Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Despite Losses, Bradley Soldiers On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end, players gotta play.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Critical Times, Small Mistakes, Jaguars Lose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: Tell The Truth Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Stick With Bortles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which all adds up to Bortles remaining the starter.

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Vs. Texans: 4 To Watch 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jags’ Oc Hackett “Excited” About Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Sports And Politics: Not So Strange Bedfellows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Says Jaguars Character In Tact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Jaguars In KC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Babby’s Idea Screams “Minor League”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come along with us.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Cryotherapy Jax: Recovery Is The Key To Peak Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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