Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bortles: “Stupid things, easily correctable”

It’s an easy equation that leads to winning in London: Play better.

In their first two games at Wembley against San Francisco and Dallas the Jaguars weren’t competitive. Last year’s win over Buffalo was a wild swing of emotions but showed the team on the rise. This year it’s a division matchup the Jaguars should win. To do so, they’ll need better quarterback play from Blake Bortles, showing some version of the form from 2015 where he threw 35 TD passes.

“It’s just been such stupid things that have gone wrong that are easily correctable,” Blake said after Wednesday’s practice. “So that’s why for me I can’t wait to get another opportunity to go play, I can’t wait to get an opportunity to, like I said, reach our expectations and play the kind of football we know we can play as an offense and score the points and move the ball that we know we can.”

Even *Bortles admits that sounds like the same old explanations but he’s a true believer. He thinks the Jaguars will break out and show the same kind of scoring prowess and ability to move the ball that they had last year.

“it hasn’t been obviously what we wanted offensively but that doesn’t mean for a second that we’ve lost the confidence as an offense or lost who we are and what we believe we should do,” he explained. “I think our bar and our standard is still at the same level and we just haven’t been able to reach it yet.”

How do they fix that? More specifically, how will Bortles, who takes everything as his responsibility, get out of the funk?

“I think just keep playing,” he said. I’m not very complicated or an over-thinker. I enjoy to play the game of football. I think I play it best when it’s at its simplest form and I’m just having fun and enjoying the game and really, obviously, we’re moving the ball and being successful.

In his first three years, *Bortles has played his best in an up-tempo offense, running around looking like he’s having fun playing the game with friends. Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson hasn’t tried that yet early in the game but that could change this week. It should.

And *Bortles hasn’t lost any of his nerve or talent. He’s expecting to play well this week against a familiar opponent.

“I’ll continue to try and prepare as hard as I can and be as ready as possible, but when the game starts I’m going to go have fun and enjoy myself and have a good time with a bunch of good friends playing football in the NFL.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Say London Is More Like A Home Game

When you step on the practice field in the middle of the week in the NFL you can tell what day it is, whether the team won or lost and usually who’s going to get a chance to play the following Sunday. For the Jaguars, this was a Wednesday practice, but different than last Wednesday’s practice and the one before that.

“I thought one of the things after the Green Bay game was that really hung around for a while,” Gus Bradley explained after practice. It just was heavy on us. I thought we handled it much, much better this Wednesday.”

Headed to London, the Jaguars have experience on their side, heading overseas with an 8-hour plane flight a couple of days before the game. They’ve left on a Sunday and a Monday but they beat Buffalo last year at Wembley after leaving Thursday night so they’ll follow that schedule exactly.

“Leaving on a Sunday, leave on a Monday, leave on a Thursday and then before the games, just talk to our players about how they felt and how their bodies responded and going into the game, not after the game,” Gus said about the thought process. He didn’t take into account the general superstition factor NFL teams have but rather “Just some of the studies that we have found. For us, for our team, we felt like Thursday was the better option.”

Perhaps this was a good opportunity after three straight losses to get away, have an “us against the world” mentality headed to London. Bradley was having none of that.

“Hopefully we are circling the wagons in our locker room. It doesn’t take a road trip to do it.

Playing in London is important for the Jaguars from a revenue standpoint. Around 20% of the team’s total revenue is generated by the London game through tickets sales and sponsorships specific to the game in the UK. It’s also changed in the four years the Jaguars have made the trip into much more of a home game. Each year, the number of Jaguars jerseys in the stands grows.

You are seeing the fan excitement and the fan loyalty towards us,” Gus Said. “It has changed over the last couple of years. I know the number of Union Jax fans and all that has grown. It is beginning to feel more like a home game as much as it can over there. It is a great atmosphere.”

Following last year’s schedule the Jaguars will depart for London on Thursday evening, arriving Friday morning at Heathrow. They’ll practice that afternoon at a rugby facility, and head back to their hotel. Standard meetings as well as an appearance on Regent Street are on the schedule on Saturday. Sunday the game is at 2:30 BDT, 9:30 EDT here in Jacksonville. It will be shown by the national network around the country instead of being streamed outside of the local markets.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Knows Now Is The Time

When a coach looks at “game video” they look at it very specifically. When Gus Bradley breaks a game down he looks at the offense, defense, offensive line, etc. position by position looking for good, and not so good plays across the board. After the loss to the Ravens, Bradley chose 60 plays to show the team the day after. That’s a lot of breakdowns throughout a game where the Jaguars squandered a couple of chances to win.

“We went through a bunch of plays,” Bradley said at his weekly Monday press conference. “The big point is consistency and it’s a game of inches.”

Although quarterback Blake Bortles had a completion percentage of 63%, there were some critical misses that cost Jaguars scoring opportunities.

“It’s also a game of inches situation where it’s just off the fingertips of Allen Robinson, overthrew Marqise Lee a little bit. Missed Julius Thomas on a seam route,” Gus explained. There are those things. Telvin Smith had three great plays and then there’s one where he dropped too far and allowed a completion to happen. That was the big message that I was pointing out to them, that the NFL is a game of inches and you have to do it consistently. We’re not making enough of those consistent plays in those times.”

So is there blame to be had? Perhaps everybody shoulders some of it, including the head coach. How to they take that last step to win close games after upgrading the roster to being competitive? I asked Gus if there was enough veteran leadership to know the nuanced difference between winning and losing in the NFL.

“Yeah, I think they do a good job of it. I think that is what this meeting was about, too, just to ensure that we understand,” Gus said, anticipating that could be an issue with a young team.

“To look back and say we could have been or we should have been, I am not into looking into the past very much like that. To point out the opportunities and you would like to see this team when you are in those situations take ownership and say, ‘Let’s roll.’ A guy like Brandon Linder is a strong presence in our offensive line, a very strong presence. I don’t know if we missed that presence yesterday. If you do, then someone has to step up and be that presence.”

From a team standpoint, that presence is *Bortles. They talked to Blake early in his career about his body language. His improved play last year put his stamp on the Jaguars offense. This year he’s struggled and he knows it.

“He’s put a lot on him now because he knows he wants to play better and give more to this team,” Bradley added. Like we pointed out in the team meeting, there are multiple good plays there. It’s everybody. It wasn’t just Blake or Telvin, Jalen Ramsey, it was multiple guys that we pointed out just how important those little things are.”

All of the chatter outside the stadium about Gus’ job and how long he has is well known to Bradley and the players in the locker room. But there’s not much he can say or do about it other than keep coaching and win games. I do think he needs to ask more of the players, more discipline, more focus, more attention to that little thing that makes the difference between winning and losing.

