Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

MJD on Jaguars: “They can win the South”

He’s certainly no stranger to the stadium but it took an assignment from the NFL Network to get former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones Drew back on the Jaguars practice field.

“Getting a feel for the team,” Jones Drew responded when asked what brought him to town. The network wants him to have a good sense of the teams he’s talking about so a visits to mini-camps is on the schedule

His first impression of the 2016 Jaguars is a good one.

“They look good right now,” he said after practice. “There are a lot of people excited and I’m excited for them.”

As much optimism that surrounds the Jaguars at this time of year, Jones Drew knows a lot of pieces have to fall in place. He looks at the roster based on what players have shown what they can do in the league and finds the Jaguars pretty young in some critical areas.

“A lot of people get excited. Remember to win a championship you have to have consistency. When you’re relying on young people you don’t really know.”

But as far as being better this year, the former NFL rushing leader thinks the Jaguars can be very competitive.

“You have to get in the dance and I definitely think they have a chance to win the South,” he said when asked about his expectations for this season.

He recognizes that the Jaguars spent a lot of money on defense in the offseason but thinks the addition of Chris Ivory might open up the offense.

“(He does) A lot of good things, Chris Ivory has done good things with the Jets and in New Orleans. TJ Yeldon, they are trying to give him some space. It’s good to be able to have multiple type of backs. Fast backs, big backs. That and with some talented wide receivers will help the running game.”

As a Pro Bowl running back, MJD knows the value of a quarterback who gets the job done. Jones Drew admitted he’s been critical of Blake Bortles, mostly based on his turnovers.

“I’m a tough critic of him (Bortles). He’s a very talented QB. But he has to limit turnovers. He turns the ball over. He throws it well, reads defenses. Limit turnovers and he’ll be fine.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Foley To Leave Florida In A Good Spot

When he first arrived on the University of Florida campus in 1976, Jeremy Foley thought he had made a mistake.

“I drove down here from New Hampshire with my dad and got out of the car,” he said in Gainesville on Tuesday formally announcing his retirement as Athletic Director effective October 1st. “It was 4000 degrees and I was wearing corduroys. Florida was the only place in the country to offer me an internship to finish up my Masters. On the day I started, nobody, I mean nobody knew I was coming. I thought I was in the wrong place.”

Clearly things changed in the last four decades but it was 16 years before he applied for the Athletic Director job.

“I applied for one job in my life before I applied for this job. When I walked on campus at the University of Minnesota, no disrespect to them, but it didn’t feel right. I wanted to be here. I like watching sports and I wanted to be a Gator.”

From his internship in the ticket department to his ascendency as ticket manager and eventually Athletic Director, Foley has spent 40 years on campus at the University of Florida. When he was a candidate for the AD’s job, I was a big supporter of his candidacy. I said so on the air consistently and even called the president of the university at the time to say that Foley was the right guy for the job. Obviously he didn’t need my help and far exceeded any expectations I might have for him. In fact, Jeremy was so good for so long, it felt like that’s how everybody did that job as AD. But that’s not so. Foley redefined the position with a blend of leadership, compassion and just being a fan. He figured out early what makes any college program tick. “College athletics is a coach’s game,” he explained. ” Student-Athletes come and go but if you have the right coaches in place, you’re going to find some success.”

Foley noted that he hired Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer and added that he became friends with both. That’s a bit unusual but winning, and according to Foley, winning the right way, made it easy to establish friendships, even with people who worked for you.

“I have a ring at my house from 1984 for a football championship but it doesn’t mean anything. It was vacated (for SEC and NCAA violations). There’s always another championship, always another game. Let’s do it right. The Gator brand is special and it is strong. We pay attention at the highest level at all sports. If you’re going to do things right and be a national brand you have to win in more than one or two sports.”

There are no controversies on the horizon for University of Florida athletics. No coaches to be hired, no programs to fix. Foley will raise money and continue to work on a facility plan for football, baseball and basketball. He doesn’t plan on going anywhere soon. “I’m still the boss,” he said with a smile.

“I’ve been blessed to do this. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s the right time, it’s my call. I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s a perfect time for a transition because it’s going so well. I’ve done things that I could have only imagined doing. It’s the juice and energy of what we do. If they’re keeping score, we’re going to try and win.” ”

While he said he didn’t regret anything he’d done as the AD, Foley did say when a decision didn’t work out; he regretted the turmoil it created around the program.

