Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Stadium Clubs “Reimagined”

In the 21 years since it was torn to the ground and rebuilt, the stadium downtown, now called Everbank Field, has been transformed from a place to go see a game to one of the premier “fan experiences” in the NFL. As part of a $90 million project scheduled in three parts and to be completed before the beginning of the 2016 NFL season, the clubs on the East and West sides of the stadium are being renovated and “reimagined.”

“When you work for Shad Khan, there’s not a lot of standing still,” Jaguars Vice President of Sales Chad Johnson told me during a tour of the construction on Thursday. “A lot of our club members have been here since day one. And while the clubs were still a great space, they haven’t kept up with the technology.”

Sitting in your seat will be a different experience in the clubs with new, wider, padded seats being installed. But you might not want to sit in your seat for long. Whether it’s a trip to the Bud Zone or Fanduelville, the stadium is being set up to enhance the experience going from place to place for the entire game.

“You come in the club and you lose what you’re here for,” Johnson explained. ” We’re taking the field and bringing it into the club. And we’re taking the resources of the club and taking it outside.”

It’s obvious that when you come to the club for the first time in the coming year, it’ll look completely different. As in, you’ll think you’re in a different spot.

“From this spot here,” Johnson said as he pointed to just inside one of the walkways to the club seats, “to the other end of the club, those walls will be all glass, overlooking the field.”

Those glass walls will be 12-14 feet high. All of the concession areas are being ripped out and rebuilt, allowing for more local fare and more flexibility in the kind of food they can prepare.

And it’ll be a very large, open area.

“One thing the clubs lack is a lot of communal space. We have a lot of 4 tops but not a lot of places where 10 or 12 people can gather,” Johnson explained. “In this new club design there will be a lot of long bar rails and places to get together.”

While the number of “Club Seats” will fall from 10,000 to just over 8,200, Johnson says all of the entities that use the stadium, including the Florida/Georgia game and the TaxSlayer Bowl have been in on the renovation.

“Fans love to be outside, with their friends, overlooking the field. We saw that with Fanduelville. So if we can do that here at the 50-yard line it made complete sense.”

Construction is being done in phases, with the lower clubs on the east and west sides part of the initial work. They’ve built some temporary walls to accommodate fans getting to their seats during the upcoming Monster Jam in February. Following that, they’ll start the demolition of the decks outside and move to the upper clubs as well.

Work in the South End Zone for the “Flex Field” and the amphitheater hasn’t started yet but Johnson says it’s all still pointing to being ready at the start of the season.

“It’s a tight timeline, but we’re doing it in phases,” he outlined. “It’s all part of the big project but we, and our construction partner have a good plan.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Remembering Rex Morgan

Somewhere along the way in his career, somebody associated with JU decided that Rex Morgan shouldn’t be the head basketball coach at the Arlington school. It’s a bit of a shame, but his loyalty to the Dolphins never wavered. Sunday’s celebration of life for Morgan, who died last week at 67 after a battle with throat cancer, was held in JU’s Historic Swisher Gym, the site of Morgan’s exploits as a player in the late ’60’s and ’70’s.

“We ran a very patient, patterned offense,” Morgan’s coach Joe Williams told the 800 or so at Swisher to pay their respects. “But the first time the ball went to Rex on the wing, he took it to the basket and laid it in. He changed what we thought about coaching. Once we got Artis (Gilmore) and Pembroke (Burroughs), Tom (Wasdin, Williams’ assistant coach) and I just wanted to get up in the stands and watch. It was that good.”

After a loss in his freshman year, Wasdin told the crowd, “Rex got the team together and said, ‘You don’t know what’s going on here. How special it is to be at this school.’ We didn’t have any bad losses after that.”

Recalling the recruitment of Morgan, Wasdin said, “I told Rex we needed him and really wanted him. Rex said, ‘Coach, I’ve never seen a team that needed me more.'”

It was that kind of story told Sunday remembering Morgan as a player and coach of great passion and intensity, a natural leader.

