Jaguars Look Ahead To Playoffs

While the loss to the Titans might have “done it’s job” according to the Jaguars players in the locker room in Nashville, they know losing two straight going into the post season isn’t ideal.

“We better bounce back,” said tight end Marcedes Lewis. No do overs next week. Too many mistakes that we can’t have. We’re excited about going home to win a game. It’s for all the marbles.”

Getting the running game untracked will be a priority this week in practice. The Jaguars should get wide receivers Allen Hurns and Marqise in the game and Leonard Fournette found a bit of his stride against the Titans.

“I having fun this week,” said Fournette of his focus on playoff football. “This game will build or break you. I believe in every single guy on this team. I’m on to next week and this playoff run.”

“At the end of the day playoff football is different,” echoed Tashaun Gipson. “It’s a brand new season. What we did in the 16 weeks of the season doesn’t matter right now. It’s playoff football and we’re super excited about that.”

Getting a chance to play at home is important according to head coach Doug Marrone. He called it “a rough two weeks” as they finished the season on the road. But their body of work over the 16 games of the regular season earned them the AFC South title for the first time and a home playoff game.

“We know the city is going to come out,” said Telvin Smith. “We’re ready to come home and be with the city and bring this playoff win home.”

Jaguars Limp Into Playoffs

Whether they call it “a game of inches” or “on any given Sunday” or “playing above the x’s and o’s,” there’s an intangible you can feel when a team is playing winning football. It’s an edge, a little hop, a swagger in the body language that’s easily identifiable.

On their run to the playoffs, the Jaguars had that edge on both sides of the football and on special teams as well. Over the last two weeks since winning the AFC South Division title, it hasn’t been there.

With nothing to prove in Tennessee except that they’re a playoff worthy team, the Jaguars didn’t have that edge and now limp into the playoffs with more questions than answers.

Maybe it’s too much to ask of a receiving corps that didn’t expect to see much playing time across the board when the season started to continue to make plays at a high level. Without Marqise Lee but with Allen Hurns back, the Jaguars were still leaning on Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and, on occasion, Jaydon Mickens to get the job done. As good as they’ve played, they’re still not Hurns, Allen Robinson and Lee, the starting WR’s the Jaguars expected to have on offense.

With a short-arm and a drop in the end zone, Westbrook showed he’s not the complete professional package as a rookie. It’s a different game in the NFL and as talented as he is and as much flash as he’s shown, he’ll have to make those plays if he wants to be a solid, consistent and eventually great pro.

If there’s one constant, the Jaguars defense is legit. Consistently good, occasionally spectacular. A long screen pass/run by Derrick Henry for 66 yards showed the Jaguars susceptibility to getting overly aggressive, up the field, and out of position. But that’s rare. Pressure on the quarterback, tough against the run and able to score, the defense kept the Jaguars in the game through three quarters.

Then they scored, Yannick Ngakoue picking up a fumble in the backfield and ran 67-yards for a touchdown to bring the Jaguars within 15-10. They had only allowed the one long TD and 3 FG’s through three quarters to keep the game close.

There’s narrative that quarterback Blake Bortles is the problem, but if nobody’s open, there’s not much he can do. Except for the one ill advised throw, Bortles was on the mark, going through his progressions and throwing into tight windows. But without much help from the receivers, the offense sputtered.

They had a couple of chances in the 4th quarter but couldn’t convert. And although the defense had Tennessee on the ropes, Marcus Mariota danced around three defenders for a first down to seal the game for the Titans.

Things can change from week to week and the Jaguars have to hope they can flip the switch to get back to the team they were in November. Opportunistic on defense, confident on offense, the November Jaguars were the best team in the league. Bortles was the top rated quarterback and the lynchpin on offense. They haven’t looked like that team for a couple of weeks now and it’ll take a big transformation to win a playoff game, even at home.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Jaguars Dominate Texans 45-7, Qualify For Post-season

It’s not that the Jaguars beat the Houston Texans easily to qualify for the post-season for the first time since 2007, not even how they dominated all over the field winning 45-7. It might be who’s making plays for the Jaguars that are the biggest surprise.

Midway through the first quarter Marqise Lee left the Jaguars game against the Texans with an injured ankle. He was hurt on a running play of all things. Since the Jaguars only dressed four wide receivers for the game, it forced punt returner Jaydon Mickens into the game.

“Who’d of thought that in week 14 the Jaguars would be playing with a guy off the street, an undrafted free agent and their 4th round pick as their wide receivers?” my colleague Brian Jackson said in the press box. “And getting the job done?”

But that’s exactly what happened against the Texans as Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense got untracked early and dominated Houston in the first half, 31-0.

Already with the top quarterback rating in the league in December, Bortles was 17 of 25 for 246 yards and 3 TD’s with a 139 rating in the first half. Only Mark Brunell had thrown for three touchdowns in the first half of the game in Jaguars history.

And all of it done with three guys catching it that didn’t figure to get much playing time when the season started.

“He worked and worked and did everything he could to make this team,” Jaguars Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said of Keelan Cole when the original 53 man roster was announced. Cole was on the team, but pretty far down the depth chart with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee slated as starters.

Cole played at Kentucky Wesleyan in college and said after his first preseason game in New England that it was the largest crowd he’d ever played in front of as a football player. We figured out that the crowd at his first game was bigger than the sum total of fans that had ever seen him play throughout his career. Cole has great speed and made some catches in the preseason but a few drops also showed he was still a rookie. Nonetheless, he was pressed into action when Robinson went out with a torn ACL in the Jaguars opener.

When he was drafted in the 4th round, Dede Westbrook knew he had something to prove. From a Heisman finalist, Westbrook fell out of favor with NFL teams after some off-field, domestic violence issues. The Jaguars drafted him in the 4th round as a “prove it” pick and while he showed promise in the preseason, the Jaguars were deep at receiver and he was somewhat injured so they put him on revocable injured reserve. All he was expected to do was work, stay in shape, learn the offense and be ready. When he was activated, you saw on a couple of plays why he was such a highly regarded college player at Oklahoma. But he was still a rookie.

After being cut by the Raiders, Jaydon Mickens was out of football when the Jaguars signed him to their practice squad. Mickens and fellow rookie Larry Pinkard weren’t sure what their future would bring but they desperately wanted to be football players. So they slept in their cars in the parking lot of the stadium during their practice squad days.

“It wasn’t any big deal,” Mickens told us earlier this week. “We’d hang out at Marqise’s or wherever until it was time to leave at night and just go to our cars and get some sleep. Then we’d get up, go into the stadium, workout, eat, and spend the day there.”

In case you’re wondering, Mickens drives a Nissan Altima, so he folded the back seats down to he could stretch out into the trunk. “I’d use some towels or whatever to make a pillow,” he told us.

So when the Jaguars only had four receivers active for the Houston game, Mickens was pressed into service when Lee left with an ankle injury.

With those three guys on the receiving end, Blake kept his hit streak going, hitting Mickens twice and Cole once for touchdowns. In addition to the TD catches, Mickens caught beautiful corner throws by Bortles and Cole was the recipient of another great throw by Blake down the sideline that turned into a 73 yard reception and a first down at the one.

Add two Tommy Bohannon touchdowns from short yardage and everybody was getting in the act. The two Bohannon TD’s were from a position the Jaguars didn’t even have on the roster the past few years.

While Bortles is playing great and the wide receivers are “playing above the x’s and o’s” as Coughlin likes to say, the defense continues to dominate. If we’ve learned anything from the 2017 Jaguars it’s that defense travels. No matter where, no matter who the opponent is, defense can carry a team to victory. DeAndre Hopkins caught a touchdown pass over Jalen Ramsey in the third quarter to give the Texans their only points in the game. Ramsey was so irritated he wouldn’t let any of his teammates talk to him when he came to the sideline. It’s that kind of swagger and attitude, wanting a shutout, that allows you to win 45-7. (Corey Grant scored a TD in the 4th quarter)

Against an overmatched Texans offensive line, Calais Campbell recorded his franchise record 14.5 sack, helping bring the team’s season total to 50. Telvin Smith returned to the lineup giving defensive coordinator Todd Wash more flexibility.

While Houston is banged up and terrible this year, the Jaguars did what you’re supposed to do this time of the season against an inferior team: Beat them easily and move on.

It brings up some interesting scenarios for the post-season. Next week’s game at San Francisco has the possibility of clinching the division for the Jaguars. They’ve never won the AFC South since it was formed in 2002. Both of their division titles came when they were in the AFC Central.

Winning the division gives the Jaguars a home playoff game but it’s possible, if they win out, they could move up to the #2 seed, have a first round bye and play a home game the following week.

Pretty heady stuff for a team that won three games last year.

Jaguars Make Big Statement Beating Seattle, 30-24

There actually is a strategy to keeping Russell Wilson in check. The problem is Wilson is so good, so smart and such a good athlete that executing the strategy is a problem.

For the Jaguars defense, a combination of straight up field, stay-in-your-lanes rush, backed by the linebackers spreading across the field and man-to-man by the DB’s did just what Doug Marrone was looking for in the first half. “You can only hope to contain him,” the Jaguars Head Coach said earlier in the week, and that’s exactly what they did. Wilson had one scramble carry in the first quarter and another in the second for first downs but nothing that troubled the Jaguars too much.

A missed field goal by Blair Walsh at the end of the half kept the score at 3-0 Jaguars. It was the first time this season Seattle had been shutout through 30 minutes of football.

In the third quarter things were very different. It wasn’t Wilson causing the Jaguars problems but rather shortcomings of their own.

A nice drive gave the Jaguars a 10-0 lead, culminated by a TD pass from Blake Bortles to Dede Westbrook from 18 yards out. Westbrook ran a great corner route and *Bortles throw was even better, softly hitting the Jaguars rookie as he crossed the goal line.

A Seattle field goal made it 10-3 Jaguars but Corey Grant fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Seattle recovered. Wilson hit Doug Baldwin in the end zone to tie the game at ten and it looked like momentum had shifted to the visitors.

But on first down, Blake hit Keelan Cole on a deep corner for a 75-yard TD and a 17-10 lead. Cole had caught a couple of deep balls in the preseason but this was the first big pass play for him in the regular season, showing his speed and pretty good hands. Bortles throw was also spot-on, just like you draw it up.

Give some credit to the Jaguars offensive line for pass protection but also opening some holes for the running game. For the first time in several weeks, the five starters from the beginning of the year were back in the lineup as Patrick Omameh returned to left guard and Jeremy Parnell was at right tackle.

Again the defense stopped Wilson and the Seahawks forcing a punt. Jaydon Mickens broke through at the point of attack and scampered all the way to the one-yard line on the return. Leonard Fournette scored to make it 24-10.

A two-touchdown lead usually allows the Jaguars defense to rush the quarterback and create all kinds of problems for the opposing offense. That was true again as Wilson tried a long pass over the middle that was intercepted by A.J. Bouye at the two. It was Bouye’s second interception and the Jaguars third of the game. Jalen Ramsey had picked off a Wilson heave into the end zone earlier.

From the two, the Jaguars put together an impressive drive, mixing Fournette running and Bortles hitting Cole and Marqise Lee on crossing routes, chewing up time and getting a 51-yard field goal on the other end by Josh Lambo to take a 27-10 lead with ten minutes to play.

But Russell Wilson is Russell Wilson and somehow he escaped the Jaguars pass rush, ducking under two defenders to throw a 61-yard touchdown pass to make it 27-17. Wilson was about to be sacked but escaped, and still paused in the pocket to look down field to find Paul Richardson wide open. Tashaun Gipson either lost track of Richardson or expected Wilson to go down but either way it was an easy TD for Seattle.

Again, the Jaguars offense pounded it out of their own territory and chewed up some clock to get some points. Westbrook’s catch of a Bortles pass down the sideline was the highlight and Josh Lambo made it 30-17.

But Wilson somehow escaped another sack and threw a 74-yard TD pass to Tyler Lockett to keep the Seahawks in the game, 30-24. Wilson kept the play alive and there was a mix up in the Jaguars secondary as Lockett was wide open with Barry Church giving chase. Very unusual for the Jaguars defense to give up two long plays but there was no “give up” in the Seahawks to keep the game close.

A big run by Fournette on 3rd and 11 sealed the win in Seahawks territory but the game quickly turned ugly. In the “Victory” formation, somebody from the Seahawks jumped into the Jaguars line, meaning there was pushing and shoving and a punch thrown by Sheldon Richardson that got him ejected.

The same thing happened on the next play with Quinton Jefferson getting ejected and nearly going into the stands when a fan threw something at him. He was doing plenty of jawing coming off the field, but throwing stuff at players is low rent in itself.

Now 9-4, the Jaguars are in sole possession of first place in the AFC South with three games to play after Tennessee lost to Cardinals in Arizona. A showdown with the Titans is still possible in the last game of the year on New Year’s Eve to determine the division champ but the Jaguars hold the upper hand with games against Houston and San Francisco set before then.

One thing the Jaguars showed in this game was a gritty toughness they hadn’t shown before. They had a two-touchdown lead and nearly lost it but the offense was able to get some things done. When the Seahawks tried to make it a slugfest, the Jaguars responded in kind with ferocity that we haven’t seen in a while.

Looking like a playoff team, the Jaguars certainly made a statement in this one.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Jaguars Sweep Colts, Eye Post-season

In December, playoff teams emerge, playing their best football and beating teams they’re supposed to beat. No upsets, no cliffhangers, just a professional job on the field, getting it done and moving on.

That’s what the Jaguars were doing in the first half against the Colts at home on Sunday. Opening the game on defense, the Jaguars forced a punt and followed that with an 11-play, 80-yard offensive drive capped by a TD pass from Blake Bortles to Marqise Lee for a 7-0 lead. The drive featured a fake-punt pass play at midfield from Brad Nortman to James O’Shaughnessy for 29 yards and a first down.

More solid defense helped the Jaguars win the field position battle and a 10-0 lead followed after a Josh Lambo 30-yard field goal from 30-yards out. The Colts followed with their best drive of the half, featuring good runs by Frank Gore and a silly face mask/horse collar penalty by Myles Jack. That led directly to three points, 10-3 Jaguars.

But again, in a very professional manner, the offense marched right down the field, much of it on Bortles arm to score a TD on their next possession. Very effective use of the three running backs on the drive complimented the play calling and Bortles throws. Leonard Fournette was doing the heavy lifting on the ground. Chris Ivory was called on for some tough yards inside and T.J. Yeldon caught the ball out of the backfield on a screen pass for a first down. Blake’s throw to Keelan Cole for the TD was a pretty pass and catch, for a 16-3 lead. The PAT was muffed because of a bad snap.

It’s become somewhat of a bad habit for the Jaguars defense to give up yards allow the other team to stop some of the momentum after the offense gets a score. That was the case at the end of the first half as the Colts were driving for a score until Jalen Ramsey put a stop to that. On first down from the Jaguars 23, Ramsey laid out across the middle and made one of the best catches you’ll ever see for an interception at the seven and returned it to the twenty-five. Jaguars led 16-3 at the half.

Starting the second half with the same professional approach, the Jaguars marched right down the field and scored again, taking a 24-3 lead after the two-point conversion pass, a jump ball to Marcedes Lewis. The drive culminated with Fournette scoring and lining up the offense afterwards for a “free-throw” celebration. The best part of that was both Jeremy Parnell and Chris Reed stepping in the “lane” to block out on the FT attempt. Good fundamentals across the board.

Again the Colts responded, Jacoby Brissett hitting T.Y. Hilton on a crossing route for 40-yards and a TD. 24-10 Jaguars. The Jaguars defensive secondary was in a zone and Brissett had plenty of time to throw. Barry Church looked like he either missed him or passed him off to somebody else but either way, Hilton scored untouched.

Another drive by the Jaguars ended in a field goal and a 27-10 lead. Bortles was sharp and making smart decisions. He ran for a first down in the middle of the field and threw a beautiful pass to Cole down the sideline over the cornerback and in front of the safety to get the ball inside the ten-yard line. Both Fournette and Cam Robinson were hobbled by ankle injuries on the drive although they both walked off the field. Both returned.

