Jaguars Take Allen, Easy Pick

When you pick a player in the first round of the NFL Draft, you expect him to step in a be a starter for ten years. That’s what first round talent is supposed to be: solid, reliable and sometimes spectacular.

But despite the millions of dollars spent and the millions of man-hours dedicated to the draft, it remains an inexact science. There wasn’t a personnel director or draft guru who didn’t think Josh Allen was a top five pick in this year’s draft.

And yet, when the Jaguars were on the clock with the seventh pick, Allen was still there.

The Raiders, as predicted, did something weird with their pick at #4, taking Clelin Ferrell from Clemson. That left Allen as the far and away best player still on the board for the Jaguars.

Which made it an easy selection.

This was not a reach.

Unlike many of the Jaguars first round picks in the last fifteen years, Josh Allen was the best player on the Jaguars board. They wasted no time calling him and turning the card into the NFL. That’s why less than two minutes had gone by in the Jaguars draft window when the sign went up, “The pick is in.”

It was like the Jalen Ramsey pick three years ago. When the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott right before the Jaguars were “on the clock,” GM Dave Caldwell wasted no time calling Ramsey and making the pick.

Why wait when you’re getting one of the best players in the draft?

Yes, Executive VP Tom Coughlin said they were high on tight ends and offensive lineman in that spot but this was a no-brainer.

Unless Quinnen Williams, the defensive lineman from Alabama, whom the Jaguars thought was the best player in the whole draft, fell to them, Allen was an easy selection for the Jaguars when he got past the Jets and the Giants and even the Bucs. They never thought he’d be there.

“Too good of a football player to pass up. A superior player,” said Executive VP Tom Coughlin. “In all of our scenarios, he was already gone.”

Taking Allen, as unexpected as it was, is a very “Jaguars” pick under Coughlin. Last year’s selection of Taven Bryan seems like an aberration, a reach, even a pick based on hubris rather than careful study.

Allen is a football player, not some combine freak or just an athlete who’s playing football. Fifty-one games in college, 35 starts, first team All-America and plenty productive. Defensive player of the year and 17 sacks his senior year. That’s the most by an SEC player since the NCAA started keeping the stat. Didn’t miss a game in his entire college career.

And Allen seems to be thrilled to be with the Jaguars, a team self-described as committed to defense and running the football.

“They get after the quarterback.,” Allen said of the Jaguars emphasis on defense. “That’s all I need to hear. I went there on my visit and they said, ‘Josh, we get after the quarterback.’ I love getting after the quarterback.”

Regrettably for the Jaguars since 2003, their first round picks have been rarely been solid, reliable, and almost never spectacular. Only one, Marcedes Lewis, lasted 10 years with the Jaguars. Reggie Nelson and Tyson Alualu have had extended NFL careers. But Byron Leftwich, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Derrick Harvey, Eugene Monroe, Blaine Gabbert, Justin Blackmon, Luke Joeckel and even Blake Bortles and Dante Fowler have been part of an extended period of futility. The only star is Jalen Ramsey. The jury is out on Leonard Fournette and Taven Bryan.

“The best player in the draft,” Ramsey said on his Twitter feed.

This is not a pick made from hubris. This is a solid, football pick. Even if Allen doesn’t become a superstar, he’s going to be a good NFL player.

And the Jaguars need those. Too many times they’ve had picks that have a high ceiling, but also a very low floor. Allen’s physical abilities as a football player seem to have a high ceiling. His attitude about life and achievement seem to keep him from sinking to a lower level. He came back for his senior year at Kentucky for all the right reasons.

“I think about it every day. I would have never been in this situation last year,” he said. “I decided I am glad I came back to further myself as a person and as a player, as well.”

I’m sure Coughlin is sick and tired of hearing about R.J. Soward and the other draft picks that didn’t work out during his tenure with the Jaguars and the Giants. But he did build contending teams in both places and won two Super Bowls with the Giants.

