John Carlos and Tommie Smith

The Athlete’s Voice

It was 1968 when I first was made aware of racial inequities in America. I was twelve years old. Growing up in Baltimore in an integrated environment, I had Black friends and Black teammates. I didn’t know they were different. I didn’t know anything about anything. I was twelve.

In my short lifetime I was aware that President John Kennedy had been assassinated. I knew Malcom X had been shot. And Dr. Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy. They were political figures I didn’t know anything about except their names. That seemed to be just what happened.

My life was full of baseball fantasies, the Orioles and the Colts, school, my afternoon paper route and curb ball with my friends. When the Orioles had acquired Frank Robinson two years earlier from Cincinnati, I asked my Dad if he was Brooks’ brother. I verified that with my Dad this week because then, I was just a kid.

In October of ’68, my level of awareness took a giant leap forward. Tommie Smith and John Carlos had won the Gold and the Bronze in the 200 at the Olympics in Mexico. When they stood on the podium with no shoes and gloved-fists raised, I wanted to know what that was about. Smith and Carlos were two of my heroes. Both tall and fast, I wanted to be like them. They were sports icons to me and they had something to say. When they raised their fists in what Smith describes as “a cry for freedom,” my twelve-year-old mind weas jolted out of youthful innocence and into my first awareness of the real world. It essentially ended both of their athletic careers.

Do athletes have a voice? The answer is yes. Do you always have to agree with them? Of course not.

Perhaps 2020 is this generation’s version of 1968. An election year, protests in the streets and a spotlight on racial tensions.

When the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not play their scheduled playoff game in protest of a Black man being shot by a police officer in an altercation, it was a bold step taken by professional athletes not unlike Smith and Carlos’ action fifty-two years ago. Other teams and leagues followed suit, not just calling attention to the shooting but demanding change, now.

What kind of change? When the Jaguars postponed their practice for two hours on Thursday, they spent the time talking about “actionable” change that can happen right now.

Wide receiver Chris Conley has become a vocal leader for the Jaguars players efforts toward social justice. He described it this way:

“The thing that I really want people to get to a point of realizing that this is about life.’ This is about a life. And who are you to put a value on a life? Who am I to put a value on a life?” Conley said in a video conference with the media after Thursday’s practice. “And if we can—we need to get to that baseline of saying that a life matters. And that it has value beyond what his warrant was, beyond what his circumstances were, what he looked like, what was going on, whether he listened or not. And that’s the baseline that I want to get to people, that frustrates me more.”

While “actionable change” is an idea to talk about, the Baltimore Ravens went a step further, issuing a statement with specifics.

“This is bigger than sports,” their statement reads. “Racism is embedded in the fabric of our nation’s foundation and is a blemish on our country’s history. If we are to change course and make our world a better place, we must face this problem head-on and act now to enact positive change.
It is time to accept accountability and acknowledge the ramifications of slavery and racial injustice.”

Agree with that statement or not, the Ravens then outlined seven action points they want implemented immediately including arresting certain police officers involved in shootings as well as “encourage every citizen to act with respect and compliance when engaging with the police.”

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone echoed the thoughts of much of his team.

“As a white guy, a white man in this country, I can’t even imagine what it’s like,” Marrone said on Thursday. “And I’ll never say I know what it’s like. But I do know this, the fire and intensity to make a difference, grows. I know we have a good understanding of what’s not acceptable in our country today. And I think that somewhere along the line we’ve got to figure that out, because obviously we want to do something that’s actionable, something that could create a change.”

“I can’t even explain or really put into words the emotion of the sadness, frustration, confusion,” he continued, adding he was fully committed to the process. “Where I beat myself up is like when you’re in a position of leadership or you have a voice within a team, you want to be able to show a path, show a way.”

One path to follow is what tennis star and Wimbledon finalist MaliVai Washington has done with his foundation. A Black man, Mal has, for nearly the past 25 years, gone directly into Black communities and schools here in town and effected real, “actionable” change. His foundation focuses on education and life skills. Calais Campbell, in his short three years here, did the same. He didn’t just write checks, he took real “actionable” steps in Black communities.