If they were just looking at development, the Jaguars see the defense figuring out how to play together. They created chances at the end of the game for the offense to score points and put the game away. It just didn’t happen.

They couldn’t run the ball for the third straight week and Bradley knows that his team will have to run the ball effectively even when the other team knows they’re going to run it if they want to win some games. Especially close ones.

“Green Bay, when you’re on the 14-yard line and its third and two, you have a chance to win the game and then Baltimore, you have two opportunities inside the 40 to win the game, just get a first down and get a field goal, that’s your worst case scenario,” Bradley said, getting more animated with the explanation. “That’s the part that our team has to learn. That part right there could very easily have swung in our favor, but it didn’t. There’s a reason for it. That’s what I think this meeting was about. You have to figure this out now.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Palmer’s Local Friends: “You’d have loved him even if he wasn’t a golfer”

It’s terrible that it takes the passing and mourning the loss of a mutual friend to reconnect you with people who were integral parts of your life at one point. They drift away for various reasons but in this case, the death of Arnold Palmer brought a lot of people back into my life who I’d lost touch with through my own fault.

So I spent part of the day talking to friends and associates of Arnold Palmer here in town. John Tucker, one of the founders of the Greater Jacksonville Open and Liz McCarty, Palmer’s Administrative assistant for 18 years. I also talked with Erik Larsen and Harrison Minchew, golf designers for Palmer’s company in Ponte Vedra, Larsen eventually becoming President of Arnold Palmer Course design. He told me he was just trying to “keep his head above the flood of memories.” Erick will be at Palmer’s memorial service next week in Latrobe. Harrison recalled Palmer as the personification of the “Golden Rule.” “He treated everybody well, just like you’d want to be treated. Always kind and polite.”

Arnold and John Tucker became friends in 1962, meeting in Pensacola. “We hit it off for one reason or another right away,” Tucker recalled sitting in a comfortable chairs on his front lawn in San Marco.

Tucker and a group of Jacksonville businessmen wanted to start a golf tournament here In Jacksonville. Their meeting at Silvers Drug Store in Jacksonville Beach is part of the lore of what is now The Players in Ponte Vedra. But then, getting Arnold Palmer to play in your tournament was the key. Tucker was working for the phone company here in town and laughed when he said, “I was the only guy with free long distance. So I just started calling people and got some dates for a golf tournament.”

Palmer’s relationship with Tucker brought him to town and he took a liking to Jacksonville. He brought Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player (who was friends with one of my predecessors here at Channel 4 Dick Stratton) and the Greater Jacksonville Open was born. “When Arnold gave his blessing the money was better, the accommodations were better the ticket sales were better. Without him, I don’t know that we would have made it.”

John eventually ran the TPC in it’s infancy here in town and told me today, none of the golf presence here in North Florida would have happened without Palmer’s initial influence. The GJO even printed manuals about how to run a tournament that eventually made their way to other fledgling PGA Tour events. Then Commissioner Deane Beman took notice, investigated what was going on in Jacksonville and Ponte Vedra and the story of The Players home in North Florida had its beginning.

“He was a guy you’d have loved even if he wasn’t a golfer, even if he wasn’t famous,” Tucker said. “I played a lot of golf with Arnold and when he was on the first tee he’d give you whatever (strokes) you wanted. He didn’t want to play for much money. Just enough that when he took it from you you’d notice,” he said with a laugh. “And I can’t tell you how many times he’d make a putt on 18 wo win 1-up.”

Liz McCarthy, his administrative assistant for 18 years said he was the same on and off the golf course; she traveled the world with Palmer, organizing openings of new golf courses and appearances. She said he “opened doors for people, looked you in the eye when he shook your hand, took his hat off when appropriate. The consummate, competitive gentleman.”

“He was at a photo shoot and he kept taking his hat off when he was talking with people,” Liz recalled. “The photographer noticed and said something to me and I had to tell him ‘when he’s talking to a woman or he’s shaking somebody’s hand, that’s what he’ll do. That’s how he was raised.'”

Competitive was part of Palmer’s personality and McCarthy saw it after his playing career ended. “He wanted to win and his competition was now in the design business,” she said outside a coffee shop at the Town Center.

Unlike what we’d ever seen in sports before, Palmer embraced and welcomed his competitors as friends. And that didn’t change once his playing days were over.

“He and Jack (Nicklaus) were close,” McCarthy pointed out. “He was close with Gary (Player). When Winnie (Palmer’s first wife) died, the first people to arrive in Latrobe were Jack and Barbra Nicklaus.”

One thing that Liz said really struck a chord with me. Arnold Palmer had friends in Jacksonville, and homes in Orlando and Latrobe. But people all over the world thought they had a personal connection with him. Even if they had met him for 30 seconds, they felt like he was “their guy.”

“He had that ability, which was just part of his personality, to look you in the eye, listen to what you said, and really understand what you were talking about. It wasn’t an act, he really felt it.”

So in other words, people thought they had a personal connection with Arnold Palmer

Because they did.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Squander Chances, Lose To Ravens

It was a pretty forgettable first quarter for the Jaguars against the Ravens. Two first downs, two penalties and a bunch of punts that moved the field position around a bit. The Jaguars got a couple of breaks thanks to Ravens mistakes but they looked sluggish and out of sync for the 5th quarter in a row. Quarterback Blake Bortles was still off, making a bad decision and a worse throw that led to an interception and killed the only offensive momentum the team had.

Despite giving up a Ravens TD on a Joe Flacco scramble, the defense seemed to have an idea against Baltimore and started to gain some momentum in the second quarter. The offense did the same, taking advantage of another 40+ punt return by Rashad Greene and scoring to make it 10-7.

It looked like a good defensive stand for the Jaguars as the Ravens went into their 2-minute drill but Malik Jackson was called for roughing the passer on 3rd down and Dante Fowler was called for “leverage,” jumping over the tackle on a short FG attempt and gave the Ravens three points to trail at halftime 13-7.

If that’s the rule, that’s the rule but Jackson’s hand touched Flacco’s helmet after the play and he was called for making contact. That’s not much, but it kept the drive alive. Fowler was called for jumping over the lineman, something he should know is illegal and it gave the Ravens three points. No matter if Fowler is fired up or just dumb, that’s the kind of thing that comes down to coaching. If he doesn’t know the rule, he should. If he does and did it anyway, he should be on the bench.

Despite giving up a FG on the Ravens opening drive, the whole Jaguars team started to play better in the second half, making plays on both offense and defense. Again, mediocre officiating kept the Jaguars at bay but they had a call overturned in the end zone for a TD to pull within 16-14. Bortles gave himself up on a scramble and was hit on the ground but no call was made saying “the defender had committed.” That’s baloney and every other QB in the league gets that call. Bortles will get it eventually if the Jaguars start winning, but apparently not now.