You can’t use revisionist history and say they should have taken Ben Roethlisberger or Terrell Suggs without the context of the moment. The Steelers cut John Unitas and teams passed on Tom Brady 198 times before the Patriots took him in the 6th round. They’re the best two quarterbacks in the game’s history.

It’s easy to cherry pick the mistakes teams have made in the draft from Ryan Leaf and Tony Mandarich on down.

This isn’t one of them.

Hitch Our Wagon to Shad Khan and Let’s Go!

I’m not sure what the downside is to hitching our wagon to Shad Khan and going along for the ride. If a rising tide floats all boats, Khan IS the rising tide. Not many cities have a patron who is among the wealthiest people in the world. He has the vision and the wherewithal as well as the willingness to spend his own money to help take Jacksonville to the next level.

The nay-sayers and the doubters remind me of the old guard power brokers in town who knew an NFL team in Jacksonville would undercut their influence, and nearly killed the deal in 1990. Shortsighted and selfish, luckily smarter and more reasonable people prevailed and here we are, 29 years later, as Mayor Lenny Curry likes to say, a “city on the rise.”

At the Jaguars State of the Franchise” meeting on Thursday there was a lot of the regular, “We’re 30th in this, 28th in this, 26th in this, and 31st in this” kind of talk. So much so that Jaguars President Mark Lamping departed from his prepared remarks, trying to put his assessment into perspective, “I don’t want this to be a downer announcement. We might be 30th in the NFL, but we’re comparing it to the most dynamic cities in America. We’re way ahead of most cities.”

Lamping likes living here, and that’s one of the reasons he’s the point man for all of Shad Khan’s development ideas in North Florida. Lamping also knows that only through a public/private partnership between Khan and the city can anything get done. So they’re looking to in the future, and describes this kind of relationship as a “win-win.”

“It is naive to believe that just through the benevolence of some person that all the city’s problems are going to be taken care of. It needs to be a private/public partnership only to the extent that the risk isn’t so high that the investment won’t come and if it is successful that the returns to the investor aren’t exorbitant.”

Sure Shad’s making money. So what? That’s what he does and he’s proven to be good at it. He’s a doer. He thinks big and then gets things done. The pools, the scoreboards, the club renovations, Daily’s Place and now the Lot J development. He’s spent his own money to augment what the city is also contributing. As a businessman, Khan is results-oriented. No amount of talking and promises by politicians and nay-sayers compares to getting things done.

“I’m used to that you have a vision, you believe in it, you have to get all the stakeholders in and get it done,” he told the assembled media after the formal announcement of his development intentions. “You just can’t talk about it. We are as determined as ever. We need to get it done because I believe in it. I think the Jaguars and the community really needs it. It’s like anything else – if you aren’t growing, you’re dying.”

The Lot J development is a $500 million project that includes an office building, an entertainment/retail center, a hotel and a residential unit. There will also be a 3,000 parking garage to replace the 1300 parking spaces currently in Lot J.

Much of the focus on the Lot J development centered around the JEA choosing it as their next home. I’m not sure why they chose another location downtown, passing on the Jaguars offer, knowing it would cost them $18 million more over the next 15 years, but Lamping says it wasn’t the lynchpin for the success of Lot J.

“It’s a zero sum game,” he explained. “They’re taking 850 employees from one location in downtown and putting it in another. It’s not like Jacksonville’s downtown has so much going for it that we can afford to lose the opportunity to bring a catalyst. The thought that governmental entities – like JEA, that somehow they can’t be part of major redevelopment initiatives, it’s just not true.”

Lamping pointed to Tampa and their regeneration of the downtown area with help from governmental agencies as “doing it right.”

There are lots of signals from the Jaguars that the stadium will need a reboot. Jacksonville and Buffalo are the only two stadiums that have not had a $300 million or more renovation in the last 25 years.

“I think the stadium has to be upgraded. I think that is our approach,” Khan said without putting a timeline on renovations. “I think it signifies Jacksonville. I think that if you look at all the upgrades that have happened – clubs, scoreboards, pools, Daily’s Place, we have been a big part of spending money with the city.”

