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.”

TPC Performance Center Will Make You Better

Gone are the days of hitting iron after iron, driver after driver to find the one that “feels” right. Technology has changed all of that. Measuring every aspect of your golf swing and the result is an every day occurrence in today’s game. The new TPC Performance Center at Sawgrass is tying all aspects of the game together in one place and giving players a chance to be the best player they can be. It’s a big step from an hour on the range hitting 20 different drivers.

“Nothing’s more of a step than this,” said Todd Anderson, the Performance Center Director. If his name is familiar, Anderson comes to the TPC from Sea Island where he was in charge of their performance set up and happened to tutor two of the last four FedEx Cup winners. His track record speaks for itself.

“We have everything you need to improve as a player. The practice area, the balls, the targets, all of it is top of the line. Then you come into our building and see the technology to really quantify the different parts of somebody’s game. Nobody will be ahead of us.”

While the game is looking for growth and keeping players interested, it’s always been focused on the score. How do I lower my score? Can I get my handicap lower? Anderson says that’s their focus as well.

“The key is can we change the number,” he explained. “Here are the things you need to do to get there. We’re trying to find a way to assess people’s games when they come in. How can we take all this information and put together a package to help you improve as a specific player.”

At the TPC Performance Center they have three instruction bays with full video and display screens. That have a top-100 club fitter on staff with what seems to be every combination of shaft and head for irons and metal -woods possible. A state of the art video/computer-putting lab dissects your stroke and shows you how to improve. And while everybody can’t be the athlete Dustin Johnson is as the #1 player in the world, the Performance Center has a full gym with a golf-specific athletic trainer who can test your movement and prescribe a fitness routine to help you be a better player.

“When you see the top players getting better, there’s no reason the rest of us can’t also improve,” Anderson said. “Not everybody has a full time job playing golf. So that’s the goal: to “dumb it down” to the average guy who’s playing golf. Take that information, that plan. Figure out how much time and energy you want to put into it so you can play better. That’s the goal.”

There have been several steps in this direction from club manufacturers. Taylor Made had “The Kingdom” in Carlsbad, CA and a smaller version in other locations. (Including TPC Sawgrass) and Nike had “The Oven” in Dallas where they could “cook” Tour player’s games to perfection. Nike’s out of the club business and Taylor Made is for sale. But the TPC Performance Center takes all the best aspects of what they did in those places and what Anderson was doing at Sea Island and puts it in one spot.

“Being able to take the different aspects of improving your game; fitness, club fitting, instruction, it’s come a long way,” Todd said with a smile. “You can now quantify improvement. It used to be just with your score. Now, I can tell you longer, straighter, club head speed, all of that. It’s the same thing with fitness. Use the technology to help you as a student to show you how you’re improving and where you need more work.”

If you’re into being the best player you can be, you’re behind the curve if you haven’t optimized your equipment and taken a good look at your game. But it comes at a cost.

A full game assessment at the Performance Center is $199 (for now) a pretty good value for about three hours of looking at your golf game. You’ll leave there with information on how to get better. A club fitting through your bag is $375 and is also about 3 hours. When you leave there, you’ll know what equipment fits your game in its current state.

If you have an unlimited golf budget, you’ll spend hours and hours there honing your game and your new equipment and no doubt, you’ll leave a better player. If you have any kind of budget, the assessment is a good starting point to figure out how much more you want to spend to lower your scores.

Players Is Big And Getting Bigger

If you made it out to The Players this year, you saw a lot of changes to the golf course and even the traffic flow for the tournament. It was a big undertaking from almost every perspective. Fans were getting a new experience and the players needed to adjust to a revamped golf course.

“A renovation and a change to the infrastructure of this magnitude hasn’t been done since the course was originally constructed,” The Players Executive Director Jared Rice said this week. “So, to see how fans behaved and moved around the golf course was really helpful to see what adjustments we need to make, primarily infrastructure, getting in and out easier, moving around the golf course easy, making sure that we have amenities like food and beverage placed in the right places.”

As a golf tournament, The Players remains somewhere between the four majors and the week-to-week competition on the PGA Tour. But as a sporting event, it nearly has no peer. From the traffic flow to the food and drink available, The Players is organized, efficient and fun. While the bulk of the spectators are locals, the Tour has tried to market the event nationally and internationally, making it a destination event. It’s not a Major; it might never be a Major. But it’s a combination of every best thing offered at PGA Tour events every week. It’s not like a regular tour stop.

“Think about 28 million viewers nationally watched this telecast,” Rice explained. “When fans and viewers see a really active and engaged and energized community, that delivers a feeling of ‘what a great property, I want to go to that tournament’ and really presents our community in a really positive light.”

Although the competitors in the field said the new 12th hole needed to be “tweaked” at the least, Rice said his feedback was that the fans liked the “drivable par four” aspect of the hole and the gathering places around the new design.

“I think 12 was really, really appreciated by our fans,” he said. “From the local restaurants we have around the golf course, Taco Lu being right there on 12, the shaded bleachers delivered a great vantage point of the 12th hole and the 13th green. It was as good as advertised and it will only get better in the future.”

From a sheer numbers standpoint, the 2017 tournament produced some eye-popping statistics. More than 35,000 complimentary military tickets were issued. The Patriots Outpost had 19,000 military visitors and their dependents over the week. There were nineteen regional restaurants featured on the course. Over 100,000 bottles of water were sold during the six days of the tournament. The hot dogs sold laid end to end would stretch out two miles long.

A total of 943 media credentials were issued for the tournament to 202 media outlets representing 17 countries. The Players was broadcast in 24 different languages to a potential audience of a billion viewers.

Would any of that change if they moved The Players back to March? There’s an argument to be made for both sides. The current May date gives it a “vacation” feel for fans and a summer tournament feel for the competitors. March signals the start of spring here in North Florida and it seemed a little higher control of your game “through your bag” was necessary to come away with a victory.

Either way, the tournament will continue to grow in size and stature as the current crop of competitors put an emphasis on winning at the Stadium Course.

“When you look at the national nature of who may come into our community and host or vacation in a March date, when you may have a lot of snow in the rest of the country, it is a very positive thing.,” Rice said about a potential change. “And then May, the weather has been fantastic, almost idyllic the past couple of years. There’s a lot of positives to May too, so it is a nice problem to have and one thing we know is whenever it is played, it will be the best fan experience in golf.”