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.”

Gators Baseball Win National Title

It was a celebration as low-key and understated as Kevin O’Sullivan’s personality. Around 2,000 of the Gator faithful showed up at McKethan Stadium to welcome Florida’s 2017 NCAA baseball champions.

“We haven’t gotten any sleep at all,” Deacon Liput said as he walked on the field. Liput went 2-5 with 3 RBI in the title game, which happened to fall on his 21st birthday. “It’s a night I’ll never forget,” he added as he was serenaded with ‘Happy Birthday’ by the fans.

“I’m happy for the players and the staff,” the Gator head coach said after receiving a standing ovation. “The players work hard and it paid off. No coach throws a pitch or swings a bat. You just hope you can prepare the players the best you can and send them out there.”

Hosted by former Gator baseball player and current color commentator on the radio broadcasts Jeff Cardozo, the stars of the team were interviewed near home plate while their teammates sat behind them.

“You were asked to be a starter, a reliever, come out of the bullpen, just about everything for this club,” Cardozo asked Pitcher Brady Singer who set a CWS record with 12 strikeouts in the first game against LSU.

“I didn’t mind,” Singer deadpanned. “It seemed to work out,” he added to laughter from the crowd.

Playing in big games was nothing new for the 2017 Gator squad. From their SEC schedule to the conference tournament, through the NCAA Regional and the Super Regional, Florida played in numerous elimination games and got clutch hitting all along the way. In the College World Series for the sixth time in the last eight years, they were familiar with the trip to Omaha but admitted nothing prepares you for the championship round.

“Nothing prepares you for 25,000 screaming LSU fans,” shortstop Dalton Guthrie said with a smile. “But we played in big games all year. Elimination games, all of it. We just tried to stay with it and not get too ahead of ourselves.”

With an intentional walk, Jacksonville’s Christian Hicks from The Bolles School made an appearance in the deciding game. He had a feeling they’d put him on as he walked to the plate but was happy to get a chance to be in the game.

“I figured they’d pinch-run for me but I was glad to be out there,” the second-year player said. Hicks echoed his teammates saying they were prepared for whatever came their way in the final matchup.

“All those one run games we played this year I felt like we were totally relaxed out there,” Hicks said. “Playing in the SEC and those stadiums that are really hard to play in kept us from getting rattled as much as other teams.”

Along with the sixth time in O’Sullivan’s tenure that the Gators have advanced to the College World Series, it was their third in a row and the first time they’ve won the title. It puts them in elite company with a handful of other schools that have won a football, basketball and baseball national championship. But Florida is the only school to accomplish that feat in the last 50 years and their titles in those three sports have all happened in the last decade.

It’s the 39th NCAA title for the University of Florida, the first coming in 1968 in Men’s golf. In the last three weeks besides the baseball title, the Gators have won NCAA Championships in women’s tennis and men’s outdoor track and field.

And with the pitching staff O’Sullivan has coming back for 2018, it’s possible we could see a repeat of this celebration a year from now.

Gators Baseball National Champs

While college baseball’s reputation is for high-scoring games and lots of long balls, the Florida Gators won their first national championship with solid fundamentals. Pitching, defense and base-running all played pivotal parts of Florida’s season, none more important than in the two wins over LSU in the national title round in Omaha.

A combination of Alex Faedo and Brady Singer as back-to-back starters proved too much for LSU, previously undefeated in the CWS championship round.

“I’m so happy for our players,” Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after the 6-1 win and a two-game sweep of LSU. “It’s all about them for all of their hard work. We always knew there’d be one first team (to win it) and I’m glad it was this one. This is a gritty group.”

It was pretty routine to start for Florida, bottom of the first with runners on first and 3rd, JJ Schwarz singled to left to score Deacon Liput to give the Gators a 1-0 lead.

In the bottom of the 2nd, Nick Horvath scored from second on a Liput single up the middle to give them a 2-0 lead.

Holding a 2-1 lead in the top of the 7th, LSU put runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs. Michael Papierski hit a grounder to second and Florida turns the double play with the tying run apparently scoring from 3rd. But LSU’s Jake Slaughter was called for interference at second base, sending the runner back to third. Slaughter didn’t slide directly into the base and the second base umpire called interference immediately. Call it a bad rule or a bad call but the rule was enforced and Florida got out of the inning with a one-run lead.

Again in the 8th, LSU had runners on the corners but first baseman JJ Schwarz fielded a ground ball flawlessly and threw out Kramer Robertson at the plate who was going on contact to maintain the 2-1 lead.

Adding four insurance runs in the bottom of the 8th, the Gators took a 6-1 lead to the ninth inning. Jackson Kowar got the final out and Florida won their first national baseball championship, joining just a handful of schools who have won national titles in football, basketball and baseball.

And the Gators are loaded for the future with Freshman pitcher Tyler Dyson and starter Brady Singer coming back next year. Dyson went six innings in the deciding game giving up three hits and just one run in only his second start as a collegian. Singer is considered the best player in college baseball returning for 2018 and could easily be the top pick int eh MLB draft next year.

“We always thought we had a shot with our class,” said the CWS Outstanding player, pitcher Alex Faedo. “(Pitching) has been the bread and butter this year and the hitters showed up here (In Omaha) to get us enough runs.”

Bortles Knows This Is It

In his fourth year in the league, Quarterback Blake Bortles knows this is his last chance with the Jaguars. A typical rookie year was followed by great improvement but last year he, and the team fell apart. The Jaguars picked up the fifth year of his rookie deal, meaning if he proves he’s the right guy in 2017, they have a bargain the next year. If not, they can move on without penalty.

Perhaps that’s given Bortles more focus in this off-season, or maybe it’s just the change in his coaching staff. Either way, the Jaguars quarterback has spent the offseason working with quarterback experts on the west coast, trying to give himself the best chance at success.

“Two years ago, I went out there and last year, I stayed here the whole time,” Blake said without mentioning that after 2016 the Jaguars asked him to stay in town and throw with the receiving group.

“It just shows that guys are sick and tired of being below average and not being successful when we feel as though we have the ability to be a good team. We haven’t been. It’s time to make a change. It’s not going to happen overnight. You have to go do something about it.”

Between the mini-camp and the beginning training camp, Bortles will be back on the west coast, continuing to work on things he thinks he needs after four weeks of work in Jacksonville.

“I think it will definitely be more specific” he said, explaining what he’ll do out there in his second visit. “In the offseason one, or whatever you want to call it — February, March April — it was mechanic-based. ‘Let’s fix this, let’s make sure this is sustainable and can remain consistent.’ Now, I’ll go out there with some more descriptive things. ‘Here’s what I felt like I struggled with footwork-wise and throwing this route. Here’s what I’d like to get better at. Here’s something that was new, I’d like to just rep it.’ I think it’ll be a bit more dialed-in.”

Drafting Leonard Fournette is supposed to signal a culture change for the Jaguars offense. More run-oriented, less reliant on Bortles being able to keep drives going with the pass. He’s on board with all of that.

“You’d like to think that if you throw the ball less, you commit less turnovers, have a higher completion percentage, all that. That’s all stuff that comes along with it. You still have to, from a quarterback perspective, still continue to make decisions and deliver the ball where it needs to be.”

And in the mini-camp, the focus was on “situational football” trying to simulate the things the team will face when the season starts. None of it is a mystery.

“We’re notorious for going three-and-out on the first possession in the past couple years that I’ve been here,” Blake said with a wry smile. “We have to stop doing that. We have to come out and find a way, from the beginning, and no matter what the situation or scenario is, to find a way to be successful and efficient.”

In order to play at the level they want, the Jaguars coaching staff believes a new level of conditioning and toughness is where to start. Head Coach Doug Marrone said it’s no secret that the Jaguars were getting beat in the 4th quarter of games last year and he wants that to stop. That’s why his version of the OTA’s and the mini-camp were particularly grueling. Bortles thought the Jaguars receivers ran more in the four weeks than they ran in the last four years. “Yeah, I think so,” he said. “Definitely. I think doing all that, getting in shape. I think it’s not necessarily something you like right now. There are some guys that aren’t happy about it. I think that’s how you create a culture and establish the way that the Jacksonville Jaguars practice.”

Almost every sports adage applies to the Jaguars at this point. They’ve been losing games and it hasn’t been fun for anybody. The Jaguars have one playoff win in the last 17 years, so a change, any kind of change would be welcome. Bortles and his teammates in this generation of Jaguars would like to change that.

“I think my goal is for us and this team and this organization is to be very successful. We haven’t for three years since I’ve been here. I think even after that happens, I don’t think anything will change. It’s what I do. It’s our job. It’s my job and my passion. I’m going to do and exhaust every resource I have to be able to make this thing work and get it rolling.”

Marrone, Albert Lynchpins To Jaguars Success

It’s not that Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone is falling into what Tom Coughlin believes a team needs, it’s that Marrone believes the same things. And he has for a long time.

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” he said this week after another “activity” that was long on conditioning and not much else. Marrone says the team needs to be in better shape and they’ve only taken a small step in that direction.

“For us, in order to be a tough, physical team – the first thing you have to do is you have to be in shape,” Marrone said this week. “You have to be strong. You have to withstand the mental toughness because in this profession the day you walk in is probably the healthiest you’ll be and the day you start practicing everyone has something.”

‘Wow, this is where we are,” he explained. “You feel where we have to be at. We have a long way to go.’ I think now there is a vision of where we need to get to as far as being in shape, how strong we want to be, how fast we want to practice, how many plays we want to get run.”

That was the theme of the mini-camp on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Setting a goal of running about 100 plays per practice meant an up tempo two hours and an accelerated pace over the three days. Marrone told the players when they left Thursday afternoon that they need to continue to build their stamina and strength leading up to training camp. The end of July will be no time to work yourself into it according to Marrone’s message.

“We’re going to have to make some decisions, we’re going to have to make them quick, you better come in here ready to go because if you’re not ready to go and you’re thinking it’s going to take me a little while to get this thing going before I play, you won’t be in the mix.”

When Branden Albert reported on Tuesday, the first mandatory day for veterans, Marrone continued to hone his image and the Jaguars culture saying “I’m not here to make more friends,” when asked about building a relationship with Albert. “I have enough friends. I’m not about building a relationship. I’m here to win football games.”

Paramount among the things the Jaguars need to fix is the offensive line. Adding the former pro bowler Albert could give the team some options by the start of the preseason. It’s not a stretch to call him the lynchpin in the Jaguars offensive line plans for 2017.

“I think he understands when he comes back he’s going to have to be in much better shape and to be able to go out there and perform,” Doug noted. “He’s a professional so he knows that.”

Entering his 10th year in the league, Albert is a professional and displayed that by showing up for mini-camp and saying that business part of his no-show for OTA’s was over.

“My advisors and everything. We were trying to get the situation straight,” he explained. “It was something, it was business-wise. It wasn’t personal. Now, it’s over with. Now, I get back to work, be the best football player that I can be and move forward to help the Jacksonville Jaguars organization move on.”

Looking to have a competitive contract as a professional athlete is part of the job. Albert’s deal calls for about $9 million this year, well under the going rate for veteran left tackles in the league. But when the Jaguars balked at giving him a new deal, he showed up. But he knows what the other guys are making.

“Yeah, but you’re blessed. There’s not a lot of people even near my situation. You have to put it this way, that I’m one of the best experts at playing left tackle in the universe right now. I take that as a privilege and a blessing. It is what it is. Got to move on.”

When pressed on his contract, Albert was a realist about making $9 million or making zero.

“The market is the market. My situation is my situation. Each situation is different. The situation was presented to me. I can’t do anything to control it. Like I said, at the time, when you see this situation and the market came out, you try to do what’s best business-wise. It didn’t work that way. It’s time to move on. I don’t think I’m underpaid, but when you look at the market at that time and in that situation and you’re being moved around how I was, it’s just a business move. Now that’s over with, it’s time to play football.” Kind of exactly what you’d hope a professional would say.

As far as not being in shape, Albert basically told everybody to relax.

“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “It’s the end of June. It’s not game time yet. I’m just happy to be out here with the guys and with the team, just working. I feel blessed to be here and be back playing football. I’m way more healthy than I’ve felt the last few years. I’m just happy to be here.”

When he showed up, Albert passed his physical and the conditioning test but as everybody knows, there’s being in shape and there’s being in football shape. Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin made sure to give Albert some incentive to be ready when training camp started.

“He said something about my weight,” Albert said with a laugh. “It was more joking around. I believe he’s happy I’m here, working with the guys. I told him, don’t worry about that. I’ll be ready to go when it’s time. I had to take time for myself. It was a long three years in Miami. I took a beating. I think I needed to take a break for myself and get myself together.”

Marrone Unimpressed In OTA’s

“I consider it an activity.”

And with that, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone ended his first OTA’s in Jacksonville, keeping what was going on over the past few weeks in perspective.

Whether he was calling it “pajamas” practice or letting players know they can be cut by not performing during the OTA’s, Marrone was setting the expectations and laying down the culture he expects the Jaguars to follow.

Practices were up-tempo. Lots of running. No breaks and no music. They took the play clock from 30 to 20 to 16 and then to 14 on both offense and defense getting the players used to making decisions quickly and efficiently.

“It’s basically a progression of tempo of trying to get up, trying to get set,” he explained. So, this way, you get yourself immune to doing those type of things and then what happens is during the course of a game, the other team is not going to put you in check-mate, where you can’t get out of it.”

When teams are practicing football, they’re not playing the game. It’s about technique and conditioning, adjusting and reacting. But Marrone is going to try and change that, giving the Jaguars more opportunities in practice where it feels “game-like.” “I think we have to get a little more situational for our players and try to help them out in those situations and spending more time that way.”

As we’ve gotten closer to training camp and Marrone has had his team on the field, he’s revealing more of what he’ll be like as the Head Coach. He’s candid and straightforward with a lot fewer smiles and jokes during his meetings with the media. He already has the training camp schedule laid out, although he might adjust it after seeing what the team needs. And training camp won’t have anything to do with how the team practices once the season starts.

