Bortles, Marrone Should Stay

There will be changes to the Jaguars for 2019; the question is, how many?  There’s a lot of strange stuff that happens early in the offseason, so despite what you might have read or heard, I don’t think any decisions have been made about the Jaguars near future. Every NFL roster turns over about 20 players each year.

Two things in Jacksonville should stay the same:

  1. Doug Marrone should be the Jaguars Head Coach
  2. Blake Bortles should be the Jaguars starting quarterback

I know both of those are wildly unpopular among certain segments of the Jaguars kingdom but based on the landscape of free agency and the draft next year. if they want to contend, both of those need to stay in place.

The Marrone decision should be simple, that is if Shad Khan keeps Tom Coughlin in charge of the football side of things. (I think he will)

There are currently conflicting reports about Marrone’s future, which means nobody really knows.  One suggests that Coughlin is going to come down from his VP spot and coach the team himself next year.  If you know Tom, and you know Doug, that makes no sense.  They have the same values when it comes to football, discipline and how to win in the NFL.

So if Tom’s in charge, Doug stays.

(One side note is if Coughlin, at 73 years old, resumes his coaching career, it’ll delay his eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for another five years.  He’d be at least 80 before becoming eligible. His two Super Bowl wins with the Giants make him a solid candidate.)

Marrone said this week he hasn’t talked to anybody or even thought about the future.

“I’m just trying to win, I swear to God,” he said. “I’m not looking ahead. I’m not looking in the past. What can we do today? Who are the best players that we have that give us the best chance to win? That is simple and it’s honest.”

Since the Jaguars front office is notoriously tight-lipped about everything, it’s tough to say who made the calls on some of the missteps this season. Often this year Marrone has said, “It starts with me,” when it comes to making this team better.  But certainly Coughlin had plenty of input.

Coughlin has said he’d “put the gloves on” with anybody who disagreed with his offseason moves.  He seemed to shore up some spots, but drafting Taven Bryan hasn’t produced the desired results and not acquiring a true number one receiver is a glaring weakness.

Were they in the game for Amari Cooper?  He seemed like an ideal addition to this Jaguars team even at a steep price.

Why did they wait so long to deal Dante Fowler?  Knowing he was an issue early on should have made that move easy coming out of training camp.

Based on the historic lack of offensive production over the last 3 ½ games, it’s pretty easy to say Blake Bortles is the best quarterback on the Jaguars roster.  Giving him a shot with Scott Milanovich calling the plays seemed like a better option to find an answer.

That’s why the decision to fire the offensive coordinator and bench the starting quarterback on the same day is a still a head-scratcher.  Making those move simultaneously doesn’t answer the ‘Who’s the problem?’ question.

Agreeing with Coughlin that the Jaguars fell prey to “the nature of the game” is easy when looking at the injuries.  You have to be a phenomenal athlete and football player even to be the last guy on any NFL roster, but guys are starters for a reason.

They’re better.

Playing with your fourth string left and right tackles, neither of who were on your roster when the season started would be enough.  But eliminate your starting guard, center, tight end, and projected number one receiver and it becomes obvious you’re in trouble.

“I think it’s tough to argue that we wouldn’t be better without those guys out on the field,” Bortles said on Wednesday.  “That’s why they were starting and were paid and all of that. That’s a realistic part of it.”

Blaming Blake became a sport in itself this year.  No matter what happened, it was his fault.  But with no protection, no running game and with receivers that weren’t open and couldn’t catch, he didn’t have much help.  I keep looking at the Packers 6-8-1 record and thinking even Aaron Rodgers, generally considered one of the top three or four QB’s in the league couldn’t overcome a bad team around him.  It cost Mike McCarthy his job.

“I think it wasn’t so much a huge difference from this year to last year, I think it was pretty small and minute,” Bortles said.  “Things just didn’t go our way. I have no idea what is going to happen next year.”

Last season, Bortles showed an ability to win games with a solid cast around him. Is he great?  No.  But the quarterback doesn’t have to be great the way Coughlin/Marrone want to play the game.

Blake gets into trouble when he tries to do too much.  His decision-making goes a little sideways and even his throwing motion lapses back a couple of years.  He’s tried to win games all on his own, and even Rodgers has shown, that’s not possible.

Acquire a QB in free agency?  Through a trade?  Great!  But who?

Joe Flacco’s not the answer and neither is Teddy Bridgewater.  Nick Foles might be a nice fit but is Philadelphia really going to part with him?

And yes, the Jaguars should draft a quarterback in 2019.  Will Grier in the 2nd round might make sense. He’s not as tall as Coughlin likes his quarterbacks, but neither was Mark Brunell.  And Grier will be 24 years old next season, something Tom likes.

But no quarterback drafted next year steps in and starts and makes the Jaguars competitive.

“Earlier in the year, this year wasn’t so different than last year,” Blake said after Marrone named him the starter against the Texans.  “We caught some breaks and some bounces. We were able to do some stuff last year, we had some stuff go our way and this year, it didn’t happen. We didn’t catch those breaks, we didn’t get those bounces and we didn’t help ourselves out.”

Getting the start against Houston isn’t going to change anybody’s mind about Bortles.  And nobody’s said anything to him about his future. But he says he’s approaching it as if he’ll be around.

“I signed a contract here for three years, so I have every reason and purpose in my mind to play here for that amount of time or until they let me go and I will figure that out,” he said.

“I think the toughest part about it is you have no idea,” he added.  “It is not like anyone tells me anything or talks to my agent and tells him what they are going to do with me. It is unknown.”

This Jaguars team doesn’t need a rebuild.  That would delay the process beyond the usefulness of their defense.  Some of those names will change, but I believe what Blake said:

“I think everything you need to be a successful team and win a Super Bowl in this league is in that locker room. So it feels like we are a lot closer to being good than we are having to rebuild.”

 

 

A Pro Stop in North Florida Can lead to a Lifetime in Jacksonville

As the Christmas season unfolds, families will gather this week, many of them coming to North Florida for the holidays. A professional stop for Navy veterans and football players in Jacksonville often has led to those two groups staying here, living here and raising families here.

“It starts with the friendship of the people in Jacksonville,” Commodore John Leenhouts (ret) said of Navy vets picking North Florida as their home. A recent job change as the CEO of the annual Sun ‘N Fun Fly-In has taken him to Lakeland but Leehouts calls Jacksonville home. He had several stops with the Navy but said there was never any question he’d live in Jacksonville once his career was over.

“It’s the positive attitude. You start with the friendships that you build. Not just your Navy buddies, but also your neighbors, the people you knew working there. It’s a friendly city, a nice city that has nice southern hospitality.”

That “southern charm” is a common thread among the comments made from those who could have lived anywhere.

“I was 23 years old, newly married, and the whole community adopted us.” Jaguars great Tony Boselli said. Not just football friends but actual friends we just met.”

Boselli grew up in Colorado and played college football in Los Angeles but moved back to Ponte Vedra when he retired.

“First of all, my wife’s from California, so she loves the weather and the beach,” he added. “When we left for Houston I thought I’d never come back, I was mad,” Boselli said of being exposed in the expansion draft to the Texans. “But every time we came back to visit, it felt like home.”

Former Georgia quarterback Matt Robinson grew up in Michigan and Atlanta and had professional football stops in New York, Denver, Buffalo and Portland but his time in Jacksonville convinced him this would be home.

“I liked it here right away when I signed with the USFlLBulls in ’84,” Robinson said. “I liked the small town feel with a bit of the big city. Atlanta before what Atlanta is now.”

It takes a year or so for North Florida to reveal itself to you, but move to town, work hard, get involved with some charity work, stay out of trouble and you’ll fit right in.

”The people are fabulous, it still has some southern charm,” said Boselli. “The weather is not extreme, you can play golf year ‘round. Still slow enough you don’t feel like you’re in a major city but good restaurants and great outdoor life.”

Four of Boselli’s and his wife Angie’s five children were born in Jacksonville and raising children here was noted as a real plus for staying.

“I was raising my daughter and this is a great place to do that,” Robinson, who lives in Mandarin, added. “The people are nice, the lifestyle is great. Plus there were good jobs here. There’s nothing I didn’t like about Jacksonville.”

Growing up in New Orleans, former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts had pro stops in Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Tennessee befor signing with the Jaguars. He and his wife Gionne decided Jacksonville is where they wanted to raise their five children.

“I stayed here because I have this big family,” Lonnie said. The climate isn’t that different from New Orleans where I grew up.” The city is low-key and it’s growing.”

Marts felt a sense of welcome right away, everywhere he went.

“When I walked into the locker room Ben Coleman, Tony Boselli, Mark Brunell and James Stewart said, ‘Great to have you here.’ I went to buy a house and sitting across the table from the seller and she told the agent “I want them to have this house. It would be a joy to have them raise their family in this house.’ I thought, ‘Is that’s what it’s like around here?’ We stayed friends with them, talked all time. The people are great!”

The weather, no state income tax, the beach, the people and that southern hospitality all were on everybody’s list as to why they stayed.

“It’s not just one particular thing,” Leenhouts added. “One particular thing wouldn’t keep all those people in one area that’s so diverse.”

After 11 years in the NFL, former Jaguars Center Dave Widell could have gone back home to New England or any of the other three stops in his pro career, but decided Jacksonville was home.

“We didn’t know where we’d end up, but after Atlanta, but I knew I was done with football. We came back for my son’s birthday, went to the beach, put our feet in the sand and said, “Jacksonville is our home.” I had radio opportunities, I had a small business but either way we loved Jacksonville.”

“Jacksonville makes it very easy to choose it,” he added. “The river, the ocean, the weather. There are so many choices and options for people here to stay.”

Boselli summed it up for everybody this way:

“Work might take me away for a period of time, but we’ll always call Jacksonville home. I know I’m from Boulder but I tell people my hometown is Jacksonville.”

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Players Know Change is Coming

Like any other group, a football team is made up of a lot of different individuals. Guys come from the city, the suburbs, farms and ranches, from all kinds of different backgrounds. The common thread is that they’re all tremendous athletes and have supreme self-confidence in their athletic skill. They need both to get to the highest level of the game.

That skill is on display every time the ball is snapped. The self-confidence manifests itself a lot of different ways, but most directly in the locker room.

How players react to questions after a loss like the Jaguars suffered against Washington reveals where they see themselves in the big picture.

As a team leader, Calais Campbell never shrinks from that responsibility whether it’s dealing with his teammates, the coaching staff, the media or fans. His assessment of the Jaguars issues starts with the performance on the field.

“This season, we’ve been pressing and pressing, close to making plays, but just not making enough to win,” he said.

“It’s one of those years where things didn’t go well for us. At the end of the day, we have a lot of talent and a lot to play for. If we can get some momentum going into next year, I believe with the people we have here, coaching staff included, and the players, we can be successful going forward.”

Interesting that unprompted, Campbell gave a vote of confidence to the coaching staff, in a de-facto way, noting that he didn’t think they were the issue in 2018.

Calais showed once again that he’s the kind of guy you hope stays in Jacksonville when his career is over. He’s a positive influence no matter what he’s doing.

“Man, I’m worried about everybody here,” team captain Telvin Smith said before leaving. “Today, I dedicated my game to [Barry] Church. You don’t ever want to start a season with somebody and end up losing [them]. At the end of the day, you’re a part of it, you know what I mean? Yeah, it’s his job to go out and do whatever, but it’s family. You start a journey with everybody, you finish it together and then work it out.”

Clearly Smith didn’t think releasing Church last week was the right thing to do. It did seem strange that a veteran player would be cut loose before the season was over. It’s not a money thing, they owe him regardless. And as a solid locker room guy, something more was going on there than just freeing up a roster spot.

Contrast those comments with Jalen Ramsey’s when asked about Doug Marrone’s job after such a disappointing season.

“I ain’t worried about nobody but myself,” he said.

I suppose you could interpret that in a lot of ways, but it’s a bad look from your most talented player even give the impression that it’s all about him.

Ramsey has Hall of Fame talent. If he stays healthy, he could be one of the all-time greats. Great cover skills, high football IQ, and that tackle against Indianapolis to end the game is one of the great-unsung plays of the season. But manufactured celebrity is just that: manufactured. He’s already created a reputation as a great player in the league. Giving himself a nickname and calling attention to himself won’t enhance what fans, sponsors, coaches or teammates think about him.

While injuries have decimated the Jaguars and wrecked their ability on offense, they’ve also gotten their share of bad breaks. Against Washington, a couple of tipped passes went against them and shifted the momentum to the visitors. Add to that a couple of holes on the defensive line on the last drive that weren’t there for Adrian Peterson all day, and the result is a three-point loss.

