Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars OTA Preview: Questions or Answers?

Over the next three weeks the Jaguars will have their On-field Team activities. Three for this week and next, and four the final week leading up to the summer mandatory mini-camp in mid-June. As of now, none are open to the public but the Jaguars have said they’re working up a schedule for the mini-camp and when fans can attend.

With 90 players on the roster, the Jaguars will give a look to a lot of players as the turnover in the league almost guarantees that there will be 20 new players on the opening day 53-man roster. With the team active in free agency, it appears they could have six new starters just from the players they signed. Add TJ Yeldon and perhaps another draft pick in the starting lineup and last year’s 3-win team will look totally different. This year the Jaguars will have no less than 20 rookies on the field for the OTA’s.

In these workouts we’ll see a lot of players in new positions as Gus Bradley and the coaching staff looks to upgrade wherever they can.

One spot they’re set at is quarterback with Blake Bortles entering his second year. He’s learning a new offense but fulltime work in the offseason at “quarterbacking” is something Bortles says he really enjoyed. “I didn’t have to worry about getting into a three-point stance and learn how to run a 40,” he told me recently. “I got to work on quarterback stuff, and that was cool.”

Bortles worked in the offseason in California with noted quarterback coaches and we’ll see some of the fruit of his investment in this OTA. Last year his ball fluttered and he was a little unsteady at this time but 2015 should show a whole new Bortles. He organized some informal passing camps in California while he was working there so he built some reps with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marquis Lee.

Those three receivers have to make a big leap this year if the Jaguars passing game is to improve. Robinson has to stay healthy, Lee has to get off to a faster start and Hurns has to catch the ball more consistently. Receivers coach Jerry Sullivan said he thought they gave Lee “too much, too soon” last year, but that should fade away, despite a new offense. They do need another receiver and whether he comes from somebody on the roster or somebody who will eventually available is still up in the air.

While you can’t tell much without any pads on, I’m curious to see how AJ Cann looks among other professional linemen. Cann is big, fast, athletic and smart. But he might be a bit a project for the Jaguars. Nonetheless, his story could be intriguing.

We’ll look for how they get Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis on the field at the same time and who’s getting most of the reps in the backfield. Yeldon is penciled in as the starter and general manager Dave Caldwell said keeping five running backs is not out of the question since they won’t have a fullback on the roster this year. Toby Gerhart is hoping last year was an anomaly when it comes to injury and Denard Robinson will get some time as a kick returner. Both Bernard Pierce and Storm Johnson will have to impress in a lot of ways to make this roster.

And perhaps one intangible is going to be hard to figure out in these practices. Losing Dante Fowler for the year before he even got started certainly had a sobering effect on the rookie mini-camp and we’ll see if it’s a hangover in the next three weeks. While the Jaguars haven’t signed an edge rusher to replace Fowler’s spot, they could be looking at their roster or at the waiver wire in the next couple of months. That could be answered in the next three weeks.

And in the defensive backfield have they found the answers? Between free agency and the draft as well as players returning from injury, the Jaguars know who they expect to start back there. But that was the same situation last year and it played out differently.

What they’re hoping is this OTA period produces some answers, not more questions.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Fowler wins Players

It took a finish of historic proportions to crown a winner at the 2015 Players Championship. To start, Rickie Fowler played the last four holes in 5 under par, lower than any player in the history of the tournament at the Stadium Course to finish at -12. There were still plenty of players on the golf course who could tie or beat him with birdies down the stretch. Fowler bogeyed the 10th hole to fall to -6 and probably figured he was out of it. But starting at 13, Rickie played the next six holes in -6 going birdie, par, birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie to take the lead in the clubhouse. He signed his scorecard and headed to the back range to stay loose.

Birdieing the 17th hole for the 5th time in the 6 tries this week, Fowler won the Players on the 4th playoff hole, beating Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner by making a 5-footer for the title.

“I had a perfect yardage on 17 today, a choke down gap wedge so it was just a matter of hitting it.”

When I mentioned that he had made 5 birdies in 6 tries this week Fowler grinned and said, “Yeah, like I said, I played 17 pretty good this week.”