“I hate the fact that all that turmoil existed when a decision to hire a coach didn’t work out. But that’s the decisions that have to be made when you sit in the chair.”

At 63 years old, Foley is still full of the energy and enthusiasm he’s had the entire time he’s been at Florida. It’s not unusual to see him doing stadium steps or working out somewhere near his office. But he said now’s the right time to leave. Things are good.

“I never imagined this day would come. You have to self-evaluate and do the right thing for your self and for the institution. When the team charter takes off for the first time and I’m not on it, that’ll be tough. I’ll be a long way away from Gainesville, Florida, that’s for sure.”

Picking a new AD will start with a committee and eventually be the choice of the university president. Foley will be involved only when asked for his input and using his experience in the business. But he’ll let his successor know how special he thinks the job of leading the Florida athletic program is.

“I’ll tell them about the coaches, the commitment and the culture we have here. I’ll tell them about the people here because we have some special people here,” he said with a tinge of emotion in his voice.

And he’ll give them a little bit of advice.

“You need to be a fan. You have to be a CEO, you have to raise money but you really have to be a fan.”

And as far as his legacy, Foley said he’ll let others decide what that is, but he’s proud of the accomplishments at the University during his tenure.

“When I came here in 1976 we hoped we’d someday win one SEC Championship. Now It’s one of the best programs in the country. Is it the best? That’s debatable. But you can’t keep us out of the conversation and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Marks Returns Optimistic

Looking for that blend of veterans and youth going into the 2016 season, the Jaguars are counting on Sen’Derrick Marks to return from injury, back to his Pro Bowl form. Marks returned for the final OTA on Friday, a little ahead of schedule.

“That is what is good about our staff,” Marks said after practice. “They don’t rush you back. They actually listen to what you have to say and add that with what the Doc is saying and what the MRI and everything is telling them and then they add it all up.”

It’s the second straight year Marks has come back from an injury. In the final game of 2013 he tore his ACL and spent the off-season getting healthy. He tore his right triceps muscle in the 10th game of 2014, ending his year a bit early.

“Yeah, this is not as bad as the knee,” he explained. “The knee was huge. This was all about strengthening and letting the tendon heal on the bone and just getting it back stronger. This was a lot easier than it was with the knee.”

As part of the defensive line rotation, Marks is one of the veterans expected to lead the upgrade in pressure on the quarterback. Getting back on the field was a good sign according to Head Coach Gus Bradley.

“It is good, I think just for his confidence,” Bradley said as he wrapped up the OTA’s. “He has worked to a level to where he has gotten himself cleared.

Anytime you ask Bradley about Marks he has glowing things to say. His respect for him as a player is evident. Particularly when it comes to coming back from injury.

“He’s good. I am not going to say it is easy,” Gus explained. “It is not easy. It is not. When you are a highly competitive person it is challenging. He remains one of our strongest leaders on the team. That gives you an idea of how he is handling it. He is outstanding, outstanding.”

Adding Malik Jackson and others to the defensive line might be just what Marks was looking for to increase his production. Asking any player to be on the field for 70 plays is asking a lot. So when there are plenty of options, everybody benefits.

“Well if you remember with Sen’Derrick we learned with him that when he has limited reps, and I am not saying limited down to 10-12, I am talking about 35-40 reps – he seems to run his motor higher,” Gus noted. That is something we are taking into consideration. My hope is to have a defensive line where you see us roll in and out. It doesn’t matter who is in there and to keep them fresh.”

When asked about the additions on defense, Marks said it’s a positive to finally have some depth.

“It’s even better that we have even better guys coming in behind us,” he explained. “We have a first group, a second group and a third group. We actually have good competition. For me, I consider myself as a veteran and as a teacher and we actually have guys that you can teach and will listen. I think that’s good.”

Marks is that “authentic professional” that the Jaguars have added to the roster on offense and defense. He’ll work as teacher as well as competitor, “making sure everyone is on the same page, no matter who is in.”

And his attitude toward getting back on the field after two years of injury?