“I think the whole deal is when you’re losing that’s where it always seems like [that],” said Head Coach Doug Marrone. “I think at the end of the day you’ve got to fight to try to create those breaks that go in your favor.”

Two road games left with perhaps a chance to play the spoiler as their only team motivation. But Abry Jones gave some perspective to how to approach these next two weeks.

“It’s already a bad year team wise and you don’t want to end it on a bad year personally and I think that’s what a lot of guys are doing and I think it’s a good thing.”

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 33 – Early Discord Scorched the Jaguars

Lonnie and Tom agree with Sam: Locker room issues were a problem early and never got fixed.

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Wrong Tone Early Sinks Jaguars

Again this week, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone was asked if he was “coaching for his job.” It’s the kind of question that’s asked with some regularity when your team is suffering though a disappointing year.

“Every day. Same as last year,” Marrone answered with an unusually clipped response.

Any different than last year?

“I approach every day that you are always coaching for [your job],” he said.

That exchange would have been unthinkable after last year’s team finished the regular season with ten wins, a division championship and a halftime lead on the road in the AFC Championship game.

But Marrone seems prescient at this point when he said in his post-game press conference last year after the loss to New England, “You can’t just pick up where you left off. Every year you have to build it again.”

I don’t know if Doug was calling on previous experience or if knew something was brewing within this team that wasn’t right. I said in this column at the beginning of the year that Marrone was the right guy at the right time to coach this team. His no nonsense, pragmatic style is what a veteran-laden, experienced team needed. The problem is that despite the talent and accolades this team had going into 2018, they didn’t have the maturity to handle lofty expectations.

Pointing fingers is something players refer to when a team isn’t playing well, and you can’t point a finger at one situation or one individual and note what went wrong with the Jaguars. It would take a couple of hands to try and pinpoint what went awry and who’s responsible.

When Jalen Ramsey had a lot to say in the offseason about himself and opponents, some wrote it off to youthful exuberance. In the locker room, guys shrugged it off. But it wasn’t the tone this team, with only one post-season run in recent memory under their belt, needed to set.

When Ramsey’s first child was born at the beginning of training camp, a landmark in any father’s life, Ramsey stayed out of camp for a week. Nobody’s going to criticize a teammate for anything they do regarding family, but as the camp days wore on with no word when he might return, there were a lot of shrugged shoulders when asked about his absence. Other guys have missed time to be there for life’s big events. But this had a whole different feel. Again, not the tone a talented team with lofty expectations would set.

As a rookie, Ramsey didn’t accept the normal hazing handed out by the veteran players. Didn’t participate in the normal team building and bonding exercises, simple stuff, and he let the vets know it right away. So he’s always seen himself as a bit separate from the other ten guys out there.

He reiterated that this week when asked if he would vote for himself for the Pro Bowl.

“I would. I don’t vote, though,” he said. “Some people get it confused because we are losing right now on the team, but if you look at what I do out here, I’m still performing at a high level. I’m still having productive games, doing well, doing my job for the team.”

He went on to outline his individual performance against the top receivers, quoting stats, despite those performances coming in losses.

“A.B [Antonio Brown], I did my thing that game,” he said of his performance in the loss to the Steelers where he had two highlight-reel interceptions. “He still got off, he still had his, but I wasn’t covering him right then.”

Awfully quick to note that Brown’s big catches were somebody else’s responsibility.

When that fight happened in training camp between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue, some eyebrows were raised about what was going on in the Jaguars locker room. An offensive and defensive player going at it after beating on each other in the heat for a couple weeks? Understandable. Two defensive players? Not good.

And its obvious Fowler was the problem, and they didn’t solve it quickly enough. They eventually sent him to the Rams, but it wasn’t for a lack of production or that he brought a big payoff. They knew he needed to go and it was the right thing to get rid of him. They just waited too long to get it done.

Even the players knew something wasn’t right. Despite a 3-1 record, they called two “players only” meetings in the first four weeks trying to straighten things out.

When the media was allowed in the locker room after the normal 12-minute “cooling off” period following the loss to Houston at home, there was plenty of shouting still going on. They pushed the media back out into the hall and got it worked out but again, not the tone a team wants to set.

A locker room doesn’t have to have an axe and a butcher block to bring it together. And taking the Ping-Pong table out doesn’t mean there’s better focus. It’s something totally different and intangible.

“Any winning team has to have an intense affection for one another,” Tom Coughlin once told me.

That was clearly missing here this year.

Something Magical About High School Football

This season both Mandarin and Raines made it to their state high school football championship games. While this weekend’s appearance in Orlando is a crowning achievement for those teams, it also marks a swift and sudden end to many players’ football careers.

“I know how special it is,” Mandarin Head Coach Bobby Ramsey said this week. “I tell my players, for almost all of you, this is the only time you’ll play 11-on-11 tackle football.”

There’s something different, almost magical that happens for high school boys playing football when they’re out there on the field. Just eleven guys, no coaches, no girlfriends, no parents, just those eleven players. The same thing happens for high school girls playing volleyball. There’s something about the rhythm of both games, the stop and go nature of the competition that breeds a closeness that doesn’t happen too often in other sports.

While high school boys become men and go onto other things, oftentimes they’re forever identified by their high school football careers. Especially if their team was successful. I occasionally get back to suburban DC where I went to high school and although I’ve been gone from there more than four decades I still get asked, “Are you the Sam Kouvaris who quarterbacked that ’73 Magruder team?”

Teaching and coaching blocking and tackling might be what the definition of the job of a “high school coach” entails, but that’s only part of the responsibility.

“I think if that’s not a big part of your belief system, you probably shouldn’t be doing it at this level,” Ramsey said about his responsibility as a high school coach.
“I have players from Yulee and First Coast who are friends of mine now. It’s nice when guys go away to college and you can tell what you taught them has helped them.”

“It’s about the relationships,” Deran Wiley, the Raines Head Coach said before the Vikings left for Orlando. “I had a player put his arms around me this week and say ‘Thanks Coach’ and I knew what he meant. It wasn’t about getting him to the State Championship game, it was about who he is.”

Both Wiley and Ramsey are proven, successful teachers of the game, but both admit if that’s the only reason you’re coaching high school football, you’re at the wrong level.

Wiley came to that realization after spending four years at Raines then two at Mandarin as an assistant before returning to the Vikings. He says it’s a staple of his decade-long head-coaching career.

“When I went to Mandarin, guys were calling me from the year before at Raines asking, ‘Hey Coach, what about this and that,” Wiley explained. “That’s when I realized they needed me for more than just football.”

“The personal development of it with the individuals is the thing you take the most satisfaction in,” Ramsey added. “These kids need you to help them. Something going on at home, how to shake somebody’s hand, how to walk into a room, the recruiting process, all of it.”

Jaguars’ players didn’t hesitate to explain what role their high school coaches played in their development, not just as football players, but also as people.

“My coach, Coach Crawford, he taught me a lot,” said Abry Jones who went to Northside High in Warner Robins, Georgia.

“I didn’t want to play football. I was cutting grass and doing yard work for my dad before going to eight grade in Warner-Robins and our neighbor came over and said, ‘You’re son’s kind of big, does he play football?’”
“I wasn’t interested but it was the hottest summer on record at the time in Georgia. My dad said, ‘If you go play football, I’ll never ask you to cut the grass again. So I went.” Little did I know we’d be standing on a field in the heat running and stuff at football practice.”

Jones says without his coach in both middle school and high school, he’s not sure he’d have continued to play and have the success he’s achieved.

“More of a mentor-mentee relationship,” Abry added. “He did everything for me. He’s the only reason I got recruited.”

Malik Jackson was eager to talk about his coach at Birmingham High in Los Angeles.

“A huge impact,” he said. “My high school coach is the one who got me to start drinking water when I get up. Helps with digestion. Taught me all kinds of things. Gave me a ride from practice, really took an interest in me as a person and encouraged me.”

“I’ve bought in more and more into developing self-confidence, self respect, self esteem,” Ramsey said of his growth as an assistant for three years and now eleven a head coach. “’Look big picture down the road,’ I started to think. ‘What can you do to help with that, who these kids become?’ Maybe we can help make a better generation of young men.”

“My Coach, Butch Goncroff taught me a lot about organization and discipline.,” Myles Jack said of his time at Bellevue High in Bellevue, Washington. “The way he ran practice, the way he conducted himself. When I got to college, I was ahead of a lot of guys because of Coach. He set me up to be successful.”

“I don’t know, my coach saw something in me I didn’t see.” Patrick Omameh said of his time at St. Francis DeSales in Columbus, Ohio. (Yes, he went to Michigan) “I was like second string JV and he promoted me to a starter on varsity. I thought it was crazy but he saw something. I’ve always been tall, but he really worked with me and helped me a lot.”

While the stereotype of a football coach remains the hard-nosed, gruff taskmaster, Wiley and Ramsey say the reality now is quite the opposite. Football is a hard game and you have to want to be there, but the two coaches who got their teams to the state championship this year know it’s more than just blocking and tackling, x’s and o’s.

“It’s really gratifying when you see these kids grow up and make something of themselves,” Wiley said.

“We talk about accountability, perseverance and responsibility,” added Ramsey. “You never know what’s going on. Players might be dealing with a lot of negativity in their lives. You have to step up and be available.”

An Encounter with President George H.W. Bush

Sitting in the men’s locker room in the early ‘90’s at Marsh Landing Country Club, there was a steady stream of guys coming through as usual or a weekday afternoon. I knew most of them and we exchanged the normal pleasantries as they passed through. It’s not unusual to see guys in all levels of dress, suits coming from work, casual clothes headed to lunch, golf togs for the course and even gym clothes with the fitness center nearby.

As I said, I knew most of the guys and having been on television in Jacksonville for more than a decade at the time, most of the guys knew me and greeted me by name (back when people watched TV!) So it wasn’t strange to me each time the locker room door opened for the person entering to look up and say, “Hi Sam!” It also wasn’t strange for the locker room to be empty, mid-day, mid-week, so I was the only person sitting there.

I looked up each time the door opened and said hi, changing my shoes, looking at the newspaper as I was getting ready to go hit some balls.

When the door opened for the umpteenth time I instinctively looked up ready to say hi, but much to my surprise the man coming through the door was the President of the United States, George H.W. Bush.

Just as instinctively, I stood up as he walked across the locker room, alone, and headed straight for me. In retrospect, it was somewhat surreal, since you always see the President with an entourage, that it was just the two of us standing there.

“Hi, I’m George Bush,” the President said as he stood next to me and extended his hand.
“Yes sir Mr. President, I’m Sam Kouvaris,” I said receiving his firm handshake.

“Am I in your way,” he said, glancing toward the lockers in front of us.

“No sir,” I said as I looked a the nameplate above my locker that had been replaced with one that said, “President George Bush.”

He sat down and motioned for me to do the same as he began to untie his shoes. Conservatively dressed in a blue Ban-Lon shirt, blue slacks and white basketball socks, he was getting ready to go to lunch in the main dining room at Marsh Landing.

“Did you play fast?” I asked, knowing a little bit about his penchant for getting through 18 holes quickly.

“Fast? We played in an hour twenty eight,” he said with a big smile. “Played through about five groups, even had time to walk over and shake hands with some guys on what, 13? Aren’t they building a house there?”

“Yes sir,” I answered with a laugh. “How’d you play?”

His answer was perfect. A blend of “guy talk” and humility.

“Actually pretty good, for me,” he said with a wry smile, a raised eyebrow and a mock look over his shoulder to see if anybody else was listening.

As he stood up, he reached in his locker and pulled a navy blue sport coat on, ready to head out the door.

“I’ve got to go this lunch with my host in the dining room,” he said as we walked toward the door, still just the two of us in the locker room. “I’d invite you, love for you to come, but it’s not my thing, you know?” he said in the most gracious way.

“Not a problem Mr. President I absolutely understand,” I said.

The locker room door opened behind us and the famed author Dan Jenkins walked through. Jenkins had invited the President to play golf that day and was a member at Marsh Landing.

“Sam, did you meet my friend George,” Dan said shaking hands with both of us and purposefully saying it backwards.

“I have,” I said with a laugh.

“He’s a fine young man,” the President said, motioning to me as he shook Dan’s hand.

The President noticed that I was looking at his shoulder with a mix of anxiousness and restraint.

“What,” he said, looking down at his shoulder.

“Fix your collar Mr. President?” I asked. As he had put the sport coat on, the collar rolled under as it often does.

He laughed and motioned that it was OK, so I reached over, and unrolled the collar and patted it down.