It takes some breaks to go your wan in any game and the Jaguars got on early in the fourth quarter when Devin Hester muffed a punt and Denard Robinson recovered at the 38-yard line. Jason Myers kicked a 49-yard field goal to give the home team a 17-16 lead. They had some chances on that offensive series but on 3rd and 1, Bortles had the ball batted down for the second time in the game forcing the FG try.

Off-season acquisitions paid off on the next series on defense. Malik Jackson pressured Flacco into a bad throw that was tipped by Jalen Ramsey and intercepted by Tashaun Gipson. None of those guys were on the Jaguars last year. And that play wouldn’t have happened with last year’s personnel. Another tipped pass at the line of scrimmage gave the ball back to the Ravens but Paul Posluszny jumped over Justin Forsett to intercept Flacco who was under pressure. The officials huddled for an eternity before calling personal fouls on both teams including Jalen Ramsey. Somebody needs to tell the rookies that this is pro football. Make a play and get off the field.

So here’s where good teams take advantage of the breaks and put the game away. But the Jaguars looked tentative on offense both in their play calling and their execution in the following series. Instead of rising up and asserting themselves, the Ravens took control. Bortles again suffered a sack, just about the only thing he couldn’t do in that situation, forcing Myers to attempt a 52-yard field goal. That was blocked and the Ravens had a chance to take the lead.

Methodically moving the ball in small chunks of yardage, they got it to the 37 where Justin Tucker blasted a 54-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 19-17 lead.

Still with 1:02 and a timeout left, the Jaguars only needed a field goal. Instead, Bortles held the ball on second down and was sacked and was intercepted on third down to end the game.

This was a game of missed opportunities and turnovers as well as mediocre play by Bortles for the third week in a row. If he doesn’t step it up, or if other players on offense don’t pick him up, changes are in the offing for the team perhaps sooner rather than later.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Arnold Palmer: No One Like Him

You know people won’t live forever but with Arnold Palmer you thought that might be possible. He lived life with such passion and spirit yet with a humility and grace that never wavered. Palmer battled several illnesses over the past two years and died today at age 87 of heart complications.

Usually tucked in the back pages of sports, Palmer brought the game to the forefront with his charisma and style. His game shoved him into the limelight when the son of a golf pro and greens keeper won the US Amateur. Arnold was no country club type. He was a worker and looked the part. His arms jutting out under his short-sleeved shirt, Palmer hit it hard and had a “go for it” mentality that was appealing to the casual golf fan. His game was “made for TV” and his ascension to the top of the sport coincided with the explosion of television in America in the late ’50’s and 60’s.

With seven major wins including four Masters, Palmer validated his fame and popularity by winning. He finished his career with 62 wins and 10 more on the senior tour. In fact, Arnold basically invented both tours with his own personality and style. “Every professional golfer should give Arnold Palmer 50 cents of every dollar they make,” one of his competitors once said. And he was right. As good as Jack Nicklaus was and Hogan and Snead, Nelson and the rest, nobody captured the imagination and catapulted the game forward like Arnold Palmer.

For about 25 years, since his design company was based here in Ponte Vedra, I spent a lot of time with Arnold professionally and socially. I’m often asked if there are highlights to my career. My answer for a while has been “I’ve had breakfast with Muhammad Ali, beers with Arnold Palmer and flown with the Blue Angels.” The answer I usually get back is, “Doesn’t get any better than that.” And that’s true. It really doesn’t.

Despite being one of the most recognizable sports figures in the world, Arnold never lost the common touch or the ability to give you his undivided attention. A conversation with Palmer was a real talk, not some canned speech he spouted as he moved on.

When Arnold Palmer Course Design opened the Mill Cove Golf Club in Arlington, Palmer was there to play in the opening round. I was in the foursome behind him and brought my dad, a non-golfer along for the fun. After nine holes, my dad went to the clubhouse to get something to drink and wait for us to finish the back nine. Arnold finished about 15 minutes in front of me but when I came to the final hole we were playing that day, Palmer and my dad were standing on the balcony as a makeshift gallery. I waved and they both waved back, clearly enjoying each other’s company. I don’t know how Arnold and my dad were introduced but they’re about the same age and both served in the Coast Guard so they had a common bond. And of course, Arnold had a common bond with everybody. I had hit 6-iron in to about 20 feet and was eyeing the putt from several angles when Arnold said, “Hey Sam, while we’re young!” with a big laugh. Luckily I made the putt, and had Arnold sign my Wilson 8802 putter, the one he used for years, when I got to the clubhouse. My dad still tells that story and more of it, with Arnold ordering shrimp, because my dad liked shrimp, even though none was on the menu. The chef brought shrimp.

Everybody who ever came in contact with Palmer has a story. All are about his grace and kindness with humility and humor mixed in. If you met Arnold once, you thought you had a connection for life. He shook your hand and looked you in the eye. He was polite and kind. He was truly someone to look up to.

Which is how we should honor Arnold. Look at the verve he had in his life and follow it. Look at his kindness and charity and emulate it. Remember his polite manner, his commitment to doing his best no matter the situation and put that into your own actions.

Even though he’s gone I won’t use “was” to describe Arnold Palmer.

He is one of a kind.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Ravens: 4 To Watch 4

1. Attitude
In the opening week against Green Bay, the season was full of promise. You could tell the week leading up to the game that the Jaguars had a new swagger, a new confidence in their roster and their ability. Despite losing to the Packers, they didn’t lose that in the days leading up to the departure for San Diego. But something happened during that time span that allowed a team, supposedly on the rise, to fall flat against a mediocre opponent. They lost that swagger that led to good play. Head Coach Gus Bradley acknowledged that they needed to find the problem and fix it. “”Sweep the corners,” ‘is what Bradley said the message was to the team prepping for Baltimore. “In a room, you have to go and dig in the deep corners and do everything. It is easy to bring all the dirt to the middle. You have to go into the corners and dig out to find out – it really is a message about doing the little things.” That’s a noble objective but perhaps it would be simpler put as “play better.” There’s no question the Jaguars are better than they showed last week, displaying that in week one. Bradley and Blake Bortles said the team has a strong mental core and is not about to pack it in after an 0-2 start. “This team is far away from that mindset,” Bradley explained. “They were frustrated and we went out there and we thought we were going to play better than we did and we didn’t play as well. His (Bortles) mindset permeates through the locker room.”

