Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley On Bortles: Keep It Simple

It was a myriad of emotions for Gus Bradley and the Jaguars after losing to the Patriots and looking at how it happened. Discouraged, disappointed and frustrated is what Bradley talked about in the 24 hours following the blowout.

“There’s some frustration, I would say.” Bradley noted on Monday. “I told the team that’s a good thing and shows that they’re invested. Attitude is great, but just wanted to get it right.”

After three years of building the roster and declaring it “built” going into 2015, everybody, inside the organization and out, thought the team would be competitive in any situation this year. Obviously that didn’t happen against New England as the Patriots scored on nine consecutive drives and did not punt once during the game.

“I think we have to get back to who we are, and I think that’s the biggest thing that we talked about. We tried to do too much. Guys were trying to make plays, trying to overanalyze things. I think when you start doing that, you try to make plays, you do things that are uncharacteristic that you don’t do normally, that’s when the score can get like it is.”

Maybe that’s a hallmark of a young team. Maybe the Patriots and Tom Brady are just that good. But whatever it is, the Jaguars have to figure out how to not let it happen again. Too often in the last three years the score was so lopsided it appeared the Jaguars were out of their league. With the draft picks selected, the experienced gained and the free agents acquired this off-season, that kind of rout shouldn’t happen. Bradley’s coaching style, allowing the players to be empowered, somehow hasn’t translated across the whole team in big game situations. Blake Bortles interception under two minutes before the half was a turning point in the game but it shouldn’t have lead to the runaway final score.

Bradley agrees. “I think what’s disappointing is that we didn’t go out there and play up to our capabilities and make plays when we had opportunities. Things were falling into place that kept us in the situation where we were in striking zone. Then, it fell apart at the end of the first half.”

Still, the Jaguars Head Coach is unwavering in his conviction. “Stay true to the principles. Stay true throughout and let’s see what takes place. Once we see that, now we can fix some things.”

In the comparison between Blake Bortles and Tom Brady, the 16 years of experience in the same offense for Brady was evident. Maybe to compare the two is unfair. Perhaps comparing any quarterback to Brady is unfair. He was precise, decisive and accurate against the Jaguars.

Bradley is confident in Bortles and likes everything about him: his toughness, his willingness to learn and his physical ability. But he also knows Bortles is a second year player.

“I think sometimes what we have to guard against is keep the simple things simple. I think that refers to him (Bortles) mostly when I’m talking about the offense. He needs not to make it as complicated as he wants to make it. I think some of the reads he’s just got to trust his progression, simple things like let’s get the tight end involved, let’s get Marcedes more involved; OK, he went away from his reads and really honed in on getting Marcedes the ball. Those lessons I think he’s learning right now is to say, ‘although we make an emphasis let’s try to get the tight ends involved and take pressure off the offense you’ve still got to follow through with the progression,’ and I think that’s what he learned with this game.”

And Bradley also knows his team is still searching for an identity. In his mind, he knows what he wants it to be.

“I think we want that personality an as offense, defense and special teams to be aggressive. Aggressive doesn’t mean on defense zero pressure or on offense ten shots in a row. It just means be aggressive, show faith in our players and stand behind them. It was similar last week and in this week.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: “Our Margin is Tight”

From his comments in his post-game interview yesterday, it sounded very familiar for Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley. He was adamant about his team’s ability to bounce back and how much learning would come from watching the video of the Patriots 51-17 thumping of his team.

Reading those comments was one thing. Seeing his expression as he spoke was another. Bradley was not happy one bit. While the words were familiar, his expression was not. He was a bit perplexed, admittedly discouraged but short of saying he was mad, let’s just say he wasn’t happy.

At Monday’s press conference after seeing the video of the loss, Bradley wasn’t any less happy but did see some things that surprised him.

“What as disappointing was we didn’t play up to our capabilities. From 23-3 onward, we got out of character,” he explained.

That’s something that has happened in the last three years on a Bradley coached team. No matter how much he stresses “Do you job” when things start going downhill, the players start to try and do too much and things get really out of hand.

Bradley knows his team has to play well to win a game in the NFL and nearly perfect to beat one of the top teams. He admits not only did the Jaguars not play well, they got away from who they are and what they’re capable of doing.

“Our margin of error right now is tight,” is how he explained what happened as things started to unravel. From a less talented team three years ago, Bradley know that even at their best, they were still going to take their lumps. But this year, while their best might not compete in the NFL at the highest level, it should make them competitive every week, even against a team as experienced and as talented as New England.

“Biggest thing for this week is get back to who we are,” Bradley said. Whoever is in there, get back to who we are.” That’s a reference to the injury situation for the Jaguars who might have 22 starters who can compete every week, but with the rash of injuries here in the first quarter of the season, they’ll rely on what limited depth they have. This week they’ll evaluate Luke Joeckel, Andre Branch, Julius Thomas and Dwayne Gratz, all starters who haven’t seen action in a couple of weeks. Thomas hasn’t played since the first preseason game.