A couple of punts were exchanged, a bad call against Yannick Ngakoue gave the Colts life but Tashaun Gipson picked off Brissett leading to another Lambo field goal and a 30-10 lead and that was the final score of the game.

This was a methodical, efficient win by the Jaguars who got the kind of game out of Bortles they’ll need the rest of the year and into the post-season. Smart an accurate, confident and strong, Blake got the ball to his receivers when they were open and they caught the ball and held onto it. When you have two rookies in the game (Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole) who start catching the ball and making a contribution in critical situations, it fuels the rest of the offense and keeps drives alive. The return of Allen Hurns will give Bortles more options and a reliable receiver who will get open and catch the ball in traffic. Marcedes Lewis looks rejuvenated. The defense is solid, recording four more sacks against the Colts and hoping for the return of Telvin Smith. (By the way, Smith’s absence was the first time a defensive starter has missed a game all season.)

An 8-4 record with four to play, two at home and two on the road shows the Jaguars to be a legitimate post-season threat if this is the kind of professional performance they can continue to display. If they do, they’ll be a tough out for the rest of the year and into the post-season, no matter who, or where they play.

Mullen Is The New Gators Head Coach

Introduced as the Head Coach of the Florida Gators football program, Dan Mullen said his teams would play with “relentless effort, every Saturday.

“We might not be the biggest or the fastest but we’ll play with relentless effort I can guarantee that,” Mullen said in front of the assembled media, staff and supporters in the Florida Room of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Mullen was contacted by UF AD Scott Stricklin last Friday to gauge his interest in the job. They talked more on Saturday and hammered out a deal by Saturday night. They talked again on Sunday morning and Mullen said, “I was more excited when I woke up than the night before,” and since he already had a missed call from Stricklin, Mullen accepted the job. His contract is for a reported $6M a year for six years, making him one of the highest paid college coaches in the country.

“We’re like the Yankees,” Stricklin said during his introduction. “We attract the best and the brightest. Dan is the most qualified candidate to lead this program.”

While talking about the spread offense he’ll run, how he loves to score points and the importance of offensive production to the Gator Nation, Mullen paid homage to former Gator Head Coach Steve Spurrier whom he said he idolized as a young coach.

“At Wagner I wore a visor just like Coach Spurrier,” Mullen revealed. “To watch him coach, to see that in the sunshine, I said, “What am I doing here in New Hampshire? This is a dream job.”

Mullen said he’d welcome Spurrier’s input and was already in his office earlier on Monday.

“I went up to his office and he had the computer open with game film up. We’ll have some great discussions. I love ball and he loves ball. I expect he’ll come to practice and ask ‘Now why are we doing that?'” Mullen said to laughter in the room. He also mentioned that former players around the program would be a “critical part of our success.”

Much has been made of the intensity of the scrutiny of the Head Coach at the University of Florida and his family. Mullen’s wife Megan was recently quoted about how she could barely go to Publix when Mullen was the offensive coordinator for the Gators without being accosted by Florida fans.

“I’ve been a head coach in the SEC,” Mullen said in response to a query about the intensity of the job in Gainesville. “I have a perfect understanding of the expectations here. The pressure on you and your family. I’ve been a Head Coach in the SEC. To plug the network, ‘it just matters more.” The passion in the SEC isn’t unique to the University of Florida. But I understand the scrutiny you’re under.”

And regarding his wife’s comments?

“If Megan didn’t pick Florida, we wouldn’t be in Florida,” Mullen said with a laugh.

It’ll be after the first of the year before Mullen completes his staff although he’s already recruiting for the Gators.

“We have an early signing date coming up so that’s important,” he noted. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football.

Mullen has a reputation of developing quarterbacks but says he doesn’t have a formula.

“If you look at the different quarterbacks I’ve had they’re all different shapes and sizes. There’s no prototype. It starts with mental and physical toughness. You have to be a tremendous leader,” Mullen on said about his quarterback expectations.

“Processing information is critical. Intelligence is important. I don’t want them to look over to the sideline. Throwing and running. Accuracy. Running is a bonus, it means you can improvise. In one word, winners.”

Jaguars Falter, Lose To AZ, 27-21

Without two starting offensive linemen the Jaguars didn’t have much to offer the Arizona Cardinals on that side of the ball. For the second week, Patrick Omameh and Jeremy Parnell weren’t in the lineup and it showed in pass protection as in the running game.

Against Cleveland last week, they got away with not much offense, getting a strong, points-scoring performance from their defense beating a Browns team that couldn’t muster much offense.

In Arizona, it was a different story as the Blaine Gabbert led Arizona offense was able to not turn the ball over, take advantage of field position and score 13 points in the first half to lead 13-3. There wasn’t anything pretty about it on either said of the ball. Field goals and a blown coverage by the Jaguars when Telvin Smith went out of the game with a concussion led to the only touchdown of the half.

After another Phil Dawson field goal made it 16-3, the Jaguars went seven plays for 75 yards to make it a one score game. Blake Bortles was the leading rusher in the game for the Jaguars with six carries for 62 yards and he scored on a 4th down naked bootleg. But when *Bortles is the leading rusher for the Jaguars it means the running game is not working. Leonard Fournette had 12 carries for 25 yards and never got going as evidenced by his longest run was eight yards.

So that leaves it up to the defense, again. A great rush up field by Yannick Ngakoue forced Gabbert to step up, giving Ngakoue another chance. The Jaguars defensive end took advantage of the situation, sacking Gabbert and hacking the ball out at the ten-yard line. That’s when Calais Campbell scooped it up and scored, giving the Jaguars a 17-`6 lead. As a free-agent acquisition, Campbell has been the biggest boon to the Jaguars, but he’s still a popular player in Arizona and no doubt he was feeling pretty good scoring a touchdown against his former team.

But as good as they played, one mistake by the defensive backfield let a receiver get behind them and score on a 52 yard pass from Gabbert. The two-point conversion was good and the Cardinals had a 7-point, 24-17 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Corey Grant brought it back inside the Cards, 40 and four plays later, Bortles scored again, this time from 17-yards out on a QB “read-option” play to tie the game at 24.

It had all the feel of and overtime game when the defense forced a three and out and the Jaguars offense took over deep in their own territory. A run on first down ran some clock and it appeared that Head Coach Doug Marrone was willing to get the game to overtime and take his chances. But a pass on second down was flat-out dropped by Marqise Lee to stop the clock. A run on third down allowed Arizona to call their final time out, making the Jaguars punt the ball.

“That’s my fault, “Marrone said after the game. “I got greedy and threw the ball on second down. Just should have run it and gone to overtime.”

While it’s laudable that Marrone would take responsibility for the call, you’d expect a professional receiver to make a catch of a ball right in his hands. But Lee didn’t do that, and it set up the losing end-game scenario for the Jaguars.

All along we’ve know how talented Gabbert is with quarterback skills and the two throws he made to get Arizona into field goal position were lasers and perfect. He doesn’t do that often, but when he does you see why so many coaches think he can be a big time player because he has a great arm and can really throw the “high hard one” as they say in the league.

That set up a 57-yard field goal attempt by Phil Dawson, which would be the longest of his long career. It was good with one second left on the clock and left the Jaguars on the wrong end of a 27-24 final.

At 7-4 the Jaguars are now tied for first again with the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South. Three consecutive home games start with the Colts in Jacksonville next Sunday at 1 o’clock.

Is there anything good that comes out of this loss? I don’t think any reasonable person thought the Jaguars would win out and go 13-3 so perhaps a loss like this will re-focus the team on what got them winning games. Their margin for error is small with the injuries up front and how the offense is performing. It’s not all on Bortles who’s playing without his top two receivers in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. He can play better, but the receivers, Lee, Cole and Westbrook are going to have to make some plays to help him out and get the offense untracked.

As Coughlin says, some of these guys will have to play “above the x’s and o’s.”

Boselli’s Chances For The Hall? Pretty Good

Out of a list of 108 former players and coaches who were eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, the Selection Committee, by mail vote, cut that number down to twenty-five “semi-finalists.” The Selection Committee has 48 members, one representative for each of the 32 teams and sixteen “at-large” members including two Hall of Fame players, James Lofton and Dan Fouts. This year there are 27 “semifinalists” because of ties. Twenty-five players and two coaches. From there, the committee will vote for the final fifteen. The fifteen, called “finalists” are then discussed, one by one, during our annual meeting on Saturday of Super Bowl weekend in Minnesota. A “contributor” and two senior candidates will also be discussed, and voted on, individually.

Jacksonville natives Safeties Brian Dawkins and LeRoy Butler and former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli are finalists on this year’s ballot. Dawkins played at Raines and at Clemson before spending 13 years in the NFL with the Eagles and Denver Broncos. If he makes the final fifteen, the Philadelphia and Denver representatives again will present the case for Dawkins. He’s a semifinalist for the second straight year and it’ll be a surprise if he’s not a finalist in 2018. Butler spent his entire career with the Packers after starring at Lee and Florida State. He’s a semifinalist for the first time and if he makes the list of finalists, something that’s tough to do the first time you’ve made the semi-final list, it’ll be the Green Bay selector making his case.

As the Jacksonville representative, I’ll be asked to make the case again for Tony if he’s a finalist this year, outlining his career statistics and presenting testimonial evidence from his teammates, opponents and coaches. Boselli was a finalist last year, made the final 10 in the cut-down vote and gained plenty of momentum for the Hall.

“My career hasn’t changed,” Tony joked when he came by Channel 4 Tuesday night. “I’m not going to get any better, the hays in the barn.”

With that, Boselli summed up what many finalists face when they get to the last fifteen year after year but aren’t selected for induction. Of the fifteen, only five can be elected. Their career doesn’t change, only the circumstances of the other nominees. Sometimes it seems like a slotting process but statistically, if a nominee makes it to the finals, they have about an 88.5% chance of eventually being elected to the Hall.

What’s changed this year for Boselli and Dawkins is what happened in 2017. Safety wasn’t a position that the Selection Committee seemed to have a lot of faith in over the past 30 years. But Easley’s induction has broken the ice and along with Dawkins and Butler, John Lynch and Steve Atwater are on this year’s semifinal ballot.

For Tony, the general thought was that his career was too short. But the committee’s inclusion of Easley last year (95 games including playoffs) and Terrell Davis (86 games) show that the Selection Committee doesn’t consider that an impediment for entrance into the Hall.

With the change in the length of the season over the history of the NFL (NFL regular season had 12 games until 1960, 14 games from 1961-1977 and16 games 1978-present) and the expansion of the playoff format, the best comparison of length of career comes from games played rather than years in the league.

Tony Boselli played 91 regular season games and six playoff contests for 97 games played.

Players who played about a year more than Boselli who are in the Hall of Fame include:

Lynn Swann 116
Earl Campbell 115
Dwight Stephenson 114
Kellen Winslow 109
Paul Hornung 109 games
There are 30 players with less than 100 games already in the Hall including:

Gale Sayers, Dick Stanfel, Doak Walker, and Cliff Battles.

So the Selection Committee has recognized “greatness” as perhaps the only criteria that matters to be selected for induction to the Hall.

In what can be called the “Golden Age of Tackles” in the NFL, Boselli compares favorably with those of his era. On the All Decade team of the 1990’s Boselli is one of four tackles named along with Willie Roaf, Gary Zimmerman and Richmond Webb. Roaf and Zimmerman are already in the Hall. Roaf said he modeled his game after Boselli’s. Anthony Munoz, a Hall of Famer and considered the best ever at the position says Tony is one of the best tackles ever. Gil Brandt, the super scout, says Boselli is equal to Roaf and Munoz along with Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones, also Hall of Fame inductees.

It’ll be very interesting this year to see what happens in “the room” on that Saturday in Minnesota. It’s Joe Jacoby’s last year of eligibility as a modern era candidate and as a tackle. He’s been a finalist as well, but he didn’t make the final ten last year and Tony did.

If greatness is the only criteria, Boselli was that on every level as an NFL player. So don’t be surprised if they’re fitting him for a Gold Jacket in 2018.

Boselli, Dawkins, Butler Among Hall Of Fame Semifinalists

For the third consecutive year, former Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli is among the 27 semi-finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From an original list of 108 eligible players, Boselli joins Jacksonville natives Leroy Butler and Brian Dawkins along with Georgia’s Hines Ward among those the HOF’s selection committee will consider on the next ballot. Generally the semifinal list has 25 names but because of ties, this year’s list has 27. Fifteen players and coaches will be considered for selection to the Hall during the Super Bowl weekend in Minnesota on February 3rd.

“I’m not going to get any better than I was,” Boselli said with a laugh Tuesday night about his candidacy for the Hall. “They hay’s in the barn, my play’s on tape. It’s up to people like you (I’m on the PFHOF Selection Committee representing Jacksonville) to make a decision. There are 25 other really good football players on that list.”

Last year the Committee elected both Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis to the Hall despite the brevity of their careers. Both played less than 70 games in the NFL. Boselli’s career was considered short but he played in 97 NFL games. By comparison, iconic NFL legend Paul Hornung played in 105.

“There’s times I feel like, not that that I got cheated, but I’d have like to have played more,” Boselli added. “Don’t get me wrong, if God had come down and said ‘You’ll play in 97 games, take it or leave it’ I’d have taken it and run with it. But you fell like, ‘man I wish I could have done it a little bit longer.”

In his third year as a semi-finalist, Boselli will get serious consideration from the Selection Committee. Last year he was among the final 10 chosen. His quality of play is unquestioned and even Tony admits, at this point of the process, it can be a numbers game.

“They’re all great players,” he said. “When you get to the final 15, every one of those guys can make an argument that they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Among the 108 original, eligible players, only five can be selected for induction into the Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.

After his high school career at Raines, Brian Dawkins played his college football at Clemson. He was a second round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles and spent most of his career there. He finished with three years in Denver. Dawkins made nine Pro Bowl’s in his career finishing with 37 forced fumbles, 16 fumble recoveries and 37 interceptions. He made his one Super Bowl appearance for the Eagles here in his hometown of Jacksonville, a 24-21 loss to the New England Patriots. It’s Dawkins second appearance on the HOF ballot as a semifinalist.

In his first appearance as a semifinalist, Leroy Butler gives Jacksonville three players among the final 27. Butler played for Corky Rogers at Lee before going to Florida State. He’s famous for the “puntrooskie” against Clemson where he ran 78 yards to set up the winning field goal. He was selected in the second round of the 1990 draft by the Packers and was a member of the winning Super Bowl XXXI team. He was four times an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection as well as a member of the 1990’s NFL All-Decade team. He’s also remembered in Green Bay as the inventor of the “Lambeau Leap.” Butler finished his career with 38 interceptions.

First time eligibles Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Richard Seymour, Brian Urlacher, Rhonde Barber and Steve Hutchinson are included in this year’s semi-finalists. As mentioned, it’s the first semi-finalist appearance for Butler as well as Leslie O’Neal, Simeon Rice and Everson Walls.

Making multiple appearances, as semifinalists are, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Roger Craig, Alan Faneca, Torry Holt, Joe Jacoby, Edgerrin James, Jimmy Johnson, Ty Law, John Lynch, Kevin Mawae, Karl Mecklenburg, Terrell Owens, and Hines Ward.

Former Jaguars Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor were among the 108 eligible players but did not make the semifinal list.

The Class of 2018 semifinalists includes 25 players — 12 on offense (RB=2; WR=5; OL=5); 13 on defense (DL=3; LB=3; DB=7), and two coaches.

To be considered for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a nominated player or coach must not have participated as an active player or coach for five consecutive seasons. The next step in the selection process comes in January when the semifinalists are trimmed to 15 Modern-Era Finalists. That list increases to 18 finalists with the inclusion of the recommended nominees of the Hall of Fame’s Contributors and Seniors Committees. The 2018 Contributor Finalist is former General Manager/Personnel Administrator Bobby Beathard (1966-67 Kansas City Chiefs, 1968-1971 Atlanta Falcons, 1972-77 Miami Dolphins, 1978-1988 Washington Redskins, 1990-99 San Diego Chargers). The two Senior Finalists are Robert Brazile (LB – 1975-1984 Houston Oilers) and Jerry Kramer (G – 1958-1968 Green Bay Packers).

