Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars, Coughlin Moving On?

It appears the Jaguars and Tom Coughlin have decided in this case, “you can’t go home again.” Although there are conflicting signals, including Coughlin quoted as saying “If it’s the right fit” he’d be interested, at this point the Jaguars are looking elsewhere.

Whether it was the team or Coughlin or both, they couldn’t find enough common ground when it comes to a role Tom would occupy in the Jaguars management structure. All along, Coughlin was never going to just be a “candidate.” He was either going to be their head coach or he wasn’t instead of just one of the possibilities.

A reported meeting on Wednesday included Tom and some of the Jaguars brass, but it’s unclear whether General Manager Dave Caldwell was present. Either way, the two sides apparently have moved on at this point, only to return to the discussion if something drastically changes.

Having hired an executive search firm, the team will vet their findings as well as lean on Caldwell’s contacts and experience in the NFL. Having worked for Bill Polian in Indianapolis and Thomas Dimitrioff in Atlanta, Caldwell is well connected in the league and said he would use his “personal network” as a resource when looking for a new head coach.

While not necessary, according to Caldwell, the Jaguars general manager said past head coaching experience would be a plus in his search. He also was emphatic about creating a “winning culture” from the players the Jaguars currently have in their locker room.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coughlin As Head Coach, Czar?

It’s doesn’t necessarily need to be Tom Coughlin but a “Tom Coughlin like” coach is probably somewhere in the Jaguars near future. League sources and media reports have Coughlin interviewing with the Jaguars on Wednesday, possibly for the head-coaching job.

Since his departure from the New York Giants, Coughlin has said his career wasn’t over, but hasn’t ruled out joining an organization in a different role than head coach.

“We talked with several clubs but couldn’t come to an agreement,” Coughlin confirmed earlier this year when asked if he’d do something other than coach. “We couldn’t quite find the right role, so nothing happened,” he added. Since that admission, it’s been reported that Coughlin talked with the Bills, Eagle and Jaguars about various roles in the organization. In Jacksonville, it would have been a role akin to a President of Football Operations, working in concert with the Head Coach and the General Manager.

While they couldn’t find the common ground necessary before the 2016 season, now that the Jaguars are searching for a head coach, there could be more leeway for Coughlin to join the organization. That means he and General Manager Dave Caldwell would have to figure out how to work together since Caldwell currently has the final say on personnel decisions.

Since Coughlin currently isn’t coaching in the league, the Jaguars can talk to him about any position, including head coach. At 70 years old, Tom says age isn’t a factor in his ability to still work the sidelines. Talking to him now is important if the two sides decide that he’ll be with the organization in 2017. Whether as head coach or in some other capacity, Coughlin can get a head start on staff decisions based on what current head coaches and staffs in the NFL will be let go on January 2nd, commonly known in the league as “Black Monday.”

If Coughlin is going to be the head coach, they’ll make that announcement quickly. He’s not going to be a “candidate” among other coaches. He’s either going to be the head coach or he’s not. If so, he’ll start making discreet contact with potential members of a future staff so he will have his pick when they’re available.

It was revealed this week that the Jaguars have hired a search firm to vet the candidates for the head-coaching job. While that’s currently in vogue among NFL clubs, Coughlin probably isn’t part of that search. He’s an outlier among the assistants, coordinators and college coaches who will be considered suitable for the job. Getting rid of Gus Bradley two weeks before the end of the season gives the Jaguars a chance to decide whether Coughlin is the right fit. If not, they’ll move on quickly.

Coughlin was the first coach and general manager in Jaguars history and guided the franchise to a 68-60 record and a pair of AFC Championship Game appearances from 1995 to 2002.

The Jaguars fired Coughlin after the 2002 season with then owner Wayne Weaver saying it was the biggest mistake of his ownership tenure. But at the time, Coughlin was very unpopular in Jacksonville and ticket sales were lagging. . The Giants hired him in 2004, and he went on to compile a 102-90 record and win two Super Bowls. He is currently the NFL’s senior adviser to football operations, working in the league office on the weekends advising on replay and other matters.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Marrone: Business As Usual

It was pretty much business as usual for Interim Head Coach Doug Marrone’s first conference call after leading the Jaguars to victory last Saturday. He still deflected any credit for the win, saying the players made the difference.

“The players went out and did well, if they didn’t would that be a reflection of me?” he asked rhetorically. “I’ve been a head coach before. I’m still focused on the players and the assistant coaches here.”

As a candidate for the permanent position with the Jaguars, Marrone seems to be an afterthought. But could he be a serious candidate if they win again next week? He still doesn’t see these two weeks as an audition.

“No matter what happens here, at least they can go forward, with a good idea of what can happen here in the future,” he said.

Whether watching it live or reviewing the game video, it’s pretty obvious that the difference in the Jaguars was the play of quarterback Blake Bortles. He made the routine throws; he made quick decision, just played like he was supposed to have played all year.

“For Blake it’s probably his best game of the season.” Marrone said. “He got off to a good start. Got ARod involved early. Overall, outstanding, taking what the defense was giving him. Very impressed.”

Was there a difference? Did they do something that made things better? Or is it just coincidence that Bortles and Allen Robinson as well as the whole offense played their best game of the year the week after Gus Bradley was fired? Marrone admitted they moved Robinson around to some different positions on the line of scrimmage but that was about it.

“I can’t answer how they were feeling but we did try to make an effort during the week to get a couple of extra throws in. We wanted to keep the communication happening.”

So why did the Jaguars as a whole play better? Marrone couldn’t answer that except to give credit to the players and how they approached the game. No different than any other according to the guy temporarily in charge.

“I think there were times that we put the ball on the ground and had penalties we wound up being fortunate,” he explained. “They felt comfortable with the plan and how we wanted to attack the Titans. I saw a level of focus that when we took the field that we had goals in mind and how to do them.”

As simple as that I suppose, but when it comes right down to it, your team goes as your quarterback goes in the NFL. If Bortles had played close to this way all year, the Jaguars would be one of the teams “in the hunt” for a playoff spot.

Some credit is due Marrone for keeping a steady hand during the week, tweaking a few things but getting the staff and the players ready to play a football game. He might have a bit of a self-deprecating manner about his role, but his actions set the tone for the team and allowed them to play.

On some specific notes, Doug said it was good play calling by both Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and Bortles that kept the Titans guessing. “The NFL is about trying to stay a step ahead. If you’re having success with a play, they’re going to make an adjustment and take that away.”

And that both Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue are coming along.

“It’s one of the more difficult situations for young defensive ends coming into the league. You can out-athletic or out-physical people in college. In the NFL, tackles are bigger, more athletic, have more patience. Quarterbacks get rid of the ball quicker.”

On the offensive line, he pointed to right tackle Jeremy Parnell as a player who’s lifting his game at the end of the year.

“The last three games we’ve played, Parnell has had the best three games he’s played since he’s been here. AJ has had some inconsistency in pass protection but had his most physical game. We feel pretty good about the direction they’re going.”

But he saved his most effusive praise for Jalen Ramsey saying he probably hasn’t come close to as good as he’ll be.

“I have been around some very good corners, Pro Bowl type players. Ramsey has everything you want, for me; the thing I’ve been most impressed with is his competitiveness. I see someone who goes out there who’s extremely competitive and wants to get the job done. There’s no ceiling to his ability.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Win, If Only . . .

There weren’t any over-the-top celebrations after the Jaguars win at home against Tennessee on Saturday. It seemed like they knew this is how they were supposed to play all year.

“This game was who we are,” Sen’Derrick Marks said in front of his locker. “I guess we kept shooting ourselves in the foot all year and it seemed like today, we didn’t. We did everything that was asked, stuck with the game plan, moved the ball and stopped them on defense. I think we just had a better understanding of what they were trying to do to us compared to what they did to us last game.”

For only the second time this year, the Jaguars scored on their opening possession against the Titans. A nice drive down the field with Marqis Lee catching a TD pass to give the Jaguars a 7-0 lead. It was Blake Bortles at quarterback, but he looked nothing like the Bortles we’ve seen for the first 14 games of the year. Decisive and accurate, Blake wasn’t waiting around in the pocket but rather making decisions and going with them quickly. And it was working. The Jaguars offense kept it up and the defense held up their end of the deal taking a 10-0 lead.

“From the first play, it was ‘Let’s be efficient.'” Bortles said in his post game remarks. “That was kind of our thing this week – ‘Let’s be efficient, let’s take the completions and when they give us a shot let’s take it when we can.’ I think we were able to do that, and I thought for the most part, we were pretty efficient throughout the game.”

That’s when the wrong mistakes at the wrong time came back to bite them again, Sheldon Day getting called for roughing the passer on third and long, extending the drive and helping the Titans to a TD to make it 10-7.

It was 19-7 at halftime as Chris Ivory (who fumbled again) scored from one yard out, the drive a combination of good play calls by offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and solid throws by Blake Bortles. And although he missed an extra point, Jason Myers hit a 48-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in the half to lead by 12.

The teams exchanged field goals in the third quarter with Jason Myers adding his 3rd and 4th to give the Jaguars a 25-10 lead.

It was a little more conservative decision-making for Interim Head Coach Doug Marrone than expected. Taking field goals and the points from Myers instead of going for it on 4th and short a couple of times near midfield.

You could sense the Jaguars confidence growing in the third quarter despite a few of the same old mistakes that have gotten them beat all year. Both TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory had left the game by the middle of the third quarter with injuries. Both with reoccurrences of their ankle and hamstring injuries. The Jaguars also broke open the playbook when the Titans drew within 25-17 with an end around pass from Lee to Bortles for a TD.

“I’m proud of the guys keeping their foot on the gas pedal. Getting points, kicking field goals.” Bortles said. It’s the first time since the ’85 Bears did it with Walter Payton and Jim McMahon that players have thrown TD passes to each other in the same game.

“I was telling somebody earlier that of the two or three inches we seem to be missing on all season, it kind of came together today,” Blake added. “He (Allen Robinson) made some unbelievable plays, had some unbelievable releases at the line to get open and get off of press coverage and did a really good job. So it felt good for him. I was really excited for him to have a big day.”

And as well as Jalen Ramsey has been playing, it was only a matter of time before he picked one off and ran it for a TD. On the first play from scrimmage for the Titans, Matt Cassell threw a little out pattern but Ramsey stepped in front and scored to make it 38-17.

In their first game without Gus Bradley on the sidelines, it was baffling to see the Jaguars play the way you expected to see them perform all year. Some mistakes that all teams make but competitive and effective most of the time.

“The 1st person who went through my mind was Gus and his family. The 2nd was our fans,” Marrone said in his post-game remarks.

Certainly this team had some extra motivation after being embarrassed by the Titans on national television in October but more than anything, it was the play by Bortles that kept the Jaguars from losing. Routine throws, fairly accurate and quick decision-making without turning it over saw the Jaguars moving the chains, controlling field position and scoring points. It’s a shame they couldn’t play like this for Bradley but as has been said all year, regardless of who the coach is, if your quarterback can’t play, you can’t win.

Marrone said, “This win isn’t about me. Gus Bradley is a major part of this.”

And Malik Jackson summed it up this way:

“The fans did an awesome job, the ones that came. I mean God bless them. It was huge. I don’t think they realize the noise they make really hurts the offense, so we really appreciate you guys and we’re going to keep trying to get this thing going, win next week and go into the offseason with some wins to build on for next year.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Fired: Who’s Next?

As the 2016 season progressed, it became obvious that Gus Bradley’s philosophy of empowering the players with the accountability and discipline of the team wasn’t working on the current Jaguars. Gus is about as good a guy as you’ll ever meet. You’d want him as a brother, a brother in law, a neighbor and even as a football coach. But as a head coach for this Jaguars team this year, his message didn’t take. “We let you down,” Jaguars Defensive Tackle Roy Miller tweeted Sunday night after Bradley was let go.

Each time we’d ask Gus about his job security, he’d deflect the question, saying he wasn’t worried about that. “He’s wrong,” ESPN’s Mike DiRocco said when we talked about that issue on Jaguars Friday Night. And while Owner Shad Khan saw changing coaches in-season as a sign of organization weakness, he and General Manager Dave Caldwell came to the conclusion last week that they were ready to move on from the Bradley era of the Jaguars.

“Gus and I have a unique relationship and I couldn’t lie to him,” Caldwell said of the timing of the announcement. He added that once he and Khan had made the decision on Saturday, they didn’t think it would be fair to tell Bradley before the game with the Texans. Caldwell says he followed Bradley into his locker room in Houston and told him they were moving on. He did give Gus the option of delaying the announcement until Monday but Bradley said he’d call his family and to get it out Sunday night. Bradley did board the bus and was on the team charter returning to Jacksonville. He thanked the staff, the coaches and the players as he made his way up and down the isles on the charter. Everybody involved seemed to be trying to make the best of a messy, clumsy, awkward situation.

Monday afternoon, Caldwell addressed the media and talked about the change as well as named Offensive Line Coach Doug Marrone as interim head coach for the Jaguars. Marrone is the former head coach for two years in Buffalo and at his alma mater Syracuse. He’s been the Assistant Head Coach for the Jaguars since 2015.

Beyond that, Caldwell will be the one starting the search for a new head coach and hiring the next leader of the team. Just where he’ll look is the big question. He said today that experience will play a role in his selection process.

“I don’t want to say that it’s a high priority, but I would say it’s something that would be helpful for a coach,” Caldwell said from the podium at the stadium. “I don’t want to avoid a candidate if he doesn’t have it because you can be overlooking a great future head coach. Experience is critical, even with our players. Our players are young, but they may lack experience in certain areas and I think experience is invaluable.”

When asked if former Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin would be on his list, Caldwell quickly said, “Tom Coughlin is somebody we’d be interested in talking to.”

Some obvious names will percolate to the top of the list along with Coughlin: Josh McDaniels the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and former head coach in Denver. Mike Smith, the former Head Coach in Atlanta, former defensive coordinator in Jacksonville and now the DC in Tampa. Todd Haley, the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, David Shaw, the current head coach at Stanford and Sean Payton, the Head Coach of the Saints, rumored to be out in New Orleans. Several NFL assistants will make the list, including Kyle Shanahan.

Names like Hall of Famer Tony Dungy and John Gruden will also be floated, but neither is likely to coach in the NFL again. Dungy is a mentor and advisor as well as a TV analyst these days and Gruden is having too much fun on ESPN and making too much money. Bill Cowher would be an excellent choice and if all it takes is money, Shad will offer it to him. But Cowher has turned down lucrative head coaching jobs in the past and said on Sunday on CBS when asked if he’d be interested in the Los Angeles job that he wouldn’t be coaching in the NFL again.

If Coughiin does want to coach again, the Jaguars would be a good choice if he would be willing to accept a role as the Head Coach with some personnel input but the decisions ending with Caldwell. The Jaguars spoke to Coughlin about a role other than head coach prior to this season but couldn’t find enough common ground. If Caldwell calls him, they’ll meet and try to solidify a relationship. I doubt there will be an interview process. He’ll either be offered the job or they’ll move on. Tom’s resume is well documented and contains two Lombardi Trophies. At 70 years old, a return to the sideline would also delay Coughlin’s eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There’s a five-year waiting period after retirement until eligibility.