It was impressive to see the character of the team on display between week one and week two. They were a “no-show” against Carolina but were able to regroup in week two and beat the Dolphins.

“They are a prideful group. We will come back,” he said of his team’s resiliency. “I know how they will respond. No doubt they will come ready to play.”

They’ll need that kind of attitude this week as they go on the road to Indianapolis and Tampa Bay as part of this three-week road stretch of the schedule.

We’ll have full coverage on News4Jax and 6 and again on Jaguars All-Access with Ryan Davis as our guest.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Patriots Maul Jaguars

In his 16th year in the league and in the same offensive system, 38-year old Tom Brady is better than ever. Have you noticed when Brady goes back to pass that when he throws the ball, you’re expectation as somebody watching is that a Patriots receiver will snap it up. There are few quarterbacks in history that you have that feeling about when the ball leaves his hand.

That’s why it was no surprise when Brady took the Patriots on their first possession down the field for a TD, making it look a little too easy to grab a 7-0 lead. The Jaguars started three-and-out with the opening drive and Brady mixed the pass and run against the Jaguars defense to take an early lead.

Watching the Jaguars they looked a step behind on both offense and defense but it was more about the veteran status of New England and their ability to react to situations rather than bad play by the Jaguars.

While the defense made a couple of good stops, the Patriots running game gashed out big chunks of yardage enroute to a 10-0 lead after a field goal.

What the Jaguars needed was a ball-control drive to slow down the Pats offense and they got that. 17-plays and a field goal by Jason Myers to pull within 10-3.

But again Brady went to work, marching the Patriots right down field, using Rob Gronkowski up the seam in the middle of the field to grab lots of yardage. Another FG gave NE a 13-3 lead.

Blake Bortles and the offense went to work, gaining some yardage behind T.J. Yeldon and a couple of nicely designed plays by Greg Olsen, looking sharp and moving into good field position before the half. But Bortles overthrow to Marcedes Lewis lead to an interception and the 2 minute drill by Brady and company .He finished it off with a TD pass to Eric Amendola to take a 20-3 halftime lead. It was the 400th TD pass of Brady’s career, 4th all-time.

Receiving the second half kickoff, the Pats when right back to work scoring again on a FG to take a 23-3 lead. And when the Jaguars couldn’t do much with the football, Brady and company scored on their sixth straight possession, all of them into the third quarter to take a 30-3 lead. Two long pass interference penalties accounted for most of the yardage. The Jaguars were playing with all backups at that point in the defensive backfield. James Sample and Peyton Thompson were getting a lot of playing time because of injuries, and then add Nick Marshall to that group and Tom Brady had a lot of places he could attack.

Finally the offense got untracked, scoring on a 59- yard seam pass from Bortles to Allen Hurns. Nice throw and catch for Hurns first TD of the year. Six plays, 80 yards and the Jaguars were down by 20, 30-10.

You don’t think of Brady as much of a scrambler but he does create time in the pocket while he’s looking for receivers. The Patriots scored on their 7th straight possession, another TD pass for Brady for a 37-10 lead.

Oftentimes, Gus Bradley talks about it being a “precision league” and that’s what it takes to win in the NFL. While the Patriots and Tom Brady looked very precise, the Jaguars were anything but. Bortles wasn’t sharp and that hurts when you know you have to respond to what the opposing offense is doing. They didn’t do that across the board. Some of it is personnel, some of it is veterans on the field but somewhere, the Jaguars have to find some of what the Patriots seem to bring every week.

Without much offensive production in the second half, the Jaguars tried some trickery with a fake punt but New England was waiting for it and took over inside the Jaguars 30. Three plays later the Pats scored to make it 44-10, almost exactly the opposite of what the Jaguars were trying to accomplish going on the road after the home win last week.

A late score made it 51-10, with the Jaguars responding in the final 2 minutes with a TD to Clay Harbor to make it 51-17. A complete blowout and perhaps a few more questions raised than answered for the Jaguars. While they have their share of injures, the Patriots scored on all NINE possessions against the defense, perhaps the most unexpected result of the day.

Coming out of New England without further injuries could be called a small victory. If the Jaguars get a bit healthier with Julius Thomas, Luke Joeckel, Jonathan Cyprien and most of the defensive backfield returning, it’s probably best to not dwell on this game and look forward to the next two weeks at Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.

The only thing we learned this week is that New England is very good.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Up For Pats

After a dismal performance in the opening day loss to Carolina, the Jaguars responded with a solid game against Miami and earned their first win of the year. It showed a lot of character for this team and Gus Bradley gave all the credit to the players.

“It was them,” he said earlier this week. “They took it upon themselves, they concentrated on the process and stayed true to it.”