Jaguars Do Just Enough, Beat Browns 19-7

With a makeshift offensive line, cool weather and a little bit of snow in the forecast the Jaguars knew going into the game they’d have to just grind it out if they wanted to come home from Cleveland with a win. They did just that with 139 yards rushing, 111 from Leonard Fournette and beat the Browns 19-7.

“We want to be tough,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said after the game. “But I think it is how we finish. That will be the point where people look back and say that this is a tough team. We’ve done some things that have helped us along that line, but if you start playing in November and December, you have to have both mental and physical toughness to win games.”

More importantly, the Jaguars defense again rose to the occasion, creating turnovers, scoring points and keeping the Browns in check for most of the game. A mix-up between Telvin Smith and Tashaun Gipson allowed Cleveland their only TD, a 27 yard pass in the second quarter. Outside of that, they were pretty flawless. The Browns had four yards of offense in the first quarter. DeShone Kizer was 15 of 32 passing for 179 yards but threw two interceptions. He was Cleveland’s leading rusher as well with 22 yards on five carries. They never really threatened as the Jaguars defense kept the score at 10-7, 13-7 and then scored on a sack/fumble for the final score at 19-7.

“We were able to just go down there and when we put it on our backs,” said Jaguars Safety Barry Church. “We’ve responded so far this season. We just need to keep doing that – put the team on our backs and when stuff gets sticky for the offense, like it did this game, we have got to be able to pull through on the defense side of the ball.”

It’s been a different player each week for the Jaguars defense and instead of the inside guys like Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson, it was the outside pressure of Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler that kept the Browns offense off balance. Ngakoue had 2½ sacks and caused a fumble. Fowler was in the backfield and picked up a Kiser fumble that should have been ruled a touchdown. Instead, the Jaguars got the ball, punted it after a three and out, and the defense scored anyway.

“The defensive line is just so good, you never know ” Jaguars Safety Tashaun Gipson said after predicting that the Jaguars could shut out his former team this week. “t could be one of five different guys, (DT) Dareus (Marcell), (DL) Malik (Jackson), (DL) Calais (Campbell), (DE) Yannick (Ngakoue), or (DE Dante) Fowlers Jr., so the last play I did not get a chance to see. We have one of the better pass runners in the NFL (Ngakoue) and he took advantage and took his opportunities.”

It’s not the kind of game they’ll showcase on their resume but again they came away with a win. Their 7-3 record is the best after ten games in ten years. With a one game lead in the division, it’s the first time the Jaguars have led the division since 1999. And that’s when they were in the AFC Central.

We keep saying they’ll have to play better but they’re doing just enough to win. Last week against the Chargers at home and this week on the road in Cleveland they looked sloppy, out of sync on offense, had very little passing game but figured out a way to win. Neither LA nor the Browns are world-beaters but the rest of the Jaguars schedule isn’t full of winning teams either.

With the best defense in the league, they still look like playoff contenders. A little offense would get them plenty of attention as a legitimate post-season team.

“The season is still rolling,” said Quarterback Blake Bortles. “We’re in first place right now, but we have a while to go and our goal is to win the AFC South. We’re in a good position and we control our own destiny, but we need to keep rolling, getting things fixed and finding ways to win.”

Next week they’ll travel to Arizona to take on the Blaine Gabbert-led Cardinals before three straight home games in December against the Colts, Seahawks and Texans. With seven wins, it’s possible the Jaguars could wrap up a playoff spot before their final two road games at San Francisco and Tennessee. They’re hoping their trip to Nashville on New Year’s Even doesn’t mean much.

Hard to believe in just one year, that’s a real possibility.

Unlike Previous Years, Jaguars Find A Way To Win 20-17 In OT

In his career against the Jaguars, Phillip Rivers has Hall of Fame numbers. He’ll get Hall consideration for his entire body of work in the NFL but against the Jaguars he’s been stellar. His almost-perfect quarterback rating only surpasses his 74.4% completion average along with his 15 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Even Doug Marrone said, “You’re talking about a player that has probably played as well against our team as any player that has ever played.”

So to even slow him down a bit in the first half was a victory for the Jaguars. Despite a variety of mistakes, missed tackles, drops and penalties, the Jaguars led 6-0 on the back of a fake punt TD run by Corey Grant. The extra point was blocked, the first of Josh Lambo’s career in Jacksonville.

Regardless of how different the Jaguars defense is as well as their mindset, Rivers is an elite quarterback so it was no surprise when he moved the Chargers on a 7-play, 87 yard TD drive in just under three minutes inside the two-minute warning to give LA a 7-6 lead. Bad tackling by the Jaguars defensive backfield allowed the Chargers to covert a third down and gave up the touchdown. Plus a zone defense call on third and long allowed Rivers to convert around midfield. If you’re going to play zone and not get to the quarterback, you’re going to get beat.

Neither team played great in the first half, willing to play field position trying to overcome average performance and a bunch of penalties. There wasn’t much to like about the game for the Jaguars fans. No offense and average defense. As if the team was getting another wakeup call about consistent play that’s a necessity for winning in the NFL.

Toward the end of the 3rd quarter Bortles really came alive. Starting from their own 16 yard line, Blake was 7 of 11 driving for a TD. Even his incompletions were smart, or a result of pass interference (not called). The noticeable trust he has in his receivers, especially Marqise Lee, Marcedes Lewis and Leonard Fournette is allowing Blake to throw on time and letting guys run themselves open. Both the TD throw and the subsequent two-point conversion were thrown on time, with Lee making great catches on both and Bortles showing great patience.

Riding the momentum, the Jaguars defense stopped the Chargers pretty consistently holding LA to only a FG and a 17-14 lead.

That’s when the weirdness started. From bad decisions by Bortles that produced interceptions to a forced turnover by the Jaguars defense, the last two minutes of the game were full of miscues and surprises. With the ball for the third time at the end of the game, the Jaguars finally kicked a field goal to tie it at 17 and send the game into OT. For as great as he played all game, Blake threw two inexcusable interceptions to cost the Jaguars chances to win the game. But on the final drive he hit a couple of crossing routes and scrambled for a few yards to get out of bounds and give Lambo a chance to tie it.

I say a chance because the regular long-snapper Matt Overton was out of the game with a shoulder injury so Tyler Shatley was in for the FG snap. Tommy Bohannon did the snapping on punts.

The weirdness continued into the overtime period. After getting the ball to open the OT the Jaguars moved to about midfield but had to punt. That gave the Chargers a chance to win the game with a FG but AJ Boyue stole the ball on a long pass down the sidelines. It counts as an interception but he basically took the ball from Travis Benjamin and returned it to the 2-yard line. Phillip Rivers made a touchdown saving tackle, blasting Bouye out of bounds. Back downfield, Aaron Colvin was called for taunting, the second taunting call of the game against the Jaguars. That moved the ball back to the 17-yard line. Three plays later, one putting it on the left hash, Lambo’s kick was blocked but had enough juice on it to get through the uprights and a 20-17 win for the Jaguars.

For fans in the last five years who were convinced this team was finding ways to lose, the Jaguars actually found a way to win this game. It wasn’t a good game, it wasn’t pretty, the Jaguars got some breaks but luckily they don’t ask to draw any pictures. Just numbers when time runs out. And the numbers after this win are 6-3; the first time the Jaguars have been three games over .500 since 2010.

Now they go on the road for back-to-back weeks at Cleveland and at Arizona before coming back to Jacksonville for three consecutive home games starting on December 3rd against the Colts. The schedule favors the Jaguars still, with a playoff spot there for the taking.

Back To Back And At Home, The Jaguars Look Legit

It was a disjointed game from the beginning. Anticipating a return to the field with a home game after the bye week, the Jaguars got a jolt Sunday morning when Doug Marrone announced that Leonard Fournette wouldn’t play against the Bengals for an infraction of a team rule. It’s been reported that Fournette missed the team picture, a workout and a treatment session for his ankle during the bye week but the Jaguars have said they’ll have no further comment on the situation.

That put Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon in the backfield. Ivory started strong but Yeldon fumbled the first time he touched the ball, killing a drive and giving Cincinnati the ball at their 25. But the Jaguars defense forced a punt and the offense went back to work. That drive ended with a field goal but featured the best catch of the year over the middle by Keelan Cole to set up the score.

Without Fournette available, Ivory stepped up and carried the load and most pleasantly for Jaguars fans Blake Bortles had a strong first half. Bortles was 18-27 for 195 yards, a TD and no turnovers in the first half as the Jaguars led 13-7.

“IA lot of things get overlooked with me, which is fine,” Ivory said in the post-game locker room. “I’ve been dealing with this since I first got in the league, so it’s nothing new for me. I’ve been doing these things, it’s just being more noticed when you pick up big chunks of yards on passes. All in all, I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing. There’s a reason why I’ve been in the league for eight years, and I’m looking to get more, so all I’ve got to do is stay focused and continue to grow.”

As the half wore down, Josh Lambo kicked a 56-yard field goal to gain some momentum headed to the locker room. The second to last play of the half had both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Green kicked out of the game after a fight broke out between the two at midfield.

Ramsey had been chirping in Green’s ear all day long and when the Jaguars cornerback tapped him to the ground at the end of the play, Green came up with a headlock and a choke hold from behind, dragging Ramsey to the ground and trying to repeatedly punch him in the head. A melee ensued between both teams with the officials and the coaching staffs trying to get between the players in several groups. Hard to say why Ramsey was DQ’d but the referee confirmed after the game that he and Green as well as both sidelines had been warned earlier to tone it down. It was obvious Ramsey was yacking Green’s ear off all game the fact that he had been warned made his ejection easier. Green’s ejection will probably cost him a suspension and both of them will be lighter in the pocket after this week thanks to the league.

There were unconfirmed reports that Ramsey had to be removed from the visitors’ locker room area at halftime after getting kicked out allegedly looking for Green. If that’s true somebody needs to tell him it’s football and not a street fight.

While Ramsey wasn’t available after the game, Green spoke to the media and explained himself.

“As a player, as a man, and a father, that’s a reflection of me. I should have walked off in that whole situation. I definitely learned from this experience. It’s never going to happen again. I regret my actions. Whatever the punishment, I accept it. I put myself in that situation. I have to handle my stuff better and I can’t put myself in a situation like that to hurt my team and not be able to play.”

Early in the week Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict said “Leonard Fournette can beat us. Blake Bortles can’t.” It looked like the Jaguars were out to prove they were more than a one-man team, hammering the line of scrimmage with Ivory and Yeldon while Bortles was efficiently working the offense for field position and another field goal for a 16-7 lead.

“I thought he was outstanding today,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said of Bortles play. “I thought he was accurate. I thought he did an outstanding job, he really did. He played within his means, in other words. During the week obviously they said that he can’t beat them. Hey listen, don’t get crazy, just go out and play the game. You owe it to all your teammates. Your teammates got to pick it up. We’ve all got to play this game together as a team. I thought he did a good job of that. I was a little bit concerned, just like if someone says something about me. You know what I’m saying? ”

Even without Ramsey in the game, the Jaguars defense was still stout, rushing Andy Dalton relentlessly and shutting down Cincinnati’s run game. They gave up just 118 yards in the 1st half.

Newly signed wide receiver Jayden Mickens showed off speed and moves returning a punt in the third quarter 63-yards for a touchdown and a 23-7 lead.

More of the same in the 4th quarter with Calais Campbell recording his 11th sack of the year, one short of the team record of 12 held by Tony Brackens. As a team, the Jaguars lead the league with 35 sacks this season.

If they wanted to be considered legitimate post-season contenders the Jaguars had to start winning at home and win back to back games at some point. Beating the Bengals coming out of the bye leaves the Jaguars at 5-3 and “winning” the “second quarter” of the season at 3-1. It also sets them up next week against the Chargers, also at home, to take control of their own destiny and compete for the division title. Without Deshaun Watson for the rest of the year in Houston, Andrew Luck out in Indy and Marcus Mariotta nursing a leg injury in Tennessee, the AFC South is there for the taking.

Could the Jaguars actually be part of the conversation to “flex” one of their home games into primetime? The Seattle game on December 10th at home looks like a candidate. It’s one of the four home games remaining and the middle of three straight at the stadium in December.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

McElwain Departure “It’s Never Pretty”

From the beginning it seemed like the right move.

After Day One, it never felt like a really good fit.

After just 2½ seasons as the Florida Gators head football coach, Jim McElwain and the University say they’ve mutually agreed to part ways.

That’s a nice way of saying UF wanted him out of there and he wanted to leave but we’re still negotiating the buyout. Athletic Director Scott Stricklin confirmed Sunday night that they had agreed on the split but haven’t signed the deal.

At his opening press conference, McElwain seemed like the exact right guy for the job in Gainesville. After years of an over intense Ron Zook, the unlikeable Urban Myer and a super intense Will Muschamp, the Gators program was looking for a glib, affable guy to lead the program.

You know, a Spurrier-like guy.

McElwain seemed to be the exact right person: An SEC pedigree, an offensive coach and a winner as the head coach at Colorado State. If they mixed up a formula for what the Gators needed, he seemed to be the solution.

He won his opening press conference.

He won two SEC East titles in his first two years and just a month ago the Gator football team was 3-1, ranked and seemed poised to win the East for the third straight year. Even though there were rumblings among the Florida faithful, you figured he’d get the offense straightened out, Feleipe Franks would come around and they’d compete down the stretch.

But the exact opposite happened.

Two late-kick losses at home started the ball downhill. The offense looked disorganized and without an identity. Georgia came in as a two-touchdown favorite and within six minutes in Jacksonville showed they were winning, and scoring, at will.

That morning the rumors of not just the fans but the UF administration’s unhappiness with McElwain also started to surface.

He didn’t listen to anybody. He rebuffed Steve Spurrier’s offer to help the offense. Twice. He commandeered the soccer field for practice one day without asking anybody. Complained publicly, and privately, about the Gators football facilities and he didn’t attend the all-school head coaches meetings, instead sending surrogates. And he didn’t buy into the UAA philosophy of one-for-all and all-for-one, kind of a loner, an iconoclast. But not in a good way.

One of my colleagues derisively calls him “folksy.”

And the whole, “death threat” thing was weird. Without prompting on Monday of Florida/Georgia week, McElwain talked about the “hate” and vaguely talked about him, his family, coaches and players being under duress and used the words, “death threats.”

When I first heard that I thought, “Oh, that’s a ‘Week of Florida/Georgia Motivational Ploy.” But when McElwain declined to elaborate to his bosses later in the day they issued a terse, non-supportive statement saying their head coach declined “to offer further details.”

At Wednesday’s weekly presser, McElwain again declined to offer further explanation but told us he’d let us know if the situation became “unmanageable.”

Which seemed even weird-er.

It’s clear now that the UF administration was looking for a way out and McElwain’s strange actions all week, compounded by the embarrassing loss to Georgia and his post-game admission that he didn’t know if he’d be coaching in Gainesville past that night confirmed it.

“It’s hard to speculate how this situation might have played out if last Monday hadn’t happened,” Stricklin said Sunday night.

When I talked with McElwain before his second season he was glib, friendly and said all the right things. But he had a somewhat detached air about him. You might have sensed it during his press conferences when he would talk about “us” as in “the Gators” and it seemed a little hollow.

I often joke that the most important words surrounding the Florida football program are “Before Nineteen-Ninety.” That’s because the twelve years of the Spurrier era were exciting and seemed relatively calm on the coaching front. Steve took the blame for losses and deflected the credit for wins. He was a Gator through and through.

But that was not the norm around Gainesville.

In the 40 years I’ve covered college football the intrigue and cutthroat nature of the business hasn’t changed. The hook has gotten quicker for coaches who aren’t winning but there’s nothing pretty about it.

