Jacksonville Jaguars

Hall of Famers Think Fred Taylor Deserves a Gold Jacket

Hall of Famers Think Fred Taylor Deserves a Gold Jacket

When the Jaguars were and early expansion franchise, they were competitive, but not a national draw on TV. Most of their games were what is called “point-to-point” broadcasts. Only the home market and the visiting team city received the broadcast of the game, and as many of you remember, blackouts were still a part of the NFL. If the home team didn’t sell out 48-hours in advance, the game wasn’t shown in the home market. Thank goodness that’s gone.

Because of Jacksonville’s market size, and the newness of the franchise, games shown nationally that involved the Jaguars were few and far between.

And consequently, a lot of people didn’t get to see Fred Taylor play. So presenting his case for the Selection Committee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the Jacksonville representative, just raising awareness of Fred’s career for the other selectors has been part of the task.

But what I have found during my research into Fred’s career is the overwhelming respect Taylor’s opponents have for him, his style of play, his stats and how he treated the game.

Talking to Hall of Fame Selection Committee members Clark Judge and Ira Kaufman on the “Talk of Fame” network, Taylor outlined what he thinks of the whole Hall of Fame process.

“When it comes to something like this,” Taylor said of the Hall of Fame, “I never really understood how much this meant to me. When I played, I played hard and I played the game the right way. I was coachable. I was respectful of the game. I never set a goal of mine to be in the Hall of Fame. I wanted to win championships. I wanted to be the best teammate.”

Fred’s opponents clearly agree.

“When I went to Pittsburgh, nobody talked about any other running back but Fred,” Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu told me. “We always tried to stop Fred first. He was special. Those games against Jacksonville were so physical. I’m grateful to have played in that era. There’s nobody he wasn’t better than in our era. He was gifted and he also had grit.”

And Troy laughed at a memory of facing Fred on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

“I hit him when he wasn’t looking and I felt like I hit a brick wall,” he said. “He didn’t even see me coming and I didn’t knock him down. I went down on my knees and I thought, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t even play the next play.’ That’s the kind of player he was.”

Marcus Allen couldn’t say enough good things about Taylor. “Fred was special,” he told me. “Fred had it all. If he played in a different market than Jacksonville, with his numbers, I don’t think we’d even be having this discussion.”

Apparently, Allen and the late Jim Brown, who many consider the best to ever play the game, thought Taylor was something different.

In an interview in the early 2000’s, Brown said, “Marcus Allen and I used to talk about a running back that no one used to talk about out of Jacksonville, Fred Taylor. And Fred is cold blooded and nobody generally talks about this guy. You can’t catch him. He’s got all the natural moves. Those of us with a keen eye know Fred Taylor is the best running back I’ve seen in a long time.”

Thurman Thomas, a Hall of Famer with 350 more career carries but one fewer rushing touchdown than Taylor said, “A lot of people didn’t get to see him play. Small market, not a lot of TV.”

“Being a running back I always watched his career and I thought his strongest part was his mental game and how he overcame stuff,” he added. “I’ve always thought Fred was that guy who should be in the Hall. He ran the ball well, he caught the ball well. He didn’t have a bunch of Pro Bowlers blocking for him but still he put up numbers.”

And that’s true.

During Taylor’s career, only two offensive lineman blocking for him ever went to the Pro Bowl: Tony Boselli, in the first three years of Fred’s career. And Leon Searcy, once, in ’99, Leon’s last year in the league.

And when I went to get off the phone with Ray Lewis and read back some of his quotes he said, “I want to say something stronger,” and went on a soliloquy.

“Fred was a “something else” type back,” he started. “He was really something else. He got caught in a small market. We had some classic battles that nobody ever saw. And that was when it was legal to try and tear a guy’s head off.”

“When somebody steps on the field who’s a Hall of Famer, he’s a problem. Fred was a problem. I would be proud to see him put on a gold jacket. He made me what I am. I had to get better because of him. That’s a fact.”

Where Does Fred Taylor Fit In The PFHOF?

Where Does Fred Taylor Fit In The PFHOF?

Fred TaylorWhen I asked Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu what it was like to stand on the other side of the line from Fred Taylor, he paused and said, “I think he’s the best running back I ever faced.”

When I noted that was a big statement, he didn’t waver. “I think he was always the best player on the field. He always performed the best against the best competition.”

Derrick Brooks had a similar response.

“I think Fred Taylor is the best back I ever played against, both in the pros and in college,” Brooks said. “He wasn’t just a problem, he was an issue. We even named a play after him on our defense, ‘Belly, Fred Taylor Iso’ because we couldn’t figure out how to stop it. He was what I call a three prong back: a rare combo of powerful through the line, quick feet in the hole and speed to run away from anybody.”

I saw every play of Fred Taylor’s career, live, over the eleven years he played in Jacksonville. I didn’t think that was a big deal until I started researching his numbers and talking to people and realized, not a lot of people saw Fred play.

He didn’t have a Peyton Manning or a John Elway as his quarterback. He had Mark Brunell and David Garrard. Byron Leftwich and Jay Fiedler. He didn’t play in NY or, LA or Chicago or for a glamour franchise like Dallas, San Francisco or Miami.

At 6-1 and 228 Fred ran a 4.29 at his Pro Day at Florida, Averaging just under 17 carries per game, Taylor is the 17th leading rusher in NFL history. Every other eligible running back in front of him is in the Hall.

So is 16th somehow the cutoff? It would be hard to imagine not putting Taylor in the conversation for the Hall when we talk about qualifications being “best players from their era.”

From 1998-2010, Taylor was the third leading rusher in the NFL, behind LaDainian Tomlinson and only about 550 yards behind Edgerrin James, despite nearly 500 fewer carries than James.

To illustrate how oftentimes Taylor played in a vacuum, in his rookie year, Taylor had 1,644 yards from scrimmage, and tied for the league lead with 17 TD’s. Randy Moss had 1,313 yds and 17 TD’s. They both made the All-Rookie Team that year. And when it came time to name the Rookie of the year, Moss won with 94% of the vote. Fred and Peyton Manning split the other 6%. Why was that? No doubt Moss was a great player, a Hall of Famer and perhaps deserved being Rookie of the year. But 94% of the vote? Even though Taylor had better numbers? Moss had a big game on Thanksgiving Day, catching 3 TD’s against the Cowboys in front of a national television audience. Taylor played in Jacksonville that Sunday at one o’clock. Nobody saw it.

In 2000 Fred led the NFL, averaging 107.6 yards per game.

In that same season he had nine consecutive 100-yard games. That’s 4th All-time.

His 4.6 yards per carry is third behind only Jim Brown and Barry Sanders among those in the Hall of Fame.

Taylor’s yards per carry actually went up as the team leaned on him for offense. From 4.6 in 2002, rising to 5.4 per carry in 2007.

During Taylor’s career, only two offensive lineman blocking for him ever went to the Pro Bowl: Tony Boselli, in the first three years of Fred’s career. And Leon Searcy, once, in ’99, Leon’s last year in the league.

Taylor also had 13 carries of 50 or more yards, and had ten carries of sixty or more. Only Barry Sanders among Hall of Famers had more. And add a 90-yard TD run in the playoffs against Miami. That’s still the longest post-season rushing touchdown in NFL history.

When I talked with Marcus Allen he said, “Fred was special. He had that combination of speed and power and great feet. Jump cuts in the hole, running over guys if he needed to, Back then, we played in a phone booth, against real sized linebackers. I can’t imagine the numbers he’d put up in today’s game. Fred had it all. If he played in a different market than Jacksonville, with his numbers, I don’t think we’d even be having this discussion.”

By the way, Marcus Allen had 500 more attempts and yet gained only 550 more yards

The criticism about Fred Taylor is he made one Pro Bowl and one All Pro team. So who was on those teams? LaDainian Tomlinson was on five of those teams. Other years it would be guys who flamed brightly for a few years, and then dropped off: Chris Johnson, Larry Johnson, Ricky Williams, Shaun Alexander, Willie Parker. Fred had sustained excellence over those ten years of his career but never had the exposure.

“Sleepless nights!” is what Ray Lewis said when I asked him his impression of Fred as a finalist for the Hall. “When we played them, I’d either have to take an Ambien and go to bed early or know I’d be up watching film of him all night.”

“I think a Hall of Famer is somebody who changed the way you thought about how to play that game,” Lewis added. “Fred did that. Big enough to run into linebackers in old school football and stay in the game. He never tapped out. I’d have him down and he’d give me that silly little smile he has and say, ‘I’ll be right back.’

In the early 2000’s noted journalist and essayist Ralph Wiley asked Jim Brown “Who do you really like among today’s running backs?” Without hesitation, Brown replied, “Fred Taylor. Don’t know nothing about Fred Taylor do you? Fred Taylor is the package, Fred Taylor is the man.”

A pretty strong endorsement from the player many consider the best ever to play.

Trevor Year Three, Doug Year Two is a Good Match

Trevor Year Three, Doug Year Two is a Good Match

Trevor Year Three, Doug Year Two is a Good MatchNo matter where you look, if they’re talking about the NFL, they’re talking about the Jaguars. In year two of Doug Pederson’s tenure as the Jaguars Head Coach, he’s taken a franchise lost in every way possible and turned the team into a contender. His steady hand, as well as some solid acquisitions through free agency and the draft, and the development of Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, both on and off the field, have the Jaguars as a favorite to win the AFC South and possibly contend deep into the playoffs.

Bookmakers have the over/under on Jaguars wins at 9 and a half. So expectations are high both locally and everywhere else.

How do you deal with that when it came so quickly?

“We stay focused on the moment, we stay focused on ourselves, we prepare like we do every single week and every single day,” Pederson said. “That’s what we have to do, we can’t worry about what’s going on outside of the building and let the fans and media talk about that.”

Jaguars Quarterback Trevor Lawrence agreed. Expectations aren’t important.

“I don’t really care to be honest,” Lawrence said unapologetically. “I think it’s more dangerous to have people praising you than to not have any expectations. With the group we have, it doesn’t worry me at all.”

“You don’t really deal with them,” he added about expectations the Jaguars could content this year. “What does it matter what this guy said of here? He’s not in our locker room, he’s not a part of our team.”

Lawrence credits Pederson with creating that mindset within the team.

“I think that’s the biggest thing that Coach has done a good job of, is making sure of that, and managing all of those expectations. They’re not real, we have to go out there and play every Sunday.”

Trevor Year Three, Doug Year Two is a Good MatchBut from the spot where the Jaguars were two years ago to this year is a giant leap forward. They were a moribund franchise without a history of winning or an identity they could lean on. Pederson has changed that, and Lawrence is a big part of that. And not just with his play. It’s no surprise that he’s the leading vote getter when his fellow players are electing a captain.

Coming off their late season success in 2022, the team seems hungry to continue that run. It’s something that can carry over or disappear depending on the culture of the team.

Lawrence seems to be the glue that has bound the Jaguars together.

“I don’t think they exceeded them, but they met them,” Pederson said of how the team came back to work after last year’s success, and his expectations of what to expect from still a young team in 2023. “There’s so much confidence right now in that locker room and that’s the good thing. That part is really good, the team is in a good place.”

“I think it’s a lot of things,” Lawrence added when asked about carrying over last year’s success. He credits the continuity.

“I think it’s having confidence a little bit from past success, but also preparation and knowing our system and feeling more comfortable in what we’re doing.”

And both said they like how the team reacts to the ups and downs of preseason, training camp, cuts, and the onslaught of publicity as one of the favorites in the AFC. (Read that last sentence again!)

“There’s a lot of maturity on this team,” Pederson explained even though the Jaguars remain one of the youngest teams in the league. “So many young players have played a lot of football, it’s interesting. There’s not a lot that really phases this group. Adversity we know is going to strike at some point, this team doesn’t seem to waiver much at all with that.”

Lawrence echoed Pederson’s confidence in the maturity of a young team.

“It’s a lot different, the confidence piece,” he explained. “We know everything is not going to go perfect this year, it’s never going to no matter how good your team is. Understanding that and also realizing we’ve been through some of that adversity before and we know how to handle it.”

Opening on the road at Indianapolis could give the Jaguars an indication of just how good and how mature they are. They didn’t play well on the road last year and lost to the Colts for the ninth time in the last ten games at Indy.

That’s not lost on the Jaguars Head Coach.

“The unknown is just, ‘Hey, how are we going to respond to that?’” he said with a sigh.

And even only in his third year, Lawrence has figured out beating division opponents is important for the present and the future. Division opponents become natural rivals.

“Honestly every division game feels that way,” he said when asked about rivalries in the NFL. “It’s almost like the division games are worth double. It’s a big opportunity to either get ahead of fall behind. It’s my third year in the league and I’m playing them for the fifth time.”

And that familiarity stays in the back of his mind.

“You see them, you talk to them, you seem them after games, all that stuff,” he said with a smile. “You get to know how they play and the things they like to do. You remember players and you keep things saved, you go back on notes and all that stuff, so you remember all of that.”

Jaguars Draft Talent, Culture

Jaguars Draft Talent, Culture

Jaguars Draft Talent, CultureIt has been a while since the Jaguars went into the roster building phase of the year without a question mark at quarterback. Last year doesn’t count, since 2021 was such a detour from potential success with Urban Meyer in charge. Yes, we knew Trevor Lawrence was going to be the quarterback, but we didn’t know he’d be able to blossom in his second year once Doug Pederson was named the head coach. Meyer almost ruined Lawrence. Only Trevor’s talent and willingness to learn got him through that year. There were plenty of head scratching discussions about his future before Pederson took over.

Whether it’s a Gatorade commercial with a bunch of kids or sitting next to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Chloe Kim in a Breitling Watch magazine add, Lawrence is the first Jaguars quarterback in a while who has the talent and the marketability to truly be the face of the franchise on a national scale. The last Jaguars QB I saw in a magazine was Mark Brunell. And that was the cover of TV Guide in 1995. Yep, TV Guide.