2. Bortles Execution
One thing about Bortles that’s different than some other quarterbacks the Jaguars have had over the years is his ability for self-evaluation. “I have to play better” is something he’s willing to say that a lot of players, particularly young quarterbacks, can’t bring themselves to say. “I don’t know how you really describe it other than it’s just been really bad, Blake said this week. “I know what I should do, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t so I think it’s consistency, being able to get that and obviously being efficient with the ball and not turn it over.” Part of the issue is the lack of targeting his best receiver, Allen Robinson. Bortles has been reluctant to throw those “50-50” balls to Robinson this year, instead checking down to the dump off to T.J. Yeldon. “We do a lot of stuff game planning and trying to get him the ball,” he explained. “He’s always pretty early in the progression so it’s really just me giving him an opportunity to make a play and that’ll be a continued frame because he is an extremely good player and somebody that needs to have the ball in his hands.” It would help Bortles and the entire offense if they ran some up-tempo stuff early in the game. He’s more comfortable and likes directing the offense on the fly.

3. Find Flacco
It won’t be that different from last week with a top-flight, veteran quarterback across the line from the Jaguars defense. Joe Flacco is a bit more mobile than Phillip Rivers but nothing like Aaron Rodgers. He’ll be there if they can get there. Dante Fowler had two sacks against the Chargers and Yannick Ngakoue recorded his first in a critical situation. Both of those guys are still learning and need to be involved in pressuring Flacco. It’s one thing to hold the pocket and get in a quarterback’s face. It’s something else to have a speed rush, jailbreak that creates havoc and makes the QB pay attention. “I think we are just starting to see who Dante is,” Defensive coordinator Todd Wash said on Wednesday. “It is going to be exciting to watch him grow through the season.” Wash sees a lot of encouraging signs on defense but they haven’t been able put it together and finish it off. ‘Right now it is feast or famine. We go three and out or we don’t score. We just have to play consistent and we are going to give ourselves a chance to win some games.”

4. Run the football
Adding Chris Ivory to the mix this week will be a welcome addition. No matter what Bradley says about the similarities between Yeldon and Ivory, Ivory can hit a gap and move the pile in a way Yeldon can’t. Yeldon is a nice zone runner, avoiding the contact running from “color.” Ivory, on the other hand, can get you the yard off tackle when you need it by blasting somebody. And likes it. If the Jaguars win this game, Ivory should have at least 20 carries, most of those in the second half. They’ll operate behind a makeshift offensive line with Kelvin Beachum out of the lineup and Brandon Linder a game time decision. For competitive reasons, the Jaguars haven’t said how they’ll configure the front five but Tyler Shatley, Chris Reed and Patrick Omameh made the team with their play in training camp and the preseason. Certainly a team has starters but the backups can’t just be fill-ins. (see New England, Thursday night). At some point in this game it’ll be a slugfest with Baltimore wanting to run the ball and establish their presence. The Jaguars should meet that with some attitude no matter who is in the game.

Randomly: Poz is not supposed to be following receivers across the field as he was against the Chargers. “There’s supposed to be a defensive back there,” is how Bradley put it. Although they praised Dwayne Gratz, it was apparent he was the culprit in some crucial situations, “The challenge for him is, it has to be every play, every play,” Gus said. “There are a couple plays he would like to have back, but that is like everyone in a game. We have a tendency to have them at critical times where we can get off the field or we can make plays. We had three of them this week.” Joeckel took snaps at left tackle and at left guard in practice this week. The way both Bradley and Wash talked about Jarrod Wilson, don’t be surprised if he gets a shot at strong safety before long. Jonathan Cyprien still struggles in coverage and hasn’t been a sure tackler this year either. Tom Coughlin used to say, “Back to work” when asked how he’d deal with a loss. Jack Del Rio used to say goofy things like “We’ll plan our work and work our plan.” Bradley talks about the “process” a lot but at least admits they need to be better. “We are also going to stay the course. We believe in this process. We believe in it. We had a game where we did not show up. We did not play up to our capabilities. That is the truth. Now let’s get back going and play like we are capable of playing.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley, Jaguars At A Crossroads

Even in the aftermath, there wasn’t anything to like in the Jaguars 38-14 loss to the Chargers on Sunday. Just about every phase of the game broke down leaving many more questions than answers from the coaches and the players. Head Coach Gus Bradley’s assessment was about the same.

“We talk about the truth. There was not much good to take from the game,” Gus said during a conference call Monday after reviewing the Jaguars performance. “We’re well aware that as a team we did not play very well. It wasn’t to our standard. You try to find some things that are positive, and I’m sure there are. As a whole, when you’re down 35-0 going into the fourth quarter, there’s not a lot of good that took place.”

That is the truth, but in the fourth year of the rebuilding of the roster and the franchise, the football team was supposed to be past that kind of failure across the board. Bradley says everybody shoulders the responsibility, but getting it right is the key.

“We have to get right,” Bradley explained. “They all understand that we cannot have that kind of performance. We all believe that we are a good team, but we just didn’t play like we we’re a good team.”

“I think you really rely on the character of the team,” he continued. “The character and the pride of this team is great. There wasn’t a lot of good that took place yesterday. I think we’ve owned up to that. That’s what is frustrating. That’s more of a feeling now talking to our players is that we know we have the capability of playing at a much higher level and we didn’t.”

Those are all the right things to say and if they’re going to get some wins this year Bradley and the team will have to put that into action. When asked if the next two weeks were a crossroads for the team, Bradley said you have to reflect on what’s happened already this season and move forward. When asked if it was a crossroads for him as the head coach Bradley quickly denied that.

“No,” he said immediately. “All the intention is we have to get right. You are not defined by one game. If this brings us to the right places then that’s my concern right now. To make sure this game, this experience that we had, elevates our play and takes us to the right place.”

Maybe that’s the only thing he could say but Bradley is a smart guy and certainly knows that Shad Khan’s and the fans’ patience is wearing thin. After all the money spent in free agency, the good fortune in the draft and the preseason success, expectations were higher than ever going into this season. The time for learning and building is over. “It’s built,” is how Bradley put it. So now is the time for winning games.

As good a guy as he is, and as good a football coach he is, Bradley’s philosophy as a head coach, empowering the players to be accountable to each other, is still a big experiment. You can hear it taking shape when you talk to the players but it’s a results business and sometime soon, if not now, winning will be the only result anybody is interested in.

There is a difference between performance and results. On opening day, the Jaguars performance was stellar but the result wasn’t what anybody, save for the Packers and their fans, was looking for. In San Diego both the performance and the result were lacking, so much so that it calls everything into question. Bradley admits as much.

“You have to dissect it, take a look at it, what led to this? Was it our preparation? Was it our mindset? Was it discipline? I cannot argue the fact, we talk about what getting better looks like and that’s not what get better looks like and it is really evident.”