There will be a sunshade on the stadium at some point. Khan said he was intrigued by the proposals, as an engineer, to hold a shade over the stadium with drones. Its one of the proposals in the idea stage for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.

The Jaguars will also be playing two games in London, one as the home team and one as the visitor, probably as soon as next season. It’ll solidify the Jaguars as the NFL’s presence in London. They pointed out that there’s competition in the league for London games, particularly with the Raiders and the Rams. Khan said the team is “absolutely committed” to London beyond their agreement through 2020.

As the Jaguars revealed their logo for their 25th Year, their Silver Anniversary, they were quick to point out that it prominently displays a shadow of the Jacksonville skyline.

There were a lot of “experts” who said the team wouldn’t last ten years here let alone twenty-five. I heard that chant constantly from my media brethren around the country.

But the spirit that brought the team here remains.

So let’s go.

“Here we are — Jacksonville honoring our 25th season,” Khan said. “And with the continued support of our fans and partners, combined with the realization of our vision for downtown, 25 years from now we’re still going to be here, bigger and better.”

Culture, Not X’s and O’s Jaguars Focus

It’s called the “Offseason Conditioning Program” officially by the NFL but as we know, there is no “off-season” in the league. They’ve stretched it out to 12 months, hoping you’ll keep teams in mind when shopping, discussing and whetting your sports appetite.

For the Jaguars, they’re hoping it’s a new beginning, or more specifically a throw back to 2017 where the team went to the AFC Championship game. They disintegrated in 2018, a combination of a bad locker room culture and injuries that hadn’t happened the year before.

“It’s great getting back to work,” said new quarterback Nick Foles this week as he shook hands with his new teammates, went through some conditioning and got his first look at the Jaguars playbook.

“For me it’s an opportunity to get to know everyone. I haven’t really had the opportunity to get to know the guys in this building.. There are a few guys on the team that I’ve played with before, but it’s fun these last couple days putting faces to names and understanding everything. It’s been great.”

With only Calais Campbell filling a leadership role, the Jaguars brass are hoping Foles fills that void on offense. It naturally falls to the quarterback and Foles knows it.

“I think the big thing is being genuine, being who I am, and a lot of that is getting to know the guys,” he explained. “We’re all here to make things better, to ultimately give us the opportunity to succeed. To do that you have to build a foundation and that is trust and getting to know each other. That’s why this part of the year is great because we come to work four days a week. You get an opportunity to get to know the guys and then you can build that trust and go from there.”

Foles has an earnest personality and a high likeability factor. He said he’s already bought a home in Jacksonville. It has a “sports court” where he can shoot some hoops occasionally, something he’s always wanted. He admits the burden falls on him to lead, but adds it will take some time.

“Trust is something you can’t just rush,” he said. T”hat’s why you come in here each day. I don’t try to be anything other than myself. That’s what makes football such a special sport, is all the different guys from all the different backgrounds who come together in the locker room and go out there to achieve great things.”

While Foles is just getting his feet wet, understanding how things are done wearing teal and black, Head Coach Doug Marrone is looking to start anew. Marrone has always said at the beginning of each year, you have to start all over.

“Basically, what I told the team is that our goal right now is that we are a team just because of our name; we are not a team because of how we interact with each other,” Marrone said. “The big thing is, ‘Let’s talk about building trust and getting to know one another. We have to find a balance in that so that we can go in there and get to know everyone and build that team chemistry.”

It’s what was missing last year when the team fell flat. Even traded defensive lineman Dante Fowler was able to see that once he was traded to Los Angeles. Fowler said the difference between the two teams was stark: The Jaguars had lost their way.
“It has to come from within that locker room,” Marrone said of the team’s leadership. “Players have to step up. At the end of the day, like I always said, [former Alabama Head Coach] Bear Bryant, he would look at it as that everyone has to be a leader. I think you look at everyone to be a leader in whatever way they are.”

