Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Khan: Win Next Year

I don’t think you can call Jaguars Owner Shad Khan’s statement today a vote of confidence for Head Coach Gus Bradley but I don’t think it’s an ultimatum either.

The message though is very clear:

Win next year.

With 12 wins in three years, the expectations are that in year four, Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell will have had enough time to tear down and rebuild the roster to a competitive state.

When Mike Mularkey was the head coach in 2012, he said often, “We’ll take our lumps” and told his confidants, “We need players.” That was evident that year as they only won two games and the following year when Caldwell and Bradley took over and they won three.

Not really expecting much more, and perhaps less, Caldwell continued to tinker with the roster, making more moves in 2013 than any GM in history. Bradley continued to try and instill his culture of player empowerment on the franchise and in 2014 they won three games.

But the building blocks were in place according to their philosophy, drafting a left tackle; a quarterback and a dominant pass rusher this year. Injuries have slowed the process, but they smartly never put a timeline on it. They had the one backer they needed, Khan, and they stayed true to their plan.

To look at their personnel decisions, Caldwell and Bradley have had some hits and some misses. Blake Bortles looks to be the quarterback they can build around. Allen Robinson is a star and Marqise Lee is starting to look like he could potentially fulfill the promise he showed in college. Telvin Smith is the total package. They got lucky with Allen Hurns who has blossomed into a starter. But Luke Joeckel hasn’t fulfilled the expectations of the second player taken in the draft. Jonathan Cyprien hasn’t developed into that stalwart at the back of the defense. Josh Evans has been inconsistent. Zane Beadles has been suitable but not a star. They cut Ace Sanders and Jeremy Harris. Dwayne Gratz and Demetrius McCray can’t get into the lineup and Denard Robinson has some flash but it’s taken them three years to figure out what to do with him.

Slowed by some of their early decisions, Dave and Gus know Shad’s patience isn’t infinite. And that was clear in his statement today.

While Khan confirmed that Bradley would continue as the head coach for 2016 he added, “It’s also evident the considerable work that remains to be done to be where we expect to be at this time next season, which is well above where we stand today. And Gus understands that.”

Whoa. “And Gus understands that?” In other words, ‘Win some games.”

Shad wasn’t finished, saying that he and Caldwell are confident that 2016 will be the best of Gus’ career and they expect the coaching staff and the team to “respond favorably to this news in preparation for Houston on Sunday.”

Another one of those, “OK, I’ve said you’re sticking around so go out there and get the job done.”

Khan is pretty well known for giving the people who work for him the tools to succeed and then expecting results. It’s no different with his football team and in evident in his closing sentence today:

“We have high ambitions.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Not Going Anywhere

It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Gus Bradley short with an answer in a press conference situation. When he’s asked about his job security, it’s a question he doesn’t want to hear or address. So when he was asked on Monday if he’d rather know his future in Jacksonville before coaching in the final regular season game at Houston, his answer was pretty clipped.

“No,” He said, tight lipped. “My mindset has always been to do what’s best for this organization and what’s best for this team. Just continue with that.”

Bradley’s not going anywhere. I know there’s a constant drumbeat on social media to move on from Gus and start anew but that’s not going to happen. Owner Shad Khan isn’t about to change the leadership of the team when he’s seen improvement and believes the team is on the verge of being competitive for the division title.

“Are we better than we were in year one? Year two?” Shad said when asked how he’d evaluate Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell at the end of the year. It’s clear Khan believes the team is better and that Caldwell and Bradley deserve a fourth year to finish the beginning of the process.

Anytime you ‘rebuild’ in the NFL, it’s a longer than expected process. And when that rebuilding includes a franchise, rookie quarterback, that process can be slow and painful. That’s what the Jaguars are experiencing right now. Those growing pains that come with tearing a team apart and putting it back together along with trying to shepherd a young quarterback into the league. Usually teams do one or the other, but not both at the same time.

If Bradley’s postgame comments that he echoed on Monday sounded familiar, it’s because they are. His team hasn’t been able to grab the consistency or the precision that necessary to win in the league all year long. It’s come in fits and starts with the hope it’ll be the standard they eventually achieve.

“This is a precision league,” Gus said at his Monday recap. “We knew what we were getting into. When I talked to the defense about it too, it’s one thing to talk about precision, its one thing to talk about execution and how you have to be on it, but it’s another to experience that, and we experienced it.”

Although the Jaguars knew they were eliminated from the postseason before kickoff in New Orleans, Bradley doesn’t believe it effected how they played. He thought the team lacked that certain ‘edge’ that’s necessary to play at the highest level.

“What I would say is that I think there’s a certain edge that you need to play the game with, and I think when you go in there and you totally trust your preparation, you’re very confident, you get to the point where you play with that edge. And we’ve got guys that have that edge but when you have that confidence to go out there to where an opportunity comes your way you can’t wait for that opportunity, that sort of an edge.”

Even though it’s the final game of the season, most players know they’re still being evaluated, not just by their team but by the entire league. The Jaguars have made some moves in the defensive backfield with Dwayne Gratz, DeMetirus McRay, Davon House and others but it hasn’t increased their ability to stop other teams in critical passing situations. Bradley isn’t afraid to send somebody to the bench and he’ll be looking at those guys this week in practice.

“I would like to see more productivity,” he said when asked about the defensive backfield personnel changes. “I think what we talked about earlier, that edge. You watch them and it’s pretty consistent but that edge to make a play, that edge that when your number is called you make a play. I think that’s the challenge that we’ve got to get our guys to, to the point when an opportunity comes to make it.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Brees, Precision Beat Jaguars

I ran into a well-respected media member this week in Jacksonville who greeted me with a smile and a handshake saying, “I’m ready for it to be over.” Everybody gets to that point during the season, and although the Jaguars were technically still in the playoff hunt, my colleague had seen enough.

At some points during the first half against the Saints, you got the feeling the Jaguars felt the same way. With Drew Brees hobbled because of a torn plantar fascia, it didn’t matter against a depleted Jacksonville defense. It seemed no matter what Brees decided to do on any play, it worked.

“The grit, the effort, all that stuff was there but the precision wasn’t there,” Gus Bradley said after his team’s 38-27 loss to New Orleans and Drew Brees. “When I was in Seattle and faced New Orleans, the word ‘precision’ came up all the time. We can talk precision but today we felt it.”

They opened with an 80-yard TD drives capped by a Brees TD pass to take a 7-0 lead. Brees found Jonathan Cyprien singled up on the tight end but the Jaguars safety had his back to the QB and couldn’t get turned around in time,

Brees followed that with a 71-yard TD pass capping a 98-yard drive to make it 14-0. Brees was looking for Nick Marshall matched up on defense and found him, hitting Brandin Cooks for the long TD. While Bradley likes Marshall’s athletic ability and his grit, he doesn’t have the speed or the ball skills at the position to match up against the best receiver on the other side of the ball. If a quarterback can find him in the defensive backfield, you can be sure he’ll start picking on him because he’s a liability.

Not sharp in the first half for the second week in a row, Blake Bortles got a bad break throwing an interception on the next Jaguars possession. On a play that should have been called pass interference as the defender jumped over Allen Robinson, the ball was batted to a defensive lineman who grabbed it for the Saints. Forty-three yards later they made it 21-0 on a Tim Hightower 1-yard run. I know he’s just in his second year in the league but sometimes Bortles makes throws that make you scratch your head. It seems to take him a bit longer to get something in his brain before making the same mistake more than once. In this case he threw it to Allen Hurns who was covered, who he stared down, and who the defender had the play figured out. That led to a Saints FG that made it 24-0.

If this was supposed to be a track meet between two teams struggling on defense, the Jaguars offense was still sitting in the starting blocks.