“Zero. None,” he said. “It won’t even be close to what a regular week is going to be like. I’m not going to get into those schedules until late in training camp.”

Bortles On Being Bad, Better

Any sports discussion in North Florida and South Georgia includes two questions:

Are the Jaguars going to be better? (You hope so)

Is Blake Bortles the guy? (We’ll find out this year)

Just looking at the facts and the stats, Bortles was a typical rookie quarterback, made great progress in his second year and just didn’t play well and never looked right in 2016.

“I get that,” Blake explained after the Jaguars first day of Organized Team Activities outside the stadium on Tuesday. “I didn’t play well, we didn’t play well. It doesn’t really bother me that you have something negative to say about me. I earned that. It’s okay. It doesn’t offend me or bother me at all.”

And while that might all be true, you have to develop a thick skin as a quarterback since you get most of the credit and most of the blame no matter what happens. *Bortles went to California to work on “quarterback things” mostly mechanics and footwork but getting out of town and not having to hear from fans how terrible he was every day was an added bonus.

“I think going to California did help to get away, go out there and not have to deal with any of that stuff and not be around it. That’s part of the job and that’s something that you have to be able to handle, both good and bad. It’s kind of the same thing.”

Returning to the stadium for the off-season conditioning program and now for the first of the on field workouts, Bortles saw an immediate change in the culture surrounding the football team. With Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone now setting the tone, the expectations are pretty clear. They want everybody to know what they need to do and what the consequences would be if that doesn’t happen. That’s all fine with Blake.

“It holds everybody accountable,” he explained. “It’s white and black. There’s not maybe or maybe you were wrong. It’s either you did it right or you did it wrong. I think having that, having that accountability that Coach Marrone and Coach Coughlin are going to hold guys to, I think it’s good.”

With a pretty clear-cut edit to get it right, Bortles said it also carries over to his decision-making on the field. Make the read and execute the play. Marrone agrees that the quarterback has to have some real guidelines so he can make decisions fast.

“Hey, if this comes out and they’re in this formation, hey this is the check,'” Marrone added. “So we’re trying to get all that stuff down and we’re trying to train the players mentally to think quickly because what happens is in this period of time, you tend to be more relaxed because you’re not in full pads.”

For all of the predictions of a new start and better results for the Jaguars, Bortles is a realist when it comes to what really effects a change on the scoreboard.

“You can’t just say, well, you got a new coaching staff with some new guys in the locker room, it’s all going to change. There’s a lot of work that needs to go into it. It kind of started a couple of weeks ago when everybody got here. It’s a long road, it’s a process. I’m excited for it and I think today was a good start.” Is Bortles the “guy?” He’ll play with a much shorter leash this year and without a player on the roster that will push him as the starter; he’ll get a chance to prove that he’s the long-term solution at that position. Coughlin has said “We think he’s the player,” and proved that in this year’s draft.

“Any time they take a tackle, a running back and a receiver, as a quarterback that’s always exciting,” Blake said, showing he paid attention in April. “All three of those guys are extremely good football players in college and it’s been fun the little time that we’ve got to be with them out there to watch those guys run around and integrate into the locker room.”

He’s noticeably leaner at 233 pounds coming into the OTA’s and that’s on purpose. Bortles says the practices are much more up-tempo and being in better shape is an important part of his ability to compete in the off-season.

“As of now, we’re remembered off of what we did last year and what I did last year,” he said, facing up to the big, obvious question. “I can’t wait to change that narrative. It’s more of a personal thing for me as far as what I’m thought of as a quarterback and definitely in this locker room and in this organization, to make sure to prove those guys right.”

And here’s the thing with Blake: He wants to be better. He wants to be great. Believe it or not, there are a lot of players in the league who are just fine with coasting along, making a paycheck. Plenty of quarterbacks who are more comfortable holding a clipboard and wearing a baseball hat on the sidelines. That’s not Bortles. And it’s one of the reasons he’s so popular among his teammates.

He was bad last year and maybe it was a shoulder injury. Maybe it was coaching. Maybe it was the sacks and the losing. But he hasn’t shied away from it, he knows he wasn’t good and is out to fix it. He’s an easy guy to root for and knowing, and wanting to be better is the first step to getting there.

Sunday Stroll For Si Woo Kim

With the lowest round of the week in the 2017 Players a 66, and the best in the final round a 68, the thought that, “You don’t have to do much around here” to be in contention was as clear as ever. The changes in the golf course, the firmness of the greens and exacting nature of every hole kept anybody from going very low.

Over the weekend, Si Woo Kim made one bogey and none in the final round enroute to a 69 and a -10 winning score. Kim is the youngest player to ever win The Players and the second South Korean, joining his mentor K.J. Choi as a champion.

“K.J. has become a really good model, so because he had won before I have I am kind of confident that a Korean can win one of these tournaments and that actually helps me when I’m playing,” Kim said through an interpreter. “While I was practicing with him, he taught me about the course at the Stadium, and so when I was in position the last round, before he actually explained about his experience of being in the leading position, so that kind of advice actually helped me a lot.”

Most of his competitors at The Players were impressed with Kim’s calm demeanor. They knew he could play, but being able to play bogey-free on Sunday at The Players is something special.

“I just focused on myself and I didn’t try to think about others scores. I think that really helped me to be stable.”

And it wasn’t by accident. Kim learned the “focus on winning” mindset early in his golf career. “While I was a junior player, I’ve learned that when you focus on the second place, you don’t do your play well,” he explained. “So I learned that experience, so I was just trying to focus on my play, so I was kind of feeling better just focusing on myself, and I played very aggressive today to get more points ahead of him, so I think that really helped me.”

It was almost as if Kim was ignoring the situation and what was going on around him in order to focus on his own game. He wouldn’t get rattled.

“He’s gone clean out there today, which is extremely impressive under that pressure,” runner-up Ian Poulter said. “I kind of got close there on 11 once I made birdie, and obviously I wanted to try and put a little bit more pressure on, but it was tough to get it close. You have to take your hat off. You have to respect some good golf, and that’s exactly what he’s done.”

A first-hand look of Kim’s final round is just what Louis Oosthuizen got on Sunday. And he wasn’t surprised that Kim held onto the lead down the stretch.

“Well it’s just the way this golf course is,” he said after posted 73 in the final round. “He didn’t really have to do a lot at the end there, just needed to stay in play and make pars. You can get ahead a few shots and the way the weather was today, the way it was so windy, it’s tough to make bogeys at the end there. If it’s perfect weather like yesterday afternoon, yes, you can go, 2, 3-under the last three, four holes, but it was tough today.”

Not only did Kim not make a bogey in the final round, he also lead the field in scrambling, getting it up and down from everywhere. Oosthuizen said that’s the key on the Stadium Course but what Kim did on Sunday was nonetheless impressive.

“If you can do that around this golf course, I mean you can out score everyone,” he explained. “And he played like someone that was doing it for five or six years like it was just another round of golf. It just shows you how good a player he is and how cool and calm he is and never once did he look flustered at all.”

Still Anybody’s Tournament

When you start looking at the leaderboard after the second round of The Players, there are a lot of familiar names but none jump out as current superstars in the game. Get down around even par and you find the top players in the world: Number one Dustin Johnson at even par, #2 Rory McIlroy also at even, #3 Jason Day at -2 and #4 Hideki Matsuyama at one under. I’ve always thought that The Players should adopt the rule to allow anybody who is within 10 shots of the lead to make the cut. The golf course lends itself to being able to make up 10 shots over two rounds. In 2017 players within eleven shots of the leader will play on the weekend. The cut was at two over par.

“I thought that the course was a little more gettable than that,” world number two McIlroy said after posting a one under 71 in the second round. “But it just shows, it’s Sawgrass, it’s tricky, you got to hit some really quality shots to get the ball close and give yourself opportunities for birdies. I shot under par at the end of the day and I’m in for the weekend, which was the main objective going out this morning.”

Playing with the number one player in the world and former champ Matt Kuchar, Rory found it interesting that after 36 holes, all three of them posted even par.

“You wouldn’t have thought looking at the three of us today and yesterday that we’d all finish on even par. We all sort of did it in a different way.. I thought the course was — it felt gettable, but looking at the scores, no one went super low. I wish I could have been closer to the lead, but the guys haven’t went that low, so tomorrow morning maybe shoot us a low one and get myself back in the tournament.”

After a second round one-over par 73, Johnson didn’t like anything about his game but was still playing on the weekend.

“Yeah, I can’t blame anything on anyone but myself,” he said. “The golf course, it wasn’t — it’s playing difficult, but if you hit good shots you can shoot a good score. Good scores are out there, I just didn’t play well enough to shoot a good score.”

Last week in Wilmington, Johnson made the cut on the number and was in contention to win on Sunday after a low Saturday round. He hopes the same think happens this weekend. “I’ll probably be teeing off pretty early and go out and post a good number and get myself back in the golf tournament,” he explained. “If the lead’s around 6- or 7-under,(it’s 9 under) that’s still within reach, absolutely.”

As the defending champ, Day also tied the course record last year at 63 so he’s not afraid to shoot a low number. He’s at -2, seven behind the leader but believes a low number on Saturday would put him in contention.

“Yeah, you don’t really need too much around here.. It’s difficult to try and close around here, but I need a good one tomorrow.

I asked Jason if they can set the golf course up so somebody could go out there and shoot a low number tomorrow.

“I hope so,” he deadpanned to much laughter by the assembled media.

“That would be nice,” he continued. “It’s just that some of the changes — you take 15 for instance, that’s, they lengthened that by 20 yards and usually I would be hitting a 2-iron there with a wedge. Now I’m hitting driver and 9-irons in there. So they definitely made the golf course a lot tougher. I think there’s opportunity over the next two days to really kind of catch up to hopefully to the lead.”

Also at two under par, Phil Mickelson thinks a low number will be shot on Saturday morning.

“I think the guy that is going to be leading tomorrow is going to be somebody that’s at like even, 1-under par right now that goes out early and has a chance to shoot a low round,” he said. “Because as the day wears on, the course firms up, dries out and it gets a lot more difficult.”

Any round in the 60’s would be fine for him tomorrow said the 2007 champ. So he thinks a good round puts him in the thick of it.

“Yeah, I think anybody that made the cut has a really good shot,” he explained. “But especially if you’re even, 1-under, I think those guys go out a little early and I think they could shoot 6-, 7-under par and get right back in it. I know there was probably a couple of those today, but I don’t see many of those out there.”

After a stellar 2016, 2004 champ Adam Scott has struggled since the first of the year. But despite back-to-back double bogeys yesterday on 17 and 18, he’s still within striking distance at two under par. He said he hit a couple of loose shots and that always costs you at the Stadium Course.

“But you know, I’m going to have to sharpen that up for the weekend,” he said after his round. “The rhythm of the swing wasn’t quite there today like it was yesterday, so if I can just go out and find that for tomorrow, I like where I’m at.

Scott agreed that the golf course doesn’t appear to be as difficult as it’s playing. And the scores reflect that.

“I’m not quite sure why the scoring isn’t better. It just must be tricky out there. You know, everyone trying to come to terms with a few little changes here and there. The greens certainly aren’t fast. They’re firm, and maybe it was a tough set of pins today. I don’t know, it was just tough to get it close. You know, this course you have to ball strike it to death to kind of limit the mistakes, and if you hit one off line, it’s hard work getting it back on track.”

Without much focus, Masters Champion Sergio Garcia kept himself in the tournament with an ace on 17 yesterday and got to even par with a 71 on Friday including a birdie on eighteen. He admits it’s been tough to come back after his win at Augusta and compete in the Players as his first time back.

“Definitely, I’m not going to lie, it has been difficult. But even like that, I felt like I fought hard the last two days after a terrible start, and it’s a shame because today without playing amazing, I felt like I could have shot 3-, 4-under par and that would have been really, really good. Unfortunately, I let a couple slip away there towards the end, but I played well the last two holes with the pressure of making sure that I didn’t do anything stupid so I could be here on the weekend, and hopefully I can free up a little bit on the weekend and have a solid two days.”

As a pure ball striker, it’s no surprise Garcia has the best record here among players who have been in the tournament since he won in 2008. But his mental state, as he admits, has been off since he teed it up yesterday.

“It has been overwhelming, I’m not going to lie. I haven’t won a Major and I haven’t won the Masters before, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect and what to feel. I’ve hit some really good shots but I hit some shots that I wasn’t hitting lately, so I need to kind of tighten that up a little bit.”

Malik Jackson At The Players: “It’s Pretty Dope”

He’d be hard to miss in any situation. But Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson at 6’6″ and 290 lbs. was wearing a bright burnt, Tennessee orange shirt on Thursday watching golf in the first round of The Players.

“It’s just to see all of my Tennessee brothers and sisters,” he said with a laugh and a wink when asked what the actual intent of wearing Volunteer colors might be. “I want us to come out of hiding in this Florida, Florida State place. Because we (Vols) thrive here.”

Always affable and available in the Jaguars locker room, Jackson was clearly relaxed and enjoying himself in a different environment.

“I’m terrible at golf,” he said after coming into the Jaguars Den (chalet) from watching golf at the 17th hole. “You know when I first got here we had a little golf outing with Sen’Derrick (Marks) and Roy (Miller) as a D-Line and it was fun but not for me. I’d rather be home playing golf on video games.”

Still, Jackson has a special appreciation for what the best players in the world can do on a golf course.

“Kind of like when Pop Warner watches us,” he chuckled. ” It’s cool to see these guys do their thing, kind of like when they come to a football game and watch us. I have no clue what they do and how they do it. It’s cool to see another pro do his thing.”

Growing up in California, Jackson started his college career at Southern Cal, then to Tennessee. He played in Denver before signing as a free agent with the Jaguars. After being here a year, his still discovering what North Florida has to offer, year ’round. And he likes it.

“I didn’t know TPC was here,” he explained. “Jacksonville has a lot to offer with things like this and music festivals. It’s pretty dope to experience this,(and) the biggest outdoor cocktail party. It’s fun to be around. It’s opening my eyes to what Jacksonville has to offer.