If the players were able to rebound without any magic message from the coaching staff after a disappointing loss, handling prosperity shouldn’t be a problem this week, especially with the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots looming on the schedule Sunday.

“It’s a good opportunity for us, a good opportunity,” Bradley said when asked about taking this team on the road to New England. “Guys are excited about it. I really like how we’ve locked it in this week and come back after Wednesday. Like I said, it was a solid day and very sharp practices.”

Bradley termed Wednesday’s practice “Good but not great,” but said the team was much sharper on Thursday and Friday.

Gus is big on treating “The two imposters the same. Prosperity and despair. Learn from both and get better.”

Earlier in the week the Jaguars Head Coach was asked if he thought his team was “snakebit” after the injury to Dante Fowler in mini-camp and the rash of injuries they’ve suffered early in the year.

“The Truth?” he said jokingly after a moment of contemplation before he added,

“We do have quite a few that are down but I look at guys like Sam Young that step it up and had a good game. Peyton (Thompson) made a critical play at a critical time, so I think you look more at the guys that are here and know that when they get their opportunity you’re excited for them.

It looks like Luke Joeckel, Jonathan Cyprien and Brandon Linder will be game-time decisions after their work on Friday. Denard Robinson won’t play because of a knee injury but Toby Gerhart appears ready to see his first action of the year. Bradley said he didn’t think about adding another running back to the roster this week because of they number they kept to start the season.

“You usually have five, maybe four and one (a full back) so we had a little bit higher number of running backs anyway, so it worked out that we had an injury. If we can get Toby back that would be good.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Belichick a Believer in the Jaguars

Perhaps no coach will ever be as proficient at pumping up the upcoming opponent than former Georgia Head Coach Vince Dooley. “Western Kentucky has a very good long snapper,” Dooley once said, looking at the strengths of the Hilltoppers, the next team on the ‘Dogs schedule.

And while no coach will ever top that assessment, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick wasted no time pointing out how good the Jaguars are in his conference call today with the Jacksonville media.

Offensively, Belichick said the Jaguars can be as good as they want to be.

“They have a very good mix, balance offensively, like they did last week against Miami with the running game and the passing game, getting the ball down the field, moving the pocket, staying in the pocket, play action, drop back, deep balls, like I said, catch-and-run plays. So, there really is a lot we have to defend. They do a good job.”

At their best, the Jaguars offense is all that. What was impressive is how the Patriots head coach was already clued into even the smallest nuance the Jaguars might bring to the table.

He immediately noted that Jared Odrick, somebody he’d seen in the division with the Dolphins in the past, is now playing on the outside as well as the interior of the defensive line.

“He’s a great player, and we had a lot of problems with him in Miami. I was glad to see him leave the division,” Belichick recalled. “We only have him once a year now instead of twice this year. He’s very disruptive, and he’s given us a lot of problems through the years.”

While his ability to analyze the opponent is legendary, Belichick’s recognition of where the Jaguars strengths are was apparent. He’s clearly impressed with Telvin Smith.

“This guy can run sideline to sideline, makes plays all over the field. Nobody is going to really outrun him. He, along with [Paul] Posluszny in their nickel defense gives them a lot of speed. They play a lot of zone defense, obviously, but they can break on the ball and close down that space in a hurry, along with [Aaron] Colvin when he’s in there as one of the inside players, so those guys all play good.” Notice that Colvin left the game against the Dolphins and Belichick said, “When he’s in there.”

But when asked to assess the Jaguars improvement through the years, he summed it up like this:

“I’d say first of all just overall this team has really improved over the course of last year and then from ’14 to ’15, you can see it in preseason. Against Detroit, the first half of that game was a lot of the frontline players on both teams into the third quarter … I thought that they moved the ball very effectively. (Blake) Bortles creates a lot of problems for you. I thought last week against Miami was another good example of the overall effectiveness of the offense, decision-making, no sacks, no turnovers. He’s able to make plays with his feet. He’s able to make plays in critical situations – third down, two minute – and then he’s able to make plays when he has a chance to get the ball down the field, which we saw a couple of those last week with [Allen] Robinson.”

Pretty honest and pretty spot on.

And don’t think anything this week will sneak up on the Patriots. Although the two teams haven’t played since 2012, Belichick knows the young players on the Jaguars roster having looked at them as draft prospects in the last couple of years. ”

Those players, we did a lot of work on in the last couple years coming out and it’s a very talented group. I think Lee has the ability, as does Robinson and [Allen] Hurns for that matter, have the ability to affect all three areas of the field. They can go deep, they’re good intermediate players and they’re dangerous on catch-and-run plays. They’re hard to tackle, and Lee is particularly elusive. He’s had some very explosive plays in college, and he’s hard guy to tackle and get on the ground. [Bryan] Walters has played well for them.”