Finally the Jaguars got on the board with a TD on their next possession. They got Jonas Gray on the field and he proved to be a spark, picking up 23 yards on his first carry. The drive ended with Marqise Lee catching the first TD of his career. Even though the card says go for two there, it’s the wrong time to chase points. I think this is where Gus the Head Coach has to step in and say, “Kick it.” But he chased the points and failed making it 24-6. Not that the PAT is a given in the league any more but the risk of not making the two-point conversion when it comes to momentum, confidence and rhythm outweighs the reward to get the extra point there. Bradley said went for two in that situation to try and build momentum but, “We didn’t execute it.”

Once again, the second half looked much different for the Jaguars. Taking the kickoff, the Jaguars scored on 11 plays, Allen Hurns grabbing a 6 yard TD from Bortles to make it 24-13 after the Jason Myers PAT.

No matter, the Jaguars defense, depleted by injury and not talented enough in key spots to make any stops, gave up a quick TD to the Saints, Brees hitting Travaris Cadet for 44-yards. A blown coverage, either by Marshall or Sergio Brown made the TD look easy. 31-13 Saints.

Right back at it, the Jaguars scored their longest TD of the year two plays later (the first, a 25-yard run by Gray again was called back for holding). Bortles hit Allen Robinson for 90-yard TD to bring the Jaguars back to 31-19. They again went for two and didn’t get it, Bortles still trying the fade route that he’s not very good at. Not sure why they keep calling that play.

Without Jared Odrick in the lineup because of a knee contusion, the Saints ran the ball effectively and kept the Jaguars off balance, moving it efficiently down the field. They scored on another Hightower run to make it 38-19.

Again going with the 2-minute offense, the Jaguars scored their final TD of game on a 20-yard slant to Allen Hurns to bring it to 38-27. Hurns has more TD catches than any non-drafted player in his first two years than any other in NFL history.

In this game the Jaguars gave up more yards than in any other game during the Gus Bradley era. The Saints had more than 500 yards of offense for the third straight meeting with the Jaguars, also an NFL record.

His 34 TD passes added to his Jaguars record and Bortles also set the Jaguars record for consecutive games with a TD pass at 15, surpassing Mark Brunell.

Before kickoff, the Jaguars had been eliminated from playoff contention by a Houston victory. It didn’t seem to impact how they played; they just got beat by a quarterback who knew what he was doing.

“We can talk about precision,” Bradley said, “But they just experienced it,” he finished, pointing to the Jaguars locker room.

In order to fix this problem the Jaguars will need a pass rush. And to get a pass rush, they’ll need better players. Even Bradley admitted they’d be looking to upgrade.

“Maybe we can be more strict,” he said of his dealings with the players. “Maybe we have to challenge them harder. We need guys who can play with that kind of precision.”

“When a guy’s number is called, has to make the play. We need to look at it and then if they’re not doing it, hard decisions have to be made.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Sunday Update /Jaguars Still Motivated?

Sunday AM Update: Reports this morning say Drew Brees will play for the Saints despite only practicing on a limited basis Friday. Brees has a heel problem with a torn plantar fascia but apparently will start.

“It hurts to walk. It has its challenges,” Brees said earlier this week. “But we’ve come up with a good plan for this week, how to support it and how to make it as manageable as possible.”

The Saints will be without WR Marques Colston because of a chest injury suffered last Monday vs. the Lions but TE Benjamin Watson is expected to play.

For the Jaguars, don’t expect to see Telvin Smith or TJ Yeldon against the Saints. After not practicing all week both are listed as doubtful for the game.


With two weeks to go in the regular season, despite their 5-9 record the Jaguars are still in the playoff chase. They have to win both of their games and a lot of things have to happen in the division to help them, but mathematically, they’re still in it. Maybe they’re using that as motivation, but in reality, they know they’re not a playoff team. You can see it in their eyes and hear it ring a bit hollow in their voices when asked about the postseason.

That’s why it’s impressive to see the effort in practice and hear Head Coach Gus Bradley talk about their preparation this week. In most NFL cities this week they’re either preparing for the postseason or next season. Bradley is talking about ‘competition’ and ‘juice’ and this week, not about the future.

“Yeah, third down situations,” the Jaguars Head Coach said when asked about his practice routine this week. “We did a lot of good-on-good again in the red zone and out in the field, so they got another shot at it.”

He remained focused and specific about what they’re up to, 15 weeks into the season. “The part I like about it, it was highly, highly competitive, and there was a lot of juice, as we say, on the field for it. So that’s what you’d hope when you have those third-down situations, or whatever the situation period is, that the intensity rises because it’s not a service look. There’s great competition.”

Most coaches are talking about evaluation and getting ‘looks’ at guys this time of year. Others are talking about managing their stars on the field as they gear up for the playoffs. Bradley is remaining steadfast in his belief that going out there and ‘being our best’ is the main goal, regardless of the out come.

“Well, I think you give them enough to concentrate on.,” Gus explained when asked how he’s keeping the players focused this week on their game and not the happenings beforehand wince their matchup against New Orleans was ‘flexed’ to the 4pm slot.

“I think they know what we’re trying to get accomplished here, and some of the things that took place last week and in previous weeks that we need to get corrected.”

By the time they get to kickoff in the Superdome the Jaguars could know their postseason hopes are gone. So if they’ve been using that as motivation, what’s next?

“My hope is that’s what we’re trying to go get done on Sunday as well as being at our best,” Bradley said, referring to one of his favorite themes. “But I’d be naïve not to know that our players are going to be listening or watching it prior to us getting on the bus. But I feel pretty good just how they handled this week. So put a lot on them a lot of distractions-wise just to see where we’re at with things and very pleased with how they’ve handled it.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: Third Down Could Fix Slow Starts

Much like he did earlier in the season when the Jaguars were struggling in the red zone, Head Coach Gus Bradley has spent some extra time in practice on third down this week. On both offense and defense.

“I just think again it’ll be an area of emphasis,” Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson said at his weekly Wednesday press conference. “It’s certainly unacceptable. We were 0-for-6 to start the game two weeks ago and finished 2-of-3 in the second half. Last week, we went 0-of-8. It’ll be an emphasis here as we finish the regular season.

And Bradley is devoting extra practice time to the third down situations, especially trying to simulate he tempo of the game situation. Olson laid out specifically how the Jaguars arranged practice.

“We spent two extra periods on it today and the same tomorrow. At the end of practice, it was five-play specialty period at the end of practice, and during the course of practice we had an eight-play period.”

Bradley said he was pleased with how it went and the emphasis put on ‘situational football.’ “We incorporated two periods of third down work, one in the middle of practice and one towards the end ‘good versus good.’ We’ve had this situation where it was in the red zone and we wanted to address it with more plays and just bring the emphasis up to our team, so I was pleased with how it went.”

Fixing the Jaguars third down problem on offense will directly have an effect on the ability to get the offense going quickly. The Jaguars have become a notoriously slow starting team, but converting third downs keeps drives going to give them an early opportunity to score.

“We look at that all the time,” Olson said. “We’ll continue to find ways, as we research it, to find out what’s the reason for the slow starts and certainly third downs has been a big part If we can convert some of those third downs, it has a chance to lead to some scores.”

As a coaching staff, the Jaguars coaches consult with the players to see what they’re comfortable will, what they liked in practice and how they think it’ll go in the upcoming game. From the quarterback to running backs and offensive linemen, everybody has some input during the week. A good blend of pass and run is the most desirable situation but Olson said those numbers can be deceiving.