“When he got the ball, he was in charge,” Pembroke Burroughs, a forward on the 1970 team that played in the national championship game recalled. “He wasn’t our point guard, but at 6’6″ when he got the ball on the wing, he took over.”

Morgan’s coaching career took him from an assistant at FSU under Williams to the USBL to Arlington Country Day School where his teams won seven state championships including five in a row. Morgan was known as fun-loving as well. His USBL team hosted boxer Roy Williams as part of a promotion as Williams played pro basketball and got into the ring for a fight the same day.

“He had a passion for basketball and for Jacksonville,” his friend and teammate Artis Gilmore said in front of Swisher. “He was a very good player, got caught up in a numbers game with the (Boston) Celtics. Very aggressive, very passionate about the game. Just a great competitor and a great friend.”

Gilmore might have been the centerpiece of the great JU teams in the early ’70’s but it was Morgan who made it all happen according to his coaches and teammates.

“A great passer but a great friend,” Williams said echoing Gilmore’s sentiment. “He always had the ability to make you think you were the most important person around.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

“Krossover” Helping Hs Hoops Teams

For about 30 years or so computers have been in dugouts in Major League Baseball. Images of Tony Larussa scanning through matchups and statistics on a laptop in the dugout sent purists howling saying it signaled the end of the America’s Pastime. Now, every team employs an analytics expert, with some ascending to the General Manager spot, making decisions. A whole science, started by Bill James and called Sabermetrics has been created, dedicated to the study of baseball statistics. NFL teams have followed suit, compiling data and crunching numbers, looking for an edge. Tony Khan has an engineering degree but is the Jaguars Vice President for analytics, compiling a smaller sample size than baseball (since baseball has been around for more than 150 years) but still trying to find some secrets in the numbers of the game.

That kind of statistical analysis has now come to basketball, filtering it’s way down from the NBA to elite college programs to high schools like Providence here in Jacksonville where the Stallions are deep into the study of the game through a program called “Krossover.”

“We used to have to go back and forth, fast forwarding through a DVD,” Brian Hoff, Assistant head coach of the Providence Boys basketball team said this week. “Now with just one click, we can see whatever we want.

Krossover is a program that uploads game video and breaks down each play on offense and defense, each player’s contribution, or lack thereof, and how much success a team is having at any point in the game. Whether it’s separating each possession they played man-to-man on defense or how many three pointers were scored in the 4th quarter, the program shows it all.

“Whenever I have a bad game, I can go look and see what I did wrong,” Milon Sheffield, a Stallions Sr. Guard told us at practice. “Sometimes you get exposed because you know on Krossover, they’re going to catch everything.”

At Providence they also discovered the unique difference between using the Krossover program for boys and for girls.

“You have to get past the ‘Oh I look fat’ and the ‘Oh my hair’s messed up,” said Gigi Bistrow, the Providence Girls basketball coach.

“You know you see yourself running down the court and you say, ‘Do I really run like that?” added Providence Jr. Guard Kaylee Davis. “But then you’re like, ‘I gotta focus on basketball.”

Bistrow says as a teaching tool, it’s been invaluable because of how it augments the fundamentals she’s trying to teach. “You can say you have to do this or you have to do that, but when they see it, they know, ‘That was me, I did that wrong and I need to fix it.'”

“After the game we go back and look at it and see the things we did well and they things we did wrong,” Davis added. “We definitely benefit from that.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Cyclists And Motorists Looking For Compromise

While Jacksonville is a growing city, growing pains are part of the process. The way we live, work and play are important parts of the city’s culture as well as the weather and environment.

So when the Florida Department of Transportation held an open house on Tuesday to talk about the repaving of parts of northern Hendricks Avenue, passionate opinions where in place on all sides of the issue.