Meanwhile, Garcia had played the front side in 33 strokes and had the outright lead until a bogey on 14 left him two back. He then birdied 16 and rolled in a monster putt on 17 to go to -12. He had a chance on 18 but settled for par and a spot in the playoff. And Kisner was two back before birdies on 16 and 17 and a miss on 18 earned him the third spot in 3-hole playoff. It’s the first three-man playoff at the Players since it was across the street at Sawgrass Country Club. In the final year there, 1981, Raymond Floyd parred the first playoff hole, 15, to beat Curtis Strange and Barry Jaeckel for the title.

Garcia parred all three holes in the playoff but was eliminated when Fowler and Kisner birdied 17. “It was another great week at the Players. It’s been a little bit of a funny year for me. I saw a lot of positive things here and I hope to take those with me for the rest of the season.”

Kisner played well and thought he had won it on the 72nd hole. “I thought I made it the first time on 18. But I’ll have my chances. Nobody’s going to give it to you. These guys are great players. I was in one a few weeks ago,(at Hilton Head) so I’ll have my chances.”

There were some low scores earlier in the day in the final round, but the golf course changed as the afternoon wore on, got more difficult and bunched the field. Rory Sabbatini shot 69 to finish at -9 and said it felt like a big time tournament on Sunday afternoon. “I think this is what you expect here. This is what we’re accustomed to, seeing this course really show its teeth.

World Number one Rory McIlroy posted another 70 and admitted he was frustrated again. “It’s just that sort of course. No one is going low. I’m three behind the leader (at the time) and that’s coming off feeling like I’ve left between five and 10 shots out there this week.”

Local resident Billy Horschel said a camera click in his back swing threw him off his game on the second nine. Horschel said it was an older lady and he spoke to her but he couldn’t recover, bogeying 10 and 11. “I took the club back and I was always afraid there was going to be a camera click.” Horschel finished at -7 with birdies on 16 and 17.

Although he never contended this week, Tiger Woods said his game is coming around as he preps for the US Open in June. After an even par 72 in the final round that included 5 birdies and a triple bogey on 14, he says he’s getting better with each round. “Look where I was at on the West Coast and where I’m at now. So let’s just keep progressing, keep putting the pieces together, keep chipping away at it.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

McElroy vs. Speith: Rivalry or Not?

“Not really. As long as I’m one of them, the other can be whoever it is. I don’t mind.”

That was World Number One Rory McElroy’s answer to a question about his budding rivalry with the number two-ranked player and Masters champion Jordan Speith.

Does golf need that kind of rivalry? Arnold vs. Jack. Jack vs. Watson. Tiger vs. Phil.

“Not really, because it’s been, like last year it was Rickie, this year it’s Jordan, might be someone else, could have been Tiger. It’s sort of, you know, there’s been four or five rivalries over the past year. So it’s not, it doesn’t really do anything for me,” McElroy explained amid chuckles and laughter from the assembled media.

So while the top ranked player in the world seems rather blasé about who’s behind him in the world rankings, Speith said it’s not a rivalry yet since McElroy is the clear-cut number one.

“I know that he is as far ahead of me as I am with the next eight guys,” Speith explained. “So with that being said, it’s kind of anybody’s game to get up there and make it interesting with him.”

Speith might be a bit modest with green jacket in hand at 21-years old. But he does have a stated goal of being ranked number one and seems to understand the work that it’ll take to get there.

“I mean he moved even further away from it really being what I would consider a budding rivalry right now. I could certainly appreciate if I could get to where he’s at, but right now I don’t see myself there.”

McElroy, Speith and Jason Day play together in the morning (8:39 on the 10th tee) on Thursday, giving the fans and the television audience a look at both of them together for the first time since Speith’s victory at the Masters.

“I’m very excited about the pairing for Rory and Jason, “I Jordan said this morning. “I’ve really, really enjoyed my time playing with both of them. I’ve been paired with them first couple rounds quite a few times, and in other rounds, too. I really haven’t battled it out on the weekend with either one of them. Two obviously extremely accomplished players and guys I look up to, couple of the nicest guys out here. Yeah, I mean it’s going to be a really, really cool scene out there.”

Meanwhile McElroy said he’s not going to be looking around at Speith or Day when he tees it up on Thursday.

“Honestly, I’m pretty much paying attention to myself out there when I’m just sort of trying to get myself around the golf course, and regardless of who I play with, that doesn’t really change,” he noted. “I’ll notice it because there’s going to be a bit more buzz around the group and a bit more excitement. But to me I’m out there and I’m focusing on my own game and trying to do the best that I can.”