Winning Score? TPC Stadium Is Firm And Fast

If they wanted to, they could make it impossible. The Stadium Course in 2017 is going to be firm and fast, thanks to a lack of rain in Ponte Vedra in the last month.

“We’ve been able to control it this year,” said Jeff Plotts, the Stadium Course’s Director of Agronomy. “We haven’t had rain here in a while so we’ve been able to make it just right.”

It’s quirky, that’s for sure. Locals say often “you’ve been TPC’d” when a shot is a foot or two off line and trundles into an impossible spot.

“You can’t fake it around here,” Rickie Fowler said this week. “If you’re not on, it’ll expose you.”

So with the lack of rain, the firm greens, the quirkiness and the ability to hide the flagstick in obscure and tight places, they could make it impossible. But they won’t because it’s The Players Championship and the players want to make birdies and that’s what fans want to see.

With benig weather expected, the best players in the world will figure out to shoot a low score. But how the golf course is set up will determine how low the winner can go.

It seemed everybody at the PGA Tour was upset when Greg Norman shot -24 in 1994 and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. They failed to mention that only Fuzzy Zoeller and Jeff Maggert that year approached Norman’s record score with the rest of the field near single digits. Since then, Davis Love in 2003 (-17) and Tim Clarke in 2010 (-16) have gone low.

But something in double-digits under par usually wins The Players. In four straight years, 2011-2014, the winning score was -13. Rickie Fowler shot -12 (So did Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia that year to get into a playoff). Last year Jason Day won at -15.

Since the tournament moved to May in 2007, Garcia’s -5 in 2008 (also in a playoff with Paul Goydos) is the highest winning score. In March, David Duval’s victory came at -3.

So what wins this year?

The way the golf course is set up, somebody will play great and post a low number in one round. But over 72 holes, the Stadium Course will offer enough resistance to keep only the best and most patient players of the week at the top of the leaderboard.

It’s why I like Sergio, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy this week. The first to -10 wins.

Sergio: Everybody’s New Favorite

It’s funny how perceptions change. Think George Foreman. Big, hulking, brooding, tough guy that nobody rooted for as the heavyweight champion. After losing to Ali in the ‘rope-a-dope’ fight, the public started to take to Foreman and through the years he’s become the big loveable guy who sells grills.

For a long time in his career, Sergio Garcia was the villain, certainly not the favorite in any situation and especially not in the US. He started as Tiger Woods’ rival as a 19-year old teenager. He became the “Best player to have not won a major” for a long time. Then he was the petulant, self-pitying, talented player who never achieved his potential. The bottom of his image came when he said, “I’m not good enough. I have to accept that I’m just playing for second or third.” He was openly heckled in the playoff at The Players in 2015.

In his 20-years on the PGA Tour, Garcia certainly appears to have matured, and the perception of him has come from fans and media who weren’t part of his inner circle. He became the favorite on the back nine at the Masters this year and the outpouring of support since winning his first major surprised him. Because, in his mind, Garcia hasn’t changed at all.

“I think I’ve been saying it, and I always say it, that I’m still the same person. I told you, I always try to be true to myself,” Garcia said on Wednesday at The Players. “I try to be as genuine as I can be and as honest as possible. I think that at the end of the day that people see that, and now they’re even happier because, yeah, we won at Augusta. But I think at the end of the day, the most important thing is to not change. You are who you are, and one major or 20 majors shouldn’t change you.”

No question Garcia had doubts. His public comments reflect that. But perhaps what he didn’t know was how many of his peers were on his side. That has surprised him since winning the Masters in April.

“Yeah, it’s been amazing. I think that — there’s so many great things that have happened since Sunday at Augusta,” he explained. “You know, the support from fans and supporters and everyone around the world has been amazing. But for me, what has meant the most, it’s to see the reaction from the players, you know, towards me and how happy — other than a couple, how happy they all have been (laughing). It shows me how much my fellow players respect me and care about me. It’s something that you can’t really fake, so that’s awesome.”

In the four weeks since his win in Augusta, Garcia hasn’t played any competitive golf but he’s been busy. He attended Rory McElroy’s wedding, he tapped the ceremonial opening kick in Spain at El Classico and he spent a couple of weeks at his place in Switzerland. So to come back for his first tournament at The Players would seem like a challenge. But his track record at the Stadium Course is stellar and even with the one win in 2008; he’s been in contention enough to have won a few more.

“I like the golf course,” he said. “I feel like I’m still swinging the club well. I feel confident out there. I’ve just got to keep doing more and more of that, and at the end of the day, it’s the same thing we did four weeks ago, so it shouldn’t change too much.”

“Is it ideal to come back and be the first tournament this one? Hopefully. Hopefully we’ll be able to say that on Sunday.”

Since he hasn’t played on Tour since the Masters, when he tees it up on the first tee on Thursday it’ll be the first time he’s been introduced as the “Masters Champion,” part of the ceremonial nature announcing the players each week. Even he admitted that will be special.

“I’d love to tell you what it’s going to feel like,” he said, “But I’m not going to know until Thursday, but I’m excited about it. I’m not going to lie to you. I’m sure a lot of things will go through my mind about that week and stuff, but it’s a great thing to have.”

And true to his thought that he’s the same person, Garcia said he’s still trying to win.

“At the end of the day, to stay hungry, the other thing you have to do is just keep working hard,” he added. “I know that I can still improve, so that’s my goal. I’ve always said it, my goal is always to become better, so it doesn’t matter — like I said, I could have a year where I don’t win and I feel really, really good about what I’ve done because I feel like I’ve become better, and then some of the years where obviously maybe you get three or four wins and they’re even better, but it doesn’t mean that — it’s not only about winning.” When asked who the “Best Player to Not Win a Major” is now, Garcia paused and with a laugh said, “Not me!”

THE PLAYERS In May Or March Is Still Huge

As administrations have changed at the PGA Tour over the last 40 years, the focus of The Players has changed as well. The tournament founder and then-Commissioner Deane Beman wanted it to be the first significant tournament of the year. And in truth, wanted it to become the fifth major. Beman was visionary when it came to what The Players could be, but in some cases was a lone voice, albeit an important voice for what he always called “Our Championship.” Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus both had tournaments in Florida and Ohio and also wanted their tournaments to be something more than just another tour spot. Nicklaus had visions of Augusta at Murifield Village outside of Columbus. Both he and Palmer considered Beman a rival when it came to building golf courses, they didn’t think the PGA Tour should be in that business, so neither were big proponents of The Players in the early years.

Nobody at the Tour was ever happy when a lot of the talk during this week was about The Masters. Falling just two weeks before the first “major” many players of the era talked about using The Players as a run-up to Augusta.

So over time, and a new commissioner in Tim Finchem, the Tour did everything they could to make The Players the best on every level they could: Biggest prize money, best practice facility, magnificent clubhouse and on and on. But even as the tournament grew in stature and became a tournament that players wanted to win, (Adam Scott in 2004 was the first to say “I grew up dreaming of winning this tournament”) it still lived in the shadow of The Masters.

In 2007, after years of studying the weather and agronomy, The Players moved to May, four weeks after the Masters and a month before the US Open. While the tournament stands alone and is now a significant international sporting event. There is a sentiment among the PGA Tour staff, under new commissioner Jay Monahan and among current PGA Tour players that the tournament should move back to March. Former champion David Duval is a big proponent of the move, saying “the golf course plays in March the way it was designed.” Johnny Miller echoed his thought noting that, “in March, you occasionally get a north wind which makes 17 and 18 play very differently. In May, it’s just a flip wedge for these guys.”

Current players say it’s big enough to stand on it’s own, not as a run up to Augusta. The golf course would be more predictable, as in hard, and it would do two things to the schedule: reinstate the ‘Florida Swing” with three tournaments in the state leading up to The Players and if as the PGA of America has talked about, the PGA Championship moves to May, it would have five big tournaments, one a month, starting in March. Plus the FedEx playoffs (they signed a new 10-year sponsorship extension today) would end around Labor Day, keeping the “Championship” from competing with college football and the NFL.

Predictably, Monahan had a very political answer to the question of moving the tournament when asked on Tuesday.

“Well, it’s in May, and right now we don’t have any plans on moving it back to March,” he said flatly. “That’s certainly been part of the consideration set. But until we make a decision or at the point in time we make a decision to make any change, I would be happy to answer that question and answer that question directly, but right now we’re focused on making THE PLAYERS the best it can possibly be in May.”

Stars in the golf world don’t seem to feel strongly one way or another. Former world #1 Rory McIlroy understands the argument but thinks it’s a long way off.

“I can definitely see why it would move back to March,” he said. “I can definitely see the reasons for it. And, yeah, if it did go that way, it would obviously take a few different courses off the PGA rota, the places up north that wouldn’t quite be ready. But I can definitely see why it would happen, but I think there’s a lot of things to cover until we get to that point.”

As the defending champion, World #3 and former #1 Jason Day considers the playability of the golf course and how it would change how it’s played.

“Yeah. Firstly, there’s a lot of history behind this golf course with regards to the champions that have played here,” he explained. “I think it’s very, very difficult golf course. Once again, we do have a little bit of weather here every now and then, but for the most part it’s a very difficult golf course at this time, especially with the Bermudagrass and with the current position of them actually thinking about changing the date, that will change the way the grass plays and everything else, so that may change the way that I view the golf course.”

Perhaps the new commissioner gave us some clues into what he’s thinking and whether the tournament is just fine where it is.

“it’s our showcase of excellence,” he explained. “We continue to do everything we can to enhance every facet of this event. And we do that so that you all and our fans can talk about its significance. All we can do is control everything that we have here on property, and we’re very proud of how this event evolves.”

As far as where The Players is in the pantheon of “significant tournaments and whether it’ll ever be considered a “Major,” Monahan admitted that’s not up to him.

“I think this championship’s in a great place,” he added. “And I think if that’s where — if that’s how it’s described and it is being described as that by some today, whether it’s the media or players, that’s something we’re very comfortable with because we think that description is befitting of the work that’s been done over 40 plus years to build this championship.”

“And it’s the PLAYERS Championship,” he continued. “They come here, it’s their tournament and it’s unique and different and they’re obviously playing the same course year in and year out. This course is phenomenal in terms of the way it’s democratic and it really defines the best playing, the best player at that point in time, and hence the great list of champions we have.”

GJO To The Players Is A Long Trip

From John Tucker, Dick Stratton and a few others sitting at Silver’s Drug Store in Jax Beach talking about holding a golf tournament to the present day, the old GJO (Greater Jacksonville Open) has morphed into one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

It didn’t take long for the new Executive Director of The Players, Jared Rice to recite the statistics for this week’s tournament at the TPC at Sawgrass.

“Twenty-five countries, over a billion households, the tournament telecast is distributed in over 30 languages, this is one of the highest trafficked weeks of the year at Jacksonville International Airport, Hotel occupancy is at it’s highest,” he said on Monday. “It really is a showcase of our region, we love this community, it’s a great place to live work and play, bring in out of town guests, business decision makers, it’s a great opportunity for us.”

If you’ve been out to the Stadium Course at all in the last four months you know they’ve made a lot of changes to the golf course and to the spectator experience. And there’s always more work to do.

“It’s less than 24 hours away when we open the doors to the public,” Rice added. “A little paint, some final nails, we are ready to go and look forward to seeing everyone out here tomorrow.”

For years The Players boasted of being the “best field in golf.” This year, that’s just a fact. Only two of the top 50 aren’t here. Brandt Snedeker is injured and Belgian Thomas Pieters didn’t enter. Currently, 46 of the top 50 FedEx Cup will compete this week. And as far as the actual strength of the field, there are 110 PGA Tour winners among Thursday’s starters with the players entered combining for 458 PGA Tour wins.

Two-time Arnold Palmer Invitational winner and Florida Gator Matt Every lives nearby but isn’t as familiar with the course or the changes as you might think.

“I don’t come here a lot,” he explained. “It’s pretty crowded during the year, kinda like a resort. My game’s all right, it’s good enough. I’m not far off at all.”

And even with that, Every wasn’t convinced of his chances this week.

“I’m not playing super good right now so it would be shocking for me if I would win here,” knowing he missed the cut at Sawgrass two of the last three years. “I know when it’s coming and when it’s not so if it happens great but if not, it’s OK.”

With the changes on the golf course, some players agree it will make it more difficult, favoring somebody who has some patience this week.

“These greens have always been firm. It’s nice, they’re brand new greens and it’s nice that we’ll have them firm this year,” former FedEx Cup champ, local resident and Florida Gator Bill Horschel said after a practice round.

“I think aesthetically they did a real nice job of improving the course. I think everyone’s raved about it,” he added. “They did a fairly decent job at 12. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of guys go for it this year so they’ll come back and tweak it.”

Again this year, PGA Tour officials decided not to open the course to the public on Monday, giving players a lot of space to work on their games. That’s probably why so many, including the defending champion Jason Day, were at the course early.

“It’s nice, it’s considered a fifth major and a lot of guys come out here and practice and do our own thing,” Horschel explained. “‘Bothered’ isn’t the right terminology but it’s nice to have a peaceful quiet day before all of the commotion gets going tomorrow. They could have record breaking attendance to it would be awesome to see.”

Jaguars Take “Bama OL In 2nd Round

It’s not hard to see where Tom Coughlin wants to take the Jaguars as the VP of Football Operations. His long-time mantra of ‘run the football, stop the run’ is already reflected in the Jaguars signings in free agency and taking Leonard Fournette at the top of the draft. As a rookie, it’s hard to predict what impact Fournette can have behind the Jaguars current offensive line but Coughlin believes taking a back with Fournette’s qualities can show a culture shift for the franchise.

“The idea that you are going to run because of what you have invested, and your offensive line knows it,” he explained. “Your offensive line would much rather run the ball than pass protect all day long. When you make this kind of investment you know that you are going to see (in practice) nine on sevens, you are going to see 11-on-11 play-action pass.”