After being fired in Denver, McDaniels went back to New England where he’s had plenty of success with Tom Brady. But he was disliked in Denver, which precipitated his firing and Tom Brady is, well, Tom Brady. If Blake Bortles were in Dave Caldwell’s plans for the Jaguars future, McDaniels would have to buy into that. In fact, that will be the first discussion Caldwell has with any potential head-coaching candidate: Do you think Blake Bortles is fixable?

Knowing Jacksonville well and a very popular figure here, Mike Smith could be an interesting choice for Caldwell. The downside is he’s a defensive coach and the Jaguars are hurting on offense more than anything. Smith’s charisma might overcome that as well as his track record in Atlanta. Since Caldwell worked for Thomas Dimitrioff, the GM in Atlanta, he’ll find out why he fired Smith and if he thought Smith would be a good fit here. His candidacy could soar to the top or be stopped by that one conversation.

As the quarterback Blake Bortles is most compared to, Ben Roethlisberger has enjoyed tremendous success under Todd Haley’s direction. Haley has been a head coach in the league in Kansas City and has stepped up Roethlisberger’s production since going to Pittsburgh and could be considered a good fit to work with Bortles.

If Caldwell is willing to go into the college coaching ranks, and he said as much today, Shaw from Stanford is on everybody’s list. A winner with a football pedigree, he’ll get a head coaching job in the league if he wants one.

Sean Payton would free up about $40 million for the Saints as they go through an ownership transition. Caldwell would have to part with a draft pick to sign Payton but since he has a record of success, is on the Bill Parcell’s coaching tree and has worked with successful quarterbacks like Drew Brees, he might be a possibility. Caldwell said he’d be willing to trade for a coach if the right coach was available.

After January 1st, the final day of the NFL season, several current coaches will be on the market. There will be talk about John Fox in Chicago, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and Mike McCoy in San Diego. All could be interviewed for head coaching jobs, maybe even here in Jacksonville.

And to be sure, Caldwell will be making the decision.

“Shad, he has made it very clear that he expects big things from me and this coaching search, me and our staff for our free agency and the draft, to have a great offseason and then to have a better season come 2017,” the Jaguars GM explained. “I haven’t had to sell him or anything, but we have constant conversation about, hey, I’ll be the first to admit where I’ve made mistakes. And I’ve laid it out to Shad different places where I failed Gus, some things you guys don’t even know about, but some that you do. There was no selling. Shad just said, hey, I expect big things.”

There’s no rush to name a head coach, but moving on from Bradley with still two games to play means Caldwell wanted to talk with somebody who’s not in the league at this moment. The Rams’ firing of Jeff Fisher “got the ball rolling,” in the process according to Caldwell. The last thing Caldwell wanted to do was to have Coughlin at the top of his list and Tom take the job in Los Angeles without ever having talked with him.

Although he said there are no “untouchables” on the Jaguars, including himself, Caldwell said he’s committed to Bortles as the starting quarterback. He added that he would solicit opinions about Bortles from the candidates to hear what they thought. He was willing to say he wanted to hear other opinions different from his own.

Once he gets the list down to a manageable size, he’ll get opinions around the league of “how he treats people, what he’s like,” but noted that the face-to-face meetings are the eventual determining factor on who they’ll hire.

“You want to find out as much about a person as you can and where they’ve been and how they’ve treated people, how they’ve acted. I think the biggest thing you’ve got to understand a lot of it’s second-hand information to you. You’ve got to sit down with the person and spend a lot of time not being impetuous with the decision and really kind of get to know the person before you make the decision. Then you’ve got to rely on your instincts when you select them.”

Here’s Shad’s statement:

“I thanked Gus Bradley today for his commitment to the Jacksonville Jaguars over the past four seasons. As anyone close to our team knows, Gus gave his staff and players literally everything he had. Our players competed for Gus and I know they have great respect for him, as do I.

Gus also represented the Jaguars, the Jacksonville community and the NFL in nothing less than a first-class manner as our head coach. That counts for a lot. It is unfortunately evident that we must make a change. I thought it would be best to do it immediately after today’s result so Gus can step away, relax and regroup with his family during the Christmas and holiday season.

Dave Caldwell agreed and will now be charged with exploring all options to hire the best head coach possible to lead what I feel is an extremely talented team and reward a very loyal and patient fan base in Jacksonville.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Recovery Is The New Fitness Science

“Exercise, eat right, get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids.”

Everybody’s heard that advice about staying healthy. As regular exercise became part of professional advice for living longer, more productive lives, the science of fitness found all kinds of “secrets” to being fit. It started with the number of reps, duration and amount of time between exercise, moved on to the intensity and then to the nutrition and hydration necessary to be at peak performance. It seems like everybody is wearing some kind of fitness “tracker.”

“Most of the exercise science in the last few years has been focused on recovery,” Jaguars Physical Therapist and Athletic Trainer Robby Hoenshel explained in the Jaguars training room on Tuesday.

While Tuesday is generally a “day off” for NFL players, the training room was full of Jaguars players rehabilitating injuries and getting their bodies ready for the physical demands of a Sunday game.

Looking for a way to help players begin their recovery quicker, the Jaguars and other professional sports teams have started using a new technology called “Firefly.”

“Cold tubs, massage, Normatec therapy, all of those work and are part of the routine, but the Firefly technology helps us start our players toward recovery immediately after the game,” Hoenshel explained. “Designed to be both portable and affordable, post-game, on a flight, resting and recovering, it’s a good time to get that in.”

On their website, Firefly says it’s an, “innovative, neuromuscular electro-stimulation (NMES) device, intended for the stimulation of healthy muscles to improve or facilitate muscle performance.” From a small strap that sends an electrical impulse to a nerve (peroneal) just outside the knee to stimulate blood flow in the lower leg. Originally designed as a way to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in patients and for passengers on long flights, Firefly has been found to have sports recovery applications.”

Their website goes on to say it “gently activate muscles in the lower leg that return blood towards the heart. This increase in blood circulation emulates that of active recovery without an athlete having to move or exert energy.”

Particularly after a road game in any professional sport, players sit on the airplane to fly home and like everybody else, sometimes get stiff and sore. This keeps that from happening in their lower legs. The Jaguars put Firefly on all 22 starters and any other players who ask for them. “We’ve had good success and guys are starting to ask for them,” Hoenshel added.

“Everyone knows it’s a long season so we’re looking for the quickest way to recover, ” Allen Hurns said as the Firefly was applied just below both of his knees. “It’s a jump start to the week, right after the game.”

“Coming back from London I had these on and was still able to get a lot of rest,” Hurns explained. “You feel little twitches but nothing that keeps you away from your sleep.”

While professional teams and athletes are seeing the benefits for immediate recovery, weekend athletes can also use the Firefly to stave off the soreness that comes from a hard workout. Anybody who’s given max effort at some point knows the feeling of “delayed onset muscle soreness” or “DOMS.” Keeping the blood flowing in your leg can keep that soreness from happening.

“Any weekend athlete will benefit from this, ” Jaguars team physician Dr. Kevin Kaplan told me has he attached the Firefly to my leg. “There are a lot of things that go into recovery a lot of pieces to the puzzle. After one of your long bike rides this is an excellent device to start your healing quicker.”

“As we all work out we know we’re tearing muscle and creating byproducts of exercise. Everybody feels great when they leave the gym,” “Dr. Kaplan explained,” “But the next day you get that delayed muscle soreness and fatigue. You want to get rid of those byproducts that build up in your muscles to speed up recovery.”

Backing up the science, I can tell you that putting the Firefly on for a couple of hours while I was working at my desk kept my normal post-workout soreness to a minimum.

A pair of Firefly straps is about $30 and they say they last for 30 hours of intermittent use. You can find out more about it at fireflyrecovery.us.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars vs. Ravens, London 2017

While we know the Jaguars will be playing in London next year and through 2020, tomorrow morning the NFL will announce the Jaguars opponent and the other three games to will be played in the UK.

Looking at the Jaguars home schedule for 2017 it will be a surprise if their opponent next year at Wembley is not the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are one of eight teams in the league that have not played a London game and Owner Steve Bisciotti has said he’s anxious for his club to participate in the International Series.

“I would absolutely love going to London,” Bisciotti said last year. “I think it would be great. Hopefully it would be the time of year that we could get a lot of fans over there, whether it be near Christmas or near Thanksgiving, or September when the weather is still beautiful, even in the U.K. I’m all for it. I think it would be a blast.”

Next year’s home and away opponents are already set, with the exception of the last place teams in the AFC East and West (Jets and Chargers for now.) With the Ravens on the schedule as a visitor in 2017, they’re the logical opponent to play in London next year.

Since the Jaguars are London’s “home” team, Owner Shad Khan has said they’ll always play at Wembley Stadium with its 90,000-seat capacity. Traveling to London to play a home game currently accounts for nearly 20% of the Jaguars yearly revenue through sponsorship and ticket sales.

It’s possible the Jaguars will play a second game in London in the future as the visitor but not in 2017. The league is expected to announce two games at Wembley and two at Twickenham Cricket Field for next year. In 2018, two games will by hosted by Tottenham Hotspurs’ new home field White Hall Lane.

When the Jaguars/Ravens game will be played probably won’t be announced until March or April with the release of the full NFL schedule. They’ve played in the middle of the season with a bye week following, but this year’s game against the Colts was in week four. The Jaguars organization seemed to like that with better weather and the early season trip. Indianapolis didn’t take their bye the week after London as teams have done in the past, so the Jaguars will study that as a possibility instead of taking their bye after the first quarter of the season.

Since the International Series was started in 2007 the Ravens haven’t been involved. The others teams are the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans.

This year the Browns are expected to host a game in London with Miami and New Orleans facing off in a third contest. The fourth game will no doubt involve at least one of the other teams that have never been overseas.

With financial help from the league, Khan has said the list of teams wanting to play in the UK has grown. “It used to be nobody wanted to go. Now everybody wants to be a part of it,” he said earlier this year.

The league is looking to expand its reach globally, and returned to Mexico for the first time in a decade this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Jaguars at some point were a “visitor” for an International Series game in Germany or Spain, two destinations Khan has mentioned in the past. They won’t give up another home game in Jacksonville according to team president Mark Lamping.

In each of the last three seasons the NFL has had three games in London to sold-out crowds. With four games in 2017, the league will have played 21 games there since the inaugural one in 2007.

“London staging a fourth NFL game is fantastic news — not only for the millions of sports fans who get to enjoy our iconic stadiums — but also because it confirms our status as the go-to choice for hosting the world’s biggest sporting events,” said Mayor Khan.

American football in the U.K. is booming. Sunday television audiences have more than doubled, and the Super Bowl audience has increased more than 75 percent. According to internal NFL research, the U.K. has almost 4 million avid fans, with a growing fan base of more than 13 million.

Critics of the International Series liken the NFL games in London to “circus performances and ice shows.” In the UK they, “cheer for punts and kicks more than touchdowns” one critic wrote. That might have been the case early in the series, particularly when the league played preseason games in London but no longer. The fans at Jaguars games, originally just NFL UK fans glad to be at a live game, have warmed to the Jaguars as their home team. The Jaguars home black is the predominant jersey at the games.

The NFL is scheduled to make the announcement before 10AM on Tuesday, December 13.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Will Jimmy Make It To The Hall?

As part of his journey to become a member of the Pride of the Jaguars, Jimmy Smith has seen a little bit of everything. From a draft bust to the rejected pile of NFL wide receivers, Smith rose to become one of the elite players in the game, only to fall from grace again as a jailed drug addict, now and forever recovering.

“Well, that journey has been tough and it’s not over yet,” Smith said on the day he was inducted into the Pride. “A friend was talking to me and he mentioned that I’m an all-pro at getting back up and that’s the message that I want to spread throughout – to every kid, every Jacksonville fan, every adult, everyone. Be an all-pro at getting back up, because you’re going to get knocked down.”

While among the elite in his career, including five Pro Bowl appearances, does Smith deserve a place in the Hall of Fame among the all-time greats?

A look at his statistics has him 21st in receiving yards, 46th in touchdowns and 24th in receptions. Smith finished his career with 862 catches for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns in 11 seasons.

Impressive, and the dominant receiver statistically in the middle of his career, but the Hall hasn’t been kind to receivers in the modern era. Fellow selector Vito Stellino has pointed out repeatedly that since the 1978 rule change allowing receivers to run free, numbers have been inflated year after year. So it’s not the numbers that impress the selectors (a committee I’ve been on since 1994) but rather the impact they had in their era.

It doesn’t help Jimmy that he played in Jacksonville. The exposure that major market teams get week after week plus the Jaguars lack of an appearance in the Super Bowl are hard obstacles to overcome. The playoff run in 1996 and the dominance in the regular season in 1999 gave Smith a recognizable name in the league but the lack of exposure to the major media markets puts him a half step behind players from just about anywhere else.

As part of the process, the Hall sends selectors a list of the 100 or so eligible players, coaches and contributors and we’re asked to pare that number down to twenty-five. Those who make that cut are called “semi-finalists.” In six years of eligibility, Jimmy has never made it as a semi-finalist. (Tony Boselli has made it the last two years.) From there we’re asked to cut the list to 15, and those 15 are discussed as finalists the day before the Super Bowl. Only 5 can be selected along with contributor and senior candidates. (As a footnote, about 90% of the players who become finalists are eventually inducted into the Hall.)

So it’s a tough road for anybody to get into the Hall. There’s also a pretty big backlog of receivers waiting for Hall induction. And it’s no guarantee that any will get in. Tim Brown, Chris Carter and Andre Reed sat on the ballot for years without induction. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth cancelled each other out year after year. Terrell Owens has monster numbers but is a controversial candidate. Randy Moss and others have moved to the top of the statistical list but haven’t even been discussed as finalists.

“It’ll be tough,” I told Jimmy and his long time friend and teammate Keenan McCardell when they asked me about his chances for the Hall. “A spot in the Pride of the Jaguars is a great honor and brings you that sense of immortality.”

After an emotional induction ceremony at halftime of the Jaguars game against Minnesota, Smith said getting into the Pride is a big deal to him.

“Mainly because this city, the owner Shad Khan, these fans, my teammates all recognize what I’ve done in my career. I think it starts here, before we go to the Hall of Fame. So that’s why this is even more important than a Hall of Fame nomination or anything like that.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Still Searching For Answers

Since 2000, the Jaguars have had three winning seasons, the last coming ten years ago. So we have some experience with teams out of contention at the end of the year. Some give up, some just play out the string, others try to build for the future. The 2016 version of the Jaguars is different from any other. Talented, but without any results to show for it, they approach each game as if it’s own season. What’s weird is walking into the locker room after another loss and feeling like you’re in the movie Groundhog Day. Nothing seems to change.

“I think the one thing you can’t do is start to point fingers,” Blake Bortles said in his post-game press conference. “I believe that there’s nobody that would do that in our locker room and that’s why it’s such a special group of guys.”