So, when you’re set at the quarterback position, it sure makes building a roster around him a different kind of exercise for the personnel and coaching staffs. Free agency and the draft have the same urgency, except you’re looking to build, not reinvent your team. A franchise quarterback lets them find the other pieces to the puzzle that will help the QB be a winner. Look at what they did in Denver for John Elway, in Kansas City for Patrick Mahomes, in Indianapolis for Peyton Manning and in Dallas for Troy Aikman. In each case, they knew who their quarterback was going to be for the next ten years. So, they went about building their team, in the short and long term, to be a sustainable winner around their star in the backfield.

“I think you’re always looking,” Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke said last week at a pre-draft luncheon and press conference. “You look at today and tomorrow. I’m pretty fortunate to work with a guy that sees the vision of not only today, but as the future unfolds. We take that all into consideration.”

Baalke and Pederson are a solid match to build the franchise, both seeing what they need with the same vision. And it helps to have Lawrence as a constant.

When it comes to the draft, there’s a lot of communication between the coaching staff, the scouts, and the personnel department. You’d be surprised how many teams don’t have that kind of give and take when it comes to taking a player.

“If there’s a discrepancy, we’re going to talk about that,” Pederson chimed in. “We might even go to the tape and watch more film on a player or bring in the position coach, or bring in the scout that looked at this guy and just exhaust everything we can and make sure we’re in agreement that when we pick a player, we’re on the same page.”

Baalke revealed there are about 127 players on the Jaguars draft board and the Jaguars will lean on how they have those players ranked and the value they put on them to make decisions.

“There’s going to be enough depth in the draft that there’s going to be a player at a need position we have valued in that area that will be there when we pick,” he explained.

And that includes the first round. With a quarterback heavy top of the draft, that’ pushes other position players down the board. Quarterbacks are always valued, so picking at 24th in the first round, they’re confident a player they really like will be there.

“It’s too hard to play all of the scenarios in your mind. You go through it all then the draft happens and three picks into it all of your work is shot. I think you’re better off seeing the board, trusting the board, the value is set then letting it unfold,” Baalke said.

In fact, the Jaguars GM admitted that picking at 24, there might be two or three players they like who have been “pushed down” to their spot and they’ll take one of them. Trading down is always an option, but the Jaguars don’t think they’ll have to this year. Somebody they really like will be there.

I asked Baalke if there was a “best player” in this draft. It’s a question I ask every year, knowing they’re not going to give me an answer. Baalke said, “That’s a loaded question.”

“That’s what they pay me for,” I responded, kind of snarky I admit.

“Well, they don’t pay me to answer those,” Baalke continued. And then said, “But I think there is a best talent in this draft, yes I do.”

I’ll try and ask that question again after the draft is over. I’ve gotten great “off the record” answers in the past. “Orlando Pace,” was the quick answer one year. “Not even close.” And he was right. Pace went onto a Hall of Fame career.

“The guy we got,” was the answer the year the Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert with the 10th pick overall. That didn’t pan out so either the respondent was lying, which wouldn’t be unusual, or he actually thought that after seeing Gabbert on tape and working out. It’s certainly possible they thought Gabbert was the best player in the draft that year. When you watched him practice you wondered, “How do we ever lose?” But he couldn’t transfer that performance to the stadium under the lights.

One thing the Jaguars have restored under Pederson is a culture that can breed winning. You can tell walking in the locker room that these guys like each other, work hard for each other and want to win. Pederson recognizes that and is always looking for not only talent, but a player that will be a good “fit.”

“I take that responsibility back to the players,” Pederson explained. “I don’t want to micromanage the locker room whatsoever. If we sign a guy who’s not a good culture fit, our locker room can handle that. We did that a couple of times (in Philadelphia), and the locker room just handled it.”

“Our scouts do an outstanding job of spending time with player and family members and coaches, anybody we can talk to, to get answers on players,” he continued. “So, we feel like the ones that are on the board are all great fits for us. Our locker room can absorb that, and they either buy in, or they won’t be here.”

Jaguars, Pederson, Lawrence and a Turnaround

Jaguars, Pederson, Lawrence and a Turnaround

It’s been a while since anybody at the stadium said, “See you next week” after a game in January. But thanks to some stout defense, the Jaguars beat the Titans, 20-16 to win the AFC South Division Championship in their final regular season game.

In front of a capacity crowd, perhaps the largest to see a Jaguars home game, the Jaguars grabbed their first lead of the game with just over two minutes to play as Rayshawn Jenkins jarred the ball loose from Titans quarterback Joshua Dobbs and Josh Allen scooped up the tumbling ball and streaked thirty-seven yards for the score.

The crowd erupted, and again, the Jaguars defense rose to the occasion, harassing Dobbs and stifling Derrick Henry, forcing a turnover on downs in the Titans final possession to end the game.

It was sweet for the Jaguars fans at the stadium, who stuck around inside afterwards and shouted a chorus of “Duuvalll” numerous times in unison to celebrate the end of a long skid of ineptitude by the local franchise. And they’re hoping there’s not only more to come this year, but this kind of game sets the tone for a young Jaguars team going forward. No matter what happens in the playoffs, as the fourth-youngest team in the NFL, the arrow is pointing up for the Jaguars.

“This game symbolized our season,” Head Coach Doug Pederson said afterwards. “The ups, downs, high, lows, and we came out with a victory. We stayed the same and guys improved every game.”

Hiring Pederson is the whole key to the Jaguars success this year. After a chaotic and lost year under the buffoon Urban Meyer, the Jaguars young players, especially Trevor Lawrence, have flourished. General Manager Trent Baalke deserves some credit along with Pederson for adding the right blend of veteran players to help change the culture and getting the Jaguars pointed in the right direction.

“I just think Doug is an incredible leader,” Wide Receiver Christian Kirk, one of the veteran additions explained. “He connects with everybody within the locker room. He treats us fair, and he sticks to his word. He is always thinking about us, and he puts us first. Like I said, he is just an easy guy to buy into, and I know everybody in this locker room is very grateful to be able to play for him.”

Kirk and another veteran wide receiver addition, Zay Jones, both have more than eighty receptions this year, the first pair to do that for the Jaguars since Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell in 2001. That’s a long dry stretch.

It makes you scratch your head asking why Philadelphia fired Pederson after just five years, including three winning seasons and a Super Bowl Championship. The Athletic has a pretty good article on that, detailing some of the disfunction in the Eagles organization at the time with Owner Jeffrey Lurie and General Manager Howie Roseman. Jaguars Owner Shad Khan tried to hire Pederson last year, but Doug said he needed a year off to get his life back on track. But when the Meyer experiment exploded, Pederson said he was ready.

After last season, the Jaguars weren’t only a losing franchise, they were broken. And Pederson recognized that right away.

“What was needed was trust,” Pederson said of his first order of business as Head Coach. “Trust was broken with this team when I took this job. I think they saw in me right away that they can trust in me and I can trust in them. It began to show during the course of the year. When you have five straight losses it can go sideways in a hurry. But we stuck together.”

“You’re trying to teach a winning culture and flip the script, so to speak,” he added. “But you never know how that’s going to work until you start playing games. To win nine games in our first year together, it’s just fantastic.”

On the field after the game, Pederson and Quarterback Trevor Lawrence had a long embrace, capping an improbable turnaround for Lawrence and the franchise.

“You know, just told him I loved him,” Trevor revealed. “I’m appreciative of him, just what he has done for this place obviously, it takes more than just a coach, but what he has been able to do for this organization has been incredible and just excited for the future.”

And part of the future is next week. A home playoff game, a young team and a bit of a 1996 (’97 playoffs) vibe.

“I just think this whole journey from where we were to where we are now, to earn this opportunity to go play in the playoffs, it’s special,” Lawrence added. “You ask a lot of guys that have played for five, six, seven, eight plus years and a lot of guys have only been to the playoffs once, twice, three times in their career. When you think about that too, it really puts it into perspective that it’s not easy to win in this league.”

Long suffering Jaguars fans are well aware of that. It’s why the parking lot didn’t empty until the wee hours of the morning after a Saturday night victory. With calls of “Duuuvalll” ringing in their ears, the party continues this week. They deserve it.

Tony Boselli Pro Football Hall of Fame 2022

Pro Football Hall of Fame Boselli Yearbook 2022

It didn’t take long for Tony Boselli to fall in love with football.

As a quarterback.

“Oh, I thought I was a quarterback,” he recalled of his ninth-grade year in football at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. “I played quarterback that year and the first day of training camp the varsity Head Coach, Sam Pagano, moved me to tight end. The next year he moved me to O-Line. He told me later that the only reason he didn’t move me right to O-Line was because he thought I might quit.”

There was no chance of that.

“I did want to be the quarterback,” Boselli added. “But I really didn’t care when they moved me. I just wanted to play football.”

From those decisions by his high school coach and his fourteen-year-old self, a career as one of the best offensive linemen in the history of football was born.

A high school All-American as a senior, Tony chose the University of Southern California over his home state Colorado Buffaloes to study and continue his football career.

For Boselli’s final two years at USC, John Robinson returned for his second stint as the Trojans’ Head Coach. Tony had established himself as a starter and as a dominant player, but Robinson thought he could be better.

“I was hard on Tony,” Robinson admitted, adding he told USC’s offensive line coach Mike Barry to be hard on him as well.

Boselli says that made him a better player and was named the top offensive lineman in the Pac-10 in 1994.

Saying Boselli was “the best college offensive lineman I ever had,” Robinson saw a great professional future for Tony in the NFL.

“I grew up with John Madden,” Robinson said the night Boselli was named as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2022. “So, I called him one day after Tony was drafted and said, ‘John, watch for this Boselli kid. He’s the best tackle I’ve ever seen!” ‘You’re crazy,’ John said to me and hung up. About a week later, he called me back and said, ‘About this Boselli guy, you might be right’!”

At Southern Cal, Boselli was an All-American on the football field and a three-time selection to the Pac-10’s All-Academic team.

He earned a degree in finance at USC and was awarded a postgraduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation.

But the NFL was calling.

As an expansion franchise, the Jacksonville Jaguars made Boselli the first pick in the franchise’s history, second overall in the 1995 NFL Draft.

“The cornerstone of the franchise,” is what Jaguars Head Coach and General Manager Tom Coughlin called him at the time.

And he was that.

With Boselli in the lineup, the Jaguars won sixty percent of their games and were a perennial contender, making the AFC Championship game in 1996 and 1999.

Named to the All-Rookie team in 1995 and the All-Decade team of the 1990’s despite playing only half the decade, Boselli was elected to five Pro Bowls and was All-Pro three times.

No easy feat playing in the “Golden Age of Tackles” with fellow Hall of Fame tackles Willie Roaf, Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace and Gary Zimmerman.

“I wore 71 because that’s what Tony wore,” Jones said.

“I’d check my game against Tony’s every week. Even though we weren’t even in the same conference,” Roaf admitted.

From his position at left tackle, Boselli handled fellow Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Derek Thomas, John Randle, Jason Taylor, and others.

Smith was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year when Boselli neutralized him in the AFC Championship game in Buffalo. Thomas was coming off a six-sack performance the week before against the Raiders when Tony took him on the following Sunday.

“We’re putting Boselli on him and not going to worry about it,” Coughlin said the week leading up to the game.

While it was considered a marquee matchup, Boselli rendered Thomas ineffective for four quarters.

“Boselli beat me down on a Monday night,” Taylor said, recalling Tony waving him to the other end of the field. “An epic beatdown. Surprised it didn’t knock me into retirement.”

Former Seattle and Steelers Offensive Line Coach Kent Stephenson probably watched more “Boselli tape” than anybody in football.

“Since we were in the same conference and the same division, we played similar opponents. I watched him every week. You couldn’t help but watch him perform. He jumped off the film. He could do it all. He was a great, great player.”

“There are certain guys that when the lights go on and when the game is on the line, they have something extra,” he added. “Boselli had that.”

Choosing Mark Brunell, his former quarterback and best friend as his presenter for the Hall of Fame seemed like a natural selection, but Brunell remembers it wasn’t always that smooth.

“We didn’t get along when we first met,” Brunell recalled with a laugh. “I didn’t like him actually.”

“He thought he was the best offensive lineman in training camp as a rookie.”

“Which he was. “

“He thought he was the best player on the team.”

“Which he was.”

“And he thought he was the toughest guy on the team,” Brunell continued through the laughter.

“Which he was.”

Mark and Tony found some common ground through their faith and their families, and their friendship grew and blossomed into what it is today.

A 19-year NFL career with five teams gives Brunell some perspective on talent in the league and he puts Boselli in some rarefied air.

“I wouldn’t say Tony was better than Brett Favre or Reggie White, but those are the guys he’s in the conversation with.”

Boselli dipped his toe into the political arena when his NFL career ended. After years of outstanding philanthropy work in North Florida, he gained a real sense of what children and families in need were looking for. He was encouraged to run for Mayor and gave it serious consideration but decided his best work could be accomplished through his foundation and outside of politics.

A bout with Covid three years ago gave Boselli some new perspective. During his hospital stay, Boselli was quarantined, only staying in contact with his family via text when he had enough energy to grab his phone. He credits the health care workers with his recovery. They were the only people allowed near him, wearing full protective gear.

“They were great,” Tony said with a strong sense of gratitude. “Those doctors and PAs and nurses and techs, everyone, they’re amazing. These people were absolutely amazing. Superstars.”

Boselli and his wife Angi have two sons and three daughters and live in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Tony is in the health care business but stays close to football with a national broadcasting career on Westwood One and locally on the Jaguars radio broadcasts.

Now the “cornerstone”’ of Jaguars history, Boselli says he’s with the Jaguars to stay.

“As long as there is a Jaguars team, I’ll be a part of it.”

Tony Boselli - Pro Football Hall of Fame 2022

What Took So Long

Although his career on the field was full of skill, technique, power and passion, Tony Boselli’s path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame was a numbers game.