So it was funny to hear another coach talk about how good the Jaguars can be, simply because we’ve seen them at their best, and at their worst in the course of just two weeks.

Maybe Gus Bradley should have his team read what Belichick thinks of them. Maybe it would build their confidence. Maybe Gus’ “Race to Maturity” would get a boost. Maybe they’d believe it.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Dolphins: Grow Up Fast

This week the Jaguars were looking for a win against Miami but more than that, legitimacy in the NFL.

After a much ballyhooed offseason with money spent on free agents, a retooled defense and draft picks expected to be impact players, the Jaguars looked like last year’s team in the season opening loss to Carolina. Not much offense, lackluster drives and pretty good defense that couldn’t get off the field on third down.

To start the game against the Dolphins, it was a very different team with a very different mindset that took the field. Blake Bortles looked like a different player and Allen Robinson made the plays he missed last week as they took the ball downfield on the opening drive in 10 plays, over 82 yards and scored to make it 7-0. It’s the first time the Jaguars had scored a TD on their opening drive in 8 games.

Next offensive possession, they came right back down the field including a 52 yard Bortles to Robinson completion and kicked a field goal to make it 10-3. The Jaguars had more first downs (8) than the Dolphins had plays (7) in the first half. They outgained Miami 168-52 in total yards. In other words, they looked like the team we saw in the preseason on offense, blending the run (with T.J. Yeldon) and the pass to keep the defense off balance and make some big plays.

While Miami seemed to gain their footing in the second quarter, the Jaguars responded with a 46 yard TD catch by Robinson from Bortles to make it 17-6. At 17-13 and under 2 minutes to play, it looked like the Jaguars might just kneel on the ball and go to the locker room with a four point lead. Instead, they let Bortles wing it. After throwing an near interception on first down, the Jaguars gained enough yards, helped by a pass interference call to let Jason Myers attempt a 58-yard FG. Myers has the leg and showed some moxie by hitting it solid and online, hitting the crossbar and bouncing over for three points and a 20-13 halftime lead.

Without a lot of pass rush, the Jaguars defense couldn’t hold off the Dolphins in the opening drive of the second half, eight plays, eighty yards and Miami tied the game at 20.

After that it was a lot of back and forth with a couple of drops by Rashad Greene stalling a drive in the 4th quarter. Greene somewhat redeemed himself with a nice 24-yard punt return but Bortles and the offense couldn’t do anything with it.

If you’ve been a Jaguars fan in the last couple of years you have a bit of a fatalistic outlook no matter the game situation. So despite playing tough and being in this game, the expectation was for them to make some mistake to cost them a chance at winning.

So with under three minutes to play, free agent acquisition and former Dolphin Jared Odrick had a big series with a sack near the goal line and forced a punt. The Jaguars got the ball at their own 24 with under two minutes to play. And this is where quarterbacks make their money. A couple of good passes, the second a 19 yard out to Allen Hurns put the Jaguars in Dolphins territory. An offensive pass interference call on Marqise Lee pushed them back to midfield.

A Hurns catch, a Yeldon run and a stupid unsportsmanlike on Olivier Vernon gave the Jaguars first down at the Dolphins 20.

A couple of Yeldon runs and Jason Myers came on to kick a 28-yard field goal (shorter than an extra point this year) to give the Jaguars a 23-20 lead with 40 seconds to play.

The North End Zone was rocking like it was 1999.

A nice defensive play by Telvin Smith on 4th down ended Miami’s chances and the Jaguars got their first win of the year in dramatic fashion.

If last week’s loss was more than just one loss in the column, this week’s win might be just the opposite. After looking inept and out of their league last week, they were questioning themselves and their teammates as to who they really were going to be in 2015. They could have just skulked into the corners of the locker room and let the season play out as the lapdogs of the NFL or they could have done just what they did against Miami: Come out and fight. Head Coach Gus Bradley’s “rush to maturity” comments seemed prophetic as you might say the Jaguars grew up this week.

They learned a lot about themselves this week and in this game and while they’ll be a decided underdog in the next two weeks on the road at New England and Indianapolis, they at least established, if only to themselves, that they’re a legitimate NFL team each week when they take the field.

Last week I was wondering if this team had to learn how to not lose before it learned how to win. This Sunday they did both.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Tell The Truth Monday: We Can be Better

After yesterday’s loss to the Panthers, Gus Bradley said several times that they would “tell the truth” on Monday as they assessed what happened and maybe more importantly, what went wrong.

If there’s any positive to take from the opening day loss it’s that the Jaguars mistakes were apparent. If they hadn’t dropped key passes, given up points on offense and missed kicks, a win was possible.

“The truth is also this,” Bradley said today. “I thought that as an offense we played very cautiously. We didn’t want to make mistakes. I thought that some of the things we saw in practice carried over to the preseason. Our hope and our thought is that it would carry over to the regular season and it didn’t, it didn’t carry over to the game.”