There’s no question athletes have a voice. And the question of “should they have a voice?” was answered by Jaguars wide receiver DJ Chark.

“I mean, I say, take away sports, at the end of the day, we’re all Americans,” he said this week when asked about someone saying athletes should stick to sports. “So, that’s like me telling someone who has a 9-5, whatever the job may be, to stick to that and not venture out and try to make your community better. If you’re not trying to make your community better, what are you doing? If you’re not trying to lead this world, lead this earth with making a positive impact, what are you here for? Whether it’s sports that gives you the platform, whether it’s music, entertainment, whatever it is. If you have a voice, I think if you’re contributing to something that is going to help, something that is positive, I think you should use it.”

A few years back I was inducted into the Bob Hayes Hall of Fame. I was thrilled at the honor, particularly because Tommie Smith was also a part of that year’s induction class. At the dinner that night, I happened to be seated right next to Smith.

“You changed my life,” I told him as we initially shook hands.

He turned his head and said, “How so?” with a quizzical look.

I explained the impact he had, from thousands of miles away, on a young kid from Baltimore.

Smith smiled and said, “Then it was good.” And we chatted all through the evening about our different and shared experiences in sports.

Telling that story to a Black NFL executive recently, he shook his head and noted, “Most of our guys, sadly, don’t know who Tommie Smith or John Carlos are.”

We might not know the names of all of the players across sports who are raising their voices and asking questions today. And we might agree or disagree with what they’re saying.

But there’s one thing we can all do:


No Fans

No Fans Changes The Game

As we inch closer to the proposed opening of the NFL season, teams are also getting closer to a decision whether to allow fans to attend games. No fewer than a dozen franchises have already announced they’ll play with without fans in attendance for the first few weeks. Some have said no fans for the month of September. And a few have announced they’ll play in front of an empty stadium for the entire season.

So far, the Jaguars have said they’re plan is to allow 25% of the stadium’s capacity for home games, meaning 16,791 fans would be allowed in an arena built for nearly 70,000. That could change, but just last week the Jaguars sent ticket holders their seat assignments for the 2020 season.

Watching athletes perform in front of tens of thousands in person and millions more on television seems routine. But even for those who have reached the highest level of competition, there was still that first time they walked onto a field and said to themselves, “Whoa. There’s a lot of people here.”

“I think more than anything else, the butterflies prior to the game were at the highest of anytime throughout my entire playing career,” former Jaguars Pro Bowl and Florida All-American running back Fred Taylor said of his first time going onto Florida Field as a freshman for the Gators.

When Taylor first came to the Jaguars I asked him about playing in front of big crowds in Gainesville. Taking the field against New Mexico State for the Gators opener in 1994, Fred said emerging the tunnel, “It was the most people I’d seen in one place in my whole life. I literally couldn’t breathe, couldn’t catch my breath.”

Obviously Taylor learned how to use those emotions to his advantage. He was the top running back for Florida that year as a freshman and is the Jaguars all-time leading rusher.

Coming out of high school, former Jaguars Tight End Kyle Brady was considered the top recruit in the nation. He had played in big high school games with decent crowds, but nothing prepared him for going onto the field at Happy Valley at Penn State for the first time.

“It felt like lightning was going through your veins. You never forget the first few times,” Brady, an All-American, for the Nittany Lions, said. “When I played there, Happy Valley held 96,000. The chills you get up your spine. You could run through a brick wall.”

Former Major League catcher Rick Wilkins had an eleven year career in the big leagues. He was a mid-season call up from Iowa to the Chicago Cubs and spent his first game on the bench in the dugout at Wrigley Field taking it all in.

“The next day I got my first start in the big leagues and it was overflowing at Wrigley. Stands full, people standing on rooftops,” Wilkins remembered in vivid detail. “I remember my first at bat, I could swear everybody on the planet could see my knees shaking. I was so hyped up and wanted to do so well, I couldn’t dial my adrenaline down.”

The Cubs manager at the time, Jim Essian, teased Rick after the game about finding “a higher league for you to play in to catch up with your bat speed,” Wilkins recalled.
“I started again the next day against the Dodgers and settled down a little bit, went three for three. But I struck out in my first two at bats in the majors.”