“Thanks,” he said as we shook hands again.

“I didn’t want to reach out and do that earlier Mr. President for fear one of those guys would come out of a locker after me,” I said.

He looked around, conspiratorially, and said, “You know, they would!” with a huge laugh. And off he and Jenkins went to lunch.

I found out later that the flow of guys through the locker room were members of the President’s Secret Service detail, sweeping the room. The President has his own traveling detail and the local agents augment his security wherever he goes. Maybe Dan Jenkins had set it up, but the local guys knew me and let me stay in the locker room, knowing the President was headed there momentarily. I appreciate that.

Recently I was speaking at a charity golf event at Timiquana when one of the players came up to me and said “You were hanging out with my friend George Bush at Marsh Landing a while back weren’t you?”

“That’s one of the favorite moments of my career and my favorite stories,” I answered.

“He came out to lunch and said, ‘I met this Sam Kouvaris in the locker room. Who is that guy? Everybody knows him,’ and I told him you were on TV and we had a pretty good chuckle. You made an impression.”

I hope it was a good one. I know that encounter had a big impact on me, seeing how one of the most famous and powerful people on the planet could have a common touch.

CAVU, fair winds and following seas Mr. President.

In Retirement, Poz Still Knows

So what happened?

Last year’s Jaguars team was, according to Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, “one whistle away” from going to the Super Bowl. And with virtually the same players, some free agents and draft picks sprinkled in, the Jaguars fell on their face in 2018.

“Aren’t you going to fill other pieces in and try to be as good as you can be?” Coughlin said this week during his Jay Fund annual radio fundraiser. “Well, the nature of the game got us, so we go back to the drawing board. But I’ll put the gloves on with anybody that wants to talk about what [moves the team made].”

It is kind of amusing to hear Coughlin say “put the gloves on” (figuratively I’m sure) when questioned after he’s turned down numerous interview requests this year from local media, including mine. I get that he wants the team to “speak with one voice” (Doug Marrone’s) but with all of the personnel issues between injuries and lack of performance, explaining it away by saying it’s the “nature of the game” just isn’t enough. Injuries are part of the game and the inexact science of personnel decisions (i.e. Bryce Paup, Tory Holt, etc.) can make it a literal crapshoot.

Everything on the Jaguars defense was the same at the start of this year. They even used their first round pick on defense, selecting Taven Bryan, a defensive lineman. Eight players on the Jaguars defense have been selected to the Pro Bowl. Yet their production was significantly worse this year than last.
One piece that’s missing is Linebacker Paul Posluszny, who retired after last season. Poz is a beloved figure in Jaguars history. He and his family have stayed in Jacksonville where he hopes to live while attending graduate school to study for an MBA. (He’s already been accepted at three prestigious Universities)

When I talked to him this week, he quickly admitted that he hasn’t watched Jaguars football since Week Two. Not because he didn’t want to. He just couldn’t.

“First one or two games I was glued to the TV,” he said. “I wanted to watch every play, every minute. I couldn’t get enough. But I found I loved it too much.”

Admittedly struggling with his transition to “post-football” life, Paul spoke with one of his mentors who had the same difficulty leaving the Marine Corps.

“He said he had to disconnect, in a respectful way. And I had to do that. I wanted to be there more than I wanted to watch. So I haven’t watched for a couple months.”

But after two weeks of watching, Posluszny was convinced this Jaguars team was on their way to greatness.

“It’s going to be so awesome,” he said recalling the team’s 2-0 start. “Realizing it’s all the same people with some improvements, this team is going to win the Super Bowl.”

By coincidence, Poz stopped watching the Jaguars as the team’s problems began to show themselves. Despite a 3-1 start, locker room leaders knew they weren’t playing well and called two “players only” meetings. Injuries eroded the offense at wide receiver, the offensive line and tight end.

Despite not watching the games, Paul admits that injuries anywhere can cause all kinds of problems.

“There’s no doubt about that, especially when it’s a recurring theme,” he said. “The offense and the defense have to be so supportive of each other, if one gets skewed, the other side can’t do their job. That’s why it’s the ultimate team game.”

We’ve heard often from Head Coach Doug Marrone about “communication” issues on defense. It seems odd when that crew is made up of veteran players who are playing in the same system as 2017 when they were ranked second in the NFL.

How does that communication work? I asked the guy whose job it was to communicate last year.

“Getting the call from the sideline and getting it to the huddle is the simple part,” Posluszny explained. “Once the offense gets into their formation and motion, it can change what the defense does. It has to be seamlessly communicated from player to player.”

Then, without seeing any of the last nine games, Paul explained what can happen and what we’ve seen too often this year from the Jaguars defense.

“If there’s a guy who missed a call, that’s when you see blown coverages. That becomes a total group effort. The defensive backs and linebackers have to have crystal clear and simple communication. Everybody has to be completely confident in what coverage you’re in.”

And he was quick to point out that it would be unfair to point the finger at one or two players.

“The ‘Mike’ (middle) linebacker does the majority of it, but the entire linebacker corps and the defensive backs are all involved in the calls.”

When I noted that he accurately had explained what was going on, I asked if Telvin Smith and Myles Jack could be losing their effectiveness because of the other opponent’s game plan.

He doubted that theory.

“I know the way those guys study and the way the coaches prepare them, I know how much work they’re putting in,” he said. “Other teams are trying to make it hard for them but that’s what I love about them, they want to win.”

As the most disappointing season in Jaguars history plays out, Paul says he knows all too well about playing games that will bring the season to a finite end.

“It can be extremely challenging at times,” Poz said. “But we always had a core group of guys who were great professionals, regardless of the situation.”

“We still have a job to do. It’s hard late in the year. That’s when your true level of professionalism shows up. You’re playing for your team, your city, and your fans, regardless of the situation.”

Fans are angry as well as being disappointed. That feeling is not lost on the locker room according to Poz.

“We get it,” he explained “But our job is to compete at the highest level. We know all of Northeast Florida is better off when the Jaguars are winning. You saw what happened last year. You want that to continue. Not just for the players, but for everybody.”

Does the whole thing need to be blown up again? Without passing judgment, Posluszny doesn’t think so, simply because he believes in the strength of character at the core of the Jaguars locker room. He thinks it can be fixed.

“I think so,” he said. “Those guys are so powerful, Telvin, Calais, those guys are so powerful with a strong message, you can tell they love the game, the team, and they want to win. There’s no doubt they can find that.”

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 28 – It’s Over, What Happened?

Lonnie, Tom and Sam dissect what happened to the Jaguars and what happens next.

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Jacksonville Gets a Team, 25 Years Later

Friday, November 30th will mark twenty-five years since the NFL awarded Jacksonville the league’s 30th franchise. It’s still an amazing, improbable story: Mayor Jake Godbold realized, in the 1970’s, that the people in town didn’t think much of themselves or the city. He believed a pro sports team could change that.

As a reporter following that story, here’s part of what happened that day, 25 years ago.

It was a cold morning in Chicago, November 30, 1993. I had watched ABC’s Nightline the previous evening with Wayne Weaver, then of 9 West shoe fame, and now the new face of Touchdown Jacksonville.

Nightline ran a segment during their show on NFL expansion, outlining how Charlotte had secured a franchise in October and the NFL had tabled the decision on the 30th team until their next meeting, 30 days later.

I had been with Weaver the day the league awarded Charlotte the franchise a month ago and then told him to wait.

He was not happy.

In October at the Chicago Hyatt, Weaver invited me to walk with him to the NFL’s temporary offices where he was to meet with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. As we waited outside the door for Tagliabue, I asked Weaver, “What are you going to tell him?”
Without hesitation, the future Jaguars owner turned to me with a narrow-eyed, unblinking stare and said, “I’m going to ask why we didn’t get what we came here for.”

And with that, the receptionist invited Weaver into the offices. He turned to me and said, “Wait here.” So I sat down, grabbed a newspaper (still popular back then) and settled in for a long wait.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t more than 15 minutes before Weaver walked back out the door, stern-faced and clearly not happy.
“How’d it go?” I asked somewhat jovially, trying to lighten the mood.

Weaver would have none of it.

“I wanted to know why we didn’t get a NFL franchise and he didn’t have an answer. He said, ‘Be patient,'” Wayne answered as he strode toward the lobby.

There, the other members present from Touchdown Jacksonville were briefed on what the NFL was thinking and what their jobs were for the next 30 days. No matter what was said, it was obvious the league was trying to put a franchise back in St. Louis and avoid Jacksonville. The Cardinals had moved to Phoenix and with the lure of Budweiser and other institutional money in St. Louis, the league wanted a franchise there. The little publicized fact was Weaver’s connection to St. Louis, where he had lived and worked.

But to Jacksonville’s advantage, Weaver turned down the league’s suggestion that he become the principal owner and managing partner in St. Louis instead of Jacksonville.

About 30 days later, we were back in Chicago at the same Hyatt, going through the same song and dance with the NFL owners. Weaver had invited me after the viewing of Nightline to go for a run in the morning.

“Seven AM, in the lobby,” he said.

At seven, I was standing in the lobby in running shorts and long sleeved shirt and a knit hat. Weaver appeared moments later wearing the most beautiful running suit I had ever seen. We headed out into the cold morning, well below freezing, anticipating approximately five miles. We chatted the whole time about how Weaver should present himself to the media when, or if, he got a franchise.

“You’re the shark, we’re the guppies,” I told him. “Move where you want and we’ll follow.”

Then I added, “When you’re up there with the Commissioner, look at the back row where the cameras are. I’ll be standing there pointing into the camera. You look there and you’ll be speaking to all of Jacksonville,” I said with a bit of hyperbole. (In a side note, we stopped at about the three-mile mark of our run to catch our breath and out of a grove of trees, in the suburbs of Chicago, stepped about an 8-point buck, just 10 yards from us. I’m not much for ‘signs’ but I turned to Wayne and quietly said, “You’re getting a team.”)

This time in Chicago, they would award one franchise instead of two. Baltimore was still in the picture with two ownership groups. Memphis still thought they had a shot, but St. Louis and Jacksonville were the front-runners.

Current Jaguars President Mark Lamping knows the inside story of the St. Louis bid. The infighting, the problem with “who’s in charge” that sank their bid. To the public though, they brought in Dan Dierdorf to help make their presentation. Dierdorf, not yet a Pro Football Hall of Fame member (his friend Jack Buck was his biggest patron) might have told the St. Louis story to the NFL owners but in public, he spent most of his time running down Jacksonville. As part of the media in attendance at his press conference, I heard Dierdorf go out of his way several times to outline how Jacksonville couldn’t support a franchise and didn’t deserve one. Perhaps he thought he was doing his job. But at the time, it was unseemly.

Nonetheless, the presentations concluded and the different city representatives were sent to separate suites on the 25th floor of one of the Hyatt’s adjacent towers.

Weaver invited everybody along who looked like a familiar face from Jacksonville. Ensconced in the suite, the league sent instructions to sit tight while the owners voted. They’d let us know the outcome.

So along with several other media members, I settled in with TD Jax members like Tom Petway and Chick Sheerer and waited. I was looking at the plans HOK had proposed for stadium improvement with Petway when a security guard started to sweep through the suite saying, “Media out!”
I grabbed the plans, put them in front of my face and turned on the couch to look at Petway. He just smiled as the guard walked by.
Hearing “But Kouvaris is still in there,” from Gene Frenette of the Times-Union as the door closed only heightened my sense that I was in the right place at the right time. The news business is very competitive.
Suddenly, bursting through the front door was Ron Weaver, a Jacksonville local and Wayne’s brother who had brought Weaver to the table as the principal owner the league was looking for. TD Jax had put together enough money but the league didn’t want to deal with a committee. They wanted one person, and Weaver was that guy.

I jumped out of my seat and found myself in a circle with Ron, Weaver, his wife Delores, and David Seldin of TD Jax and the potential Jaguars President.

“You’re getting an NFL team,” Ron blurted out to his brother, red-faced with excitement.

Out of turn, I asked, “How do you know that?”

Ron turned to me and said, “Because I just ran into the finance committee chairman in the hallway and he said we were the choice.”
Everybody knew the full NFL Owners membership had never turned down a recommendation from the finance or expansion committee so this seemed to be it: the dream coming true.

“I should go,” I said to Seldin as I turned away, shook both Wayne’s and Ron’s hands, and hugged Delores. Seldin agreed and I walked to the sofa to gather my things.

In 1993, mobile phone technology was not what it is now and at the time, I carried one of those phones everybody makes fun of: big, bulky, looked like the son of something the GIs carried in WWII.