This was the sixth consecutive year Boselli has made the finalists list. The last five years he’s made the first cut to the final ten. In the time I’ve researched the nuances of Boselli’s career for his presentation to the other forty-eight members of the Selection Committee, nobody every says to me “he wasn’t good enough.” It’s only ever “did he play long enough.”

So here are a couple of quick numbers about the length of Tony’s career

Boselli played ninety-seven games. There are 300 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and nineteen percent played either fewer games or less than one more full season than Boselli. Twenty-three percent of all of the tackles in the Hall played less than a hundred games.

It’s not unprecedented for a player with the length of career like Tony’s to be elected to the Hall of Fame. It’s not even unusual.

In the Hall’s Class of 2017 both Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley were elected. Davis played eighty-six games and Easley ninety-five.

It was after that year that former Times-Union reporter and columnist Vito Stellino, a writer in the Hall of Fame himself, penned an open letter to the Selection Committee suggesting that if Davis and Easley were Hall-worthy even with short career’s, Boselli should earn some consideration. Boselli had been a finalist for the first time that year and Stellino, then an at-large member of the Selection Committee, gave credence to the idea that as the dominant Tackle of his era, Tony’s case had some merit.

Besides the length of his career, other numbers were working against Boselli’s case. In 2018, five of the fifteen finalists, one third of the total, were offensive linemen. Joe Jacoby, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Mawai and Joe Jacoby. All had longer careers than Boselli and only one of them, Jacoby, played tackle. It was clear it would be an uphill battle for Tony to leapfrog those other players, all with strong cases for admittance to the Hall. In addition, Committee rules at the time had the players presented by position and by alphabetical order. That meant Boselli was always first, a distinct disadvantage. Those rules were changed the following year, with players now presented in random order.

Tony’s candidacy also ran up against an odd stretch of other players becoming eligible who were considered ‘first-ballot’ selections. While I don’t think ‘first-ballot’ is a thing for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (unlike baseball) it has become a measuring stick in the last twenty years as the makeup of the committee has gotten younger. In the last five years, half of those elected to the Hall have been first-ballot selections. With only five spots available each year, the numbers didn’t work for Tony.

When the Hall announced a ‘Centennial Class’ for 2020, it appeared Boselli would be a front-runner. But with some momentum as a ‘modern-era’ candidate, the committee put together to select the Centennial Class was looking for players no longer under consideration.

Included in that Centennial Class was Jimbo Covert a tackle for the Chicago Bears. Covert had a similar career to Boselli’s. An All-Decade player, Covert made two All-Pro teams compared to Tony’s three (four unofficially if you count Sports Illustrated’s selections). An perhaps most importantly, Covert played one hundred and eleven games, less than one full season longer than Boselli.

By 2022, Jacoby had moved to the Senior Pool and Faneca, Mawai and Hutchinson had all be elected to the Hall. That left Boselli as the last offensive lineman from that group still on the ballot.

Including Boselli there were six great tackles in his era: Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, and Gary Zimmerman.

In the last fifteen years, all have gained entrance to Canton. Hard to believe there are only thirty-one true tackles in the Hall and we’ve put six of them there in recent history.

There were three years where all six of those tackles played together in the NFL. On the All-Pro team for those three years the one constant at tackle was Boselli. The others rotated through the other tackle position.

While researching Tony’s presentation to the Selection Committee, I’ve had a chance to talk to opponents of his era as well as those tackles who played in the same years.

Walter Jones told me “Are you kidding? I wore 71 because of Boselli.”

Willie Roaf said he’d have the video department for the Saints cut up Boselli plays from the previous Sunday and watch them during the week.

“Even though we weren’t even in the same division or even the same conference, I wanted to check my game against his,” he said.

Anthony Munoz considered perhaps the best tackle of all time said of Boselli, “Tony was the best in the era he played. He should be in Canton.”

John Hannah, considered the best guard of all time said of Boselli: “I thought he was the best tackle I’d ever seen play.”

Tony told me that John Randle was the toughest opponent he faced. Randle couldn’t say enough good things about Tony, saying Boselli easily was the best he faced.

“He had the versatility if you combined Gary Zimmerman and Walter Jones,” Randle said.
“Plus, he was just a tough guy.”

Jason Taylor, a first-ballot Hall of Fame defensive end from Miami said it was such a classic beat down Boselli gave him on a Monday night, “If they didn’t turn the lights off, he’d still be kicking my ass. I’m surprised he didn’t beat me all the way to retirement.”

Bruce Smith, whom Boselli handled singlehandedly in the playoffs, after five years of asking said, “He was a stud. He gave me all I could handle. In that era of football, there was none better.”

Tony was on the All-NFL Rookie Team in 1995. The NFL Alumni Association and the NFLPA had an award for the top offensive lineman in the league while Boselli played. He won that award from both organizations in back-to-back years. The only other player to do that was Munoz.

Boselli made five straight Pro Bowls, three straight All-Pro teams and a fourth by Sports Illustrated. The Hall of Fame Selection Committee put him on the All-Decade team of the 90’s even though he only played half the decade.

Well respected Mike Giddings from Pro Scout rated him with five blue seasons, their top rating.

Tony ranks first or second in nearly every quantifiable stat about tackles in the run game, yards per carry to his side. And in the passing game when it comes to sacks allowed.

And he made everybody around him better.

With Boselli at left tackle, the Jaguars had four consecutive winning seasons, went to the playoffs four straight years, and played in two AFC Championship games with him anchoring the offensive line. Head Coach Tom Coughlin, who drafted Boselli, called him “the cornerstone of the franchise.”

The Jaguars won about 60 % of their games with Boselli in the lineup. Without him, well, you know the rest. They’ve won about 25% of their games.

Since tackle is not a quantifiable position with a ton of stats, I talked with Kent Stephenson, the former Seattle, and Steelers OL coach during Boselli’s career. The Jaguars and the Steelers were in the AFC Central when Tony played so they faced each other twice a year. Stephenson said he watched more tape of Boselli than anybody, studying the common opponents every week.

“I have two of my boys in the Hall, Faneca and Dawson, “Stephenson told me. “Tony was in their class He was a great, great player. Did everything well and did it with ease”

“Since we were in the same conference, we played similar opponents I saw him every week,” he added. “You couldn’t help watch him perform, he jumped off the film. He could do it all.”

“There are certain guys that when the lights go on and when the game is on the line, they have something extra. Faneca had that, Dawson had that. Boselli was the same way. They have a little bit of a competitive edge that shows up during competition.”

He played a premium position at left tackle. He handled players like Bruce Smith and Derek Thomas one-on-one. Boselli was athletic, fierce, and could run block or pass protect among the best.

He’s the consensus best tackle of his era by coaches, media, and his peers, and he remains the best player ever to wear a Jaguars uniform. So forever, Tony Boselli will be the first Jaguar to be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Shad Khan - Jacksonville Jaguars

A Jaguars Fix

One week to go in the Jaguars’ regular season and we’re looking at a dismal record (again) and the number one draft pick (again) in the 2022 NFL draft. Despite being the one to hire Urban Meyer, give Jaguars Owner Shad Khan credit for firing him when necessary. A captain knows when to make an immediate course correction and right the ship. Khan has had numerous mis-steps in the ten years he’s owned the team but he has also shown a willingness to move on from things that aren’t working.

Whether they keep the number one pick or trade down, the Jaguars need help out of the ‘22 draft and through free agency. Will Khan keep Trent Baalke in place as General Manager? He does tend to keep people he likes around. As a GM and personnel evaluator, Baalke’s track record is spotty and his presence as a team builder could limit the number and the quality of the candidates for the open head coaching position. Khan has said Baalke will be a part of that search but hasn’t said if the current GM will be around making decisions that shape the team in the near future. There’s a bit of a groundswell in the Twittersphere to fire Baalke, but Khan will make that decision based on advice he’s getting from around the league and what he hears from coaching candidates, not from fan pressure.

It must have been one heck of a sales job Meyer did on Khan to convince him that hiring a college coach with a successful, but flawed resume was the right thing to do. From a year or so before his hiring, Meyer was slyly campaigning for the Jaguars job. He can be impressive at first glance. Even his opening press conference with the local media gave a glimmer of hope that he’d adapt to the pro game.

His ability as a CEO-type is what the NFL demands, but his inability to adapt to other adults who have experience, smarts and a willingness to learn led to his ultimate downfall. Meyer was either going to win three Super Bowls or flame out quickly and obviously, the latter was the ultimate outcome. An NFL coach might be the team’s leader and the face of the franchise, but, unlike in college, he has to answer to a variety of voices.

In college, oftentimes the football coach is more powerful than the school President. Meyer found out quickly that organizations like the Fritz Pollard Alliance, advocates for minority hiring in the league, have a big voice. The NFL is a part of society at-large, not some isolated campus that serves as a kingdom to lord over, so long as he’s winning. Based on his actions during his short tenue in the NFL, we can only imagine how many shenanigans Meyer got away with during his college career with nobody having enough “juice” to do anything about it.

So where to now?

As was famously once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” when it comes to winning organizations. It’s especially true in sports where a team with a winning culture, meaning they have habits that make wins happen, beats a more talented group. The Jaguars have had that culture a couple of times. In 2017 during their run to the AFC Championship game, Calais Campbell, Marcedes Lewis, and Paul Posluszny set that culture and it paid off. Players aren’t playing for coaches. They’re playing for each other. Nobody on that team wanted to disappoint the other guys in the locker room. Once those guys were gone, the culture collapsed with no one left capable of picking up the mantle of leadership.

And that’s where the Jaguars have failed under Khan. A willingness to let players move on when they’ve taken a step back in their production on the field, not recognizing their value to the entire organization everywhere else. Khan has to take responsibility for that. As a successful businessman, he knows the value of leadership through the ranks, not just management. Soldiers have to take orders from officers, but it’s the enlisted leaders, sergeants if you will, who keep things in line.

In the late ‘90’s the Jaguars had a winning culture. Their two appearances in the AFC Championship game and their perennial appearances in the playoffs bear that out. Head Coach and GM Tom Coughlin might have set the tone for that, but it was the players who carried it out.

Without a doubt, Tony Boselli was the main cog in that culture. It went through the team with Mark Brunell, Kyle Brady, Keenan McCardell and Fred Taylor setting examples on offense and Clyde Simmons, Jeff Lageman and Dave Thomas doing the same on defense. Go back and look at the starting lineups for the Jaguars’ late ‘90’s teams: Tough guys who had a bit of an edge to them. Talented players who weren’t taking any guff from anybody, including their teammates. Winning NFL cultures, like the Steelers and the Patriots have that year after year. There’s not that much difference between Greg Lloyd and James Harrison when it comes to the kind of players they were on the field. They were “Steelers” type players and there was no mistaking that. They carried the Steelers culture from one generation of players to the next.

That’s why Khan needs to find a role for Tony Boselli in the organization. Boselli is the best player ever to don a Jaguars uniform and his pedigree as a Hall of Fame contender gives him instant credibility among the current generation of NFL players. Whether it’s a title like President of Football Operations or just as a special consultant, Boselli could help a restart for the culture that’s needed inside the Jaguars building.

Follow that hire with a Head Coach who has NFL experience and is more about building a culture than some great offensive or defensive guru. Gus Bradley was that kind of guy but his teams were never mature enough to latch onto what he was trying to teach. Former GM Dave Caldwell takes much of the blame for that, not paying enough attention to what kind of people he was bringing into the organization versus the stats they might provide. Doug Marrone was able to do that, but Caldwell left the cupboard bare after 2017 and without much talent, the team collapsed. Couple that with Coughlin’s inability to adapt to dealing with prima donna’s (see Jalen Ramsey) and you get back to back number one picks.

Through the interview process, Khan should focus on who the candidate is versus what his resume looks like. Clearly Doug Pederson and Jim Caldwell have built winning cultures in the NFL. Can Josh McDaniel bring Bill Bellichick’s culture with him if he ever takes a head coaching job? As a player, Byron Leftwich was aloof and lacked charisma, but that was twenty years ago. Has he developed as a person beyond his player’s mentality? More than his success as a coordinator, can he bring a culture that breeds winning before the first play is ever called? Can Eric Bieniemy bring Andy Reid’s organizational culture along with him?

There are a handful of other candidates where the same question should be asked: Who are they? Winning organizations are built on smart, tough guys. Khan has done that with his other businesses. He needs to apply that thinking to his NFL team.

Urban Meyer - Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars Problem Can Be Fixed

It’s easy to see what kind of team is taking the field in professional sports just by walking into their locker room.

Professional players are just that; professionals, mercenaries that are wearing a certain team’s colors for money and their livelihood. Some got there through the draft, some came as free agents or made the team on hustle and heart. So, what differentiates winning mercenaries from teams that are going through the motions?


A former first round pick in the NFL draft, Eric Curry once pointed that out to me in a winning Jaguars locker room shortly after his arrival.

“Oh, you can tell this team wants to win,” he said when I asked what the difference was between the Jaguars and his other NFL experience.

“That’s not normal?” I asked.

“No, no,” he added, shaking his head. “Most guys are there for the money and you can tell. This team is different.”

Curry was describing the winning culture in the Jaguars locker room in the late ‘90’s. It’s called a lot of different things, playing for each other, rally together, whatever.

Although the league hasn’t allowed reporters in the locker room for two years now citing Covid, an NFL locker room housing a winning team has a vibe like none other. No telling what the Jaguars locker room is like, but the contrast between the two is dramatic.

In a winning locker room there’s chatter, guys walking around, there’s music playing, a ping-pong game happening, with other players watching (and betting) on the outcome.

A losing locker room has an eerie quiet, individual guys working, then dressing and leaving. Their social life is elsewhere, their free time is spent away from that losing environment.

In 2017, the Jaguars locker room was vibrant, energizing, and full of a desire to play well.