When Charley Pell was elevated from Defensive Coordinator to Head Coach at Clemson, the man he replaced, Red Parker, had terrible things to say about him. Pell left Clemson for Florida, staying with the Tigers just long enough to create enough recruiting violations to put them on two-year NCAA probation. His tenure at Florida was a constant rumor mill of NCAA investigations, slush funds and illegal recruiting tactics. When he was finally forced to resign, 107 NCAA violations were left behind.

Gator fans exhaled when Galen Hall was named Pell’s replacement. He seemed like a calm in the storm, a regular guy. But out of the blue just four years later in 1989 he was forced to resign after an internal investigation turned up cash payments to both assistant coaches and players.

And everybody was like, “Here we go again!”

In the short term the Gators had arm waving, never smiling Gary Darnell who everybody knew wasn’t the answer.

And then Spurrier. In “1990.”

And even his departure was strange in that he was angry with then AD Jeremy Foley for not pursuing the Darnell Docket trying to break Errict Rhett’s leg in a pile during the Florida/FSU game. So he exercised his chance in his two-week window to take the Redskins job in the NFL.

So as strange as this departure was, it falls right in line with a lot of others at Florida and at most big time football universities.

It’s never pretty.

Telvin Smith New Deal: Worth Every Penny

A fifth round pick now in his 4th year with the Jaguars, Linebacker Telvin Smith signed a new 4-year contract Wednesday night worth an estimated $50 million. Better than thought from the beginning, Smith has earned a new deal based on his development and leadership for the Jaguars. After leading the team in missed tackles last year, Smith’s fundamentals have improved according to his position coach and that’s why he’s a better player this year.

Smith signing during the season allows the Jaguars to apply some money to the salary cap this year. They currently are more than $33 million under the cap according to the NFLPA. Telvin is scheduled to make $1.8 million this year and is the second draft pick of the 2014 class to sign a second deal. Brandon Linder signed a new $51 million deal before the season.

“I am excited about the opportunity to continue my career in Jacksonville and stay with the team that believed in me coming into the league in 2014,” said Smith. “I am grateful for my family, my friends, my teammates, my coaches and the incredible Jaguars fans for always supporting me and allowing me to play this game that I love. I also want to thank Shad Khan and the Jaguars organization for believing in me and giving me this amazing opportunity. We have created a bond in that locker room and everyone is committed to our goal of winning football games.”

Smith, 6-3, 215, has appeared in 53 career games with 47 starts since originally being drafted in the fifth round (144th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft. Telvin is a defensive captain in 2017 and was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in Week 5 at Pittsburgh after finishing with a game-high 10 tackles and a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Jaguars’ victory. The award marked Smith’s third time winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, the most by a defender in Jaguars history.

“Telvin has been a productive player and an important part of our defense, and he has earned this second contract,” said Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin. “We want to identify the players who will contribute to help this team win going forward, and reward those who can do that. Telvin is certainly one of those players for us. This is a high performance business, and we look for his continued development as a team leader both on and off the field.”

Smith, who leads the team with 58 tackles, has made double-digit tackles in three of the last four games. For his career, Smith played collegiately at Florida State, grew up in Valdosta, Ga., and attended Lowndes (Ga.) High School where he led the team with a Class 5A Championship during his junior season.

NFL, Khan, Players and Protest

When Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the National Anthem in 2016 he did so to protest what he perceived as racial inequities America. In his only comment about his action, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

At the time of his initial sitting and then kneeling, Barak Obama was President of the United States and the political season was just heating up.

While Kaepernick had his supporters and his detractors, protesting during the Anthem didn’t become part of the national discourse, outside of sports, until President Trump said in front of a partisan rally in Alabama on September 23rd that an NFL owner should said of a kneeling player, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.”

That sparked a firestorm of reaction, both in sports and across the country, some in support of the President, others, including NFL players, strongly disagreeing.

In London the Jaguars players gathered the night before the game to organize a team action, including Owner Shad Khan, VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and Head Coach Doug Marrone in their discussion.

“Whatever we were going to do,” Marrone said after the game at Wembley, “We wanted to do as a team.

Being the first game of the day, a 9:30 AM EDT start in the US, the Jaguars actions and reactions to the President’s remarks set the tone for the rest of the day.

Some players knelt in protest during the National Anthem, others, including Khan and Marrone, locked arms in what they called “solidarity.”

At the moment it was shown in Jacksonville, my phone started buzzing in London with the same general theme from those watching who knew I was at the game, ” . . on foreign soil . . .”

Talking to the players in the locker room after the Jaguars victory over Baltimore, they weren’t any more in favor of Kaepernick’s original statement, but rather were mad at the President. “He shouldn’t be telling us what to do,” said one player who knelt during the Anthem.

“God bless them,” Khan said in his suite at Wembley when asked by Sports Illustrated of what he thought about his players protest. It’s clear the Jaguars owner saw it as a First Amendment issue while some of his fellow NFL owners believe it’s a workplace issue between management and employees. Dallas owner Jerry Jones said last week that Cowboys players who protest during the Anthem won’t play in the game. His team, his rules. The First Amendment protects us against prosecution regarding free speech but joining an organization (i.e. a football team) means abiding by their rules. You can’t be arrested for kneeling during the Anthem but you can be fired.

In retrospect, it was a strategic mistake by the organization, outlined by Jaguars President Mark Lamping in a letter to the City of Jacksonville Director of Military Affairs Bill Spann. Lamping, Khan and Coughlin met with Spann and members of the local military community on October 5th to discuss the implications of the Jaguars kneeling in London, and then standing for “God Save the Queen.”

“We were remiss in not fully comprehending the effect of the national anthem demonstration occurring on foreign soil has had on the men and women who have or continue to serve our country.” Lamping wrote on October 6th. “Similarly, we today can better appreciate how standing for God Save the Queen may have been viewed negatively by our armed forces in Jacksonville and beyond.”

“The notion never entered the minds of our players or anyone affiliated with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but today we can understand how the events in London on September 24 could have been viewed or misinterpreted. We owe you an apology and hope you will accept it.”

Perhaps there is no other NFL town with a stronger military connection than Jacksonville. A city originally designed around it’s military bases, it’s not just the families of those who serve who are part of the community but civilian contractors, veterans and friends are a part of it as well.

While the players said they meant no disrespect to the flag or to our military, it was perceived as unpatriotic to many who are part of the military community. If the players want to be respected for their perception of inequality and form of protest, they must also respect the perception of those who believe their form of protest was a slap at the military and those who have served.

Feeling the effects of part of their fan base that was unhappy, the Jaguars offered refunds to season ticket holders who requested them. The team didn’t offer any specific numbers on how many requests they received but clearly the lowest attendance figure last Sunday since Khan bought the team is an indicator that some fans are still angry.

A confluence of a night game in Gainesville for Florida, a traditional dislike for 4 o’clock games by Jaguars fans and those who stayed home over the anthem protest contributed to that smaller number.

A group of 13 NFL owners, including Khan met with former and current league players this morning in New York to discuss what the next step might be. Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams expressing the league’s desire to “move past” the Anthem controversy.

“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” Goodell wrote. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

After today’s meeting, the NFL and the NFL Players Association issued a joint statement saying they met “to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military. In the best American tradition, we are coming together to find common ground and commit to the hard work required for positive change.”

It’s a step in the process, opening a dialog to allow the league to avoid the Anthem controversy and allow the players a platform to speak their minds.

As a high profile organization in town, the Jaguars are at the forefront of charitable giving when it comes to hurricane relief and the military. They should use this platform to open this dialogue. Former Jaguar Rashean Mathis has had this idea for a while, starting an initiative called “Bridging the Gap” bringing together people from different parts of town to talk. “Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to talk about these things,” Rashean said last week. “But that’s OK. Better to talk than not talk.”

He’s right. That’s the first call the Jaguars should make.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Inconsistent Again, Jaguars Lose To Rams

It’s never good when you win the coin toss and defer to the second half, but the opponent returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown. That’s exactly what happened when the Jaguars kicked off against the Rams for the first time in Jacksonville since the second week of the season. Jason Myer’s kick was fielded 3-yards deep in the end zone by Pharoh Cooper who brought it out to the right and seemed to be bottled up by the Jaguars special teams. But Cooper spun out of a tackle attempt by Jarrod Wilson and ran straight down the sideline for a TD for a 7-0 lead.

It’s always good when you score on your first play from scrimmage and that’s exactly what happened with the Jaguars touched the ball. A simple handoff to Leonard Fournette saw him break through the like and outrun everybody for a 75-yard TD to tie the game at seven. Fournette is only the second rookie in NFL history to score a TD in his first six games. It’s also the first time in history that two touchdowns have been scored inside the first 25 seconds of the game. 7-7 and starting over.

A 16-yard punt by Brad Nortman gave the Rams the ball at the Jaguars 45 and after three plays and eight yards the Rams kicked a 56-yard field goal to make it 10-7.

After taking the kickoff, the Jaguars gained chunks of yardage on the ground and through the air, scoring in just four plays on a 22-yard screen to Chris Ivory, taking a 14-10 lead. Gains of 18, 17 and 22 preceded the TD.

This game was nothing if not fun to watch early.

In another unusual twist, the Rams were pushing the Jaguars defensive line around, gaining big yardage with Todd Gurley running the football. That resulted in a LA TD at the end of the first quarter to regain the lead at 17-14.

Neither team was playing inspired football but the Rams were winning the field position battle. Nortman wasn’t having his best game and LA scored their second special teams touchdown of the game near the end of the second quarter, blocking a punt and stepping into the end zone for a 24-14 lead.

A 52-yard field goal attempt by Myers at the end of the half was hooked wide left to leave the Jaguars with a 10-point deficit at halftime.

A recap of the special teams effort in the first half gave the Rams a 17-point advantage, something very few teams in the NFL overcome.

A bunch of punts in the 3rd quarter didn’t amount to much as the Rams were stacking the box and making sure the Jaguars and Fournette didn’t get the running game going. At some point, Blake Bortles will have to be the center of the offensive improvement if the Jaguars are going to win games and be a legitimate contender for the post-season. He did lead the offense with his legs and a couple of nice throws that led to a field goal that brought them within seven at 24-17.

In the 4th quarter, you could call it crunch time, and the Jaguars aren’t a team in 2017 that has been good in this situation in close games. A decent offensive drive was derailed by a Bortles interception thrown in front of Marcedes Lewis who got a hand on it and tipped it to a waiting defender. Lewis was the wrong guy to throw it to in that situation as Bortles had Marqise Lee streaking down the field and the ball was just too far in front of Lewis to make that kind of crossing-the-field catch.

More Gurley right, Gurley left and Gurley up the middle put the Rams in a position to grind the clock and kick a field goal for a two possession, 10-point lead, 27-17.

There was a scare at the four-minute mark as Fournette tweaked his knee and his right ankle making a cut against a Rams defender. It looked serious but the Jaguars said he could return to the game if necessary. But he didn’t return.

It’s somewhat maddening to watch Bortles in the current Jaguars offense. Sometimes he’s solid, taking what the defense gives him and behind the running game, making enough throws to keep the defense honest and the offense moving. Other times he’s tentative in the pocket and just inaccurate enough to not make the play that are there downfield. If the Jaguars are going to be a contender at some point in the season, Blake is going to have to take a quantum leap forward with his decision-making, his mechanics and his accuracy.

Otherwise, the Jaguars will be the up-and-down team they’ve been for the first six games of the year. Put this one on the special teams without question but Bortles’ reputation and his confidence could have gone a long way with a come from behind win that did he couldn’t make happen.

Jaguars Real Selves? Dominate Steelers 30-9

No matter what side of the line of scrimmage they were on, both the Jaguars and the Steelers were looking in the mirror. Sometimes the Jaguars were looking at a Steelers team they’d like to be like, and other times the Steelers were looking at a Jaguars team that was beating them at their own game.

When the Jaguars joined the NFL, then Head Coach Tom Coughlin pointed to the Steelers and said that’s whom we need to beat to be the best. They did just that in the AFC Central, winning division titles and going through Pittsburgh to do it.

So it was no surprise that both defenses got the job done in the first half.

Twice the Steelers moved the ball into the red zone and both times the Jaguars defense stiffened and held them to field goals. The offense took advantage of a great play by Jalen Ramsey who extended in front of the tight end for an interception. Using Leonard Fournette effectively inside the 15-yard line, the rookie scored for the fifth straight game to take a 7-3 lead.

As the second half unfolded, it was apparent the Steelers wanted to ran an up tempo offense and it was working. Bubble screens, quick slants and the occasional run had Pittsburgh knocking on the door in their opening drive but the Jaguars defense stiffened again and forced a FG, 9-7 Steelers.

Speed and anticipation have been what the Jaguars defense has used to evolve in 2017, plus better players and the development of Jalen Ramsey. A tipped ball at the line of scrimmage by Abry Jones was redirected to Telvin Smith who sure-handedly pulled it in and ran the other way for a TD. Jason Myers missed the PAT and the Jaguars lead 13-9.

Just two plays later, Ramsey made a nice leaping recovery from behind Antonio Brown, tapping the ball loose where Barry Church picked it off. Church has shown to be a consummate pro, calmly gathering the ball in and going the other way for a TD. This time the PAT was good and the Jaguars led 20-9. The Jaguars offense was on the field for three plays in the 3rd quarter.

When they did get on the field in the 4th quarter it was from their own 4 yard line and it was textbook Doug Marrone/Coughlin: Run it until they stop it.

And since the Steelers weren’t stopping the run, Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory were making them pay. Run, run, run and the Jaguars finished the drive with a FG to take a 23-9 lead with just under 7 minutes to play. They did not attempt one pass on the drive. The Jaguars ran the ball 18 straight times from the middle of the third quarter.

Again the Steelers tried some up-tempo on offense but Tashaun Gipson picked off Roethlisberger to give the Jaguars offense the ball near midfield. It was the fourth interception thrown by the Steelers quarterback, something he hasn’t done since 2008. It was the kind of play the Jaguars were looking for when they signed Gipson as a free agent last year.

A 90-yard TD run by Fournette capped the Jaguars scoring. Nice kick-out block by A.J. Cann and Fournette outran everybody. He’s tough, he’s shifty, but he is also plenty fast. 30-9 Jaguars.

Again a dominating defensive performance by the Jaguars, not the result of lucky bounces. Pressure on the quarterback, coverage by the corners and speed from the linebackers eliminated a lot of the things the Steelers wanted to do. The bubble screen was there early but the Jaguars, especially Aaron Colvin, figured it out. Marrone has said the Jaguars are a gap defense and they controlled their gaps, stopping the run.

At 3-2, the Jaguars are on top of the AFC South, the latest they’ve led their division since they were in the AFC Central in 1998. The resurgent LA Rams are in town at the stadium next week for the only 4:05 start of the year.

Jaguars Models Of Inconsistency, Fall To Jets In OT

For the sixth straight game, the Jaguars’ offense scored on their first possession. That’s a franchise record. It’s also the 4th straight game that Leonard Fournette had scored a TD. He’s the first Jaguars player to score in his first four games as a professional. In their opening drive, Blake Bortles was efficient and accurate, converting a long third down along the way and hitting Fournette quickly on a roll out for the touchdown. It’s just what the Jaguars were looking for. A continuation of the way they played in London.

But this was a different week, different game, and a different opponent.

On a weird play on their second possession, the Jets Bilal Powell tripped at the line of scrimmage and fell down. The Jaguars thought he’d been tackled but there was no whistle. So Powell jumped up and ran 75-yards for a touchdown to tie the game at seven.

After a brilliant series of play calls blending the run and the pass, Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett got away from that sequence and started asking Bortles to drop back and throw it downfield. They had some success with that last week but the Jets had those routes covered and the offensive line wasn’t up to the challenge New York was presenting with a pass rush. So from an accurate, efficient quarterback early on, Blake looked like the Blake of old. Rushed, off-target and a bit skittish in the pocket, Bortles production dropped dramatically. A bunch of scrums on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and a fair share of mistakes toward the end of the 2nd quarter made it 10-10 at halftime.

