Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars, Coughlin Moving On?

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coughlin As Head Coach, Czar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Marrone: Business As Usual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Win, If Only . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Malik Jackson summed it up this way:

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Fired: Who’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Shad’s statement:

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Recovery Is The New Fitness Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars vs. Ravens, London 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Will Jimmy Make It To The Hall?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Still Searching For Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Rogers At Bolles: “This One Is Special”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: “It’s Disheartening”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

At The Bottom, Jaguars Remain Committed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coughlin To Jaguars Surfaces Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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