Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Can Tiger Come Back, Again?

Last week Tiger Woods’ golf swing was almost unrecognizable. He working with a new “swing consultant” on some different positions and swing thoughts but whatever it is, it doesn’t look like the Tiger Woods I know. And to compound his problems, Woods’ back tightened up during a weather delay in San Diego and because his “glutes wouldn’t engage” he withdrew from the tournament.

While he says it’s not related to his back surgery, Tiger also announced on Wednesday that he’s taking a leave of absence from the game until he can play at the level he thinks is suitable. “I want to play at Honda,” Tiger explained via his website, “It’s in my hometown but unless I can compete to win it’s not fair to anybody. I won’t be there unless my game is ‘Tournament Ready.'” Woods didn’t give a timetable for his return but rather said he was just going to “play at Medalist (his club in Hobe Sound) and work on my game.”

Woods recently said he’s looking at some video of his swing from his early days and back all the way to his time as a junior player. Tiger played here as a junior, winning the US Amateur at the Stadium Course in 1994 as a student at Stanford. He was a tall, lanky, supple young player who played more by feel than anything else. He had prodigious power, but his short game and feel for his irons were far superior as a whole to anybody in the field. So going back 20 years to look at his swing could help, unless the equipment changes in the last two decades have been so dramatic that it would take a different swing to get the same results. Consider this: The driver Tiger uses now has a head twice the size but half as light as the one he used in 1995 (A King Cobra). It is also two inches longer and has a graphite shaft. Club technology has made a lot of good players and perhaps has eliminated the possibility of great ones.

This week I talked to World Golf Hall of Fame selectee Mark O’Meara about Tiger’s struggles. O’Meara was famously Tiger’s tutor about things on the PGA Tour, taking him under his wing as they both lived and played at Isleworth in Orlando.

“I know him,” Mark said with a smile, “And he’ll work hard to get back. Some people have said he can’t, which will just fuel him to prove them wrong.”

Admittedly, Woods is a phenomenal athlete but perhaps his commitment to fitness is one of the reasons his body is breaking down so often. The violence in his swing and the torque created is putting a strain on his both that apparently can’t take it at 39 the way it could at 19.

Nick Faldo has pointed that out in the last few weeks, saying that all athletes lose some of those things as they get older. “It’s just a fact of time. He’s going to have to change his swing, back off a bit I think, in order to compete regularly out here and stay healthy.”

As you watch Tiger in person and on television, even without an untrained eye you can see things are “out of sync.” He looks like he’s unfolding at different intervals, trying to find the right timing. O’Meara believes in swing coaches and help, but also said it could be a bit of “over-analysis.”

“You’re an athlete: just hit it!” Mark said at the end of the conversation. “Stop thinking about where the bottom is and what the swing plane might be and hit it.”

I do believe Tiger will be back and will be competitive again. He’s too good of an athlete and has just enough athletic arrogance to make that happen. But I also believe it’ll take a combination of all of the above for him to be successful. He’ll have to take Faldo’s advice and back off a bit. He’ll have to listen to O’Meara and go back to some feel instead of analysis. And I think he’ll have to modify his game for the modern equipment.

Does that lead to wins and possibly Majors? One thing his now going up against is a deep field of players who have no fear, particularly of him, and equipment that has brought a lot of “contenders” into the picture.

He’ll have to be better than ever.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars New Assistants: Experienced, Upbeat

As the new assistant coaches filed into the “Media Lobby” each one exuded the high energy, “Lets get this done” attitude that Gus Bradley is famous for. Bradley often talks about things being a “good fit” and reiterated that today when talking about hiring different offensive assistants in the last couple of weeks.

“Can you all work in the right direction? That’s what I was looking for in the interview process.”

Bradley said there are things about the football business that aren’t pretty when it comes to putting your staff together year in and year out. Bringing in Kelly Skipper as the running backs coach means he had to tell Terry Richardson he wasn’t working with the Jaguars any longer.

“Its just part of the business. Greg (Olson the new offensive coordinator) felt strongly about Skipper so we made that change. Terry did a great job for us but that’s just part of the business.”

Bradley noted that Richardson almost immediately had a new job at the University of Maryland as their running backs coach.

Hiring Greg Olson put some changes on the offensive staff in motion. Doug Marrone came in as the new Offensive Line coach and added assistant head coach to his title as well. Olson wanted Nathaniel Hackett as his quarterbacks coach so Frank Scelfo was pushed to a job called Senior Offensive assistant.