It continued in the second half until another blown “fit” on defense allowed the Jets to break their third long run of the day. This time a 68-yard TD and a 17-10 lead. “This isn’t the ‘same old Jaguars'” is what Bortles has been telling us all year long. But he looked the part when his pass inside the 20 was tipped at the line of scrimmage and returned to the seven. Holding New York to just three points there was big as the Jets kicked a FG to make it 20-10.

It didn’t look like the Jaguars offense had enough firepower to come back from ten points down, but the defense had other ideas. A pass by the Jets was ruled a lateral and Myles Jack picked it up and ran 81-yards the other way for a TD. After review the call stood and the Jaguars were back in the game in the 4th quarter. Jack is the only player on the front 7 on the defense who could have outrun the Jets for a touchdown. 20-17, NY.

One thing the Jaguars didn’t have in the last 5 years is a defense that created opportunities. That’s changed this year with pressure on the quarterback and players who are looking for the ball. Free-agent acquisition A.J. Bouye intercepted a Josh McCown pass when the receiver fell down giving the Jaguars a chance to win the game.

Although Leonard Fournette scored on a screen pass, Aurileus Benn was called for a holding at the seven and the Jaguars did nothing on three downs. They kicked a FG to tie it at 20 and send the game into overtime. The Jets did get the ball and there was good pressure from the defensive line, McCown recovered a strip sack from Dante Fowler.

In overtime, the Jaguars defense did their job, backing the Jets defense up and giving the offense the ball at the 50 yard line where a FG would win it. But Marqise Lee dropped a perfectly thrown ball by Bortles on third down and the Jets got the ball back. Those kinds of drops are the plays that separate a consistent, solid football team with one that’s hanging on looking for a win.

As things usually happen in the NFL, when a mistake like that happens, the other team is good enough to take advantage of it. Except the Jets were held to a three and out and the Jaguars forced a punt.

That’s when another miscue by Marqis Lee let the punt go 70 yards. Add to that a block in the back by Benn, and you have a bad day for both of them. The Jaguars had the ball at the 3 but couldn’t move it. Brad Nortman with a decent kick but in Jaguars form for this game, Paul Posluszny was called for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the play putting the Jets in FG position. Three plays later they kicked the game-winning FG to gain a 23-20 victory.

This game was all over the place for the Jaguars. We still don’t know what kind of team they are. We do know when they run the football, as they did early, it allows Bortles a little breathing room and keeps the opponents defense off balance. But after the first drive, they tried something different. And it didn’t work.

They looked great in their first drive; they looked great on defense in the 4th quarter. But for all the talk of consistency by Doug Marrone and the players this week, they were anything but throughout the rest of the game. Much like the game against the Titans, the plays were there, they just didn’t make them. “Winning” the 1st quarter of the season fell to a 2-2 start with another road game next week at Pittsburgh.

Jaguars Kneel, Lock Arms With Khan In Show Of “Solidarity”

As a famous international singer began the National Anthem at Wembley Stadium, about a dozen players took a knee on the Jaguars sideline, flanked by teammates who were locking arms. On one end, Owner Shad Khan was between players, locking arms in solidarity. All in response to President Trump’s comments over the weekend that an NFL owner, which he was denied becoming at least twice, should fire players who protest during the anthem.

“It was a privilege to stand on the sidelines with the Jacksonville Jaguars today for the playing of the U.S. national anthem at Wembley Stadium,” Khan said in a statement distributed during the game. “I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem.”

It’s not the first time Khan has disagreed with the President, whom he supported during the campaign. Khan was also a loud critic when Mr. Trump signed an executive order limiting immigration to the US from largely Muslim countries.

“Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms – race, faith, our views and our goals,” he continued. “We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder. That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.”

Players on the Jaguars were happy to see Khan on the sidelines showing support.

“It shows the kind of owner he is but also the kind of man he is,” LB Telvin Smith said in the post-game presser. Smith didn’t kneel, saying he didn’t want to do it for the first time on foreign soil but if the game was in the US, he’d have knelt.

“It’s not to disrespect the military,” said CB A.J. Bouye saying he and his teammates were trying to bring light to their perceived inequality of treatment in America.

“I lost my mom to cancer. My dad had a gun pointed at him at 6AM one morning because he looked suspicious. He was dropping me off at school. We’re not talking black and white here, we’re talking right and wrong.

Who they called the “Man of the Match” at Wembley, Marcedes Lewis, was very forthright in his support of teammates trying to bring to light to what he called “inequality.”

“Whenever you have the owner behind you, he actually gets it,” Lewis said after locking arms with Khan on the sideline. “I’m from the east side of Long Beach and I’ve been a part of that for a while It’s getting worse, not better and that’s wrong.”

In the locker room, Malik Jackson said he wants people to know that there is inequality in how social justice is applied in America and that’s why he was a part of the protest.

“Stuff like being pulled over driving a nice car because you’re black,” he explained. “Some people are scared to go out. The stuff happening in Chicago. People need to know about that.”

It wasn’t a spontaneous response by the Jaguars players. The captains got together and let Head Coach Doug Marrone and the Jaguars management and coaching staff what they were going to do.

“The captains got together with us last night,” Marrone explained. We wanted to be sure we support each other as a team. The communication was there and it was good.”

“Anytime our owner can be around to show support for the organization is great,” he added. “I never feel like he’s away, even when he’s not in the building.”

Jaguars Rout Ravens in London

If you’ve watched all three of the Jaguars games you’re confused about what kind of team the Jaguars are in 2017. In London against the Ravens they looked a lot like the team that dominated the Texans in week one.

In a stadium full of NFL, Jaguars and plenty of Ravens fans, the Jaguars dominated the first half unlike anything they’ve done in 10 years. The Ravens had one first down, -4 yards passing and 19 yards rushing as the Jaguars took a 23-0 halftime lead. The Jaguars offense had Leonard Fournette carrying the ball 12 times for 55 yards and Blake Bortles going16 for 24 for 184 yards and two touchdowns. The first half was a total beat down by the Jaguars.

Their speed on defense is impressive. They looked un-intimidated by anything the Ravens threw at them. Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler and Paul Posluszny were all playing sideline-to-sideline, chasing down running backs and receivers without too much difficulty early in the game. Pressure on Ravens QB Joe Flacco forced some quick throws and some incompletions and one interception on a tipped ball by CB A.J. Bouye.

If you had asked VP of Football operations Tom Coughlin after the draft and free agency this year what kind of football team he envisioned, the one that played against the Ravens at Wembley would be it. Dominating on both lines of scrimmage, run the football with a power back like Fournette, have the quarterback be accurate and patient and the defense pressure the opposition and create turnovers.

Simple formula but hard to execute. Coughlin and Head Coach Doug Marrone preach toughness and there’s no question the Jaguars have that. Add talent and speed to the equation and a lot of “want to” by guys like Telvin Smith, Calais Campbell and Paul Posluszny, and you get a dominating performance like they had against the Ravens.

It continued in the second half as the offense scored two TD’s, both on throws to Marcedes Lewis giving him three for the game. The first was set up by a Jalen Ramsey interception where he undercut the route and made a diving catch. As Doug Marrone said earlier in the week, “He’s a good football player.” The second was after a Ravens fumble, picked up by Telvin Smith and returned to the 2-yard line.

You can take into account that it was the Ravens first time playing a game in London and it takes some getting used to. But the Jaguars looked faster, bigger, stronger, tougher and more determined than Baltimore from the start. Joe Flacco was ineffective, so much so that Ryan Mallet played the fourth quarter.

Up 37-0, Doug Marrone called for a fake punt, and it worked. Corey Grant sped down the right sideline inside the 10. That’s where Leonard Fournette scored off left tackle, his third TD in his first three NFL games. Not sure why Marrone would call for a fake there but there’s no mercy in the NFL. Points scored is one of the tiebreakers for the playoffs if you want to start talking about that. Still, that’ll open up some eyes around the league, and make a lot of Jaguars fans happy.

Which I’m sure they are now.

The Jaguars are 2-1 and headed to New York next week to play the Jets. It might be the first time the Jaguars are favored in a while.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Jaguars To Use “Home” Field Advantage vs. Ravens

It’ll be the question that Jaguars fans will ask up until kickoff of the game at Wembley Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens: Which team will show up? The one that thrashed the Texans or the one that was bullied by the Titans at home?

Ask the players and they think they’re closer to the team that played the first week in Houston.

“I think so,” said Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson. “Being with this team, we’re that first team, and the team that played in the first half last week. That’s just what we have to work on, make sure we’re consistent.”

When comparing the two games, the Jaguars said it was pretty obvious what the difference was: When the plays were there against Houston, they made them. When they were there against the Titans, they didn’t.

“It was the case,” said linebacker Telvin Smith. “That’s the part we have to get right. Part of executing those plays, don’t let the game get away from us in the first 15 minutes or in the third period.”

Digging deeper into what happens when they don’t execute, Smith explained that one play in one drive can change the game.

“I don’t think people realize that one play on a drive can effect so many things down the line. The play calls, everything.”

“That’s pretty much football,” Jackson added. “I gotta do better on double-teams and pressure on the quarterback.” Breaking the game down on the field, the Ravens are considered the favorite based on 10 takeaways in their two season-opening wins. But it is their first trip to London, and the Jaguars familiarity with the trip and the routine should give them some edge.

“It’s my fourth year,” Smith explained. “It’s the routine, going to the same spot, seeing the same scenery, going to the same hotel those are things that help you prepare and get more locked in.”

Even the fans who show up at practice and at the team hotel give the trip a familiar feeling. Telvin said he looks forward to seeing some of the same faces in the crowd.

“The fans are more familiar. I’ve signed for some of the same fans I’ve seen for four years. I’m familiar with the area, the hotel it all helps.”

“People get excited when we come over here,” Jackson agreed. “It’s something special. Everything’s fun when you win.”

Against the Ravens the Jaguars will have to play well. There’s no backing into a win over Baltimore. And Smith, a vocal team leader, quickly put any thoughts that there’s some grumbling from one side of the ball or the other to rest.

“We all need each other,” he said. “Either side has to step up. You have to realize that you rely on the offense and the special teams as much as you do yourself. Everybody’s trying to get to a win and get to winning. It’s not hard to do with this group of guys, I’ll say that.”

Jaguars Say London Trip Is Pretty Routine

Over the five years the Jaguars have hosted a home game in London they’ve tried several ways get themselves ready to play the game. Five years ago they left on Sunday night right after playing the Bengals in Cincinnati. The next year they left on the Monday and practiced in London for the week. But since they lost, badly, both of those years against the Cowboys and 49ers, they tried a quick turnaround, practicing at home, leaving Thursday afternoon for a Sunday game last year. And when they beat Buffalo using that plan, they followed the schedule to the minute the following year and beat Indianapolis. They have the same schedule this year facing the Ravens at Wembley on Sunday. It could be called superstitious but more accurately it creates a routine the players can count on.

“I think so,” Quarterback Blake Bortles said after an early afternoon practice at Allianz Field for the third straight year. “A big group of guys have been on this trip a couple of years. It helps to have a routine; it helps with sleep and having some experience here. We try to stay up as long as possible today and usually everybody feels good by Saturday.”

Traveling on the world’s longest commercial airliner, the Virgin America jet has enough first class seats for most of the players to have a lie-flat bed and get some sleep crossing the Atlantic. On domestic away games, the coaches sit up front. The team arrived early Friday morning, checked into their hotel and went immediately to practice, with Head Coach Doug Marrone saying every player reacts to the trip differently.

“For each player that’s done it before it works for them,” he noted. “They know what to do. I don’t think there’s one clear way to do it. You’re here on a business trip, not sightseeing not on vacation.”

It was obvious after practice today that the players were anxious to get back on the field. They’ve had success the last two years at Wembley and last week’s loss to the Titans at home stung the players after having success in week one against the Texans.

“We kinda break the season down into quarters and right now we’re 1-1,” Bortles explained. “We want to win every quarter so we have a chance to get back on track this week.”

It would seem silly to call the game in week three of the regular season as a “must win” game. But without a bye following the trip to London and back-to-back road games at the Jets and the Steelers, a win this week on their “home” turf at Wembley Stadium would go a long way in helping the team be competitive in the division.

“I want that mentality every week,” Marrone added. “Treat everything as a must win.”

Jaguars 2017 Look Like Jaguars 2016 vs. Titans

After a week where they didn’t commit a single turnover, the Jaguars gave up two in the first half and one at the start of the third quarter against Tennessee in the home opener on Sunday. After playing only his second game as a professional without turning the ball over last week, Blake Bortles was sacked and fumbled the ball and a pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and picked off. Bortles threw it behind Marqis Lee to start the second half and the batted ball was easily grabbed by Tennessee. The first two could be considered not his fault, but turnovers are turnovers. And the third was just a bad throw.

When you turn it over on three consecutive possessions in the NFL, bad things start to happen. Your defense is on the field too much. The opponent starts to run through their playbook because they are staying on the field. And eventually, they score, which is what Tennessee did after a long punt return, Derek Henry running through some Jaguars and around others inside the 20 to give the Titans a 16-3 lead.

After another series where the offense didn’t get the job done, the Titans scored again taking advantage of a long throw from Marcus Mariota to Taywan Taylor to make it 23-3. And to add insult to injury, Jalen Ramsey hit Delaney Walker out of bounds after the TD for a 15-yard penalty. And it’s not just the penalty; it’s that kind of undisciplined play that has earned the Jaguars a reputation as a sloppy team.

It would be easy to dump it all on Bortles after he appeared to revert to the Blake of 2016. Perhaps that’s the case, but the Jaguars wide receivers didn’t get much separation against the Titans DB’s and had a couple of drops as well. The offensive line did a decent job and was at least serviceable, but falling behind and relying on the passing game to keep you in it is not how the Jaguars are built nor is it how they want to play.

With ten carries for 33 yards in the first half, Leonard Fournette wasn’t a factor once the Titans took the lead. And without the fear of the running game, Tennessee was able to sit back and manage the game on defense.

It was pretty clear the Jaguars defense was out of gas, giving up a screen pass touchdown mid-third quarter to make it 30-3, Don’t you know Mike Mularkey had a sly smile on his face when all this was happening.

A couple of other touchdowns were scored, but they just padded the stats of both Titans and Jaguars players. Fantasy owners were happier, but the rest of the game was played in front of a virtually empty stadium, and rightfully so. Kind of a shame after the week we had that the Jaguars would put up this kind of performance in the only game in Jacksonville before October 15. They’ll play in London next week, then at the Jets and Pittsburgh before coming home.

And perhaps regrettably, outside of the opening couple of drives on offense and defense, they looked like the same team as last year.

Fournette Works In Relief Effort

As one of the shelters that’s expected to stay open the longest, the Bob Hayes Sports Complex and Legends Center needs plenty of food and supplies.

Tonight’s delivery of water, clothing, shoes and food was a cooperative effort of the Florida Air National Guard from Jacksonville and Tampa, the Harris County Houston Sports Authority and Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars.

Fournette’s experience of his trials living through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans inspired him to show up Tuesday night to hand out supplies, take some pictures, sign autographs and offer hope. He has said that staying on a bridge for five days made him tougher. It’s the message he had for those in the shelter tonight.

“Any situation you go through defines your character,” he said while handing out water and supplies. “It’s going to make a lot of people stronger at the end of the day.”

Getting back from Houston on Tuesday morning, the Jaguars had the rest of the day off before preparing for Tennessee this Sunday at home. But Fournette was anxious to help.

“It’s not hard at all. I jumped out of my bed, it’s our off day, so why not?” he explained. ” I wish somebody would have done this for us when I was a kid.”

And if you think his appearance was just for show, Fournette had the interest, and the empathy for those at the shelter that can only come from somebody who’s been there. It was real.

“I wanted to give back. Something that comes naturally for me, I wanted to give back to the community, a lot of people are going through hard times right now.”

And if you listen to Fournette talk about the platform he has as an NFL player, you realize this won’t be the last time he steps up and tries to have an impact.

“I want to be a difference maker in the world,” he said. “With everything that’s going on with this generation it’s a crazy time but I want to be a difference maker.”