My boss, Nancy Shafran, and I, along with a high-level officer of TD Jacksonville, had arranged a code word, “Tangerine” to tip us off if Jacksonville were to be awarded the franchise.

As I carefully put the antenna up to the window to see if I had service, I dialed Shafran’s private number. When she answered, I simply said, “Tangerine.”

“Really? Are you sure?” Shafran said excitedly.

Before I could answer, the other phone in her office rang and she told me to hold on. In something that seemed surreal at the time, I heard a familiar voice say from the other room of the suite: “Tangerine.” It was our source, confirming what I had just told her.

We quickly formulated a plan, I said my goodbyes and headed to the ballroom where the announcement would be made.

As I approached the elevator, a young producer from our competition at the time stepped out of one of the two elevators and asked, “Where is everybody?”

“Down that hall,” I motioned to her, knowing full well the numerous security guards wouldn’t let her approach the Jacksonville suite.
As she walked off, I stepped into her elevator and hit every floor’s button and jumped out as the door closed. I then grabbed the other elevator and hit, “1.” Before the doors opened, I hit every floor’s button on that panel as well, figuring it would buy us some time.

I knew we were right, and wanted us to be first, an important element in the news business. As I mentioned, it’s competitive.

I briskly walked to the ballroom where my colleague Tom Wills was just about to go on the air with a live report.

On the way, I walked by a small room that had boxes of t-shirts and hats with “Baltimore Bombers” and other contenders emblazoned on the front. The one that was missing was “Jacksonville Jaguars,” confirming what I already knew.

As I entered the ballroom, I looked to Tom, shaking my head in disbelief, and said, “We’re getting a team.”

“If you’re sure, let’s go with it,” Tom said. I’ve always appreciated the trust he had in me at that moment, literally putting his credibility on the line just on my word.

In seconds we were on the air announcing that shortly, the NFL would award the 30th franchise to Jacksonville.

Sure enough, Tagliabue announced Jacksonville would be awarded the franchise and bedlam ensued at home.

Tom flew back on one of the two private planes Touchdown Jacksonville had brought to Chicago with Petway, Weaver, and several others. I was assigned to stay in Chicago and report from there. In a bit of irony, the plane Tom and Weaver were on had a flat tire and it took a while for them to fix it and get back to Jacksonville.

It didn’t matter, though. The people in Jacksonville knew: the team had already arrived.

Missing Poz, and a Lot More

To hear Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone’s comment about replacing players, it sounded eerily similar to Tom Coughlin’s answer to a similar question in 1995.

“You’ve got to see if someone you put in there is going to be better,” Marrone said when asked about lineup changes, particularly at quarterback. “You can’t just replace people just to replace them. You’ve got to replace them with people that you feel are going to do a better job for you.”

During the Jaguars first season, Coughlin was asked if he was considering some lineup changes when things weren’t going well. “These are our players,” he deadpanned.

In both instances, the coaches know that the guys on the field aren’t performing well enough, but they don’t have anywhere to turn. For Coughlin in ’95, it was a matter of using cast-offs from the expansion draft and rookies he drafted.

For Marrone, it’s a different story.

This year’s Jaguars team has plenty of talent. First-round picks all over the lineup and solid, emerging players in key spots. But this year, it just hasn’t happened.

On defense there are eight players who have gotten a Pro Bowl nod at one point or another in their career. But this year’s defense is a far cry from the one that dictated games in 2017.

Can they miss Paul Posluszny that much?

The answer might be pretty complicated, but generally the answer is “yes.”

Poz said he was leaving the game because he “couldn’t look Telvin and Myles in the eye if I couldn’t make that play,” when he decided his career was coming to an end. The problem is, Telvin and Myles aren’t making the plays they were last year with Poz in the lineup. Some of it’s the “communication” Marrone keeps talking about. But there’s an intangible there that’s missing.

This team has less “want to” than last year. Perhaps it’s the accountability they felt to Posluszny both in the locker room and on the field, but whatever it is, it’s missing and you can feel it.

”Its un-explainable” Malik Jackson said last week regarding the lack of production his team is having, particularly on defense. Which means something’s missing from just the x’s and o’s.

Injuries have wreaked havoc with the offense. From Leonard Fournette’s tender hamstring to the third and fourth stringers having to play at left tackle and tight end, you could point at that as a part of the offensive problem. Add to that the lack of production from a wide receiver corps that lacks a star and is just a tick above average, and it’s no surprise the offense isn’t getting it done.

Blame Blake Bortles all you want, but even Doug Marrone admits that it’s hard to evaluate a player when nobody around him is playing well either.

‘Do we need better play there?” Marrone asked rhetorically a couple of weeks ago. “Yes, but we need better play everywhere on offense,” was his own answer.

Bortles isn’t a superstar, but he has shown the ability to get the job done when the rest of the pieces are functioning as well. And it’d be nice if the receivers were open every now and then.

When you watch the game, (and often it’s instructive to watch the replay with the sound down) it’s obvious they’re not getting much don on offense. But Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett should shoulder some of the blame. From one of the best-called games ever against New England, Hackett has lost confidence in his receivers, his quarterback and most notably his offensive line, and his unimaginative play calling reflects that. If they don’t’ execute, that’s one thing, if you don’t give them a chance, that’s another.

I agree, Blake should have pulled the ball out and run it himself on the run-pass option in the 4th quarter against the Steelers, but without the confidence of your coaching staff, it’s a difficult decision to make.

And without addressing the lack of playmakers either in the draft or through free agency, Tom Coughlin and Dave Caldwell rolled the dice on a team who’s offense was modeled around a decade-old formula for winning in the league. And crapped out.

Watching that LA/KC game Monday night was fun, but for context, it’s the first time in NFL HISTORY that both teams scored at least 50 points in a game. So that’s not going to happen every week. You don’t think *Bortles could be either Jared Goff or Patrick Mahomes, but who knows? He’s never had that kind of talent around him.

At least the Jaguars should look to the future of their team with one eye on what the NFL is now. And act accordingly.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 27 – Team, Not Self

Lonnie, Tom and Sam solve all the Jaguars problems. If they’d only listen! Seriously, there are some good solutions here. Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 26 – Whatever You Do, Be A Pro!

A look at the Jaguars mistakes and how to be a pro. Plus Sam and Tom Discuss the team/coach/player/media relationship.

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Social Media a Fact of Life in Pro Sports

Walk into the Jaguars locker room during the “media availability” time on any given day and there will be a smattering of players arrayed in front of their lockers in various positions of repose with one thing in common: They’re all on their phones. Not talking on their phones, not texting, but looking at their phones, perusing social media.

“Media availability” happens four times a week for about an hour in the middle of the day, between meetings and around lunch. So it might be the only time the players have to check their phones.

While social media has given fans perceived access to their sports heroes, it’s also given players some ownership over a part of their public image and branding.

“My social media is about who I am not about what I have,” said Defensive Lineman Malik Jackson. “I’m fashion forward, so I post some fashion, some things about the team and some stuff about my family. That’s about it. Instagram is visual and written, that’s why I’m on it.”
We used to joke in the sports department about what goes happens on social media. “I woke up this morning thinking maybe Twitter would be nice today,” my colleague Matt used to say. “But then I got on it and.. . . Nope!”
Since becoming the NBA commissioner in 2014, Adam Silver has encouraged the use of social media league wide. So much so that it’s become an indelible part of the league’s culture.

“Those guys in the NBA, they’ve got a lot of time on their hands,” Jaguars Defensive Lineman Abry Jones said regarding what seems like the constant stream of tweets and post coming from NBA players. “Two hours here, two more there. We don’t have that.”

In 2018, the NBA has already been tweeted about more than any other sports league. The league’s official Twitter account has 27 million followers, 3 million more than the NFL’s. On Instagram, the NBA has 31 million followers, more than the NFL, MLB and the NHL combined. In the NBA, there are 33 players with at least 2 million followers on Instagram. In the NFL, there are nine.

But NFL teams are using social media platforms to expand their reach. The Green Bay Packers have more Twitter followers than the entire population of the Green Bay metropolitan area.

Jalen Ramsey is the most active and followed player on the Jaguars roster. Ramsey has nearly a million social media followers, three-quarters of those on Instagram. He’s created some controversy and has experienced plenty of blowback on social media. So much so that he recently tweeted, “I’m gone from here, y’all gone miss me. I ain’t even trippin lol.”

When asked who that was directed at, Ramsey said, ““Whomever. You have something to say, you have some negativity, I guess the fake fans, the fake … Whoever. Whoever.”

While the Lakers’ LeBron James has 44.5 million followers on Instagram, more than the top 12 NFL players on that platform combined, Sixers Guard J.J. Reddick has none. He deleted all of his accounts recently. He believes he was an addict and it was taking away from his real life.

“It’s a dark place,” he told Bleacher Report. “It’s not a healthy place. It’s not real. It’s not a healthy place for ego. It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism. It’s scary, man.”

“I encourage players to use social to interact with fans and the community,” said Tad Dickman, the Jaguars Director of Public Relations. “If they’re looking for a restaurant, I’d rather them ask fans on Twitter than just go to Yelp looking for a place to eat.”

At the beginning of the season, Dickman, a 29-year old a social media participant himself, conducts a seminar on social media use, gives the players a handbook outlining the do’s and don’ts and how players can use it to their benefit. While the NFL has a broad social media policy, most of the specifics are set team by team.

No game footage can be used and live streaming is prohibited according to NFL policy. For the Jaguars the rules are pretty basic: No pictures or videos that could harm the team. No pictures from the training room or the locker room.

“Just like missing a meeting or being late, violating the rules could involve discipline,” Dickman responded without elaborating when asked if the players could find themselves in trouble posting on social media.

Like any organization with young employees, the Jaguars warn their players about putting out too much information.

“I don’t want people all up in my business,” Jones said, explaining why he limits his social media use to Instagram and even there, not much. “I like to stay in touch with some friends.”

Most Jaguars players have limited their social media to the Instagram platform. And as Jackson alluded to, it seems that everybody on there owns everything and has a fabulous life going on.

“It’s all fake,” fullback Tommy Bohanon, an Instagram participant said with a laugh. “I like to keep up with some friends. I don’t post much, but I scan through it to see what’s going on.”

Bohanon said the negativity on his accounts isn’t an issue. “I don’t care what anybody outside this (locker) room says. They don’t know what’s going on anyway.”

“I’m just on Instagram, I got rid of the rest,” Offensive Lineman Josh Wells explained.

Any trolls?

“Me, no, not me. But I know guys on the team who really get it all over social (media).”

Which is why some players have self-imposed rules.

Famously, James halted his social media posts during the 2015 NBA Playoffs calling it, “Zero Dark Thirty-23” mode.
“No phones, no social media, I don’t have anything,” James said at the time. “There’s too much nonsense out there. Not during this time. This is when I lock in right now, and I don’t need nothing creeping into my mind that don’t need to be there.”
Golden State’s Steph Curry recently stopped his usual ritual of looking at social media at halftime.

“When everybody is watching your game every night, if you let one ounce of negativity or one terrible comment creep in, especially right before a game or at halftime or something, it’s probably not the best bet,” Curry told the Mercury News.
I asked Head Coach Doug Marrone if he’d ever been on social media, he laughed as he headed to practice.
“Never. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, nothing. When I’m gone from here nobody will know how to find me!”
Probably a generational thing, but for sure, social media is a fact of life sports teams will have to continue to deal with in the future.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 25 – Problems in River City

Tom and Lonnie give the best analysis you’ll hear on the nuts and bolts of the Jaguars issues. And some locker room talk as well!

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Only the Jaguars Can Stop the Slide

At 3-6, this Jaguars team doesn’t resemble last year’s squad at all. It doesn’t feel like the ’96 team that was also 3-6 but made the playoffs. That team was young and playing with a bunch of exuberance that carried them through the second half of the season. It doesn’t even feel like some of the teams in the Mike Mularkey/Gus Bradley era. Those teams were undermanned and we knew it. Winning was going to be the exception not the expectation.

No, this team is unique in that it’s underperforming across the board. Injuries are part of it, but the defense is nowhere near what they were in 2017 and that’s inexcusable. Talk about communication problems or being out of position are for teams that are young and building. This team is neither.

Whether it’s Paul Posluszny’s retirement, or expectations that were too high, this is the most disappointing season in Jaguars history.

While it’s not mathematically over, it sure feels like it’s over. A 0-3 record in the division is a deep hole to climb out of, not impossible, but unlikely. Add to the problems the announcement on Monday that starting center Brandon Linder will be out for the season, and it adds to the unlikeliness that this thing will turn around.