For the team.

Where does that come from?

It’s a culture that’s created by players who know how it gets done at the highest level. The Jaguars had Calais Campbell, Marcedes Lewis and Paul Posluszny on that team. None of those three are “rah rah” guys, but because of their professionalism, how they come to work every day ready to compete, they set the tone for everybody else.

“You really have to start over every year,” then Head Coach Doug Marrone said after their Jaguars were beaten in New England in the AFC Championship game. “You have to build it up from the ground again.”

He was exactly right, except he should have added that the foundation was there to continue a “sustainable winner” as so many franchises have in the NFL

And that’s where the Jaguars faltered.

They’ve done it continually in their twenty-seven-year history, winning games or seasons here and there but never building on their success. After 2017, Posluszny retired, Lewis was allowed to leave as a free agent and Campbell was eventually traded to Baltimore.

Culture, gone.

I suppose they were expecting Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue and Myles Jack to pick up the slack. But that’s a totally mis-read of the team. Blame it on General Manager Dave Caldwell if you like, but eventually, Shad and Tony Khan are signing off on these moves and have to be culpable when it comes to losing.

Why do teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New England, and others yearly compete for playoff spots?


If a player takes a step back in his production on the field, he’s still part of the culture there and they keep him to build on it. There’s an expectation level that’s carried from one generation of player to the next. The Jaguars have never done that. They always trade or let a player go a year too early rather than a year too late.

Since Khan bought the team in 2012, he’s the thread that runs through the organization. He’s signing off on the moves they’re making and he hasn’t seemed to grasp the difference between building that winner in pro sports and in business.

In business, changing managers or leadership doesn’t change the culture of your organization. That’s coming from the top, from ownership and their direct involvement. In pro sports, that culture tone might be set by the leadership, but it’s built from the players up. You can’t install a culture on a team, they have to build it.

Which is why the Urban Meyer hire was all wrong.

Meyer’s success at the collegiate level was built on a culture of “me.” It’s about him, it starts with him, and it only ends with him when they’re winning. Which he did a lot in college. And when it wasn’t working, he cut and run.

This Jaguars team coming off a 1-15 season needed a rebuild and had the draft picks and free-agent money to do it. They just needed the right architect to start the job. Khan picked Meyer, based on his success in college and the sales job Meyer did on him. Perhaps blinded by his success, Khan didn’t ask enough questions of the people around Meyer about his failures.

It’s obvious Meyer has a problem with other adults. He’s fine when everybody is subservient to him. When the players are young and impressionable, when the staff is relying on his recommendation for jobs in the future and when the roster has a hundred players, all close in talent and all available at any time.

In the pro game, as Jimmy Johnson noted, it’s a galaxy of difference.

Players are adults, the staff has a wealth of experience in both winning and losing, fans can sense when their team is on the path to winning and the media asks real questions about what you’re doing. Meyer doesn’t want to deal with any of that.

Reports this week of an at-practice argument between Meyer and Marvin Jones are not surprising. Jones is a veteran who has seen winning and losing in his career and didn’t like how Meyer was criticizing the wide receiver corps in public.

I’m sure Meyer was shocked that a player would question him. “I’m smart and you’re stupid,” is his usual thought process. And that he would engage in an argument on the field isn’t how you lead.

The “I’m a winner, you’re losers” meeting with the assistants is right on target with Meyer’s lack of credibility among Jaguars players and staff. He might as well have had a couple of steel balls in his hand, rotating them as he made his accusations. (Some of you might get that. See “The Caine Mutiny.”)

Khan will have a decision to make as the season winds down. If he keeps Meyer, there will be a mass exodus on his staff. He doesn’t have the connections in the NFL to replace coaches with experience in the league, so he’ll have to go to the college coaching ranks. Meyer has no credibility in his own locker room, so the players banding together with Meyer as the common ‘enemy’ if you will, could build the culture they need. And if GM Trent Baalke sticks around, which is doubtful, finding players will still be his challenge. Trevor Lawrence and Josh Allen are his best, legitimate players. He needs four or five more like them to build a winner.

Could be tough sledding for a while.

Urban Meyer - Jaguars

A Galaxy of Difference

About every third time Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer meets with the media, he references how he’s learning the pro game. He admits he is surprised by some things and has hired a staff full of coaches with NFL experience to shepherd him through the process.

While I admire the transparency, never Meyer’s strong suit, just how many things are different between the NFL and the college game? And at what point can it make a difference between wins and losses?

In the first ever Jaguars game at home in 1995 against the Houston Oilers, some of the nuanced differences between the two games were on full display.

“Will the chain gang please report to the field,” the PA announcer said as the teams lined up for the second half kickoff. The guys holding “the sticks” had done so many college games at our stadium it caught them off guard how quickly the NFL halftime goes.

Officially, the mid-game break in the NFL is twelve minutes from the time the last coach or player leaves the field. The game is run by television, and they have a schedule to keep. In college, the halftime is scheduled for fifteen minutes and often last up to twenty. The chain gang was still sitting in the lunchroom while the referee was ready to blow the whistle.

When you look at a drive sheet from an NFL game, you can see where the outcome turns on just a couple of plays. That’s new for Meyer.

“I can’t stand bad plays,” he said after the Jaguars first exhibition loss to the Browns. “It is even magnified now because you just don’t have that many plays.”

Last year NFL teams averaged between sixty and seventy offensive plays per game. The Jaguars averaged just over sixty-two, seventh fewest in the league. College offenses can average more than eighty snaps. Clemson had just over seventy-eight plays on average last year, fifteenth most among college teams.

“I remember looking up and was like, my gosh, we’re in the middle of the second quarter and we’ve had three drives,” Meyer said, admitting to being surprised Saturday night. “In college, you have three drives in the first quarter or four if you are really cooking. I knew that, but now that I did it, it’s on you quick.”

Meyer has spoken often about the roster limitations in the NFL and having to cut nearly half of the players who are in camp to get down to fifty-three on opening day. The Jaguars staff meets regularly about “roster management” and Meyer admitted having that limitation led to the Jaguars cutting Tim Tebow.

“It comes down (to that) because we expect to be very good on special teams,” he said, explaining that special teamers have to both block and tackle, things Tim hadn’t done in a while. “The tight end position is one of those (positions) and tailback. If you can’t contribute on special teams, that’s a tough go.”

It will be different for Meyer when he walks on the field at Houston on September 12th if only for the amount of talent on every roster in the league. For the first time in his coaching career, probably since he left Utah in 2004, Meyer will not have the best team on the field. Certainly, at least in his first year here, every time Meyer steps through the tunnel, the team on the other sideline will be at least as talented as the Jaguars.

In addition, at every college stop, Meyer had eighty or ninety players to choose from on Saturday. On NFL Sunday’s, he’ll have about half that number. And just getting down to a game day roster is full of difficult decisions.

“I’ve been warned by colleagues that you know that’s going to be a tough deal,” he explained. “I just start thinking about these guys careers. We can’t be wrong. It’s not fair to that player.”

More than once Meyer has lamented the size of the roster and with cuts looming in the near future, he admits he’ll be leaning on the coaches on his staff who have been around the league.

“How do you actually practice with fifty-three veteran players?” he asked. “I can handle the college game pretty good. It’s a little different animal here. Those are all things I don’t think college guys know. College guys know how to motivate and run an organization. But for that kind of intricacies (practice plans, roster management), you need to have people around you. And I do.”

While the transition from the college to pro game is littered with coaches who didn’t make it, there are some who have adapted with great success. Tom Coughlin was a winner at Boston College before taking the Jaguars job. Barry Switzer, Jim Harbaugh, Bill Walsh, and Pete Carroll all had success at both levels. Jimmy Johnson might be the most successful coach who’s won championships in college and in the NFL.

“There’s not a world of difference, there’s a galaxy of difference,” Johnson told a Miami newspaper before his induction this year into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “As a college coach, I was a mentor, I was kind of a father figure, I did a tremendous amount of counseling with the players.”

Johnson believes players in the professional game are motivated and dictated by financial pressures, creating a completely different coach/player relationship.

And he agreed, sometimes you just “out-talent’ the other team in college.

“Sometimes I didn’t even need to show up we had so much talent,” he said of his time at the University of Miami. “You’re gonna have to be at your best for maybe three games a year (in college). In professional football, it’s really a different world.”

While college coaches have massive staffs, hold sway over the school at large, and make significantly more money than their bosses, they also must deal with academics, alumni and growing young men.

In the NFL they’re coaching adults. They have to deal with one person: The Owner.

And they have one job: Win.

“He doesn’t need to know what the goals and ambitions of these young men are,” Barry Switzer told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “He doesn’t need to know [a player’s] mother. He doesn’t need to know if he had a father in the home, or if he had any siblings. All those things are irrelevant. That player might be in camp one day and on the waiver wire the next one, and the coach will never speak to him or see him again the rest of his life.

“A college coach sees every player — when you recruit a player, you’ve got him for life. You can wrap that up with one sentence.”
About a month ago, Meyer revealed that he doesn’t expect to change much from his days at Florida and Ohio State.

“I think you win for your coach and the coaches coach for their players,” he said of his philosophy. “I know they get paid now and I’ve heard all about “pro.” I don’t necessarily buy that. I believe in relationships. I believe that these are not number 75 or number 72, they’re people and that’s one of the reasons we’ve had success over the years.”

Will that work in the NFL? Will grown men buy into that when their livelihood is on the line? Will Meyer see it differently as his NFL career progresses?
Barry Switzer has lived through it:

“The job of a professional coach is to win football games with 53 players, and his only goal is the Super Bowl.”

Trevor Lawrence - Jacksonville Jaguars

To Rate A Quarterback

When the Jaguars took Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft last April, he became the twenty-first quarterback taken with the top pick in the last three decades. Two of those twenty-one, Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman, are in the Hall of Fame. Only one other, Eli Manning has won a Super Bowl. Among the eighteen remaining, only two, Cam Newton and Drew Bledsoe ever got their team to the title game.

For some, the jury is still out as Lawrence will become the eighth active quarterback in the league who was a number one pick. Quarterbacks have been the top pick the last four years and six of the last seven. That position is always over-valued in the draft, but clearly the expectations are high. When a team spends the number one pick on that position, they hope it changes the fortunes of their franchise.

“Wins and losses in the long run the first year don’t matter,” said Hall of Fame personnel evaluator Bill Polian. A six-time NFL executive of the year, Polian this week said what you look for in that first year for your franchise quarterback is “progress.”

“Peyton still laughs about his rookie year,” Polian said of the 3-13 finish for the Colts in 1998. “He still holds the record for interceptions by a rookie (28).”

While every throw, every step, every play this week by Lawrence has been dissected and charted by fans and the media, Polian says it’s a broader view that will let you know if your quarterback is going to make it or not.

“Players improve week to week, not really day to day,” the Hall of Famer said of the evaluation process. “At the end of the week ‘is he progressing’ will be the question the coaches are asking each other. That’s important in camp and in the preseason games. It’s not necessarily what the fans see. It’s how he’s managing the game, the command of the huddle, the command of the offense. And then being able to put it into practice when the lights go on.”

Quarterbacks who have played in the league say the same thing: there will be ups and downs for a rookie because it’s a different game. Faster, more complex, and for the first time, you see defensive players better than any you’ve played against.

“Trevor will have great practices and games and bad practices and games,” said Matt Robinson, a ninth-round pick for the New York Jets out of Georgia. “You need to get past the bad ones to have more great ones.”

And how you get past those bad days and on to the good ones is completely different in pro football according to Steve Pisarkiewicz, a first round pick by the Cardinals after a college career at Missouri.

“It’s a different game,” ‘Sark’ said about the transition to the pro game. “You spend the whole preseason doing the installs and learning the playbook. You might practice a play four times in one practice in college. In pro football they don’t have that kind of time, especially not now with the practice restrictions. They’ll practice a play once in the pros and talk about it in the film room. That’s where you have to adjust.”

Getting support from the coaching staff and your teammates is important for a rookie quarterback to develop. Some get it and some don’t. David Carr was so beat up after his rookie year he was never the same.

“That’s so important,” Polian stressed regarding supporting a rookie quarterback. “Late in Peyton’s rookie year we were in Baltimore in a tight game late. We have the ball and Peyton has an audible route to Marvin and he’s open in the end zone. And either Marvin ran the wrong route or Peyton threw the wrong route, but it didn’t work, and we lost. I told them after (Head Coach) Jim Mora talked to them and said, ‘this will never happen again. I’ve seen you guys’ work. Don’t worry, this won’t happen again. And it didn’t.”

Having played at the highest level and competed for championships during his college career at Clemson, Trevor Lawrence comes into the pro game one step ahead of most rookie quarterbacks making the transition to the next level. But there are things he’ll have to learn.

“Your pre-snap reads are everything,” Pisarkiewicz explained. “You don’t know that as a rookie. In college, you don’t see how teams disguise their coverages like they do in the pros. They tighten up the seams for throws in the pro game.”

Nobody doubts Lawrence’s physical skills. Polian says he trusts Clemson Head Coach Dabo Sweeney ‘100%’ when it comes to evaluating his players and “He thinks he’s something,” Polian added.

Robinson thinks it’s a little deeper than that when a rookie quarterback sticks his head into the huddle for the first time when the lights are on. If the other ten guys on the field know he knows more about the offense than they do, they’ll trust him.

“The team will follow how Trevor treats the players around him, how much he’s willing to work, and how much respect he gains from his teammates. Robinson said. “If they’re willing to fight for him, he can be the difference between six wins and nine wins as soon as this season.”

What do you look for if you’re not there in every meeting, every film session and every offensive and quarterback meeting? As they like to say in the NFL, is the arrow pointing up?

“I’ll look for calm mechanics,” Pisarkiewicz said. “Footwork, composure. In the NFL he’ll have to operate from the pocket a lot. I’ll look for his poise in the pocket.”