Fournette called Sunday and emotional time for Houston and their fans but was also emotional for the Jaguars leaving before Hurricane Irma hit. He lauded his teammates for practicing hard and staying focused and called the victory over the Texans a “great team win.”

If the goal was to quiet NRG Stadium last Sunday after the initial burst of emotion Fournette said the goal this week at home, “is to be loud and stay loud.”

Doing a lot of the heavy lifting delivering supplies, airmen formed a sort of “conga line” from the truck to inside the shelter.

“We all got activated, so when you get to do the state mission, you’re pretty excited,” said Lt. Col. Scott McGuire from the Florida Air National Guard.

“I haven’t been called to do anything since 2004 so it’s pretty amazing to get a chance to do something like this. With people coming into the shelters and going through this kind of devastation it’s great to be able to help.” Leading a team of co-workers and coming in last Monday Holly Kesterson of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority said they wanted to help right away.

“We obviously just went through Harvey. We were fortunate to get so many supplies, food, clothing from so many places. Florida was one of those. They reached out to us right away We were able to come and help out so we’re glad to be here to help.

Working along the JSO officers and the Air National Guardsmen Kesterson said it good to see so many groups working together.

“They’re the best, they’re the elite,” she explained. “Since this is the last long term shelter, they’re getting the job done right now.”

And as far as her hometown of Houston? Kesterson was upbeat.

“It’s a long path getting everybody on their feet but we’re rallying and we’re coming back.”

Jaguars, Khan Help In Relief Effort

With the team arriving back from Houston on Tuesday morning, the Jaguars administration had to get immediately to work on what was going on in Jacksonville. Water had come into the south end zone of the stadium but once the St. Johns started to subside, it was pumped out immediately. After assessing the situation, the decision was made that it was safe for fans, workers and players and the game against the Tennessee Titans would go on as scheduled at 1 pm.

Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan will make a $1 million donation to Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund.

“Jacksonville gets labeled as ‘small market,” Khan said. “But it has a heart bigger than any community I’ve been associated with in my life. Jacksonville will recover and come back stronger than ever, but who couldn’t use a little help from our friends? ”

As part of the relief effort, Khan and the Jaguars are encouraging fans to work with the Florida First Coast Relief Fund and use the hash tag #JaxAsOne on social media posts.

“I’m hoping that our sponsors, partners and fans will think of Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund this week and give what they can,” Khan added. “Then, we gather Sunday at EverBank Field to show the world we’re back in a big way, as a team and as a community. This is Jax As One.”

In another effort to help the community and admittedly to help deliver a home-field advantage on Sunday, Khan and the Jaguars will donate 5,000 tickets to the community.

“In the midst of our worst of times, our first responders demonstrate their best. I am grateful to the Jaguars for recognizing the tremendous sacrifice and commitment of the teams from the Jacksonville Fire & Rescue Department, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, City of Jacksonville and independent agencies,” said Mayor Lenny Curry.

“These men and women have worked around the clock before, during, and after the storm to save lives in our city. Jacksonville is a resilient city full of resilient people. I am incredibly proud of us all.”

The Jaguars will automatically distribute a portion of the allotment to organizations representing first responders, volunteers and organizations like the Jacksonville Fire & Rescue, Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office, JEA, Beaches Electric, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way, Florida National Guard and similar organizations. The remaining allotment will be distributed to residents who have been impacted and perhaps experiencing hardships in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

“We wanted to do something that was symbolic but also substantial,” said Jaguars President Mark Lamping. “The million dollars will go a long way, staying in the 5 county area to those in need. But we also wanted to do something symbolic (tickets) and use Sunday as the rebirth of this great city.”

First Coast residents can apply for the donated tickets via the Jaguars’ Hurricane Irma Relief Ticket Offer and recipients will be randomly selected. The process for registration and distribution for the tickets to Sunday’s game will be available at Tickets to Sunday’s game also remain on sale to the public for those wishing to guarantee seats.

Jaguars Workout In Houston, Thinking Of Home

There’s a lot going on with the weird confluence of September 11th, the Jaguars win and Hurricane Irma’s impact.

From Houston, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone referenced all three in a conference call on Monday afternoon. Marrone wished everybody in Jacksonville to be safe as floodwaters rise and fall and said the team’s first priority was the safety of the players and their families. That’s one of the reasons the Jaguars will stay in Houston at least one more night.

“It’s very difficult,” Marrone said when asked about keeping track of what’s going on in Jacksonville. “You’re looking at the news and we’re on our computers and trying to check on families. All of our resources are put right now is for the safety of people back in Jacksonville.”

Although Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien offered his practice facility to the Jaguars, Marrone said since Houston has a Thursday night game this week, he thought it was best to make their own plans. That’s why the Jaguars did some conditioning and stretching at the Tellepsen Family YMCA in Houston.

In some convoluted way, the Jaguars staying in Houston after beating the Texans might promote some team building. Instead of flying back home and going their separate ways, the squad took buses back to the hotel for the night.

“I’m always looking for that,” Marrone explained. “I’ve seen some of that building up to the game. You don’t know until you start playing. They communicated with each other and with the coaches very well during the game. Being here together will help with team building.”

Jaguars Notes From Houston

Staying in Houston another night, Doug Marrone said he was keeping tabs on what’s going on in Jacksonville. He also noted that September 11th was a particularly personal remembrance for him. One of his teammates was in one of the towers and a close friend was a firefighter in New York, killed during the rescue.

On Allen Robinson, Marrone said,

“We all understand next man up but what I think about is how hard ARob has worked and what kind of year he wanted to have. He was set up for a great year but to sustain an injury is really a blow.” Surgery hasn’t been set for Robinson’s torn ACL.

On the offensive line:

“I was happy with the physicality and how they played. The level of expectation will be higher going forward.”

On Arrelious Benn:

“He’s done an excellent job on special teams. He’s somebody who we can put in the game and play. He’s a smart player. He can play multiple positions, slot, outside.” Benn will get more playing time at wide receiver now that Robinson is out for the year.

On Jason Myer’s missed kicks:

“I thought Matt Overton (the long snapper) had his best game. (Marrone played that position) “He did an excellent job. It’s always concerning when somebody doesn’t do what they’ve done what they’ve done in practice.” No word or whether they’ll look at kickers again this week.

Paul Posluszny played only 8 snaps on defense in the game but Marrone said it was because of what the Texans brought to the line of scrimmage on offense.

“Poz played 8 snaps but he’s giving quality plays on special teams. They went to 11 personnel so we had to match that. His role will be week-to-week depending on how other teams play us.”

And despite his production in his first NFL game, Marrone wasn’t ready to anoint Leonard Fournette as the starter or up his workload.

“I think you’re always concerned when you haven’t been around a player in the NFL and obviously that’s a concern for all the rookies that play. You really don’t know the anxiety of the game or what’s going to get to them or how they’re going to react. There’s just so many factors that go into it. Obviously you feel more comfortable as you see them play, so for me going forward, I just think it’s a matter of the production. As long as he has production there, as any player on our team, you continue to play and if you can keep that production level up, you can play more and more and I see that out of Leonard. But obviously, if someone is having results like that, you’d like to build upon that, but we know we have a 15-game season. We feel like we have two guys with Leonard and Chris [Ivory], they’ve given us a good solid, powerful backfield.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Jaguars Don’t Just Win, They Dominate Texans

All through the preseason veteran Jaguars defensive players said they were going to be all right. Between resting veterans and nagging injuries, the expected starting eleven on defense didn’t have one play together. Signing Calais Campbell and A.J. Boyue in the off-season, plus with the development of Myles Jack, Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue, the expectations were that the Jaguars defense would control the tempo of the game and field position.

And create turnovers.

All of that was true in the first half and more against Houston. Coverage down field helped the pass rush. Campbell had 2.5 sacks, Ngakoue stripped the ball from Tom Savage and Abry Jones recovered. It was exactly what the Jaguars were looking for out of their defense. The Texans had 25 total yards on offense midway through the second quarter. Two Jason Myers FG’s made it 6-0 Jaguars.

Meanwhile, the offense looked exactly like what was drawn up when they drafted Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars first round pick had 17 carries for 56 yards in the first half and scored a TD on a 1-yard fourth down run. Questionable play calling limited the Jaguars offensive production, especially giving it to the fullback on third down at the goal line. Too cute, give it to 27. Tom Coughlin’s first words to Fournette when they drafted him were “We’re brining you here to score touchdowns so get ready.” And he did just that.

After much consternation about the quarterback, Blake Bortles was serviceable, going 7 of 13 for 91 yards. A couple of good throws, a couple off the mark but no turnovers. The Jaguars out-produced the Texans in yards, 178-46.

Again late in the first half, Ngakoue was dominating whichever offensive lineman was put in front of him. Another strip of the ball from Savage created a turnover that Fowler picked up and ran for a TD giving the Jaguars a 19-0 halftime lead.

To no one’s surprise, Houston replaced Savage at QB in the second half with their first round pick Deshaun Watson. He provided a spark for the Texans, driving them down the field and throwing a 4-yard TD pass to Andre Hopkins to make it 19-7. The drive was helped by two questionable defensive penalties. Ngakoue was called for roughing the passer on third down near midfield when he barely touched Watson. Fowler was called for hands to the face when his left hand was under the blockers chin during a pass rush. Ngakoue’s was bogus. Fowler’s was the right call but just at the wrong time.

In a turnaround, the Jaguars answered right back, driving the length of the field thanks to solid running by Chris Ivory and Fournette and a nice throw and catch by Bortles and Allen Hurns. The TD pass to Tommy Bohanon was part of the Fournette Factor as Bortles faked it to 27 over the left side and rolled to his right. Every defender went after Fournette and Bohanon was wide open for the TD. 26-7 Jaguars in the third quarter.

Although Watson had the elusiveness to get out of the pocket on a couple of occasions, the Jaguars were bringing the heat on the rookie forcing a couple of short throws. Fowler and Ngakoue were both still dominating, this time Fowler kicking the ball out of Watson’s hand with Ngakoue recovering. Whether it’s a timing thing or a confidence thing, Jason Myers is quickly playing himself out of a job as the Jaguars kicker. A missed PAT early in the game was followed by a 39-yard missed field goal in the 4th quarter that would have given the Jaguars a 22-point lead. Bad time for a really bad miss when it comes to changing the momentum. Even head coach Doug Marrone said it could be a timing thing since the injury to long snapper Carson Tinker but whatever it is, it needs to be fixed.

With a few carries forcing the Texans to use their timeouts, Fournette got 100 yards on 26 carries. Bortles didn’t turn the ball over and the defense set the record for sacks, getting 10 against the Texans, four from Campbell.

A late interception by Tashaun Gipson gave the Jaguars a chance at a FG. Myers converted this one making the final score, 29-7.

It’s the first time the Jaguars have started the season with a road win since 2000. They haven’t won an opener since 2011 against Tennessee, which also happens to be the last time they were over .500. It’s also their first win in Houston since 2014.

The takeaway?

Money spent on defense with the addition of Boyue and Campbell seems to be money well spent. The veteran players doing what they’re supposed to do enhanced the development of the players they’ve been counting on. Getting 10 sacks, a franchise record, had to do with pressure and coverage, just how it’s supposed to work.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was how well the offensive line played. Maybe the Texans are terrible but no matter, winning the battle up front is where it all starts on offense. And the Fournette Factor made everybody better on that side of the ball, including Blake Bortles. It all worked just as they drew it up. This is the kind of team the Jaguars want to be under Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone. They have the personnel to be just that.

But for now, they’re 1-0. And that’s good.

Jaguars Decisions: Not Just “The 53”

On one hand, it’s simple math this time of year in the NFL. The league changed to just one cut for 2017 instead of the traditional two so there are a lot of decisions and a lot of numbers to deal with this weekend. Instead of stepping down from 90 to 75 and eventually 53 players, this year the league is having teams make one cut. Each of the 32 teams will go from 90 to 53 players starting Saturday. That means each team eliminates 37 players who have been in camp, some longer than that and some whose football career will come to an end. On average, 40% of each NFL roster turns over year to year.

“I never felt like it was my place to tell someone not to pursue their dreams, and that’s what it is for a lot of people,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said this week about making cuts in the NFL. ” You try to give them different things, there’s the Canadian League, Arena [Football League], things of that nature. I think that as long as you are honest and up front, I think the players appreciate it.”

While that might be the case, this year the sheer number of available players is staggering. Thirty-two teams cutting 37 players means there will be 1,184 professional football players who won’t have a job as of Saturday. With that number of players being released, teams like the Jaguars will be scouring other teams cuts looking to upgrade the roster. So perhaps the 37 players who didn’t play for the Jaguars against the Falcons in the final preseason game have a spot on the opening day roster. The next 16 players are hoping to hang on. Even if they’re part of the “final 53” this weekend, there’s no guarantee they’ll be around on opening day.

If it sounds fraught with sleepless nights and wondering by the players, Marrone says it’s the same for coaches.

“You spend all this time with players and you’re working with them and you’re trying to get them better and coach them and get them in a position where they can earn a spot or make a team,” he explained. “Within a matter of a two-minute conversation it’s over and that player walks out and you might not see him again. There’s a relationship that is built during this time. It is a difficult time.”

If you’ve ever been cut, you know it’s not fun and it’s not a conversation you can look forward to or predict. Former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell laughs when he says, “I’ve been benched, traded and cut. I’ll be OK.” But admits each time it happened, it was a new kind of disappointment and challenge.

Marrone agrees.

“I think it’s by far the toughest part of the business,” he said. “I think it’s one that everyone understands happens. There’s not a guy that doesn’t understand what happens. I struggle with all of that. I struggle with that; I struggle with that being on TV (as in on “Hard Knocks”). I think that’s a very, very personal moment.”

At this point it appears the Jaguars have some position where the numbers don’t add up and some players who are cut in Jacksonville will end up on other rosters. Wide receiver in particular is a position where the Jaguars will have to decide how important performance on special teams counts when making this roster. Rashad Greene and Shane Wynn look to be serviceable NFL players but might not have a spot in Jacksonville. And if they do, it could mean Allen Hurns does not.

There are three tight ends for one spot and one of them, free agent signee Mychal Rivera hasn’t been healthy in the preseason. Neal Sterling? Ben Koyak?

Will the Jaguars keep a fullback and if so, will it be one of the two that are currently on the roster? And what about T.J. Yeldon? As a blocker, he’s the best among the backs but is that enough?

There are a slew of defensive backs for only six spots, so somewhere they had to show some very special, special teams ability to be on “the 53.”

It’ll be a busy weekend for every NFL team, but especially for a team like the Jaguars, looking for depth and perhaps somebody who might fight for a starting spot. Executive VP of Football Tom Coughlin and GM Dave Caldwell will be busy that’s for sure. What decisions they make could shape the team not just for this year, but for the foreseeable future.

Quarterback Decision Can Wait

If the Jaguars are beaten during Doug Marrone’s tenure was the Head Coach, it won’t be for lack of preparation. Marrone has proved to be a planner and thinker, methodical and unhurried when it comes to making decisions. That’s the path he’s taken this week as he goes about selecting a starting quarterback. While he hasn’t decided as of Tuesday, he does have a plan.

“I do. I do,” he said after practice. “I’m just trying to find the best time. I’m just going to go back, watch today’s film, think about it, make sure it’s the right plan for our team and then I’ll come to a point where I’ll talk to them about it.”

Both quarterbacks know they probably won’t know what the plan is for this week until Wednesday night. They’ll both play with the first team and their performance against the Panthers will go a long way to helping Marrone make a decision.

“I’m really looking to see the game,” Doug explained. “I think no one really hurt themselves as far as the practice goes, which I pretty much expected. Now it’s a matter of what happens in this game and afterwards. Like I said before, a lot of times I don’t like to make quick decisions.”

And he has that kind of luxury two games into the preseason. He knows there are a lot of factors that will determine who the starting quarterback will be. Certainly the stats and offensive production will play a big role. But he’s emphasized that he’s looking for the right player to “lead this offense” which has a lot of implications. One is not who might handle it best, going to the bench.