That is what’s most frustrating since the team seemed to build some momentum in the preseason on offense, changing the attitude that seemed to prevail from last year. But whatever momentum they built, or optimism they created in the off-season was lost in one game.

“We definitely went out there anxious, being the first game,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said in front of his locker on Monday. Everybody wants to play well, I know I can pick it up as far as aggressiveness goes.”

All through the offseason and in training camp, Bradley stressed his team’s ability to bounce back from bad fortune during a game. Against Carolina, that didn’t happen.

“Sometimes misfortune happens,” Bradley explained. “But how you adjust and you handle it is even more important. I don’t feel like we handled it very well.”

Even after looking at the game on video today, disappointment was the overriding emotion for the Jaguars. They felt like it was there and they didn’t take it.

Denard Robinson is looking to play with more freedom this Sunday against Miami. “We have to go out there and play loose. Let it go and just make the plays you know you can. They are called routine plays for a reason. We just have to go out there and do it.”

Bradley agrees with that. “We said winning is extremely, extremely important. It’s extremely important but the guys in that locker room are disappointed we weren’t our best and they felt like if we were we would have won that game and that’s what’s disappointing.”

So it’s back to work on Wednesday with the focus on Miami and perhaps a bit of a realistic take on who the Jaguars are from the coaching staff and the players. The promise they showed in the preseason was just promise at this point. Perhaps they had a false sense of how far they had come.

“There are some unknowns going into the regular season, you try to find out things. Now, we know,” Gus said today. “We went through a game and we understand where we are and what we need to do. Now, it’s just a matter of addressing it.”

And going 0-1 might be just one loss in the column but it feels worse because of the upcoming schedule. They’ll be underdogs against Miami at home on Sunday at 4 PM as well as the next two weeks on the road at New England and Indianapolis so if they’re not 0-4 a quarter of the way through the schedule, it’ll be an upset at this point.

Perhaps Roy Miller put the best veterans perspective on it: “Out of the 32 teams, there are 16 that are in our same situation. You can be sad about it, but you know you have 15 games. That’s what we have to look forward to and keep in our minds.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Lose Opener, Momentum

It didn’t take long to distinguish between the preseason and the regular season opener once the Jaguars and the Panthers took the field. While the preseason is about learning, evaluating and developing, the regular season is about production and early on, the Jaguars didn’t have it. Three and outs on offense, drops by Allen Robinson and Rashad Greene, a missed Jason Myers field goal and a fumble by Allen Hurns kept the offense in check through the first 30 minutes. Add to that Blake Bortles looking tentative and a little off to start the game and Carolina had control early.

In fact, the Panthers took their first drive for 14 plays with a mix of the pass and run to get a field goal and take a 3-0 lead. Bus Bradley talks about the “fits” when it comes to his defense and there were some “misfits” that were glaring leading to the Carolina score.

When the Jaguars offense got going, it was rookie T.J. Yeldon that looked sharp, dodging tacklers, getting first downs and keeping the Panthers defense at bay. Jason Myers converted his first FG of the year from 22 yards out to tie the game at three. But Bortles looked a little tentative inside the ten and they settled for a field goal.

They had a couple of other chances, particularly when Paul Posluszny intercepted a Cam newton pass to give the Jaguars good field position. But Myers missed his first FG of the year from 44 yards and it remained 3-3.

A sustained drive by the Panthers in the second quarter looked a little too easy, particularly the TD pass from Newton to Jeremy Cotchery to take a 10-3 lead.

That’s when Bortles started to look at bit like the player he showed in the preseason. Under two minutes to play, he took the underneath stuff, glad to get positive yards and had the Panthers defense on their heels. The he found a wide open Hurns near the goal line (with Hurns doing a good job keeping two feet in bounds) to nearly complete the 2 minute drill. Now with only :21 to play in the half and no timeouts, the Jaguars had to throw it and after one unsuccessful back shoulder throw, Bortles hit Greene at the goal line for six. But Myers missed the extra point and the Jaguars went to the locker room trailing 10-9.

Carolina isn’t by any means a good team and the Jaguars are still figuring out who they are. So after some back and forth to start the second half, Bortles tried to throw the quick out one too many times, and Josh Norman picked it off and scored easily to give the Panthers a 17-9 lead.

Give Blake credit as he came right back and started driving the ball down field. A nice run after catch by Denard Robinson gave the Jaguars a first down but Hurns dropped a strike by Bortles on third down and the Jaguars had to punt. Too many of those for the Jaguars receivers in critical situations.

One of my favorite golf sayings is, “I’d like to play my normal game, just once.” In other words, I see a good game in my mind, but I just can’t get it out of there and execute it on the course. Watching the Jaguars game felt a lot like when you hit it great on the range and can’t find the fairway once you get to the first tee. The Jaguars didn’t have the same snap, the same precision they seemed to have acquired in the preseason. And when you do that, the other team makes you pay, even if they aren’t a good team themselves. I’d probably take the Jaguars talent over the Panthers, but getting it all working in game one was a struggle.