Despite its status as the largest land mass city in the lower 48, Jacksonville also has the fewest miles of bike lanes of any city percentage-wise and according to population. Yearly, Jacksonville ranks at or near the top of pedestrian and cycling fatalities when it comes to interaction with motor vehicles. At the same time, that part of Hendricks Avenue is full of businesses, professional and otherwise, that have been part of the community for decades. Many of those count on “street parking” for their employees and clients as that part of Hendricks and San Jose have transformed from a pastoral drive from downtown to the suburbs to a busy business thoroughfare.

“You’re looking at a balance here,” Ron Tittle, FDOT’s Jacksonville public information officer said at Tuesday’s meeting. “You have vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians and we’re looking for some harmony for safety and efficient roadways.”

One of the projects about to get underway on the Fuller Warren Bridge will have a pedestrian/bike path connecting San Marco and Riverside because of public comments and ideas presented to the FDOT engineers.

“That wasn’t in the original plan but after the public comment, the engineers found a way to have both safety and traffic taken car of,” Tittle added.

“I’m willing to say there should be a compromise,” said Dr. Craig Kelly, a dentist on Hendricks Avenue whose practice has been there for 42 years. “We rely on the parking spaces (on the street) to run our businesses. If they put bike lanes in without any parking, it will have a negative effect on all of the professional and retail businesses in that neighborhood.”

Numerous businesses along Hendricks were represented at the meeting along with cyclists who use that part of Hendricks to commute back and forth to work as well as recreational cyclists who ride that stretch of road to either get to the Acosta for some “bridge work” (that’s the only elevation found in North Florida) or are headed downtown or to Riverside/Avondale for an extended ride.

Everybody at the meeting agreed there was a compromise in there somewhere, but finding it might be a difficult task. Incorporating a bike lane without eliminating the parking would take some creative thinking on the part of the FDOT engineers when it comes to space necessary to accommodate moving and stationary cars as well as bikes. Widening the road, eliminating the medians, making smaller lanes for cars were all ideas bandied about as everybody got a look at part of the proposed plan.

Leigh Burdett, owner of Ready to Ride Bike Tours thinks safe bike access is essential to the quality of life in town.

“I do agree there can be a compromise,” she said at the meeting ” We need to recognize that’s there’s a real need for a compromise because being able to get in and out of the city safely on a bike is a great thing to have here in Jacksonville.”

Over the years, the rules regarding cars and bikes have evolved, with cyclists now having the same rights on the road as motor vehicles. But in a bike/car accident, the cyclist is at a distinct disadvantage. Better education regarding the laws involving bikes by both the cyclists and motorists are essential to improving safety on the roads. It’s an equation where both sides share the blame equally.

“Cyclists are the most guilty party when it comes to creating people who are not fans of cyclists,” Burdett, an avid cyclists, added. “We are vehicles and were are responsible for following the rules of the road. No tricky little moves. That’s not acceptable on a bike.”

As a cyclist myself, I’m often asked if bikes aren’t subject to the same traffic laws as other vehicles. Dr. Kelly asked me that question at the meeting. “Absolutely,” I responded.

“Well, they don’t and that’s a problem,” he continued.

“You’re exactly right and those that don’t should be pulled over and ticketed,” I said.

And that’s one of the first steps to getting this issue solved. If motorists are supposed to respect the rights of the cyclists, than those on bikes have to respect the rules of the road.

“Predictability” one cyclist said to me. “If they know we’re going to follow the rules, they’ll be able to better operate with us out there.”

I’ve ridden with a local group that flaunts the traffic restrictions, but only once. The group I ride with currently is pretty strict about following the law. In fact we tell people all the time, “If you’re not going to follow the rules of the road, you’re not on this ride.”

Hopefully other groups will follow suit. And motorists will be glad to see people “along for the ride.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Smith Fired in Tampa: Jax DC?

After just two seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Head Coach Lovie Smith Wednesday night. Smith took the Bucs job after a successful tenure in Chicago where he took the Bears to the Super Bowl but missed the playoffs five of the last six seasons he coached there. Smith was 84-66 in Chicago and 8-24 over two seasons in Tampa Bay.