When his pro career started, Taylor said he had those same, intense feelings running on to field here in Jacksonville

“The adrenaline rush was extreme to the point tears would come to my eyes,” he explained.

Fred also explained how he got his mind and body under control, ready to play.

“Once the competitive juices begin to flow, the adrenaline takes over and I would always go to my happy place. I called it, ‘Kick-Ass Island.’”

That ‘game day” experience, especially in football with so few games, is something recognized by fans and players alike.

“It’s going to make the game day experience not as lavish, not as grand,” Jaguars tight end James O’Shaughnessy said this week at the prospect of playing in front of no fans. “The game day feeling is a special feeling, it’s what you work every day, week, after week, month after month, to get to that game to showcase what you can do, in front of all these eighty, 70-thousand fans in person, and millions of fans on the TV.”

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone says with spectators or not, players at the highest level in any sport come to each game fully prepared. As a big baseball fan, Marrone has talked with managers and coaches in the big leagues about getting players ready to play in front of different size crowds and says the approach is the same in any sport.

“I think it goes from individual to individual,” Marrone said. “Meaning that if you used those situations to help you perform, then you’ve got to find a different avenue to help yourself there.”

“But if you’re the guy that’s really focused in on your job, it wasn’t a big deal,” he continued. “A lot of the players at that level, they’re focused in, they’re locked in, they’re working with each other.”

Brady and Wilkins agree. Professional athletes who get to, and stay at the highest level know how to get themselves prepared to be at their best at game time.

“It’s part of human nature to react to your environment,” Brady, who spent 13 years in the NFL, explained. “But as a professional you’re preparing for each game as the most important game of your career. Because it is. In the NFL, it could be your last. Some guys do feed off the crowd but I don’t think at that level you’ll see much drop off in performance.”

Wilkins was the fifth catcher in Major League history to hit 30 homers and hit .300 in the same season when he accomplished that feat in 1993. (Since then there have four others.) He believes, like Brady, that part of staying at the highest level is knowing how to prepare.

“You develop a routine, you find a routine that works for you,” he explained.” I knew I needed to get myself mentally, physically and emotionally prepared to go on the field and be my best for every game. Most big leaguers internalized that process to get ready.”

As far as feeding off the fans, or lack thereof at the stadium or ballpark, every player reacts differently.

“It’s the world we live in now, we’ve just got to handle it,” O’Shaughnessy explained. “And us as players, we’ve just got to rise up to the challenge, because I think it will bring a little bit of a challenge for most because it’s a new thing. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t change our job. We still have to come in and win, whether it’s a home game, road game, fans, 20-percent, no fans.”

“Every ball park has its own energy,” Wilkins added. “When I went on the field at game time, some players pick up on that and it helps some take their game to another level. On the road it can be negative energy, at home it’s constructive and positive. If you’re in New York and they’re throwing batteries at you it gets some of your juices flowing. At game time your body starts to react and it’s a magnifier to get you ready to play.”

Fred Taylor understands the severity of the current situation but wants to see some fans at the games.

“Because of those feelings I had, I’ve always been a proponent of having fans in the stands,” Taylor said. “I can’t imagine playing in an empty stadium. Football will be weird this year but I’m sure the guys who love competing will black it out and in their minds, bring their own fans with them.”

“Some guys feed off of that in pregame and others think it’s a distraction,” Wilkins said of the stadium environment. “I’m sure for some guys it’s an issue. But guys on the professional level have their own thing, they’re ready to compete and play the game with or without fans. It’s a great relationship you have with the fans at the game but the players are still going to be professional.”

Jacksonville Jaguars

Would You Play?

Sitting down at lunch this week, a friend of mine posed a hypothetical situation.

“The Jaguars need a quarterback and despite the fact that you’re on the wrong side of fifty, they think you’re the answer,” he said. “They’re offering you a $2M contract. The caveat is you might catch the virus. Will you sign?”

“That’s a big stretch,” I said with a laugh, “But yes, I’d sign.”

Over the course of the next hour we talked about the risk involved to the people around me, the risk to my health and who I’d have to give up seeing, specifically my parents who are in their mid 80’s.