“I kind of look at it the other way. I try to look at it to see which guy is going to go out there and take it. I’m just trying to figure out who is going to be that guy in that position that can lead our team. Who best gives us an opportunity to win?”

After such a poor showing against Tampa Bay, much was made of how difficult camp has been and how the Jaguars looked like a tired, slow team. It’s not a concern for this coaching staff, thinking that getting the players used to a hard grind is a great prep for the regular season.

“My philosophy has always been when camp starts, ‘Hey, listen, there’s really not a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. You just kind of wake up and go,” Marrone said from the experience of a player, assistant and head coach.

“The second preseason game, in my mind, which I told the players, is when you push them like that; it’s really how you’re going to feel at some point during the season,” he added. ‘You’re going to feel tired. You’re going to feel the sweat. ‘Hey, how do you, as a team, get together and be able to push yourself and go? I also think that.”

If you’re a believer in “old-school mentality” when it comes to football, Marrone is the embodiment of that. He relates to the players I a modern way but no question he believes that putting in the work, disciplined and purposeful, is what eventually pays off.

“If you start off hard, then you can manage it, whether you have to go harder or you can back off, whatever the words. I don’t ever like to use the words ‘back off.’ For me, it’s just, this is what was planned and what we’re doing.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Jaguars Step Backwards vs. Bucs

When you’re searching for good things to talk about and the only things that come to mind are the punter and a free-agent wide receiver/punt returner who also dropped a sure TD pass, it’s not good. In a game where the Jaguars needed to take a big step forward, they did just the opposite. Instead of building on what they were able to do last week in New England, their inconsistency was on full display against the Bucs.

Looking for more leadership and production from Blake Bortles, they didn’t get it from their starting quarterback. Bortles was 8-of-13 passing for 65 yards with no TDs or INTs. A 74.2 QB rating. But none of it was meaningful. A couple of bad throws, staring down receivers from the snap and bad decisions were more of the same on a muggy night at the stadium. But it wasn’t all Bortles.

After all of the talk of how the defense was going to carry the Jaguars this year the Bucs did whatever they pleased against the hometown’s first teamers. Jameis Winston showed off his arm strength and accuracy as well as his decision-making and coordination with his receivers throughout the first half. The Bucs scored 12 points and it easily could have been more. No pass rush and no run stuffing is a bad combination for a defense that has tried to make that a priority.

Granted A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey didn’t play. Calais Campbell only played the first series. But it didn’t look like the quick, coordinated kind of defense that gets things done. Moving Paul Posluszny back to middle linebacker is the right move as he was making tackles from his natural spot. Problem was he had to do that 5 yards down the field.

Earlier in the week, Head Coach Doug Marrone said he was surprised with how many roster spots remained open at this point in training camp. Wide Receiver Keelan Cole stepped in as a punt returner and brought one back 31- yards, the lone highlight of the first half. But of course on the first play of the drive, Chad Henne hit him right in the hands on a simple slant in the end zone, and he dropped it. Henne did the same with Allen Robinson on 3rd down, and he dropped it. So a 12-0 halftime score was about right for the preseason.


Coaches always say you play like you practice and the Jaguars didn’t have a very good week of practice. You could say all of these hard workouts in a row, in pads, against other teams took their toll. No question the Jaguars looked like a slow, plodding team. Tampa Bay looked like they were playing at a different speed.

So if I’m Doug Marrone, and Tom Coughlin for that matter, I don’t make much of it. If it was the second week of the regular season, I’d have a lot to say. But the second week of the preseason doesn’t mean much. When they look at the video of this game, there will be a lot of “teachable moments.” And to paraphrase Marrone, you couldn’t make this team tonight, but you could get cut from it.

Jaguars Need A Big Step Forward vs. Bucs

Again this week Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone isn’t telling anybody how long different players will see action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Marrone says he isn’t “a secretive guy” but rather wants the players to be ready to play instead of ready to come out.

After giving quarterback Blake Bortles a rest on Sunday, Marrone thought his quarterback performed better in the two practices against the Bucs. Blake says the whole offense is still learning, but it needs to be quicker.

“Not everybody is young anymore,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. ” That’s not a crutch to use anymore, so I think guys are definitely more football-smart and able to pick up the scheme and system a little quicker. I think when you take a step back and look at it, it still is our first camp in the system with Coach Hackett and I think guys have done a good job. Definitely still a lot to improve on.”

Are they getting better? It appears they have more talent and they are more “football smart” but while the good isn’t great, the bad is really bad.

“Yeah, I think so,” Blake explained regarding the peaks and valleys so far in camp. “Because I think we’ve shown day in and day out how good we can be and then we’ve shown day in and day out how stupid some of the stuff we do is.”

Which is almost exactly how Marrone described watching his offense operate. Sometimes pretty good, sometimes pretty bad.

“I’m always trying to get more, so for me I’m one of those guys that it’s hard for me to say,” Doug said about his reticence to say they’re improving on offense. “There are some throws that I’ll think, ‘Hey, that’s a good throw,’ and then I’ll be like, ‘That’s a horse s^@$ throw.’ “I thought he came back and really had no issues for these two days. I think he’s gotten good work, and I think that him along with the rest of the guys on offense, I want those guys to get better.”

Last week against the Patriots you could see the Jaguars getting better and more competitive everyday. This week didn’t have that marked improvement and Bortles noticed.

“There hasn’t been a whole lot of negative or positive,” he said. “I think we need to be more crisp in the situational stuff. We can make the plays. We can do all the stuff we need to do, you’ve just got to do it every time it’s called.”

So it’s back to the consistency and the focus Marrone has talked about since day one. Don’t just do it the first or the last time, do it every time. And Doug thinks it’s his job to make sure they stay focused on that goal.

“My job is to coach them and get them better. They screw up; they are going to hear it. If it’s a good play, there’s a chance they’ll hear it. I’m going to continue to push them through every single play.”

Jaguars Better 1st Impression vs. Patriots

All you get in the first preseason game is first impressions. Sometimes they’re false and other times they start a trend. For the Jaguars, you hope the first impressions against the New England Patriots are some indication of how the season might go. They scored points. They made some stops. Blake Bortles continued to improve and new guys stepped up.

“They’re a 10-6 team waiting on quarterback play,” one scout said in the offseason of the Jaguars. That means they have some talent on the roster that can be enhanced or negated by the play of Bortles. Blake was 3 of 5 for 16 yards with a drop in his one quarter of play against the Patriots. He didn’t look spectacular but he did find the open guy, even checking down to the third receiver. What they’re looking for is improvement and the Jaguars are getting that two weeks into the 2017 preseason from their quarterback.

“I had him going in there for the first quarter with the players,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said. “We had a bunch of good work all week against the Patriots. He took the majority of the snaps [during the week of practice]. It was the plan coming in and we just stuck with the plan.”

If there’s a theme to a Doug Marrone-run training camp it’s consistency. He felt like that showed against the Patriots.

“The first thing we were looking for is the discipline,” he explained. “In the first half, we only had one penalty as a team. Special teams, take a look over it, then obviously trying to create a run game and be physical. I think when you get that big return, those are the things that will kind of get you, so I will talk about to them offensively about in there.”

After getting in the game behind Chris Ivory, and T.J. Yeldon, Leonard Fournette was impressive on every snap. When they drafted him Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations told him “get ready to get the ball in the end zone son.” And added to the media, “It sets a tone. We know we’re going to run it. They know we’re going to run it.” And run it they did. Fournette carried it four straight times in one sequence, showing, power, speed, vision and that “wiggle” that successful NFL backs have.

In the “they know we’re going to run it” part, Fournette, on fourth and 1, broke through for a first down. Late in the second quarter he was back in the game and near the goal line had three straight carries, scoring his first preseason TD. Hard to be “better than advertised” when you’re the 4th pick in the draft but Fournette, so far, is everything you could hope for from a featured back.

“Good. I thought he looked good,” Marrone added when asked about Fournette. I” think he has to run a little bit with his pads lower at times. Obviously, you can see the power that he has.”

A long TD pass from Chad Henne to rookie WR Keelan Cole, 97 yards, was a surprise only if you hadn’t been to practice. Cole is a rookie from Kentucky Wesleyan who has speed and has been getting deep for the first two weeks of training camp. He’s making a case to make the team as the 6th wide receiver. The impressive thing about the play, and noticeable throughout the first half, was the time the quarterbacks, both Bortles and Henne, had to throw.

Using Cam Robinson, their 2nd round pick from Alabama as their starter at left tackle and Josh Wells at right tackle for an injured Jeremy Parnell, they looked like a pretty tight unit. Patrick Omameh, Brandon Linder and A.J. Cann were solid in the middle. If they’re looking for the “five best offensive linemen” as Head Coach Doug Marrone says, they’ve gotten a good look at five candidates in the first game.

As in any preseason exhibition game, the second half is all about the coaches getting to see players in “live” action. We already know Corey Grant is fast so it’s was no surprise when he ripped of a 79-yard TD run. Branden Allen is still a solid backup quarterback but Doug Marrone has already told us that Chad Henne is behind Blake.

So first impression is they’re a bit better. They run better and they’re deeper than they’ve been. But to quote Marrone, again, they’ve “got a long way to go.”

Bortles Better But Not Close To Brady

Maybe it’s unfair to compare Blake Bortles to Tom Brady. Bortles in his fourth year in the league and Brady just turning forty are two different animals. But seeing the contrast of what Brady does on the practice field and what Bortles does is stunning. Whether it’s the footwork and arm motion, reading defenses, command of the offense or body language, Brady is in a whole other universe.

That might be the case with any other quarterback on the field at the same time that Brady is taking snaps but in this case both #12 and #5 are starters for their NFL teams. You’d think that Bortles would want to gain from that comparison, but he toed the company line when asked about practicing against New England.

“I think this whole thing was about us,” Blake said after practice. “The Patriots just happened to be the team we were going against and where we were going. It’s cool to go practice against the defending World Champions. It was about what can we do, how do we react in this situation, how can we continue to get better.”

You can’t help but notice the tight spiral and velocity Brady has on every pass. As you watch, it’s a product of the footwork, the core strength and the hip and shoulder rotation. He’s spot on every time with the ball position and ability get rid of it when he needs to. And it’s on target. Bortles on the other hand, is flat-footed often with his shoulders aligned with the line of scrimmage instead of perpendicular. That might sound like a technical thing, but two days of side-by-side comparison revealed where the best quarterback in the game is getting his power and accuracy and where a guy who’s struggling can improve.

No question Blake is better mechanically than he’s been and not everybody can be Tom Brady. In fact, nobody can be Tom Brady. But there are things that Bortles can fix almost immediately. No matter the pass, Brady brings it with a crispness of purpose that’s missing from the Jaguars’ starters throws.

Nonetheless, Blake talked about how New England was posing a new challenge this week reading defenses and disguising coverages.

“Up front, they single everybody up,” he explained. “That’s kind of just making everything one-on-one as far as the blocking schemes and then they do a lot of different things in coverage with their safeties, whether they’re sprinting their guys down or staying too high and doing different stuff.”

There was a lot of publicity about *Bortles five interceptions in the third practice of training camp. He’s been better since then and says he’s learning when he throws a pick, even here in New England.

“I think any time you throw an interception, I think you learn from it,” he said. “It’s practice, not downplaying practice or justifying that it’s okay to throw five interceptions, it’s not. But if there’s a time to do it, that’s then.”

Are they better? Is the question asked constantly about the offense. There are stars on defense and money spent on that side of the ball. On offense, the addidition of Leonard Fournette has signaled a new emphasis on running the football. Better is going to depend on *Bortles and the offense live. Neither has been great, but have shown flashes of improvement over last season.

“There is no doubt there has been some bad stuff that has happened and we have to fix and continue to work on,” Blake said when asked about the offense getting better. “I think if you watched seven on sevens today or one on ones and there wasn’t a whole lot times we got stopped. We obviously didn’t have the team period we wanted to. We messed up some things there, but I thought from a receiver, passing-game standpoint, the one on ones and the seven on sevens were extremely good today. We just have to find a way to carry that over into the 11-on-11.”

The PLAYERS In March Is The Right Fit

Without the old burden of achieving status as the “Fifth Major” you knew it was only a matter of time before The Players moved back to March. Tuesday the PGA of America will announce that the PGA Championship will be moving to May with the PGA Tour moving the Players back to it’s March timeframe. Moving the PGA Championship is not unprecedented and although there’s a concern that the early date on the golf calendar might eliminate some traditional northern courses as venues, May opens the door for courses in the Southeast, Florida, Texas and even Southern California.

Moving The Players has been a topic since the tournament was started in the ’70’s. It started in Atlanta on Labor Day in 1974, moved to Ft. Worth the next year in August and then to Ft. Lauderdale the following February. When it moved to Ponte Vedra and Sawgrass Country Club it was played in mid-March before settling on the last week of March in 1983.

Three factors worked against The Players in March in the Tour’s quest to make it the 5th Major. Weather could always be a factor, but as anybody who lives in North Florida knows, we’re as likely to have a week of perfect weather as anything else and much of the memories of the Players in March include perfect weather. There were a couple of Monday finishes, but for the most part, delays in the competition were minor. In it’s quest for a spot on the overall sports calendar as a significant sporting event, the tournament switched from CBS to NBC once CBS made a commitment to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Nobody’s going to forget about March Madness because the Players is happening, and at times that was a sticking point for the decision-makers at the Tour. And finally, the last week of March also happens to be two weeks before the first full week of April and that’s always The Masters.

When contested in March, there wasn’t a tournament that went by without many of the storylines focused on the contestants preparing for Augusta. The Players creator, then-Commissioner Deane Beman, didn’t like any talk about the Masters, wanting his tournament to gain “Major” status as a true “players championship.” Despite his protests, Beman had one eye on what they were doing at Augusta National as he developed the players. His competitive nature would allow otherwise.

“This is our championship,” he was fond of saying. Deane had a prickly nature about him when it came to competing with Augusta and the Masters and didn’t like it when the basketball tournament was on television in the hospitality suites, the clubhouse and the media center. When he could control what people were watching, he did. (We couldn’t watch the basketball in the media center more than once.)

When he took over as the PGA Tour Commissioner in 1994, Tim Finchem had many of the same thoughts about The Players and even more about it’s relationship with Jacksonville. Under Finchem, the Tour tried to separate the tournament once known as the “GJO” from the city entirely, stressing to the assembled media, “the dateline is Ponte Vedra.” There was no reference to it being one of the beaches associated with Jacksonville in any of the promotional material regarding the tournament nor on the national telecast. The dis-association with the city was strongest when Finchem and the Tour decided that The Players should be an international destination for fans and that the local flavor and support of the tournament was holding it back from it’s rightful place in the pantheon of professional golf competition.

They came to their senses a few years ago when Matt Rapp took over as the Executive Director and they refocused on the local community, it’s support, fan base, and the tournament’s reputation as a “must attend” event (and party) in North Florida.

I’ve always said that most of the locals who attend The Players think every PGA Tour event is like that. Of course the Players is like nothing else out there, taking the best from every PGA Tour stop all year and incorporating it into the Stadium Course. It’s not only the best run PGA Tour event, it might be the best run sporting event anywhere as well. It’s a sought after hospitality opportunity for corporations all over the world as well as businesses in Jacksonville and North Florida. It’s a nice blend of both.

Which brings us to the current Commissioner Jay Monahan and the move back to March. Monahan said during this year’s Players that they were “considering all options” and they didn’t have any plans to move the tournament “at this time.” Jay doesn’t have a problem with the proximity to the Masters nor the concurrent time frame of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t need it’s own month on the calendar or separation from the majors to draw attention. He sees the Players as a stand-alone sporting event and now, in 2017, he’s right. The tournament has it’s own following, it’s own stature and maybe most importantly, it’s a very big deal to the modern day PGA Tour player. Adam Scott was the first champion to say, “This is the tournament I’ve dreamed of winning.” And that was in 2004.

Gone are the days that “Deane’s tournament” was vying for significant status ahead of “Arnold’s tournament” or “Jack’s tournament” on the PGA Tour. Beman’s drive to put the Tour in the club and course building business rankled more than a few of his contemporaries, so they weren’t all fired up about supporting the TPC, as it was originally called.