“There’s no magic right now for Trevor,” Robinson added. “He’s a great player. He’s had great success. At this level, it’s about how he understands the game plan. What they’re doing in the first quarter to set things up for the fourth quarter. What the offensive coordinator is trying to do and how it changes week to week, that’s where the magic will happen.”

All things point to Lawrence being under center in the Jaguars first game against Houston. Other quarterbacks, like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, sat for at least their rookie year. Polian said that’s always beneficial, but in the case of a generational player like Lawrence, similar to Manning, the combination of his physical talent and his emotional makeup almost demands you put him in the game.

“For the first time in your life you’re going to get slings and arrows and you’re going to play against guys who are as good as you,” he explained. “When you’re in college, you’re better than everybody. He has to have played a lot of football and played in a program that has similar concepts to the pro game. I’ll tell you this, It’s not for everybody.”

If Polian was writing a scouting report on Lawrence, he said it would go something like this:

“Big arm, great athlete with great poise. Very football savvy. His football IQ is high. He’s a leader who played at the highest level. There’s nothing that would lead you to believe that he couldn’t succeed.”

And he added, “I don’t know what his emotional IQ is, but I know the Jaguars do. If you’re going to be great in the NFL, you’ve got to make the sacrifices. Unless you’re fully engaged, you’re not going to make it. The league is too tough.”

And this year might not provide the answers. Charting quarterbacks in practice might be a good hobby, but as we’ve seen with previous Jaguars quarterbacks, when the lights go on inside the stadium, that can be something totally different.

At the end of the season is progress being made? Is the arrow pointing up?

“Is your quarterback getting more efficient? Are you seeing growth?” Polian concluded. “You look at the careers of all of the greats, the arrow is up at the end of the first year they play. And that’s when they make the biggest jump, after the first year.”

And some of it you can only see happen when it counts.

” As the quarterback, if you empower those other guys on offense, they’ll get the job done,” Robinson explained. “It only happens when the quarterback is on the field in the heat of the moment.”

Trevor Lawrence

Where Do The Wins Come From?

By the middle of this week, all thirty-two NFL teams will be in training camp. Hope springs eternal in the league this time of year. Fans are pouring over the schedule, looking at the starting lineups, the injuries, the rookies added, and the veterans traded to come up with idea about what their team could be in 2021.

For Jaguars fans, it’s a difficult prediction because of all the new faces wearing teal and black. While most teams turn over about forty percent of their roster every year, the Jaguars number will be much higher than that.

Toss in a new head coach and a new system, and while the Jaguars have better personnel on paper than in the past, who knows what kind of actual team they’ll be come?

A couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas, a friend asked me to put $200 on the “over” for Jaguars wins this season. The oddsmakers have that number at six and a half.

“I’ll take $200 on number 128,” I told the clerk behind the cage in the sportsbook at The Wynn, giving her the line number of the Jaguars over win total on the board.

“One twenty-eight?” she asked as if she’d never heard anybody make that bet before.

“Yes, Jacksonville over,” I said with a laugh, acknowledging her question.

“OK!” she said with a rue smile, shaking her head as she printed the ticket.

At the time you had to bet $105 to win a hundred if you thought the Jaguars would win more than six games. You had to plunk down $140 to win a hundred if you thought the “under” would come through.

“Oh, we’ll win at least seven games,” my friend “Foul Ball” told me without the slightest bit of hyperbole last week. “We could win ten,” he added.

“Where do the wins come from?” I asked, echoing the question my friend “The Ghost” always asks.

“We’ll beat the Texans twice,” he explained. “And split with Indy and the Titans, so that’s four right there. Plus, we play the Bengals and the Lions, and we’ll beat the Dolphins in London so that’s seven. At least.”

All of that is easy to say, and certainly plausible. A 1-15 team improving to seven wins might not be unprecedented, but it certainly would be unusual. When the Browns went 0-16, they drafted Baker Mayfield with the number one pick and went 6-7 in games he started his rookie year. A significant turnaround that gave Browns’ fans hope and proved to be a building block for making Cleveland a contender.

Checking with my reporter colleagues in other NFL towns, they’re not impressed with what has happened in Jacksonville, at least not yet.

“The Cowboys were an established team, they had gone to the playoffs in the ‘90’s,” one scribe told me. “They brought in a super successful college coach in Jimmy Johnson and used the number one pick on Troy Aikman and they went 1-15. They eventually won three Super Bowls and they’re both in the Hall of Fame but it’s an adjustment. It’s a different game.”

“For the first time in a long time Urban Meyer will step on the field and not ‘out-talent’ the opponent,” another scribe noted. “Even with the changes they’ve made this year to the roster, at best in their first year, he’ll have a team that’s equal in talent to the guys on the other sideline. Nobody’s worried about the Jaguars except maybe the Texans. At least not this year.”

In the last decade, teams who finished last in their division one year and won it the next has happened ten times. The Jaguars are one of those teams, going 3-13 in 2016 and flipping that to 10-6 the following year, winning their first AFC South title during a run to the AFC Championship game

Two of the biggest turnarounds have happened in the Jaguars division. The Indianapolis Colts went from 3-13 in Peyton Manning’s rookie year to 13-3 the following season. And the year Manning was hurt, the Colts used their first overall pick on Andrew Luck and went from 2-14 to 11-5 with Luck as their starting quarterback.

Changing the quarterback is one of the common threads for teams with big turnarounds. The Cowboys put Dak Prescott in the lineup when Tony Romo was hurt and went from 4-12 to 13-3 between 2015 and 2016. The Chiefs changed their coach and their quarterback between 2012 and 2013 and went from 2-14 to 11-5 with Andy Reid and Alex Smith.

Winning with a rookie quarterback is the exception and not the rule in the NFL. But it is possible. Prescott is one example. Winning thirteen games in his rookie year ties him with Ben Roethlisberger for the most wins by a rookie quarterback. Luck won eleven times as a rookie. In the last twenty years Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan did the same. Lamar Jackson won ten games as a rookie in 2018 for Baltimore and Kyle Orton won ten for Chicago in 2005. Jaguars’ fans no doubt would take the nine wins Robert Griffin III, Andy Dalton and Chase Daniel all posted in their rookie campaigns.

Where do the wins come from? Looking at the schedule they need to come early in the year for the Jaguars. While Jaguars fans have W’s and L’s next to this season’s opponents, there’s not one fan base, maybe outside of Houston, that looks at the schedule and sees the Jaguars and doesn’t say, “Ok, that’s a win.”

“If you break the season down into quarters, you hope they go 2-2 in the first four games,” the “Ghost” said, dissecting the schedule with his regular analytical way.

“In that second quarter, they probably have an advantage over the Dolphins playing in London and in the third quarter between the Colts, Niners, Falcons and Rams you hope to get two wins there,” he added.

According to Ghost’s calculations, getting to six or seven wins comes down to the final five games against Tennessee, the Texans, Jets, Patriots and Colts.

“Optimistically you come up with seven,” he concluded. “I think they play better from the middle of the year on. What happens when they face some kind of adversity? Urban Meyer hasn’t faced that in the pro game. I’m hoping they’re just competitive and entertaining in every game, that’s all.”

“If I’m going to bet, I’ll bet the under. That way if I’m disappointed by the season at least I win some money. I think it’s the under, but I hate to root that way.”

With the Texans in disarray and rebuilding, the Jaguars are about a three-point favorite in their opener at Houston. That’s different since the Jaguars were not favored in a single game during last year’s 1-15 season. From there, the Jaguars have two home games against Denver and Arizona where they’re already underdogs in both. From a preseason perspective, it’s hard to see where the they would be favored the rest of the season outside of a trip on a Thursday night to Cincinnati, playing the Dolphins in London or perhaps when the Texans visit here.

And experienced handicapper, my friend “Wooly” has the rare ability to be a super fan but never bets with his heart. He has different hopes for the Jaguars in 2021.

“When I looked at the schedule it just says to me 5-12,” he said somewhat disappointedly. “But I think the losses will be more exciting. You have to learn how to win in that league. The only way to do that is to not be out of the game by halftime. If they lose some of the games in the fourth quarter, that’ll give them an idea about how they could win those games.”

Breaking down the schedule, Wooly admitted it got tougher as the year went on, especially having to play the NFC West. All four teams in that division could be playoff contenders.

“You hope they have some last possession games, and they have some excitement in the fourth quarter,” he added. “Even if they lose, it could give them some optimism. I’m hoping their progress outmatches their record.”

And there’s one other thing Wooly would like to see change if the games are competitive. Right now, nobody’s afraid to come to Jacksonville.

“Outside of 2017, they’ve been a dull team for over ten years,” he explained. “If they provide some kind of entertaining football, playing in Jacksonville will again be a tough place to play for visitors to come here and try to win.”

Laviska Shenault

Sports Performance

We’ve heard Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer talk a lot about how important he thinks “sports performance” is to the success of his new team.

What exactly is “sports performance?”

“There has been a lot of research about different tools to improve sports performance,” Dr. Kaitlyn Buss a doctor of physical therapy here in Jacksonville said this week. “From a scientific standpoint, there’s a lot of research about different techniques and tools trainers, athletes and therapists can use to improve sports performance.”

This week the Jaguars announced plans to build a 125,000 square foot football performance center that will bring state of the art training facilities to the Jaguars organization as part of a comprehensive overhaul of their facilities and the stadium.

Meyer has been vocal and to the point that the Jaguars need to upgrade their facilities and to stay competitive, he’s right. College facilities all over the country, including at Florida and Ohio State where he coached, put most comparable NFL facilities to shame.

“If a player decides to go somewhere else to get better, then I’m going to try to hire that person they’re going to, because they deserve the best,” Meyer said, explaining why he wants this new facility to move the Jaguars forward. “I don’t want to have a player tell me he can get better training in Phoenix. That shouldn’t happen, it should happen right here.”

Jaguars Owner Shad Khan said he wants to make Jacksonville a football destination and to “be the envy of other cities in the US and all over the world.” Although there’s not technically recruiting in the NFL, Meyer knows that showing off shiny new training facilities in Gainesville and Columbus enabled him to attract top talent to those schools. He thinks the same will happen on the professional level here.

Along with the Jaguars new football performance center, Baptist and the Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute are planning on a 42,000 square foot sports medicine complex that will include an elite training facility that anybody will be able to be as part of.

That’s not a new idea, but it is one who’s time is probably now right for North Florida. Dr. Joe Czerkawski, a Sports Medicine/Internist was way ahead of the curve when it came to creating a sports performance facility here in town.

Nearly twenty years ago Czerkawski created the High Intensity Training Center off of Phillip Highway, a place with the latest testing and performance equipment as well as a 25,000 square foot field house with sixty yards of artificial turf for training, batting cages and other “toys” to make athletes better.

“Remember the sand pit,” Joe recalled with a laugh this week, evoking memories of some of the hardest workouts you could go through. “That’s the kind of thing we created that was new. There was a lot of hokey science out there and that’s why I got involved. There were programs that showed improvement with some high intensity training without increase risk of injury. We only hired exercise physiologists. We helped athletes with sports specific training, and it worked.”

To open a sports performance facility like that on your own takes the right people and the right money, which Czerkawski had, but it also takes a steady stream of clients to keep the doors open. The HIT Center had contracts with the police and fire departments and was building group fitness and weight loss programs as a baseline revenue stream.

“You can’t stay in business with just three NFL quarterbacks coming in,” he explained. “You have to find the right price point for the elite professional athlete as well as the high school and college athletes and weekend warriors. Without that, you can’t stay in business. You have to find the people who want to be pushed just a little bit more and you have to find the right price point for them as well.”

The key phrase there is ‘people who want to be pushed a little bit.” Working out at a sports performance center isn’t just going a jogging on the treadmill and lifting a few weights. It’s training that will make you better at whatever sport you choose.

“Absolutely you can make a difference,” he explained. The data supports it and my anecdotal experience shows it works. The improvement in foot speed, forty-time, upper body strength. Does it make you a better athlete? Yes. You go into the sports acclimatized better. It’s not just from a power and strength and speed standpoint. It’s neuromuscular training as well. The confidence building, that’s part of it.”

With this kind of sports performance training being a part of professional sports, once pro athletes started taking that level of work into the off-season, some celebrities got involved as well. That’s when the general fitness public wanted to be a part of that.

“Are you training for the Gate River Run or are you getting Trevor Lawrence ready to play in the NFL? Everybody’s getting ready for something,” Matt Serlo, a Master Physical Therapist at PT Solutions in Pone Vedra explained. “It’s just the intensity of level. You need to be in the right hands, so your intensity level is right. You can get specifically trained for whatever competition you’re involved with.”

Serlo also believes that sports specific training for young athletes has helped the sports performance business explode in the last twenty years.

“Part of it is that parents want their kids to be sport specific, so they’re going to sports performance trainers. That’s why it’s good to have trainers who really understand the body and really understand the mechanics. They can break it down and train you biomechanically for the right sport. Records are being broken left and right because of the kind of training they can now provide. “

Dr. Buss sees patients at the Sports Recovery Annex on Hendricks Avenue and agrees, research and science have made athletes better.

“Bringing the kind of training that pros do to the general public is important,” Buss, a varsity cross country and distance track athlete at FSU, explained. “When you’re training that much, you’re breaking your body down, so you’re taking all of these tools to put them all together to provide care for the athletes so they can perform at their best.”

This kind of ‘elite sports training’ has exploded in the last twenty years. Professional athletes have been gathering in different parts of the country to train together in the off season and it’s become a bit more formalized. Dozens of NFL players have been working out at the Pete Bommartio Performance Center in South Florida each off season.

Jaguars’ Laviska Shenault and Shaq Quarterman are among those who honed their fitness there before the NFL combine. Bommarito’s business has flourished so much in the last two decades, he now has four facilities around the country.