While Jordan was eliminated from the Match Play and headed to Las Vegas to see the Mayweather-Pacquio fight, McElroy stuck around to win the event, then stayed in San Francisco to celebrate his birthday. He then flew to Orlando and arrived at the Stadium Course this afternoon to play nine holes and be ready for tomorrow.

Speith is a big fan of the course, McElroy is lukewarm toward it. Both have great respect for each other.

So what part of the other’s game would each like to have?

“I’d like to hit it as far as he does,” Speith said of McElroy’s prodigious length.

McElroy’s answer to the same question?

“I guess putting. He’s obviously been putting phenomenally well over the past few months. I think that’s been a big thing for him. You look at the putts that’s holed and the putts that he’s holed when he needed to. That’s been a big reason why he’s done so well.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

TJ Yeldon “Need Met Best Player Available” for Jaguars

From the 2nd through the 7th round you could call it the “scouts draft” as teams mine for players who have what Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell calls “tremendous upside.” Alternating between the 3rd and the 4th pick for the rest of the draft, the Jaguars need more hits than misses and with only 7 picks this year, consistently building the team through the draft means most of the 2015 class needs to make, and stay on the Jaguars roster.

“Offensive Line, Defensive Line and Quarterback,” Caldwell said after taking Dante Fowler in the first round. He followed his own philosophy, following Luke Joeckel and Blake Bortles with the edge pass rusher the Jaguars so desperately need.

In the second round they had a lot of options and decided on running back TJ Yeldon from Alabama. Yeldon is one of those guys who can run between the tackles but also can get to the outside. He’s different than any other back on the roster. Denard Robinson, Toby Gerhardt, Storm Johnson, Bernard Pierce and now Yeldon gives the team a very different selection process in the backfield. General Manager Dave Caldwell revealed that the Jaguars wouldn’t have a fullback on the roster this year, allowing them to keep five running backs. And that Robinson will have some kick return duties.

It’s not just about running the football. Protecting Blake Bortles will be a key ingredient in who stays and who goes. Read defenses, stopping linebackers, returning kicks and catch the ball out of the backfield will all be part of the decision making for Gus Bradley and company.

“His size, his foot quickness, his vision and three down ability. He has the size to be a good pass protector,” Caldwell said when asked why pick Yeldon in such a high spot. The Jaguars GM had said running backs were available in the “5th or 6th round” in this draft but instead took Yeldon at 36.

“Need met best player available in this situation,” Caldwell said shortly after making the pick. “He feels the first level while he’s looking at the second level,” he added. While the Jaguars had decided on Yeldon last night, they were willing to entertain offers for their pick but Caldwell said teams stopped calling once Landon Collins was selected.

“He’s somewhere between Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy. He has Lacy’s size and can get skinny in a hole.” Caldwell explained.

Gus Bradley agreed that Yeldon is a multi-purpose back with football smarts.

“He can make spontaneous decisions. Intelligence isn’t about the Wunderlic. He makes the right decisions. It comes natural.” Bradley said.

And it’s apparent they want to plug him into the lineup right away. “We see him as a three down back. Runs hard, makes people miss, catches the ball really well,” according to Bradley.

Yeldon had a fumble problem two years ago but Bradley says, “Fumbles can be addressed. When you meet him you’ll see. Very settled.”

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban said, “I think you’ll be really pleased,” to Bradley when he asked about Yeldon.

“He’s the opposite personality than Dante,” Bradley laughed when asked about his demeanor. “Thoughtful, you guys (the media) won’t get much out of him.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Draft Day Two: Now the Real Work Begins

Day One of the NFL Draft is all about the hype and the hoopla, the guessing and the second-guessing. Fans are engaged, bright lights capture every prospect and the now-traditional hug between a draftee and Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken on a life of it’s own.

Now the real work starts.

From the 2nd through the 7th round you could call it the “scouts draft” as teams mine for players who have what Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell calls “tremendous upside.” Alternating between the 3rd and the 4th pick for the rest of the draft, the Jaguars need more hits than misses and with only 7 picks this year, consistently building the team through the draft means most of the 2015 class needs to make, and stay on the Jaguars roster.