He’s right about that. You’d have to be special and feel like you’re part of something that can be good to do this week in and week out.

“It’s hard because what we’re doing is not working, and it’s hard to believe in, kind of, I guess, our routine because there are no positive results,” Bortles explained. “There’s nothing you can do besides continuing to work.”

Nobody’s happy, but nobody has an answer either. They keep coming to work, doing the things they think will allow them to win, but they keep on losing. As if they’ve forgotten how to win.

“It’s tough anytime you lose,” Blake said. “I know for me personally, I can’t wait to play on Sunday the following week and get another opportunity and hopefully to try to erase some of this stuff that’s going on and maybe wake up from this nightmare.”

A common theme among the players is “do more.” Sometimes that leads to pressing, and that’s never the answer. But being as detailed as you can might make the difference.

“Yeah we’re doing good as a defense but we’re not doing enough,” Malik Jackson said in front of his locker. “I think we have to start nitpicking and really thinking about things as far as just looking at ourselves just more in the mirror.”

When asked for specifics, Head Coach Gus Bradley ticked some things off the top of his head that he saw from the sidelines.

“It’s special teams,” he said. “Field position, penalties, roughing the punter. The coverage teams haven’t been up to par.”

But just when you think one part of the team is coming together, like the defense, the Vikings score two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to come from behind and win the game.

“You have to make your own momentum,” Bradley explained. “You gotta play like you’re behind all the time.”

Could it be the defense just thinks it doesn’t matter what they do, the offense and special teams won’t do enough to win the game? It could be something close to that, but with every move on video, players don’t want a record of them loafing since they’re constantly auditioning for all 32 teams. Not just the Jaguars.

It’s almost as if they players realize that Gus’ attempt to give them the power of accountability didn’t work. They need a solid shot of discipline and focus. Attention to detail across the board. Bradley continues to talk as if this losing could pay off at some point. “This game teaches you so much,” he said. “I do believe this will bring us to greater places, but it’s just challenging. It’s tough man, I’m not gonna lie about that. It challenges your inner strength,”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Rogers At Bolles: “This One Is Special”

Spend any time with Corky Rogers and it’s easy to see why he’s still coaching High School Football: he still loves it. Rogers is taking the Bolles football team to Orlando on Thursday to play Cocoa for the state championship. It would be the 12th in school history and 11th for Rogers at the school.

“This one is special,” Rogers said sitting on the bench at his home field. “I usually work with the receivers and the running backs and they’re all seniors. It’s been great watching them grow.”

At the beginning of the year, Rogers didn’t know how good his team could be. But they’ve gotten more solid on defense, getting them to the state title game.

“I told our boys, South Sumter probably deserves to play for the state championship,” Corky explained, referring to the stop Bolles made on the 1-inch line on the final play of the game to preserve their state semi-final victory. “But we made a play and deserve to play in that game too.”

With the game on Thursday night, the Bulldogs will leave on the same day around noon, stopping in Orlando for a pregame meal at 3 and heading to the stadium. Rogers left for a state title game a day early once in his career when he was still coaching at Lee.

“We were playing Wakulla and we left a day early,” he said with a laugh. “You think you know your players. You’re with them every day for four years. But I found cheerleaders hiding in bathtubs, guys making bed sheet ropes like they were trying to escape from prison, all kinds of things I didn’t want to see again!”

A health scare earlier this year, the result of blood transfusions after being hit by a car in 1988, has left Rogers weaker than he’d like, but he’s determined to be at practice and keep coaching as he always has.

“I’m hardheaded that way I guess,” he noted. “My health hasn’t been good but I’m always at practice. Yesterday I got here right before practice started but I was here.”

He’s not as active as he’d like to be but still pours over game footage preparing for the next opponent. “I get tired so I’ll do my work in my chair,” he explained. “And I can tell you, this Cocoa team wants to win a state title.”

Facing Booker T. Washington out of Miami on a regular basis for the state championship, Bolles knows what to expect. Corky says its Cocoa that Booker T has to beat each year in the semi’s to get to the championship game.

“They’re big across both lines, fast and athletic,” he said. “And they want to play. They only lost one game to Bishop Gorman (in Las Vegas) and you know how good they are.”

Bolles is one of four schools representing North Florida in the state championship round. They’ll play Thursday at 7 in Orlando. University Christian plays at 10 on Friday followed by Ponte Vedra at three. Trinity Christian plays for their fourth straight state title on Saturday at 10. Sports Reporter Brian Jackson will be at all of the games in Orlando and will have updates, highlights, interviews and analysis on News4Jax and News4Jax.com

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: “It’s Disheartening”

When you’re a fan, a player or even the Head Coach of a 2-10 team, nobody wants to hear about the good things you’re doing. Gus Bradley admitted that Monday at his weekly press conference saying he understands what people are thinking because he’s thinking the same things.

“I think it’s just disheartening looking at this team,” Gus said. “I share the frustration with our fans and this team. It is difficult. I believe so strongly in these guys in the locker room and this staff and what is taking place here, but it’s not okay. I’m not going to make excuses for what took place. I know people don’t want to hear that. ‘I don’t want to hear the positives. We are hurting.’ I agree. We’re right with you and so are the guys in that locker room.”

Is it OK to see the same mistakes, albeit from different players every week? Of course not. Bradley knows that and is trying to put his finger on why that is happening. From the outside, most of the finger pointing is at him. From the inside, Bradley knows it’s his job to get it right.

“We have to get this fixed,” he explained. “It’s a tough league. It’s extremely difficult.. Our next opponent that we’re playing, look at that. I think they started off 5-0 and now they have lost six of their last seven. It’s hard. It’s a challenging, challenging league. You have to be on it at all times.”

If that sounds like a guy who’s committed to the process, that’s because he is. There’s not one hint from Bradley that his tenure with the team might be up in less than a month. He’s working as if he’s going to lead this team long term. He’s not naïve, he’s not stupid and he doesn’t have his head buried in the sand. That’s just how he is. He’s going to work for a solution the best way he knows until somebody tells him he can’t. If that happens, that somebody will be Dave Caldwell through Shad Khan, but for now, Bradley is the Head Coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a title and job he takes very seriously.

“You check out the type of people that you have in this locker room,” he said. “They’re unbelievable guys, unbelievable character. I’m talking about character, as a coach. You want players that have strong enough character that will help you through those tough times. That’s what you’re seeing in the locker room. It’s unbelievable. It’s unwavering, yet they’re hurting.”

Talking to the players in the locker room, they’re solidly behind Bradley and point at themselves rather than the coach, the scheme or the organization. So how does Bradley gauge if the team still has their head in the game?

“I think that’s a barometer for me, that these players are in it and they’re working hard and they’re going for it. It’s not enough. Like I told the whole team, I don’t believe in excuses. It’s not alright where we are. I’m not going to say it’s alright. I do know this: they work hard each and every week. That’s what I anticipate seeing again this week.”

And while Bradley is a positive upbeat guy, he’s not a rah-rah coach. He’s not pumping guys up. He’s pointing out what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong, giving them, what he thinks, is a chance to be their best.

“You still challenge everybody. It’s not the idea of positive or whatever the case. I think it’s just working hard. That’s what it’s all about in this game.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

At The Bottom, Jaguars Remain Committed

It’s a turnover, an interception for a touchdown, a penalty that keeps a drive alive or a break that doesn’t go in their direction. Any one of those things can lead to defeat in the NFL. A combination of those every week has put the Jaguars at 2-10 with seven straight losses.

“It’s the biggest nightmare possible,” Quarterback Blake Bortles said in his post game remarks. “But what are you going to do about it? You can’t sit there in a corner and pout. You can’t blame people. You can’t feel sorry for yourself because I think all that’s going to do is affect the way I play.”

He’s right about all of that and the reason to put the latest loss behind you and move on, no matter how many in a row it is. Blake also gave some insight to how he has to approach each game, each practice, every day.

“You can’t press,” he explained “I think I was doing some of that early in the season and that didn’t go well. You’ve got to stay true to what we do and what we believe in and go through the process. All you can do is put your head down and continue to play as hard as you can and prepare each week.”

It would be easy to see the locker room fall apart at this point in the season, especially as the defense comes into their own and the offense, with Bortles at the controls, continues to struggle. But there was no hint of that in the Jaguars locker room and some veteran players say they won’t let that be an issue.

“We’re going to keep holding each other accountable,” Malik Jackson said, defiantly. “We’re not going to start the blame game so the blame should be pointed at ourselves. We, as individuals, have to find a way to put the team over the cusp.”

It’s the same for defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks who has had his ups and downs this year, but says professional players should only know one way.

“I go out and see how I’m going to beat the guy in front of me every single week,” he explained in front of his locker. “This is what I do and who I am going to come in every week and play ball. I don’t know any other way of thinking about it. If you’re a football player, you have to go out and play football. Win or lose each week, there’s a whole different team we have to prepare for.”

It was a very matter-of-fact Gus Bradley at the podium after meeting with his team. When asked if turnovers were the difference Bradley deadpanned, “Yes.”

But he remains committed and somewhat philosophical when it comes to the losing and how it might have a positive effect on players in the long run.

“And what I’m hoping is through all this pain we’re going through as far as adversity that we’re worthy of it come in the end. When that happens, I don’t know if it’s next week or two weeks, but I think this team is really trying to gain as much strength from this as they can for future times.”

There are plenty of calls for Bradley’s job and he’s been around long enough to hear it, but ignore it. To him, he has a job to do and he’s going to do it as well as he can until somebody tells him it’s over. It’s a laudable personality trait that has carried him through four tough years as the Jaguars Head Coach. Maybe the expectations were set too high, too soon for this team. Almost every personnel evaluator in the league says the Jaguars will be a winning team shortly. While Bradley might not be around to lead them, he remains a believer in the character of the 2016 Jaguars.

“I know the question was asked do you think they’ll come back next week? Well, I felt like they came back this week. Do you think they’ll come back next week? Yes I do. It’s who they are. They’ll work their tails off and they’ll come back and they’re going to learn from this and I truly believe these things that this team is going through will only benefit.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coughlin To Jaguars Surfaces Again

When the first rumblings of the Tom Coughlin-to-Jacksonville story happened back it May, it seemed like distant thunder. Coughlin himself filled us in, saying he’d been in touch “with a few teams about a role” but didn’t’ find the right fit. Coughlin was still smarting from being fired by the Giants, “I’ll still fight you on that one,” he said at the time. As we reported then, the Jaguars were among the teams he talked with, including the Bills and possible another former employer, the Eagles.

After the Jaguars blowout loss to Tennessee in late October, the story surfaced again, with Coughlin linked to the Jaguars “in some capacity” but probably not as the Head Coach.

Now, much like those distant thunderstorms that roll into North Florida, the sound of that rumbling is much more like a thunderclap. As the losses mount and the pressure to replace Gus Bradley grows, the appeal of Tom Coughlin is partly based on nostalgia for Jaguars fans and partly rooted in what is perceived as the disciplined approach this team looks like it needs.

Although former Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said it was the biggest mistake of his tenure, firing Tom Coughlin, it was the inevitable move necessary for the franchise at the time. The team was coming off three straight losing seasons and Coughlin’s act had worn thin on the players, fans and other staffers in Jacksonville. Tom had both the head coach and the GM role and wasn’t about to give it up. On the day he was fired, he laid out a plan for Weaver that he thought would put the Jaguars back in contention for the division in about a year. Weaver didn’t budge and knew nobody at the time in Jacksonville was going to buy a ticket for a Tom Coughlin-coached Jaguars team. After sitting out a year, Coughlin went on to be the Giants head coach and won two Super Bowls during his tenure there. He was not the General Manager in the Giants system, just the guy in charge of the football, on-field operation. In both of those championship seasons, Coughlin was on the verge of being fired but held onto his job by creating a better communication process with the players. His “management council” was a borrowed tool from Bill Parcells who used to carry guys like Keith Byars and Dave Meggett around from team to team as his locker room conduits to the rest of the players. Coughlin was told that his message wasn’t getting to the players so he met with some of the veterans every week to ensure that what he was saying was what they were hearing.

“We asked him to do that three or four times while he was here,” one well-known, well-respected Jaguars alumni player explained. “And basically he threw us out of his office,” another former star said with a laugh.

So while the climate in 2002 lent itself to firing Coughlin, the atmosphere is a bit thicker but feels about the same when it comes to 2016 and the future of Gus Bradley. In a production business, Bradley hasn’t been productive, garnering only 14 wins in four seasons. Last year, “Better than 5-11 I can tell you that,” was Owner Shad Khan’s response when asked what his expectation was for this year. General Manager Dave Caldwell has said the first two years under Bradley don’t count, but he was also expecting better results this year based on the free agent money spent and the draft picks put on the roster.

Why wouldn’t Coughlin become the Jaguars next Head Coach? At 70 years old, perhaps he doesn’t want the detailed, daily grind that’s required in the league these days for the head coach. (Remember, when then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue declared a mandatory day off in the league after September 11, 2001, Coughlin was the lone employee at the Jaguars facility, pouring over video). Also with two Super Bowls with NY and two AFC Championship appearances with the Jaguars, Coughlin will get consideration for the Hall of Fame when he’s eligible, 4 years from now. But if he comes back as a head coach, that eligibility gets deferred by 5 years from when he officially retires.

“Does he really want to wait ’till he’s 80 for that,” one of his close friends said recently. “Why not enjoy the grandkids and see if that happens in a few years?”

While it’s hard to imagine Coughlin being idle or satisfied with going to New York during the season on Sunday’s as a “special assistant” to the commissioner, a role as President of Football Operations could be something he’d be comfortable with, wouldn’t effect his HOF eligibility and would still give him a role on the football side of things with some organization.

Could that organization be the Jaguars? He lives in Atlantic Beach and his Jay Fund charity is run by his daughter here in town. Certainly since they spoke to him last year, they’ll be in touch again this offseason to see if they can work out just where he’d be in the decision-making process for the club. Tom was interested then and he still has an ear out to join a club instead of working for the league. Caldwell will almost certainly still be the GM next year, so he and Coughlin would have to co-exist somehow when it came to personnel calls. If Bradley is fired, and I still think it’s an if, (10% chance he stays) what role would Coughlin play in choosing Bradley’s successor?

(BTW, I think Khan will let Caldwell make the decision whether to keep Bradley or not. If he still thinks he’s the guy, he could cite, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Bill Bellichick or Bill Walsh as guys who were big losers in the league before they became big winners. You’re right, fans won’t be happy and ticket sales would lag but Khan is looking long-term and isn’t worried about short-term sales.)

So for the third time this year the “Coughlin to Jacksonville” mill is at work. Will it continue to gain steam or much like many of those thunderstorms, get to the intracoastal and fade out? The Jaguars could use some “Coughlin like” influence. Whether the original is still the right fit is the question.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Despite Losses, Bradley Soldiers On

With nine losses and six of those in a row, you might expect many of the questions asked of Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley are the same week in and week out. And they are. A lot of “What happened” and “Why” is discussed at his weekly press conferences. It can be frustrating on both sides, asking the questions and answering them but Bradley has kept his head about him through the tough times.