It was a lot to think about, but in the end I still decided I would play.


My age puts me in what they’re calling the “vulnerable demographic” but other than that, I don’t know of any other underlying conditions that would accelerate my risk. It’s not all about the money either, but that was a factor, equal to how I remember how much I liked playing football.

“Put that equation in a 23-year old, established professional football player’s mind, and it’s easy to see why they’re playing,” he concluded.

“In the past six months there’s been a big learning curve about this virus,” Dr. Brian Turrisi, a retired pulmonologist from Georgetown and George Washington University Hospitals said recently “The vast majority of people very sick or dying are over 50 and the larger group is over 70. Pro sports are played by people younger than forty. When we confine this to young people who play professional sports, they’re the healthiest of all,”
All professional leagues have had players opt out of this season, most citing family concerns.

Several Jaguars players confirmed they considered sitting out but weighed the options and decided to play.

“I definitely thought about it because I do have two younger daughters,” defensive back D.J. Hayden said. “I felt like this year is a big year for me. I did not want to sit the season out. But I think the best thing for my family is for me to play this year.”

“I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t,” second year defensive end Josh Allen revealed when asked if he thought about opting out. “Family is first. I don’t want to put my family in jeopardy of any harm that I bring to them. That was always something that I kept close to me. Kate, my wife, she really encouraged me to keep playing football this year because she knows what I’m striving for in my career.”

With no traditional “training camp” situation, the Jaguars players are coming to the stadium each day, and then going home. The potential for exposure increases exponentially outside of their work environment, meaning the players have to put a lot of trust in their teammates to follow the protocols when they’re not at work.

“Yeah, no doubt,” Jaguars Quarterback Gardner Minshew explained. “I told all of the guys that we have a responsibility to each other and each other’s families to be safe. Sometimes it’s not fun and sometimes it’s not what you want to do, but it’s what we need to do.”

Besides organizing practices, evaluating talent and installing the playbook, one of Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone’s jobs is to keep the conversation going about Covid-19, Marrone is hammering home the trust teammates are putting into one another each day. He recounted a story he told the players about getting ready to walk out of the door of the coaches’ offices without his mask on.

“So I immediately put my shirt up, turn back and go put it on,” he said. “And I was telling those guys, ‘Hey listen, we’ve got to help each other, we’ve got to be responsible.’ I said things like this will happen, and I would appreciate it if I would’ve gone into the hallway and walked down, if someone would’ve seen me, I would’ve hoped they’d say something like, ‘Hey coach!”

There’s been some talk about putting NFL teams in a “home bubble” once they cut down to the 53 players on the regular season roster. That means everybody coming in contact with the players over sixteen weeks and through the playoffs would stay together and be shut off from the rest of the world.

That’s a tough ask, even for the outsized money professional football players make. But what about the coaching staffs? The support staffs? Would the team doctors, Dr. Kevin Kaplan and Dr. Anthony Iselborn be willing to give up their practices for four months? Probably not.

“It’s very difficult to do for a long period of time,” Marrone said of the bubble idea this week. “I think that for us, I just think it’s a level of responsibility until they tell [us] anything else. You know, if someone did come to us and said, ‘Hey listen, I don’t feel that I’m in a safe environment when I leave this building,’ we would be very proactive in doing whatever we can to make sure that that player feels safe and we put him in an environment where he can feel that way.”

Marrone said the protocols in the stadium regarding everything Covid-19 related make him feel very safe and secure.

Despite the Jaguars having more players than any other team on the league’s new Covid-19/Reserve list, the NFL’s rate of positive tests for the virus is less than one percent. Zero point eight-four to be exact. A player doesn’t have to test positive to be put on the list.

Minshew revealed he was on the list and missed a couple of days with the team because he was around another player who did test positive. He and teammates Andrew Wingard and Michael Walker were roommates until they decided the best course of action to combat the virus at home was to live alone.
“They’ve moved out this year, but I think everybody in the league just can’t afford to be around somebody,” Minshew said. “Even if you’re not going to contract it, you can’t afford sitting out those couple days. We are all just going to ride it out solo this year. But, that’s honestly a good thing that it happened now. It was a thing that we all agreed that was best for us.”
Minshew said it was like the first day of school when he rejoined the team, even having his outfit picked out for his return. He doesn’t want to go through that again and has adopted a “just get to work” leadership attitude when it comes to the virus.
“If I am here in the building, it’s all I can do, until they tell me I have to leave, and I’m going to give it all I have here,” he said. “And if I can’t be in here, then I am going to figure out how I can get better at home and how I can participate from home.”

