainly woke up the crowd. And when John Kearney (who later kicked for the Jaguars) missed the PAT, it was a stunning, head-scratching moment for everybody who was there. And in the Jaguars first appearance on Monday Night Football, it seemed as if the stadium was the center of the universe that night against the rival Steelers. Chris Hudson’s return of a blocked kick for a TD sealed the victory for the Jaguars, but Bill Cowher’s half-step onto the field and the moment you thought he might actually punch Hudson is something considerably memorable.

Tagging on the 20th most memorable moment was debatable between several candidates. Chris Hanson hitting his own leg with an axe in the middle of the locker room while “chopping wood” made the list maybe because it’s so preposterous. When Del Rio put that piece of wood in there to symbolize his whole silly “keep chopping wood” theme for a team that was losing, just about everybody thought it was a bad idea and a disaster waiting to happen. As a self-fulfilling prophecy and a memorable moment, it certainly qualifies.

Our honorable mention moments include the loss to the Titans in the AFC Championship game in 2000. It could have easily been anywhere after the top 4 or 5 on this list but I think it’s still too painful for the Jaguars faithful.

Here’s a look at the list.

  • 1 Getting a team – Tagliabue announcement
  • 2 Return from Denver
  • 3 Beating Denver
  • 4 Anderson Missed Kick
  • 5 Boselli waving on at Jason Taylor
  • 6 62-7 win over Dolphins
  • 7 1st game vs. Houston
  • 8 Brunell Run vs. Denver
  • 9 1st win in Houston
  • 10 Garrard run vs. Pitt
  • 11 Scobee 59 yarder vs. Colts OCT 3 2010
  • 12 Taylor 90-yard run vs. Miami
  • 13 Del Rio firing/Weaver sells team
  • 14 Video Board unveiling
  • 15 Taylor game vs. Pitt
  • 16 Sonja Richards Ross video board watch
  • 17 Mike Thomas Hail Mary
  • 18 Saints lateral and missed PAT (John Kearney)
  • 19 Cowher fake punch on Chris Hudson Sept 12 1997
  • 20 Chris Hanson Chopping wood

Honorable mention:

  • Beating Buffalo in 1996 Playoffs
  • Khan approved by NFL Owners
  • James Stewart 5 TD’s vs. Philadelphia here
  • Jimmy Smith game vs. Baltimore
  • Losing AFC Title game to Titans
Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Fall to Eagles, Learn Lessons

As Eagles fans were just settling in their seats, the Jaguars went to work utilizing some of their off-season acquisitions to some success early in the games. Toby Gerhart carried the ball very effectively, moving the pile and getting positive yardage (although he was stopped on 3rd and 1 on the first drive) and the Jaguars defense was pretty stout against the vaunted Eagles offense. I think people were a little surprised that the Jaguars just didn’t roll over the way they seemed to last year early in games. In fact, after giving up a 3rd and long conversion, the Jaguars’ Chris Clemons sacked Nick Foles and stripped the ball. The Jaguars recovered and took advantage of the turnover with a 34-yard TD from Chad Henne to Alan Hurns to take a 7-0 lead. Again the Jaguars defense was swarming to the ball like we haven’t seen in, well forever, and forced Foles into another fumble. Henne to Hurns again from 21 yards out (and a great catch by Hurns BTW) to make it 14-0 Just over 8 minutes into the game, the boo birds were out in Philadelphia.

They were really booing when Clemons batted Foles’ arm again on third down causing an incomplete pass to give the Jaguars the ball back. This is what the team spent their money on in the off-season and at least early, it’s paying dividends. Nothing compares to pressure on the quarterback. It makes the whole defense work.

A horse collar call on the Eagles gave the Jaguars good field position for a Josh Scobee field goal to make it 17-0 but Toby Gerhardt suffered a sprained ankle on the play. That’s why the horse collar is illegal. Gerhart limped off and had his ankle re-taped.

Again, pressure on Foles, this time by Ryan Davis gave the Jaguars a sack and good field position after the punt. Mike Brown is returning punts for the Jaguars and you figure if over the 4 games before Ace Sanders comes back if they can have no turnovers and some positive yardage, it’s a win on special teams.

An interception in the end zone ended an Eagles drive. The third turnover for the Jaguars and they pushed the ball downfield. Still without a conversion on third down, the usually automatic Josh Scobee missed a 50-yard attempt and had one blocked to hold the Jaguars at 17-0. Jacques McClendon is getting his first start at center and so far he’s struggled with a couple of high snaps and one he couldn’t get off the ground. I’m sure they’re hoping he’ll grow into that spot because they can’t afford those kinds of mistakes. If not, Luke Bowanko will get a chance there.

Grinding away in the second half, the Eagles offense wasn’t gaining a lot of yards but on 4th and short, the Jaguars defense got caught a little slow getting set and Darren Sproles broke a 49 yarder for a TD to make it 17-7.