“I think all the questions are appropriate. I think there is a coach’s perspective,” he said discussing the Jaguars loss to Buffalo on Sunday.

He’s protective of his team, but is right when he says the team remains focused and motivated. “Character” is how he’s described it in the past.

“It’s hard to explain, but these guys are professionals,” Gus explained. “They know when you go through tough times like this, you just have to work. You just have to go through it and stay strong with one another and keep doing the things that you’re doing that you believe are helping you get to a place.”

As the losses mount, Bradley and the team have been under heavy criticism, fans and media alike calling for changes, including Bradley’s firing. It’s not that Bradley hasn’t heard that, or doesn’t understand it. To him, it’s just another thing he can’t control.

“You can’t control critics. You can’t control anything other than — what we can do is how we handle the circumstance and how we can handle where we’re at right now,” he said when asked how he deals with talk of the future. “The way they played and how they go after their job is impressive to me. You just hurt because you want those wins to come with it for the effort.”

When he’s asked about a specific player or play, Bradley usually deflects the question, saying he doesn’t want to get into scheme or reveal too much. But on Monday when asked about the 75-yard TD run by LeSean McCoy on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Gus didn’t name Tashaun Gipson as the culprit, but for the first time, outlined, in football coach speak, what happened.

“It’s a D-Gap running play where he cut back. Corners on the outside fitting of the D-Gap and the safety has the inside fitting of the D-Gap. If they became both on the outside of the D-Gap, then they’re wrong. It’s the D-Gap. I don’t know if that helps you. It was a D-Gap running play that cut back in there and you have two guys on the outside or the inside of the D-Gap.”

Got that?

Regarding the second punt at the end of the first half that resulted in a long return and led to a touchdown, Bradley said he thought about all of the things that went into the first effort, their lack of coverage and the time on the clock. But he thought Brad Nortman was capable of flipping the field at that point. (It was particularly noticeable since Steve Tasker, an announcer on the broadcast and a noted special teams player during his career, disagreed with Bradley’s decision making and what he predicted might happen, happened.)

“He’s (Nortman) seeming to be fine, he shook it off and he was ready to go. You’re hoping that to have a drive start on the 40-yard line with a minute and 20, 30 seconds left and one timeout, when we have a chance with Brad, hit a 60-yarder with hang time. We had one later in the game, a 60-yarder, hang time, fair catch and we’re good just to put them at the 20 or the 25,” he said of his thought process.

As far as holding players accountable, Rashad Greene’s two fumbles on back to back punt returns were going to bring him out of the game, regardless of injury. Bradley says a players effort has to be borne out by his execution.

“I am sure he is frustrated over the fact that he knows he is very capable of doing it and he had a couple like that take place.,” Gus said. “After that, the decision was [to replace him], but never got to making the decision because [the medical staff] told us he was out.” (Greene officially left the game with an Achilles injury)

And as far as not calling time out on the 4th and 4 when the Jaguars suffered a delay of game, while the responsibility ultimately falls on the head coach, Bradley had seen Blake Bortles take the play clock down near zero while changing the play earlier in the game and thought he’d do that again. But it didn’t happen. Blake didn’t call time out either. And the 4th and 4, a manageable distance, became 4th and 9, a much tougher play.

“He has the ability. I saw it. I felt like that was what was going to happen. It delayed a little bit, but looking back at it I take responsibility for that. I should have called a time out. In a critical situation like that, to keep it in that down and distance where it is manageable, would have been great looking back at it. I take full responsibility for that.”

Very noble of Bradley, but that’s on Blake. The play clock is right in front of him. You can coach Bortles to call the time out, but if he doesn’t, who’s to blame? You can coach Denard Robinson to make the tackle in front of him, but if he doesn’t, who’s to blame. And you can coach Tashaun Gipson to stand in the hole, or Allen Hurns to make the routine catch but if they don’t who’s to blame.

In the end, players gotta play.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Critical Times, Small Mistakes, Jaguars Lose

It’s the one play by the one player at almost the exact one wrong time that is getting the Jaguars beat on a regular basis. Their loss to Buffalo is another one score defeat in a game where they had their chances. The officiating was suspect for sure, but you can look at three or four situations in the game where the Jaguars didn’t execute didn’t play with the precision necessary and it’s what led to their ultimate demise.

For all the things that you can count that have gone wrong on their way to a 2-9 record, at least Quarterback Blake Bortles is honest with himself and everybody else about what the real reasons are for their ninth consecutive non-winning season.

“It’s easy to use that as a crutch or an excuse that we’re not getting the breaks or any luck,” *Bortles said in his post-game remarks. “It’s up to us to go make a play. Rather than leave it up to luck or a break or a bounce or a call it’s up to us to go make a play. We’ve got to do more of that.”

As Head Coach Gus Bradley has steadfastly stood by Bortles, Blake looks like he’s playing his way out of a season-long fog. He’s no world-beater but he played well enough to keep his team in the game. He didn’t get them beat. He admitted he should have called time out on 4th and 4 when the Jaguars were called for a delay of game, saying he was trying to check into another play but didn’t get it done in time. He was the leading rusher for the Jaguars, this week partly situation and partly by design.

“It’s just a chance to take off if they’re going to play “2 man,” Bortles explained. You drop back and wait a second and take off because nobody’s looking at you. In our 4th week with Nathaniel (Hackett) he’s adamant that if your progression isn’t there, take off and run.”

With a 7-6 halftime lead, the Jaguars gave up a 75-yard TD run to LeSean McCoy on the first play from scrimmage in the 3rd quarter. It’s one of three “explosive” plays the Jaguars allowed; just enough to get them beat.

“When we give up those explosives, that’s what gets us beat,” said Telvin Smith in front of his locker. “Never let this record define this team. We just gotta learn how to win situations and win those big plays.”

Sen’Derrick Marks said, “It just keeps catching us. Plays we haven’t given up and ones we won’t give up again. We have to find a way to finish.”

Marks also echoed what other players in the losing locker room said: They’re not giving up. “We feel so positive about what we have as a team. Honestly, our record doesn’t reflect how we play. We gotta figure out how to get over that hump. It’ll take some soul searching to do it.”

And Bradley was very matter-of-fact in his post-game remarks. He outlined how the Jaguars could have won the game, what their game plan was, and what they emphasized this week in practice. He thought the accomplished most of their goals, except winning the game.

“They made more plays than we did. We gave up a few explosive plays. Good team, we knew that.”

It’s not often Bradley bristles when asked a question, at least the fair ones, despite nine losses. But he didn’t like it one bit when he was asked how he’ll keep his team motivated now that they’re ensured of a losing record.

“I think our team is pretty focused,” he said. “I don’t question their focus or how they played. I don’t think you have to worry about their effort.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: Tell The Truth Monday

From the beginning of his career as Head Coach of the Jaguars, Gus Bradley has talked about telling the truth to his players, his coaches, the ownership and the media. He even dubbed the day after games “Tell the truth Monday.” So it’s not surprising that he’s continued that despite the disappointment of being 2-8.

I think part of accountability is speaking the truth and that’s what we tried to hit on today,” Bradley said on Monday after reviewing the 26-19 loss to the Lions in Detroit. “Lot of areas we hit on.”

He has to give a bit of “coach-speak” I suppose when reviewing the game. Calling out the players who are missing assignments and not executing when it counts wouldn’t be very productive at this point.

“All three phases; defensively, we played pretty well until the last couple series when we felt like we needed to get off the field and get the offense back the ball,” he explained. “I think when you look back earlier in the season there were times when the defense did do that at the end of the game. Last couple of games we haven’t been doing that. That’s what we talked about defensively.”

On offense the Jaguars have had their spurts in the last few weeks. Bradley told the CBS broadcast crew that he’s seen a noticeable difference in how the offense is playing since naming Nathaniel Hackett offensive coordinator. Although they’re still not taking advantage of many of their opportunities and turning the ball over, they’re showing signs of life. On special teams, things have gone south in a hurry. That’s not unusual when injuries start to mount and special team players have very little experience or are starters who have been called on for special team duty. That’s why Bradley was stumped when asked about giving up a punt return TD to the Lions.

“No. I don’t know what to say when a guy is unblocked and right there and misses the tackle. It’s execution.”

While the same mistakes are happening, the perplexing thing to the coaching staff is how they’re spread over the team. It’s not the same players, it’s all the players. But holding onto the ball when you have it and taking it away from your opponent is a crucial metric when analyzing why certain teams win and others don’t. The Jaguars double-digit defict in turnover margin is one of the leading indicators of their lees-than-expected success.

“We’re not making enough plays at critical times. That’s the common denominator that keeps popping up,” Bradley said. “Is it penalties? Not all the time. You can be high in penalties and still win games and you can be low in penalties and still lose games. Turnovers are the big factor.”

On “Jaguars All-Access” Malik Jackson was our guest Monday night. Coming from a Super Bowl winning team to one that’s having trouble finding it’s way can be a difficult transition. But Jackson said he sees good things in the future if they keep building.

“We’re working hard. We’re building a standard on the team,” he told me during one of the commercial breaks. “We’re just not getting wins. We’re getting better, that’s for sure, but not over the hump yet.”

Which is why it’s not hard to believe Bradley on a “Tell the truth” Monday when he says these are the right guys on the Jaguars roster, despite their record. They’re not packing it in.

“They’ll come in and go to work on Wednesday and we’ve had good weeks of practice,” he said when asked if he’s worried the team’s enthusiasm will start to wane. “I think when you watch this team going through a couple losses like we have you wonder how they’re going to show up. The effort and how hard we play is not an issue with this team. It’s more making some decisions, critical decision, at the right time.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

In A Game Of Inches, The Jaguars Are A Foot Behind

It might be only and inch here or an inch there, but in the precise world of the NFL, those inches can be the ones that get you beat. Watching the Jaguars play the Lions in Detroit showed the difference between a team that’s making the routine play and one that’s a couple of inches off and not winning. Detroit has trailed in every one of their games this year at halftime yet is 6-4. The Jaguars are 2-8, losers of five straight because they’re having a tough time getting out of their own way.

For the tenth time in his career, Quarterback Blake Bortles threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. It happened with the game still up for grabs, in the second half when a good drive or even a score could set the tone for what might happen. Blake’s throw to Marqise Lee wasn’t terrible, but it was just off the mark enough for it to be tipped in the air and picked off. A more precise throw and Lee probably catches the ball for a first down. We’re talking about a difference of six inches between where he threw it and where it needed to go. But that’s the price you pay in the NFL for imprecise play.

In addition to the defensive touchdown, the Lions scored a special teams touchdown and took advantage of a busted coverage to score their only offensive touchdown of the game. A fumble by Chris Ivory (his 4thof the year, leading the NFL), a missed extra point, blown coverage down the sideline (twice) and an egregious offside penalty against Sen’Derrick Marks at exactly the wrong time are examples of what has the Jaguars at 2-8 and a team like the Lions still thinking playoffs.

Watching the Lions play should have been inspiring for the Jaguars. They’re not great but they’re making plays when they need them most. Good tackles on third down, hitting the open receiver in stride on offense and filling their lanes on special teams. The Jaguars on the other hand were doing just the opposite: missing receivers on third down, missing tackles on special teams and jumping offside.

Last week Marks loudly complained that it was a “slap in the face” to only be on the field for 23 plays against the Texans. It was a little out of character for Marks, an affable guy off the field and an intense competitor on it. He also one of only a handful of veterans on this club (although he’s only 29) who are trying to be leaders in the locker room. But you can’t call the team out one week and not back it up the next by being baited into jumping offside. It’s only one play of probably about 40 Marks was on the field for in Detroit, but it’s that one play where they needed him the most that cost the Jaguars a chance at winning.

And it’s not always the same guy. One week it was Malik Jackson, another it was Blake Bortles. Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler, Bryan Walters and Rashad Greene have all had a hand in making plays, or rather not making plays, that have gotten the Jaguars beat.

A fix is not apparent but it is clear the Jaguars lack the core veterans at each position who know the nuance, precision, discipline and execution it takes to win at this level. Veterans who not only can play but also can lead, and are willing to be followed by those who want to learn. It’s a hard lesson to learn in a league that shows no mercy to those who are unprepared to win.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Stick With Bortles

It might be the most important position in sports and consequently, maybe the hardest. Quarterback, on any level, is different from every other position. That’s probably why Hall of Famer Troy Aikman said, “If you’ve been a quarterback, you’re a brother of mine.” Quarterback’s get too much of the credit for winning and a fair helping of the blame when their team loses. Blake Bortles, in his third year in the NFL, seems to have taken a step back from last year. But it still could be considered a “sophomore slump” if you look at his progression. He’s thinking too much, defenses are changing their coverages, and his favorite receivers are being double-teamed. Production is down, footwork is off and throwing mechanics are bad.

Sounds pretty dire? But Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, and apparently GM Dave Caldwell don’t think Bortles is far off from other quarterbacks in the league of his age and experience level.

“We went back, Dave (Caldwell) and I were just watching in his office on some throws that were made around the league,” Bradley revealed Monday after the 24-21 loss to the Texans. ” Let’s just look at the misses and see what’s taking place and you see it. A lot of quarterbacks are doing it across the league. I think it’s to try to create a picture to see where we’re at with him. I think he’s doing some really good things.”

“Some” is the operative word there, but when they see Bortles in practice his whole game comes together. On the field, it’s the consistency that he lacks to win games.

“You go back, and it’s a head scratcher,” Gus explained. “Because you do see some great throws and some great decision-making. Other ones, just got away from him.”

There are a million reasons you can come up with as to while Bortles isn’t playing well. Everybody has their own theory from different defenses, bad mechanics, a different address and what’s described as an “active” social life. Whatever the reason, there’s no question he’s struggled in 2016. Statistically, he’s just fine, but much of his yardage and most of his TD passes have come when the game is already decided. The Jaguars haven’t won a game when Bortles throws for 300 yards. In the past two games, he’s missed some long TD throws to wide open receivers. Gus broke it down, talking about whether the route was on the hash mark, did the ball drift, did you not track it, etc. but if you’ve ever thrown that kind of pass, even in the backyard, you know it’s a total feel thing. Blake isn’t playing with much feel right now, so missing those throws isn’t that surprising.

What is surprising, but probably good for Blake is Bradley’s steadfast commitment to him as the Jaguars quarterback. Despite his failing this year, Bradley says Bortles is the Jaguars quarterback for the right reasons.

“I think he’s [saying] ‘what do I need to do, is there something I’m missing, I know I’m missing plays obviously that but what else, can I work harder, I believe I’m working hard, is there another step, can I work even harder in some areas?’ So those kinds of questions he’s asking,” Gus said.

Regarding his commitment to the game and to improving, Bradley says Bortles is completely on the other side of the equation, totally committed.

“Football is extremely important to him. Extremely important. I don’t know if he’s got a lot of other things other than football right now and he seems to think about it a lot. Driven in how can he improve and what can he do to help this team.”

Which all adds up to Bortles remaining the starter.