Marrone was the puzzling hire, not because he’s not the right guy but opting out of the head coaching job in Buffalo after an ownership change and landing as a position coach in Jacksonville didn’t seem to make any sense. Bradley said he didn’t ask Marrone why he left Buffalo. “I sensed a lot of humility in him.” Marrone was asked why he left Buffalo and said he didn’t have anything else lined up.

“It was a three or four day window and we made a family decision to leave and ended up here.” When I asked Marrone if he had settle in yet he said “absolutely.” Apparently his wife has some family in town.

As each assistant paraded through, I asked them about Gus’ commitment to the culture he’s trying to create here.

“You feel it as soon as you walk in the building,” Skipper said.

“It runs through everybody,” an excited Hackett blurted out. “I’ve only been here three days but I can hear it from everybody.”

Marrone admitted that the kind of environment Bradley has created doesn’t exist on every staff. “It’s great,” he said when asked about his input. “You owe it to the team to give your input and Gus welcomes that. You have to hear from everybody: sometimes you’re the guys who has to make the decision but taking input is important.” Interesting perspective from a guy who’s been a head coach and sees how he thinks this thing can work.

Bradley’s adjustments on his staff have brought a lot of experience and new ideas to the table. It’ll be the third playbook in four years for the Jaguars offensive players and although Gus has been looking for developmental coaches, he knows that making the players on the roster better now is a priority because winning games is going to be the barometer soon.

“We’re not going to run the Raiders offense or the Bills offense, ” Olson said echoing Bradley’s thought about where they’re headed on offense. We’re going to find out what Blake’s good at, what we can do and build around that.”

Bradley admitted that he thinks, “We need to run the ball. We missed some opportunities. We need repetition.” But he also acknowledged it has to happen fast. “A lot of work in a short time. Look at our current players, free agents, the draft. We’re working on all that.”

Bortles is working out in California, something Olson thinks is important. “He’s working with Drew Breese, Aaron Rodgers, he’s learning how to be a pro.” Bortles has plenty of company in California among his Jaguars teammates. And although the coaches can’t talk football with the players until April, it’s not keeping the players away from the stadium or working out. Thirty players showed up on Wednesday morning for lifting and a complete workout.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Fisher on FSU Signees: “Big, Powerful”

At Florida State, Jimbo Fisher has gotten to the point where he’s filling spots to keep the Seminoles at a championship level, not rebuilding. FSU is among the top five schools this year when it comes to the quality of athlete they’ve signed.

“Very unique group as far as character. I think there’s a lot of intelligence in this group, I think there’s a lot of leadership.”

He did have a unique perspective on judging how this recruiting class plays. “Don’t judge them on the first year, the second year. Let those guys develop. We’ve got them ranked high, which ones will play? I don’t know. Let’s put them in situations to be successful.”

FSU’s class only had four offensive linemen but that didn’t bother the chief Seminole. “Numbers don’t always get me. It’s quality, not quantity. You’ve got to get guys who can play.”

The ‘Noles did go for big that’s for sure. Cole Minshew is 6’4″ 350lbs. David Robbins is 6’4″ 327. “Very athletic, powerful, big. Now that can be unbelievable.”

Fisher also signed Josh Sweat to FSU even though he suffered an ACL tear in the middle of his senior year as a defensive end in Chesapeake, Virginia.. Sweat is an athlete that can play anywhere at 6’5″ and 245 and runs a sub 4.5. He was considered perhaps the best player in the country before his injury. “He can play wideout and looks like Kelvin Benjamin. He’s so effective, he can affect the quarterback and come off the edge standing up or with their hand in the dirt.” Sweat won’t be available for spring practice but he is already enrolled at FSU and working with their training staff. “He’s on time, he does every workout, he’s got a little ways to go but he’ll be fine.”

Enrolling early in school is a big plus in Jimbo’s mind when it comes to a recruit’s commitment. Eight of the Seminoles class of 2015 is already in school. “It says that he’s very committed to his craft.” He gave up a lot of his nights at home and a lot of his summer school. I tell our kids, ‘You actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.’ They all say it’s important to them. These guys have been willing to pay that price.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators’ McElwain Gains Momentum

About a month ago it seemed as if Florida was getting pity from every corner of the college football nation. The hiring of Jim McElwain had put Florida behind in the whole process. But slowly and surely, McElwain hired a staff that knew the state and could get places where Florida hadn’t been in a while.

“I think our guys worked their tail off getting out there and getting to as many places as we could and breaking some doors down,” he said this afternoon in Gainesville.