Changing coaches is nothing new for the Bucs. Smith’s two year tenure is matched by his predecessor, Greg Schiano and one year shorter than Rahim Morris who replaced Jon Gruden after the 2008 season. In other words, the Bucs will have had three head coaches in the past five years. Their next coach will be their 4th in six years.

“After careful consideration, we informed Lovie that we have decided to make a change. I want to thank Lovie for his hard work and dedication to the Buccaneers during his time here,” Bucs Co-Chairman Joel Glazer said in a statement Wednesday night. “This decision was difficult on a variety of levels. I am disappointed that we were not more successful these past few seasons, but we are committed to doing what is necessary to give our fans the winning team they deserve. “As we move forward, general manager Jason Licht will oversee the process for finding our next head coach.”

Smith signed a 4-year contract in Tampa Bay to be the head coach where he had been a linebackers coach under Tony Dungy from 1996-2000.

With Jameis Winston, the number one overall pick at quarterback, the Bucs were better this year but lost their final four games. Running Back Doug Martin finished second in to Adrian Peterson for the NFL rushing title.

Now available, Smith will be a much sought after coach, perhaps for the other six availabilities in the league or as a defensive coordinator. He served in that capacity for the St. Louis Rams before taking the job in Chicago.

Would he be interested in working for Gus Bradley in Jacksonville? Would Bradley be interested in Smith? Would Smith be willing to run Gus’ “Seattle” defense? Bradley has said the search for a new defensive coordinator would be open to both professional and college coaches with no timetable set for the hiring.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jacksonville in the D-League?

Looking to have a Florida based NBA Development League affiliate, the Orlando Magic sent requests for proposals to eight locations in the state yesterday to host the team. Jacksonville is the only North Florida location to receive the request. Daytona Beach, Kissimmee, two locations in Orlando, Lakeland, Estero and Ft. Myers have also been invited to apply.

“We’ll be looking for an opportunity that is in close proximity but also has the population base and the potential fan base to support the team,” Alex Martins CEO of the Magic said Wednesday.

“The survival of the team from a business standpoint and from a fan-support standpoint is equally as important as the player-development needs of the team. All of that will be balanced in our decision, dependent upon which of these communities is interested in having us and hosting us. It’s not a foregone conclusion that every one of these cities that we’ve sent RFPs to will be interested.”

Currently in an agreement with the Erie BayHawks of the D-League that runs through next year, the Magic say they’d like to have a Florida based affiliate for the 2017-2018 season.

Most NBA teams have an affiliation with a D-League team that is similar to the relationship between teams in Major League Baseball and the minors. The club generally supplies and pays the players and coaches while the affiliate is owned locally. The Magic haven’t decided whether they would own the team or potentially sell the affiliate to a local ownership group. Ron Sholes, the owner of the Jacksonville Giants of the ABA has already expressed an interest in owning a D-League team in Jacksonville.

Having a minor league team nearby would make the “development” part of the D-League easier on the clubs and the players. Shuttling players from the big league club to the D-League during the season is a common practice. Charlotte is putting their D-League team in Greensboro starting next year. The Spurs affiliate is in Austin. Golden State’s is in Santa Cruz. Oklahoma City’s D-League affiliate plays across the street from the big league club. The NBA is also trying to develop practices in the D-League that would allow executives to eventually move into parent franchise leadership roles.

If Jacksonville submits a proposal to the Magic it would be co-authored by the City and SMG who manages the arena.

The D-league currently plays a 26 home games schedule.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

For Gus’ Sake, I Hope He’s Right

During his three-year tenure as the Jaguars Head Coach, Gus Bradley has redefined what ‘victory’ means. He was always looking for improvement, getting better, playing your best. But with Owner Shad Khan’s expectations that the team be ahead of where they were at the conclusion of the 2015 season, I asked Gus today whether he would have to move on to the traditional definition of victory in the won-loss column.