“Well, I have great confidence in him. I think when I speak for everybody, we all have great confidence with him. I think when you say if you’re not seeing the consistency in Blake I think we just need to keep working on that and gaining confidence in it, but I don’t see anything in the future that shows Blake Bortles is not our guy.”

Overall, Bradley is coaching the team with the confidence he can get it done and no hint that he might not be here after the season. He says he’s not dwelling on the past and looking to the future.

“You try not to look back too much,” he said when asked if it’s hard to focus on the next game instead of lamenting the seven losses. I think that could be dangerous and a waste of time. I think you need every minute of every day to prepare for the next opponent. So whatever you can do, if you can keep your mind there and guiding towards that direction, that gives you the best opportunity. Everything else is just really a waste of time.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Vs. Texans: 4 To Watch 4

1. Consistency
Which Jaguars team will show up on Sunday? We’ve seen several versions of the Jaguars through the first half of the season. The team that plays close to it’s talent level showed up in London, against Green Bay and last week in Kansas City. In the other games the Jaguars went through long stretches of listless, non-production. That’s why every time you think they might get on a roll they end up with disappointment.

“That’s what we were hoping,” Gus Bradley said this week. “Build upon and rise above. Keep pushing that standard of where we’re going. I think the whole team needs to feel it. Offense, defense, special teams. I felt like that this week, that we made great strides there.”

2. Bortles
Notice I didn’t say “Bortles accuracy” or “Bortles turnovers” but just “Bortles.” Because it’s all of it when it comes to being a quarterback. He’s a shadow of what he was last year. He showed some improvement against Kansas City but still isn’t playing or acting like a winning quarterback in the NFL. It’s as if the network broadcasts are focusing on Blake after every play just in case he jumps up and down like a middle school student when things don’t go right.

3. Defense
Last week the Jaguars defense held Kansas City to a 1 for 13 conversion rate on third down, their best performance this year. They unveiled a couple of new exotic blitzes against the Chiefs that either got to Nick Foles or pressured him in to throwing it before he wanted to. Brock Osweiler is much like Foles in that he doesn’t have the mobility some other quarterbacks have so you know where he’ll be. Stuff the run, pressure the quarterback and perhaps create some turnovers of your own gives the Jaguars a chance a winning.

4. Salute to Service
While it’s not part of the game, it is part of being at the game and the NFL’s Salute to Service week is especially important in Jacksonville. With our long military tradition, any Jacksonville sports team should recognize how important the men and women who serve are to our culture. The team sent players to Mayport to bowl with some families on Monday night and to NAS Jax on Tuesday as well. Wednesday they invited some Navy families to the stadium to play video games. Gus Bradley has his own connection to the Navy through his family.

“My dad passed away a couple years ago, but he was in the Navy so I think it’s always something big in our family as we reflect back to it and my uncles,” he explained. “We have a lot of cousins that were involved in it. I think when you take this time there’s things that resonate that you look back at that brings up memories or conversations with them. And then just to live in Jacksonville, all the servicemen and women that are here in this city, it’s a privilege to get to know them and see them at some of our practices and training camp. That’s what I think makes Jacksonville so special. We live here and kind of relate to some family members.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jags’ Oc Hackett “Excited” About Offense

When Nathaniel Hackett was promoted to the offensive coordinator for the Jaguars he was described as a “little Gus.” Hackett has the same level of energy and enthusiasm Gus Bradley brings every day but it’s focused on one thing: the offense. Last week against Kansas City the Jaguars offense showed signs f improvement. They ran the ball, Blake Bortles played a little better and they were in it until the end. Part of that is because of the continued development of Marquise Lee. Possibly the best offensive player this year, Lee has figured out how to be a professional athlete with his approach on training, rest, nutrition and pre-practice and game routines.

“Marqise has that ‘X’ button that allows him to take off down the field.,” Hackett said with his usual enthusiasm on Thursday. “He has lot of juice and a lot of speed. He does a lot of different things compared to the other guys. You have A-Rob, the big guy. You have Hurnsy, the nifty guy. You even have Rashad Greene, B-Walt [Bryan Walters] and AB [Arrelious Benn]. He runs angry. He runs fast, which is awesome.”

Even Hackett agrees that he’s itching to get going and see what the Jaguars offense can do.

I’m always fired up,” he said in classic understatement. “So I kind of see everyone getting that confidence [The players] getting a feel for me and me getting a feel for them.”

In midseason, every NFL team deals with injuries. The Jaguars are not immune, signing WR Tony Washington to the practice squad on Thursday. Both Allen Hurns and Bryan Walters remain in the NFL’s concussion protocol program Hurns was limited in practice Thursday but it appears Walters will miss Sunday’s game. That limits what the offense can do in practice, in turn limiting what Hackett can feel confident with on Sunday.”

“You want to see what that picture is going to look like and you challenge the guys, ‘Hey, when you guys go out there if you make it look good that’s going to make us want to call it.’ I think it’s always an audition of if you love this play let’s make it work. Anytime you don’t have that practice aspect you have to go on feel and hope and maybe.

One thing Hackett showed differently than Greg Olson was a commitment to the run game. During numerous drives, the Jaguars ran the ball on back-to-back plays. It added up to over 200 yards rushing at the end of the day including Bortles scrambling yards. They got over 100 from Chris Ivory, including a dynamic 42-yard gain from their own eight-yard line.

“I get a little emotional. I get really excited,” Hackett explained without a tinge of embarrassment. “That’s what this game is about. It’s a fun and exciting game that has a lot of impacts on it. It’s a forceful – it’s about another guy beating the next guy in front of him.”

Although they’re 2-6 and 0-1 with Hackett as the OC, it hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm to try and get the job done. And apparently the players embrace his high-energy style.

“I love that about them. Even when I was here last week, walking in there they were like, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ That’s the type of group they are. I haven’t had the situation that they have looked back at all. They just want to go forward.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Sports And Politics: Not So Strange Bedfellows

It’s always amusing to see which “celebrities” claim they’ll be moving to a different country if a candidate they don’t like wins an election. Cher recently said she’d “move to Jupiter” if Donald Trump was elected President. Sports stars haven’t gone that far, but support for political candidates and causes is embedded in sports culture. Michael Jordan was roundly criticized during his career for not taking a stand on political issues. “Republicans also buy shoes” was his answer for not supporting a Democrat candidate in North Carolina. (He denies saying that) Ronald Reagan leaned on his portrayal of George Gipp, “The Gipper” during his campaign and time in the White House.

In 2016, LeBron James introduced Hillary Clinton at a rally while Bill Belichick penned a letter of support to Donald Trump. Former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Shilling was recently fired for airing his political views. ESPN has intertwined a litany of Trump jokes and references into their most recent coverage.

Prior to his time as the Republican nominee, Donald Trump spent plenty of time in Jacksonville. In the early ’80’s, Trump was the owner of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals. He signed Herschel Walker out of Georgia after the Heisman winner’s junior year. (Walker changed his mind and wanted to return to Georgia but had signed a contract and was ineligible.) The USFL held several of their owners meetings in North Florida, including one at Amelia Island. Jacksonville Bulls Owner Fred Bullard called Trump “charismatic” but also said that it was Trump’s ideas that put the USFL out of business. For the record, Trump did admit to trying to force the fledgling league into the fall to directly compete with the NFL, saying if they stayed in the spring they’d be “small potatoes.” (ESPN did a 30-for-30 on the USFL of the same name)

In the last 50 years, sports stars turning to politics as a career has not been unusual. Arnold Schwarzenegger served as Governor of California. Jesse Ventura did the same in Minnesota. Pitcher Jim Bunning was a Senator after he retired and Bill Bradley was a Senator from New Jersey. He ran for President in 2000. Steve Largent, Heath Shuler, Tom Osborne, Jim Ryun, and Ralph Metcalfe all won congressional seats after their athletic careers were over. Kevin Johnson is the Mayor of Sacramento. Ander Crenshaw played basketball at Georgia.

Most use their name recognition to gain a foothold in the political arena. Once there, the rough and tumble world of politics makes competition on an athletic field look tame. Largent and Osborne lost bids for Governor in Oklahoma and Nebraska, the former falling short of the state house because of his stand on “cock fighting.”

When it comes to being athletes, American Presidents have a varied history. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that anybody paid attention to the President’s athletic prowess. Prior to that only Teddy Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman was the only touchstone for athletes. (Of course, Abraham Lincoln split logs). Harry Truman was well known for taking long walks from the White House. He called it his “morning constitution.” Dwight Eisenhower was a well know lover of golf. They even named a tree after him at Augusta National. Winnie Palmer gave Arnold a weekend of golf with Eisenhower as a birthday present one year.

While there are a lot of theories about how John Kennedy defeated the sitting Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960, his vitality, backyard touch football games and a general “sporting” personality get some of the credit. Kennedy also played golf, and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness (and now Sports) was created during his Presidency.

Richard Nixon had a swimming pool and bowling lanes put in the basement of the White House. Gerald Ford played big time college football at Michigan.

Jimmy Carter liked tennis so much he took over the scheduling of the White House tennis court. Ronald Reagan was a swimmer and a college football player as well. George H.W. Bush was captain of the Yale baseball team. He loves golf and fishing and just about any kind of sporting activity. Bill Clinton’s dedication to golf is well documented. George W. Bush also plays golf but is an avid mountain biker as well. Barak Obama has played more golf in his eight years as President than any other who has ever held the office. But his first love is basketball, organizing a holiday game every year in D.C. His Chicago friends joked that while he was living there, he’d play basketball at the local gym constantly, only stepping outside to smoke a cigarette.

A running joke is that athletes want to be musicians and musicians want to be athletes. Some athletes want to be politicians, and most politicians know, being an athlete, no matter what kind, can help them get elected.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Says Jaguars Character In Tact

At the halfway point of the season with a disappointing 2-6 record, you could hear the wistfulness in Gus Bradley’s voice this week. He was reflective about his team’s reaction to the embarrassing performance against Tennessee on national television.

“That was really hard on us,” Gus said at his Monday press conference. “It was hard on our players. I was really excited to see how we would come back. The team did not flinch.”

It’s not unusual for Bradley to take his team’s “temperature” when talking about their reaction. He likes the character of the team, about sticking together and playing for each other. After their win in Chicago Gus said that kind of victory was about “love.” Most great coaches will tell you that teams who win have a certain affection for each other that’s unique. While the Jaguars aren’t near “good” they seem to be sticking together.

“We’re not sitting here talking about a team where this is two games in a row now,” Bradley explained about how he thought his team bounced back. “I give them all sorts of credit for that. Their character that we talk about.”

How to fix the Jaguars problems is the big question. They have enough talent to be more competitive but it’s not showing during games. Despite improvement, that’s not what the Jaguars say they’re looking for.

“We’re not after good; we’re after great,” Bradley said. “We need better and I think these guys all need to look in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do?’ Rather than looking at each unit.”

Could that start this week? A better running game should give Blake Bortles a better chance at playing better. Facing Houston this week at home the Jaguars get back into the division with a well-known opponent. Beating Houston, the division leader, could go a long way toward getting on track. “We need to take care of this game and win one to get hot,” Gus said, ever the optimist. “I just think this team can get on a roll. We are a few plays away from getting things done yesterday, but we didn’t make them for some reason. I think that’s what we need to take a look at it and everyone needs to take ownership of that.”

Specifically, Bradley said taking care of the football has to be their number one priority. Four turnovers gets you beat almost every time. Reaching out for the goal line has become very in vogue in the NFL, something coaches’ are not in favor of, including Gus Bradley. He referenced Chris Ivory’s fumble on the goal line as an example.

“He saw the line, thought there was a chance to get it, felt like the risk was greater than the rewards and it didn’t work to our benefit. You see it with quarterbacks jumping over the pile, guys going to the pylon and reaching the ball out. To a coach’s mind, the risk does not outweigh the reward, so you don’t teach that. Players sometimes fall into that. It’s so alluring, it’s right there for them. That’s going to happen.”

But it shouldn’t happen and if it continues to happen, the Jaguars will continue to have the same results. That’s where Gus Bradley and his coaching staff have to change the mindset of their players.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Jaguars In KC

It’s the routine things that keep most NFL games close. The simple throw and catch, the routine kick, the everyday tackle. When both teams do that, coaches lean on their best players to “play above the x’s and o’s” to make a play and win games. That’s why the NFL is pretty much a .500 league. It’s designed for everybody to get close to 8-8 and for some stars to make a difference.

For the Jaguars, the simple throw and catch, the routine kick and the everyday tackle are still at least an arms length away and consequently they’re 2-6 halfway through the 2016 schedule.

Sunday’s loss to Kansas City showed again the small margin for error the Jaguars and any NFL team has when it comes to winning and losing. Almost every time a team turns the ball over 4 times in a game and doesn’t create any of their own, they lose. If the turnovers take points away from you or create easy scoring opportunities for the opposition it’s doubly hard.

That’s where the Jaguars find themselves in their six losses. Mental errors, turnovers or missing the routine play, they haven’t been able to figure out that all of those things add up to the difference between winning and losing. Both TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory had critical fumbles. Yeldon should know by now that running in jumbled space, particularly at the end of a play is when defenders will be banging around trying to create a turnover. Holding the ball “high and tight” didn’t become a thing because it was “cool.” It became a thing because it works. Knowing you might be a couple of inches short of a touchdown but there’s always third down and holding onto the ball at the goal line also became a thing because it works. Even reliable and “trustworthy” Bryan Walters fell victim to the lack of focus. Rule number one for a punt returner; catch the ball. Rule number two? Wrap it up and hold onto it when you go down because it’s too big of a field shift if you fumble.

After a week of working with his personal coach and saying he was “tightening things up,” Blake Bortles looked better in spurts but missed some critical throws that could have been game changers. Three times he hit Chiefs defensive players right in the chest. Luckily only one was an interception. New offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett gave a bit of a change up to the play calling and leaned on the running game effectively. Ivory had 18 carries for 107 yards. As a team the Jaguars averaged 6.4 yards per carry for 205 yards on the ground.

With their injuries, the Chiefs were playing their second team in some key spots and gained only 231 total yards compared to 449 for the Jaguars. Defensively, the Jaguars took advantage of a banged up Kansas City offense and gave their team some chances to win.

It appears that opposing coaches know the Jaguars can’t score enough points when it counts to win, so just don’t beat yourself. Andy Reid didn’t let Nick Foles make mistakes to lose the game. The Jaguars ran 75 plays compared to 57 for KC. But the Chiefs didn’t turn it over once. Even the ball that should have been intercepted by Prince Amukamara was knocked loose by Tashaun Gipson and fell incomplete.

If the Jaguars had lost this game last year, or even in 2013 or 2014 you could take some positives away from the game. But even Gus Bradley says it’s too late for that.

“We didn’t come here to collect positives,” he said in his post game comments from Kansas City. “We came here to win and didn’t get it done.”

“Couldn’t really finish drives,” Blake Bortles said in the locker room. “It’s a good feeling that we were able to do what we wanted but we’re not here for moral victories. It’s good that we founds some balance but, we want to win the ballgame.”