“Yeah, I just think you talk about being a pro, you talk about having pride, you talk about staying together,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said after the loss to Indy regarding not letting the season completely slip away. “Because if you don’t, it only gets worse as it goes on. So we all have a job to do – it’s my job to keep everybody together and make sure we’re all going on the right path to do that. And it’s their job too, as professionals, to do it – and I really believe that.”

“I think you just have to rely on the character of the guys in the locker room,” echoed Quarterback Blake Bortles. “I know guys that have been here before, prior to last year, who have been through some other seasons. We have to stay together and get it fixed. It’s on us and we’ve got to fix it as a group, fix it as a team and find ways to win a football games.”

Those comments even sound like three and four years ago coming from a team that knows it’s underperforming.

“It’s a lot of the same guys out there that were a part of the team and that run last year,” Blake added. “So, I think there’s a little confidence boost in knowing that. But also, the reality is that we’re 3-6 and have lost five straight. Whatever happens at the end happens. But this is not a team that should be losing games like this.”

It’s always amusing when fans and analysts have opinions and views that seem so common sense that they don’t understand why the players and coaches don’t see it that way. The reality is, they DO see it that way. They’re no different when it comes to understanding a lack of performance. It might not be what they say in press conferences but reading between the lines, they get it; they’re not getting the job done.

“At the end of the day, our goals are still intact,” Calais Campbell said in the losing locker room. “I know it is hard, it’s probably going to take seven in a row for us to be able to go on a run. But is it possible? Without a doubt.”

Based on what the Jaguars have put on the table so far this season that seems overly optimistic. But better than resigning 2018 to a lost season.

“Can this team do it?” Campbell asked rhetorically. “I believe we can. If we played like we did in the second half, I believe we can. So it all just comes down to doing it, that’s to be determined but this team is very capable of doing it.”

“Let’s not put (our preparation) in a spot where other people can capitalize,” Marrone said on Monday. “Assignments are good but penalties are costing us. It looks good during the week but then there are mistakes in the game. We have injuries but that shouldn’t have an effect on what we’re doing.”

When the players talk, they don’t have an explanation. In fact, Malik Jackson says it’s beyond explanation.

This team had a locker room problem in camp that really never went away. If it was offense versus defense, that’s understandable during a long, hot training camp. But it was a true personality clash that the Jaguars hoped to solve by trading Dante Fowler.

But it might have been too late.

Despite a 3-1 start, all of the offseason talk of playoffs, Jalen Ramsey’s spouting off and thinking of the Super Bowl, Marrone was spot on when he said at the end of last season it doesn’t carry over from one year to the next. It’s everybody’s job to find whatever intangible bound them together in 2017.

“The only way to change it is to win football games,” Marrone said plainly. “People are pissed, and rightfully so. We’re not performing anywhere near what we’re capable of.”

The quicker the better.

Bortles is the Right Guy

It seems not a day goes by without somebody asking about Blake Bortles.

Is he the guy? Will the Jaguars address the QB position right away? Wait ‘till the draft? Eli Manning? Teddy Bridgewater? Buehler? Anyone?

But here’s the truth: Blake is the right guy for this team.

Built to play defense and run the ball, the Jaguars need a quarterback who can play all kinds of different ways, running and throwing and most importantly earning the trust of his teammates. He won a playoff game last year 10-3 with a restricted game plan. He won a playoff game the next week, on the road, 45-42 with a wide-open playbook.

“Because I’ve seen it before,” said Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone when asked why he has confidence in Bortles. “Sure, we need better play. But the bigger picture is that we all need to play better. It’s a better story when it’s the quarterback stuff. I get it. I don’t have any issues with that.”

Two years in a row, Blake’s job as the starting quarterback on this team has been called into question by his head coach. Once in the preseason and once when he was benched at halftime. Marrone said he did that to “shake things up” but Bortles knows he’s always under the microscope.

“Playing quarterback in the NFL, it seems if you haven’t won a Super Bowl you are fighting every day to keep your job,” Blake said. “I view it like that. I have to show up and earn my keep every day and winning football games is the only way to do it.”
Plain spoken and matter of fact, it’s just the nature of the business if you listen to Blake talk. But despite his blasé’ approach in front of the media, Bortles brings a fierce competitiveness to playing that a casual observer wouldn’t see. He hides it from us. His teammates know better. He wants to be great and has matured in the last couple of years to put the work in to be great.

Is he great? No. He’s not Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. He’s somewhere else on the list of QB’s in the NFL. Not at the top, nor is he at the bottom.

When the pieces to the Jaguars puzzle are put together, like they were last year, Bortles can operate the offense like Lewis Hamilton drives his F1 machine. When the Jaguars puzzle is apart as it is now, maybe Brady, Rodgers or Brees would keep the Jaguars competitive. Nobody else.

But consider: No tight ends, third-string left tackle, star wide receiver hurt in preseason and not replaced and a star running back that has played 24 snaps all year. So no running game, fewer options throwing the ball, and honestly, wide receivers that aren’t getting open. Add to that play calling that doesn’t seem to match the talent on the field, and you get the offensive struggles the Jaguars are experiencing.

Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota are the other three starting quarterbacks in the AFC South. They all run very different offenses and do good things. Insert any of them in the Jaguars lineup right now, and the results would be the same. Osweiler, Winston, Fitzpatrick, Prescott, Ryan, Smith, Cousins, same story.

Never one to point finger elsewhere, Bortles did give a glimpse into how things are different than expected, and currently dysfunctional while discussing the tight end situation this week.

“Obviously it is different because you bring ASJ [Austin Seferian-Jenkins] and he comes in and it is him, [James] O’Shaughnessy and Niles [Paul] who were our three guys. You work all offseason and OTAs and camp with them and feel comfortable and felt like we had some really good stuff for those guys. Then all three of them were hurt within a couple weeks of each other.”

It’s become the easy story that Blake can’t play. The Jaguars can’t win with him. You’ve heard that enough on game broadcasts and national networks to know that it’s the narrative that won’t change. Broadcast producers start with “Blake can’t play” as the overriding theme and the announcers follow the story. Kind of like when they kept reporting that Tom Coughlin wouldn’t allow sunglasses on the practice field. A year after he revised that rule.

Will Blake be the catalyst to turn the second half of the season around? Marrone explained how he’d look at the quarterback.

“It’s a tough position to evaluate,” the head coach said. “Sometimes there is a lot of stuff going around that has got to get a whole lot better. I think it’s a lot easier to evaluate a situation when everything around it is going well. Then you can see it. Quarterback position? That is really any position.”

.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 24 – A Run Starts With One

Sam and Tom compare this year’s team to the ’96 squad that was also 3-5 through 8 games. Tom reveals how they did it.

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Episode 23 – We’re Fired Up! It’s Election Day and the Day the Jaguars Make Changes!

Sam, Lonnie and Tom talk a little Election Day and how the Jaguars need to be honest with themselves.

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Episode 22 – Jaguars must work in their craft

Tom and Sam talk about how the bye week can benefit the team very specifically.

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Jaguars Could Take a Lesson From the Blue Angels

There’s a big difference between a group of people and a team. Being a team is pretty simple: Everybody doing their job well toward a common goal. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Lately, the Jaguars are the opposite of that. The whole is lesser than the sum of their parts.

They have too many talented players, eight on defense who have an appearance in the Pro Bowl, to have lost four straight and have a 3-5 record halfway through the season.

“Where is this team that we have had that everyone believes in?” Head Coach Doug Marrone asked this week. “Now, all of a sudden it is four straight losses.”

Last weekend the Navy’s Blue Angels were in town. Talk to anybody who’s ever been in the “Blues” they always refer to it as the “team.” Members of the Blue Angels squadron come out of the Navy and Marine Corps fleet of combat jet pilots. And when their two year stint as part of the demonstration team is over, they go right back to a fleet squadron. They know something about building a team and sustaining the excellence necessary to perform at the highest level. They’re motivation is two-fold: staying alive and making the team look good.

“It’s all about the mission,” said Orange Park native Captain Dave Koss, a former Commanding Officer of the Blues and most recently Commander, Strike Fighter Wing Pacific.
“The mission of a football team is to win. Coincidentally this year the Chief of Naval Operations said, ’This is the year we win.’”

How do you get things back to “winning ways” when a team starts to unravel? Whether it’s an NFL team, the Blue Angels, the method is the same: Frank self-assessment and get back to work.

“You are going to self-scout and see what you are doing and what you have to do a better job of and what’s working and what’s not working,” Marrone said of the process over the bye week. “I think you have to have a common goal and message. You have to establish an identity for what you want to do and right now; we haven’t done that in either phase.”

Writing on the different facets of squadron dynamics in his three-novel “Raven” series, best selling Amazon author Capt. Kevin Miller (Ret.), former Commanding Officer of the “Gunslingers”, VFA 105 at Cecil Field agrees with Marrone about looking inward.

“The debrief is frank,” Miller said of a squadron’s version of looking at game video. “We want to help each other. We look at guys and make sure they’re still trying. If they’re not, you have to get them out of the squadron because they’re going to hurt themselves and somebody else.”

You could say the Jaguars did that this week, dealing Dante Fowler to the Rams. Described often as a “man-child,” Fowler is clearly a good football player. He just wasn’t a good teammate.

Flying in the Blue Angels was one of the highlights of Captain Pat Rainey’s (Ret.) Navy career. He was also the CO of the “Rampagers”, VFA 83 at Cecil Field and was Commander, Air Group Three (CAG) in the Atlantic Fleet.
“The only way a team gets better is to be incredibly honest,” Rainey says. “Not only about the team’s performance, but about your own performance. It’s not about anybody’s individual performance, it’s about the team’s performance.“

Marrone agrees that a frank look in the mirror is where he, and everybody should start.

“I think you have to take a good look at yourself as a head coach and say, ‘Hey, are they listening? Is my message being heard?

“Clear buy-in to what the goal is,” added Koss. “If your heart’s not in it, you’ve got to go. In the Blues it’s about focus and focusing on the right things. If something is distracting from the mission, things can go poorly. Fast.”

When a football team is struggling, the season is a stake. When a squadron is struggling, lives are at stake. But the same procedure goes into place to change what they’re doing.

“Back to basics,” said Miller, a combat veteran. “If you’re supposed to push over on your carrier approach at 1200 feet, it’s 1200 feet. Not 1210 or 1190. Focus. Don’t get sloppy. Compartmentalize.”

Rainey says a struggling team needs to find a common bond and get closer, “It’s commitment to the larger organization,” he noted. “Trying everyday to try make it better. You’re going to have bad days, but both privately and publicly you have to strive to be better and be selfless about the team.”

Any leader, football coach or squadron commander could easily make the following statement:

“I have to get everyone pulling in the same direction, everyone to understand accountability and what that means and everyone to do their job. If I can get everyone to understand that, if I can get everyone just to do their job.”

This just happened to be Marrone explaining how he sees his role in reversing the Jaguars current decline.

“There is a story out there about this team,” Marrone told the Jaguars players this week. “It is an ugly story. But the story hasn’t ended. We can still control how this story reads.“

Every debrief of the Blue Angels ends with each team member saying “Glad to be here,” acknowledging the privilege it is to wear the uniform. It’s something the Jaguars could adopt.

For the Jaguars, a playoff spot is at risk. For the Blue Angels or a front-line combat squadron, lives are at risk.

Clearly, both have to get it right.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 21 – Can the Season Be Saved?

Tom and Sam think the season can be salvaged. But only if the “look hard in the mirror.”

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Jaguars in London Pretty Routine

In the five years the Jaguars have played in London, they’ve tried all kinds of different things to figure out how to give themselves the best chance to win.

One year the team left directly after a game from Cincinnati. Dinner at the Montgomery Inn on the river, then a special TSA check, bus by bus, in a warehouse at the airport followed by a non-stop flight to London. They arrived on Monday morning, practiced all week with a regular routine and played the game on Sunday evening.

And the Jaguars got blown out.

So they tried something different, leaving on a Monday night, arriving Tuesday, practicing all week at a resort called “The Grove” (they played a World Golf Championship there. Tiger won.) With a regular practice routine on a purpose-built American Football field they had a routine practice week and played the game on Sunday evening.

And the Jaguars got blown out.

The following year they shortened the trip hoping for a different result. They left on a Thursday night, arriving on Friday morning. They practiced at noon at the Saracens grounds (a rugby team in London), stayed right next to Wembley Stadium at the Hilton and played the game on Sunday afternoon.

And they beat Buffalo 34-31.

So the next season they followed the exact same routine, to the minute, and beat Indy, 30-27. And the following year they did the same, blowing out the Ravens 44-7.