“That was the only thing that kept me sane last year with the back-to-back injuries was that maybe I added a couple years to my career because I didn’t have to take all the poundings,” he said with a touch of levity and truth. “By adding extra guys this year I don’t have to take all the run reps. I think it adds a little bit to my body. For me, I feel great.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Hurns Deal Good All Around

It’s a “feel good” story for the Jaguars and their players. You can add anybody who ever overcame adversity to that list as well. Third-year wide receiver Allen Hurns, who made the team with his work ethic and performance as an undrafted free-agent signed a $40 million, 4-year contract with the team yesterday, rewarding him for his work and production.

“Obviously to have 1,000-plus yards and 10 touchdowns last year in his second year. He’s done it two years in a row,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said after practice on Friday, explaining why Hurns earned this top-10 deal. “Wasn’t just a one-year wonder and that’s another reason why we felt comfortable with it. Two years of production plus the type of person and character he is. It was the right decision on our part.”

With Hurns under contract, the attention can now turn to Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson, eligible to sign new deals next year. But Caldwell was having none of that.

“Really independent of Blake and A-Rob, I think this was about Allen and doing what was right for Allen and getting him done before the season started,” the Jaguars GM continued. And he stayed on the message when asked if it sends a signal to other players about performing well and getting paid.

“No, this is really about Allen and it was really what Allen deserved. He did everything right to get this done.”

While Head Coach Gus Bradley wasn’t in on the negotiations, he was obviously pleased that the Hurns deal is done.

“I thought it was great. What a great deal,” he said after practice on Friday “He’s exactly what we’re all about – his work ethic and how he comes in. we asked to be on a race to a maturity and handling himself more like a sixth-year veteran, he’s done that. He’s got the respect of the locker room, the coaching staff and then his production. All of that, I’m really excited for him.”

If the Jaguars have a model player who they think embodies the culture Bradley is trying to create, it’s Hurns.

“From the day we brought him in here to now,” Bradley continued. “I think every day that you’re with him, you’re not surprised that he’s reached this accomplishment just because of his work ethic.”

It’s easy to feel good for Hurns and the payoff for his accomplishments. He’s a straightforward, working player who has been humble from the beginning and plans on staying that way.

“No matter what, how much money I make, that doesn’t bring catches come this season,” Hurns said after practice. “I got to continue to put in the work and continue to show what I can do. So that’s what I love about it. No matter what you get or no matter what you did last year, you got to always prove yourself. That’s what I love about this league.”

When his agent Drew Rosenhaus came to town, Hurns wasn’t sure the deal would get done so quickly. But meetings with Caldwell and an update from his agent brought it together in a matter of hours. Still a bit nerve-racking for Hurns and his family, even waiting for the paperwork. But for a guy from small beginnings, the payoff was not only for him but for his mother, his grandmother and his brother as well.

“My mom was crying. She started crying instantly. My grandma, she said how proud she is of me, just what I went through and I never complained about anything. Same with my brother. Those are the people that are always with me and they’ll tell me things for what it is. I can have a good day or a bad day, they’re going to tell me what to do.” But if you’ve ever been on a team, you know nothing is off-limits when it comes to giving each other a hard time. A big contract extension is the perfect subject to catch grief from your teammates. Consequently, Hurns wasn’t spared from his share of ribbing, especially from other players on offense.

“Nonstop. The guy who gave me the most problem was Julius Thomas, like he wasn’t paid.,” Hurns said with a laugh recalling the free agent contract Thomas signed last year with the Jaguars. “But at the end of the day it’s all love. That’s the good thing about it. It’s all genuine, there’s no jealousy so that’s what I love about it.”

In the last two years if you talked to Wide Receivers Coach Jerry Sullivan he singled out Hurns as one of his favorites. “I love that guy,” he said to me more than once. The admiration is mutual, with Hurns giving Sullivan credit for making him a better player. He also pointed out how Sullivan has helped him along in non-football ways, going to him as a mentor for off the field questions. Still, it is a football team so it’s no surprise that Sullivan was happy for Hurns, and showed it by giving him the customary hard time.

“A little bit. A little bit,” Allen explained. “He gave me crap about me always wearing my Miami book bag. He said I’ll be getting one of those Gucci book bags or something like that.”