You’ll never meet a more positive, focused guy than Gus Bradley. Likeable and driven to be as good as he can be. But at some point winning games is the only measuring stick.

“We’ll be fine. We’ll get back on this,” Bradley said with his usual confidence. “Our players have been great in the meetings we’ve had. No one wants to get it more right than the players and the coaches.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/San Diego: 4 To Watch 4

1. Pass Rush
Saying he didn’t let them ‘pin their ears back’ Gus Bradley gave the defensive line credit for their effort against Aaron Bradley last Sunday. Rodgers was able to sidestep the rush and get the ball down field, perhaps more effectively than any other quarterback in the league. This week, Phillip Rivers presents a different challenge. “Yeah. It is a quarterback that has the ability to move in the pocket and stay alive,” Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash said this week. “He is obviously very smart. He probably knows what we are doing before we even call it. It is a situation where we hope to pin their ears back and let those guys rush and show exactly how athletic they are.” But Rivers will be right there in the pocket, they’ll know exactly where he’ll be. He’s thrown 11 TD’s against the Jaguars without an interception. If he was the quarterback last week, the Jaguars might have had a few sacks. If they don’t get to him this week, it’ll be a long plane flight home.

2. Running Game
Last week’s 1.8 yards per carry average won’t cut it for any winning team in the NFL. Chris Ivory’s absence might have had something to do with it but running the football tends to be an offensive line/blocking/QB calls/running back project. TJ Yeldon will carry the majority of the load again this week but there needs to be some variety in what they’re doing. Maybe Corey Grant gives them something different in the backfield; maybe Luke Joeckel and Kelvin Beachum provide more push on the left side. Whatever the difference, they need it to be better. Anything under 2.5 yards per carry means something fluky has to happen for them to get the win.

3. Turnovers

Last week, the Jaguars turned the ball over once on the opening drive but it proved to be costly. A ball thrown behind Marqis Lee was bobbled and intercepted giving the Packers a short field at the 29. Good teams take advantage of breaks like that and Green Bay did just that. They scored on an Aaron Rodgers run to make it 7-0. Taking care of the football, especially in their own end of the field is of paramount importance on the road against an offense like San Diego’s. On the other hand, getting some turnovers is what the Jaguars stressed throughout training camp. It didn’t appear they came close last week so somebody playing “above the x’s and o’s” and making a play on defense would go a long way toward a win.

4. Special Teams
A 100% scoring grade is hard to come by in any game but that’s how Gus Bradley assessed his special teams play against the Packers. That’s hard to argue given the two downed punts inside the 5-yard line and Jason Myers not missing a kick. Brad Nortman’s free agent signing this year might have been a bit under the radar but he showed how significant a smart, veteran punter could be. Grant had a 32-yard kickoff return and the coverage teams did their job efficiently. That kind of performance again will allow the game to be decided by the offensive and defensive units.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Graeme Mcdowell Owns Restaurants, Wants To Play Golf

Dark woods, understated lighting and plenty of glass greet you as you step inside the new Nona Blue Tavern in Ponte Vedra. International and PGA Tour player Graeme McDowell and his two partners opened the doors to their second restaurant on Wednesday, donating a check for $15,000 to Tom Coughlin and the Jay Fund, money raised from their soft opening earlier this week.

“I don’t remember feeling this way about the first one,” McDowell said on the back deck of his new restaurant. Their first Nona Blue opened in Orlando near McDowell’s Florida home in Lake Nona. This one seemed a natural progression, right down the street from the PGA Tour headquarters.

“Great local people and family,” Graeme said of the people he’s met in Ponte Vedra. “The first one was a stab in the dark, we feel like we know what we’re doing and they’ve done such a good job with the Sawgrass shopping area. We’re happy to be in the community.”

A self-proclaimed “foodie,” McDowell said he didn’t know much about the restaurant business when they first started but learned quickly.

“It took me a little while. I learned build outs are very expensive. I leave the flippin’ burgers and the hiring and firing to my guys and I see myself more of the PR and branding guy.”

Based on how much golf is played near his restaurant in Orlando, the Nona Blue name became known fast.

“The response I get from all over America is great. People shouting “Nona Blue” at me and G-Mac and cheese (a menu item). It’s really cool, it’s overwhelming the support I’ve gotten in Orlando and hopefully here.”

It’s not a sports bar, but there will be plenty of sports watching done. And it’s not just a place for guys to meet after a round at one of the local golf courses.

“We’re not trying to position ourselves as an NFL watching Sunday destination, but the games will be on,” McDowell explained. “We want you to be able to come in with your wife or girlfriend, but also the boys can come in after a round and drink a few rounds. Approachability, warm, comfortable.”

You could see the pain in his face when he started to talk about golf and the upcoming Ryder Cup. McDowell’s play over the last two seasons didn’t earn him a spot on the team. He didn’t like that.

“The Ryder cup, not being on that team, that’s going to hurt, sitting on my couch and watching but I’m going to watch every shot and it’ll motivate me to get back there.”

It’s not as if he’s completely disappeared. McDowell won a tournament in November of last year but is currently ranked 78th in the world. That’s not the form the former US Open champion is looking for.

“I think streaky is a fair assessment,” he said. “When I play well I play really well. Life’s been a real distraction for me for all the right reasons in the last couple of years. I’ve gotten married had two children and opened two restaurants.”

But golf is moving back up his priority list. “I’ve rededicated myself to the game because that’s still what I want to do. I had to ask myself some tough questions this time last year and ask myself what I wanted to do and I found that I still love golf and want to win another major before I’m done. It’s a refocusing, I feel lighter and leaner than I’ve ever been,” Graeme explained looking fitter than his form in the last 15 months.

And as far as the Ryder Cup goes, McDowell sees the Cup changing hands at Hazeltine.

“I really feel like there’s a change in the feel of the American side. You’ve got a lot of young guys who are really, really close. Like a little fraternity out there. It’s something you can’t create.”

“We have six rookies on the European squad but rookies are not what they used to be. They’ve played a lot of golf in the States. I look for it to be a close one as usual. I have a bad feeling for us but I’ll be pulling for the Europeans. I’ll be using it as motivation.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

After Further Review: I Feel A Little Better Because They Don’t

In recent years the breakdown of every Jaguars loss included some form of “We’re getting better, we’re getting closer” when you talked to the players and coaching staff.

Not so after Sunday’s game against Green Bay. If there was one overriding emotion in the locker room it was anger. Even Head Coach Gus Bradley’s press conference was a little flat. He’s usually upbeat about “lessons learned” but Sunday he was just down because they lost. He confirmed that today after reviewing video of the game.