In this offseason conditioning period, Marrone and the Jaguars staff will rely on all of the metrics and data that’s now available to them to bring the players into the kind of “football shape” that can sustain them through the season.

“You don’t want to force them into something that they are not prepared for,” he explained. “You want to gradually build Let’s get to know each other. Let’s build this trust. Let’s make sure we get ourselves in shape. Let’s learn what we want to do offensively, defensively and on special teams. Let’s build the chemistry and let’s get our technique right.”

Perhaps Foles can foster the kind of leadership the Jaguars were lacking last year. Calais Campbell already things he’s had an impact.

“You have a guy like him who is a natural leader and loves the game … He comes with the right attitude each and every day, gives us a chance to create the atmosphere we want for this year,” Calais said.

Last season when the team started 3-1, Campbell knew things weren’t right, calling two “Players Only” meetings to reset the culture of the locker room. It never happened.

“I think it is really important to create the atmosphere that is going to breed success and that is an each and every day grind. I’m looking forward to it. I think we have the right people in place to make it happen.”

And Campbell agrees that you can’t just magically make that happen. It takes time ti build and it’s a process that has a life of its own each season.

“You come back and you have to rebuild everything,” he explained. “We saw that last year. You have to recreate it, and it’s a process. It’s really just a constant grind each and every day, building that atmosphere. It’s really embracing each and every moment and making the best of it.”

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 49 – Back to Work, The Jaguars Regroup

Sam and Lonnie talk Off-season conditioning player additions and subtractions and more!

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The Masters is Emotional

They played early at Augusta National in yesterday’s final round of The Masters because of weather.  But it didn’t make a difference. Early or late, it’s the same.

Because this is The Masters.

It was a leaderboard fitting of The Masters with Major Champions trying to add to their collection and others trying to make the Green Jacket their first Major Championship trophy. Brooks Koepka was looking for his fourth Major in the last two years and Francesco Molinari was playing well enough to add to his Open Championship win of 2018.  Tiger Woods was in position to win his 15th Major and his fifth Masters.

And that’s what happened.  Tiger outlasted the competition, played steady when others faltered and stood on the 18th green as The Masters Champion for a fifth time.

There was pure emotion coming from Tiger as he dropped the final putt to win by a shot.  From not knowing if he’d play golf again just 18 months ago, Woods completed an improbable comeback and said later he didn’t know what he did as the last putt dropped.  He just let it all out.  The emotions of the week and the last two years.

And The Masters is all about emotion.

Before the traditional Green Jacket ceremony in the Butler Cabin at Augusta National today, CBS ran a montage of players over the years reacting to a question about winning the Masters. The response is universal, a long exhale with a faraway look in their eyes. It’s enormous from a golf standpoint. A major championship, endorsements and a signature win.

“I never allowed myself to dream this big,” Bubba Watson said, choking back tears.

“It’s a week not like any other week,” Andy North a two-time US Open winner told me last Wednesday.

Winning the U.S. Open is an achievement. Much is made of the qualifying process and the USGA’s protection of “par.”  You’re the best player in America as the U.S. Open champion.

At The (British) Open Championship, they declare you the “Champion Golfer of the Year” and from an international standpoint, no title is more recognized. You beat all-comers.

The PGA is an accomplishment, winning among your peers, almost a throwback to the days when not every best player turned pro and played what became the PGA Tour.

But this is the Masters. And it’s different, it’s emotional.

It’s the only major that’s played on the same golf course every year. In fact, it might be the only significant sporting event that uses the same venue annually. The World Cup travels, so does the Super Bowl. The Daytona 500 is always at Daytona, obviously, but it’s stature and appeal outside of NASCAR fans is limited.

In the few minutes after sealing his victory, Tiger hugged his caddie, Joe Lacava, shook hands with his fellow competitors and caddies on the green and then went through a series of long, emotional hugs with his children, his mother, his girlfriend and other close associates.

It’s the kind of scene only found at the Masters.