Sports Injury

New Hip, No Problem!

You might remember I talked with Joe Namath recently about his book, “All The Way.” During some small talk in our conversation, I mentioned I had my hip replaced at the end of last year.

“I’ve had both knees and a hip,” Joe responded. “They’re great. Do the rehab. Those cats know what they’re talking about.”

Namath had celebrated knee problems during his career but three joint replacements? Apparently these days, that’s not unusual.

Ten-time Grand Slam tennis champion Tony Trabert also has two artificial knees and a new hip. He had his knees replaced two months apart twenty years ago.

“I haven’t had one ounce of problem with any of them, I don’t even think about it, Just do the rehab.” Trabert explained.

Former Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli has had both hips replaced.

“Best thing I ever did,” he said.

Namath is 77 years old. Trabert is 90 and Boselli is 48. All are former professional athletes who used their bodies in extraordinary ways. It wouldn’t be unusual to think they put undue wear and tear on their joints as part of their professions.

But it’s not just professional athletes who are choosing to get new knees, hips and shoulders. In 2020, an estimated 1.1 million people in the US will have a joint replaced. That number is expected to nearly double in the next twenty years. More women, 62%, than men have joint replacements and although the average age is creeping down each year, 95% of the patients are 45 and older. It’s the number one elective surgery, by far, in the US and the UK.

“Baby Boomers, no question, “ Dr. John Redmond of Southeast Orthopedic Specialists said when asked about the fastest growing population of people needing joint replacement. Redmond has seen research that says the number of people who will elect to have joint replacements could triple to over three million by 2030.

“Ten years ago If somebody who came in for joint replacement was under 50 we told them there was a 40% chance of it wearing out in 20 years,” Redmond explained. “There’s a new plastic that we use now and some ceramics. The failure rate now is far less than 5%. Somebody comes in now at 50 years old, I can say I’m pretty confident it’s going to last the rest of your life.”

“There are so many ideal candidates coming in these days,” agreed local orthopedic surgeon Dr. Paul Shirley also of SE Orthopedic.

“Baby boomers are coming in to continue an active lifestyle. When it hurts, people have to give up a level of participation that they still enjoy. They don’t want to do that.”

Shirley completed his first joint replacement as an assistant in Gainesville in 1972 to Dr. John Charnley, the British surgeon who pioneered the modern hip replacement procedure. A lot has happened in medicine since then.

“I wasn’t particularly interested in that,” Shirley said. “I wanted to do more arthroscopy and do preventative. At the time there wasn’t anything that lasted more than ten years. Now with all of the scientific advancements, the new metallurgy and materials, using computers. They get it perfect and reduce the stresses, they could last 30 years or more.”

Medical experts have seen a generation of people being active into adulthood for the first time, not just as school kids or into their 20’s and 30’s. That leads to injuries and arthritic damage. There’s also a change in the expectation people have of their activity level into their 50’s and beyond.

Former Georgia, NFL and USFL quarterback Matt Robinson, who turned 65 in June, is having his knee replaced this month after limping around for several years.

“I held on as long as I could,” Matt said of his lingering knee problems from his football career. “It’s having a negative effect on the active lifestyle I want to have. I want to hunt, fish, scuba dive. I want to keep active.”

Surgeons agree that playing sports, especially professional sports, takes a toll on your body,

When he originally saw the surgeon Matt was told, “Your knee is terrible.”

“I was hoping for a more clinical diagnosis,” he said with a laugh. “So he said, ‘Ok, your knee is horrible.’”

Robinson added that his knee pain had kept him away from staying in the kind of physical condition he’d like

“I stayed away from the weight room and other stuff because I didn’t want to make my knee any worse than it is,” he explained,

Weight gain in America also seems to be playing a role. Fifty-four percent of hip patients and 79% of knee patients have a body mass index greater than 30. In other words, they’re considered obese.