During his few minutes at the podium after the first round, Coughlin talked about toughness, finishing games and “putting it in the end zone.”

That’s why taking Cam Robinson from Alabama in the second round makes perfect sense. Robinson is the 8th Alabama offensive lineman taken in the last five drafts. That’s currently three more than any other school.

Robinson is 6’6″ 322 lbs. and officially is listed as a tackle. GM Dave Caldwell said Robinson is “A tackle and will compete with Branden Allen at left tackle.” He allowed three sacks in 861 career snaps. Robinson was a freshman all American and a consensus all-American as a junior. He won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top offensive lineman in 2016

Jaguars Take Fournette: “Physical”

I’m willing to be gladly surprised, especially if Leonard Fournette is everything the Jaguars think he is.

“He’s special, he’s special,” Jaguars VP of Football operations Tom Coughlin repeated at the podium tonight after making the pick. “We need players who can put it in the end zone. This guy can do that.”

With the 4th pick, the Jaguars took virtually no time to select Fournette, a 6′ 240 lb. running back from LSU. I liked Solomon Thomas but he was gone. They said they didn’t consider trading down (“We knew if they hadn’t called already, they weren’t going to” according to GM Dave Caldwell.)

They had Fournette as the next highest rated player along with safety Jamal Adams, also from LSU but Coughlin said, “We need playmakers.” (They also liked Myles Garrett and Thomas who were taken 1st and 3rd this year)

Over and over, first GM Dave Caldwell then Head Coach Doug Marrone and finally Coughlin used the word “physical.” They like how Fournette can be a physical player at the point of attack but also can get downfield when necessary.

“He’s powerful and can step on the gas when necessary,” according to TC.

“It puts a lot of spotlight on the offensive line,” Marrone said when asked about running behind the current Jaguars O-Line. “One can help the other. We had a lot of information on Leonard. How he ran in track, baseball. We knew a lot about him”

With so many questions about the Jaguars offensive line going into 2017, it’s legitimate to wonder how he’ll produce if the guys up front aren’t what the Jaguars brass are hoping they become. Marrone addressed that, kind of, saying, “We need to be physical. We need to practice like that and more importantly, we need to play that way.”

Physical is one of the first things Caldwell said about Fournette when explaining the selection process. “Us being physical, being able to run the ball, take some pressure off the quarterback.”

But Fournette takes exception to the thought that he’s a “pounder” and not elusive. “I ran track, I can run, (just over 21 seconds in the 200). When it gets on the field (his speed) it surprises a lot of people.”

When asked what would be a successful rookie season, Fournette said, “A Super Bowl,” without a hint of sarcasm. But it was clear listening to and watching him that he was thinking about team goals before any individual goals. “It’s a long process, visiting all those teams. I’m glad to have a new home and a new family.”

And regarding the Jaguars leadership, Fournette said Odell Beckham, Jr. clued him in when he was with the Giants. “I know Coach Coughlin don’t play no games. Odell told me that.”

So Coughlin stuck to his mantra of “Take the best player available” and was able to fulfill a need at the same time. “You got it,” he told me when I presented that scenario. Tom didn’t have to break any deadlocks since Garrett and Thomas were taken in front of the Jaguars and “getting the ball in the end zone” was clearly a priority over safety.

Asked to compare Fournette to Fred Taylor, the ninth overall pick in a Coughlin draft, Tom said, “The one thing they both did is put it in the end zone. That’s what we need.”

Past Is Prologue For The Jaguars Draft

To figure out what the Jaguars are going to do, the best barometer is what they’ve done in the past. And you can go back to when Tom Coughlin was last making the decisions in Jacksonville.

“You want to take the best player available,” he said last week discussing how the Jaguars will make the decisions in 2017. “At least in the first three rounds. That’s how great organizations have been built. Ideally ‘best player’ and ‘need’ meet when it’s your time.”

After winning three games last year, “need” is a relative term for the Jaguars since it appears they ‘need’ everything. With the fourth selection in the draft, Coughlin said, “We think we’ll get a good football player.” And he’s right, but the draft is always fraught with potholes.

Looking at the first round, the Jaguars don’t think there are actually 32 ‘first-rounders’ despite the availability of 32 picks. In 2017, their number is around players with legitimate first round talent. So they have a shot at an impact player if they stay at four or even if they’re in a position to trade down a bit.

“It’s hard to make a trade in the top five,” Coughlin explained. “It’s not hard to trade down, but it’s difficult for teams to come up that high because it’s so expensive. A lot of teams just can’t afford it.”

A best-case scenario for the Jaguars is if a team below them covets a quarterback (say Mitchell Trubiski) and he’s still there after the first three picks. Ideally the team that would covet Trubiski would still be in the top ten and the Jaguars would have a shot to select what they consider an elite player and gain some draft picks.

Over his career as a personnel evaluator, Coughlin has always liked big players over anything else. Think of Tony Boselli, John Henderson and even the free-agent signing of Leon Searcy. All big, physical players. That’s why I just don’t see the Jaguars taking Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick. Maybe he’s a ‘generational’ player but with an unproven offensive line, even last year’s breakout running back Ezekiel Elliott would have struggled. If they’re looking for a running back, Joe Mixon or even Dalvin Cook will be available where they pick in the second round. (His off-field issue well-documented, the Jaguars wouldn’t confirm Mixon was off their board.)

One scenario not discussed is the Jaguars figuring out how to move up and get DE Myles Garrett. If he’s the class of the draft, that’s something they’ve considered, especially if the Browns are thinking about a quarterback in the top of the first round and can get him in the fourth spot. If Garrett is only slightly higher rated than Jonathan Allen or Solomon Thomas than stay where you are and take one of those players.

The difference between the two is projection. Allen is considered NFL ready but he did have a small injury issue for the Tide. Thomas doesn’t have the true size that everybody likes in defensive ends, but his speed and flexibility make him the kind of player the Jaguars don’t have on their roster. That’s one of the reasons the Jaguars should take Thomas if he’s there. He’s also a smart, high effort player who still hasn’t found his ceiling. He’ll get better as his career develops. With Allen you probably get more immediate help but in a nine-player rotation up front on defense, I like Thomas’ upside.

There’s no guarantee that Thomas will get past San Francisco or Chicago in front of the Jaguars so as Coughlin says, “You have to be prepared for anything. My experience is that things happen in the draft where you say ‘Wow, where’d that come from.'”

That’s why after always saying opening weekend was the most exciting day of the year for Tom as a head coach, when I asked him if draft day will be that as a VP he said, “We’ll see.”

Jaguars Draft 2017: Take The Best Player

For all the changes the Jaguars have made on the team and the administration for 2017, one thing remains the same: No real information from the pre-draft luncheon.

At least this year it was a bit of a cat-and-mouse game between Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, Head Coach Doug Marrone, General Manager Dave Caldwell and the assembled media. It was clear they had decided before they stepped into the West Club what they were, and weren’t going to say.

To emphasize that point, when Coughlin was asked what he expected from the 4th pick in next week’s draft he had a quick and clipped response.

“We feel like we’re going to get a good football player.”

So it was more of a “feel” thing being in the same room with the three men charged with running the Jaguars football organization. Being there, seeing their body language and hearing their answers showed that Shad Khan’s idea that these three could work together seems to be developing. It’s not wholly there, but it’s developing.

No question Coughlin is in charge. Marrone is splitting his time between coaching, now that the players are in town, and sitting in on draft meetings. Caldwell is still scouting and evaluating, learning as much as he can about the players available but he understands his won’t be the final vote. That belongs to TC.

“It’s been a very good exchange throughout all of the preparations,” Coughlin explained. “Lots of things have been discussed and, by in large, we’ve agreed on the assessment of the players along the way, with the exception of one or two along the way.”

“There’s a lot more dialogue,” Caldwell added. “There’s a lot more good discussion between, with Tom, being able to bounce things off of him. Doug’s involvement, Doug’s been pretty involved up until this week since the players came back. I think the process has been the same and the involvement and the discussion has been different. It’s been good dialogue, too.”

Give Caldwell credit for giving this a go. He could have up and quit but this opportunity at this point in his career looks to be a good fit. He noted that Coughlin joined a 16-month process 12-months into it, so Caldwell hasn’t had to change much.

They seem to agree that the spot they’re in gives them a lot of flexibility, so they’re trying to anticipate what might happen on draft day and what they value in each round.

“All of the different scenarios that go along with the draft,” Coughlin said about preparing for next week. “You just have to be ready for that.”

As far as trading down out of the 4th spot. They didn’t dismiss the idea.

“That depends on the year,” Caldwell explained. “We had an opportunity last year to move down and we obviously decided to take Jalen (Ramsey). It depends on who’s there and what the talent is in the top four or five picks. There may be some teams that have specific needs and are willing to come up.”

But to get up to the 4th spot is an expensive proposition that a lot of teams can’t afford. That’s why you don’t see that kind of trade on draft day happen often. Coughlin says it’s tough for teams to part with enough to move into the top five.

At the 4th spot, they Jaguars have a pretty good idea about what might happen in front of them. If they trade down, a lot of different things could happen.

“It seems like there are a lot of opportunities,” Coughlin said, drawing on his experience. “Depending on where you draft – say you are in the middle, there is more of a tendency for something to happen in front of you that you didn’t expect there, but there seems to be, from my experience, in every draft, there is something that happens that (makes you say), ‘Wow, where did that one come from?’ You have to be prepared for that.”

Early in his tenure as Head Coach and General Manager of the Jaguars, Coughlin selected quarterback Rob Johnson out of Southern Cal even though the Jaguars didn’t need a quarterback. He was simply the best player on the board and he couldn’t pass him up. That seems to still be Tom’s mantra: Take the best player available.

“I think that’s what you want,” he said. “You have to be disciplined to do that anyway. You want to take the best available player, particularly in the first three rounds. And that’s the way over the years, with consistency, rosters have been improved.”

Which is where the Jaguars find themselves right now.

Nothing Good In The Jags 2017 Schedule

Of the things that come to mind when looking at the Jaguars 2017 schedule the best are the fact that seven of the 13 opponents had losing record in 2016 and there are only three playoff teams to face.

Everything else is summed up well by my colleague Cole Pepper:

“If the Jaguars are decent at Thanksgiving, the schedule helps them out. Otherwise, not so much.”

It’s a tough start and a tough finish. No primetime game for the first time in franchise history and two games in Jacksonville before November 5th.

Shad Khan can’t be happy.

Three straight home games in December will only help the Jaguars if they’re off to a fast start and are somewhere around .500 through the first three months of the season. That could be tough when they open against the pre-season AFC South favorite Houston Texans on the road, followed by a home game against an emerging Tennessee team and their quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Although it’s a home game, week three is a trip to London to face the Ravens with no bye week afterwards. In fact, the Jaguars will get back on a plane the following Saturday and fly to New York to face the Jets in week four. If that stretch isn’t already tough on the players’ bodies, the go back on the road the next week to face the always-physical Pittsburgh Steelers.

Nothing in the first five weeks favors the Jaguars except that they’ve won in London in back-to-back years. Anything less than 2-3 in that stretch will leave the players hurting, their confidence waning, the coaches mad, and the fans frustrated.

Three of the next five games are at home, with the bye week scheduled for Florida/Georgia weekend on October 29th. The Rams, Bengals and Chargers will be in Jacksonville with the one road trip in that stretch a division game against Indy. This is the stretch where we’ll find out what the Jaguars of 2017 will be all about. None of those teams are world-beaters with the Bengals the toughest out of the bunch.

Beating the Browns in Cleveland will be imperative at that point in the season because the next week they’re back on the road against the Cardinals in Phoenix with Carson Palmer.

Playing three straight home games in December is nice if you’re a contender, but it does nothing for the Jaguars allowing Indy, Seattle and Houston to come here and play a fair-weather game on the road. You want those games at home in September where you can use the home town heat to your advantage.

They finish with two road games, at San Francisco and at Tennessee on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve respectively. The ‘Niners are rebuilding but the Titans could be fighting for a playoff spot and get that game at home.

It’s the first time in franchise history there’s no prime time games, no Thursday appearance, nothing on Sunday or Monday nights. You could say they’ve earned that with their record of the last five years.

If Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone wanted a challenge, they certainly got one immediately. The league did them no favors.

Mt. Acosta Classic Is Something Special

Now in it’s fifth year, the Mt. Acosta Classic might be the most unique and interesting running/cycling/endurance event in North Florida.

“To be able to have the bridge shut down and not have any vehicles on the road gives everybody an appreciation of how beautiful the city is,” said Marie McMaster the Race Director and an architect at the Haskell Company.

Well-known triathlete Jared Bynum was killed in Nocatee when he was run over by a car while on his bike training for his next race. Bynum was very involved in helping at-risk kids in North Florida graduate from high school and helping them continue their education. The Mt. Acosta Classic is held in his memory and through this year will have raised over $50,000 for the scholarship fund. Here’s how the organizers describe it:

“This scholarship fund was established to help students who complete the mentoring program at Julia Landon College Preparatory and Leadership School, go on to finish high school in four years and are accepted to college. It will help them go to college and achieve their dreams. Jared believed in being an encouraging and supporting role model for the young students that were a part of the school’s mentoring program. This scholarship focuses on those students who have overcome early childhood challenges and continued on through high school and to college. These students want to be something that they and their families can be proud of, something that brings joy to others.”

There are one loop (2.2 miles), one hour and three hour options, all starting at 4:30 PM for both cyclists and runners.

“As a participant in the run myself, the bridge is entirely different running on the road than running on the sidewalk,” McMaster explained. “The event is closed to traffic, every cyclist is aware of what to look for and we need the community to look after us as well.”

There is race day registration and the organizers say they’ll try to squeeze in everybody who shows up.

“One hundred percent of the money goes to the kids in this community, the future leaders of Jacksonville.”

And I can tell you from personal experience, this is a great event. Without any hills or mountains here in the Jacksonville area, there are cyclists and runners on the Acosta Bridge all the time. To get a chance to traverse the span, unencumbered by traffic, is something special.