The rest of the third quarter was all Eagles. The defense fell back into the bad-tackling mode and the offense couldn’t convert on third down. That gave Philadelphia a lot of chances and they converted, tying the game at 17 with 10 minutes to play. And When Foles found Jeremy Maclin running wide open down field; the Eagles had an easy TD and a 24-17 lead.

Missed opportunities in the first half came back to haunt the Jaguars but it also seemed the Eagles made some adjustments at halftime that worked and the Jaguars couldn’t compensate. It wasn’t until midway through the 4th quarter that the Jaguars started running the ball at the line of scrimmage instead of that stretch play. It worked for a while but on 4th down they outsmarted themselves trying to hit Marcedes Lewis in the flat and turned the ball over on downs at their own 30. Muscle up and run the ball there.

A field goal made it 27-17, and a fumble by Henne was run back for a TD giving the Eagles a 34-17 lead.

Lots of flashes of a new team, too often reminders of the old one.

On to Washington next week.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Hotel Domestique: (Almost) Cycling Paradise

Most of my bike trips have been like bohemian adventures: piling in a car with some friends, stops for fast food, a cooler of beer and accommodations just a step above a hostel. So looking at pictures of George Hincapie’s place “Hotel Domestique” in South Carolina was something that didn’t seem real. A luxury hotel that caters to cyclists? I didn’t think such a place existed.

“Pictures don’t do this place justice,” my friend and regular traveling cycling partner Alex said as we drove up from Greenville through Travelers Rest and into the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. “Incredible,” Phil Foreman the owner of Champion Cycling said as we rounded the corner off Highway 25 and got a glimpse of the hotel perched on a hill.

Both are right, the Hotel Domestique is something unique, different, incredible — pictures don’t do it justice. As you see the hotel for the first time it’s as if you left the States all together. Surrounded by rolling hills and sweeping vistas, you’re in Italy. Or Spain. Maybe parts of Croatia. The stone walls, the cinder paths and the architecture of the hotel itself have a distinctly European feel. With thirteen rooms, Hotel Domestique isn’t in line with most small, boutique, luxury hotels when it comes to the common spaces or the rooms. Large sitting areas, fireplaces and comfortable chairs abound inviting you to just sit, relax and enjoy. The back patio overlooks a ridge and is nicely appointed with a reflecting pool complete with fountains for a calming, ambient sound.

The rooms are spacious and well appointed. Available with a king bed or two queens, there’s a nice touch with each room named after a classic European cycling climb. The thirteen rooms cover two floors, with a unique “pantry” on each floor. Hotel guests are welcome to freshly ground coffee, red or white wine, sodas, waters and snacks. There’s even a supply of water bottle additives in multiple flavors. A nice touch.

Bike stands line either side of the front door and the entrance to the cafe as your bike waits whenever you’re ready to ride.

The cycling focus extends to ride planning with the staff drawing on their established base of rides or just mapping a ride out for you and downloading it into your Garmin. You can rent a bike if you like ($50 a day for a full carbon BMC) and it comes equipped with a Garmin with your daily ride loaded and ready to go.

We did rides over four days ranging from 30 to just over 70 miles. Two were into the Greenville Watershed, a protected park setting that involved plenty of climbing and descents with some switchbacks that rivaled just about anything short of Mt. Ventoux. Two other rides headed into the city of Greenville through farmland and neighborhoods, taking advantage of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a Rails to Trails project that gets plenty of use on the weekends. One of the “city” rides included a trip over Paris Mountain, one of the climbs in the US Pro Championship when it was contested there.

While the riding is great and the hotel is beautiful, the crown jewel of the facility is the restaurant, 17. Named after the number of Tour de France appearances Hincape made, 17 has 164 seats, quite a lot compared to the number of guests possible in the hotel. It’s a destination for people in the Greenville/Ashville/Spartanburg area and is considered perhaps the best restaurant within the tri-city area. From the peach risotto to the fried pork rinds, the menu is varied and each dish prepared daily based on what’s locally available. Desserts are equally sumptuous. I even had a chance to spend a few minutes with George Hincape our first night there as he was dining with his family in the main dining room. True to his reputation, he couldn’t be a nicer guy and as often happens in my job, I chuckled to myself standing there speaking with him thinking he couldn’t walk down the street in Paris without being mobbed but here we were left alone to chat about non-stop flights from New York to Greenville.

While Hotel Domestique and “17” are a welcome addition to the cycling scene, they’re not perfect. Being outside of any major metropolitan area and 30 or so miles from Greenville, finding, keeping and training a staff for a new luxury hotel is a bit of a challenge.

When we arrived, we stood at the front desk for about 5 minutes while a staff member lounged on a chair and chatted on the phone. Actually I wasn’t sure he was a staff member by his conversation and body language but eventually figured it out. I know there’s a debate in that industry about nametags. But, if they don’t want to formalize the name tag process, a pin or some other kind of identifying mark would be helpful.