“Like I said, you have to be real and understand that it is a results-driven league.,” Bradley said during his year-end press conference. “We talk in terms of victory in terms of being the best that you can be. You go back and look at it, well, what happened yesterday? Why didn’t we win? Well, we weren’t our best. It comes back to that. If you’re not at your best, then the results don’t come. That part of it is still the message, and we have to find out how to be our best consistently. That part of the message won’t change.”

It’s not hard to get caught up in Gus’ message of “be your best” but the reality is he has to win more games next year to keep his job. Barring some calamitous injury to many of the stars, Bradley’s 2016 Jaguars will be expected to compete in the division. Against Houston on Sunday, they didn’t appear to be ready for that. But Bradley said with the number of draft picks they have and the money available in free-agency, they can improve the roster through competition or cuts. That might mean parting ways with some players he and GM Dave Caldwell brought in from the beginning.

“I think that’s the one thing that I do appreciate with Dave is that, boy, we really try to fight to not let our egos get involved because if your egos get involved then you make decisions based on who’s right rather than what’s right,” Bradley explained with the turn of a phrase.. “I think you have to know the time and place to know, it’s time. We need to move on. But it’s always a challenge. What I appreciate is our conversations about them are, as much as possible, without any ego involved.”

Which means once he gets his staff in place, (Doug Marrone has been mentioned as a possibility for several of the head coaching vacancies in the league) they’ll have to take a hard look at how they coached and how the players responded this year. Agreed, there were several one possession games and the Jaguars nearly cut in half their points differential per game, but winning those games and not taking a step backwards is imperative.

“I think this offseason we really need to dig deep. But I think also the emphasis was on how much work needs to be done, and as a coaching staff we have to dig deep.”

And they have to be willing to accept what they find. If that means changing some things, personnel, coaches, schemes, then so be it. Because it’s about the results.

“It’s a results-driven league and we’re not to the results that we had hoped for,” Bradley agreed. “So I think that’s what we need to look at.”

One of the things Gus explained today at his year ender was how he looks at a player’s development, especially on defense. He said there’s the learning process, then the understanding of “coach speak.” But he emphasized how the players have to play above the coach speak. That they have to make plays within the schemes and the system, something they have flexibility to do once the coaching staff thinks they’re ready.

“There are some guys that you look at and are new to the system, and then there are those guys that you talked about that it’s their third year. And I think knowing the difference who can you offer flexibility to, and trust them?

No doubt the Jaguars will spend money on free agency differently this off season than they have in the past three. They need players who can contribute now, not develop a few years down the road. Last year Bradley reportedly wanted to bid on Ndamukong Suh but Caldwell said, “Not yet.” Well, now’s the time to break the bank on a player like Suh if he’s available. Otherwise, somebody else will be making the decisions for 2017.

When posed with this situation, Bradley said he has a loyalty to the organization and the people there, trying to put his ego aside.

“And then I think it always comes back to,” Gus said, ‘Let’s stay true to what we talked about. Let’s always make decisions [for] what is best for this team and this organization,’ and not let my ego get in the way., I know it sounds like the holiday season when I say it, but it means a lot to me and it means a lot to everybody here. And I think [what’s] most important is to stay true to the plan.”

I’ve said many times Bradley is easy to root for because he’s authentic and truthful. You could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice today that he really believes it’s going to work and the decisions he and Caldwell have made and will make in this off season will pay off for the organization for years to come.

For his sake, I hope he’s right.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coughlin Out At Giants HC

After meeting with the ownership, Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin was asked to step down from his position today. Coughlin won two Super Bowls with the Giants but just finished his third consecutive year without a winning season.

Coughlin informed his staff that the Giants were making a change this afternoon.

After leading Boston College to an upset of #1 ranked Notre Dame, Coughlin’s named moved to the top of the Jaguars wish list in early 1994 as an expansion team. Coughlin was hired as the head coach and the chief personnel officer, in charge of the full football operation in Jacksonville.

After winning jst four games in their expansion season, the Jaguars went on a run late in 1996, beating heavily favored Denver and Buffalo in the playoffs to make it to the AFC Championship game. The Jaguars lost to New England in their first attempt at getting to the Super Bowl.