In the 4th quarter, the Jaguars had Carolina pinned at their own goal line on 3rd down but had some confusion in the defensive set up on third down that had Dan Skuta running for the sideline. Newton threw incomplete but the Jaguars weren’t sure if they had 11 or 12 men on the field and called time out. Good news for Carolina who converted their second attempt and ground over 7 and a half minutes off the clock before kicking a field goal to make it a two score game. A Bortles interception ended the chances for the Jaguars who open the season, again, with a loss.

This one particularly stings because of the promise they showed in the preseason but for some reason couldn’t bring it to the stadium against the Panthers. The beginning of the year schedule doesn’t favor the Jaguars with a home game against Miami next week and then three straight road games. A win in the next three weeks would be a big upset, so they’re staring at 0-4 after starting the last two years 0-8 and 0-6. If nothing else, they needed this for a little momentum and some confidence, but got neither.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

“Pedro’s Last Dance: Far From Goodbye

As your friends retire and move onto another phase in their lives, you’re libel to feel a full gamut of emotions.

For Peter Bragan, Jr., I’m nothing but happy.

“Pedro” (or “Pee-dro” as his Dad used to say) sold the Suns franchise to baseball entrepreneur Ken Babby after 31 years running the team as a family business. Babby paid a reported $25 million for the team, acquiring the Suns as his second minor league franchise. His first is the Rubber Ducks in Akron, OH.

No doubt Babby will bring a different feel to the ballpark. He’ll upgrade some things; he’ll implement some of the things that have worked in his short ownership in Akron that have worked. He’s increased ticket sales there dramatically, so he’ll no doubt have a positive impact on the franchise across the board.

But he won’t be Pedro.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’ll just be different. Babby already has a management team in place, bringing in a new GM, sales people and the like from his experience in Akron as well as his relationships from his previous life on the digital side of the Washington Post in DC.

Pedro’s came by his family feel for ownership naturally. He’s part of a famous baseball family that stretches from his father through his uncles. But it’s not as if the Bragan’s, here or elsewhere were a soft touch. They’re known as tough businessmen and moneymakers. Nonetheless, when there was a game at Wolfson Park and then the Baseball Grounds, Senior, as he was known, and then Pedro, were there every night, shaking hands and giving a resounding, “Thanks for coming,” to the fans headed to the exits.

Getting close to the Bragans wasn’t easy. They didn’t let you inside right away. They measured you to see if you measured up. But once you did, you really were family. That’s why I’ve fished with Pedro, smoked cigars with Pedro, traveled with Pedro, played baseball with Pedro, played guitar with Pedro and sat in his office for hours talking baseball and life.

We once sat on a boat listening to our Dads talk about life in the ’40’s, how Senior made some money coming out of WWII and eventually bought a baseball team. “I’ve never heard those stories,” Pedro told me later. Luckily, both of us sensed it was such a special moment we didn’t say a word.

His commitment to kids reading in Jacksonville is legendary. His recitation of “Casey at the Bat” impeccable. His impersonation of Babe Ruth, spot on. So nobody should be surprised that Pedro wrote a song and performed it in the pregame ceremony at Monday’s game.

“Pedro’s Last Dance” is far from “Goodbye.” He and his wife Nancy want to travel, build a beach house, and stay involved in the community with their philanthropy.

I’m excited and happy for both of them. And happy for me as well.

Maybe I’ll get to see them more!

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

“We’re Built” Jaguars in Year Three

“We said we were going to build this team,” Gus Bradley said last week, “And now it’s built.”

And with that statement, Bradley raised expectations for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015.

Building the franchise has been no easy task, winning just seven games in the first two years. While he wasn’t given a chance to do the same, former Head Coach Mike Mularkey knew it was a long-term project. “We’re going to take our lumps,” Mularkey said before he embarked on his lone season running the team.

He was right. They won two games.

“At the end of our first training camp,” one coach still with the franchise told me, “We were in the meeting for the final cuts and all of the position coaches submitted who they thought should make the team. We put those names on the big board and wee thought we were done until somebody noticed we only had 46 players. We had to go back and find seven guys to keep just to fill out the roster.”

While that’s a pretty funny story now, it’s also indicative of the state of the franchise at the time. In his first year of ownership, Shad Khan listened to his football people who told him signing Jerry Porter and Aaron Ross as well as re-signing Jeremy Mincey would make the team competitive.

“So what did I get for that,” he said recently. “Two wins. I knew something had to change. I just wish I had started it sooner.”