“Yeah, when we we’re planning for this game, I expected our best,” he explained of his pre and post game emotions. “I felt that we were going to play really well. I am shocked that we didn’t play well. I think that what I am surprised is that I really felt that we are going to win this game. That is a good sign. It is a good sign for our team, too.”

He’s exactly right about that. Perhaps the best thing to come out of the opener is the fact that the team was angry that they didn’t get the job done. If you’ve ever played in any game at any level and lost, you know exactly how they felt.

“There is a difference between you expecting to win and you knowing you are going to win.” Bradley added. “When you know you are going to win, you are shocked if you lost and that is what this team is feeling now. I think that is a good step for our team. We do not accept the loss. We do not accept it. How they are handling it now shows me a lot about them.”

Through training camp and the preseason games the Jaguars had the look and feel of a legitimate NFL team. It wasn’t guys trying to figure out how to play in the NFL. The free-agent additions gave the team the feel of a competitive group. That carried over to the regular season opener and while the significance of this game won’t be revealed until the end of the season, it looked like a matchup of two good teams. We expected that of Green Bay. We didn’t know that about the Jaguars. Even their reaction to the turnover and touchdown by the Packers in the first quarter showed a different Jaguars mindset.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, here it comes, what’s going to happen?’ Bradley said today referring to what had happened to his teams in the last three years after adversity struck. “There was none of that. The tension on the sideline, their focus on the sideline, it was great.”

In fact the Jaguars scored themselves and even took the lead, all done early on without involving their two top receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Neither apparently said a word and were eventually very productive with quarterback Blake Bortles.

“One of our rules is no whining, no complaining and no excuses. No one wants to hear it anyway. Let’s move on,” Gus said when asked if Robinson had asked for the ball more.

Seeing him in person it might be hard to dispute that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game right now. Put a different quarterback on the Packers on Sunday and the Jaguars win that game. With a strong arm and accurate, Rodgers can still run and moves in the pocket just enough to frustrate defenders. Bradley said part of the game plan was to try and limit his mobility. He says that’s why the sack number was low. It was part of the plan.

“It is tough on the defensive line,” he said of the scheme. “They are going after it. We did not turn them loose. It was not a game like that. It was more of a detailed pass rush to really try to constrict him and force him to stay in the pocket.”

It generally worked, limiting the Green Bay offense to just 199 yards passing. And maybe the same kind of rush this week turns into a few sacks of Phillip Rivers in San Diego. But there’s still that “Where’s that guy coming from?” factor that the Jaguars don’t have. Strong and sturdy up front, they need a high speed, occasionally dominating pass rusher to compliment what they have. They’re hoping that Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue turn into those players.

The sooner the better.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Exciting, Encouraged: Jaguars Still 0-1

“Start fast, finish fast,” is how Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley described his philosophy going into the 2016 season. That would be a departure from the previous three years where the Jaguars are 1-10 in September.

“We’re very aware of that,” linebacker Paul Posluszny said this week. “Start fast, start fast has been something we’ve been emphasizing, not only in practice but in preseason games. ”

So that’s why it didn’t feel quite right when Blake Bortles threw behind Marquis Lee and the ball was bobbled and picked off by Green Bay on the Jaguars opening possession of the season.

A veteran team, the Packers took advantage quickly, negating the Jaguars pass rush and scoring on an Aaron Rodgers scramble to make it 7-0 early in the first quarter.

There was a feeling of “here we go again” throughout the stadium until a little screen pass to Marcedes Lewis went for 37 yards to the Green Bay 11. Jaguars’ coaches have said Lewis has surprised them with how solid he was in camp and it showed with his skill and effort on that play. Two carries by TJ Yeldon resulted in a TD for the Jaguars tying the game at 7.

One thing the Jaguars have done is change the field position twice early in the game on Brad Nortman punts. Both landed and were downed inside the five-yard line. That’s where the defense recorded three straight three-and-outs, leading to a Jason Myers field goal to give the Jaguars a 10-7 lead.

It seemed that some questions about the Jaguars were answered early in the game. They can run the football, there’s not too much concern about the left side of the offensive line, Bortles doesn’t mind throwing it to anybody, (Lee, Lewis, Thomas, ARob, DRob, and Hurns all caught passes in the first half) and the defensive backfield can cover. What wasn’t answered was the big question about pass rush. Without much consistent pressure on Aaron Rodgers, he marched the Packers down the field using short passes. Green Bay finished it off with Rodgers shuffling around in the pocket and hitting Jordy Nelson for a TD, 14-10 Packers.

We knew the Jaguars offense would be productive and they showed it again. This time on Bortles arm and a couple of great catches by Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas to regain the lead 17-14. Bortles is checking down to his second and third receiver, partially because he has time and partially because he’s more confident. He found Hurns after scanning the field but the throw and catch to Thomas was something special. Thomas has some of the best hands ever for a tight end and it showed on the TD catch.

Grabbing chunks of yardage over the middle and picking on Jonathan Cyprien in pass coverage, the Packers marched right down the field again inside the two-minute warning. Without much pass rush, Rodgers was able to isolate receivers on Cyprien who’s clearly the weak link in coverage among the revamped Jaguars secondary. Green Bay scored on a play that showcased Rodgers ability as he shuffled around in the pocket to avoid the blitz by Jalen Ramsey and flicked the ball into the end zone for a TD. Ramsey had a piece of his jersey and while Cyprien was flagged for pass interference on the play it didn’t matter. Rodgers made it happen for a 21-17 lead at halftime.

An exchange of field goals on the first two possessions of the second half made it 24-20 Green Bay. It was the first red zone stop for the Jaguars defense behind some solid play by Prince Amukamara. Rogers continued to pick on Cyprien, buying time with his feet and isolating a receiver on him.

As the third quarter wore on, Rodgers continued to show his skill and savvy, picking his spots and methodically moving the Packers downfield. Green Bay looked a bit winded but controlled the ball and kept their defense off the field. While the Jaguars defense stiffened at the goal line, the Packers still held the ball for 16 plays and 73 yards to take a 27-20 lead.

Showing good poise, the Jaguars converted a couple of 4th downs in the 4th quarter but had to spend all of their timeouts to do so. That led to a delay of game penalty at a critical point of the drive. Jason Myers kicked a 50-yard field goal to make it 27-23 with just over 5 minutes to play.

That’s when the defense finally got some pressure on Rodgers, forcing an incompletion on 3rd and 11. Sen’Derrick Marks applauded the crowd in the north end zone for forcing a false start on 3rd and 6 and the Jaguars got the ball back at midfield.