Marrone Looking For Competition, Consistency

It doesn’t matter where Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone is or who’s asking the question. The question is always the same: “What about Blake Bortles?”

At the AFC Coaches breakfast at the NFL’s annual meeting in Phoenix, Marrone was asked about Bortles in every way possible. And he stuck by his answer: Blake is the Jaguars quarterback.

“The relationship with head coach and quarterback is important,” he said in front of a group of reporters gathered around his table. “We’ll set some goals. He’s our quarterback. No different than any other position. You have to earn the respect of your teammates and earn a roster spot.”

With Marrone and VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin preaching competition, it is interesting that they’ve done that at every position but quarterback. Pointing out that Brandon Allen and Chad Henne are still on the roster, Marrone said that will create competition but he doesn’t believe Bortles is the type of player who needs to be pushed.

“He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He’s able to stand up and be consistent. A lot of people wouldn’t know what’s that like, constantly being asked ‘Why aren’t you playing well, why aren’t you winning.'”

In the final two weeks of the 2016 season with Marrone as the interim head coach, Bortles seemed to settle down and play better. While he won’t take credit for that, Doug does say he changed the focus for his quarterback, giving him options to keep a play, series or drive going without taking chances. That seemed to allow Bortles to take some pressure off himself. “You appreciate that but as a coach you have to manage it,” Marrone explained of the expectations some players have of themselves. “You have to be smart, check the ball down, sometimes he puts a lot of pressure on himself to make a play and sometimes that play’s just not there.”

Not to say Doug doesn’t want players who have high expectations. Especially for themselves.

“The players that you want are the players who compete against themselves,” he added. “Those are the kind you want. I don’t think anyone on our team has a sense of ease.”

That uneasiness comes from the culture that Marrone and Tom Coughlin are changing around the organization. Their long-standing relationship is one of the things owner Shad Khan pointed to as why the new management structure on the Jaguars is working, along with GM Dave Caldwell. Marrone is pretty comfortable with the way things are.

“I know that from when I was a very young coach I’ve always looked up to Coach Coughlin,” he said. “When I was the head coach at Syracuse I relied on him quite a bit about culture, philosophy, dealing with coaches, dealing with players, without a partnership. He’s helped me grow so much as a coach.”

“I know I’m the head coach and I’m going to run this team but I have the greatest situation in the world, he continued. “I have someone who’s aligned with me philosophically. I tell him all the time, ‘By the time you’re done with me, I’ll have sucked every bit of information out of your brain.’ To have somebody to walk ten feet into his office and ask ‘Is there a better way to do this’ I just think is outstanding.” As they go about reshaping the Jaguars inside and out, Marrone says it’s not a mystery why certain teams win and others can’t.

“There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “When you look at teams that haven’t won, the same things pop up. Mental toughness, not being able to finish games. We want to create structure, discipline. You have to train mental and physical toughness. You have to experience adversity.”

When the regular carousel of coaching changes started happening right after the regular season, Marrone was named as a possibility for several other franchises. But he stayed in Jacksonville, partly because of his two years already here. Not necessarily on the Jaguars, but living in town, getting to know the people. He believes the team should take on the personality of it’s own community.

“I love these types of challenges. I was able to live in the community, you get to see the passion and the disappointment. When we come in as a coaching staff and as players, we have a chance to change that. And do it in a way that reflects the community. The community is a group of hard-working people. We have to reflect the people in the community who get up and go to work everyday and build something.”

Calling on his experience helping rebuild the Saints after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, Marrone says there has to be a connection between the fans and the team. When the Saints finally returned to the Superdome, he looked into the stands before the opening kickoff and saw people crying.

“That’s when I started to realize what type of effect a football team can have on a town or a region. I’m not going to compare our situation to that but I want our fans to have that pride again to wear the Jaguars logo.”

In another offseason full of changes and the remaking of the roster, again, skeptics are everywhere around a team that looked like it had so much promise a year ago. And for the new head coach, that means even at home.

“My son’s friends, they want to know everything. You want to talk about being prepared to talk to reporters?” he said with a big laugh. “Try talking to a bunch of 13-year-old kids! ‘Why are we going after this guy? What are we doing?’ They have no filter. Even my son “What are we doin’ Dad?” And my wife asks, “Do you know what you’re doing? Are you sure?”

All good questions that will only start to be answered in September.

Khan “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”

In his five years as the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shad Khan has become an integral part of the NFL Ownership. On the finance committee and chairman of the league’s business development committee, Khan is helping make policy now and shaping the league for the future.

Since his investment in the team and subsequent investment in the stadium Shad transformed Jacksonville’s stature in the league from tenuous to solid.

“I think the right word is “action speaks louder than words,” Khan said sitting near the lobby of the Arizona Biltmore between meetings. “Hard to believe when I was introduced 5 years ago that I said we were going to do everything we could to make football viable in Jacksonville. And we’ve been trying to do that. From day one, that’s what you do.”

Changes to the north end zone, the scoreboards, the clubs and the south end zone have transformed the stadium from a place you’d go to see a game to an entertainment destination. According to Shad, the competition from just staying at home in front of your TV is a battle he and his fellow owners in the NFL have to fight.

“That’s a great product a HD TV so why would somebody want to come to a game?” he explained. ” It has to be a great game day experience where you want to be there. Just about every team owner who has been there can’t believe it’s the same stadium. I think we stand up very well. We want to move the needle. And I think we are doing that.”

Creating non-football revenue is key to any franchise success according to Khan. That’s why he believes the new Daily’s Place adjacent to the south end zone is an important piece in the Jaguars’ viability. Creating events over several days surrounding a game that will attract fans from all over, not just for the game but for a whole weekend is the goal. Daily’s Place is scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend, a tight timeline that the Jaguars owner acknowledges. In fact, so tight he admitted, the paint might not be dry.

“Probably not,” he said with a laugh. “So be careful, don’t lean on anything. There might not be paint at all. But as time goes on, it’s only going to be better and better.”

While he’s not involved in the football process, Khan is a fan and gets excited just like anybody would when his team has success. Lately that’s been limited to the offseason and 2017 is no different. The Jaguars have “won” the offseason again, a familiar spot that hasn’t translated to wins on the field.

“I had the same feeling I’ve had for the last couple of years,” he said rubbing his hands together. “Boy we did great, a whole bunch of checks got written so I’m excited that some of the players we wanted, other teams wanted and we got them. So we’re hoping for better results on the field.”

When he introduced Tom Coughlin as the new VP of Football Operations, Doug Marrone as the Head Coach and Dave Caldwell remaining as the GM, Khan said there was a “higher football IQ” in the organization with those three making the decisions. He says that has already shown itself in watching the decision making process.

“I really feel it,” Khan said of the feeling in the building these days. “I hadn’t really met Tom until this whole process started. They (Coughlin, Marrone and Caldwell) can mesh together. You can’t take three people and throw them together and always make it work. They have the age, the mindset, the culture and the personalities to really make this thing work.”

“They all bring a little different subset of knowledge,” he added. “I feel there’s a logic, a method to the madness.”

And what has he learned about Coughlin in the short time they’ve worked together?

“Passion to win. Attention to detail. Hard work. Those are elements whether you’re in football or digging a ditch. If those are your principals, you’re going to be successful.”

Coughlin “We Need A Culture Change”

It didn’t take long for Tom Coughlin to identify one change the Jaguars needed to make.

“We need a culture change. People need to know your goals when they walk in the door,” the Jaguars VP of Football Operations said at the NFL Owners meeting in Phoenix on Monday. “We have to define it, let everybody know what it is and how we reinforce it and how you’re going to be judged.”

Already the Jaguars roster has a distinct Coughlin look: bigger, more veterans, more competition. All by design given Tom’s success in the past both in Jacksonville and New York.

“You have to. It puts the players in a position of competiveness right off the bat. If they player’s young and wants to see how he matches up, he might be able to contribute.”

In his three months in charge of the football team, Coughlin has insisted on competition across the board: except at quarterback. He is giving Blake Bortles a chance to be the starter based on what he’s see in Bortles whole body of work since coming out of UCF.

“We think he’s the player. We believe that. Who knows?” he explained. But he did give himself and out, saying the draft could present some interesting options with the 4th pick.

“If there’s a quarterback there we’d have to think about it. Competition is good for everybody,” he noted.

With the fourth selection in this year’s draft, the Jaguars will have about every option you could expect. Defensive line, defensive backfield, quarterback, running back, you name it. But Coughlin’s experience in the league has told him that the first round might extend through the fourth pick, but maybe not much further.

“People have a misconception about the draft. The first round is not 32 players long,” he said, spreading his hands apart like a yardstick. ” You’re going to take your pencil out at some point and say, ‘the first round ends right here.’ Where we’re picking there are a number of good players.”

More than thirty years in the league has given t Tom a perspective and a lot of contacts he tries to take advantage of to help his team. At these meetings, he’s networking with people he’s worked with, including those in the NFL office. It’s no surprise that he’s well versed on the full agenda over the three days here.

“I try to take it all in, I try to talk to a lot of different people. I want to be abreast of all of the proposals and rule changes.”

To listen to Coughlin talk now about leadership and motivation and to have worked with him when he first became the head coach of the Jaguars shows a development in message and style. He’s believes he’s in the right situation at this stage of his career, and being at these meetings energizes him.

“I’ve been in the league a long time. I have some people I rely on for information. It’s what we talk about all the time. You better keep learning.”

NFL Owners Talk Player Safety, Shorter Games In Phoenix

For the first part of this week the NFL Owners will get together in Phoenix for what they call the “Annual Meeting.” It’s the only time each year all 32 Owners, GM’s, Presidents, Coaches and executives get together to talk about immediate changes to improve the game and look to the future of the game on and off the field.

Immediately, the owners will consider the Raiders move to Las Vegas. The move takes 24 of the 32 owners approval and it seems likely to be passed. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson withdrew his financial support for the stadium in Nevada but Mark Davis of the Raiders secured enough money from Bank of America to get the stadium built. The proposal is for a $1.9 billion facility for the Raiders in Las Vegas but there are still many questions unanswered regarding the financing of the construction. The Jaguars believe the move is a done deal.

Going “under the hood” to look at replays might become a thing of the past after these meetings. The league is trying to have Dean Blandino, the head of officiating in the NFL make all of the final calls on replay from New York. The referee on the field will see replays on a tablet. They’re hoping this makes the whole replay process faster and more consistent.

As we’ve always seen in the league, when the rules are changed, head coaches and coordinators figure out a way around them. When they moved defensive players off the long snapper, teams started sending a “leaper” from the side, trying to block a kick. There’s already a rule that a player can’t use other players as leverage to jump over the line of scrimmage. The owners will hear a proposal to completely eliminate “leaping” all together. Player safety is the goal by changing the rule.

That’s the same goal with the proposal for a 10-minute overtime instead of 15. Yes, that might mean more tie games, but a team playing a 5-quarter game on Sunday is pretty worn out if they’re scheduled for a Thursday game that week.

Among the proposals that will get a chuckle are some that will give the officials more leeway on celebration penalties. There’s a video that will be shown to the “membership.” There’s also a proposal by the Redskins that if the kickoff goes through the uprights, the ball is placed on the 20 instead of the current 25-yard line for touchbacks.

There will be plenty of talk about replay at these meetings, as there always is. Some teams want more, some want less. All agree that the process needs to be shorter and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has already announced a change in the commercial break structure around touchdowns and kickoffs in an effort to shorten the games.

One proposal that will no doubt have the support of Jaguars fans: Teams would be able to wear their regular uniforms instead of the “color rush” uni’s Nike has them wearing on Thursday night. Not a lot of support in Jacksonville for that mustard color head to toe.

Gators Swamp Virginia, Head To New York

When the game is only two-twenty minute halves, streaks can go a long way. Either way. Florida went on a 21-0 run against Virginia in their second round NCAA game in Orlando while the Cavaliers were scoreless for eight minutes. That combination put the Gators up by 19 on their way to a 65-39 win. Florida now heads to New York and Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16 and a match up against Wisconsin next Friday.

“We’ve found that edge,” Guard Chris Chiozza said in the winning locker room. “We’re back to that team that went on that winning streak in the middle of the season. It doesn’t matter who scores, we’re giving them the ball.”

Using their trademark defense and scoring in transition, the Gators kept the pressure on Virginia from the opening tip. Florida Head Coach Mike White predicted it would be “smash-mouth, half-court” basketball and it was clear the Gators were prepared for that kind of game.

“I think we just had to get them uncomfortable and play our tempo,” Devin Robinson said at the post-game press conference. “We just tried to stay aggressive on defense and get in transition as best we can and that turned to great offense.”

On the other hand, Virginia couldn’t keep up with Florida’s speed as evidenced by Justin Leon and Robinson scoring in double figures midway through the second half. Both finished with 14 points and a double-double.

“So proud of Justin Leon,” Gators White said after the victory. “He got a double-double, was 3-6 from 3’s but this was his best game defensively. Best game as a Gator.”

In their first round game against East Tennessee State, Florida led the Bucs by one at halftime and looked like the team that had lost 3 of 4 to end the season. Since then, they’ve looked like the team that went on a nine game winning streak through February with eight different leading scorers.

“All year we’ve had multiple people lead us in scoring,” Canyon Berry said in front of his locker. “Just that depth adds something to our team, being able to come in one night, Kevaughn gets 25 and the next night it’s Devin or the next night me. Hopefully we all can have a good night next round. We can beat anyone in the country when that happens.”

Against Virginia, the Gators had significant minutes from nine different players, all who scored. As an example of Florida’s balanced attack, their leading scorer, Kevaughn Allen, who averaged nearly 14 points per game in the regular season, had 4 against the Cavs. He and Canyon Barry, Florida’s two leading scorers, combined for 11 points. Still, the Gators have outscored their opponents 112-72 in their last 60 minutes of play.

“We got a couple bounces our way but that’s about as good as we’ve played defensively this year,” White said in the understatement of the night.