Khan brought in Dave Caldwell as the GM, who in turn hired Bradley as the process began. They tore the roster to the bare bones and started to rebuild. I thought the one guy they should have kept was Montel Owens. Veteran player who could have guided the way and would have flourished and help create the culture Bradley was looking for. Nonetheless, at the end of that first training camp they only had 46 players deemed NFL worthy. Chad Henne probably deserves some kind of medal just for sticking around.

“Quarterback, left tackle, offensive and defensive line,” is how Caldwell categorized the important building blocks in the franchise re-make. Thus, Luke Joeckel, Blake Bortles and Dante Fowler have been his 1st round picks in three years.

Having said this roster is now built, both Caldwell and Bradley admit they are still looking for depth but believe they have enough talent across the roster to compete. The 2015 version of the Jaguars might be a bit young to expect a post-season berth but you can see how they can be a team on the rise. You don’t expect everybody to have a career year at the same time (those teams go to the Super Bowl) but even incremental improvement over last year’s performance would put this team in games.

How many games do they have to win? I don’t think Khan has a number in mind. When asked how he’ll judge Caldwell and Bradley last week, the Jaguars owner said, “It’s pretty simple. Are we better than we were two years ago? The answer to that is yes.” Still, winning more than three or four games is expected and to be competitive in the rest will be very important. No more 30-0 halftime scores like last year at home against the Colts. No more double-digit blowouts.

A couple of key cogs won’t be available for the opener. Julius Thomas, a real difference-maker, should be available in week 4. It could be week 4 as well before Sen-Derrick Marks is ready to play. Losing Fowler for 2015 is an obvious setback. But the additions of Jared Odrick, Dan Skuta, Davon House and Sergio Brown made the defense better. On offense it all revolves around Bortles but the addition of Stefan Wisniewski and Jeremy Parnell up front should keep him upright more often than not. He won’t be sacked 55 times this year. And the kind of running backs available will give new offensive coordinator Greg Olsen more options.

You can look at the cuts made this year to get down to 53 players and see guys like Cap Capi, Ike Igbinosun, Ben Koyack, Neal Sterling and Tony Washington on the outside looking in. In the past three years, they make the Jaguars roster. Capi is a good example of where they are. He had a nice preseason, some sacks in games and “flashed” a few times as Bradley likes to say. But his ability to set the edge and stop the run was in question, so he didn’t make it in 2015. He’s another example of how good you have to be just to make it to the 53rd spot on an NFL roster.

All teams like to get off to a fast start, but it’s especially important for the Jaguars this year because of how the schedule is set up. Opening with two home games, they need to beat either Carolina or Miami before they go on the road for three at New England, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. Going 2-3 in that first five game stretch would make the rest of the season look bright as they get some players back and start to figure out how to play together. Anything less than that and 2015 could be no fun at all.

With Atlanta, Buffalo, the Jets, Houston (twice) and Tennessee (twice) in the second half of the season, you expect the Jaguars to win some of those games. Everybody expects road trips to New England, Indianapolis, Baltimore and New Orleans to be difficult.

Saying and doing are two different things. So while this team is better, they need to go prove it on the field.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Washington Preview

It won’t take long to see where the battles for roster spots are taking place when the Jaguars take on Washington Thursday night. With 75 players on the roster and cuts to just 53 due by Saturday at 4pm, coaches want to take one last, long look at several positions to determine who will be there to open the season against Carolina on September 13th and who will be going elsewhere.

Not all of the roster moves will involve cutting a player. Some will be stashed on injured reserve, meaning they’re unavailable for the rest of the year but remain part of the team. Others will be placed on the practice squad, meaning staying with the team, practicing and going to meetings every day but at a reduced salary. Those players are hoping for a call up to the active roster and not just to the Jaguars. If any practice squad player is called up, he must go onto that teams active, 53-man roster. That means a chance to play and a real game check. (NFL players are paid 17 times during the season, 1/17th of their negotiated salary)

Other players will be outright released and given a chance to catch on elsewhere. Every team must be down to 53 by Saturday’s deadline, so the Jaguars will be looking at the players cut by other teams to see if they can upgrade their roster. Making it to Saturday doesn’t mean you’re on the team. By practice Monday, the roster for game one should be set.

Against Washington, there are several perceived head-to-head battles that could result in one player making the team and the other looking for work.

At wide receiver, Tony Washington and Bryan Walters seem to be vying for the final spot at that position. Walters can also return punts and as Gus Bradley has said many times in camp, “You know you can trust him.” Washington was on the Jaguars practice squad last year and has been called, “Maybe the best route runner in the group,” by wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan. This will be a close call.

Two familiar names appear to be competing for the same spot on the offensive line. Austin Pasztor and Sam Young have seen playing time with the Jaguars over the past two years with Pasztor capable of playing guard and tackle. Young was originally a draft pick while Pasztor has fought his way into the league as a free agent. Both are capable backups in the league that are getting better. Both will have jobs in the NFL somewhere, if not here, this season.