They returned to the game after the 1999 season after a 14-2 regular season contest and a 62-7 dismantling of the Dolphins in their first playoff game of the year. It turned out to be Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson’s last game in the league.

Coughlin was fired by then owner Wayne Weaver following the 2002 season after three consecutive losing seasons. Weaver calls it the biggest mistake of his tenure as the Jaguars owner. Coughlin sat out the 2003 season before taking the job as head coach of the Giants in 2004. The Giants were very specific that he would be the head coach and the personnel decisions would be made elsewhere.

After opening at 6-10, the Giants won the AFC East in 2005 and went to the playoffs four straight years, including a Super Bowl victory in 2007, beating the undefeated New England Patriots. The Giants returned to the playoffs in 2011 after going 9-7 and won the Super Bowl for the second time in four years.

Coughlin was known for his tough management style, but adapted to the changing player mentality, installing a “management council” with the Giants to meet with once a week and determine if his message was getting through and how the locker room was responded. He was asked several times in Jacksonville to do the same but rebuffed the suggestion at the time.

As a head coach, Coughlin had at least nine different assistants go on to be head coaches n the NFL and at least six who became head coaches in the NCAA.

His work with the Jay Fund is unparalleled in his philanthropic efforts both in the Northeast and in North Florida. The Jay Fund regularly holds events in Jacksonville and is one of the most well respected and well recognized charities in the area.

Tom maintains a home in Atlantic Beach and visits North Florida regularly.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Playing Today, Thinking About Tomorrow

In the week that Jaguars Owner Shad Khan announced that Gus Bradley would be back for 2016 as the Head Coach, the organization’s focus was split between playing Houston and what to expect next year.

“If they’re cleared, they’ll play,” Bradley said when asked about putting players in the game Sunday. Neither Telvin Smith nor TJ Yeldon will play against the Texans because of injuries. Everybody else who’s available will play.

Last year against the Texans, Sen”Derrick Marks suffered a torn ACL that cost him the first six games of the year. The Jaguars aren’t taking any precautions keeping players out of the final game of 2015 while thinking about 2016. More than likely though, if the game gets out of hand either way, players like Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Blake Bortles will come out of the game.

At the taping of his namesake show, Bradley told me this week he wasn’t focused on Khan’s statement but was “looking forward to the opportunity.” Bradley is authentic in not worrying about his job security. He goes to work every day trying to be better than yesterday. “I don’t have any control over those other things” he’s told me several times over the last three years.

And while this week has been touted as having a “playoff atmosphere” in truth, so many things have to happen for the Texans to NOT win the division that it’ll be more like the final game of the regular season than anything else. Houston will be looking forward to their next opponent and getting quarterback Brian Hoyer some playing time, and the Jaguars will be evaluating their current roster with an eye toward next year.

There will be some changes for 2016, nearly every roster will have a 40% turnover, about 20 new players on the roster next year. The Jaguars will be no different, and perhaps have a few more. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson gave us some insight into next year when he started his answer with, “For those of us who will be coming back” when asked about the upcoming offseason. But his excitement about another year of work for Blake *Bortles and the entire offense was clear.

“We talked about it at the first of the season it wasn’t an ideal situation to come in the second year of a new coordinator, new quarterbacks coach but he has done his part in learning the system and getting better the second year.”

Olson says they’ll first evaluate their coaching techniques and concepts before working with the players on improving.

“The first guys we’ll have back are the quarterbacks when they’re allowed to come back,” he explained. “He knows he wants to improve on things,” Olson said when asked specifically about Bortles. “He’s gotten better but has a long way to go.”

After being injured as a rookie, Luke Joeckel has been in the lineup at left tackle for nearly two full seasons. Olson thinks he’s just not getting better but needs another offseason to be stronger and play with more power.

“He’s still showing growth, I think from last year to this year there’s more strength, there’s more power that’s evident on tape but it’s not there yet. Certainly he needs to get better and we need to help him get better in terms of the offseason and what he’s doing in the offseason.”