You might recognize Jay Glazer from his work as a ‘NFL Insider’ on Fox Sports. But Glazer was an MMA fighter and enthusiast who started training NFL players with his MMA techniques and now has a whole business of elite sports performance training through his ‘Unbreakable’ gym in Los Angeles.

“We will find your breaking point and move it and move it and move it so when you go back to training camp or your recording studio, you say: ‘Man, this isn’t tough. That was tough.’ Glazer said recently in the New York Times.

Jamil Liggin was a track sprinter in college but now is considered a ‘speed specialist’ to over three hundred professional athletes based in California. He started with Marshawn Lynch and Odell Beckham, Jr. and it grew from there.

“When people ask me, ‘How much is a session?” Liggin explained to Men’s Fitness. “I say, ‘I don’t sell training—I give an experience.’ It’s mental training, it’s physical, and we are going to help you reach your goals—whether it be to tone up, lose weight, or get faster, whatever it is.”

And it’s not just about going for a run and lifting weights. Flipping huge tires isn’t going to make you throw a hundred mile an hour fastball.

“There’s a nervous system improvement,” Dr. Czerkawski explained. “It’s not just pushing iron for three months. It’s speed, strength, how your muscle reaction improves. Your body knows how to react to the stressful situations. Your muscle memory improves. It builds that confidence you need to be your best.”

Tim Tebow Jacksonville Jaguars 85

The Week

Usually this column writes itself as the week goes along. When I’m out people want to talk sports and generally everybody wants to talk about the same thing. That’s one of the things I’ve always liked about living here. People like sports and they like to talk about it. And they have an opinion.

I’ve also learned that when people ask me “what do you think about such and such,” they really want to tell me what they think about a certain subject. Which is great.

This week was different though because people were all over the place talking about everything.

While the Tim Tebow story seemed like last week’s news, there were still a lot of fans who wanted to voice their opinion about that.

As expected, most weren’t sure about what he might do but knew enough about Tim and his background to have an opinion. And it always amazes me how pointed people are when it comes to talking about Tebow. He really raises people’s emotions one way or another.

One guy stopped me mid-week on the way to the first tee and told to me to advise the Jaguars not to sign Tebow.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Too much of a distraction,” he said.

When I referred to last week’s column where I wrote that Tim would bring Meyer’s ideas to the locker room and he might take some of the heat off of Trevor Lawrence he wasn’t buying it.

“Nah, he said, “Plus they took the wrong quarterback anyway,” he responded dismissively.

“I guess we’re done here,” I said, joking with his friends.

“He’s an Ohio State guy anyway,” his playing partner said, pointing to the “Buckeye” head cover on his driver.

Not taking Trevor Lawrence would have started some kind of insurrection here in town. Lawrence is a generational player who also seems to have all of the intangibles.

Watching him practice this week it’s obvious he’s deep into the Jaguars playbook already and has the physical talent to compete. Justin Fields might turn out to be a great player as well. He seems to have all of the tools. Even fans of “Runner-up U,” as Steve Spurrier dubbed the Buckeyes, know that. Plus I always think of Fields as a Georgia guy anyway. Kirby Smart just couldn’t see what he had at the time.

There was some mild talk about baseball this week and mostly about the number of no-hitters being thrown. Six so far this year, with the full-season record only being seven.

At least one pitcher, perennial Dodger All-Star and former Jacksonville Sun Clayton Kershaw, doesn’t think much of the lack of hitting. He thinks fans want to see more offense and said Major League Baseball ‘Missed the mark’ with whatever changes they made to the baseball in the off-season trying to cut down on the number of home runs.

“I do know that strikeouts are the same,” he said. “I think I saw some stats for April that it was the worst hitting month in the history of something. No-hitters are cool. I have all the respect in the world for Corey Kluber and Bum and all those guys that have thrown no-hitters. But to have one happen every night, it seems like it’s probably not good for the game. Fans want to see some hits.”

Kershaw is right, and former Major League catcher Rick Wilkins agrees.

“The way the game is played right now, it lends itself to exactly that,” he explained. “Hard-hit balls somewhere isn’t what’s being taught. Everybody’s talking about launch angle and uppercuts. You’ll see a lot of one-run or no-runs scored for a lot of teams.

“That oh-and-two swing is the same as that oh-and-oh swing,” former Jacksonville Suns owner Peter Bragan, Jr. agreed. “Nobody chokes up and just tries to put the ball in play anymore with two strikes. Agents have told them ‘moving runners over doesn’t get you paid, hitting home runs gets you paid.’”

Some people were fired up about the PGA Championship this week, the tournament moving to May and being played at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

But they couldn’t find it on television.

“Where’s the golf,” my friend Keith called to ask.

“It’s on ESPN+,” I told him.

“What’s that?” he asked

“Exactly,” I said with a laugh. “Nobody knows what it is or where it is.”

We’ve been so used to seeing early week or early round coverage on The Golf Channel or regular ESPN that to have to go find it wasn’t a good decision by the PGA of America.

Playing at Kiawah was a good call though. If only because most of the golf fans who wanted to talk about it this week were hoping for some tough conditions.

“I hope it blows like crazy there,” Keith added, having played the Ocean Course in tough conditions. “I hope they shoot a million,” he said.

That seemed to be the consensus and that’s changed a bit. Golf fans used to want to see lots of birdies and great playing but players have gotten so long, thanks to training and equipment, that par fives are nearly a thing of the past.

“I heard (Tony) Finau say he had to hit 4-iron into a couple of par 4’s at Kiawah and he hadn’t done that in a while,” my friend John said derisively. “Waah, Waah, Waah, cry me a river.”

Could it be that players have gotten so good that they’ve lost touch with some fans because the game they’re playing is so different?

“It sure elevates The Players,” my friend Pedro said about the PGA’s move to May. “The Players, The Masters, The PGA, The US Open, The Open all a month apart. Start calling The Players a Major,” he said with a smile.

And as the week came to a close, the conversation came back to Tim Tebow. Tebow signed a contract with the Jaguars and showed up at practice on Thursday wearing number eighty-five.

“He’ll have to show he at least belongs out there,” former Jaguars linebacker Tom McManus said on a podcast he and fellow Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts and I do occasionally. “He can’t go out there and fall on his face. I imagine he’ll do alright, he’s kept himself in good shape.”

“But he’ll have to earn it, and in the locker room too,” Marts added.

When I noted that Tim is familiar with the environment in an NFL locker room, Lonnie said that’ll be a factor.

“He knows how to act and what guys are like,” Marts said. “There’s guys who will say ‘he’s only here because he’s Urban’s guy’ and he’ll hear that. But if he runs and catches and studies and does what he normally does, he’ll earn their respect. And that’s important.”

One thing I saw that nobody mentioned was Travis Etienne’s combination of speed and quickness that he’s shown on the field in rookie camp and OTA’s. He’s the touchdown threat every time he touches the ball the Jaguars have been missing for a while.

If that pans out, now that would be something people would be talking about.

Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville Jaguars

Trevor and Tebow A Jaguars Solution

In a conversation this week, I had a couple of Jaguars fans tell me they thought that Head Coach Urban Meyer was “calculating.”

“That’s a good word,” I told them.

It really does seem to be part of Meyer’s personality, and one of things that, to me, is unappealing.

But that calculating trait can’t be overstated on the plus side when it comes to potentially signing Tim Tebow this week. Meyer said yesterday after the rookie camp practice that the staff would meet today to decided what to do with Tim. Which for the Jaguars, Meyer, Jacksonville and Tim, signing him to a contract would be a good thing.

All of the animus toward Tebow, Meyer and the Jaguars comes from the outside. It should make those of us who live here, and especially those who have covered the NFL laugh out loud.

How often was Bill Parcell’s lauded by the media for bringing ‘his guys’ along to whatever team he was coaching at that point. Dave Meggett, Keith Byars and even Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe were among those added to Parcell’s rosters in his four-team, nineteen-year NFL coaching career. They got his message across in the locker room.

Putting Tim on the team isn’t about what he can contribute starting September 12th, it’s about what he can contribute between now and the opener on September 12th.

It’s been hilarious to hear all of the angst and the so-called ‘experts’ weighing in on Tim’s chances and his potential ability as a tight end. Anybody who’s been around Tebow knows he’ll give it his all and see what happens. He’s had a baseball career, he’s been in broadcasting and he still wants to be a football player. In Jacksonville, in the NFL.

He might make the team, and he might not. But bringing him in is a calculated, correct move.

He and Meyer are tight. I’ve been in enough situations with both of them to see the two of them together after practice, walking down the hall after a big victory, standing behind the wall together waiting to enter a press conference to see it.

It’s not your typical player-coach situation. Tim is committed to Meyer and will do what he’s asked. He’s not taking a roster spot from anybody. His chances to make the team are about the same as any other ninetieth player on any NFL training camp roster. He is in the right situation for this team at this time with this coach.

We all also know that the perception of Tebow outside of the people who know him is very different than who he actually is. His commitment to evangelizing his faith can be a turn-off to some but he’s about as straightforward a person that you’ll ever meet.

I was at the Super Bowl a couple of years ago with Peter King, the well-known NFL writer, when he turned to me and said, “I just spent an hour with Tim Tebow.”

“How’d that go,” I asked.

“Is that real,” Peter said, walking down the hallway, knowing I’ve covered Tim and gotten to know him well over the last twenty years.

“You mean who he is?” I replied.

“Yeah, he’s the most earnest and honest person I’ve ever talked with. Is that an act?” he asked, clearly astonished.

“No, that’s who he is,” I said with a chuckle. “It’s not an act, he’s as transparent as it gets. He talks it, but he also walks it. Nothing hidden there.”

“Amazing,” King said as his voice trailed off.

And don’t think Meyer hasn’t thought about the amount of media glare that can be deflected off his new quarterback by putting Tebow on the roster. If Tim’s not there it’s Trevor Time, all the time.

With Tim there, he’ll take some of the media heat just by being. And the amount of media that will be around the Jaguars this summer will be nothing new for Tebow. That’s been his life since leaving high school. Trevor has dealt with a lot of that already, but if he needs any advice on that front, he should look no further than his own locker room to the guy wearing the number one less than his.

Occasionally you’ll hear a coach talk about his own team in terms of the “top” or the “bottom” of the roster. Players are ranked within their own team according to their contributions, usually on the field.

If the Jaguars have ninety players on their roster when training camp opens, it might be fair to say that Trevor Lawrence is at the top of the roster, and perhaps Tim Tebow, about to turn thirty-four years old and five years removed from the league, is at the bottom.

If Tim is the ninetieth player on the roster, what’s expected of somebody who fills that spot? There have been fourth or fifth-string tight ends who have been the ninetieth player on the roster before. They’ll get reps, play scout team and get a chance to show what they can do. Sometimes they make it. Keenan McCardell might have been the ninetieth player on the Washington roster when they drafted him in the twelfth round in 1991 out of UNLV. McCardell went on to become a starter, a Pro Bowl player and won a Super Bowl ring in his seventeen-year career.

Tebow will do all of the things that the ninetieth player on the roster is supposed to do, hustle, fill-in, get a few reps and show what he can do.

But he’ll check a lot of boxes that no other 90th player on any team will. Tebow is on the Jaguars because of his previous relationship with Head Coach Urban Meyer. That’s not new nor is it news. Happens all the time. Especially in the NFL.

Meyer is the coach in Jacksonville and Tim is from here. It’s the only confluence of events that could put Tebow back in the NFL nearing his 34th birthday. Don’t expect Tim to have those locker room exhortations you’ve seen matriculating around the internet from his college days. He’s had success, he’s had failures, he’s gotten married, and he knows the kind of environment that exists in an NFL locker room.

He’ll go about his business, but most importantly, he knows what Urban Meyer expects from the players on his football team. He’s lived it and just by being there and doing, the other players trying to make this team will take their cues on how to get it done.

Does Meyer like it when you show up a half-hour early or does he think that’s patronizing? Does he want two extra reps or four? Tebow has all of the answers to those questions just by being part of the grind.

There were a full group of rookies at their first minicamp as Jaguars yesterday. I’m sure all of them were fast, motivated and trying to shine. But nobody can tell you much about most of them.

They can tell you how Trevor Lawrence walked onto the field, how he put his helmet on, how he took it off, how he drank water and oh yes, they can tell you how he threw the football from the quarterback position.

The answer to that is very well.

Here’s another place I agree with Urban Meyer: You can watch all the tape you want but there’s nothing like standing near a quarterback to see and hear how the ball comes out of his hand.

There’s a singing sound that comes off the ball when somebody can really “spin it” in the modern-day vernacular. You don’t hear that very often and very rarely have we heard that at Jaguars practice.

No more.

“It was really good”, my colleague and friend Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com said with a laugh. “He was limited in his throws (Thirty to forty according to Meyer) but when the ball comes out of his hand, it’s crisp.”

“He’s as good as advertised, on target and on the money,” my trusted colleague here at the Times Union, John Reid said after practice.

Then John gave the assessment of seeing thousands of footballs thrown in practice that only comes from an experienced reporter’s career.

“It comes out spinning and it’s accurate,” John said. “The ball is there when the receiver makes his cut. He doesn’t have to wait on it and it hits him right in the numbers.”

“Oh yeah,” DiRocco agreed. “It’s very different than the quarterback stuff we’ve seen here in the last couple of years. Spinning, crisp, rollouts, drop-backs, didn’t matter.”

In other words, that thing ‘sings’ coming out of his hand. And there was one more thing both Mike and John wanted to relate:

“He looks the part,” Mike said alluding to the whole package of quarterback and first pick overall. “We’ve seen something different before, this was something totally different.”

“He’s got that persona,” John added. “He went from one drill to the next with no problem. He’s the tallest guy out there, he looks big time. He has the intangibles. He’s cool and composed, like he’s done this before. He has the presence of a leader.”

Trevor Lawrence Jaguars

Jaguars Draft Questions

There was that moment when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “With the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Clemson,” when it felt surreal.

Like, “Wait, the Jaguars are relevant again.”