They seemed to have found their groove when it comes to playing in London.

Unlike traveling during the regular season in the States where the Jaguars have to charter their own plane, (Atlas Air 747 the last two years) the NFL has a deal with Virgin Atlantic for these London games. They fly the Airbus A340-600, one of the longest civilian aircraft made. It has 68 rows, three cabins and 48 first class seats. That’s one of the keys to chartering that particular plane. The players get the lie-flat seats up front.

That’s no guarantee regarding what might happen Sunday/today. Both teams are struggling at 3-4 and coming off losses. The Jaguars started the week as a 3-point underdog, so the odds makers don’t think much of the Jaguars streak nor their London routine. Their recent woes are helping set the line rather than the extraneous factors regarding travel overseas.

While the football team has settled into a routine, so has the front office side of the club. Between soliciting potential sponsors and entertaining clients, their plates are full. We’ve heard that the revenue generated in London enhances the Jaguars position in Jacksonville and that’s true. Business relationships developed through Shad Khan’s commitment to playing a game in London every year now account for reportedly nearly 20% of the Jaguars yearly revenue.

Their UK fan club has grown exponentially each year. The number of Jaguar jerseys in the stands has multiplied. While the game is still a celebration of American football for fans in Great Britain and all over Europe, there’s no question the Jaguars commitment to playing at Wembley every year has turned many of the general NFL fans overseas into Jaguars fans. Jaguars merchandise sales there are way up.

For Jaguars sponsors, this is the ultimate road trip invitation. Every sponsor gets invited at some point during the season to travel on the team plane to an away game. The game at Wembley includes the charter flight there for some, a stay at a luxury hotel, sightseeing in London and a few parties. Party venues have included the Tower of London (the whole thing), Kensington Palace and the Beatles’ Apple Recording Studio. Shad is really good at throwing parties.

Buying an NFL team has been part of Khan’s business strategy for over a decade. He was hours from buying the St. Louis Rams before Stan Kronke exercised his option. Shad bought the Jaguars shortly after that, having already been vetted by the league as a potential owner.

He had a plan in his head for whatever NFL franchise he eventually owned, in part to be his entertainment center in the US for his North and South American clients. It’s why he quickly expanded and updated the owners box in Jacksonville and wants to make games part of a whole weekend of entertainment including concerts at Daily’s Place. Clients come in from all over as Shad’s guests at home Jaguars games. He does the same on the road.

Entertaining clients in London at the Jaguars game at Wembley is an extension of that philosophy. It’s the same at Craven Cottage, home of his soccer club, Fulham, in west London. He’s petitioned and won the right from the City of London to build a new Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage, cantilevered thirty feet over the Thames. He’ll expand his entertainment facilities there as well to easily accommodate his UK and European clients.

Making an offer for Wembley Stadium was another piece for Khan, with businesses worldwide; to create a revenue stream that includes the Jaguars. It wasn’t a precursor to moving the team, rather another part of the Khan Empire.

Shad’s also really good at thinking of new ways to make money.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 20 – GA//FL from RV City! Jags in London, Bortles Expectations

Lonnie, Tom and Sam are live in RV City downtown talking Gators and Dawgs plus what they expect from the Jaguars in London.

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Frustration, Expectations Dog Jaguars

Among the questions that will need to be answered for the Jaguars before they go to London is about the starting quarterback. It’s nearly unheard of to take a QB out of the game because things aren’t going well. Yet Doug Marrone yanked Blake Bortles when things went south early in the second half against the Texans.

“The thought process behind [the quarterback change] was, you could take all eleven out, but you don’t have enough people to put in,” Marrone said in his post game press conference, as animated as he’s ever been as the Jaguars head coach. “It’s not like he played worse than anyone else out there.”

“I just literally did it to try to get a damn spark from this football team,” he added. ”To put everyone on notice that they have to focus and they have to go out there and play better. That’s not fair to the quarterback, but that’s the way this business is,”

Fair or not, Bortles didn’t like it. Marrone said he was “Pissed, I mean really pissed. And mad at me. And that’s good. If it was any other way I’d have a problem with that.”

“It’s obviously not what you want to hear as a quarterback,” Bortles said in the post game locker room when asked about his reaction to being benched. I was fortunate enough to watch Chad Henne go through that same thing and me be the guy that went in and played. I think he handled it with the utmost professionalism and that is what I tried to do.”

Getting the call surprised Cody Kessler, but he said that’s the roles of the backup: be ready. He talked to offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and went in the game. With encouragement from Blake.
“Every time I came off the field he was helping me out, telling me what he saw and kind of talking through it,” Kessler explained of *Bortles role once he went to the sidelines. “Every time before I went out there he came over and gave me a pat and said, ‘Let’s go, go lead them.’ You couldn’t ask for a better guy or a better quarterback room.

Based on what the Jaguars have to work with on offense, Kessler was probably the right move, especially at the time. The Jaguars are playing with their third-string left tackle; two of their best running backs aren’t playing, they don’t have a reliable tight end and the receiving corps has dropped too many crucial throws from Bortles. Kessler has a quicker release and is fairly accurate.

But Bortles is and should be the starter. I don’t have a big problem pulling him from the game based on what was going on and who was around him. But once the team gets some semblance of health, Bortles is the right guy.

“I still believe in Blake, Calais Campbell said in front of his locker. “I understand Coach’s decision, and I respect it. At the same time, I believe in Blake. He’s just got to take care of the ball.”

Pretty straightforward for Blake and actually the entire team. How do you get back to who you were and where do you start?

“You keep your head down and keep working. That’s all I’ve ever done my whole life,” Blake said. “It’s all I really know how to do. I think it’s the only thing you can do in this situation. Show up with a positive attitude and get ready to play next week. Whether I play or not is not up to me so I’ll be ready to go.”

“Frustration is a part of the game,” Campbell added, seeming to address the discord in the locker room as the media was being allowed inside. “We’re emotional people and this is an emotional game. At the same time, I think that these guys have a different kind of heart. Losing sucks. You want to stack wins. We’re stacking losses. That’s not who we are and not who we want to be. I do believe we will get it fixed. We have no choice but to get it fixed and it starts with just taking it one day at a time. Nobody should be happy losing. If you’re not upset, you can’t love this game.”

Campbell had to restrain Yannick Ngakoue in the locker room as the doors opened. It wasn’t clear who Ngakoue was going after but regardless, that’s not a good look.

“We got to keep guys together,” Telvin Smith said, not willing to address the situation directly. “We want you to love this team, this organization and love each other. We’re going to have to battle deep. We’ve dug ourselves in a hole. It’s going to take a lot to dig us out.”

It hard to figure Jalen Ramsey out when it comes to playing, production, what he says, what he doesn’t say. He’s been good, but not great, certainly not dominant. Maybe he’s fueled by some made up idea that it’s him against the world. So when asked about what’s going on, Ramsey had this to say.

“What you think, man? You all walk in here, you all see how it is in here. It is no secret what’s going on here right now. Ain’t nobody going to say it because we can’t, but it ain’t no secret what’s going on and it ain’t right right now. It is what it is.”

And what it is, is not good.

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Episode 19 – Jaguars in Freefall

Sam and Lonnie break down the Jaguars loss to Houston at home. Where do they start to fix this?

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Episode 18 – Must Win?

Sam and Tom agree it might not be but it sure feels like a “must win” for the Jaguars vs Houston at home Sunday.

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Georgia Florida is a Big Deal

Working in Charleston I got a chance to come to Jacksonville to cover the Gator Bowl in the late ‘70’s a couple of times. After the 1978 game between Clemson and Ohio State (the one where Woody Hayes famously punched Charlie Bauman on the sidelines) I asked an usher on the way out, “What else do you do with this stadium?”

She looked at me like I was from another planet and said, “We have the Florida/Georgia game every year!”

As an out-of-towner I shrugged it off, not knowing the magnitude of the yearly contest. I also didn’t realize that just by saying, “Florida/Georgia” she identified herself as a Gator fan.

So when I moved here, I quickly realized there’s not much agreement across the border about the annual matchup, from how many times they’ve played to even what the game is called. I decided I’d list the current winner first after that, so this year, it’s Georgia/Florida.

There aren’t many games like it, if any. Perhaps Texas/Oklahoma, but that has the state fair going on at the same time so it’s not a fair comparison.

Georgia/Florida is a big deal. We need to make it a bigger deal.

Playing the game at a neutral site is unique, but between Jerry Jones in Dallas and Chick-fil-A in Atlanta, we have some competition when it comes to neutral site attractiveness.

And don’t think the game isn’t on other cities’ radar. Or that the two universities wouldn’t listen to suitors, or even think about keeping it in their own backyards. Their stadiums are plenty big and their fans plenty anxious.

Jacksonville has been the host since 1933 (except for 1994 and ’95 when it went home-and-home because of stadium renovations here). The current contract has a few years left on it so now’s the time to ramp it up and show what we can do. There’s about $14 million in direct spending on that one day in Jacksonville just from the game. The actual economic impact is well over $30 million. For one day. Imagine if we created a three-day festival around the game and really had some fun?

As big as this game is for the city I still don’t think we do enough as the host. It’s one of two days a year (the other being Gate River Run) that people come downtown for an event, some with no intention of going to the game, or running. And when it’s over, we just basically tell them to go home.

Aren’t city leaders always talking about how to bring people downtown?

Gator Bowl Boulevard is already closed to traffic, why not line it with street vendors and live music and make a real festival of the day just like we did when the Super Bowl was here? We ought to invest in some big custom balloons and fly a Gator over one end of the stadium and a Bulldog over the other.

A few years ago the city put up big screens in the parking lots to accommodate the fans who weren’t going to the game. Then-Florida President Bernie Machen nixed the idea saying it promoted drinking. I applaud Machen for the work he did in brining attention to the issue of over-indulgence at the game. But getting rid of the big screens wasn’t the solution. When they didn’t appear the next year all you had was crowds of people jostling for position around all of the little screens already in the parking lot. Bring those big screens back.

With the loosening of some of the alcohol restrictions at NCAA events, selling alcohol in our stadium at Georgia/Florida not only makes sense but it’s coming. It will take away some of the time-honored tradition of how to sneak cocktails into the game (my favorite is the bandoliers of shots strapped to your body that you can buy at liquor stores now. What ingenuity!) But it will also keep fans from chugging anything and everything before they get into the game.

We’ve taken steps to create a safer environment for our guests in town that weekend for the game. The JSO walks a fine line between keeping the peace and understanding what’s going on here and they do a pretty good job of it. The city has created safety zones for fans at the behest of both schools. There’s a better understanding I believe among the people who are going to the game of the pitfalls regarding the over-use of alcohol.

If we’re always talking about taking the next step in the city’s development, why not build on something we already have here?

I know it’s politically incorrect to call the game “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” but that’s what it is. When former Jacksonville Journal Sports Editor Bill Kastelz coined that phrase he knew exactly what he was talking about. And I’ve been to plenty of cocktail parties where everybody had a great time and nobody left drunk. So it is possible.

We need to think bigger. And do it fast. The sirens call of big money from other cities could easily block out the tradition that’s uniquely ours.

Don’t let that happen.

In 1994 and ’95 our stadium was being renovated so the game went to Gainesville and Athens. It was at that ’95 game in Athens; won by the Gators 52-17, that Head Coach Steve Spurrier called a trick play at the end of the game to add insult to injury.

“Calling timeout and running that trick play at the end of the game is the single most unsportsmanlike thing I’ve ever seen,” I told the HBC as he boarded the bus outside Sanford Stadium late that afternoon.

“Lawson (Holland, an assistant on the Florida staff) told me nobody’s ever hung half a hundred on them here so I called timeout,” Steve explained. “And we did.”

“I don’t care,” I said

“Come on Sammy, they’ll get over it,” Steve called over his shoulder as the door closed.

No they haven’t.

Just like some Florida fans still remind everybody about the 1942 game, a 75-0 drubbing at the hands of the ‘Dogs. And the ’68 game when Georgia won 51-0. Or the Mark Richt –inspired end zone dance in 2007, which begat the Urban Meyer timeouts in 2008, and on and on and on.

It’s an unparalleled rivalry. I liked it better when the stadium was split into quadrants but understand the “half and half” nature that was necessary after the stadium was reworked.

Being part of the game, Florida Head Coach Dan Mullen calls it, a “healthy” rivalry.

“A lot of times in college football and college sports there are some rivalries that are not as healthy,” Mullen said regarding what he’s seen in his career. “They’re tough, they’re nasty; they’re a great rivalry, but they can become unhealthy. I think this is a healthy rivalry between the two fan bases.”