When the Augusta Invitational started in 1934, it was an idea that Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones had to bring together the best players just as the weather began to break in northern Georgia. Writers traveling from baseball spring training in Florida would find it convenient to stop off in Augusta to cover the golf. Editors in the northeast weren’t put off by the stopover, as there was limited extra expense.

Horton Smith’s win in ’34 wasn’t overly celebrated. But as is widely know, Roberts and Jones understood that putting on a golf tournament and having people know about your tournament were two different things. Through the reporting of the iconic sportswriters of the time the Augusta Invitational became The Masters.

Employees of what is now CSX in Jacksonville stood on Washington Road in Augusta outside of “The National” selling tickets.  They operated the Butler Cabln as a hospitality venue for years.

Herbert Warren Wind dubbed the 11th, 12th and 13th at Augusta “Amen Corner” after a blues tune he knew from the ’30’s. Gene Sarazen’s double-eagle gave some mystery and verve to the tournament as eyewitness accounts were reported breathlessly by the major newspapers of the era. Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead playing and winning showed it was important.

But it wasn’t until Arnold Palmer showed up and started winning did it get emotional. That’s how Palmer played and he transferred that emotion to Augusta National and the Masters.

Although he won four times, it’s the near misses that are as easily remembered in Palmer’s career at Augusta and the emotion those evoked. As television emerged as a vehicle to bring golf to the masses, TV executives like Frank Chirkinian of CBS knew Arnold was telegenic and projected that emotion right through the screen and into our living rooms. (By the way, Chirkinian also invented the “under” or “over” par scoring for television we still use today.)

And it didn’t hurt that TV could bring beautiful pictures of a golf course to the millions still saddled by snow and bad weather throughout the country.

As Jack Nicklaus emerged as the best player, the emotions at the Masters still centered on Palmer as the crowd favorite. He brought a visceral connection among the fans at the Masters as he tried to hold off the then unemotional and methodical Golden Bear. Unlike previous golf “rivalries” where you had your favorite and were polite to their competitors, Palmer fans didn’t like Jack and let everybody know. Arnold evoked an emotional response even when he didn’t win.

I say Nicklaus was unemotional, but Jack burned with a competitive fire that centered on winning and beating Palmer. He didn’t show it much, that wasn’t his personality, but being around the two it was obvious they had a deep friendship but also a competitive nature that never abated.

Until recently, Jack was the most un-sentimental champion I had ever met. Even when he won his sixth Green Jacket in 1986, it wasn’t until 20 years later that Jack started to embrace the emotion of Augusta National publicly. Tom Watson is kind of the same way. Johnny Miller once said, “Golf champions aren’t chummy,” and maybe he’s right. It’s such an individual game that it breeds and inner strength among the best players.

Sometimes the emotions of nearly winning are equal to those of winning. It’s so demanding as a golf course and as a competition and it is such a big deal that the best players of their era sometimes just don’t win at Augusta. Ken Venturi, Tom Weiskopf, Greg Norman, Tom Kite, David Duval, Ernie Els and others are supposed to be Masters Champions. Their runner-up finishes are legendary.

Art Wall, Doug Ford, Gay Brewer, George Archer, Tommy Aaron, Charles Coody, Larry Mize, Mike Weir, Charl Schwartzel, Trevor Immelman and Danny Willet, distinguished players, but not household names, even in the golf world, have Green Jackets.

Winning the Masters brings an emotional response not seen anywhere else.

Ben Crenshaw cried both times he won. Phil Mickelson shed a tear in his wife Amy’s arms standing on 18 at Augusta. Sergio Garcia dropped his face in his hands after beating Justin Rose two years ago. That doesn’t happen at a regular tour event or even the other three majors.

But this is The Masters.  It’s emotional.

 

Masters Memories

Receiving an invitation to cover the Masters when I was at Channel 2 in Charleston in late 1978 was an unexpected and welcome surprise. I took my Dad as my cameraman since I was a one-man sports department at the time. We rented a room through the Augusta Housing Bureau and were both amazed the first time we walked on the grounds.

Beautiful and manicured beyond belief “The National” as locals know it, exceeded expectations.