Both are right. Time’s up for positives and moral victories. It’s time to win ball games. And both know that’s the only stat head coaches and quarterbacks are judged by.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Babby’s Idea Screams “Minor League”

Bear in mind that the name of a sports franchise doesn’t mean much over the test of time. In fact, when the NFL decided that Jacksonville’s franchise should be called the Jaguars, it was third or fourth among the fan poll voting. It had no connection to North Florida but the NFL decided “Jaguars” was the name and at the time, cats were the thing. (Charlotte’s team was named the Panthers the same year).

So new Suns owner Ken Babby’s decision to change the name to the Jumbo Shrimp is a marketing move that will drive some merchandise sales with a cute new logo.

But in the bigger picture it appears Babby is missing the connection to the people who live in Jacksonville and certainly those who call themselves baseball fans.

“Jumbo Shrimp” screams minor league. Problem is, people in Jacksonville, rightly or wrongly; don’t consider themselves “minor league.” We’re growing, we’re striving. We have our own set of problems and you can make fun of a million things about Jacksonville whether you’re from here or not. But we don’t consider ourselves “minor league.”

We’re not, as Akron is, a collective of another city (Cleveland) nor do we want to be. That’s where people from Jacksonville are different. We don’t want to be Orlando or Miami, Tampa or Atlanta. We’re perfectly comfortable in our own skin and make no apologies for it.

Jacksonville is not Akron. Akron doesn’t have the Mayo Clinic, Florida Blue, Merrill Lynch, Florida/Georgia, a major bowl game, the PGA Tour or an NFL team.

I don’t have anything against Akron. Never been there. It does have Firestone Country Club and is known as the Rubber Capital of the World. Polymer research is headquartered there. Lebron James is from there. I sure there are great people, nice neighborhoods and great restaurants.

But we’re not Akron. People are moving from Akron. People are moving to Jacksonville.

So consequently you can’t market to Jacksonville the way you market to Akron. Babby has said that minor league baseball teams should have funny names. They should be quirky. So he renamed the baseball team the “Rubber Ducks.” Maybe that worked there. People are driving up to Cleveland for Indians game anyway.

Babby has a disconnect when it comes to figuring out Jacksonville so far. He paid a lot of money for the team, coming from DC and owning another minor league club. Even his original marketing slogan “FUNdamentally different” rang hollow here in town. There was nothing the matter with the experience of going to Suns games. The Baseball Grounds needed a little sprucing up and any new owner is going to put his stamp on things. But Bragan Field was fine and the experience there didn’t need to be “fundamentally different.”

Going to the ballpark is still going to be a great experience. The Tiki Bar in left field is a great place to watch a game. But don’t try to beat into our heads Ken that we’re minor league. We’re just like most of the players who come through here: We’re trying to get the city to the Majors.

Come along with us.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Cryotherapy Jax: Recovery Is The Key To Peak Performance

As technology is being used in all facets of sports, research is showing that recovery techniques are one of the key ingredients to avoiding injury. And it’s not just rest. Active recovery is being shown as a part of sustained performance for weekend warriors and elite athletes alike.

“I travel a lot, I was just in Malaysia and China and recovery is a big part of how I can get back to playing quickly,” said PGA Tour professional Russell Knox.

Knox and his wife Andrea along with Monica Rivera have opened Cryotherapy Jax on the Southside as a recovery zone that has a spa-like feel. “Revive, Rejuvenate, Recover” is on their logo and is their motto as well.

“After a week of work or hard workouts it’s good to have a chance to get your body back on the right track,” Rivera, a former pro tennis player explained. “You can come in, get a cryotherapy treatment, then get in the Normatec suit and you really feel ready to do again.”

In just three minutes in a cryotherapy chamber you can feel the cold working on your soreness and your inflammation. Much like a cold tub, it acts as a vasoconstrictor as well as reduces inflammation. But it does it without getting wet and in just three minutes.

“We’ve seen great results with athletes but with people who have arthritis and joint problems as well,” Rivera said. Their place just off Southside Boulevard has an athletic and welcoming vibe, comfortable but with a purpose. A cryotherapy session at -200 degrees definitely gets your attention: 30 minutes in the Normatec suit feels like the part of the workout you’ve been missing.

A Normatec suit creates variable pressure from your feet up through the end of you fingers. It’s designed to rejuvenate your muscles by forcing lactic acid out of your arms and legs giving them an easier path to recovery. It feels a little like a pulsating massage.

“I don’t know a PGA Tour player or any other professional athlete who doesn’t use this,” Knox said while sitting in a lounger looking like the Michelin Man. “After walking 18 holes, especially if it’s wet, getting this treatment can get you ready for the next day.”

In combination, the cryotherapy and Normatec treatments are proving to be very popular among athletes trying to avoid the soreness and wait time usually associated with a hard workout. I’ve had cryotherapy sessions and have felt the positive effects but adding the Normatec treatment afterwards had a long lasting, even lingering feeling of recovery.

In the long run, Rivera and the Knoxes are hoping to expand Cryotherapy Jax to a full recovery center, looking at all kinds of treatments with an eye on rest and nutrition as well.

“If you’re not paying attention to how you’re recovering,” Russell said, “You’re not going to be at your best.”

Cryotherapy Jax is open Monday through Saturday in the Perimeter Park just off Southside Boulevard.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley, Bortles Say Hackett Brings “New Vision”

On Friday afternoon, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley gave a straightforward “no” to the question of changing his staff in the near future.

On Saturday he fired Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson.

There seemed to be a disconnect there, and understanding what has to be kept behind closed doors, Bradley revealed today that he was thinking about a change, even last Friday. And after “evaluating” it, as Bradley says, he decided to make a change, a move both General Manager Dave Caldwell and Owner Shad Khan approved of. Bradley was quick to point out it was his decision, alone.

“We started looking at things and gathering information and putting things together and it went into more of that direction,” Bradley said on Monday. “I didn’t know where the direction would take me. I didn’t know what would take place. I didn’t want it to lead to speculation nor did I think, at that time, there would be a coaching change. I try to share things with Shad and Dave and keep them up to date. It’s still my decision. It wasn’t Shad’s decision or wasn’t Dave’s decision. It was one that I had to feel comfortable with.”

So Bradley brought Olson in on Saturday morning and told him they were going to make a change. Olson calmly left the building before the whole Florida/Georgia festivities got into full swing. Bradley told the staff and the players, who he described as “shocked.”

“Oly had great impact on everybody in that room,” he explained about Olson and the offense. “I think there’s a part of them, it’s sad. It’s tough. No different than when you cut a player that’s close to the team and then he leaves. Players experience it. Coaches experience it. I think it’s the world we live in.”

Promoting quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett to offensive coordinator keeps the relationship with Blake Bortles in tact and gives the team a “different vision” according to Bradley.

“I just called him up and talked to him about, hey, what direction would you go? How would you go about it? It was very good. I thought it was very clear which direction and I thought it really meshed with what we needed at this point.”

A change in coordinators isn’t extraordinary during the season in the NFL, but its not the end all, cure all for the Jaguars.

“I told the offense, I said, we made a change, okay, now we’re good,” Bradley said of his meeting. “No. It’s not like that. Players have to make plays. We all have to take responsibility. This was not solely Greg Olson.”

Now it’s Hackett’s job to try and get the offense untracked, starting with the quarterback. Although he doesn’t think the problem rests squarely on Bortles’ shoulders.

“I think that sometimes people try to focus on all the negative things with Blake,” he said today at his first meeting with the media. “I don’t really do that. I try to look at more of the positive things and see how we can do those more to get him into a more comfort level.”

Getting the running game going would be anybody’s priority when trying to fix the Jaguars. Hackett is no exception, adding that getting any kind of meaningful running game would take pressure off Bortles and the Jaguars receivers.

“I have always felt, like I said, the best thing in the world for a quarterback is the run game. I have always absolutely loved running the ball. Get it to Chris Ivory or T.J. Yeldon they’re going to run right down the field and get a couple yards. I think that even if it doesn’t work, they still have to defend it.”

On Saturday Bradley called Bortles to let him know about the changes. In turn, Bortles talked with Olson and Hackett to discuss the new “vision” for what they’re going to try and do on offense. Even Bortles admits it’s still about the players making plays.

“Things change and just because there has been a move made or a switch has happened it doesn’t mean we are all of sudden going to start putting up numbers offensively and winning games,” he said on Monday. “We still have to go out and find a way to execute and eliminate the stuff that has been happening the previous seven weeks.”

It’s a production-based business and because Bortles hasn’t been producing, Olson is out as the coordinator. That’s not lost on the Jaguars third-year quarterback.

“If I would have played well, better, the way I should, whatever you want to say, there would never be a coordinator switch. We would still be here with Jedd Fisch I guess. It’s always on the quarterback. Nowhere near was it all Greg Olson’s fault.”

A lack of “efficiency” is how Bortles termed his throwing motion this year so he had his personal QB coach Adam Dedaux come to Jacksonville on Monday to look him over and “tighten some things up.” Hackett said he was fine with Bortles seeking outside help since it “makes him comfortable.”

Something needed to change with the Jaguars after a 2-5 start. You can chalk up their losses to Green Bay and Baltimore to just not knowing how to win. The blowouts to San Diego, Oakland and Tennessee were inexcusable. So a new voice, a new approach was needed. Since Shad Khan said Gus Bradley was remaining as the head coach, the next in line to get the scrutiny and eventually the ax was offensive coordinator.

“I think you have to be realistic with it and understand what we’re doing isn’t working and hasn’t worked,” Bortles said. “You have to do something different and we’re figuring that out and we’re going to try to find something different this week.”

While Olson was laid-back and direct with the players, Hackett is a “mini Gus,” according to Marcedes Lewis. Bortles says no question he’ll bring a different energy to the practices and games.

“Nathaniel coming in was kind of the spark plug for the offense. That’s kind of his personality, that’s what he is. He is a little ball of energy. I think it’ll be good. I think it’ll be good to have that. We’ll find out. We have nine games left, a lot of football to go. We’re 1-1 in our division and I’m looking forward to the rest of it.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Says Jaguars Lacked Focus

A Hall of Fame coach once famously said, “Discipline isn’t wearing coats and ties on the airplane. It’s not jumping offside on third down.”

Discipline is lacking on the Jaguars in 2016. They’re the most penalized team in the league and young players like Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler are committing discipline errors inside and outside the rules of the game.

“We cannot and will not tolerate discipline penalties. It’s selfish,” Gus Bradley said in a conference call this afternoon.

Bradley was quick to point out that Dante Fowler came out of the game for the rest of the half when he received his unsportsmanlike penalty. Ramsey missed “A play and a half.”

But the Jaguars head coach, with Owner Shad Khan saying no change in his job is eminent, thinks this group of Jaguars can still make it happen. Bradley’s philosophy of empowering the players and getting them to motivate themselves to play freely is still what he’s preaching to the team.

There’s never an excuse to not playing with great effort. We have a standard that we place. If you’re not meeting that standard, get your butt going. I think the way you lay it out to get that anxiety out is that when you believe in people, you have to be honest with them. I think when they know, clearly understand the expectations and what’s ahead of them, you relieve some of that.”

For this group of Jaguars, that approach hasn’t worked, producing a 2-5 record through undisciplined play. Half of the locker room hasn’t bought into Gus’ philosophy, doing their own thing instead of doing there job.

I asked Bradley if he could account on why the players haven’t been able to discipline themselves to do the simple things that win games.

“I think every player has to direct their focus at that play and know their responsibility on that play. It takes a certain discipline to do that. Even a play that is run away from you, you have to be really good on the backside to make sure if that play bounces out you are there. We just weren’t as focused as we needed to be on a couple of those plays.”

To get that focus, players have to want to be a part of the team instead of making every play. They need that internal desire but they need help from the coaching staff in the form of discipline. Sometimes that means fear of repercussion for not doing your job.

“When you have conversations with them I think it is pretty clear – sometimes you have to help them individually on a one-on-one basis and then it’s important to have those conversations when you know your players,” Bradley said.

So Bradley will continue as the Jaguars head coach and he’ll continue to counsel the players instead of instilling the discipline clearly this team needs. Maybe they’re waiting for something to click. Maybe it will. Problem is, they don’t have time to wait.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Time’s Up: Jaguars Should Move On

After an embarrassing performance against Oakland at home last week, what were we expecting from the Jaguars on national television on the road against the Titans? Fire? Enthusiasm? Heart? Desire? Passion? Probably all of of that.

What did we get? Lackluster, undisciplined, half-hearted and just about every other negative adjective you can think of in the first half. CBS announcer Jim Nantz said the Jaguars were “out of sync.” And he was being kind.

Between Blake Bortles continued struggles and no running game, the offense produced 40 yards in the first half. The defense was on the field a lot, but seemed to be going through the motions in the second quarter as the Titans rolled up a 27-0 halftime lead.

Facing 3rd and 12 from their own 3, the Titans gave the ball to DeMarco Murray in the middle of the line, expecting to punt. Instead, Murray bounced it outside and ran 19 yards for the first down. It was the third time a Jaguars cornerback failed to play the contain, allowing the running back to step outside with nobody behind him. It’s the kind of undisciplined play that has been a hallmark of the 2016 Jaguars.

It was astounding how poorly the Jaguars played, so much so that both Bill Cowher and Deon Sanders called the players out at halftime saying they quit on their coach, Gus Bradley. It certainly appeared that way. Jogging on the backside of plays, free-lancing, not finishing routes. The Jaguars looked like they wanted to be somewhere else.

After a big pow-wow with Shad Khan, the coaches and players as well as GM Dave Caldwell could have produced something different. But instead it was a meltdown in front of everybody.

That’s the kind of thing that Khan won’t stand for. Back-to-back embarrassing losses, this one on national television. It won’t surprise anybody if Khan makes a move on Gus Bradley and the coaching staff simply to try something else. Whatever Gus was building in his first three years has crumbled. Half of the players bought in but the other half, including some of the new additions this year, haven’t gotten on board. Rookies are doing their own thing. Veteran free agents aren’t sure which side of the equation they should be on. There’s too much talent on the team to be losing this way. There are too many good guys on the team to react the way they have when things are going bad.

What happened? Where did that team that took Green Bay to the wire go? It appears the locker room couldn’t quite bring the rookies into the fold of personal accountability and team first. For all of his talent, Jalen Ramsey said it all when he said he wouldn’t be “disrespected” and would fight again if given the same circumstances. It’s that kind of “me first” that big time talented players have to push into the background for the greater good of the team. Maybe the coaches said something to him during the week but that’s the attitude that gets you beat. Dante Fowler showed it in the game getting a personal foul for punching a guy. He probably should have been thrown out of the game. The locker room is divided, nobody on the same page, and an embarrassing, blowout loss ensued.

It was a grand experiment that failed in the end. Gus Bradley wanted to empower the players with accountability to each other, let them play without stress and reach their maximum potential. No fear. But you have to have the right players and the right personalities to turn the reigns over to a group of 53 players when all but two of them are in their 20’s. They couldn’t handle it. Bradley is a really good guy and a good coach but in this situation his big idea it didn’t work. If he gets another shot, a veteran squad might react differently. This one needed to.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Khan Says Bradley’s Staying

Despite two embarrassing losses, the latest on national television, the Jaguars have no plans to change their head coach. Sources last night confirmed and the Times-Union reported that Shad Khan said he had no plans to fire Gus Bradley after the team’s 2-5 start.