After the disappointment and drudgery of last year, and for most of the last decade, the whole mood swung 180 degrees in the other direction. The worst record in the league gave the Jaguars the biggest reward: the first pick in the draft. And not just any first pick. A generational player of whom Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke says, “There are no negatives.”

Lawrence, in every instance in front of the media since becoming the number one pick, has said things and done things that make you believe he is the kind of player, and person who can reshape a franchise.

“I think it’s just important to be normal,” he said when asked about becoming part of the community. “One way to do that is plugging into the community, investing in the community and caring about the people around you,”

That’s not the typical answer from as twenty-one-year-old, no matter how much coaching and experience he’s had in the limelight.

And on his football expectations? Can he quickly adapt the NFL and be a starter week one?

“I expect to perform well and to adjust quickly and be ready to go, and that’s something I expect a lot out of myself. it’s just about earning – I think the biggest thing is – the respect and trust of your teammates,” Lawrence said without hesitation.

“Without that it doesn’t really matter what you expect going in, you’ve got to earn that first. I’m just going to take it step by step, but like I said I’m going to do everything in my power to prepare, to be the best I can be and put us in the best chance to win.”

From there, the Jaguas settled into reshaping their team. Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer said, “We have to get this right,” and agreed that at a minimum, their top four picks have to be impact players right away. Starters who make a difference.

Making Travis Etienne, Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson their second pick of the first round gives the Jaguars a look in the backfield they haven’t had in a while. They addressed some of their coverage issues taking Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell with their first pick of the second round. And their fourth pick was a bit of a head scratcher, considering Meyer’s praise of the current players on the offensive line over the last four months.

“Our offensive line is pretty good. It’s not a blow-up offensive line,” Meyer said at Lawrence’s pro day. “You know, we got some other areas we got to fix. There’s some good pieces there but we’re gonna make it even better.”

The Jaguars went so far as to put the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson, giving him a ten-fold raise in the process.

But with the fourth pick, an ‘impact’ player according to Meyer, they took Stanford offensive lineman Walker Little, who is anything but. At 6’7” 333 lbs., Little didn’t play in 2020. He said the Jaguars have talked to him about both left and right tackle but admitted “I’m just an offensive lineman prospect for them.”

He’ll compete for a backup spot on the offensive line with the thought he’ll eventually be a starter.

Little and their first pick in the third round, defensive back Andre Cisco, haven’t played football at all in the last year because of injury. That’s been part of Trent Baalke’s history as a General Manager.

“It’s risk, reward,” he said Friday night.

Now the reality sets in. Projections mean nothing. Forty speed, vertical jump, bench press, none of those mean a thing. You might be looking for athletes on paper, but on the field, you’re looking for football players.

It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from a movie in the early ‘70’s “The Candidate.” Robert Redford plays an idealistic, first time politician who is put up for election as fodder against an incumbent. It’s a great foreshadowing of what political campaigning has become in the television, media age. (“Wag The Dog’” is another.) The catch is, he’s supposed to lose. On Election Day candidate Redford pulls out a surprising victory. At the post-election celebration, he spots his campaign manager across the room and mouths “Now what?”

And that’s the question for the Jaguars: Now what?

Things like this never happen to this franchise. It started with them losing a coin toss to Carolina to get the first pick of their first draft in 1995. They’d have taken Tony Boselli no matter, but good fortune has never smiled on the franchise. They’ve always been one player, one play or one draft pick away from what they really want to be.

And save for a one-off year in 2017, they’ve been irrelevant for over a decade.

Not anymore.

The selection of Lawrence instantly puts the national spotlight on the Jaguars. But it’s the rest of the team makeover that will determine what they do on the field. They have their quarterback; they spent some money restocking in free agency and looked to the not-too-distant future with their draft picks.

But now what?

Every NFL team has a forty percent turnover each year. That means twenty of the fifty-three players on the game day roster will be different.

For the Jaguars, that number will be much higher.

“Jacksonville will be the most different looking team in the NFL,” long time NFL writer Peter King said before the draft. “Not just because they’re taking Trevor Lawrence, but they have a new coach who wants to impact every part of the team. Who are they keeping? At linebacker, they’ll say, ‘Myles Jack, you’re staying. Everybody else we’ll see when the season starts.”

That seems to be what the coaching staff is bringing across the board: competition at every position.

Will they be better? Las Vegas has put the over/under win total at six. That’s a whole lot better than one for sure, but you have to think with all of the changes they’ve made, they’re betting the over right away. Meyer nearly scoffed at the idea of a “rebuild plan” when asked about what kind of patience he thinks he’ll have with a new team.

“Well, the way I’ve always looked at everything is—at the moment whoever gives us the best chance to win is going to be playing,” he said. “And that’s every position at that moment who gives us the best chance to win and that there is an incredible amount of urgency. I told our players that, all due respect, the four-, five-, six-year plans, that’s not that plan at all. The plan is to try to do the very best to win. Every time we line up, we try to win.”

With the draft over it seems like an inordinate amount of work to add under a dozen unproven players. But all of that research doesn’t go to waste.

“Sometimes people say we made all those reports, and we only took a few players,” one personnel director noted. “My response always is, ‘We just made the first report for our pro personnel department on the other guys. They go right to that database, so you have it in September when they get cut or two Septembers from now.’

When they tell players every move they make on or off the field around an NFL team counts, they mean it. They’re not just auditioning for one team but for all thirty-two at the same time. And not just for today. That information is stored and leaned on for years to come.

That’s why Nick Saban’s “And Or But,” description is so accurate.

“I tell players they can help themselves in a lot of ways,” the current Alabama and former NFL Head Coach said this week. “When a team puts together a report on a player on height, weight, speed, hands, whatever, there can be an ‘and’ that includes ‘he’s a good teammate, great character. Or there can be a ‘but’ ‘he had a fight in the locker room, has a drug charge.’ Do you want to be an ‘and’ or a ‘but?”’

There’s one more situation where the scouts stick with the current class before moving on to next year. They’ll start looking at 2022 in earnest around Memorial Day but when this 2021 class takes the field, they have a rooting interest.

For the Jaguars, that’s scheduled for May 17th when the rookies will be on the field together for the first time in their own rookie mini-camp.
“You just don’t want to go out at rookie camp and see a guy you really fought for struggle,” one scout explained. “You want him to get off to a good start,”

After a lot of ‘no fun’ years following the Jaguars, don’t we all.

NFL Draft 2021

NFL Draft Secrets

There’s a room down at the stadium that’s highly guarded. It doesn’t contain cash or tickets or merchandise. No, it holds something much more important: Information.
It’s the room that holds the Jaguars draft board. A compilation of the past four years or more of scouting, evaluating, interviewing, discussing, arguing and just plain wondering about the college players eligible in this week’s NFL Draft.

Every team has a secret room. We get a little snippet of video of that room every year after the first round selection is made. A bunch of hand shaking and back slapping, congratulating each other or getting “their guy.”

Access to that room is coveted, everybody wants to be in there. So, despite the number of scouts, personnel people, coaches and administrators employed by each team looking for players from all corners of the earth, the league will limit the number in that room this year to just twenty-four.

There are the privileged few on each team that get to know what names are on that board, which names have been eliminated and who the most coveted player is among the nine-hundred or so the team has looked at leading up to that year’s draft.

And don’t think the secretive nature is overblown. There’s a security guard, ID badges to gain access and even one of those keypads that scrambles the numbers under a hood where you enter the ‘secret code’ to gain entry.

When Shad Khan bought the team to start the 2012 season, he found out how serious they were about keeping their draft board, and even their first pick a secret. Even from the owner.
“I was a new owner, so I didn’t know how it worked,” he explained. “I was curious about the process and who we were considering with the first pick. When I went to the guys I had in charge they were very ‘close to the vest’ even with me. They marched me down to a secure room, locked the door, looked around and opened a notebook for a few seconds to show me a name. I figured I was the owner and I wanted it to be different than that.”

For Khan, that seemed more like paranoia than closely guarded information, so he changed out the decision-makers on the Jaguars after his first year of ownership.

That 2012 class is considered one of the worst in the Jaguars history, headed by Wide Receiver Justin Blackmon with the fifth pick overall. A supremely talented player, Blackmon doubled the Jaguars offensive production when he was on the field, but his off-field issues with marijuana use kept him out of the lineup and eventually and out of the league in about a year and a half.

And as much time, energy, miles traveled, millions of hotel and airline points amassed crisscrossing the country, the draft process is still an inexact science.

There are whiffs and there are surprises on both ends of the spectrum. The Jaguars have had both.

Just last year, they signed running back James Robinson as an undrafted free agent. He excelled in training camp so much it allowed them to move past Leonard Fournette and install Robinson as the starter. In fourteen games he amassed the most yards from scrimmage in NFL history by an undrafted rookie.

How did everybody miss him? Robinson was an All-American on some lists, was the dominant running back in his conference and was well known. Yet, every team over seven rounds passed.

Different boards have different values on players. What their needs are, how a player might fit into their system. It’s all a jigsaw puzzle that each team fills in their own way, with their own process.

Even the Jaguars didn’t have Robinson as a draft pick, and they were only one of two teams to contact and sign him the minute the draft ended.
“Sometimes you’re not right until a few years out and sometimes you’re not right until the guy goes somewhere else because they fit him better or he gets healthier or he just develops,” said one team’s scouting director.

That was the case for the Jaguars in their initial draft. A fourth round pick they made in 1995 didn’t pay off until three years later.

When the Jaguars arrived for the second draft day in 1995, there was one glaring name left on their board from the day before. That year the league conducted rounds one through three on day one. As an expansion team, the Jaguars had two picks per round. They took Tony Boselli with their first overall pick and followed that up in the first round with James Stewart. Brian Demarco and Bryan Schwartz were taken in the second round and Chris Hudson in the third.

“When we walked into the draft room on the second day, there was one name left from day one that hadn’t been picked,” said then Head Coach and General Manager Tom Coughlin. (Although I’m sure Coughlin slept in his office the night before.)

“We got together, and I said, ‘We have this guy graded so much higher than the fourth round, we have to take him,” Coughlin added.

And with that discussion short and sweet, the Jaguars selected Quarterback Rob Johnson from Southern Cal with the first pick of the fourth round, ninety-ninth overall. Considered a well-regarded backup to Mark Brunell, Johnson only played eight games for the Jaguars, including five in 1997 with one start.

But it was that one start, in the opener against Baltimore, where Johnson shined. He returned to the game in the 3rd quarter after a badly sprained ankle knocked him out of the lineup, and led the Jaguars to victory.

On that one game, Johnson’s value skyrocketed, and he was traded to Buffalo the next February for the Bill’s first round pick, ninth overall in 1998. And that pick turned into Fred Taylor.

So, while having some value while he was here, Johnson’s value jumped up exponentially, three years later, when the Jaguars were able to draft one of their best players ever using the pick they acquired for Johnson.

The idea of players rising or falling on a draft board late is a media invention. Teams will have between 125 and 150 names on their draft board and as players are selected those names come down. A player’s evaluation doesn’t jump from one round to another at that point. The mantra: Trust the board.

“I think when you look at the amount of time we’ve spent organizationally from a scouting perspective, the personnel staff, the coaching staff, the amount of time we’ve spent together to build this board, I think it becomes very easy, no different than coaching,” Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke said this week. “On Sundays, it’s easy to call plays when the preparation’s right. I think the same thing with the draft. I think we’re going to be very prepared, feel very good about where we’re at, so trusting that board, that’s how you make a living. You have to trust it. When you don’t trust it, that’s when you make mistakes.”

“Let the board talk to you,” is the phrase legendary team builder Bill Polian said he adopted during his Hall of Fame career.

“The board you put up in December and after the bowl games in January is the most accurate board,” he added. “And it’s even much more accurate four years later. Why? Because the scouts are grading them as football players. Absent the hype, the combine, the nonsense that flies around in the media. That’s the cleanest board.”

The movie “Draft Day” in 2014 depicted a lot of subterfuge and back-room dealing as the picks came up. Polian says nothing could be further from the truth.

“It’s not that crazy pacing up and down, stock trading atmosphere,” he explained. “Once you close the board, which was sometime last week, let the board speak to you, that’s why you did all this work. Even how the movie depicted the GM’s talking to each other. It’s 180 degrees the other way, almost every conversation ends with, ‘Good luck, have a good day.”

“The only thing accurate about that movie is you do eat a lot of really bad food on draft week,” he added with a laugh.

Completely new to the process, Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer admits it’s been a steep, three-moth learning curve, but he’ll have his own way of figuring out how it works.

“I’m a control nut and an organizational nut, so I want to make sure that—I want to know where people are sitting, I want to know what camera, what we’re going to be looking at on the screens,” he said of what will give him a comfort level leading up to the actual draft day process. “At this point, we’ve had a couple dry runs, but we’re going to go in great detail early next week about exactly how it takes place. So, I’ll feel much better after that.”

Baalke calls the process on draft day, “fluid,” knowing things can change in an instant.

“If we’re in a situation at 25 (the Jaguars second pick in the first round) where the board says let’s trade back two or three spots, and that becomes available, that’s an option, you pursue it,” he said.”

Every team knows they’ll have to adjust to surprises and disappointments as the draft unfolds. The Jaguars had that happen in 2019 when Josh Allen was still on the board when they had the seventh pick in the first round. Then General Manager Dave Caldwell said in no scenario they had run was Allen still available at seven, so they took him immediately.

“You try to kind of get a feel for how the board is going to go around the league, kind of work through all the scenarios with potential trades,” Broncos president of football operations John Elway told. ESPN’s Jeff Legwold. “Just make sure you’re ready to adjust and move and feel good as an organization about your evaluations. And in the back of your mind, you kind of know there is no predicting what everybody is going to do — the curveball is coming.”

And despite all of the work, sometimes teams have their own ideas of what else might help.