“Offensive Line, Defensive Line and Quarterback,” Caldwell said after taking Dante Fowler in the first round. He followed his own philosophy, following Luke Joeckel and Blake Bortles with the edge pass rusher the Jaguars so desperately need.

Now there are a lot of different directions the Jaguars could go and several talented players that will be available at the top of the second round when the Jaguars are on the seven-minute clock in Chicago. The problem is, the most talented players have some baggage that tends to have the Jaguars shy away from those issues.

They’re missing a traditional free safety and although Landon Collins from Alabama has played some of that position in college, he’s a more traditional strong safety, a spot Jonathan Cyprien currently holds. At some point they’ll have to figure this position out, and perhaps they think Collins can develop pass coverage skills.

At wide receiver, they’re still waiting word on Justin Blackmon but as Caldwell says “he’d be a luxury” if he’s reinstated and who knows how long he’d stay eligible. Jalen Strong from Arizona State is a popular WR pick here but Dorial Green-Beckham from Oklahoma is perhaps a better player. Green-Beckham has some serious red flags regarding his character so he might not even be on the Jaguars draft board. “If there were nine last year,” Caldwell said when asked about players who were a no-go, “there’s more this year.

They’d probably like to take an offensive lineman here, but La’el Collins from LSU is part of a murder investigation. He’s first round talent. TJ Clemmins from Pitt could be a possibility.

Beefing up the linebacking corps is a priority and with first round talent Randy Gregory on the board, they’d have to make a decision regarding consistent drug use that he’s admitted to. Perhaps Eric Kendricks from UCLA is on their radar.

And following Caldwell’s statement that you “can’t have enough big bodies,” defensive line is clearly on their board. Owa Odighizuwa from UCLA and Eddie Goldman from FSU will both go somewhere in the top of the second round.

While they have holes and depth issues all over the field, the most glaring hole is at running back. With both Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon gone in the first round, Tevin Coleman from Indiana is rated around this spot by most teams. They might think that Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson can carry the load with Bernard Pierce pushing for a roster spot, but they need more than the RB’s on the squad.

It’s a big of a puzzle with moving parts as the Jaguars look at players like WR Greg Jennings in free-agency to see of he brings something to the field and the locker room that a rookie can’t. Same at running back.

Plenty of choices for the Jaguars to trust their scouts and their instincts.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Take Fowler for Talent, Effort, Need

For the first time in their tenure running the Jaguars, General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley opened themselves up to some criticism and questions regarding the pick of Dante Fowler with the third selection in 2015. Caldwell said he knew whom the best player in the draft was and if he were available, he’d take him. Without fielding very many offers (as noted by the speed they turned the pick in) the Jaguars decided that Fowler, and not Leonard Williams from USC and Daytona Beach, was the best player.

“Because he’s physical and he’s tough, he’s a three down player and he loves the game. He’s a good fit in our scheme,” Caldwell said shortly after selecting Fowler.

Williams was the consensus pick as the best player, but for the Jaguars, an edge rusher was more important than another “big body” inside. And they had him rated higher on their board.

“We can use him inside if we need to because he’s so physical,” Caldwell added. “There were some guys who liked Leonard Williams but we signed Jared Odrick in the off season and edge rushers are hard to find. We looked forward to next year and there aren’t many edge rushers available.”

Last year, Sen’Derrick Marks was the sack leader for the Jaguars and he’s a defensive tackle. Fowler can do a lot of different things between putting his hand down and rushing the passer or playing outside and getting into the backfield from there. “He loves football, it’s important to him,” Gus Bradley said following Caldwell to the podium. ” He practices hard, he plays hard. We talked to his coaches. His physicality on the field jumps out at you.”

He’s not particularly big for a lineman, so expect the Jaguars to use him in their “Leo” position, rushing the passer, dropping into coverage and setting the edge against the run when he has to. “He can be a three down player,” Bradley added. “It’s a different level when he sets the edge. When he sets the edge, there’s no lateral movement.”

And in the Bradley mold, Fowler jumped out as early as last year when they started looking for their top pick in this draft.

“His effort stood out. We’re not coaching effort right away, we can coach technique right away.” “Looking at that spot, it’s about speed. He’s 260 lbs. and runs a 4.6. That’s a different thing.”