By the way, in Orlando on Saturday night, FSU and Virginia were a combined 5 of 36 from beyond the arc and lost by a combined total of 51 points.

FSU Can’t Shoot, Loses To Xavier

Smooth and organized never described the 2016-17 Florida State basketball team. Even by Head Coach Leonard Thompson’s own assessment, the ‘Noles liked to “pressure the ball and be aggressive.” That made any deficit look erasable. Except when the opponent shoots 66% in the first half and pretty much keeps it up for the entire game.

That’s what happened to FSU in Orlando in their NCAA second round matchup against Xavier. The 11th seeded Musketeers hit two-thirds of their shots in the first half, and nearly 70% of their three-point attempts trough the midway point of the second half enroute to a 91-66 win and a trip to San Jose for the third round of March Madness.

“We just didn’t hit shots,” FSU’s Terrance Mann said in the post-game press conference. “It’s tough when they hit all their 3’s and we struggled.”

Relying on their speed and length, Florida State just couldn’t match Xavier shot for shot, hovering around the 40% mark from the floor and barely using shots from beyond the arc as a weapon, trailing by 10 at the half, 44-34.

After intermission it was more of the same, with Xavier keeping up the assault from the three-point line and driving to the basket when given the opportunity. The 11-th seeded Musketeers had five players score from beyond the arc, led by Kaiser Gates who was 4 of 5 from the 3-point line.

“Xavier did a really good job of clogging the lane,” FSU Head Coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We got great looks from deep but we just couldn’t buy anything.” FSU finished the game 4 of 21 from beyond the arc.

Down by 20 points with just over 7 minutes to play, the ‘Noles hit back to back three’s but Xavier answered with baskets and free throws of their own to push the lead to 75-53. Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes lead FSU scoring with 20 and 16 points respectively but never got the hot hand against a smothering Xavier defense.

DL3 In The HOF, Still Wants To Play

It would be easy to describe Davis Love III as a local guy who made good. But he’s so much more than that. A golf pedigree that included his father as a former professional and one of the top teachers in the world and a low-handicap mom put “DL3” at the top of prodigies expected to ascend to the top of the game. With prodigious length (for the time) coming out of high school at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Davis went to the University of North Carolina before turning pro and joining the PGA Tour.

“When you start this journey you don’t think of the Hall of Fame. At 20-years old I just wanted a to have a job, wanted to play golf and hoped to win one golf tournament,” Davis told me at the World Golf Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Love was at the Hall with three other members of the 2017 Hall of Fame class (Meg Mallon, Ian Woosnam, and Lorena Ochoa) to preview their induction in September and hold a panel discussion for media and fans. (The late Henry Longhurst fills out the class).

His resume is much longer than just winning a tournament. Winning 21 times including a major championship (the 1998 PGA Championship), two Players, four Heritages and a PGA Tour win when he was 51 years old in 2015 are only a sprinkling of his victories. Add in two appearances as the Ryder Cup captain and it adds up to a Hall of Fame career.

“To go in with such icons of the game, I say it’s humbling,” Love explained during our discussion. “To just be mentioned, and to go in with this class. Friends of mine, friends I’ve competed with. I’m honored to be a part of it. I didn’t see myself as a leader in the game, it’s an amazing class.”

Being able to take skills as a golfer and use them as a touring professional takes some adjustment. There are plenty of great players who couldn’t adjust to the lifestyle and what it takes to grind it out week after week. Love says that’s one of the first things he learned when he joined the Tour.

“You have to learn it’s so much more than playing golf. Dealing with the travel, family, different conditions, the celebrity status. Some guys can handle it, some can’t”

Based on the era that he played, Jack Nicklaus was the first professional athlete and golfer who was celebrated for his ability and willingness to balance his “job”and his family life.

“He was a great example,” Davis said of Nicklaus’ ability to be the best player in the world and still be a part of his children’s lives. Love and his wife Robin looked to Jack and Barbara Nicklaus as a guidepost. “This is how you live a life on the Tour. You have to balance. I wanted to be at my daughter’s horse shows, my son’s golf tournaments. I wanted to go skiing and snowboarding. I think my kids would say we accomplished that.”

Coming off a broken collarbone, Love has known his share of injuries away from the golf course but says he’ll be fresh when he returns to playing, soon.

“I’m going to play a lot on the regular tour this year, I’m exempt lifetime (for having 20 PGA Tour wins) but I don’t want to take up a spot. I’ll go play with my friends on the Senior Tour. I’ve missed three months here and there in the past couple of years so I’ll be fresh when I do come out.”

Talking with Davis, his competitive desire is still obvious and during both of his stints as Davis Cup captain he was hoping to play his way onto his own team. “But then reality set in,” he said with a laugh. “But there’s that competitiveness. You want to make an impact as a player or as the captain and be a part of the team.”

In the upcoming Presidents Cup in New Jersey (the week of the Hall of Fame induction), Love will be an assistant captain to Steve Stricker. He’ll also serve as an assistant to Jim Furyk in Paris in 2018 for the Ryder Cup.

“It’s different,” he noted, playing the Ryder Cup in Europe. That’s why Jim is perfect for Paris; He can handle the extra attention, the extra travel and the fact that it’s an away game. Playing in Europe is that much tougher, especially since we were able to win one last year,” Davis added with a smile.

So he’ll be wearing headsets and talking to players, and maybe even do some TV (Don’t be surprised if he shows up on NBC during the Players in May.) But it’s with clubs in his hand that he’s hoping to still feel the pressure of being on the leaderboard.

“Golf is the one sport, maybe auto racing, you can last a long time if you stay fit and stay confident. We saw Greg Norman and Tom Watson almost win majors. Raymond Floyd won in his 50’s; Sam Snead won a bunch as he got older. I love playing and I don’t want to give it up.”

Jaguars Free-agency Preview: Plugging Holes

As the Jaguars segue into a new era, how they approach free-agency in 2017 will give us some clues about what new Executive Vice President Tom Coughlin thinks the team needs to change to win. We know from his previous stint in Jacksonville and how he helped build the New York Giants that Coughlin likes big, tough teams.

“This team needs to be mentally and physically tougher,” he told us just two weeks ago before the NFL Combine. That means he’ll follow the philosophy he outlined in his book “Earn the Right to Win,” building from the inside out, starting with the offensive and defensive lines.

About to acquire Branden Albert, a left tackle from Miami, the Jaguars intend to plug him in as a starter. They seem committed to Jeremy Parnell at right tackle for now and Brandon Linder at center. A.J. Cann will get a shot again at guard but the other guard spot, either right or left, is one of the places they’ll be looking in free-agency. Kevin Zeitler, a free-agent from the Bengals is considered the top guard available. The Jaguars have interest in him as well as three other “20-something” starters who they could plug into their offensive line. T.J Lang, Larry Warford and Ronald Leary are all expected to command big money. One of them will end up in Jacksonville.

With Jalen Ramsey anchoring one cornerback spot, the team parted ways with Devon House and haven’t shown interest in Prince Amukamara so they’ll be looking to fill one of those spots through free agency. A.J. Bouye from the Texans has drawn a lot of interest from several teams around the league. The Jaguars will open their checkbooks to land the right player to play opposite Ramsey so if Bouye is just looking for money, he’ll come to Jacksonville. Stephon Gilmore is another corner the Jaguars could target. Head Coach Doug Marrone knows Gilmore from his days in Buffalo. The Patriots Logan Ryan is another possibility.

They’ve been able to negotiate with agents since noon on Tuesday with the signings becoming official on Thursday at 4pm. The Jaguars might spend some money early to grab a couple of starters but don’t be surprised if they also fill parts of the roster with later signings, somewhat under the radar.

Shorter SpeedWeeks, Better Racing?

From a 21-day stretch known as “SpeedWeeks” the racing at Daytona International Speedway has been condensed down to a few days. NASCAR fans still plan their February vacation around the 500, but the days of comping out in the infield for weeks or parking your multi-million-dollar RV and making new friends around the nightly bonfire are gone. There’s still camping in the infield, and the RV’s are still lined up, but a four-day stretch encompassing the qualifying races on Thursday through the Great American Race on Sunday is about the extent of racing now to kick off the season in Daytona.

“I learned I didn’t have enough race car,” Dale Earnhardt Sr. told me once walking through the garage after a practice 10 days before the 500. “We’ll get it right though. There’s speed out there,” he explained. He and the rest of the NASCAR drivers as well as the truck racers (when that became a thing), the ARCA drivers and the guys in the Busch series spent hours on the track testing and in practice, looking for the right setup.

No more.

Trying to even out the field, NASCAR has limited the amount of time on the track, keeping the big teams from spending time and money to gain an advantage over the field. Most drivers don’t like it.

“We don’t have enough time on the track,” Dale Jr. has said in the past. The two -time Daytona 500 winner is happy to just be driving in 2017, back from missing half of last season with concussion symptoms.

“I’m happy, I’m smiling, I’m back,” he said on media day this week. The newly married driver didn’t rule out a shorter than expected career.

“If I were to win the championship this year, I would consider it,” he said when asked about retirement. That, I’m sure, sent shivers through the NASCAR brass who are presiding over a fragile time in the sport, looking for star power.

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Carl Edwards left the sport abruptly to perhaps pursue a political career and young drivers like Ty Dillon and Chase Elliott are just now finding their footing among the loyal fan base.

Without emerging stars in a personality-driven sport, changes to the race formats are what they hope is the first step toward re-capturing some of the magic.

“We’re doing things to make the sport better on television,” Johnson said this week. “If we can get people to watch on TV, they’ll like it and they’ll want to come see us race live.”

The 500 will have two stops this year, one after 60 and another after 120 laps. Points will be awarded for position in the race and they’ll restart.

“Just enough to let fans go to the bathroom and get a commercial break in,” one driver quipped.

FOX and NBC split the season for broadcasts and are counting on increased ratings and fan engagement on other media platforms to re-energize advertisers. If not, fewer races will be on TV, fewer dollars will be flowing into the sport and they’ll have to adapt. From a regional southeastern sport until the ’90’s, NASCAR races now in non-traditional places like New Hampshire and Las Vegas. If they don’t turn the fan decline around, Rockingham and Darlington will be back with prominent spots on the schedule.

One Stop Sports Recovery (Now available to everybody)

If recovery is the new sports science, then it’s no surprise athletic recovery centers are finding their footing in North Florida. With an active population participating in sports across the gamut, the Sports Recovery Annex in San Marco is trying to serve that ever growing group.

“This gives everybody a chance to have the same recovery techniques college and professional athletes have available to them,” said Dr. Anthony Iselborn whose office is adjacent to the Annex. Dr. Iselborn has a long history of work with athletes as a physical therapist, an athletic trainer and a chiropractor. He’s worked with the US Olympic teams and Pan American games squads and has seen how recovery can be beneficial to performing at your best.

“Whether it is a pro football player or a tennis player, they are going out there, beating up their bodies, using muscles, joints. They need to be recovering in between workouts to continue doing what they do.”

“I couldn’t do my job without it,” said Jaguars linebacker Paul Pozluszny who attended the Sports Recovery Annex’s Grand Opening. “I was impressed with the array of tools available to everybody. Usually this kind of treatment is only accessible by college and pro sports teams. It’s awesome that a places like this are starting to develop because people want to work out, stay healthy and be in great shape. This is an added aspect in helping people accomplishing their goals.””

Starting with the latest in cryotherapy equipment, the Sports Recovery Center bills themselves as a “one stop shop” when it comes to getting yourself ready to keep training. Instead of being sore or risking injury, the weekend athlete now can recover like a professional athlete can stay on the field, the court, the track, or on their bike.

As a full-time athletic trainer, Catherine Horita sees serious and not-so-serious athletes on a regular basis. She says this will keep more people training and less rehabbing from an injury. “You go out, work out and the next day you can’t move so you take that day off. That day off turns into a week and you have to start from scratch again. What we are doing is that you go to the gym, do a solid workout or run your mileage, then recover here so the next day you feel great and you can continue.”

Recovery is a niche that’s somewhere between training to get better and going through physical therapy to heal an injury. And while it might seem high end and only good for the serious amateur, weekend or professional athlete, their thought is everybody can benefit.

“It is kind of like upkeep. So this place, the goal is to recover faster so you can get out there and perform again,” the Annex’s General Manage explained. “It’s good for athletes, people who want to work out or just somebody who wants to go for a walk every day.”

It can be fun, beneficial, or even a little painful if you like as I found out. But I can also tell you, it works.

The Case For Boselli In The Hall, And The Process It Entails

For nearly nine hours on Saturday, we debated the merits of two contributors, one senior and 15 “modern era” candidates and their worthiness for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As my fellow selectors have said, it’s a complicated process. We’re to consider only what happened on the field during the careers of the players eligible. Where the field starts and stops is a debatable question. Statistics help, but if it was just about stats, they could feed them into a computer and let some accountants say who gets in and who doesn’t.

But it’s more than that and that’s why it’s complicated. In my 23rd year on the committee I was asked to present a player to the assembled media for the first time. I was honored to do so with such a talented player to present as Tony Boselli.

I’m including much of what I talked to the committee about here as well as some thoughts on Tony’s chances to eventually be selected to the Hall in the future.

Anytime anybody talks about Boselli and the Hall, the first question, and usually the only question is about the brevity of his career. But the perception is that Tony played a few years but actually he played seven seasons in the league. Ninety-one regular season games plus six starts in the playoffs.

The varying length of seasons, 12 before 1960, 14 from 1961-1977 and 16 since 1977 makes comparing “games played” a good measuring stick.

Players who played about a modern 16-game season 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

In addition to the two players we discussed on Saturday, Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis, there are 30 players with less than 100 games played are already in the Hall including:

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

In terms of performance, Boselli was a dominant player in the era of his career, He shut down celebrated Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year in the ’96 playoffs, holding him to 3 innocuous tackles and no sacks in a 30-27 Jaguars win in Buffalo.

He shut down Jason Taylor on national television on a Monday night, another finalist in 2017 who was elected to the Hall. Taylor said last week, “Boselli beat me down on a Monday night. An epic beat down. Surprising it didn’t knock me into retirement.”