An injury in the preseason slowed TE Julius Thomas’ development with *Bortles but Olson thinks another off season of working together will bring Thomas more into the focal point of the offense.

First, the coaching staff will “self scout” the entire season, something that they do on a limited basis after ever game.

“Each coach is assigned an area; Nate Hackett has red zone, Frank Scelfo has third downs, Doug Marrone has run game, I handle the passing game,” Olson outlined. “So each coach has an area and each week we kind of put it into a notebook and we talk about it. What happened? Where were the breakdowns? The first week back each will go to their area and summarize what happened on the season, where were we at, where are the breakdowns, what concepts were good, what concepts were bad, what are the other concepts in the League, we will look at the top five third down teams, who are the top five red zone teams, what concepts do they have that will work in our system? A lot of that will be how we spend the first couple of weeks.”

In other words, the Jaguars have a lot of work to do. And it starts right away.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Lose To Texans, Work To Do

Having been in Shad Khan’s box during a game, I know what a fan he is. When they showed him in the box at Houston during the first half a couple of guys were chatting him up with Mark Lamping’s wife sitting in front of him smiling and watching the game. CBS never did go back to a picture of his box, which isn’t unusual, but it sure would have been interesting. I’m sure he was fuming.

After giving Gus Bradley another year as the Jaguars head coach, Khan was very direct that the expectations were higher next year and he expected the team and the coaching staff to respond “favorably” this week. That didn’t happen.

In the first half the Jaguars did anything but respond in a positive manner. Trying to get a fast start, they took the ball to open the game but couldn’t do anything with it. The Houston defensive line was reading quarterback Blake Bortles, timing his throws and consequently three passes were batted down in the first two series. The Jaguars offense didn’t convert a first down until the second quarter.

Defensively they started a bit better than last week against New Orleans. Good field position put the Texans in the red zone but the Jaguars held them to a field goal and a 3-0 score.

Without any help from the offense, the defense started to have problems on the edge, giving up a TD after a 79-yard drive, 10-0 Texans.

Some movement on offense gave the Jaguars a chance at some points and they got their first points of the game from Jason Myers to trail 10-3.

But turnovers started to change the game. Denard Robinson fumbled on a simple dive play into the line with Houston recovering. They converted that into a TD to take a 17-3 lead. Blake Bortles throw down the sideline to Allen Robinson was thrown too far inside and intercepted. With no timeouts, the Texans moved into position to kick a 51-yard field goal to take a 20-3 lead at halftime.

On 3rd down in the final drive of the half, the Texans had no timeouts and the only place they could stop the clock and move into field goal range was to throw it downfield to the sideline. And that’s exactly what they did. Sometimes you have to play smart, and that’s one of those situations you have to know what NOT to give up. Instead, Houston converted it into three points.

Shad’s box was probably not the place you wanted to be at halftime.

Watching the second half reminded me of the big guy putting his hand on the little guy’s forehead at arms length and letting him swing away. It wasn’t for lack of effort the Jaguars didn’t get anything done; they just didn’t have the horsepower to make anything happen. The defense was soft on the edge and didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback. The offense was at the mercy of JJ Watt and Whitney Merciless and when they weren’t in the backfield, Blake Bortles was holding on too long giving up the ball.

An interception for a TD on a pass Bortles stared down from the start make it 30-6 Houston in the 4th quarter. Fittingly the game ended with the Jaguars driving but Bortles was sacked for the 8th time as time expired.

Three losses to end the season isn’t what the Jaguars envisioned when they won a blowout against the Colts at home to go to 5-8. Their losses to New Orleans and Houston weren’t close and they’ll have a bad feeling going into the offseason.

Plenty of changes are in the offing for the Jaguars in 2016 and with $40 million in cap space to spend, they’ll be players for all of the big free-agents this year. No longer can they wait around for players to develop. They’ll need some players who can help NOW if they hope to compete in the division.

Lots of work to do.