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 - SamSportsline.com

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 - SamSportsline.com

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 - SamSportsline.com

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.”