“We’ve been in a number of two minute situations. Not only at the end of the game, but at halftime. That’ll increase your throwing attempts. It’s a good feeling when you’re up on a team and you can get in that run mode and can consistently win and be efficient in running the football in those situations.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: Back to Basics

In his comments right after the loss to the Falcons on Sunday, Head Coach Gus Bradley said “this stings” and “we’ll look at it but there are a lot of plays we left out there.”

After looking at it, Bradley thought the same thing. Lots of opportunities lost.

“Right now all that is on my mind is how are we going to start faster, how are we going to take care of third downs to where it’s a nonissue and consistently playing at a high level,” he said on Monday “That’s the areas that we really need to attack right now; tighter coverage in the secondary and with our underneath coverage, so that part is what all of our emphasis is on.”

Without a third down conversion on offense the entire game and not being able to get off the field on defense on third down, it’s hard to start fast or score points with any consistency.

Bradley admitted the Jaguars were on the precipice of grabbing momentum going into the locker room at halftime but the interception thrown by Blake Bortles on the goal line sapped some of the Jaguars energy.

“In that situation throw it away and let’s live to fight another play,” Gus explained. “Also in that situation he could look backside. There’s a possibility of looking backside with the one on one. There were multiple things we could have done.”

Bradley is harping on the learning curve that’s still going on with his young team and his quarterback.

“I think the learning part of that situation was there’s more plays. We’ve got a couple of more plays here. If it’s not there we appreciate your competitiveness and wanting to make a play in that situation but if we have to throw it away we have to throw it away so he’ll learn from that.”

Although the interception by Bortles was the obvious mistake, according to Bradley the whole team didn’t perform with the two things he’s looking for: consistency and precision.

“We just felt like as a team we didn’t play as efficiently and as precise as we liked to do in all situations. There are certain situations that stood out.”

A certain amount of accuracy is expected from every NFL quarterback with some able to fit the ball into smaller windows than others. Bortles wasn’t particularly accurate against Atlanta and it cost the Jaguars a couple of big plays in critical situations.

“I think if you look at the passes that we threw, that’s what took place. There were some chances for us to make some big plays, but it was either, would have been a great catch? Yes. Was it a catchable ball? Yes. It would have been a great catch. Could it have been more accurate? Yes”

Bradley was also very direct about what his defense needed to do to give the team more chances to win. “Six points in the second half did a pretty good job against an explosive team. We need to get off the field and get the offensive the ball and more opportunities and we didn’t do that. We really struggled on third down in the second half.”

And why did that happen? The same things that have cost the Jaguars in the past. Bradley thought they got away from some of the things they had accomplished in the last couple of weeks.

“It’s the discipline part; we have to execute the assignment, execute the defense’s calls,” he said with some authority as a former defensive coordinator.

“We just didn’t make plays. It comes back to footwork when you’re playing a corner instead of a six-inch step, it was an eight-inch step and it got you a little out of whack and you didn’t get your hands up like you did in previous times. Some of those things are coming back, so it’s the consistency.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: One Mistake

Having not thrown an interception in two games and nearly two quarters, Blake Bortles throw at the end of the first half against the Falcons dashed the Jaguars hopes to get back in the game. It turned out to be the one mistake the Jaguars made in a one possession game that cost them a chance at victory in a 23-17 loss to Atlanta.

Bortles chased down Kemal Ishmail at the 14-yard line with a good effort but 2 seconds were left on the clock allowing Atlanta to kick a field goal and take a 17-3 lead at halftime.

It appeared the Jaguars were about to make a game of it at the end of the second quarter after a field position contest and a solid first half by Matt Ryan and the Falcons running game had made it 14-3.

Taking the opening drive straight down the field, Atlanta took a 7-0 lead when Devonta Freeman scored from 5 yards out ended an 8-play, 80-yard drive to start the game. While the Falcons had lost six straight and seven of eight coming into Jacksonville, their strengths at quarterback, wide receiver and running back are the things that have given the Jaguars defense problems all year long. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones did just what the Jaguars feared most: moved the ball on offense with a blend of crossing routes, the stretch running play and time to throw. That combination has proven to be where the Jaguars defense is vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars offense looked sluggish and out of sync for nearly the entire first half. Bortles wasn’t sharp, missing a wide open Julius Thomas streaking for the end zone for a touchdown, forcing them into a field goal and a 7-3 Falcons lead.

But after several punt exchanges that left the Falcons with good field position, the Ryan hit Jones from 11-yards out on a nicely designed misdirection play to take a 14-3 lead. Like most starting quarterbacks in the league, Ryan can take advantage of a defense given time. He did that, avoiding Jaguars pressure and put two touchdowns up in the first half.

With under two minutes to play in the first half, Bortles started buying time in the backfield and finding open receivers. He almost stepped over the line of scrimmage, again, but was ruled behind it on a 25-yard completion in the middle of the field to Thomas. A couple of passes, including a nice circle route to Denard Robinson put the ball at the one with 13 seconds in the half. That’s when Bortles got locked in on the out pass and Kemal Ishmail grabbed it in stride and ran to the Jaguars 16. It was only a good effort by Bortles to keep Ishmail out of the end zone. With two seconds on the clock, Atlanta kicked a field goal to take a 17-3 halftime lead.

Neither the play call nor the execution was any good there. Bortles didn’t have enough options, got locked in on the receiver and did the one thing you can’t do there, throw an interception. Give him some options and if it’s not there, throw it in the stands and give yourself another chance.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the offense moved it right down the field again, this time scoring from the one on a roll out by Bortles who just stepped into the end zone to make it 17-10. Getting him out of the pocket that close to the end zone gives him plenty of options to throw or run or throw it away. Nine plays, 80-yards, 4:20 off the clock and down by seven.

All season the Falcons have been plagued by turnovers and a good defensive play by Jared Odrick let Paul Posluszny grab a tipped ball for an interception on the next Atlanta possession.

Some tough running by Blake, a good “ball spot” challenge by Gus Bradley for a first down, a nice throw to DRob in the flat and a one-on-one ball to Allen Robinson in the end zone from 10-yards out made it 17-all. It was the 13th TD catch of the year by Robinson, leading the league. Also the 14th straight game *Bortles has thrown a TD pass, tying the franchise record.

With momentum, the Jaguars defense was able to force a Falcons punt although they gave up several 3rd down conversions and were called for pass interference on another. But the offense couldn’t do anything with it, suffering through an incompletion and two fumbles before they kicked it back to the Falcons.

Helped by a bogus 31-yard pass interference call against Telvin Smith, Atlanta kicked a 33-yard field goal to take a 20-17 lead midway through the 4th quarter.

If the Jaguars look back on 2015 and honestly rate their defense, it’ll be their lack of 3rd down efficiency that will stick out as a sore spot. Against the Falcons, the Jaguars couldn’t get off the field in the 4th quarter, giving up a 3rd and long several times, allowing Atlanta to keep the ball, run the clock and kick two field goals for a 23-17 lead.

It wasn’t a banner day for Nick Marshall who’s been installed as the Jaguars nickel corner. In the second half Matt Ryan was looking for him and found him often, trailing receivers, allowing first downs and more. And as the kick returner his decision-making was suspect, bringing a kick out of the end zone from nine yards deep with less than two minutes to play. If Gus Bradley calls it “situational football” this play was “not smart.”

In another “one possession” game, the Jaguars made one critical mistake that cost them points and it turned out to be the difference in the contest. It leaves the Jaguars at 5-9 and guarantees them a losing season for the fifth consecutive year and seven of their last eight. They were 8-8 in 2010 with their last winning year in 2007 at 11-5.