And closed down Derrick Thomas, a story best told by Phil Simms.

“Thomas had 6 sacks the week before for the Chiefs and were facing the Jaguars the following week. I was doing the game for CBS and in the production meeting prior I asked Coughlin how he was going to slow down Derrick Thomas: Double teams, chip him, whatever. Coughlin said, “I’m going to put my guy Tony Boselli over here. They’re going to line up their guy Derrick Thomas, and we will let them go one on one, then we’ll see who wins that battle!” I remember thinking, ‘That’s trouble for Jacksonville. No way is anyone going to match up against Derrick Thomas. As we broadcast the game the next day, Tony Boselli dominated Derrick Thomas from start to finish. For the period he played in, Tony Boselli was as dominating an offensive linemen that I have ever seen.”

That’s just one of the testimonials from former players and coaches who believe Tony belongs in Canton.

The man who drafted and coached him and went on to win two Super Bowls in New York, Tom Coughlin said, “Tony was simply the best offensive tackle in the game throughout his career. I never had to worry that his guy would make a play. Ever.”

Celebrated NFL personnel expert Gil Brandt said, “He’s in that same category with Willie Roaf and Anthony Munoz and Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones – he’s equal to all those guys. If you put all of those guys up you’d have a hard time deciding who you were going to take number one.”

Many long-time football watchers consider Anthony Munoz the greatest tackle of all-time. Munoz said, “My opinion, after watching Tony Boselli play during his NFL career, is that he is one of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”

And even Willie Roaf, a contemporary of Tony’s and a member of the Hall of Fame said, “I would always watch film of other players at my position. Even though I had two years on him, he was someone I would watch and gauge my game after.”

Perhaps being a good teammate counts in this process, so talking to his teammates, to a man they said he had no peer. Boselli made the guys around him better through his play and work ethic.

I asked Mark Brunell, who said Boselli was easily the best player on the Jaguars, if Boselli was the best football player he’d ever played with. The 19-year veteran and teammate of Boselli for Tony’s entire career said “I wouldn’t say Tony was better than Brett Favre, Reggie White or Drew Brees, but those are the guys he’s in the conversation with.”

He was the sheriff on those teams as well, and its no coincidence that when the Jaguars were relevant when it came to the post season it was during Boselli’s career. They went to the post-season four times in his first five seasons and twice played in the AFC Championship game.

You could call the era Boselli played in the “Golden Age of Tackles” in the NFL. Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, and Tony Boselli. Joe Jacoby is still on the Hall of Fame ballot and his career started in 1981. There might not be another tackle for 10 years who get consideration for the Hall among the current group. Perhaps Joe Thomas and possibly Tyron Smith 15 years from now. So we’re talking about a special time from 1992 when Roaf came into the league and until Pace retired in 2009; all five of their careers were included in that time span. Tony Boselli played from 1995-2002.

Statically, Tony compares favorably with all of those HOF’ers. Gil Brandt’s statistical analysis of sacks allowed, yards rushing and other hard number show Boselli’s as an equal or above those other four.

In terms of accolades, Boselli was All rookie 1995, All Pro three times, 4 if you count the 1996 selection by Sports Illustrated and played in 5 pro bowls. He was named All-Decade first team of the 90’s at Tackle despite only playing five years in the decade and one was his rookie year. He passes the eye test. If you saw him play, you knew you were watching a special talent. Gary Zimmerman was the other All Decade Tackle, Willie Roaf was second team. Every other offensive first-team All Decade Player of the ’90’s we’ve elected to the Hall.

Everybody I talked to from Boselli’s era agreed that he was Hall of Fame material during his playing career. The brevity of his career, 97 games, should be viewed in its perspective. It wasn’t so brief after all. There are now 32 of the 265 players in the Hall who have less than 100 games played.

What’s changed for Tony is the selection of Terrell Davis to the Class of 2017. If the selection committee was willing to look past Davis having played only 78 games it helps Boselli’s chances exponentially.

As I mentioned, it’s a complicated process. In 2018, three players, Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss are eligible for the first time. Are they all first-ballot Hall of Famers? If so, that will leave two spots for 12 players. In 2019 Ed Reed, Tony Gonzalez and Champ Bailey will be eligible. Sometimes it’s a slotting process, sometimes, as it was this year with LaDanian Tomlinson, the player’s greatness dictates that he be selected as soon as he becomes eligible.

I thought Tony had a 50-50 shot at getting in this year and the fact that he advanced to the final 10 proved me right. But the committee surprised me by selecting Jason Taylor in his first year of eligibility. Tony’s domination of Taylor is one of his credentials for admittance to the Hall. Nobody argues Boselli’s greatness. At some point I believe he’ll be wearing a gold jacket. When that is, as difficult as the process is, as I’ve said, is hard to predict.

Coughlin Says Boselli “Should Be In The Hall Of Fame”

When Tom Coughlin was the Head Coach and General Manger (chief cook and bottle washer too) of the Jaguars in 1995, everybody knew he was going to take Tony Boselli with the franchise’s first draft pick. Coughlin tried to feint, saying he liked a couple of receivers at that spot but even he admits, “Nobody believed me.” Now 22 years later, Boselli is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“You’re just so proud about reading what his peers said about him,” Tom said at the stadium on Tuesday. “I mean it’s incredible. Willie Roaf and Anthony Munoz, I remember Anthony, a USC guy, telling me from the get-go, Tony Boselli is probably the greatest tackle that ever played on the left side.”

In our first chance to talk to Coughlin in a small setting, he’s is noticeably different than his first go-round here. A bit more jovial, more effusive and even with some self-deprecating humor. He laughed when he recalled Phil Simms’ story about how the Jaguars were going to deal with Derrick Thomas one week after he had recorded six sacks.

“When he asked me the question I said, ‘What do you mean what are we going to do? We’ll put Boselli on Derek Thomas and we’ll see where it goes.’ And that’s the way I felt from day one,” Tom said.

Delayed by a dislocated kneecap suffered in his first training camp, Boselli first played in 1995 in the fourth game of the year against Green Bay.

“They were a good football team,” Coughlin recalled. “And I held him for a little bit in the first quarter and I said, go, and that was the last time I worried about anybody coming off that side. And that’s a true story.”

When the Jaguars medical staff wouldn’t clear Boselli to play because of a shoulder injury after 2001, Coughlin walked down the street to tell Tony in person the team was going to expose him to the expansion draft for the newly formed Houston Texans. (They both lived in Marsh Landing at the time) “To walk down the street unannounced, Saturday,” Coughlin remembered. “Late morning I think it was, ring the doorbell and he comes to the door and I just went and sat on the stoop on the step. He came out and sat down with me. That is not one of my fondest memories.”

Having gone on to coach the New York Giants to two Super Bowl wins, Coughlin worked with Hall of Fame caliber players in New York. So is Boselli the best football player Coughlin ever coached? Is he in that conversation?

“No question, he certainly is. Without a doubt, because he could do so many different things,” Tom said. “He is such a great athlete on top anything else that he does. The real thing was the competiveness in him. He would go out on the field and the look in his eye and the way he could dominate people at times. No matter what you say. No matter what run you pick. ”

A 19-year veteran in the NFL, Mark Brunell was Boselli’s teammate during his entire career. Mark has often joked that he and Tony didn’t get along when the first met because, “Tony thought he was the best player on the team. Which he was,” Mark now says with a laugh. So was Boselli the best football player he ever played with in his career?

“I don’t know that I’d call him a better football player than Reggie White or Brett Favre or Drew Brees,” Mark said this week. “But he’s certainly in that conversation with them.” White and Favre are in the Hall. Brees no doubt get serious consideration after his retirement.

One of the qualifications that comes up for eligibility to the Hall of Fame each year is a player’s ability to make they guys around him better. According to Coughlin, Boselli did that by just being there.

“When you go on the field with somebody of that caliber – and I use the example normally when I’m talking about a quarterback, a great quarterback – but when you go on the field with somebody that good as Boselli and he plays at that level, you’re on that field with him, especially you talk about your interior offensive linemen. You’re looking at this guy thinking, man, I got to play my ever-loving off because if I don’t he’s going to make me look really bad and that’s the way it is.”

His leadership in the locker room is another thing that impressed Coughlin during his career with the Jaguars. Boselli was the enforcer, the leader, the Sheriff among his teammates.

“Oh he was. There’s no doubt and when he said things, they listened,” Coughlin noted. “He understood the game, he grasped it all, he understood the locker room. He knew when to speak and when not to speak, but when he spoke, they listened.”

When asked if “It’s hard to imagine in retrospect that it worked out so well, No. 2 overall, it was the first pick, first in the Pride, maybe best player to ever play here, he was the perfect storm?”

With his newfound humor, Tom laughed and said, “Look who picked him.”

Boselli is one of 15 Modern Era Finalists who will be discussed Saturday in Houston by the Selection Committee. I’m the Jacksonville representative on the Hall of Fame Selection Committee and have been charged with giving the committee a presentation about Tony’s career and his qualifications for the Hall. The announcement of the Class of 2017 for the Hall will be made Saturday night during the NFL Honors show broadcast from Houston.

Jaguars To Compete For A Head Coach

Since there is a “Win Now” philosophy among most NFL owners, what’s become known as “Black Monday” in the league has become a very intriguing and fluid day. What was true an hour ago might have flipped the other way by now.

What’s different in 2016 than in other years is the number of “hot” candidates will have their choice of jobs so the Jaguars will be in competition with other teams for the top candidates. Any head-coaching job in the NFL is an elite spot but coaching candidates will look at the rosters and the team ownership and figure out where they can win quickly and sustain that.

There are several reasons the Jaguars head-coaching job is attractive, not the least is the patience Owner Shad Khan has shown since buying the team five years ago. He wasn’t happy with the advice he got in 2012 so he quickly changed the team’s management and committed to a complete rebuild. It’s that kind of patience that will be attractive to a lot of coaches although doubtful Khan will wait four more years for a winner.

With just 15 wins in the past four seasons, Khan isn’t happy with where the Jaguars are now, but is the type of owner who will listen to the candidates to get their ideas on why the Jaguars aren’t winning. Personnel? Coaching? Discipline? Quarterback? All of those played a part in the Jaguars disappointing 3-13 finish. Khan has “charged” General Manager Dave Caldwell with finding a new coach but the owner will be part of the process.

Looking at the criteria, Caldwell has said head coaching experience will be helpful but not necessary for the next leader of the Jaguars. Someone who can create a “winning culture” is how the Jaguars GM termed it two weeks ago. And somebody who can either fix or move on from Blake Bortles will be part of the equation. Caldwell has said he’s open to all kinds of opinions about the Jaguars quarterback. Former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin checks a lot of those boxes but apparently last week Coughlin and the Jaguars couldn’t find enough common ground to have him join the organization so both parties have moved on.

The Other Candidates:

1) Josh McDaniels, Offensive Coordinator, New England Patriots. McDaniels has done wonders in New England but his quarterback, Tom Brady, is among those in the discussion for greatest of all time. McDaniels would be interested in the Jaguars if he thinks Blake Bortles is the answer or if there’s a quarterback either as a veteran free agent signing or in the upcoming draft that can make the Jaguars offense go. He wouldn’t have to worry about the defense, especially if he brings in a coordinator he trusts. His tenure at Denver as the head coach ended unceremoniously and his personality rubbed the entire organization the wrong way. He drafted Tim Tebow so he thinks he can fix flaws in any quarterback.

2) Harold Goodwin, Offensive Coordinator, Arizona Cardinals. Goodwin has been the Coordinator for the Cardinals since 2013 and has also been a coach for the Bears, Steeler and Colts. Not having head coaching experience could work against him but his offense in Arizona with Bruce Arians as the head coach and Carson Palmer at quarterback has been potent during his tenure. He also fulfills the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” of interviewing minority candidates for head coaching vacancies.

3) Mike Smith, Defensive Coordinator, Tampa Bay Bucs. Smith was very successful in Atlanta but was fired by one of Caldwell’s mentors, Thomas Dimitrioff. Perhaps a change of scenery was needed in Atlanta as they are the #2 seed in the NFL in 2016 but Smith was there for the initial development of Matt Ryan. As a former defensive coordinator for the Jaguars under Jack Del Rio, Smith is familiar with Jacksonville and was a very popular figure while he was here. If he thinks Bortles is fixable and perhaps current Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is on the right path, he would be an easy fit, even keeping most of the current staff. They’re all still under contract for 2017.

There will be other names bandied about including Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator in Atlanta. He reportedly has an interview with the Jaguars among other teams this week. His most natural landing spot is in Denver where his father coached, he knows John Elway and Gary Kubiak just resigned. Anthony Lynn will also get consideration but he’s most likely to stay in Buffalo and reportedly would like Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator with the Bills.

Hackett Stays As Jaguars OC

With all of the experience Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone have in the NFL and coaching in college, their reach and relationships with other coaches is far and wide. Coaching is a fraternity and some of those relationships have shaped the new staff under Marrone, with Coughlin’s input.

It’s not too big of a surprise that the Jaguars have decided to keep Nathaniel Hackett as their offensive coordinator. His success in the short term and his relationship with Blake Bortles no doubt played a part but his resume includes coaching with Marrone at both Syracuse and in Buffalo as the offensive coordinator.

“We are excited to announce Nathaniel Hackett as our offensive coordinator and he will immediately be tasked with installing and implementing our offense this offseason,” said Marrone. “I have had the pleasure of working with Nathaniel for seven consecutive seasons and know firsthand how knowledgeable and passionate he is about winning.”

“After taking over as the play-caller in 2016, the offensive unit made a significant jump under the direction of Nathaniel Hackett,” Coughlin added. “Nathaniel comes from a coaching family and is truly ardent about the game of football, which is contagious to his players and the assistants. He has a long history of working alongside Coach Marrone and we are fortunate to have him on our coaching staff.”