Missing any timeouts, the Jaguars were a bit out of sorts but kept the drive alive into the final: :30 of the game. On 4th down, a weird holding call on Luke Joeckel was followed by an interception by the Packers, negated by defensive holding. So back to midfield and a first down. On 3rd and one, Bortles tried to hit Rashad Greene over the middle that went incomplete and on 4th down Allen Hurns was stopped short of the marker giving the ball to the Packers, ending the game.

Maybe it was the clock management, but I hated the final two play calls of the game. On 3rd and 1, do something that give you a better chance at gaining a yard and on 4th down give your quarterback some options instead of just tossing it out to a receiver who you’re hoping gets a yard. Not sure if OC Olson has Blake under wraps in that situation but you would hope Bortles would have the ability to get them into a better play than that.

We won’t know what this game means for a while but if Green Bay is one of the top teams in the league, the Jaguars showed they can play with anybody. Winning teams know how to win and the Packers showed that. The Jaguars are better, exciting, encouraged and fun to watch. The O-line will be fine, Bortles and the offense will score points, the defensive backfield can cover and they’re still looking for a better pass rush.

But they’re still 0-1.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: 4 To Watch 4

Jaguars: 4 to watch 4

1. Does the left side of the offensive line work? When he named Kelvin Beachum as the starting left tackle, Head Coach Gus Bradley admitted that it really wasn’t a competition. He awarded Beachum the job for his “body of work.” Yes, Beachum was an elite left tackle for the Steelers before his injury in October of last year. His rehab has been long and while he’s approved to go 100% he’s only played a few series in the preseason. His conditioning will be in question as the opener drags on. Beachum admitted it’s “a marriage” when it comes to the relationship between him and Luke Joeckel at left guard. Joeckel had performed well in the first two preseason games at tackle but was also given kudos by the coaching staff for the way he approached the move to guard. It might take a while but here’s to ‘hoping’ that the coaches aren’t ‘hoping’ this works out. Perhaps they’ve seen something that convinced them it’s the best combination available.

2. Did they spend money in the right place? Acquiring Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson through free agency seemed to create an immediate upgrade for the defense. Gus Bradley likes to use a nine-player rotation on the defensive line so Jackson being fresh throughout the game, and a healthy Sen’Derrick Marks also only playing 30-40 snaps should keep them fresh. Any kind of push up the middle from those two will put pressure on the passer along with Jared Odrick. They also are pretty stout when it comes to sheer size in the middle with Roy Miller and Abry Jones so they should be effective against the run. Gipson is the kind of free safety Bradley wants. One that can cover from side to side, is a ball hawk and isn’t afraid to hit. Gipson’s confidence and leadership will also go a long way in the defensive backfield.

3. Can they run the ball? Which leads to the free agent acquisition of Chris Ivory. Thought to be a thumper, Ivory has shown speed to get to the edge and an ability to quickly get his shoulders turned and head up field. He’ll bring plenty of punch behind his pads. Quarterback Blake *Bortles called him a “ball of muscle” in the preseason, but he also has speed that might catch some defenders off guard. If T.J. Yeldon is a classic “run from color” ball carrier who does well in a zone blocking scheme, Ivory can be a very effective “gap” runner, especially in short yardage. Brandon Linder at center will be the key to the offensive line getting a push for the running game. Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson says Linder has adapted well to his new position, and brings that “physical presence” that they need up front. No question Linder is a tough guy. They missed him last year after his injury.

4. Can the rush Aaron Rodgers and keep him contained? After sitting out a year with a torn ACL, Dante Fowler is being counted on to provide an edge rush for the Jaguars, something they haven’t had in a while. In fact, the only guy you can compare Fowler to who’s ever worn a Jaguars uniform is Tony Brackens. If you’re a Gator fan and haven’t paid attention to Fowler since he left Gainesville, you might not recognize him. He’s completely changed his body style and is faster and stronger than ever. He dominated early in training camp but ran into a wall, literally, starting with the practices against Tampa Bay. The coaches challenged him to be a “pro,” study more tape and take the mental part of the game as seriously as he does the physical side. Between Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, and Myles Jack the Jaguars have plenty of speed to get to the passer. Part of their problem with Rodgers will be what he can do outside of the pocket when he’s flushed. Getting to him and getting him on the ground will be the key to keeping the Packers offense in check.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars And Packers, More Similar Than You Think

On the surface it looks like a mismatch of a still-learning quarterback in the Jaguars Blake Bortles and a 12-year veteran Aaron Rodgers. But closer inspection shows a lot more similarities between the two quarterbacks and the receivers and running game they rely on.

Bortles has spent the recent off-seasons working specifically on his quarterback skills and training with his top receivers, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. He’s also feeling pretty good about Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon running the football. Rodgers has worked on his delivery and footwork throughout his career and leans on players like Randal Cobb and Jordy Nelson when he’s scrambling around and Eddie Lacy pounding it on the ground.

“That’s what you rely on. You rely on the thousands of reps we’ve put in over the years and trust we’ll be able to make it work when he gets out there,” Rodgers said of Nelson’s return in 2016 after an injury. “I’m sure he, just like a quarterback, going out there in the preseason, doesn’t mind taking a shot to get a feel of the game. I’m sure it wouldn’t be bad for him to get tackled.”

Working for the second year in Greg Olson’s offense, Bortles has better command and is more comfortable. He admits it’s still a learning process but he’s getting more comfortable knowing where Olson might be going during a particular drive.

“I think this year it’s definitely more of a collaborative effort-or not a collaborative effort, but I have a good feeling of what he likes to call,” Blake explained before practice on Wednesday. “So it’s definitely less shocking, but I think when the calls come in, I expect them to come in and we’re definitely on the same page.”

On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers us under a new offensive coordinator, Jacksonville’s Edgar Bennett is running the Packers offense after stints as the running back and receivers coach in Green Bay. But the offense is basically the same.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a structured offense for 12 years,” Rodgers explained. “Obviously, it’s morphed over the years. I had a good relationship with Mike (McCarthy) over the years as a play-caller to a quarterback. We’ve had a lot of great moments together and we learned to anticipate things and anticipate the calls and get into a flow with him where you feed off each other.”

Taking over the offense was in the cards a few years ago as Bennett switched coaching groups to gain a more diverse knowledge of the offense.

“When Edgar went to wide receivers in 2011 the initial thought was mine and I went to him, sat down and talked to him about it and then told him what I was thinking,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy explained. And his praise and expectations of Edgar are higher still.

“Definitely. I think Edgar Bennett is head coach material in the National Football League. With that being said, when you look at what he’s done at every position he’s had success. He did a great job with the running backs, great job with the receivers and that’s a big part of why he’s our offensive coordinator today.”

In only his third year, Blake Bortles has shown marked improvement and hopes to build on the 35 touchdowns he threw last season.