This year I’m lucky enough to cover my 39th Masters. The southern hospitality there is no myth: Everybody is unfailingly polite.

I must have looked lost standing outside the Quonset hut that served as the pressroom because PGA Tour media director Tom Place walked out and asked, “Do you need help Sam?” Seeing so many titans of sports journalism in one place was a bit stunning for a young reporter.

After Fuzzy Zoeller’s playoff victory, an Augusta National member brought him up from the 11th green where he had made the winning putt. It was pretty dark but I was standing by the 18th green with my father holding the camera and the member brought Fuzzy right to me, much to my surprise.

“I don’t see him, I don’t see him,” I could hear my Dad saying behind me. While running a camera in those days was pretty simple, the viewfinder and the camera were separate, connected by a hinge. My Dad was looking straight ahead through the viewfinder but the camera had drooped off the front and was pointing at the ground. As Zoeller walked up to me, I reached back and grabbed the camera and pointed it at the new Masters champion. “There he is,” my Dad said as I told him to hit the “record” button.

I asked Fuzzy a question about winning with his wife expecting their first child and he gave a standard Fuzzy Zoeller answer that included a joke. As I brought the microphone back to my face to ask a second question, out of the darkness, what seemed to be a hundred microphones pointed at me in our little circle of light. The most prominent was from a network in Australia. My first thought was “Man, this is a big deal.”

We used to stand in the gravel parking lot under a sign that said “Media” to do our live shots during the Masters.

One year we took the satellite truck and Bob Maupin, our engineer, found a dogwood tree down Washington Road in a public park that was pretty accessible. We lit the tree and did a week’s worth of shows there, honestly saying “Live from Augusta.”

The media committee once wired a connection for local media from the parking lot to the edge of the ropes surrounding the famous oak tree outside the clubhouse and we went live from there. Greg Norman heckled me from the porch that year and we had a good laugh about it afterwards. Most recently our live broadcasts were from behind the big scoreboard along the first fairway, looking out on the expanse of green that makes up the golf course. Each time we’d pop up from there, Anchorman Tom Wills would say, “It’s just breathtaking.” (I took Tom to Augusta as my cameraman in 1983!)

I’ve created lifelong relationships at Augusta. My friendship with Pat Summerall grew there. I got to know Ken Venturi and Ben Wright. I did some golf commentary with Verne Lundquist in the infancy of cable television and we’ve stayed friends ever since. Every year I’d renew my friendship with Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer, (from my days as a bartender in DC) smoking a cigar and having a cocktail with them on the veranda at the back of the clubhouse.

I’ll miss Dan Jenkins at Augusta.  A lot of us will. “Your Dad made me laugh and think at the same time,” Tom Watson wrote Dan’s daughter, Columnist Sally Jenkins. No statement could be more true.

I got to know Dan when he lived in Ponte Vedra and we played golf together a half dozen times. A few of those rounds were in the Sawgrass Member-Guest with his son Marty.  We somehow always played to a tie.

He brought me into his inner circle at Augusta, introducing me as his “friend from Jacksonville.” Dan famously knew Ben Hogan, played golf with Hogan, and once gave me a book about Hogan that he signed, “From a guy who knew Hogan.” This would have been his 69th Masters.  Hopefully his usual table at the front of the media center, from where he sent pithy tweets in recent years, remains unoccupied.

There’s a picture of me in the 1981 Masters yearbook waiting to interview, Tom Watson, that year’s winner. When I see it I’m reminded of the intimacy that Augusta National had then for players, fans and media. And it still exists.

There’s always a reverence for the game, the course and the traditions. Smokers won’t even throw their cigarette butts on the ground. I’ve seen patrons put them out and stick them in their pocket.

Even with all of the changes that have happened in the last 40 years, that intimacy remains when you step on the grounds.

People remain unfailingly polite. There’s no running. No cell phones on the property. No selfies or other social media cataloging every second. Just a reunion or a rebirth of sorts every year.

It’s a lot more than just golf when you say the words, “The Masters.”