Bradley has been under fire since the start of his tenure as the head coach of the Jaguars going 14-40 in his first three seasons. General Manager Dave Caldwell has said the first two years don’t count, and he didn’t expect the Jaguars to win as many games as they did, rebuilding the roster. But in the last two years Bradley and the Jaguars are 7-16 including Thursday’s loss in Tennessee. This despite declaring the roster “built” and spending money and draft picks on defense in 2016.

“I don’t know what it is,” Bradley said after the team’s latest loss. “I know those guys in the locker room care for each other but it’s just not happening.”

When asked if he expected to be the Jaguars head coach the following Sunday against Kansas City, Bradley answered with a terse, “Yes.”

Traditionally in-season coaching changes don’t have much effect in the NFL and it’s not as common as it is in Major League Baseball, the NBA or the NHL. Khan has said his changes on his Fulham soccer club are because a new manager there can make an immediate impact. He’s been reluctant to make a change at the top of the Jaguars, saying in London last year when the Jaguars were plummeting, “It really hasn’t crossed my mind.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

“Unacceptable” According To Bradley. Is It Really?

Six games and seven weeks into the season the Jaguars should be talking about how to improve and hopefully get themselves into a division race. Instead, they sit a 2-4 and the conversation is about how the culture of the team eroded in the second half against Oakland on Sunday as their lost their poise and the game 33-16.

“It’s on us as a team to hold each other accountable.,” said Blake Bortles in his post game press conference. “To have two or three guys or whatever to get thrown out is kind of ridiculous and embarrassing.. I think the best thing for us is we get to play Thursday, so we don’t have time to think about this much longer.”

While the Jaguars have Tennessee on the schedule on Thursday night, Monday was spent talking about what happened Sunday on the field against the Raiders. Both Malik Jackson and Jalen Ramsey were ejected, Jackson for a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and Ramsey for fighting. Neither apologized for their actions but Jackson was somewhat contrite.

“It was a culmination of the whole day. Just a lot of things going on,” said Jackson. “I just got frustrated and lost my cool and we can’t have that happen. I cost my team a bunch of penalty yards and I don’t know what happened after that.”

On the other hand, Ramsey was somewhat defiant. On Monday, his 21st birthday, his attitude toward what happened Sunday was no different.

“If I was out there nine more times I would do the same exact thing,” said Ramsey. “I don’t think I should’ve been thrown out the game for it. Neither do I think he (Raiders WR Johnny Holton) should’ve been thrown out the game for it. I’m not going to be disrespected. I’m pretty sure you’ll know that about me by now. I would do the same thing.”

Maybe chalk that up to being young but more than anything it shows a lack of regard for the team, the coaches and the organization in general. It’s self-centered, showing more concern for “me” than anything else. Ramsey’s comments shouldn’t be lost on Head Coach Gus Bradley, who says he takes the lack of discipline personally.

“I do. That’s a reflection of me as a head coach,” he said on Monday. “It’s a reflection of our discipline. It’s a reflection of how our culture is and how we talk. And how we handle things. So yeah that part of it hits home with me because obviously it’s my responsibility. The demeanor of this team and how we approach things and how we play with poise. It is. I take personal responsibility of that.”

There’s no other way to describe it other than embarrassing. You can call it unacceptable but unless there are some consequences for that kind of behavior, I guess it’s actually acceptable. Gus needs to get it fixed and fast. At least Bradley doesn’t dispute that it’s an embarrassing display by the team.

“It’s an unacceptable moment,” he said. “To have two players disqualified from one game it is unacceptable. There’s no other way to look around it. To say it’s frustrating or embarrassing I’m with them.” And Bortles said what everybody was thinking when asked about the behavior and how to fix it.

“I mean you have a bunch of grown men playing football for a living,” he explained. “It’s kind of on us to do that as a group. It’s on each individual to hold themselves to a high standard and when they get out of line, it’s on the team to put them back in place.”

As far as their actual play on the field, particularly on offense, Bortles was also spot on admitting he hasn’t played well but at this point, the Jaguars need to try and get out o their own way first.

“I think it all starts with the self-inflicted stuff-the penalties and unforced errors that we create ourselves. We can’t do anything until we get past that. We’ll never be successful as an offense as long as we are turning it over and committing penalties, so we have to find a way to knock those out. We will never reach our potential until we do that.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars, Bradley Wobbling On The Tracks

I went to sit in the stands for most of the third quarter as the Jaguars were getting beat by the Raiders and heard some of the most lustful booing of the home team in recent memory. While the Jaguars defense was losing their cool, probably for being on the field so much, the offense couldn’t execute the most routine play causing plenty of frustration on the field and in the stands. It’s clear something’s wrong with Blake Bortles and when you can’t depend on your quarterback to lead and make the routine play you can’t really have any kind of offensive game plan or momentum.

Bortles is clearing pressing and thinking too much instead of just making plays. It’s something Bradley has talked to him about but to no avail. If you think Bortles is a little slower when processing the pro game then you could call this his “sophomore” slump. Perhaps it’s taken until his third year to reach that point. But his inability to do the most basic things has to be addressed. It’s in his head and it’s gone on too long to just be a blip on the radar. Unlike college, you can’t just sit him and let him watch for a while. He’ll have to play himself out of it if you’re going to stick by him as your starter. As they say in the NFL, “He’s your guy until he’s not. Then he’s not your guy.”

A loss on the record is one thing but the way the team lost their composure in the 4th quarter is something Bradley will have to address immediately if he wants to keep his job. Teams that have multiple unsportsmanlike and fighting penalties show a lack of respect for the game, their teammates and their organization. Getting sideways in the heat of the game is one thing. Having it breakout through the roster over the course of the game is completely different. It started with Dante Fowler jumping offside and lining up in the neutral zone twice in the first quarter and followed through Rashad Greene’s fumbled punt and subsequent fielding of the next one on the one. Both players stayed in the game after a short conversation with their position coach and Bradley. Even to set an example, both of those players should have been standing on the sidelines for a while as a message to the rest of the players: do your job or get out of the game. I know Gus tries to take the pressure off players so they can play freely and to their best ability but without any fear of consequences, they’re not figuring out how to make that work and win games.

Shad Khan’s and in turn Dave Caldwell’s expectations are that this team would be competitive throughout the season. Losing close games to better teams can be understandable. Losing to lesser teams and looking silly and unprofessional doing it is unacceptable.

Giving the power to the players to hold each other accountable is a laudable goal for the Head Coach but for Gus Bradley, this group of players isn’t adapting to it and it shows. Marcedes Lewis spoke in the locker room after the game. Paul Posluszny said when Lewis speaks “It carries a lot of weight from an 11 year veteran.” But we’ve heard the words before. “This can’t happen, we’re better than this,” but unless they turn into action, and they haven’t in the past, they don’t mean much.

After beating Indianapolis in London, I didn’t think that Shad Khan would consider making a move on Gus Bradley unless the Jaguars were embarrassed at some point the rest of the year. It’s hard to qualify this loss as anything but embarrassing for the Jaguars. They lost the game and their composure and even when they had a chance to get back in it, they couldn’t get out of their own way and created problems for themselves and chances for the Raiders. The offense basically scored 9 points on the worst defense in the league. And most of it comes back to the quarterback. If you don’t know what you’re going to get out of that position you can’t play in the NFL. Since replacing the quarterback seem like an option right now, replacing Bradley might be, perhaps after Thursday’s game at Tennessee if they don’t come back with a win.

Bortles needs to snap out of it but the rest of the team needs to show some maturity and carry the weight of themselves and the guy next to them if they expect to win games. Right now the team, and the season are wobbling on the tracks. If they don’t want it to completely derail, they’ll need a culture change immediately.

To a man, the Jaguars say Gus Bradley is their guy and they’ll do anything for him. If they want him around, they need to find an answer.

The first place they should look is in the mirror.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Embarrassed By Raiders, 33-16

It started as another lethargic effort by the Jaguars offense. A quick three and out after a nice stop by the defense turned into points for the Raiders, a FG by Sebastian Janikowski and a 3-0 Oakland lead. While Blake Bortles was off the mark throwing the football, he did run effectively on the next drive getting the Jaguars into the red zone. But a throw to Marqis Lee was into triple coverage and short, intercepted by Oakland to stop the drive.

If Bortles is in a slump, perhaps it’s a year late from being a “sophomore.” But you hope that’s just what it is. He’s pressing, over thinking, making bad decisions and worse throws. Perhaps he’ll snap out of it and get back on track but as of now, he’s not only not getting it done, he’s hurting his team’s chances with his indecision and inaccurate throws. After Oakland took a 6-0 lead, Bortles had a couple of chances but couldn’t find the open receiver or just flat missed him. He was 3-11 to open the game for 38 yards through the air early but was effective running it out of the backfield either scrambling by design and the Jaguars trailed 6-3.

Last week against the Bears the Jaguars defense came to life in the second half, holding Chicago to zero third down conversions and stuffing the run. Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio decided to test that, running right at the Jaguars front seven and it was successful. The Raiders held the ball for seven minutes in the second quarter, pounding the interior of the line and scored a TD to make it 13-3.

A big run by Chris Ivory padded the Jaguars rushing stats and a good run after catch by Marqis Lee moved the ball inside the red zone around the two-minute warning. That’s where the offense bogged down, Bortles looking like he’s deciding where to throw it before the snap. A field goal made it 13-6.

“Freebies” is how Head Coach Gus Bradley describes plays the Jaguars have given to their opponent and against the Raiders they had their share. The Bortles interception, a fumbled punt by Rashad Greene and a long scramble pass to inside the five with under two minutes left in the half were just that kind of plays the Jaguars can’t afford to give up. Michael Crabtree worked Prince Amukamara over in the first half, catching a TD pass on a simple in route at the goal line to give the Raiders a 20-6 lead. Not many teams have the talent to give the opposition “freebies” and still win. The Jaguars certainly don’t have any sort of margin for error in that category and were down 20-6 at the half.

Opening the second half the Jaguars started to look like they had life on offense. Bortles had three nice completions but the drive stalled and they settled for a FG to make it 20-9. The next few series were a combination of penalties and field position, the Jaguars spending most of their time under their own goal post. Eventually the Raiders kicked another FG to make it 23-9.

That’s when things started to melt down for the Jaguars. Malik Jackson was called for a pretty bogus roughing the passer penalty and in his protest was assessed two unsportsmanlike penalties and kicked out of the game. The 30-yard gain gave the Raiders another FG and they converted to make it 26-9.

Giving the Jaguars a chance to chew some clock and pad their stats, the Raiders seemed pretty content to do both with a 17-point lead. Bortles threw a TD pass to Julius Thomas to make it 26-16 and the defense, despite missing Jalen Ramsey (ejection) Malik Jackson (ejection), Roy Miller (Achilles) and Sen’Derrick Marks (foot) did their job. They stopped the Raiders and forced a punt on 4th and 20 with just under 4 minutes to play. But after bobbling the snap, Oakland punter Marquette King ran around the right side for a 1st down. Derek Carr and company took advantage of the break and scored to seal the game at 33-16.

It’s an embarrassing loss for the Jaguars on the scoreboard and for their reputation. They lost their composure as the game wore on, suffering ejections and mental meltdowns. Not sure if it’s good or not that they play again on Thursday but just about everybody, especially the fans, should hope to forget about this one quickly.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Win, Need Work

There’s a lot of talk when you listen to the Jaguars about bouncing back when things don’t go your way, starting fast and overcoming adversity. But in reality, the 2016 team hasn’t been capable of any of that. Losing the opener to Green Bay, the team let that defeat linger for a week and they got blown out by San Diego. The opening drive against the Bears looked solid but ended with a turnover. And things fell apart. Instead of bouncing back from adversity, the Jaguars offense couldn’t get untracked for the rest of the first half while the defense couldn’t get off the field on third down, giving up 10-points, and they trailed 10-0 at halftime. The Bears were able to convert 3rd downs at will throughout the half while the Jaguars offense couldn’t stay on the field.

Wanting to do something different, I watched the 3rd quarter with no tweeting and no sound. I’ve thought the Jags were a few “tweaks” away from being a pretty good team. But after watching like that, I’m losing confidence in some key elements; Leadership, O-Line, Bortles, Bradley’s philosophy.

All along we’ve known that Gus’ coaching philosophy is a grand experiment: empower the players with the accountability element of what drives a team, any team to success. That’s worked in spurts but hasn’t infused the Jaguars culture full-time. On defense, the Jaguars have talent and leadership but something’s flawed either in execution or scheme because too often one thing cracks and the whole thing falls apart.

On offense they have the pieces, albeit young, but when things aren’t going right, they don’t have a leader that can right the ship and get things going in the right direction. That would most easily fall to the quarterback, Blake Bortles. But in 2016, Bortles hasn’t found a rhythm or the form he had in 2015 when he threw 35 touchdowns. So maybe he’s uncomfortable pumping up his teammates when he’s not playing so well. Brandon Linder is a natural leader but it’s tough for the center to motivate anybody except the guys across the offensive line.

Playing better certainly helps and winning solves everything. So in two possessions on offense and one on defense in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars went from a bad team to one that looked like it was fulfilling it’s potential. With the defense being called on to give them a chance, the offense and Bortles found some openings with Allen Hurns making two big catches to get the ball inside the five. On second down (why not first?) Chris Ivory scored his first touchdown as a Jaguar to pull within 6 at 13-7.

Then two chances were squandered. Bortles was hit from behind and fumbled, giving the Bears three points to make it 16-7. He has to know, now in his third year in the league, that guys are going to be catching him from behind and to protect the football. That’s basic stuff. 16-7 Bears. Then Kelvin Beachum was called for a late hit as the Jaguars were driving, moving the ball back to the 30 and forcing them to kick a field goal to make it 16-10. Beachum is smarter than that but it’s that kind of lack of thinking and discipline that one of his teammates has to call out if Bradley’s coaching philosophy is ever going to take hold.

Again the defense did their job, getting the ball back to Bortles and company with plenty of time. An unlikely hero, Aurileus Benn, caught a simple “in” route from his WR spot but when he went to the ground he wasn’t touched. He jumped up and ran 52-yards for the go-ahead TD, 17-16 Jaguars.

That’s when the talent on the Jaguars showed up in the form of rookie corner back Jalen Ramsey. On 4th down, Ramsey was singled up on Alshon Jefferies and broke on the ball to knock it down and preserve the victory for the Jaguars. Ramsey as schooled in the first half by Jefferies. In the second half, the roles were reversed. Even the final play was well designed and executed. With 47 seconds to play and third down, Blake Bortles ran some play action and rolled to his left, looking at the game clock to get under :40 and stay in bounds. He did both, ending the game.