“You can really tell. Just the ownership, even with protections,” Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley explained about Bortles progression. “That was a big emphasis with us. I know the sack numbers have gone down last year from the year previous. It is a big point of emphasis. I think when you own the protections and understand it and can handle it out on the field, it is a big part of it. I really see that part of Blake as well.”

For Sunday’s game, the Jaguars are the “sleeper” pick, figuring that if you’re going to beat the Packers, early in the season, on the road and in the heat is the place to get it done. But Bradley warns against thinking that Green Bay could be down an out before the final whistle. He noted their ability to come back in the second half.

“They have that. You can see multiple games where they have done that. Let’s come out strong and have a good couple stops and then that is good, but it is 60 minutes because this team can get a roll. It is more of that message. We are going to need this effort throughout. It is a very explosive offense.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Roster: Bigger, Faster, Stronger

Looking over the 75 players who were vying for the 56 final roster spots on the 2016 Jaguars, Head Coach Gus Bradley declared this team “bigger, faster and stronger,” than teams he’s’ coached in Jacksonville in the past.

“It’s an exciting time,” Bradley continued, talking about the cutting process. “We have some really good football players we’re going forward with and that’s exciting.

While agreeing with Bradley that it was “exciting,” General Manager Dave Caldwell had a slightly different take.

“Exciting because in the past few years we’ve been looking at guys being cut from other teams,” he said with a laugh. “This year, we’ve got our guys right here.

Even making the final 53 on Saturday didn’t mean you were around for game one. Joe Banyard was cut and Josh Wells put on IR to make room for other free agents who could help right now.

“Yeah we had some very tough decisions. Very tough decisions,” Bradley said on Monday. “To us that is a good thing. When you are getting down to those last four or five cuts and you have multiple discussions about what role everyone can play. I think from top to bottom without a doubt this is the best team we have had, personnel wise.”

It’s not always the starting 22 that have to be adjusted. The Jaguars will have 14 new players on the roster this year, all will be expected to contribute on special teams (except QB Brandon Allen. Getting what you’re looking for on special teams means sometimes it comes down to just what a guy ‘looks’ like.

“That is hard. It is hard,” Bradley said, explaining part of the process. “I think that you are looking at what roles people fill and what we are looking for at certain positions. At times we need length. When you lose a guy like Ryan Davis we had Clay Harbor and that size and length is what we were looking at. I think sometimes it is body type what you are looking for and it might not mean that they can go elsewhere and be a good special teams player.”

When it comes to deciding between two players, it can be a ruthless process. Coaches have to be overly-analytical to find the smallest thing that will make the difference between being on the squad or looking for a job. Josh Johnson is a good example of how easily it is to be out of the league and how hard it is to make your way back in. Johnson was playing in the CFL when the Jaguars brought him in for a workout. His performance on special teams and his versatility as a defensive back helped him earn a spot on the 2016 Jaguars.

“Josh Johnson is a guy that’s obviously production has earned him to be on this team,’ Caldwell explained. “He’s around the ball, he makes plays on the ball when given the opportunity. Not only that but he’s been a sure tackler. He’s been a good blitzer, he can play both nickel inside for us and outside, and on special teams, he is an emergency returner for us. So it was a difficult decision. Nick (Marshall) is more of just an outside corner for us and Josh brings a little bit more versatility for us.”

So it’s a little of this and a little of that that can help you get into the league. And when it comes to the competitive part of it, you have to shine or generally you’re gone. Sometimes it’s just that other guys played really well. That’s the case for the Jaguars in deciding between Ryan Davis and Chris Smith.

“It was some of the guys like Chris Smith playing really well, Dan Skuta using him and our surplus of guys that’s interior rushers; Malik Jackson, Sheldon Day, Sen’Derrick Marks and Jared Odrick all can play inside,” Caldwell said after the cuts were made. “Then you got three LEOs there and then you got some flexibility with Hayes Pullard and Myles Jack in terms of MIKE, WILL and OTTO. And then it came down to special teams too and then who was going to be up so that was really the thing that came down to was special teams and not really having a great fit for him anymore.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Plenty Of Jaguars Fans In London

Each year when the NFL closes Regent Street in the shopping heart of London, they put on a fan fest that rivals the NFL Experience at the Super Bowl. There are obstacle courses, kicking demos (very popular) cheerleaders and a bunch of Jaguars fans.

“We came over for a couple of weeks around the game to see the countryside and support the Jaguars,” said Captain Roland Powers (ret.) while enjoying all of the festivities. “I’d say it’s 90-10 Jaguars fans here, and a lot of them are British,” he added.

Walking along there were a lot of NFL jerseys and because it’s their first time here, plenty of Colts representatives. But the Jaguars play here every year and many of the NFL fans in the UK have adopted the Jaguars as their “home” team.

“I needed a team to support and I picked the Jaguars,” said Michael Lewellyn, a London resident. “They seem committed to London and I’m quite keen to see the sport grow here in the UK,” he added.

“I don’t know much about it,” Lewellyn’s girlfriend Beck McCatrish chimed in. “It’s really neat to me and I’m not sure if I like it.”

“I’ll convert her!” Lewelly interjected with a laugh.

One of the features on Regent Street each year is a live stage where the players and cheerleaders entertain and answer questions from fans. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was on stage thanking the fans for their support.

“We never thought we’d be in this situation where we had three games and they were all sold out,” the commissioner said. “We know they want more and we’re trying to figure out ways to do that.”

I asked Goodell about Shad Khan’s original commitment to London and how important that was to the NFL.

“He was willing to stand up and do it,” Goodell said. “His vision was to make sure it was great for the fans in Jacksonville and the fans in London.”

“This is great for the city of Jacksonville,” Goodell added. “People here know where Jacksonville is and what the city is all about. That’s what we’re trying to do, make this good for the city and good for London as well.”

Making the trip from St. Augustine, Jaguars fan Owen Cumiskey said he was amazed at how many other Jaguars fans were around.

“Everywhere I go, people are yelling, ‘Go Jaguars’ and all kinds of things,” Cumiskey said. “It’s expanding our franchise and out brand and our fan base so I think it’s great.”

Each week before Jaguars home games in Jacksonville David Tarkington holds a church service in the parking lot of Old St. Andrews church in the sports complex. He’s brought that idea to London this year and will hold a service before the game just a couple of tube stops from Wembley Stadium.

“Really a tailgate event, just an encouraging word. It gives people a chance to not feel guilty for missing church on Sunday morning,” Tarkington, the pastor at 1st Baptist in Orange Park related.

I asked him if his message changes when the Jaguars struggled. “The message is hope, you gotta believe,” he answered with a laugh. It’s a 10 minute message but just trying to connect the Biblical messages with a sports theme.’