Road games against New Orleans and Houston will finish the year.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Falcons A Good Test For The Jaguars

You couldn’t have picked an almost perfect team for the Jaguars to play this week besides the Atlanta Falcons. Coming off their big 51-16 win over their division rival Indianapolis, the Jaguars are favored against an Atlanta team that has struggled, losing 7 of 8 games and six straight.

But it doesn’t mean they’re a pushover for the Jaguars and that’s been the theme all week. Nobody’s a pushover in the NFL and if you don’t bring your best effort or if you think all you have to do is show up to win, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It seems kind of silly to even entertain those thoughts when talking about a Jaguars team that is 5-8 and just a month ago all anybody talked about is if they’d win another game and would Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell last the season.

Fortunes change quickly in the NFL and while the Jaguars are a better team than they’ve been, they have been the closest thing to a pushover in the league for nearly three years. With that in mind, Bradley says the team should understand just who they are.

“I think they’re very confident,” he said this week referring to the win over Indy. “What I like about it is that they have put that one aside and they’re really working on things that we need to work on. It’s been good.”

Atlanta is the best test for a young Jaguars team because they have Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. A good quarterback/wide receiver combination has given the Jaguars problems and today is no different. With a lack of pressure on the quarterback, an experienced guy like Matt Ryan has had his pick of targets. Phillip Rivers shredded the Jaguars defense with a mixture of reading defenses, quick throws, and of all things, using his legs. The Chargers snapped their losing streak against the Jaguars and the Falcons are trying to do the same.

“They’re very talented at quarterback, at wide receiver and at running back, and other positions as well,” Bradley explained. “That’s definitely caught our attention, what they’re (the defense) seeing on tape, so I just see a really focused group on the field. And a real determined group.”

They’ll need to be today in order to keep the momentum they’ve built and the confidence in who they are and how they’re playing. In this season of two steps forward, one step back, we’ll see if this young team can take that second step forward today.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Grier To Transfer From Florida

Still serving a suspension for using a banned substance, Gators quarterback Will Grier has decided to transfer from the University of Florida for what Head Coach Jim McElwain calls a “fresh start.”

Here’s the official comment from McElwain.

“Will came to me about exploring his options to transfer. We will support him and help him in anyway we can. This has been very difficult on him and obviously he is looking for a fresh start.

“We will always be there for him as will all Gators.” –coach Jim McElwain

Grier shared time at quarterback with Treon Harris in the first two games of the 2015 season before taking the starting job and helping Florida to an undefeated record. His TD pass at home near the end of the game against Tennessee was one of the highlights of the Gators season.

The NCAA issued a suspension for one year, carrying into the 2016 season when it said Grier tested positive for a banned substance. Grier admitted to taking the over the counter supplement to aid in weight gain but said he didn’t know it was against the NCAA regulations and didn’t check with the Florida training staff before taking it.

Both the University of Florida and Grier appealed to the NCAA to reduce the ban to include the rest of the 2015 season and allow Grier to be eligible to play at the beginning of the 2016 season but the appeal was denied. Although ineligible to play, McElwain had said this week that Grier would rejoin the Gators football team on January 4th, right after Florida’s bowl appearance.

But this week, Grier apparently met with the coaching staff and decided he would transfer. His options include going to another NCAA FBS School (Division I) and serving his suspension while sitting out the required year for transfers and being eligible to begin play in 2017. Or he could play in a non-NCAA or junior college program in 2016 and be eligible to play in Division I again in 2016. Cam Newton took this route after leaving Florida and ending up at Auburn, leading the Tigers to a National Championship.

Florida has struggled on offense since Grier’s departure with Harris at quarterback. Luke Del Rio, a transfer to Florida would also be eligible to play next year. McElwain has been careful not to criticize Harris knowing he might have to use him at quarterback in 2016 if Del Rio or a true freshman can’t win the job.

The Gators have lost their last two games against Florida State and Alabama and will face Michigan on New Year’s Day.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Julius Thomas Paying Dividends

One thing that’s changed with the Jaguars offense is the production from Julius Thomas at tight end. Thomas’ injury in the preseason slowed what the Jaguars were hoping he could provide to Blake Bortles and the offensive production but in the second half of the season it’s been just what they hoped for.

“I think that we knew there was a chance. I would say where he’s at and what he’s done for us, I don’t know if it exceeded expectations,” Bradley said this week. “We felt pretty strongly about him but very happy with how he’s come along. I think the big thing with him was just getting in a groove with Blake.”

It’s what Bradley was expecting and has been waiting for from his second year quarterback and prized free agent acquisition.

“I think after the injury there was some time there where he was competing but the timing wasn’t quite right,” Gus explained. “They took time after practice and really worked on it. I just think it’s starting to come together but it’s still a work in progress.”

With his size and speed, not to mention his hands as a receiver, Thomas creates real matchup problems on defense, something Bradley is well aware of as a former defensive coordinator. Bortles knows when he comes to the line of scrimmage and sees any number besides one starting with a “2” trying to cover Thomas, Julius is going to be open.

Bradley put his defensive coach hat on to explain how he would see it if he was trying to play defense against Thomas in the grand scheme of a defensive philosophy. “If we want to run our pressure who’s matched up with who, and it puts you into that thinking. Then you start to think is it worth it to run that pressure? In order for us to run that we have to run this matchup.”

As long as Bradley is the coach, Thomas fits into the mold of the kind of player he wants on his team. Dedicated, professional, prepared and a good teammate.

“I think what it says about him is just his spirit all the way through. He missed a lot of games, had the injury but another guy that never wavered. He’s strong throughout, competed, competed through his injury and that’s where I’ve learned a great deal about Julius.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: “Tremendous Message”

In his nearly three full seasons as the Jaguars Head Coach, Gus Bradley has talked about “how it looks” and “playing together,” “keeping it tight” and “finishing.” Against the Colts on Sunday, it must have looked right to Bradley because the Jaguars did all of those things and more. A 51-16 victory was some validation for the message Bradley has brought and he believes, shows what they’re capable of.

“Well, I think that the sign, in talking to the players, was the importance of all three phases,” Bradley said on a conference call on Monday. “I think we’ve seen games where the offense did well or the defense did well or sometimes the special teams, but to put it together to show what we’re capable of, I think it’s a tremendous message – tremendous message to our team.”

One thing about Gus, his message, nor his demeanor changes. The only time I’ve seen him angry was after the Tampa Bay game this year. And some viewers wrote me with a laugh that they “get madder at their cell phone than Gus was (today.)” But Bradley knows the players on the roster need to see success on the field that translates to wins on the scoreboard. Talk all you want, but do it on the field and that’s what can happen.

“I think it provides even a clearer picture to when we do things right in all three phases what we have a chance to be. So, that’s a great message. I think you can talk it, about, ‘Hey, if we put these three phases together, and then let’s see what happens.’ Well, we had this experience now that took place that I think paints a vivid picture for the players.”

Nothing replaces that feeling of success. To get that again, the Jaguars know they have to practice well and play well. That they just can’t show up and beat people. At some point, their best will be good enough to win. If they’re not there now, what yesterday showed is that they’re close. They have the talent and are gaining the experience it takes to compete in the NFL. The Colts aren’t world-beaters, but beating teams you’re supposed to beat is a step to success in the league. Sunday it started with the defense making some stops in the red zone in the first half, forcing field goals while the Jaguars offense struggled.

“Offensively, we were struggling a little bit,” Bradley explained. “It’s good to see the defense stood up in some of those situations and kept the score within reach so where we felt, hey, we’re in good shape, we just need to get our rhythm back. A lot of those things, a lot of lessons taken from this tape that we have to learn from.”

Although they’re technically still in the race for the AFC south, it’s next year where the Jaguars are expecting to be competitive and compete for the division title. Bradley was most pleased with what the future might hold because of what he saw yesterday.