“It’s like putting one ton of stuff in a half ton pickup,” said Dr. Steve Lucie a 40-year veteran of orthopedic surgery, currently with Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute.

“The weight hastens the deterioration of the joints by overloading them. If you could lose a little weight before getting a replacement done, that makes it a lot better.”

We’re lucky in North Florida to have so many options to choose from when it comes to joint replacement. Between Southeast Orthopedic, Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute, the Mayo Clinic and others, some of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world are right here in our backyard.

“Because of the training programs in town at UF Health, Nemours and Mayo, Jacksonville is a bio-medical hotspot,” said Dr. Steve Lancaster who recently retired from JOI after nearly forty years as an orthopedic surgeon.

“The improvement is in technology and techniques like using robotics.” Lucie explained. “It allows us to make the replacement be more balanced, more precise. That’s what we’re hoping makes patients knees back closer to what their expectations are. Plus, the pain management is so much better.”

“If I see x-rays of a knee replacement I did five years ago it’s not near as precise as what we’re doing now,” Dr. Redmond agreed.. “I use robotics for 100% for my knee procedures now. It’s almost routine that the knee looks perfect. Inherently there’s human error, but with the robotics we don’t rely on our eyeballs as much as the machine.”

All of this expertise and advancements in technology comes at a price. Joint replacements are generally covered by insurance and can run between $70-$100K. With the number of procedures being done, it’s big business.

“The nature of a surgical practice is doing stuff,” Dr. Lancaster added. “We don’t get paid to not due stuff. Athletes destroy their knees, shoulders and hips and that’s when they come to us to consider surgical options.”

When you factor in all of the different people, hospital staff and procedures necessary to complete a joint replacement, the numbers add up.

“I get calls from patients asking about paying for lab results, the pathologist, the x-rays,” Lancaster explained. “Patients wonder why they’re paying all these different people.”

“Medicare is driving the numbers,” he added. “Whatever number they’ll pay for is where the dollar number is for the doctors. The average here in town is probably about $2K for a procedure for the surgeon.”

Nonetheless, choosing to get a joint replaced rather than limp around is now nearly routine.

“Surgeons are getting more confident,” Redmond added. “If you take a look at quality of life between 50 and 60, it’s generally higher than between 70 and 80. To tell a patient to live with a bad hip for ten years now is bad advice.”

“More and more people are doing well,” Lancaster agreed. “Even with higher expectations. We would have never have considered putting anything in somebody under fifty fifteen years ago.”

And Redmond said patient expectations are very high.

“I saw an 80 year-old woman yesterday who said she wants to get this fixed as soon as possible because she wants to play tennis every day.”

Training Camp

Camp Changes For 2020

When he first popped up on the video conference this week, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone looked like he either had a mask under his chin or a weird shadow on his face. Turns out he’s grown a beard since the last time we saw him. I don’t know if Marrone has ever had a beard before but it’s another one of those strange, different things that are happening in this pandemic era.
Marrone admitted as much as the players have started to report for this year’s version of training camp: Everything’s different.

“As a coach, you want to get back on the field and that’s where we are now,” Marrone said, standing in a room alone, with two video monitors in front of him. “I think when people think of training camp or preseason, I think we can all paint a picture of what we expect. I think this is a very unique year, so I don’t really put it under that category of training camp and preseason because we are in a ramp-up period now and it’s a little bit different.”

By now in a “normal” year, we’d be approaching the first practice where players will put on pads and actually do some hitting. This year, the beginning of August has players undergoing a minimum of three Covid-19 tests before they’ll even be allowed in the building. If all goes well with the protocols in place, they don’t expect to be on the practice field in a traditional sense until August 17th.

“It’s been crazy,” Jaguars first round pick C.J. Henderson said on Friday of the virtual meetings and physical “walk-through’s” the rookies have been a part of. “We are learning how to adapt and live in these strange ways. I don’t know, it’s just different for everyone, so we are just trying to find a way since it’s new for all of the guys here.”