From a nuts and bolts standpoint, a move to March will bring the golf course condition and the wind direction back to where the Stadium Course was originally intended by designer Pete Dye. They can make the course as hard and fast as they want.

And it’ll put the Players back in the “Florida Swing” on the golf schedule where it belongs. While much of the country looks to the Masters as the start of spring and the beginning of the golf season, those of us in North Florida know, our games are already rounding into shape during some good weather days in February and March.

It’s the right call and a good fit. Nothing ever wrong with being 1st on the schedule.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Jaguars/Patriots Practice: What It’s Supposed To Look Like

It was much more than just a joint practice between the Jaguars and Patriots in New England on Monday. It was an event.

A record crowd of more than 20,000 fans was at the Patriots practice fields to see 2 ½ hours of two-team workouts. Some of it boring but some of it scintillating. Most of the latter happened when Tom Brady had the ball in his hands.

Much like in games, Brady was in full control, hitting open receivers, hitting covered receivers and even hitting guys who were not open. Short, medium, deep, it didn’t matter. The ball was where it was supposed to be. On time and fast.

Still, the Jaguars might not be in the category of the World Champion Patriots but they deported themselves pretty well in their first joint practice of the year.

“Like I said before, there are so many positives coming to work with another team,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said after practice. “I felt like we got a great day done today. I think when you practice like this, obviously against a great football team, then it is going to make our team better. That really was the goal coming up here.”

As you’ve no doubt seen, the Jaguars motto for this year is #WINTODAY. So I asked Doug if his team got better today.

“We don’t talk about, we don’t use the phrase that you used right there,” he said. “We talk about our discipline, our focus, our competitiveness, our strain, our conditioning that we have to win each day.”

“So did that happen today?” I asked.

“Yes, absolutely. I think the environment brings that out more so than a normal practice environment.”

When I asked what he was looking for tomorrow, Marrone said they wanted to correct mistakes but added “Be able to go on that field and obviously we keep adding more situations and keep getting better in situational football, which we’ve been trying to do in our camp.”

Throwing on time and with precision, Brady looked to be doing what every coach hopes players would do in practice: treat every rep like it was the Super Bowl. There were no plays off, no joking around, no simple dump offs. Each snap meant something. And that attitude was infectious for the rest of the Patriots.

Some of that looked to rub off on Blake Bortles. While not “Brady sharp” he kept moving forward and appeared to have a stronger sense of purpose in this practice than at home. Maybe it was the way this practice was set up, but being on the same field with Tom Brady has to elevate your focus and your game.

“We talked about it real quickly,” Marrone said of Bortles performance. “I thought calm, cool, different defense and things of that nature. I think we have to see where we are from that standpoint of being able to get open in a press-man and things of that nature. Then, just ball location. I thought for the most part, he seemed to have control.”

You could tell the Jaguars Head Coach was a little envious of what they’ve established in New England, and clearly wants to move in that direction in Jacksonville.

He explained it this way:

“I think you look at the teams that are successful in this league consistently, that’s the one thing. They’re always in shape, they’re always well-conditioned, they’re always very physical, they have a great discipline and they’re great in situational football and can execute. So I think you need those things to be a great football team. It’s not necessarily that this team was lacking, this team was this, or this is what happened before, so this is what you need now.”

When asked if there is a better test for the defense than going against the Patriots offense this early in training camp Marrone had a one-word answer with a smile.


And it’s no mistake the Jaguars are against the top team in the league this week. No doubt Tom Coughlin and Marrone were hoping they could show their current team what the top of the mountain looks like when nobody’s looking.

“I think when you look at their history, I think everyone understands where they are, what they’ve done. Like I said before, we have a great deal of respect for their coaches and their players. It’s a fact. I don’t think you really have to talk about it enough, I know everybody knows it. I really do. I think it gives us a good feel for where we are.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Gipson Now Knows Tom Brady Is The Goat

It would be hard to overstate how solid and sharp Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady looked in the first practice against the Jaguars in New England. When he and the Pats first team offense took the field there was a noticeable hush of excitement going through the crowd, knowing they were watching something special.

The Jaguars knew it as well. While middle linebacker Myles Jack said it would be a “surreal moment” when Brady looked him in the eye and made a check down, the defensive backs got a first-hand look and what the reigning Super Bowl MVP can do. Even in practice.

“Going against Tom Brady, he might be the greatest of all time,” Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson said at the end of practice. “After being on the field and seeing him here today I don’t think he’s one of the best, I think he is the best. It’ll make this young group develop and it’s a great thing to get three days of work against a guy like him. It’s a blessing.”

Besides Brady, the whole feeling of practice for the Patriots is professional, buttoned up and purposeful. It’s what the new Jaguars leadership is striving for.

“I think were’ on the right track,” Gipson explained. “We’re righting the ship. “It’s good to see this and what it looks like. Every team in the NFL wants to have what they have here. You see it first-hand the way they operate the way they move and you see why year in and year out they’re super Bowl favorites.”

Marrone’s Jaguars Camp: Old Is New Again

At the NFL owners meeting last April, I asked a colleague from Buffalo, Doug Marrone’s last stop as a head coach, what we might expect in Jacksonville. “He’s a beaut,” the scribe said with a laugh. “He’ll be more miserable when you win.”

With that in mind, I set off to try and find out for myself. It’s a funny relationship built between the head coach of an NFL franchise or a major-college team and the media. They’re trying to control the message; you’re trying to find out the real story. If you can win their trust, you’ll have background on why things are happening. That’s if they’re willing to build that kind of relationship.

Early on during his first stint in Jacksonville, Tom Coughlin seemed willing to build that relationship. I talked with him on the phone; he called me, off the record, a few times during that first training camp in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He sharpened my reporting, gave me solid insight and I didn’t betray his trust. Over time, though, Coughlin distanced himself from me and other media members and it contributed to his eventual firing. In his book, “Earn the Right to Win” he talks about how his relationship with and view of the media morphed over his career, especially in New York. His wife Judy had a lot to do with that.

You spend a lot of time with these guys, and developing a relationship where you both get something close to what you’re looking for takes work. It’s the reporter’s job to be smart, respectful of the position and ask the right questions. Challenging the head coach with our opinions is not our job, except to ask “Why” when things go wrong, or right in some cases.

Hiring Jack Del Rio seemed the right move at the time. He was a coach with a “modern-day” sensibility. Walking into his introductory press conference a veteran writer grabbed me by the arm and said, “Another (expletive) coach, another (expletive) seven years.” He turned out to be right. Del Rio was as inconsistent with the media as Coughlin was removed. You could call it a roller coaster until we realized Jack was willing to lie, rather than just not answer the question. That’s when everybody in the media knew it was only a matter of time before he was gone. When the players realized that, his tenure came to a quick end.

His interim replacement, Mel Tucker, was a steady hand who uttered the phrase “servant leader” for the first time at the stadium and earned respect from the media right away. He was honest and likable. I’ve always thought he should get a shot as a head coach.

Even though he was only here for a year, year, the media sized up Mike Mularkey right away. I knew Mike from when he was a player at Florida and as a candidate for the Jaguars job when Del Rio was hired. I liked him immediately, and we remain friends. He had a bit of a bunker mentality during his time in Jacksonville that he couldn’t shake, and I was hoping we’d have a chance to talk about it away from the stadium. We didn’t have that chance. On the other hand, he intensely disliked some other members of the local media and let them know it without reservation. “They’re unfair,” he once told me. He was right, but that’s a battle the coach rarely wins.

You’ll never meet anybody better than Gus Bradley. I think he’s a great football coach, although his tenure as the head coach in Jacksonville doesn’t reflect anything like that. Everybody wanted Gus to win, from the players to the media, the front office staff and the fans. But I think his message was lost on a young team. He told me he disagreed with that in not so uncertain terms, but nonetheless, his Jaguars squads couldn’t create their own winning environment.

Which brings us to 2017 and Doug Marrone. While Tom Coughlin is the VP of Football Operations and has set the tone for the culture he wants, Marrone as the head coach is executing the “tougher, better” philosophy.

Sitting down with Marrone at the owners meeting, he discretely asked another journalist sitting at his table what my name was while I helped set up our equipment. He was affable, a storyteller and willing to talk about the big and small issues facing the Jaguars. We saw some of the same personality at the announcement of his hiring. As we’ve moved closer to and into OTA’s, mini-camp and training camp, Marrone is a bit more reserved, a bit more negative, perhaps a bit more realistic about who the Jaguars are at this point.

Maybe it’s a clear-eyed view of a team that won three games last year. Maybe he’s tamping down expectations. Either way, one of Marrone’s regular statements is “We have a long way to go.”

He’s still a great storyteller and very straightforward in his answers. If he’s not going to answer a question, he’ll tell you. He’s not playing music at practice and he’s upped the tempo. His old-school approach is authentic. He’s not taking orders from Coughlin; he’s a true believer in how to get a team ready to play.

“I have enough friends, I’m looking for players who can help us win,” was his response when asked about building a relationship with a player. It’s insightful if only in how different of an approach it is from the last four years. Give Marrone credit for coaching his position under Gus Bradley and never saying a thing about the overall culture, because it’s clear he believes is something very different.

“We won three games last year,” veteran defensive lineman Malik Jackson said this week. “Who are we going to complain to? If we wanted something different we needed to win more games for Gus.”

This week the Jaguars are practicing in full pads for five straight days. The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow two “padded” practices on the same day, something that was the norm just ten years ago. Marrone has called it a “grind,” and even veteran players agree it’s been a tough slog.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Marrone explained of his “toughness” approach. “Everybody’s doing it. So you’re just trying to get them in tough situations where your body might be saying no and your mind is saying yes. (I) think it’s something you have to learn how to do and that’s what we’re continuing to do. We’re learning how to do that.”

He continued, giving insight to his idea about the chain of command on a football team.

“I have a vision for it. If they don’t want to do it in that frame of reps, then we’ll keep taking reps until we get it the way we want to do it. I’ve never had a problem with that. I think that’s the responsibility that I have to make sure that we’re practicing the way we want to practice, It’s not just the way I want to practice. It’s the way we want to practice as a team and the physicality that we want in practice. If we don’t get that, then we’ll continue to stay out there until the maximum amount of time that the league allows us under the collective bargaining agreement, until I have to take them in.”

When asked “Where are they right now?” Marrone asked another question.

“Am I disappointed? No. In saying that, we still have a lot of work in front of us.”

Jaguars 2017: All About Blake

Noticeably leaner and seemingly focused, Jaguars Quarterback Blake Bortles was clearly the leader on the offense as the team opened their training camp for 2017. It was Bortles leading the way in drills, hustling from one place to another and “breaking it down” in the middle of the offensive get together at the end of practice.

Knowing it’s a make or break year for him, Bortles spent most of the off-season working with well known quarterback coaches on the West Coast, refining his motion and footwork. But making that stick is the key.

“You go out there and you’re throwing there, there’s nobody around you, there’s nobody coming at you, you’re not thinking about anything, you’re just throwing.,” Blake said in front of the assembled media after a rain shortened end of the first day of practice. “So that’s the kind of stuff you work on and then you bring it out here and hope it holds up and now, when we get out here, it’s about the thought process, the decision making, the accuracy and kind of all the football-related things.”

Today’s first day of training camp was “What I’ve been waiting for all year,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said afterwards. He’s planning to put pressure on the players, ramp up the intensity and the stress level to see which players can react. That was noticeable in day one.

“You feel good, you feel like you’re in shape and no matter how much you run, there’s no preparing you football-shape and running-shape,” Bortles said about the tempo of practice. “It’s something that you just have to get out there and get acclimated so you have to go do it, you have to go practice, you have to go run for two and a half hours in order to kind of get used to it.”

Assembling the 2017 roster should “take care of itself” according to Marrone, alluding to the competition he expects over the next several weeks. While they’ve put together more talent than they’ve had in five years, it’s the quarterback play they know they need in order to be improved.

“I think what I was looking at specifically with Blake coming in here was where are we from a standpoint of footwork, a standpoint of progressions and reads and all that stuff?” Marrone said when asked about his expectations of his quarterback early in camp.

“Are we close to where we were at the end of camp where we felt things were going in the right direction?” he explained. “Or are we in the beginning like we were when we first started having to build it up? I think he’s done a good job this offseason maintaining the footwork, the mechanics and the progression of what he’s been doing. Now the challenge is going out there and doing it consistently on a daily basis.”

While having confidence in his physical game, Blake admitted he and the rest of the team probably thought too much about it all last year.

“Yeah, I think so. I think it’s just about going out there, playing football, one, and making plays, making more plays than they make, score more points than they score,” he said. “I think last year we thought probably a little too much about it. So I think to be able to free the mind and just go play football and enjoy it and have fun and make as many big plays as we possibly can, is the goal.”

Adding Leonard Fournette through the draft signaled a shift in the Jaguars offensive focus to the running game. General Manager Dave Caldwell has said he expects Fournette to be on the roster with holdovers Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon and possibly Corey Grant. All of that sounds great to Bortles when it comes to getting things done on offense.

“I think so, definitely,” Blake added. “And if we’re doing that, that means Leonard and Chris and T.J. and Corey and those guys are running for 150, 200 yards. So that makes my job way easier and I’m fine with that. I’ll throw it five times or I’ll throw it 50 times, whatever can help us win and whatever is the most efficient way for us to put up points, I’ll do it.”

Kingfish Tournament Still Fishing

Hang out on any dock for any length of time and you’ll hear somebody say, “That’s why they call it fishin’ and not catchin’. But at the annual Media Day for the 2017 Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament, there was plenty of catchin’ going on.

Aboard the “D-Breef” with Captain Dennis Sergent again this year out of Sisters Creek Marina, News4Jax Sports Producer/Photographer Matt Kingston and I were on our annual fishing trip prior to the GJKT. Now in it’s 37th year, the GJKT has sponsored a media day almost every year. Sometimes we catch fish, and others we don’t. This year, the kingfish were plentiful, something Sergent expected early in the day.

“You could tell how easy it was to catch bait,” the veteran fisherman explained. “That’s why we just went a mile and a half off shore. The fish were following the bait and the warm water.

Catching Kingfish is a simple process. Slow trolling either live menhaden, known locally as “pogies” or use a ribbonfish. Pogies are small fish that school near the beach in big pods. Finding a pod and casting a net to it can be an arduous process. But Wednesday on the first cast, Sergent and his friend and 1st Mate David Shutterly brought several hundred baitfish into the boat.

They immediately went into the live well and we were off to put lines in the water. Most of the other boats were trolling a well-known spot called the “South East Hole” so that was our logical starting point. Sending out four lines with live bait plus two downriggers (a heavy weight that trolls the bait 20-40 feet underwater) with ribbon fish attached, it wasn’t five minutes before we got our first hit. Ten minutes later we landed our first king of the day, about 13 pounds.

“They definitely wanted the ribbon fish more than the live bait, which is weird,” Shutterly noted. “It’s give and take, one or the other.”

In it’s history, the GJKT has been won by locals fishing just off the jetties and by visiting competitors who have run all the way past Daytona Beach to find fish. But the values of the tournament have stayed the same: Everybody has a chance.

“My boat is a 22 foot boat,” Steve Thompson the 2017 Kingfish Tournament Chairman said after a day on the water. “We threw our net out, caught some pogies and we caught some fish. The fish seemed to have showed up just in time.”

At one point in it’s history, the GJKT boasted nearly 1,000 boats registered and billed itself as one of the largest fishing tournaments in the world. While it’s had it’s ups and downs, they’re hoping to have 300 boats compete this year. Sergent will be one of the captains on the water, looking for big kings.

“Over the years it’s become a social event,” Dennis said after bringing fish to the weigh-in at the dock. “The camaraderie, the friendship we’ve developed over the year. We see friends on the weekend we don’t see during the week. Some of us old timers see friends we don’t see all year. You can have a small boat, a large boat, one motor, four motors or five, everybody’s in the game when you leave that inlet.”