Speaking of helpful, I’m sure it’s somebody’s job to show guests to their room, help with luggage and explain how the hotel “works” but that person wasn’t around during our check in process. I wandered up to my room (Courchevel) dragging my luggage and found it to be very nice and spacious with a very comfortable bed. The bathroom was fabulous. Although listed as a “vineyard view” room, my view was actually more of the parking lot. Alex’s room, by comparison, had sweeping mountain views that exceeded the pictures by any measure.

One of the “promotable” items at Hotel Domestique is “iPads in every room.” The tablets are a replacement for a phone in your room, placed there to connect you to the staff for any issues you might have as well as bike schedules, restaurant reservations etc. It’s a great idea but since a) no staff member explained how it worked and b) the one in my room was dead for two days, I don’t know if it’s an idea that can be executed well or not. I waited for a staff member to recharge my iPad but when that didn’t happen, I took it to the front desk myself. (Same thing for shampoo in my shower that was never replaced)

I know these are little things and perhaps a bit nit-picky but charging luxury hotel prices ($350-$475) per night raises the level of expectation as it lightens your wallet. There’s talk of expanding the facility to include some cottages and a full bike shop. That’ll be a welcome addition. A bike-centric hotel needs somebody in the bike room 7 days a week. Alas, our last two days there we were told were “his days off.”

I’ll definitely go back and my riding buddies said the same. I’m sure the fall and the spring will be prime times for riding and rooms will be at a premium.

We’ll book in advance.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Eagles: It’s What’s Up Front That Counts

While the off season has been full of quarterback and giant video boards talk, the on-field product for the Jaguars this year will be tested in an unglamorous way.

Up front. Both sides.

We can talk about the future for Blake Bortles and whether Chad Henne is the right call all we want. We can debate whether the lack of a real veteran in the wide receiving corps will be exposed by opposing defenses once the regular season starts. And any discussion about the receivers can spark a debate on how the Jaguars spent their draft picks, taking Marquis Lee and Allen Robinson back to back. But any discussion about the success, or lack thereof of the 2014 Jaguars has to start with the offensive and defensive lines.

Acquiring Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Ziggy Hood and Dekoda Watson in the off-season as free agents showed how General Manager Dave Caldwell wanted this 2014 team to perform. Too often last year, double-digit losses early in the season were because when the offense sputtered, the defense couldn’t hold. This season, Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley are hoping the money spent on defensive free agents will keep the Jaguars in games. Bryant and Clemons will start on the defensive line, giving the Jaguars two veteran players who have proven track records. Bryant might be the linchpin, taking up double and triple teams, freeing Clemons, Sen’Derrick Marks and others to beat their man and make a play. At least that’s the plan.

Hood will rotate in and do the same, with the team hoping Watson will have the speed and the instincts to rush the passer when necessary. You might hear the terms “cheetah” and “lightning” thrown around a lot this year in passing situations, both denoting defensive personnel packages designed to get the maximum number of speed players on the field at one time.

The Lone free-agent acquisition on the offensive line is veteran Zane Beadles. Like the defensive newcomers, Beadles is in the prime of his career and has a proven track record. For the Jaguars, he’s the own known quantity up front. Luke Joeckel is technically a second year player and starts at the all-important left tackle spot. But with only 5 games in 2013 before he suffered a season-ending injury, you could call this rookie year 2.0 for Joeckel. He’s already good, worthy of his second overall selection. But he’s not the elite player yet the Jaguars hope he’ll be. The rest of the line is a big question mark. Most coaches admit that linemen in the NFL have a gradual growth in their development. There aren’t any giant leaps forward as there can be with the skill players. So often players are put in situations they’re hoping they’ll grow into. Such is the case of Brandon Linder at right guard. The Jaguars see great “upside” in Linder, so he’s starting right now with the team hoping he grows into the player they think he can be. But he’s not that yet. To his right, Cam Bradfield is a known quantity and a valuable stopgap player until Austin Pasztor returns. But Bradfield isn’t a superstar. And Pasztor is a project in his own right. In the middle, Jacques McClendon won the center job almost by default. Mike Brewster never could perform at the level the Jaguars had hoped he would and McClendon, a guard by trade, was plugged in until Luke Bowanko, a sixth round draft pick, can push himself into the starting lineup.

None of what Toby Gerhardt, Lee, Robinson, Marcedes Lewis or Chad Henne does can be done successfully without the five guys up front getting their job done consistently well. Same thing with Alan Ball, Dwayne Gratz, Jon Cyprien and Winston Guy. Without effective pressure up front and some kind of run stopping force from the D-Line, they’re job is almost impossible.

So watching the game against the Eagles Sunday, look at what’s happening up front. It’ll give you a clue as to what’s going to happen in the back.

And on the scoreboard.