But he couldn’t help but fuel the fire on both sides of the border when asked about the matchup at his first SEC media days appearance as the Gators head coach this summer.

“Listen, making it to one SEC Championship Game doesn’t make you a dominant program, you know what I’m saying?” he said referring to Georgia’s appearance in the Atlanta game last year. “I mean, two out of the last three years we’ve still been to the SEC Championship Game. So even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.”

Mullen knows Kirby Smart isn’t creating a “blind squirrel” situation in Athens and I took his comments as evidence that he understands the game.

Should be fun.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 17 – Jaguars: Get Your Act Together

Sam, Tom and Lonnie say the Jaguars are good enough. The problem might be they believe it.

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Jaguars Need a Fix Fast

It’s pretty simple math. Last year the Jaguars were 3-3 at this point in the season and finished 10-6. That means for the final 10 games of the year they went 7-3 and won the division.

But even Head Coach Doug Marrone knows this year is different.

“When you look back and we were 3-3 last year, but it was a different type of 3-3,” he said at his Monday recap of the loss to Dallas. “It was not the same as where we are right now. Right now, we need to pull up those boot straps.”

As in, they’re broken and need to fix it. Quickly. The Jaguars have suffered an inordinate number of injuries on offense and it appears to have broken their spirit.

At least for now. It’s the coaches’ job to repair that and get it back.

“We have to play better as a team,” Marrone explained.
I’m not going to stand here and say, ‘Hey, everything is fine. We will be OK.’ We are not. But, in saying that, the only way you go ahead and get through this stuff is you’ve got to work harder.”

We’ve heard that a lot in the past. Coaches love to say they need to “get back to work” when things aren’t going well. But this Jaguars team is different. Between the eight Pro Bowl players they have on defense and the success they’ve shown on offense, they’re better than what they’ve shown in three of the last four weeks. Something’s broken and they have to fix it fast.

“We can have all the talent in the world, but if you are not playing as one unit, the proof is in the pudding out there,” Safety Barry Church said in the losing locker room Sunday. “We have to come together to play as one. We will get the job done.”

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” Marrone admitted. “We are not a well-coached team and that starts with the coaches. That starts with me first. I am accountable to all of it.”

That might sound like the words of a coach who has some job security for taking his team to the AFC Championship game last year. But in this case those words are real. He’s right and he knows it. This team needs to be better prepared. And not by practicing harder, but by the coaching staff, across the board, finding that little thing that binds players together and makes them a team. Right now, they don’t have that. Marrone knows it’s more of an intangible thing that they have to find.

“Is it this person?” he asked out loud, rhetorically. “If it was just as simple as this or this or this, it would be easy. We would make those decisions and move on. But when you’re playing poorly as a team or coaching poorly, you have to take a good look at yourself.”

They don’t much like what they see when they look at themselves these days. But at least they own up to it. Team Captain Calais Campbell said as much in Dallas.

“This wasn’t us,” he said. “At the same time, we have to wear it. Because it is us. That’s who we are right now. The only way its going to change is the work we put in this week.”

At the team meeting on Monday the message was pretty simple: Either they can fight their way out of this as a team, or it’s going to be a long year.

There are plenty of places you can point a finger at but looking it as a whole is how the Jaguars are approaching a fix. There is one tangible thing the Jaguars can point to as a reason they’re not who they thought they are: turnovers.

“We are ranked 32nd in turnover ratio,” Marrone noted. ”Forget about all of the other stuff. Until we get that right … Because if you don’t get that right and you stay where you are, you are not going to win. We are minus-nine. That is correct. We are minus-nine. We are 32nd in the league, and I think that says a lot.”

Kicking Is A Mental Game

Even though he’s not superstitious, I know I shouldn’t be writing about Josh Lambo and kickers this week. Lambo hasn’t missed since last year, either a PAT or a field goal so if he misses today, it’ll be my fault. Kind of like talking to a pitcher who’s throwing a no-hitter. Nonetheless, Lambo has something special going on.

This is his 4th year in the league, but Josh might not have been a kicker at all. He was a first round pick by FC Dallas in the MLS as a goalkeeper but broke his jaw seven minutes into his first game and eventually he turned to football. A strong leg in college landed him in San Diego for two years with the Chargers before the Jaguars signed him as a free agent last season.

“The successes as a placekicker I think came really from the failures as a goalie,” Lambo said about transferring his mindset in soccer to football. “In terms of just dealing with the adversity and not giving up.”

“I’ve worked with him on a couple things,” said Josh Scobee, the Jaguars all-time leading scorer who kicked for the team for 11 years.

“He doesn’t look like he needs any help right now that’s for sure. His kicks are right down the middle. What he’s doing is impressive.”

Mike Hollis was one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history during his tenure with the Jaguars from 1995-2001. He never worked with a sports psychologist but his thought process falls right in line with “trusting the process.”

“He’s obviously done extremely well,” Hollis said. “Josh is a very athletic kicker. With more experience comes more confidence and he has it.”

Hollis started Pro Form Kicking Academy is currently involved in a software company, Meal Prep Tech, but stays active in boxing classes and still kicks occasionally. He got involved with Pilates when he had back issues. “It’s great for our position, it l and strengthens muscles at the same time.”

“Brian Barker was a great help for me,” Hollis explained. “He said ‘don’t ever think you have to do anything different on game day. There’s nothing different with the field. The goal posts are the same. That separates a lot of guys who kick well in practice but don’t perform in games.”

Watching any football practice, you see the kickers off doing their own thing. It goes with the job. Lambo says he does a lot of Pilates and is a big fan of yoga for the physical “as well as the mental and spiritual benefits.”

That’s not something you hear from most NFL players but kicking is a mental game, more than physical. There’s the technique, the trust in the snapper and the holder but what’s happening inside a kicker’s head is the thing that most often determines a make or a miss.

“I always tried to dumb it down,” Hollis said. “Don’t do more than you need to. Dumb it down. If you get caught up as kicker thinking about things you’re going to go crazy.”

Last week Mason Crosby missed five kicks for the Packers, something Scobee says didn’t surprise him.

“I watched all the misses,” Scobee said. “His mechanics changed, he got short, not following through. You miss one it’s bad, you miss two and then the third one you’re pretty freaked out.”

Josh noted that he was lucky he didn’t have to kick a third one in a two-miss game playing for Pittsburgh that virtually ended his career.

“They cut me that weekend,” he explained.

“When I guy thinks too much about the result instead of the form of kicking, he’s thinking the wrong things,” Hollis said of the thought process that led to his success.

“I have definitely been studying mindfulness,” Lambo said. “And mediation is a part of that. Just being able to stay in the present moment and not let any situation get too big.”

“Most of the game is mental,” Scobee added. He worked with a sports psychologist starting in 2007 to get his mind right when it came to kicking.

“It was more about how to think positively, about how to overcome one bad kick or one bad game. Diagnose the problem, figure out what you need to do to fix that and do that. Don’t overthink it.”

“The most fearful thing was not knowing what to correct if I missed,” Hollis said on any lack of success he had. “That allowed me go dumb it down and go back to what I know. I tried not to care. Not that I wasn’t worried about my teammates or coaches. But if I focused on what I needed to do, I was confident I’d make the kick if I went back to everything I was supposed to do.”
“Every kick I made, I’d already made it in my mind,” Scobee said of his thought process before a kick. He had a routine before games, kicking from all over the field and he had a routine during the game going over things sitting on the bench.

“Practicing in your mind,” is how he described it. “There’s only so many kicks you can do on the field before your leg gets tired. Your body will respond to what your brain tells it so when you tell your body what it can do, it helps to make you successful.”

“I’d go out there during timeouts and halftime and change of quarters to visualize in my mind making a kick,” he added.

Routine is a big part of every kickers process, Hollis and Scobee agreed. They have a way they like do things; an order, and they stick to it. Lambo likes to have the media staff create a barrier around him when he’s prepping for a kick on the sidelines for a potential game winner so nothing changes.

Is that superstition? Kickers say no.

“If I am going to make the kick, it has nothing to do with what sock I am wearing or what shoe I put on my foot first,” he explained. “It is about me doing my job, and I can control it. External factors will not control the outcome of something that I do.”

So strong-minded seems like a prerequisite for any kicker. They’re in high-pressure situations, or so it seems, every week. But they don’t see it that way. Lambo says he acknowledges his thoughts, positive or negative when preparing for a kick and lets them pass.

“I do not live in it,” he explained. “If I am anxious, I am not saying to myself, ‘Oh no, I’m anxious!’ If I am anxious, I will acknowledge that I am feeling anxiousness. That is OK. I take a deep breath. I let it pass, and I rely on my muscle memory and my technique.”

And Scobee agrees.

“Pressure is a funny thing,” he says. “It’s usually for somebody who’s not prepared. I could prepare myself mentally for when I got out there on the field. I’d sit on the sideline and go through the whole process, including seeing the kick going through.”

And while Scobee and Hollis admit you have to be fully committed to be successful at that profession, they also agree that a certain amount of isolation is also important.

“I played my best when I paid attention to what I was going to do instead of everything else,” Scobee said. “I tried to be naïve to everything else and didn’t want to be the reason my team didn’t win.”

A game winning kick has special meaning and a special place in a kickers memory. Even though they’ve made the kick in their minds, as football players and members of a team, there’s some emotion when they make that kick on the field.

A 59-yard game winner against Indianapolis had Scobee running all over the field celebrating with teammates.

“I reacted that way because that was the first long game winning field goal that I had kicked,” Josh said recalling the moment. “I had a few more from shorter distance but I probably saved a couple jobs for another year or so with that kick. It was the emotion of what kickers dream of, being at home, and having such a positive impact on so many members of my team.”

And while the Jaguars had limited success during his career, he can only imagine kicking for a team that has this kind of potential.

“This is honestly the only time I’ve missed it,” he said. “I’m a bit jealous of the winning. Everybody’s in a good mood when you win.”

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 16 – Jaguars in Transition

Sam and former NFL Quarterback Matt Robinson discuss the Jaguars offensive problems and the stop gap measures they’re taking.

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Jaguars: More Questions Than Answers

It’s fair to say the Jaguars are a good team looking for answers. Sunday’s loss to Kansas City exposed some of their flaws and gave a blueprint to the rest of the league of the game plan that beats them.

Four interceptions usually sinks a team’s chances for winning but when they needed a stop, the Jaguars defense gave up a methodical touchdown drive to the Chiefs that virtually sealed the victory. Blake Bortles was 33 of 61 for 430 yards but he couldn’t make the key throw when it was necessary. Right before halftime he could have given the Jaguars some momentum but an interception in the end zone ended another Jaguars foray into the red zone without points.

“Looking back, maybe we started throwing it a little too early,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said in his Monday press conference.

“Maybe we just were pressing too much early, meaning, what are we trying to get accomplished? You’re not going to sit here and say that, hey, we’re a team that wants to throw the ball 60-something times or whatever we did yesterday.”

They’re a team that would rather run it 60-something times, but now, with who carrying the ball? Last year’s first round pick Leonard Fournette hasn’t played much and has a hamstring injury that is one of those nagging things that never seems to get better during the season. T.J. Yeldon is banged up and is carrying a heavy load but you need more than one sturdy back in the NFL these days. Corey Grant is out for the year with a foot injury. That’s not good because he was the perfect change-of-pace back late in games. And Brandon Wilds is fine but he’s not experienced enough to handle the complex blocking schemes necessary to run the kind of passing game the Jaguars want to use.

So they’ll have to sign somebody at running back, as well as look for some help at tight end and on the offensive line. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is on revocable injured reserve, meaning he can come back to the roster in six weeks. Josh Wells’ groin injury kept him out of the lineup for most of the game against the Chiefs. The Jaguars don’t know if his replacement, if he can’t play, is currently on the roster.

“If someone who may not be here right now but you’re going to count on to play, what can he do and how we can get him up to speed in a short amount of time?” Marrone noted when asked if he was going to be looking for replacements. “If not, what’s the best way to attack to give us the best opportunity to win and make plays? We have some options there. We’ll discuss some of the options in case Josh [Wells] isn’t able to go this week. Josh Walker is one of them. There are a couple of other ones. We all have to be ready to go and get ready to play.”

So Dave Caldwell and Tom Coughlin will be looking at everybody available whether they’re currently in Jacksonville or not.

There’s a rash of injuries on one side of the ball for the Jaguars, somewhat unusual but not unprecedented. Every team in the league faces this challenge sometime during the season. Marrone laid it out just like it is, in his normal matter-of-fact way.