“I just saw improvement. That’s the part that I’m really excited about. Now the challenge is to build on that. We’ll take a look at it when the season is over to see just how far we’ve come along and the direction. But that game, that performance yesterday, is something we can build on for this week.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Find Momentum, Rout Colts

Scoring on offense, defense and special teams for the first time since 2011, the Jaguars routed the Indianapolis Colts 51-16 at home for their 5th win of the year on Sunday. The 51 points is a regular season team record behind the 62 scored in the playoffs against Miami in 2000.

For 28 minutes, the second meeting between the Jaguars and Colts provided almost no excitement, bad offense, field goals and no touchdowns. For the last two minutes in the first half, there still wasn’t much offense but both defenses scored TD’s to make it at least interesting.

After a big week against the Titans,, the Jaguars offense struggled against Indy early after their opening drive. Taking the kickoff, the offense got a couple of breaks and ran TJ Yeldon enough to allow Jason Myers to kick a 46-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Indy did virtually the same, twice, and led 6-3 going into the second quarter. Matt Hasselbeck wasn’t sharp against a depleted Jaguars defense playing without Paul Posluszny and unlike the previous week, Indy was held to field goals in the red zone instead of touchdowns.

As they started near their own goal line with two minutes to play in the half, quarterback Blake Bortles couldn’t handle the snap from Stefan Wisnewski for the second straight week and again it resulted in a defensive TD. Robert Mathis fell on it in the end zone for an easy touchdown and a 13-3 lead.

Going to their hurry up offense, the Jaguars were marching right down the field when a delayed safety blitz dropped Bortles in the backfield for a sack. Instead of just eating it and moving on, Bortles tried to wriggle free, with the ball popping out and picked up by the Colts. Luckily, Yeldon saw it happening and tackled the defender in Jaguars territory.

Looking for more pressure on the quarterback, the Jaguars tried some different schemes and different personnel against Indy. Chris Smith provided some speed off the edge and they were hoping Nick Marshall might be a good slot, man coverage guy. Smith did get some pressure on Hasselbeck but Marshall was picked on all half. Nonetheless, it appeared to light a fire under Andre Branch who sacked Hasselbeck on the next series, forced a fumble, scooped it up and ran for a 49 yard TD.

It was the play that saved the game and perhaps changed the conversation and the entire season. If Indy scores there, who knows what happens but instead the Jaguars were back in it.

Almost on cue, Jason Myers missed the extra point (and was treated to a loud chorus of boos from the fans in attendance) making it 13-9 at halftime.

No offensive touchdowns, three field goals and honestly, a few laughs.

Keeping Myers is a decision Gus Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell will have to own since his misses last week changed how the game was played, but they refused to make a change. I know you “found” him and he’s your guy but you can’t play the game around your kicker.

As the second half started the strange nature of the game continued. It was clear whatever was said in the locker room made the Jaguars defense angry and they played like it. Fast and mean, they forced a Colts three and out and got the ball on their own 20.

On first down, Bortles rolled to his right and hit Allen Hurns near the sideline. As the ball left his hand, it appeared Bortles had thrown an interception but the defender missed and Hurns caught it, ducked under a tackle and ran 80-yards for a TD. It was the longest TD of the year for the Jaguars and the longest career catch and throw by Bortles and Hurns. 16-13 Jaguars after the PAT. And by the way, the crowd went wild when Myers made it.

Still mad, the defense forced another 3 and out and this time Rashad Greene fielded it at the 20 (after taking a peek at the coverage) beat one man after the catch and streaked 80-yards for a touchdown. A hold could have been called at the end of the play but wasn’t and again, Myers made the PAT (driving the crowd into a frenzy). Jaguars with a 23-13 lead.

Hasselbeck was knocked out of the game by a big hit from Roy Miller putting Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback. Another Vinatieri FG made it 23-16 midway through the third quarter.

Building a little momentum, the Jaguars offense moved the ball, blending the pass and run, a big play on pass interference covering Marqise Lee leading to a touchdown. Allen Robinson made a good move in the end zone and Bortles found him for the first time in the game. The crowd was delirious when Myers made the extra point to give the Jaguars a 30-16 lead.

Getting the ball back after a punt, the Jags continued their solid play into the 4th quarter with Denard Robinson running hard for the injured Yeldon who left the game with a knee problem. Bortles hit Julius Thomas for his third TD pass of the game and a 37-16 lead. And yes, the crowd went crazy again when Myers hit the PAT.

While division games are important, beating the Colts is especially pleasing to the Jaguars. Indy has owned the division for so long Gus Bradley has never been on the winning side in this match up. So it’s no surprise that it can get a bit chippy between the two teams. Telvin Smith hit Hasselbeck while he was going out of bounds, forcing him out of the game, again and continuing to swing the momentum the Jaguars way. DRob scored from a yard out after a nice 3rd down conversion to Greene over the middle to make it 44-16. Jonathan Cyprien grabbed an interception off Charlie Whitehurst and took it to the one. Bortles took a big, unnecessary hit on a third down bootleg after two attempts up the middle but scored on a QB sneak to make it 51-16.

So what are we seeing here? The end of the Colts 16 game division-winning streak for sure. But are the Jaguars combining all of the things they’ve learned through the first 12 games of the year and building some momentum? There will be talk about contending for the division title if a couple of things fall their way, but more than anything they need to keep looking in the mirror and figuring out what they’re doing right and try to build on it. Finding some consistency, something they can count on every week is what this team needs to finish the year.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: 2016 Starts Now

“Our goal is to be at our best. We weren’t at our best today.”

That’s a comment we’ve heard from Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley a half a dozen times this year as his team has bounced around to a 4-8 record. Three-quarters of the season is gone and the Jaguars have been a different team it seems every week.

One week they’re stingy on defense. The next the offense is explosive or special teams make a few special plays. But those weeks are too often paired with bad tackling on defense, no execution on offense and special teams gaffes, like a missed extra point, that cost them games.

While focusing on the Jaguars can drive you crazy, looking around the league just about every team has it’s ups and downs, inconsistency and inexplicable losses.

Except, of course, the Carolina Panthers, who are undefeated at 12-0 and are a favorite to finish the regular season without a loss. If the Jaguars were “at our best” in the opener against Carolina nobody would be talking about the Panthers going undefeated because they’d have suffered their first loss of the year in their opening game. Instead, the Jaguars made just enough mistakes, got in their own way just enough and lost. Even the Panthers admitted after the game they were lucky to get away from Jacksonville with a win. Watching the game you didn’t feel like there was a huge gap between the two teams.

Which should be encouraging for Jaguars fans.

Winning the opener gave the Panthers a confidence boost that even not at their best, they could win games, even on the road, and it’s carried them this far. The Jaguars are a bit younger than the Panthers and haven’t been able to generate that confidence each week to win games late. They’ve done it a few times, in each of their wins making plays late in the game to get the job done, but not enough to call it an identity.

A comparison of the Panthers and Jaguars does one thing: it shows where the Jaguars can get.

In 2010, Carolina was 2-14, and floundering. They hired a new coach, drafted well, including a franchise quarterback, and started the uphill climb to be competitive. They’ve had losing seasons in three of the last four years. And now they’re undefeated.

Can the Jaguars make that transformation?

If so it needs to start somewhere in the last four games of this year. They need to get consistent play from Blake Bortles at quarterback. They need to keep their playmakers on offense healthy. And they need to identify the areas, especially on defense, where they need help and can get an immediate upgrade through the draft or free agency.