Florida built some momentum and the signings of Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson put the Gators into a spot on the recruiting list that they never thought they be in at this point. From somewhere in the middle of the pack, Florida has vaulted into the top 25 and perhaps even higher. McElwain deserves most of the credit for putting together a staff that could understand recruiting in the state and he leaned on his experience doing the same when he was an assistant at Louisville.

He was quick to point out that it was more than just playing ability that he considers a fit for Florida. “Fit the character mode, the leadership mode that we were looking for as we built this class.”

Florida did not sign a quarterback but McElwain said he’s holding a few scholarships for late commitments. But he added he likes the quarterbacks on the current roster. “Obviously it’s a position that you recruit every year. I feel really good about our quarterbacks.”

McElwain said he leaned on his experience putting together a “transition” recruiting class at Colorado State. Even though he was without a wide receivers coach who he says will be joining the Gators shortly.

As usual, McElwain had his sense of humor intact, especially when talking about players de-committing and “flipping.”

“Hey Coach, you got a silent verbal,” he explained as some of the language recruits use during the process. “I believe that’s an oxymoron, is it not? You guys (the media) call them commitments, I think maybe reservations is probably the way to put it.”

And the Gators head coach admitted that because of social media there’s a lot more attention paid to the process. “It’s been a lifelong deal. It just happens to be maybe a little more pizzazz today than it was years ago.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Signing Day is now HUGE!

Plenty of things have changed when it comes to National Signing Day. First of all, there wasn’t even a National Signing Day and nobody knew anything about recruiting except for a couple of reporters and every college coach in the country. Most fans didn’t know and didn’t much care either. Up until about 50 years ago, if you lived in Florida and you were a good football player, you were going to Florida. There was a color barrier in the South, so the civil rights movement integrated schools and football teams alike. Players whose only option had been historically black colleges now had other choices.

As college football grew, Florida State and Miami started to take their share of fringe players but the Gators had the run of the state. A few guys went to Georgia from North Florida and some from the Panhandle headed to Alabama or Auburn. And Notre Dame had their pick. With no limit on scholarships, Bear Bryant, Ara Parsegian and others perfected the scenario of recruiting all of the best players in they could. If they could get the ten best quarterbacks, they’d take them all and play one, ensuring the nine others didn’t go somewhere else and try to beat him. The NCAA started to restrict the number of scholarships allowed in 1973 and with all of the blue-chip athletes coming out of the state of Florida the Gators, Hurricanes and Seminoles couldn’t accommodate them all so they started going elsewhere.

But things started to change as television expanded a school’s appeal. With games on Saturday afternoon nationwide, everybody knew about the Crimson Tide and the Trojans of USC, Texas, Michigan and Ohio State. Then regional broadcasts made different schools, closer to home a reality. But as the money expanded and coaches like Bobby Bowden and Howard Schnellenberger moved into the state, recruiting became the lifeblood of every program. Bowden made the Seminoles a national presence and brought players in from all over. Schnellenberger drew a line from Daytona to Tampa and called anything south of that the “State of Miami.” He knew the level of talent in the state and declared everybody the property of the Hurricanes.

In 1990 when Florida hired Steve Spurrier, he said at his opening press conference that winning the recruiting battle in the state was paramount to any success the Gators might have. Vince Dooley used the Bulldogs appearance in Jacksonville every year to keep Georgia’s presence in the minds of local coaches and players.

Cable television diversified where players started going and as more and more schools ramped up their programs like Georgia Southern, and a variety of Florida schools, (FAU, USF etc.) more and more players had their choice instead of the other way around.

And then the Internet changed everything. With it a whole industry emerged surrounding college recruiting from predicting where players would go to places like the HIT Center in town creating combine like workouts for athletes to work on their skills to be more attractive to college scouts.

So as the day progresses on Wednesday and there are constant reports about who won and who didn’t get anybody, remember, it’s an inexact science at best.

Before the whole thing exploded in the ’80’s two running backs created a stir like no others in back-to-back years. When Emmitt Smith was coming out of high school, the phone on my desk rang about every 2 minutes or so all day with somebody asking where he was going to go play college football. The next year, Marquette Smith was a 12th grader and my phone rang every 30 seconds or so asking the same question. Emmitt went on to Florida, was an All America selection, a first round NFL pick and onto a Hall of Fame pro career (although he never mentioned the Gators in his induction speech). Marquette went to FSU and elsewhere, his career ending early.

An inexact science at best.

We’ll have full coverage on New4Jax.com all day. We’ll be at more than a dozen local high schools where the announcements will be made and the signings announced. Follow us on twitter @News4Jax for instant updates as well.