From a miserable three quarters the Jaguars grabbed their second win of the year against a bad Bears team. No matter how bad the Bears are, you’re supposed to beat bad teams and that’s what the Jaguars have done two games in a row. Being able to use this as a springboard to next week’s home game against Oakland will be key.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Bye Week Approach Slightly Different

In his previous three years as the head coach of the Jaguars, Gus Bradley’s teams are 1-2 in the game immediately after the bye. But a truer picture shows his teams playing better after the bye week. The Jaguars won two of three last year after the trip to London and beat the Giants here in 2013 two weeks after going overseas. This is the earliest the Jaguars have had their bye under Bradley, so he’s hoping the trend of better play after a break continues.

“I hope it starts with a good physical practice,” Bradley said this week when asked why his team plays well later in the year. “I really felt it on Monday. This team came back really fresh. We had some injuries and it gave us a chance to come back healthy. There was a certain spirit you saw at practice.”

Because the players haven’t had any contact since the Colts game, Bradley gave them a chance to get back at it in practice on Wednesday.

“Physical, really challenged the guys up front on both sides of the ball. You come off a bye week and you get a chance to take advantage of that. Highly, highly competitive. Pleased with that part of it. We got a chance to look at a lot of things with the extra day we had on Monday as well.”

Still searching for the winning formula prepping his 2016 team, Bradley says he’s aware of his team’s attitude during the week. After the close loss to Green Bay, he’s mentioned several times that lingered into the next game at San Diego and possibly longer.

“I hate to go back and talk about the past, but I think what took place that was-opening game, that was tough on us. That was really tough so I think to bounce back quickly and go through a mindset. And sometimes as coaches you over-analyze things and I think just that whole week and how we did things and how we approached it, I felt like it was good.”

But with the result on the west coast, as well as the first quarter of the season, Bradley knows he had to change some things during the mid-week practices.

“Yeah. I think that over the bye week as we analyzed our team and figured out more about our team we applied this week. More over the course of four games,” he explained.

With injuries still looming and the addition of Aaron Colvin to the defensive backfield, the team is going to Chicago not exactly sure who can play and who can’t. It’ll be a game day decision for several players and Bradley gave us some insight as to how he’ll select the active 46 players from the 53 on the roster.

“This is a tough week for us. Going through it I know we spent a lot of time on this and just looking at our philosophy going into the game, as far as number of D-linemen, linebacker and [defensive backs]. It is a challenging week for that because we have some guys who are playing really well that may have to be out.”

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Jets Game, Training Camp, Jaguars Still Working

It’s only two weeks or so into training camp but it’s already apparent things are going to be different on defense for the Jaguars this year.

“It was good to see the high level of competition on both sides, going back and forth,” head coach Gus Bradley said after his team faced the New York Jets Thursday night. “Really competitive.”

What’s happened in Jaguars practices continued in the first preseason game with the defense holding their own and the offense getting the fast start they wanted when the two clubs matched their first-teamers. Last year’s defense finished 31st in the league in points allowed and oftentimes didn’t put up much of a fight against the offense with Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in practice. This year, it’s much more even after the money spent in the off-season to shore up the defense and spending all but one of their draft picks on that side of the ball. It showed against the Jets.

“The defense has gotten better so the windows are even more tighter than they were last year, which is only good and is only going to help us out,” Bortles said, reviewing the competitive nature of practices so far. Bortles was 7-8 against the Jets, directing two scoring drives in the Jaguars first two possessions.

After missing last year with an ACL injury, Dante Fowler looks like the player the Jaguars were hoping they would get when they made him their first round pick in 2015. He’s energetic and shows no ill effects of his injury. Although he claims he’s “100%” he doesn’t feel like his explosiveness has come back yet.

“They say that’s the last thing you get back,” he said last week. “But I’m feeling good.”

It’s the first time in over a year that Fowler took the field in a football game. He said it was an “emotional time.”

Veteran free-agent Malik Jackson has mentored Fowler so far in camp, helping him with the nuance of the pro game. He likes what he sees when it comes to the pass rush abilities of Fowler and this year’s 5th round pick, Yannick Ngakoue.

“They definitely have speed, high motors, high energy, very smart and they take coaching well,” Jackson explained.

Although he had a personal foul penalty, Myles Jack drew some positive notices and admitted it’s different than college.

“Everybody’s fast,” he mentioned in the post-game locker room. “Even the offensive linemen. I’ve got a lot of work to do, that’s for sure. But I’m excited about it.”

After having Friday off, the Jaguars were back at practice on Saturday. Julius Thomas sat out with knee soreness but the Jaguars don’t think it’s going to be a problem. Denard Robison had a veterans day off, Davon House was out with hamstring soreness and Aaron Colvin’s ankle was giving him a problem so he didn’t practice. The concern is for rookie DL Sheldon Day, out of practice for about a week now with a back problem. No word on when he’ll return.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Lose: Same Song, Wrong Notes

It’s pretty simple in the NFL: if you’re quarterback isn’t playing well, you’re not going to win. For most of 2016 Blake *Bortles hasn’t played well and the Jaguars are 2-7. But despite his slump and the Jaguars record, Gus Bradley was plain when he was asked if Bortles should sit for a while and watch.

“No,” he said in his post-game press conference. “I think we’re 59 percent on third down. He made some plays on the run, things we’re going to keep going after, keep taking these shots.”

While he’s right about the statistics, he’s not seeing the whole picture. Or rather he’s not seeing the small picture and plays that can change the landscape of the game with one throw. Bortles has missed wide-open guys for touchdowns at least four times in the last two weeks but Bradley is sticking by him. Blake’s footwork is bad, his mechanics are bad and it appears his confidence in throwing the ball where he wants it is also waning. But Bortles disputed that after the game.

“No, I feel good about it,” he said when asked about his ability to throw the ball downfield. “I mean we had some big P.I.’s (pass interference calls), gave a couple of guys a chance to make plays. I obviously missed (Allen) Hurns on the touchdown down the middle. It’s a work in progress.”

Good answer for your rookie year and even last season. But in your third year in the league, throwing the routine pass should be just that, routine. Those are game-changing plays on the scoreboard, physically and mentally. And when they’re not there, the whole team can feel it. Bradley said the *Bortles in practice is a little different than the *Bortles in games. Blake apparently makes those throws during the week. It’s on Sunday where he’s struggling. That’s a mechanics and mentality problem. It’s like making the 4-footer on the practice green but missing it to win the tournament.

“I believe he had a good week last week in practice,” Gus explained, ever the optimist. “I think there’s going to be plays every week. Missing some deep balls like that, it can happen. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to shy away from it. We have to come up and make those connections when the time calls for it.”

Even Bradley knows the team is underperforming based on the upgrades they made in the off-season. The draft picks and free agents they added to the defense have made it competitive but without solid quarterback play, none of it matters.

“I think we’re a talented team, but talent alone isn’t enough,” the head coach said, echoing what everybody is thinking. “I think that it’s talent and work ethic and the guys working together to accomplish this and playing smart and not having foolish penalties so a combination of things.”

All of those comments are just what you’d expect from Bradley, and pretty much what he has to say. But at 2-7, he sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish when he talks about the future.

“I think we all feel like we’re closer where we can get on a run and it’s not happening. To get on a run, you got to win one game. So we got to start that. You see some plays out there that we are very close.”

No, no. It’s the small things, the discipline, and the precision that wins games in the NFL. There are no “runs” without that. He’s right to ask for “a little more” from each player.

So far this season Marqise Lee has been the best offensive player the Jaguars have and the most improved as well. He’s figured out how to play in the NFL and how to stay healthy enough to stay on the field. He’s able to see a big picture idea of what the difference is between winning and losing at this level.

“At the end of the day, we’ve been in position the last couple of weeks and have had opportunities,” he said standing in front of his locker. “We’ve got to capitalize on those opportunities. At the end of the day, I think that’s what good teams do. It’s not going to be pretty for all four quarters or the whole sixty minutes. We’re not going to play flawless football, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to capitalize on our opportunities.”

“You can’t really do anything about it,” Blake said of the frustration of losing. “It does no good to get mad at the fans for whatever they do. They’re in control of nothing, so it’s on us, it’s on me, to go out and go play. Go play as hard as you can and have fun and be successful. I know people are agitated and frustrated with everything–as are we. This isn’t fun for anybody.”

Amen to that.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: “It feels different out there”

With a week off, Gus Bradley and the Jaguars staff took some time to reflect on the first four games of the year. Bradley clearly likes the 2016 version of the Jaguars and is equally disappointed that they’ve started 1-3.

“I think there are some areas that we are doing really well,” Gus said at his Monday press conference “I think defensively, the total yards and the sacks. We are getting more pressure. Offensively, I think that we are finding out that it is really important for us to be efficient. I mean, ‘Wow, earth shattering, right?’ ”

That might be the nuts and bolts of what Bradley thinks of his current team but there’s more to it. The intangible of a team that believes it can win and is going to win is somewhere in the current roster’s psyche.

“I like our mentality of our team coming out. I mentioned that before, but it just feels different out there,” Bradley explained. “I mentioned before you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. It just feels different. This team is like, ‘Okay, you know what, we had some things go our way, some things that didn’t. We understand what took place. You know what? Let’s take this now.”

During the bye week the staff dealt with Hurricane Matthew much like the rest of us did. The Jaguars staff was able to work at the stadium looking at the first quarter of the season while they worked the logistics of keeping the players informed about what their plans might be regarding the hurricane. Mainly they tried to “self-scout,” ferretting out their own strengths and weaknesses through four games.

“We had a chance last week with the bye week to really evaluate some things. Scheme, personnel, a lot of things and had some really good discussions”

Specifically, Bradley says the staff pinpointed the problems on offense and narrowed it down to third and long situations. An improved running game will keep those from happening but it was clear in the first quarter of the season, third and long kept the offense from functioning properly.

“On offense we have had a lot of third and long situations. Third and 11-plus. It is not just third and 11. These are third and 20s, third and 23s. Far too many in that area. It comes back to controlling things we can control. The foolish penalties. Penalties overall. False starts, pre-snap, more pre-snap issues for us. ”

During the bye week Luke Joeckel had surgery on his knee and was placed on injured reserve. The former first round pick had shuttled between tackle and guard, doing everything the team asked of him and showing improvement. Bradley said it was disappointing to take Joeckel off the roster.

“He did everything right. It is not supposed to work out this way with a guy that does everything like that. It is just very unfortunate. We will stay strong with him and handle this whole ordeal with him.”

If the difference between winning and losing is small in the NFL, Bradley says the Jaguars are trying to learn together how to turn losses into wins instead of the other way around.

“We are trying to find a way, not only as players, but as a team, to eliminate those things that keep us from victory,” Gus said. “That is what we have been talking about. These things are keeping us from where we want to be. Let’s eliminate those things.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Sawgrass CC: No Issues

As one of the original communities in Ponte Vedra Beach, Sawgrass Country Club has seen all kinds of different weather. Its golf course sits virtually right on the ocean and was the original North Florida host for The Players in early March in the late ’70’s and ’80’s. The weather was so severe one over par won the tournament, forcing the competition back to late March before they moved across the street to the Tournament Players Club.

Despite it’s proximity to the beach, Sawgrass weathered Hurricane Matthew with minimal damage.

“Not much damage,” Ponte Vedra Beach real estate agent and developer Rob Kearney said on Saturday. “We were shocked at the amount of wind we had but just some trees down and a lot of debris. We didn’t see any damage with any rooftops or anything else.”

While water is a big hazard for golfers at Sawgrass, it wasn’t a factor for residents living inside the community. Their lakes and canals connect with Guana Lake and were able to drain without a problem.

“Overall it came up about 2 ½ to 3 feet around the community and the golf course over two days ago,” Kearney explained. “We see some water intrusion in this fairway (7 West) but that’s typical anytime we get a lot of rain here.”

Now making Sawgrass his permanent home, insurance executive Joe Braunstein was very pleased with how things turned out considering the force of Hurricane Matthew. His home along the golf course and on a wide lake handled the storm just fine. “It did, I was really surprised. No trees down, no water in the house, we survived it,” Braunstein said standing along the golf course waterways. “I think the community did a really good job heeding the warning of either evacuating or getting to a safe place.”

Originally from Philadelphia, Joe said this was a first for him, that things are very different in Philly.

“No, we get snow and we get the Eagles,” he said with a laugh.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

PV Residents Say Beach Is Resilient

There’s a certain look to North Florida beaches. Wide and white, backed by sand dunes with a gradual slope to the ocean. Hurricane Matthew changed the topography of the beach, altering even the view from the road.

“It’s pretty powerful, I’ve seen it maybe a dozen times in 30 years,” Bobby Weed, Ponte Vedra resident and golf course designer said while walking on Ponte Vedra Boulevard on Saturday.

“I’ve seen it at Amelia Island in the 70’s and 80’s and here a couple of times,” Weed recalled. “We’ve lost the dunes but the beach is resilient, it’ll come back. I think we’re all very fortunate”

Residents are used to idyllic weather, hot summer days, cool spring and fall breezes and occasional violent storms. But this was completely different.

“The power of the wind and the water is amazing,” Weed’s daughter Haley, said. “We’ve lost our dunes but they’ll grow back. Everything has changed so we’ll have to adapt. It’ll work out.”

“A little bit of devastation,” is how Nocatee resident Kevin Day described it walking back from looking at the ocean. “It wasn’t too bad. I expected it to be worse than I saw. There are palm leaves, trees, a little bit of board damage. And all the dunes have been washed away.”

“At first we thought it was going to be a Cat 4 and my wife wanted to get out of town,” Day explained. “We decided to stay at the last minute and I guess we got lucky.” As a more than 30-year resident of North Florida, and a prominent international golf industry businessman, Bobby Weed had a tinge of pride watching his home town recover.

“I’ve been over in Orange Park picking up my youngest daughter this morning and I’ve been impressed. Everybody’s pitching in and cleaning up. It’s a good community effort.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Historic Ponte Vedra Inn And Club Survives Matthew

Originally built in 1928 the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is one of the most historic places on Florida’s east coast. Selected to host the Ryder Cup in 1939 and withstanding Hurricane Dora’s wrath in 1964, the Inn was 80% full as Hurricane Matthew steamed towards Jacksonville’s beaches.

“We informed our guests during the week and had a lot of cooperation getting people out safely,” Dale Haney, President of the Gate Hospitality group told us on Saturday.

Generations of families in North Florida have treated the club as their own, using it as a weekend retreat, a place to hold weddings or summer vacations. It’s no surprise Haney took calls before and after Matthew from residents and members asking about the club’s ability to survive.

“We’ve had calls since the storm was announced,” Haney said. “This is a second home for a lot of people and a big part of their lifestyle and an important part of their lives.”

Much like in 1964, the club itself survived the hurricane force winds. When Dora hit, it flooded inland. For Matthew, the seawall, the rooms on the ocean and the club itself kept the water on the east side of Ponte Vedra Boulevard.

“The structure held up fine,” Haney explained. “All the buildings are brick, the gym is on the second floor.”

“We do have pavers under all this sand,” Haney said light heartedly, adding, “It’s really a beach club covered with sand. I believe a wave came right through. The beach came to the club.”