Today’s game against the Colts is another good barometer showing where the Jaguars are and where they can be. Again facing Matt Hasselbeck, a veteran, backup quarterback, they’ll struggle to keep Indianapolis from moving the ball without much pressure in the backfield. They’ll miss Paul Posluszny at middle linebacker calling, and making plays. But they should be able to get things done on offense and special teams should keep them in, not cost them, the game.

Win? Every NFL game comes down to one or two possessions and Jaguars games this year have been no different. But finding something they can hang their hat on, something they can count on going forward is what they should be looking for against a divisional opponent they’ll see twice next year as well.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Despite Losing, Jaguars Still “Together”

In the week following the loss to Tennessee, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley was searching for answers just like anybody else. Having acknowledged that his team is having trouble getting to the quarterback no matter what they’ve tried with different packages, Bradley says they’re taking things back to the beginning.

“I think that you do get back to your fundamentals. Sometimes a game like that it re-elevates the need for that, whether we shrink the package or the calls that we use, we’ll see. It’s really based by game.”

Once again the Indianapolis Colts will be without Andrew Luck at quarterback but they beat the Jaguars in Indy in the first meeting between the two teams in 2015 with Matt Hasselbeck at the controls. Veteran quarterbacks give the Jaguars problems and Hasselbeck is no different with his ability to read coverages, avoid the rush and get the ball to the open man. While that’s a given, Bradley says the Jaguars are looking inward before concentrating on the opponent.

“You know what, I think what we’ve learned, we talk about it, it’s about us but this week it really is,” he explained at his weekly Wednesday press conference. “We’ve got to get some things corrected and that’s been the emphasis for us. We tackle better, we use our fundamental principles, cover better and then let’s see.”

In his third year as the Jaguars head coach, Bradley has never been on the winning side against the Colts, but again, he’s aware of that but not focused on it this week.

“Again, it’s about not them,” Gus said. “Just like last week red zone and offensively, is it corrected? I can’t say that, it doesn’t carry over to the next week. Every week you’ve got to go out there and prepare. So it comes back to nothing to do with the Colts, it’s about us and what we need to do. That part hasn’t changed.”

In what Bradley calls “this stage” of the team’s development, they’re in one-possession games and occasionally, four times this year, get on the winning side of those. Other times, they haven’t been able to overcome their own mistakes but the head coach says the culture is changing, allowing the team to “bounce back” when things go wrong. “Yeah, I do see progress in that. I don’t think we’re so orientated based on that, or one play. We throw an interception and the game is over; our guys have learned to quickly recover It’s very interesting to me how some of the things that separate some teams brings us closer together.”

If, In fact, adversity brings the team together and drags the fans along for the ride, this team, and their fans should be a pretty tight group. Bradley credits the atmosphere in the locker room and the things the players can count on, day in and day out as the glue that’s kept them together.

“I think the culture is meant for times that you establish it and it’s something that they can count on day in and day out and I think that’s where it brings power. They know when they walk in the building what’s going to take place it brings strength.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Long Drive King At Home In Jacksonville

“It’s a combination of things,” Jeremy Easterly said when asked about hitting the golf ball a long way. But the simplest answer: Swing fast. Easterly was clear about the distinction between “swing hard” and “swing fast” and he’s all about the speed of the swing.

At 6’3″ and 255 pounds, Easterly looks the part of a Long Drive champion and a JSO officer, of which he is both. Having been a golfer for most of his athletic life, Easterly decided to get serious about long drive competitions about the same time he joined JSO.

A low, single-digit handicapper through college, it took the challenge and encouragement of one of his fellow JSO officers to enter his first long drive contest.

“I was humbled pretty quickly,” Easterly said of his 30-some yard loss.

But he found he enjoyed it and could hit it a long way, so he’s worked on it for nearly 15 years, getting the right equipment, some sponsors, good coaching and keeping his fitness level high.

This year, a lot of that paid off when Easterly finished second in the world championships in October in Oklahoma. He found the grid with a 386-yard drive falling to Tim Burke by eight yards. With a wind over the left shoulder for right-handed drivers, hitting the grid with power was one of the keys to success on the night of the Finals. Easterly regularly hits it past 400 yards and explains, now as about a 10-handicapper, the difference between what he does and what they’re doing on the PGA Tour.

“They’re trying to drive it into a 25 yard area and set up their second shot. I’m driving it into about a 60-yard wide area and I’m not worried about the second shot,” he said with a laugh.

In the past decade, Easterly admits his length has grown because of hard work but also because of the information available. GolfTec is one of his sponsors and the “numbers” he gets through their technology of measuring swing speed, launch angle, ball speed and the like, allow him to concentrate on specific things to hit it longer.

“I’m looking at club head speed, but also ‘smash factor’ which is a measure of how efficiently you’re hitting the golf ball,” he explained. “You can swing as fast as you want but if you’re not hitting it in the center of the clubface, you’re not getting what you want out of that shot.”

Easterly uses a “Krank” driver that measures 50-inches long and a “Tornado Tee” that minimizes the friction on the ball.

“You don’t want anything affecting the ball except the club,” he noted.

At 38-years old, Easterly is married, has two kids and has a full-time job on the JSO in Zone Two. That could keep him from pursuing long driving as a career, but there’s not that much money in it, at least for now. The Golf Channel has purchased the organization that puts on the long drive competitions and there’s talk they’ll create a tour where the competitors can make a living.

“I only went to four competitions last year,” Easterly told us. “I won in Tennessee and made it to the Finals in the Worlds but if there’s a Tour, I’ll keep working on my fitness and my game and I’ll try to be on it.”

So how long can he hit it? On this day the GolfTec equipment measured drive after drive right around 400 yards, with a long of 413. If you’re a golfer, Jeremy explained that his miss “is to the right. I normally draw the ball when I’m playing but with this long driver, my miss is to the right.” But when he squares the clubface and gets it going straight or with a little fade or draw, it hangs in the air for 8 or 9 seconds before falling to the ground somewhere over 385 and rolling out.

You’d think a long drive in competition of 441 yards would win going away, but even with his most prodigious competition swing in Mesquite, NV that day, he lost by 25 yards. “It was downwind and I smashed it, but got beat by one measured at nearly 470. I think it would have gone off the grid if it hadn’t one hopped into the mountain!” he said, marveling at the competition.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley On Defense: “We’re Not Getting What We Need”

In their continuing struggle to find some kind of consistency, the Jaguars are hit or miss when it comes to which side of the ball will show up each week. While building a strong run defense, one of the best in the league in yards per carry, the Titans took advantage of the short passing game and the yards after catch on Sunday to move the ball against the Jaguars. For Gus Bradley a former defensive coordinator and a defensive minded head coach, it’s about getting pressure on the quarterback.


“We’re trying to figure it out,” Bradley said after looking at video of the loss at Tennessee. “It’s all about rush and cover. Right now, we’re not putting that together. If we need to send more guys in pressure, it’s hard for us to hold up with the coverage. If we’re playing the extra guy in coverage, then we’re not getting the pressure that we need.”

It’s not for lack of changing things up. During the game, Thurston Armbrister was benched in favor of Jordan Tripp at the Otto (strong linebacker) position. If Paul Pozluszny can’t play because of a broken hand, it’ll be Tripp at middle linebacker. Armbrister just needs to play better.

“I think he’ll respond,” Bradley explained. “He went back in there. It’s not like he didn’t play anymore. He was in there in goal line situations. I think it’s more of a heightened awareness of what we expect out of that position.”

And while there have been opinions that Defensive Coordinator Bob Babich isn’t putting the Jaguars in the right situations for down and distance, Bradley disagreed, saying no matter who’s calling the plays, it’s the way the players execute that makes the difference.

“We ran three-man, four-man, five-man, six-man, different styles of pressures,” Gus said. “I think that we’re competing to try to figure out what works best for our guys. We’ve got some good players and right now, we’re not playing fast. I think that’s what we need to take a look at more than anything.”