It’s a little different at running back where second year player Storm Johnson and rookie Corey Grant are locked in a battle for the final job at that position. Johnson was a 7th round pick of the Jaguars last year while Grant was picked up as an undrafted free agent this season. Prior to camp, General Manager Dave Caldwell said the team could keep five running backs on the roster because they won’t carry a fullback. T.J. Yeldon, Denard Robinson, Toby Gerhart and Bernard Pierce seem to have the top four spots, leaving one for two players. Johnson has had some injury issues in his year with the team. Grant on the other hand, has blazing speed and can return kicks equally as well as Johnson at this point in his career. If the Jaguars didn’t have a draft pick invested in Johnson, Grant would most likely have this spot wrapped up but for now, it’ll be another close call.

Don’t expect to see the starters much, if at all. Bradley has said he’ll know if he made the right decision or not to keep them out of this game “if they’re sharp against Carolina.” Washington has a set of it’s own problems, starting at quarterback where they have $16 million wrapped up in Robert Griffin III for this year but have named Kirk Cousins the starter. Last year the Jaguars gave away their game at FedEx Field, Chad Henne suffering 10 sacks in the second game of the year, a 41-10 loss that dropped thw Jaguars to 0-2.

The game can be seen on Channel 4 at 7:30 with a live pregame show beginning at 7pm.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Shad Khan: Jaguars in London through 2030?

In his fourth year as the Jaguars owner, Shad Khan can look around the stadium and see what has changed. Scoreboards, pools, chalets, suites and a host of other changes have been put into effect since the ownership change.

Apparently other NFL owners have noticed as well.

“When the other franchises visit, they can’t believe it’s the same stadium,” Khan said after the annual “Back to Football” luncheon in the Terrace Suites. “You’ve got to keep innovating, keep moving forward. With what’s going on in Atlanta and other places, you have to keep up.”

Khan also confirmed plans for a permanent practice facility that will include an indoor field situated on the current stadium campus south end.

“Incorporating what’s already there, making it almost an extension of the stadium,” Khan said of his plan. “But it’ll be a multi-use facility. It has to be suitable for pregame tailgating and other events. It’ll have a unique look. It’ll be mostly our money.” The Jaguars owner said he’s giving the City Council and the Mayor a “sneak preview” and expecting the city to continue to be a partner in the project. “I’d like it very much to be done before next year. It’ll be very much a destination. I’d like it to raise the bar. ”

Regarding the Shipyards, Khan said he thought, when asked about how the deal is playing out. “It’s a process that’s moving. It has to go through a process.”

He’s waiting for the city to continue to move forward on the deal he’s proposed but said if they want somebody else to do it, “I’m all for it.” At this point, Khan’s idea has gotten the approval of the Downtown Investment Authority but the revenue streams and the involvement of the city, state and federal governments in the initial cleanup is still being worked out. The price tag to make the site viable for a new project to start is about $35 million.

In the meantime, Khan reiterated that his commitment to Jacksonville remains strong and the London game has made the Jaguars a viable, sustainable franchise. “For us, London and Jacksonville is almost a marriage made in heaven. We want to have a focus and Jacksonville supplements with London is our focus.” Khan says the amount of sponsorship available in London and the excitement of the fans there has created a revenue stream for the Jaguars that he wants to continue. “I can see extending the deal to 2030,” he confirmed. “Fourteen years is a good number.”

“It’s been the number one element in stabilizing the Jacksonville Jaguars. I think it’s a critical part of our franchise to play games there, have the fan base and get sponsors.”

Expect that announcement to come sometime while the Jaguars are in London to play the Bills on October 25th.

When asked about the football team, Khan said he’s very pleased. “You can see the growth and the potential we have. We’re building something.” And when asked how he measures Gus Bradley’s progress as a head coach, Khan said it was simple. “You can see we’re a better team than we were three years ago.”

“It would have to be something really good,” Khan explained when I asked him about the talk of changing the preseason from four games preceding a 16 game regular season. “We talk about everything (in the owner’s meeting) but there’s hasn’t been much talk about that.”

While the Jaguars aren’t mentioned as a possible tenant in Los Angeles as San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis are. But there’s a rumor that Khan and other Jaguars representatives had met with San Diego authorities. Khan dismissed it, calling it a “rumor.”

“What I want to be addressing something that I talked about three and a half years ago here. And that’s my commitment to a viable franchise in Jacksonville. It’s a public private partnership and it’s been everything we could have asked for and more.”

I asked Shad how his new boat was working out after the first year. “Fabulous,” he quickly said with a big smile. “In fact it’s worked out so well I’m missing that it’s not here right now.” Khan has parked his “Kismet” in front of the Hyatt on the St. Johns in the past and said he’ll probably do that again this fall.

“It’ll probably be here around October 1st.”