Usually, ninety players, twenty or so coaches, medical and training personnel, team media and video staff are all jammed into the team facility and a camp hotel for about six weeks during training camp and the preseason. There’s rarely any free time, all staying together, packed into meeting rooms, eating meals together, showering and dressing in the locker room and going to the practice field, together, twice a day.

Now, none of that is happening. The Houston Texans have posted a video overview of what their “training camp” set up looks like. No touch doors, physical distancing and signs everywhere reminding everybody of the current dangers. The Jaguars have four locker rooms they’re using at the stadium just as a start to achieve social distancing. There are arrows on every hallway showing which way to walk.

“I feel really comfortable about the protocols,” Marrone explained while wearing a “tracker” around his neck.

“When we’re in the building, one of the things is that you can see that it just flashed blue which means that I am in good physical distance from everyone that’s involved,” he said. “When it flashes red, then I know I’m too close to someone and so I can take two or three steps back until it flashes blue.”
That would be weird in any work situation.

While the NFL isn’t technically working in a bubble environment, they’re trying to keep everybody as isolated as possible. The NHL’s bubble has been successful in Canada with zero positive tests so far. The NBA has had some issues, specifically with players not following the protocols. Major League Baseball is in danger of cancelling their season, mainly because some players are ignoring the rules in place.

Every coach in every sport talks about team building, character and relying on each other. This year takes the idea of “teammates” to another level.

“I think that there’s a lot of self-discipline involved, there’s a lot of relying on your teammates, and that’s self-discipline,” Marrone said. “Unfortunately for me, fortunately maybe for my wife, I’ve really been staying away from my wife and children. That’s just a responsibility that we all have to each other to not bring this virus into the building and not to really spread it.”

From a competition standpoint, the pandemic has put the Jaguars in a conundrum. Players hurt the most by the lack of practice time and mentoring by fellow teammates will be the young players, especially rookies. The Jaguars are relying on rookies to fill key roles and for now, they’re the youngest team in the league.

“Everything is obviously strange right now with the limited access we have,,” said the Jaguars second, first-round pick, K’Lavon Chaisson. “t’s been hard to find some places to get some real work in as well try to stay socially distant from many people and try to stay safe.”

Hardly the situation you want when you’re bringing a new player to the team with high expectations for production right away.

“I learn great from the book, but even better when you walk me through things,” Chaisson explained. “I know we don’t get as much time on the field as we want to and there’s only so much we can do while we practicing with social distance.”

In recent years there’s been a lot more emphasis on the mental health and mental state of players in professional sports. They’re all great athletes. If you were in a pickup game with a guy recently cut by any team he’d be so good you’d think it was unfair. There are certain guys who can adapt to the mental pressures of the game, an others who can’t perform in that environment. Leagues and teams are trying to unlock the difference between the two and this year that effort is paramount.

“I think that the league is taking great strides in making sure that there is support available to them outside of just the coaching staff and player development,” Marrone said. “I mean, really truly some professional help because one of the things you look at as a coach is, ‘Okay what can come up? What can be one of those things that cause a lack of focus or anxiety that’s really going to hurt the player and the team?”

Making the team is the only thing on the minds of most players in training camps starting this week. Every step, every comment, every reaction is recorded and noted and can have an impact on whether they’re playing football this fall or looking for a job. It adds up.

Marrone knows that feeling.

“I think that stuff always does take away because there’s going to be some guys in the locker room that ignore things and some guys that can’t. Everyone handles that stuff differently.”
Although they won’t say it, it already felt like a rebuilding year for the Jaguars. They’ve shipped out productive veterans like Calais Campbell and have put their stock in a second-year quarterback and a draft full of team captains. They’re looking for leaders for the future.

I wouldn’t call it a throw away year, but measuring success in this environment will have very different criteria than just wins and losses.

They’ve had one player, newly signed defensive tackle Al Woods, opt out of the season. They were counting on him to be a force in the middle against the run. Will there be more once “camp” starts? There’s already talk of “quarantining” a quarterback throughout this year so there’s always one available to play.

Fielding a young team that is already rated as the least talented in the league is difficult enough. Take a few key components away and it’s a daunting task.