In Bradley’s scheme that worked so well in Seattle, it’s what he calls the “Leo” position that can change how the defense plays. That player needs to pressure the quarterback, but also set the edge and have speed. Chris Clemons did that last year and it was expected Dante Fowler would fill that role in 2015. After he was injured in the spring, Clemons and Andre Branch took over the position by default, but haven’t produced.

“I can’t argue that fact. When we’re looking at the LEO spot, what we’re getting out of the Leo the last couple of weeks, we need to find a way to get more. Straining. You’re right. I think overall the Leo spot, what we’re hoping to get out of that position, we’re not getting exactly what we want.”

That’s pretty frank talk for a coach who usually deflects any criticism of his players. But Bradley knows it’s a glaring spot on defense that isn’t getting the job done and he can’t hide it. He’s looking for ways to get that position with more production in the pass rush to take pressure off the rest of the defense. They’ve gone to Chris Smith on occasion but because of needs at other positions, he was inactive against the Titans. He’ll get a closer look for the last quarter of the season.

“The pass game is where we haven’t seen as much production as we need out of that. To challenge them in different ways, that’s a conversation that we’ll have as a coaching staff and talk to both of them and all of them. They’re hurting just as much too. They want to try to find a way to be more productive, we were close on occasion. We have to find a way, whether it’s through games, different alignments, things like that. We have to find a way to get more production.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Mistakes Doom Them Vs. Titans

Perhaps the most frustrating things for Jaguars fans and maybe even the coaching staff is they don’t know which team will show up on any given Sunday. Young, developing teams need to have a personality and build it. The Jaguars have never done that consistently. For most of this year they could count on the defense stopping the run and keeping them in games. Against Tennessee they had some success on offense and scored in the red zone but the defense was shredded in the first half, giving up 21 points.

With quarterback Marcus Mariota executing Interim Head Coach Mike Mularkey’s game plan, the Titans didn’t have any problem moving the ball downfield after an initial three and out. Tight End Delanie Walker creates a match up problem for most teams and the Jaguars defensive scheme played right into the Titans hands. Mariota found Walker in the end zone matched one on one with Jonathan Cyprien for a TD to take a 14-6 lead. Even at the line of scrimmage it was obvious Walker would be open, all Mariota had to do was find him.

On offense, the Jaguars scored in the red zone, a little pick play to Rashad Greene but Jason Myers missed the extra point and the Jaguars trailed 7-6. The second Jaguars TD was also in the red zone, a run by TJ Yeldon, his first rushing TD of the year. Gus Bradley decided to chase points early in the game, never a good decision and the Jaguars failed on the 2-point conversion to trail 14-12. The 2-point play was just a simple 5 wide receiver hook play, not giving Bortles many options.

Under two minutes, the Titans converted on 3rd down when the Jaguars rushed seven and didn’t get to Mariota giving him time to find the open man downfield. Bad tackling allowed Tennessee to get to the one-yard line with just 3 seconds to play. Mularkey passed on a field goal; instead knowing his offensive line was blowing open holes on the Jaguars front four. A simple off tackle run gave the Titans a TD and a 21-12 lead at halftime.

By deferring to the second half after winning coin toss, the Titans did steal an extra possession but the Jaguars stopped them to open the third quarter and forced a punt.

Looking more in sync than in the first half, the Jaguars offense marched down the field, TJ Yeldon doing a nice job running the ball and picking up the blitz with Bortles buying some time to find the open receiver. Eventually Bortles got wide and had some time to hit Allen Robinson again for a TD to pull within 21-19. Jason Myers hit the extra point, this time from near the middle of the field. They’ve tried both hash marks and the middle so they should probably pick one and stick with it.

But tackling problems continued to plague the Jaguars defense in the second half. Mariota hit Doral Green-Beckham across the middle with Davon House trailing for a 47-yard TD. Three Jaguars had a shot at Green-Beckham after he caught the ball but none could bring him down and he stepped into the end zone. 28-19 Titans.

Right back down the field, Bortles with a big drive and another TD pass to Allen Robinson puts the Jaguars back within three. Myers again missed the extra point, pretty much ensuring the team will bring some kickers in this week and look elsewhere. Growing with a kicker is one thing, letting him cost you games is something else. If you’re wondering about Josh Scobee, he’s in Jacksonville making $3 million not playing. He’s a possibility and the Jaguars aren’t against bringing him back. After stopping the Titans, Bortles took them right back down to the red zone again, this time hitting Julius Thomas for a TD and the lead 32-28.

That’s when the game got crazy.

On 3rd and 11, the defense was about to give the ball back to Bortles to add to the lead, brining seven players against Mariota and forcing him out of the pocket. Problem was, he was headed straight up field and outran everybody for an 87-yard TD, the longest rushing TD in the NFL this year. 35-32. Titans.

On the next play, Stefan Wisnewski snapped the ball over Bortles head and it was recovered in the end zone by Wesley Woodyard of the Titans for a 42-32 lead.

This time a little dump pass on a circle route from Bortles to Yeldon resulted in a 67-yard gain and a first down in the red zone. Bortles to Robinson from seven yards out made the Jaguars 6 for 6 in the red zone for the day and brought them within three points again, 42-39.

Pretty good clock management and solid defense got the Jaguars the ball back with just under 3 minutes to play but four pass calls and a sack on 4th down ended the Jaguars chances.

I wasn’t sure if Mike Mularkey was trying to stick it to the Jaguars at the end of the game or not. There were a couple of chances he had to kneel on it and run the clock out but instead he ran it in there and even tried play action on 4th down, looking for another TD. Either way, the game ended and the Jaguars fell to 4-8.

This was another one of those games where you can point to specific things that got the Jaguars beat. Bad tackling, missed extra points, a bad snap and failing to get off the field on 3rd down on defense cost them a chance at a win against a “beatable” opponent. If good teams beat teams they’re supposed to beat, the Jaguars haven’t gotten there yet.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Titans: A Glimpse Ahead

While thankfully talk of the post-season has faded since last week’s loss to the Chargers, the Jaguars five remaining games will give them a glimpse to the future and a chance to put some numbers up that show they’re an improving team.

Facing the Titans today, they have a chance to win their 4th game in six tries and grab their fifth victory of the season, a number they haven’t reached since 2011

“Football, like life,” Owner Shad Khan said in London, “Isn’t a straight line up. There are some ups and downs.” Khan was referring to the overall picture of the Jaguars since he took over in 2012 and the assessment of General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley.

When you look at the big picture, no question the Jaguars are an improved and improving team. But when you see it game-by-game, play-by-play, the mistakes and consequently the losses can be discouraging. It’s not in his nature to be discouraged so Bradley chooses to see it from the other side of the equation.

“We’ve entered this next stage,’ Bradley said earlier in the season after one of several close, heartbreaking losses. “It’s a stage where we’re in these one possession games and we need to learn how to win those games.”

In the cyclical world of the NFL, the Jaguars should be an ascending team considering their draft position in the last four years and the money they’ve had available in free agency.

Showing that he didn’t think they were ready yet, Caldwell has been very conservative during free agency, taking players in their second contract phase who looked to have some years and some upside remaining in their career. This year’s class has provided some stability both short and long term on offense and defense. Based on the growth of their young players and what the expectation will be when it comes to wins and losses next season, it won’t be surprising to see a shift in the free-agent focus once 2015 concludes.

To a certain point, Caldwell and the Jaguars will be interested in short-term fixes and big-money free agents they haven’t competed for in the past. The losses of Sen’Derrick Marks, Dante Fowler and James Sample this season didn’t give them a chance to look at those three positions (interior Dine, Leo and safety) and those three have been deficient in their 2015 production. No doubt free agency will be a place the Jaguars look to fix that issue.