“Attrition plays an important role in the NFL. I’ve said from the beginning; the best ability is availability. Guys are going to have to step up, not only at their position, but everywhere around them. They have to play well.”

If they Jaguars have to throw the ball sixty times a game, they won’t win much. So they’ll have to come up woth a game plan that fits the players who take the field in teal, black and white.

What will that mean?

“When you add and you’re missing some key players you have to play to the strengths of what they can do,” Marrone explained. “It is a challenge for us, but there are teams that go through those same challenges. It’s going to be on us as coaches to do a good job of putting in the right plays, going to the right people and being able to go and execute it.”

And as far as Bortles performance? While the offensive line was porous enough for CBS analyst Tony Romo to mention that Bortles had no time to establish a rhythm with in the passing game, Blake has to rise above that and make things happen. From Marrone’s standpoint, he sees the Bortles performance from all angles.

“From the standpoint of making sure we’re doing the right things, where we’re comfortable, when we’re not pressing, when we’re not trying to make plays, let’s just go through the reads, hit the guys that we can when they’re open. When there’s nothing there, put the ball down and run, and take a lot of that off of Blake and not put too much on him.”

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Episode 15 – How to Beat the Chiefs

Sam and Tom lay out a plan for the Jaguars to beat the Chiefs Sunday.

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Blake Bortles

Jaguars: Act Like You’re Good

What if over the last couple of years you became really good-looking? You know, you went to your 10-year high school reunion and you looked great! Would you know how to act? People would react differently to you; tell you how good you looked, asking if you’ve been working out or whatever.

That’s the situation the Jaguars are in for 2018. After nearly a decade in the wilderness of NFL also-rans, suddenly they’re near the top of the league’s food chain.

“We are past the point of thinking we have to go out and do something special to win,” Blake Bortles said recently.

And while he’s right, the team needs to start acting like they believe that. What do they see when they look in the mirror? Is it a still-forming team that is up one week and not sure the next as they’ve been in the past? Or is it who they actually are in 2018? A team that has the talent and experience to dictate what happens on the field every week.

They’ve talked about building the culture for this year and building it through trust. So trust Bortles, trust the offense and let them go do their thing. Even without Leonard Fournette, Blake and the offense can light it up.

No longer do they have to figure out how to play perfectly and exploit some other team’s weakness. Get on the field, kick it off and make the other team adjust.

A lot of fans are still seething from the Tennessee game and rightly so. Maybe the Jaguars had dipped into their emotional reserves a little too deeply by beating the Patriots. But it was as if Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was willing to play the Titans’ game instead of letting the offense be who they are. The game plan against New England and the Jets took advantage of the Jaguars talents and the opposition couldn’t do anything about it.

“If we get a good week of preparation like we should each and every week and practice is good and meetings are good and everyone is doing the things they should then we expect to win,” *Bortles added.

That’s a far cry from a few years ago when even if they played well, victory wasn’t guaranteed.

“You have to put in the work and you have to put in the preparation, but you can’t make the mistake of not understanding that it is a performance-based business and you have to do it on Sunday,” said Head Coach Doug Marrone.

Exactly.

They’ve put the work in, they’ve built the foundation they’ve acquired the right players and they’ve established a winning culture.

Now is the time to make everybody play YOUR game.

“With Doug coming in last year and Coach Coughlin and then bringing some of those older guys in – that completely changed the mindset of the locker room,” Bortles explained. . “It established the expectations of who we are supposed to be from within.”

″We have always talked about wanting to be as versatile as possible,” Hackett said this summer. ″If you put three tight ends out there and then a fullback out there and then all tight ends and all wide receivers and just always continue to mix it up, I think that is always something that you can really utilize to your advantage.

OK, fantastic, let’s see more of that.

In last year’s playoffs the Jaguars brass knew Buffalo couldn’t score against their defense unless something fluky happened. The offensive game plan was very bland, designed to win a low scoring game. The Jaguars won 10-3 and it was a nail-biter till the end.

As this team has matured, as Blake Bortles has matured, it doesn’t have to be like that any longer. This 2018 team can get it done in a lot of ways. Let them.

“There are different ways to win as far as what our game plan is and how we are going to do it,” Blake explained. “I think we are definitely at the point to where we expect to go play the way we play and be successful.”

“I think we have become a good enough football team and continue to get better to where you don’t ever want to think about it or say it, but we can struggle a little bit here and still find a way to win. We are a good enough football team to where we can win not on our best day.”

This version of the Jaguars has established a culture that can get things done on Sunday. And that’s what makes a winner. Marrone knows his team gets the work done during the week and is good enough to make it happen once they kick it off.

“Even if you go during the week and you are doing a great job, but when that Sunday comes, you have to be able to put that on the field and be able to perform,” Marrone said. “That is how you get labeled – by your performance. Not by how you practice or how you work.”

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Episode 14 – Be Who You Are!

Sam and Tom outline the strengths the Jaguars need to believe they have and Tom reveals what he’d say to this team right now. Plus a Ryder Cup recap!

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Jaguars Show Resilience, Beat Jets

There’s something to be said for the resiliency of the Jaguars under Head Coach Doug Marrone. With their 31-12 win over the Jets on Sunday, the Jaguars are 8-1 after a loss with Marrone leading the way. In other words, they’ve only lost back-to-back games once: Last year to Tennessee and San Francisco at the end of the year.

All during the off-season and through the summer into training camp, Marrone stressed that each year is different; 2018 is not a continuation of 2017. You can see that with this team, but the common thread of resiliency.

“This is a different team,” he said. “There’s a different type of chemistry to it. That’s why I’ve always believed that every year is different. Every year you start from the beginning.”

It’s pretty common in the league for teams to split the season into quarters. In 2018, the Jaguars have gone 3-1 in the first quarter, losing only to the Tennessee Titans at home.

“You cannot rely on what happened in the past with the team because that was the 2017 team, which did a good job of bouncing back,” Marrone added. “This is 2018 and it’s a challenge for us.”

After beating the Jets, the Jaguars will go on the road. In fact, there are only four regular-season games remaining in Jacksonville, spaced out through the next three months. That might be a good thing according to former Jaguars linebacker Tom McManus.

“I liked going on the road,” McManus recalled. “That us-versus-them mentality. Like “The 300” just you against everybody else.

There is something to going on the road with no other distractions. No family, no ticket requests, all football all the time.

“Come in tomorrow and keep the same mentality all throughout the week,” said Dede Westbrook of the Jaguars mindset for 2018. “It’s going to be tough each and every week out there, but as long as we have each other to lean on, we’re going to be just fine.”

That’s an interesting thought from such a young player. “Have each other to lean on” is a concept a lot of teams never get to experience. Against the Jets, the offense came alive and the defense did what they’re supposed to do against a rookie quarterback.

“We knew that they were going to bounce back from last week not scoring any touchdowns and not really having the best game they could have,” said cornerback Jalen Ramsey. ”They trusted in each other, they trusted in the game plan and they went out there and did some great things.”

Post-game comments are usually full of emotion, up or down, but this year’s Jaguars have a measured tone. As if they still have work to do.

“I get a sense every week from everyone to win everything.,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said in the locker room when asked if he sensed Doug Marrone really wanted to win this game. “Here we go by quarters, and we try to win each and every quarter. We’ve got another game—great team we’re playing next week. We’ve got [Kansas City], and that’s what our focus is on now. Like I said, we’ve got to this win, enjoy it now—it’s in the past.”

“You look back to that stuff last year and you think about it,” Marrone said about getting the culture right for 2018 similar to 2017. “But again, I preach so much that everything is new and it is a new team, so I think we have to establish that now”

And that is true. Now is the time to establish what kind of team you are, and the Jaguars are on their way, being the favorites and knowing they can be in every game.

“I believe the way you establish that is learning from the past, being refocused, going out there, putting in the work during the week, the preparation, the extra things you need to do and then obviously going out there and performing on Sunday.”

They did that against the Jets and in three of their first four games looked like the team everybody thought they’d be this season. Now the hard part starts with tough places to play in Kansas City and Dallas on the road and a trip to London to play the Super Bowl Champion Eagles.

“Leaning on each other” will be the key ingredient for the rest of this year.

In this next “quarter” of the season, the Jaguars are away from Jacksonville for three of the four contests, the opposite of the first quarter. It’s a good test.

Can a Whole Town Have a Hangover?

Is it possible for an entire city to have a hangover for a whole week? It sure seemed like it last Sunday when the Jaguars took on the Tennessee Titans at the stadium.

The week before, the Jaguars, with huge vocal support from their fans, exorcized the demon Patriots, the only thing standing between them and the Super Bowl last season. Last Sunday, it seems everybody, including the Jaguars players themselves, never could shake the fog from the previous week’s celebration.

“There wasn’t as much at stake, so there wasn’t that same emotional connection,” Dr. Tracy Alloway, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of North Florida and a Jacksonville resident explained.

But wait, the stakes WERE high. A division game, at home, against a hated rival. Those ARE high stakes.

“It’s the stakes that are perceived” Dr. Alloway explained. “You need a starter group, a primer to create what’s called ‘emotional contagion’. The news, social media, all that creates a sense of community. We didn’t perceive the Titans game as important as the Patriots game, so there wasn’t that frenzy, no priming effect.”

So somehow, in theory, the message didn’t get out that the Titans game was big. I know the energy wasn’t there in the stadium, in the stands or on the field. The whole thing felt flat.

“Entire organizations can have their own adrenaline,” said Frank Palmieri MSW, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Jacksonville and a Jaguars fan observed, “There’s an association people have with their sports team. You identify with them. This city has been more and more associated with the Jaguars.”

So it is possible that the team and the fans were still in a bit of a celebration fog from the week before. And when Doug Marrone says he can do a better job getting the team ready, and when the players say they need to get themselves ready for these kinds of games, we should believe them.

“It’s easy to play great when you feel great and it’s easy to play poorly when you feel down,” Palmieri explained. “The key is to play well when you feel poorly.”

That seems obvious, but it does start to explain, in theory, what happened. Palmieri asked the key question, “What happened after the first couple of series when things didn’t go their way. Were there some injuries guys were playing with? Did the Titans recognize that? What were they thinking.”

It is pretty rare that teams can overcome an early slide. When things go wrong in the first couple of drives, they seemed to compound themselves over four quarters.

Not a coincidence says Dr. Alloway.

“Studies have shown that for the team itself, emotional contagion can go both ways,” she explained. “If they miss a play early, they can’t break out of that funk. It’s because of the emotional contagion that flows through the entire team.”

That’s why when there are great comebacks in games its unusual and celebrated. It usually starts with a exceptional individual performance, or some “jump start” that changes what’s happening on the field. None of that happened against Tennessee.

“Every week going out to compete at the highest level has it’s own set of problems,” Palmieri, a two-time National Champion as part of the Pershing Rifle Drill team at Seton Hall explained. “The emotional and mental preparation just to get to the performance takes it’s own toll.”

I asked Dr. Alloway how teams and fans could break out of that funk.

“It’s the coaches job to “prime” the players and give them the stakes that are involved. Research shows emotional contagion plays a big role in how teams perform.”

Which means fiery halftime speeches could actually work!

And when you hear players say, “Just one good drive, one good play,” or when they jump up and point after a seemingly meaningless first down, that also can work.

“When players would celebrate their successes, studies show that also impacted the performance of the other players,” Dr. Alloway explained. “Positive reinforcement is a big factor in the emotional state of the players while the contest is going on. Even self-affirmation can give players a lift during the game.”

If last week the euphoria of beating the Patriots impaired everybody’s ability to get up for the Titans, what does a loss to Tennessee do?

“You see it all the time in college towns,” Palmieri explained. “It’s almost like grief when your team loses. There’s denial and disbelief. Sometimes there’s anger directed at the coaches or the team itself.”

“Studies show that from a fans perspective, losing has been associated with excess food consumption, reckless driving and problems in the home,” Dr. Alloway added. “It has a big effect on us.”

So as fans, don’t be mad at the team, don’t eat too much, drive carefully and control your emotions.

Because now I understand the game plan for victory: Start with the perfect “Win one for the Gipper” motivational speech before the game from the coach. Have the players telling themselves and teammates they’re doing a good job. Be sure fans are telling each other how important the upcoming game is on social media.

Or.

They could just play better.

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 13 – Jaguars, Ryder Cup and Tattoo’s!

Sam, Lonnie and Tom talk about the Jaguars motivation this week, the Ryder Cup and where did those tattoo’s come from?

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The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 12 – Its a Loss, Move On

Sam and Tom look at the loss to Tennessee and calm the Jets game almost a “must.” Tom thinks the Jags win big!

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