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.