Still in the NFL’s concussion protocol program, Allen Hurns won’t play today, his first missed game in 27 NFL games. Marqise Lee should get the start after missing six of the first eight games with a hamstring injury. Lee has great speed and was a dynamic college player, but since turning pro, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Every time he runs a route, he’s one of those guys you expect to put his hand up and come to the sidelines once the whistle blows. If he can stay healthy and productive, it changes the whole dynamic for the Jaguars offense.

The same could be said for Rashad Greene who’s “suddenness” Gus Bradley has talked about during the week. Greene’s 63-yard punt return set up the game winning TD for the Jaguars in the last meeting between these two teams on November 19th. Adding him to the offensive mix creates matchup problems for a third corner or a safety trying to cover him in the slot.

Putting Toby Gerhart on injured reserve ended his season and possibly his Jaguars career this week. Bernard Pierce is listed as questionable and Dan Skuta will miss this game as well.

Today against the Titans it’s a chance to show that the Jaguars are capable of beating teams they’re supposed to beat. Going up against a team that’s “beatable” and taking care of business is something the Jaguars need to learn how to do in a business like fashion.

Across the board, the Jaguars are a better team than Tennessee and quarterback play will be the difference. If Blake Bortles starts to play better as he had earlier this year, the Jaguars will come home with a victory. But if he continues to struggle, especially in the red zone and if Marcus Mariota’s ball handling, running and intermediate passing game are successful, it’ll be tough to secure a road win in Nashville.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

A “Speed” Friday For The Jaguars

It was a bit of a different Friday for the Jaguars as they finish up their preparations to play the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday. Usually Friday is a walk-thru, instructional and very coach oriented. Instead, Head Coach Gus Bradley said the team addressed some specific things they saw in the game against San Diego, especially in the red zone.

“We went out there and did some live reps with it against the defense so really tried to address in a different manner some of the things that have popped up,” Bradley said. “We’ve still got another day of preparation.”

In analyzing the specifics of what’s going wrong both on offense and defense inside the 20, Bradley said first down is pretty good but second and third down are a problem, so they’re trying to simulate that as best they can.

“Defense played their package offense there and got some extra reps in different situations that way,” he explained. “We played more at the speed of the game rather than a walk-through mode.”

Without any practice time this week, Allen Hurns has been declared out of Sunday’s game. Hurns continues in the NFL’s concussion protocol, a very specific program put into place to determine whether a player is ready to get back in the game or not. Hurns won’t play this week and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back in the lineup next Sunday either.

“It’s more steps, not days,” Bradley related. “It’s like five steps that they have to go through and I think some people automatically assume that’s five days. There are some instances depending on independent neurologists that step one and two can be done the same day.”

And sometimes it takes longer so there’s no timetable set for a player’s return to the lineup.

With Hurns out, Marqise Lee has gotten a majority of the reps in practice in his spot with Rashad Greene also seeing more time with the first team offense. Bradley hopes Lee and quarterback Blake Bortles are getting some chemistry through practice.

“For him (Lee) the amount of reps he’s gotten is always good. You see guys like Julius and Blake the last couple of weeks have gone off on their own and worked on some timing things and you’re seeing the same things as Blake and Marqise. That’s a work in progress but it continues to be improving.”

Bradley doesn’t think Greene’s increased role on offense will impact his availability on special teams.

“We really like Rashad. I think that him coming back from his injury and he gives us something that we don’t have; the suddenness that he has.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Mariota vs. Jaguars Defense

If you want to consider most everything else on both teams being equal, it could come down to quarterback play this week for the Jaguars against the Titans. As the number two pick out of Oregon, Marcus Mariota is a true rookie. Blake Bortles is in the middle of his second year in the league. Bortles has shown great improvement over his rookie year although he’s hit a bit of a plateau recently while Mariota has been impressive since day one. His quarterback rating through 11 games is 92.0, good by any measure.

“That’s a pretty good quarterback rating,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich said on Thursday. “I believe in the red zone that he’s really good. He’s done a great job for a rookie. Obviously, I think as our players do on our defense, rookies, as they play, the more they play the better they get and the more things they recognize, and those types of things.”

Babich agreed that Mariota is most comfortable with intermediate passing routes because of the offense he played at Oregon. But it’s his ability to keep plays going and get out of trouble that Babich said he recognized early.

“Well, I think he can scramble and make some plays with his legs. He’s doing a good job of scrambling with vision and looking downfield and pulling it down … And I think that with slants and things like that, he’s really good with his timing and his accuracy.”

Just 18 days are between the two meetings of the AFC South rivals, so what they used in the first meeting doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll show up in game two.

“You can’t get comfortable because you think ‘We know those guys,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said a couple of times this week. “You get to know their personnel but last time it was a short week. They didn’t show everything, they’ll have some new players in the lineup. We have to guard against thinking we know what’s coming.”

Babich agreed you have to look at it like a whole new opponent. “It’s a little cat-and-mouse game, obviously the same thing – we’re looking at what they did versus us. In a game like this, your fundamentals – you have to make sure your fundamentals take over – and possibly do some things schematically, or whatever you need to do.”

Last week Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers took advantage of a Jaguars defense that seemed to regress to the same problems they created at the beginning of the year. Part of that was Rivers, part of that was the defense just not playing well. Not enough pass rush, not good enough play on the back end.

“We were discouraged – starting with me,” Babich explained. “We were discouraged with the way we played, in particular in the second quarter. The guys came out, fought hard [and] gave up only 10 points in the second half. So, starting with me, I have to do a better job.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bell and JU: A Messy Split

At JU, the dynamic wasn’t working between Head Football Coach Kerwin Bell and the current university president Tim Cost. Bell had been hired by the previous administration and was asked to build the program with a long-term eye on stepping it up into a different conference and offering scholarships. He approached his job every day with the idea of improving the program, winning games, raising money, and perhaps someday, maybe 10 more years down the road, the Dolphins would make the move to scholarship football.

No matter which side of the discussion you side with, both have merit. At this point Cost wants to keep the program the same and since he’s in charge, it’ll stay the same. No problem there but the Dolphins handling of the situation was unnecessarily messy.

Bell hasn’t been shy about where he was driving the Dolphins football program and with an 18-4 record in the last two years, he was able to talk with local JU supporters about funding the program with scholarships in mind.

So Bell and Cost were at cross-purposes. You’d think those two, along with Athletic Director Dr. Donnie Horner would have met sometime last summer, knowing Kerwin’s contract was up this year and talked about the future of the program. They could have come to an agreement that they saw the future differently, had Bell coach through this year and parted ways.

Instead, just under two weeks since finishing the 2015 season 9-2, knowing they didn’t have a post-season in their future, Bell was told the school wasn’t thinking about scholarships and his services were no longer needed.

Finding a job shouldn’t be hard for a coach with Bell’s record and his reputation for being an offensive guru. The next coach at JU will know that the program is what it is, which is fine, a nice Saturday afternoon on the river against like-minded schools.

But just don’t ask, “What might have been?”

On another note, it was pretty obvious when Mark Richt’s name started being linked to the University of Miami head-coaching job that he wasn’t going to stick around and coach the Georgia Bulldogs for long. Richt had the staff Christmas Party scheduled in Athens for December 14th but sent out an email this morning that the party had been cancelled. Of course it was, since he wasn’t going to be in the building any longer after taking the Miami job on Saturday morning. Richt then told his team and the ‘Dogs will be led by Bryan Clendon who’s currently the assistant head coach and wide receivers coach in Athens.