In 2015, Hackett helped Blake Bortles set single-season franchise records in passing touchdowns (35), passing yards (4,428), completions (355), and attempts (606). He also broke franchise marks with 72 completions of 20-plus yards and passing TDs in 15 consecutive games (Weeks 1 – 16). Bortles became the youngest of only three NFL players to record 4,000-plus passing yards, 35-plus passing touchdowns and 300-plus rushing yards (310). Although he took a step back in 2016, the Jaguars, including Coughlin, Marrone, Hackett and General Manager Dave Caldwell are sticking with him.

“Blake Bortles is our quarterback,” Coughlin said at his introductory press conference.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars have dipped into the college ranks and hired Clemson’s Marion Hobby as their defensive line coach.

“Marion Hobby is an excellent coach that breeds success and comes from a winning culture,” Coughlin said. “In recent years, Marion has overseen the development of top-tier players who are currently experiencing success at the highest level in the National Football League. His coaching prowess and ability to maximize his players’ abilities will bode very well for our organization.”

Hobby, 50, has 22 years of coaching experience, including the last six seasons at Clemson University where he served as the co-defensive coordinator/defensive ends coach for the 2017 College Football Playoff National Champions under Head Coach Dabo Swinney.

“Marion Hobby is coming off a national championship-winning season and over the past six years, has helped establish Clemson as one of the premier defenses in college football,” said Marrone. “I had the pleasure of coaching with Marion for two seasons in New Orleans and have personally observed his ability to get the most out of his players. Our team’s ability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks and to stop the run will be key factors in our success moving forward and I feel that under the leadership and direction of Coach Hobby, those goals will be accomplished at a high level.”

Coughlin, “Winning Is What It’s All About”

While the fire is still there, the approach is a little different for Tom Coughlin.

“The way to great leadership starts with service to others,” the former Jaguars and Giants Head Coach and now Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations said when he was introduced. That’s a departure from his former self where “top down” management was his hallmark.

Not to say Coughlin won’t still set the top and make the decisions, but his “modern day” philosophy of motivation and leadership is updated from his first stint here.

“Tom Coughlin will be the dominant personality in the building, long-time Jaguars reporter Cole Pepper said. “But he’s updated his leadership style a bit. It’ll be interesting to see how he works with the other two (Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell).

Quoting Pablo Casals, Coughlin said he wanted to follow the great cellist’s example of “getting better each day.”

Marrone might have a different style but carries the same philosophy when it comes to leadership. “I try to win every day. You have to earn the right to win every day,” he said, which coincidentally is the title of Coughlin’s’ second book.

“He’s my mentor,” Marrone said after the press conference. “It’ll be great to have him right down the hall, only feet away to pick his brain when I need to.”

It became apparent to Owner Shad Khan after talking to Coughlin about a role with the team that Marrone was a serious candidate. “Tom gave me two names that he could work with, that he thought were good coaches, and Doug was one of them,” he said. “I didn’t know how close their connection was until I talked to Doug about working with Tom and he said, ‘That’d be fantastic.’

“I have a vested interest in the success of the Jaguars in Florida,” said Coughlin. “When people come together as a team only then do you have a chance to win” he said in his opening statement. But it wasn’t until the questioning started that Tom’s fire started to blaze.

When asked if the focus would shift to winning, Marrone started to talk about that being the goal and that’s what they were trying to do.

“If we’re not here to win, what the hell are we here for!” Coughlin said, interrupting and causing a big laugh from the assembled media and guests.

Quick to point out that in his two years here he had “felt the pain” Jaguars fans have felt with losing football, Marrone sent a message to his players.

“Our players should be working right now.”

“This is the role I anticipated and wanted at this point in my career.” And although he had said in the past he wanted to coach again, Coughlin said that this role, with input across the organization, is what he anticipated at this point in his career. But he was clear about the path the Jaguars will be taking.

“There’s no easy way to success,” he said. “Mr. Khan’s story is the great American dream. I’m thrilled to be back. Team above all else.”

Marrone Starts To Change The Staff

In any coaching change, the first order of business is for the new coach to assemble his staff. For new Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone, Tuesday was a busy day virtually cleaning house of the coaching staff.

Despite having a year left on their contracts, Marrone dismissed Jerry Sullivan (receivers), Tony Sorrentino (assistant receivers), Chris O’Hara (offensive assistant), DeWayne Walker (defensive backs), Robert Saleh (linebackers), Scottie Hazelton (assistant linebackers), Aaron Whitecotton (assistant defensive line) and Daniel Bullocks (assistant defensive backs).

Any coach wants his own “guys” on his staff so it’s not unusual for a new head coach to bring a variety of changes to his staff. What is unusual for Marrone is having worked along side these coaches for the last two years as the Jaguars Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach. Saleh was thought to be one of the coaches Marrone might retain but the real puzzler is Sullivan.

A 44-year veteran of coaching with 23 in the NFL, he’s credited with the development of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee as young Jaguars receivers in the NFL. All three credit Sullivan with their progress but will now have a new position coach in 2017. Jerry told Ryan O’Halloran of the Times-Union that he still thought he had plenty to offer and in the right situation would coach again but if not, he plans on staying in Jacksonville. “Football saved me from the streets. Football helped me have a better life. This is a hard day,” he told the T-U.

He hasn’t said if they’d remain coordinators on his staff but Marrone kept Nathaniel Hackett, last season’s offensive coordinator and Todd Wash, the 2016 defensive coordinator. Defensive assistant Mike Rutenberg will also remain on the staff.

Marrone, Coughlin, Caldwell Try To “Fix” Jaguars

It’s no surprise that the Jaguars are restructuring the top of their football operation after five years of Shad Khan’s ownership. Khan is a good listener and makes moves that will enhance his organizations (businesses) and their opportunities to be successful. After his first year of ownership, Khan had spend $60 million on three free agents and asked rhetorically, “What did I get for that? Two wins.” So he made a move, away from his “football people” Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey, and started anew. Khan likes to hire “the best” as he has said repeatedly, so adding Tom Coughlin to the Jaguars mix on the football side is no surprise.

Two weeks ago Coughlin talked with Khan and others at the top of the Jaguars organization about the head-coaching job but didn’t find enough common ground to make that move. But Coughlin has said for the past year that he’d be interested in being a part of the Jaguars, “maybe in another role.” Now, he’ll have a lot to say about the success of the Jaguars as their Vice President of Football Operations. It’s a new job for the Jaguars but not uncommon in the league.

What the Jaguars haven’t confirmed is how Coughlin, General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Doug Marrone will work together. Reports are that both Marrone and Caldwell will report to Coughlin, but how much the decision-making ends with any of those jobs has yet to be announced. Knowing Coughlin, he’ll have plenty of input and probably the final say.

Which means that Caldwell needed to sign off on Coughlin joining the team and getting a two-year extension through 2019 mollified his acceptance. Marrone also had so sign off on being the head coach with a strong personality like Coughlin in the building, weighing in on his performance.

When I originally heard that the Jaguars had offered Doug Marrone the head-coaching job last Saturday night I said I had been impressed with Marrone, more than I expected to be, in his performance as the interim head coach of the Jaguars. He was a steady hand for the team and still a loyal lieutenant to the deposed Gus Bradley. He changed “a few things that I’m comfortable with” as the head coach, like meeting times and his availability, but he gave plenty of credit to Bradley when the Jaguars beat Tennessee on Christmas Eve.

Not knowing whether he’d even be a candidate for the head coaching job in Jacksonville, Marrone gave us a hint in his post game remarks after the loss in Indianapolis about what he thinks needs to be fixed with the current Jaguars roster.

“With this team the players will have to understand the pressure we need to put on them as coaches in practice during the week,” Marrone said after reviewing the game. “We have to force them as coaches to be accountable for that so they have the ability to go out here on Sunday and win games.”

He was also realistic about what happened in Indy as a microcosm of the entire season.

“You can’t make the mistakes that we made today and expect to go out there and win the game.”

And another glimpse into his thought process was the comment,

“I told the players at halftime, (when the Jaguars were winning 17-3) you either are either going to be the hunter or the hunted. You’ve got to learn how to hunt.” The Jaguars have said the formal announcement of the new management structure and the introduction of Coughlin and Marrone will happen on Thursday at 10 AM.

Boselli Makes Hall Of Fame Final 15

Of the hurdles players have to overcome for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, perhaps none is bigger than the jump from “semi-finalist” to “finalist.” And that’s where former Jaguars Tackle Tony Boselli finds himself for the first time in 2017. In his 11th year of eligibility, Boselli is one of 15 finalists for the Hall.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Boselli said when I told him of his move to the final fifteen.

It’s a difficult process to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At the beginning of our annual meeting, the President of the Hall charges us (the selection committee, of which I’m a member) with the gravity of our decision-making. “When we leave here today,” he seriously intones, “You will have changed some men’s lives forever.”

In a bit of a rarity, nine of the 15 finalists on this year’s ballot are there for the first time. Which means the selection committee, made up of representatives of each team, at- large members and two members of the Hall of Fame, will hear the case for induction for a majority of the finalists for the first time.

Out of a list of around 100 former players who are eligible, the selection committee, by vote, cuts that number down to twenty-five “semi-finalists.” From there, the committee votes for the final fifteen. The 15 finalists are then discussed, one by one, during our annual meeting on Saturday of Super Bowl weekend. Two “contributors” (this year Paul Tagliabue and Jerry Jones) and one senior candidate (Kenny Easley) will also be discussed, individually.

Jacksonville native Safety Brian Dawkins is also among the first-time 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.

As the Jacksonville representative, I’ll be asked to make the case for Tony, outlining his career statistics and presenting testimonial evidence from his teammates, opponents and coaches. As an at-large selector, Vito Stellino, of the Times-Union and in the Hall himself, will probably also be asked to help present Tony’s case.

You could call the time Boselli played in the league as the “Golden Age of Left Tackles.” Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden along with Tony were dominant and fixtures for their teams. Among those four, only Boselli is not in the Hall. And only for one reason: the brevity of his career.

Because of injury, Tony played in 91 games in the NFL over seven seasons. Three times he played in all 16 games and once 15. He played 13 games his rookie year, starting twelve. Jones played in 180 games. Pace 169 and Ogden 177.

When he was drafted, Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin called Boselli “A corner stone for the franchise for the next ten years.” Once he stepped on the field for good, he was a dominating force, a leader on offense and a commanding presence in the locker room. He was as good a player as you could be at his position. His domination of Jason Taylor, a fellow first time finalist, on national television is legendary. Bruce Smith, a member of the Hall of Fame, was a non-factor in the games when he faced Tony.

There will be a lot of numbers tossed around as the finalists are compared to each other and to current members of the Hall of Fame. To compare Boselli’s 91 games, another Hall of Fame finalist, Terrell Davis, played in 78. Short careers haven’t kept Gayle Sayers (68 games), Dwight Stephenson (87 games) or Lynn Swann (116 games) out of the Hall.

More than anything though, Tony passes the “eye” test. You can talk all the numbers you want, but when you saw Boselli play, you knew he was among the greats. He was a Hall of Fame player.

What are his chances? As a first time finalist, the committee will hear his credentials for the first time whereas we’ll talk about Morten Andersen, Don Coryell and John Lynch for the forth year in a row. The committee will hear the case for Kurt Warner and Terrell Davis for the third time. Terrell Owens, Alan Faneca and Joe Jacoby were finalists last year. Once you make it “into the room” your chances of eventually being selected for the Hall of Fame are around 88 percent. So for Boselli, an eventual spot in the Hall could be in his future. There are no “slam dunk” first time eligible players in 2017 so it’ll be interesting to see what the committee thinks of Boselli in Houston this year.

Here’s the thumbnail from the Hall of Fame of Boselli’s career:

Tackle … 6-7, 324 … Southern California … 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars … Seven seasons, 91 games … Selected by expansion Jaguars as second player overall in 1995 NFL Draft … Quickly became face of the franchise … Sat out rookie training camp with knee injury, saw first action in Week 4 … First career start came following week in franchise’s first victory … Earned All-Rookie honors … Regarded as an elite tackle in the NFL during career … Noted for superb foot speed and agility … Persevered through numerous injuries … Leader of team that led expansion Jaguars to AFC championship game by second season … Anchored offensive line that helped team to four straight playoff appearances with records of 9-7, 11-5, 11-5 and 14-2 from 1996-99 … Picked as team’s Most Valuable Player in 1998 after helping Jaguars to team’s first division title … Voted to five straight Pro Bowls (1997-2001) … Named first-team All-Pro three consecutive seasons … Selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s despite only playing in half of decade … Suffered severe shoulder injury that ultimately ended career and placed on injured reserve after three games, 2001 … Houston Texans’ first pick of 2002 expansion draft but injury prevented him from playing again … Born April 17, 1972 in Modesto, California.

And here’s the Hall’s summary of Dawkins career:

Safety … 5-11, 200 … Clemson … 1996-2008 Philadelphia Eagles, 2009-2011 Denver Broncos … 16 seasons, 224 games … Drafted in second round (61st overall) by Philadelphia in 1996 draft … Named Eagles’ Defensive MVP five times … Helped Eagles to eight playoff appearances … Started in four NFC championship games, one Super Bowl … First-team All-Pro five seasons (2001, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009) … Earned first of nine Pro Bowl nods after 1999 season … First player in NFL history to record a sack, interception, fumble recovery and touchdown catch in same game (vs. Houston Texans, Sept. 29, 2002) … Set Eagles record for most games played … Voted to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s … Intercepted pass in 15 straight seasons … Led Eagles in interceptions back-to-back seasons, 1997-98 … Recorded 37 career interceptions returned for 513 yards and 2 touchdowns … Recorded multiple interceptions in a season 11 times … Pick sixes included 64-yard return vs. Giants, 1997 and 67-yard score vs. Dolphins, 1999 … Averaged nearly 100 tackles per season throughout career … Registered 26 career sacks … Also had 49-yard fumble return for TD, 2001 … Recorded 3 sacks in final season with Broncos to help Denver to division title, 2011 … Born October 13, 1973 in Jacksonville, Florida.