“Ron Wolf would always let me put something on the draft board that was blessed by the pope,” said Bryan Broaddus, who worked in the scouting departments of three different teams during his career. It was an unusual draft board addition the Hall of Fame executive allowed.

“The item was something small enough it could fit in a plastic bag, but it had a papal blessing. “After the first year we did it, it was just kind of accepted after that. You’ll take all the help you can get, and it went on the top of the board.”

“Never touch the card,” Polian said when I asked if there was anything unusual about his draft rooms. “That was our superstition. When it’s up on the board, don’t touch it. If you within seven or eight picks of a guy you like, don’t mention the guy’s name and don’t ever touch the card!”

Lonnie Marts

Lonnie Marts Leveling the Playing Field

Sometimes it’s funny how life takes you in the direction you’re supposed to go. Former Jaguars Linebacker Lonnie Marts is a good example of that. In the twenty plus year’s Lonnie and I have been friends we’ve had a running joke about his role as a football player.

“When that hole at the line of scrimmage opened up, I always knew you’d be standing in that hole,” I’d say to him.

“Yep, that was my job,” he’d answer with a laugh.

As we all know, not everybody would be willing to ‘stand in that hole’ but Lonnie was that guy as a professional football player and now is filling another gap as a dad, husband, mentor, coach and a member of the community.

Last year Marts and his friend James Coleman started the Level the Playing Field Leadership Academy. For Marts, it’s a chance to again fill a gap in the line. This time it’s a gap he sees in Black community when it comes to nurturing, teaching and growing boys into men.

“Why boys? I’m always asked,” Marts said by way of explanation. “Because our girls need some upstanding men.”

Level the Playing Field’s goal is to take boys in the Black community, ten to thirteen years old, particularly athletes, and stay with them and support them until they’re twenty-one. And it’s not just an ‘after-school’ program. Marts says it’ll be “24-7.”

“We know we’re going to have times we need to check on the boys that are out of the normally expected times,” Lonnie explained. “We’re working on their mental wellness. There’s something that happened in their lives that left them in their situation. You can’t teach or train a child when they’re hungry or tired. So, we have to work on their situation full-time.”

There are a couple of other organizations who are involved in a similar mission. Mal Washington’s foundation celebrated it’s twenty fifth year in existence in 2021. Martz has leaned heavily on Mal’s experience with his youth foundation as well as the “Son of a Saint” organization in his hometown of New Orleans.

“Mal is one of the first people I called. Sonny Lee started Son of a Saint and I talk with him all the time,” Lonnie said. “They’re recognized as one of the reasons crime is down in New Orleans. They’re only in existence for ten years but they’ve had a great impact in the city. They’re impacting these boys’ lives.”

Marts wants to start with just fifteen boys here in Jacksonville and grow from there. Lonnie was raised by his mother in a single parent household in New Orleans, played college football in his hometown at Tulane and played in Kansas City, Tampa, Tennessee and Jacksonville as a professional. He chose to stay here to have an impact.

“We missed the explosion of those other cities when we left,” he said of the travels he and his wife Gionne and their five children have had. “We’re not in the carousel of looking for a team (to play for) and we found everything here. My wife likes everything about being here. It’s a sports town and we decided to try and be a part of the boom here and grow with the city.”

As friends and co-workers, Lonnie and I have had long discussions about our backgrounds and our commitment to our careers. Lonnie said he was kind of shocked when his NFL career came to an end and three of his kids had grown up without him around.

“I wanted to be the ‘Dad in the house’ for my two youngest kids. I’m getting time back with my oldest three right now.”

Marts filled a gap in the line for Harvest Community School when they wanted to start a football program. He became the Head Coach and the Athletic Director, learning plenty about himself in the process. He recognized the platform he had as a former NFL player and the impact he was having on his students as players and as young men.

“I realized as a head coach and in coaching meetings what I was doing for young men was leading them to be better,” he explained. “Just because you were good at doing it doesn’t mean you’re good at teaching it. That’s what I’m working on right now: To learn to take some of the talents I saw I had and apply them to these young men.”

Marts’ head coaches in the NFL included Marty Shottenheimer, Sam Wyche and Tony Dungy. Bill Cowher was his defensive coordinator with the Chiefs. Lonnie credits all of their commitments to their communities as his influence to do the same here.

“They were adamant about being part of the community,” he explained. “With a platform, you have a responsibility.”

Shottenheimer, Cowher and Dungy also had an influence on Marts’ coaching style. He never was a yeller and a screamer.

“I wouldn’t have taken up coaching if I hadn’t been coached by Coach Dungy,” Lonnie said. “I see a lot of cursing and screaming in the high school game and I disagree with that. Coach Dungy kept his cool in the most difficult situations. He’s the only reason I got into coaching. Marty and Bill were also like that. I didn’t yell and scream during games, that doesn’t do anything to build young men.”

Building young men is something Lonnie now considers a calling.

“Too many men and especially Black men are not ‘in place.’” Marts explained. “If they were, daughters would have the chance to live better lives. Boys need to see what it’s like to be in a married home, part of a family. What I’m trying to give them is what my Mom gave me. I want to open their vision to see “I don’t have to walk that path.”

Marts also has a different idea about why and how young Black men are finding the wrong path.

“If you’ve never been taught that skill, you get frustrated,” he explained. “I think that’s where the young male of color is, ‘I can see that, but I don’t know how to do that.’ We’re trying to teach boys how to grow and open up a wide world to them. It’s not only football that can give them a chance to get out of their situation. There are other things they can learn and do.”

“Young African American guys need to learn how to set up others for success,” he continued. “Not just themselves. It’s not just about Instagram followers and the cars and the houses and the jewelry.”

“That’s why we’re starting with fifteen boys of color, but we hope to open it up to anybody in single parent homes. It’s overwhelming how many on our Northside are in poverty. They’re thinking no one cares and they don’t have any hope. They need somebody who they know who cares and wants to help. They need to know they have another choice. Giving them the knowledge of another path gives them just that.”

Marts is working with Big Brothers, Big Sisters looking for mentors. He’s trying to get the word out on the Northside about potential Academy members. Delores and Wayne Weaver have provided a matching gift as seed money to get the Academy off the ground. He’s talking to the City about using a community center on the Northside to get their ‘kids’ together.

“How can we stop this?” Marts concluded. “How can we keep these young boys from getting locked into something that’s not good for them. We’re trying to teach the boys to be a value and not a burden to the city and their community.”

This week he’s hosting a virtual event called “The Huddle” to raise awareness, and hopefully funds. Dungy and Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks will be among the participants Thursday night at 7PM. If you’d like more information, or would just like to help, start at their website, leveltheplayingfieldla.org or find them on Facebook or Instagram.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars Should Avoid The Past

A couple of years ago I was sitting in the press box during a Jaguars game next to my good friend and colleague Dan Hicken. After a particularly goofy play, you know kind where the Jaguars get a turnover and immediately throw an interception that goes the other way for six? Dan turned to me and said, “Is this team cursed?”

We laughed and I told him the story of the phone calls and emails I received when the Jaguars original logo came out in 1994. “Don’t they know the blue tongue shows a cursed animal!” the writers exclaimed. I passed that along to Wayne Weaver at the time, knowing the “blue tongue” was his wife Delores’ idea. Wayne laughed it off, as did the current Jaguars ownership when they redesigned the Jaguars head. Dan and I had a laugh, then stopped with raised eyebrows and said, “Really?”

Google “Blue Tongue Curse” and this phrase pops up: “According to legend, animals that have blue tongues are a curse that was brought down by the gods.”

So, in some cultures, the blue tongue is a thing.

As we watch the Super Bowl today, we’ll suffer through the numerous former Jaguars who have populated the Bucs and the Chiefs rosters, including THREE former Jaguars starting quarterbacks.

It would be bad enough that Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert, the two backup quarterbacks in the game, are former starters here, but even Byron Leftwich plays a significant role in Super Bowl LV as the Bucs Offensive Coordinator. The Chiefs also have Patrick Omameh on their practice squad, as well as Dustin Colquitt who spent a minute here in December. In addition to Leftwich, the Bucs are using Leonard Fournette in a two-man backfield in a much more effective role than his three years here.

This is a familiar song for Jaguars fans. “Everybody who leaves here gets a Super Bowl ring,” is a common refrain. Because it’s true. If not a spot in the big game, former Jaguars players litter the rosters of playoff teams year after year.

Under different ownership, different personnel decision makers and coaches, the Jaguars have been on the wrong side of players’ decisions at nearly every turn in their history.

After buying a car specifically with a full lay-down front seat so he could sleep there in the parking lot trying to make the Jaguars, Allen Lazard was cut, signed with the Packers and is now one of Aaron Rodgers favorite targets. Marcedes Lewis is in his third year with the Pack, the Jaguars letting him go in free agency.

When it comes to players, and decisions about who to keep, who to let become a free agent and whom to draft, it’s not hard to see the path the Jaguars took to the bottom of the league and the top of the draft.

Go all the way back to the 2006 draft and there aren’t many players picked that year even still playing in the league, but the Jaguars first round pick is still a productive player. Problem is that Marcedes is still playing. With the Packers. Inexcusable to let him become a free agent at a time they desperately needed him in the locker room.

Jump ahead to the 2010 draft and there are about half of the players picked in the first round now finishing ten years in the league. Including the Jaguars first pick, Tyson Alulu. But he’s been in Pittsburgh starting nearly every game for the Steelers for the last four years. Could it have been that expensive to keep him around? It wasn’t like he was a hotly sought-after free agent.

It’s difficult to play the “But they could have had that guy” game when the context of the team isn’t part of the discussion.

But it’s hard not to play that game though in the 2011 draft. Blaine Gabbert was the best player in the draft according to Jack Del Rio at the time and while Gabbert is still in the league, he proved not to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. And the player taken right after him was J.J. Watt. At least the Jaguars didn’t take Christian Ponder in the first round. He was taken right after Watt by the Vikings and only lasted 38 games in the league.

In 2012 the Jaguars famously took Justin Blackmon in Shad Khan’s first draft as an owner. Supremely talented, Blackmon had problems beyond football and was out of the league after 20 games. Interestingly, none of the first six wide receivers taken that year, including four taken in the first round, are still in the league.

There were five tackles taken in the first round in 2013. Four are still playing and starting in the NFL. Only the Jaguars second overall pick Luke Joeckel isn’t playing football right now. Eric Williams was the first pick and while he’s injured and won’t play in the Super Bowl, he’s been a mainstay for the Chiefs up front.

There’s plenty to argue about the when it comes to the decisions made in the draft room in 2014. Dave Caldwell thought they could get either Blake Bortles and Marqise Lee or Jimmy Garaoppolo and Allen Robinson. Luckily Johnny Manziel wasn’t on their radar. They decided on Bortles over Garaoppolo and ended up getting Robinson late in the second round. He didn’t want to be a receiver on a Blake Bortles quarterbacked team, so he left as a free agent a few years later and is a star for the Bears. Teddy Bridgewater is still playing, another quarterback taken in the first round.

In 2015 they missed on Dante Fowler and his character issues. In 2016 they got the player they wanted in Jalen Ramsey but didn’t realize what a goofball he was.

The 2017 draft should irk all Jaguars fans. Tom Coughlin selected Leonard Fournette, looking for a back to carry the load. That’s fine, take a running back, but it looked like Coughlin was building a team to win twenty years ago instead of in today’s pass-happy NFL. Christian McCaffrey was the most versatile running back in that draft. And I won’t mention that Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were taken tenth and twelfth in the first round. Yes, the Jaguars were a play away from the Super Bowl that year but in this exercise, we can look at the bigger picture.

That was also the year they let Lewis go as a free-agent and Paul Posluszny retired. They never have recovered from the leadership void they left in the locker room. Calais Campbell filled that for a bit, but it’s tough to do by yourself. Six of the eleven defensive starters from the 2017 defense are still starting in the league.


I’m still perplexed by Coughlin’s pick of Taven Bryan in the first round of the 2018 draft. I suppose he was building across the defensive line of scrimmage hoping to have a cadre of linemen in a rotation. But Lamar Jackson was taken three picks later.

Hard to say what will come of the personnel the Jaguars acquired in last year’s draft. C.J. Henderson only played eight games before getting hurt and K’Lavon Chaisson did show promise at the end of this season. Yannick Ngakoue is on his second team after getting bad advice and forcing his way out of Jacksonville. And not figuring out how to keep Calais Campbell showed the decision-makers didn’t have a good handle on what was going on in the locker room. It’s the unpardonable decision that eventually cost Caldwell his job.

In fact, you throw all of those decisions at one team in just ten years, it’s no wonder they’re 1-15 and will pick first in this year’s draft.

Here’s to hoping that the new brain trust of Trent Baalke and Urban Meyer somehow leaps away from the “blue tongue” curse and puts the Jaguars on a new path.

Don’t over think it. It was good to hear Baalke say he was interested in taking the best player available on the board in the draft. Take Trevor Lawrence and move on. Use some of that $76 million under the cap and invest in some of the premium positions on the offensive line, at linebacker and safety.

Watch the Super Bowl today and enjoy it. Look at what the Bucs and Chiefs did with a new coach and a new quarterback to move from pretenders to contenders. And think of what can be in short time.

Author’s Note:

The sports and broadcasting worlds lost an icon this week and I lost a close and true friend as tennis legend Tony Trabert died at his home in Ponte Vedra on Wednesday. He was ninety years old. A NCAA Tennis Champion who also started on the University of Cincinnati basketball team, “Trabes,” as he was known to his generational friends, went on to win ten Major Championships including three legs of the Grand Slam, the French, Wimbledon and US titles in 1955. His only loss was to Ken Rosewall in the semi’s in Australia after helping the US team bring home the Davis Cup. That year Tony had one of the all-time great yeas in tennis, winning 106 matches, including 38-straight and taking 10 straight titles. Trabert played on five Davis Cup teams and went on to Captain the squad for five years. A Hall of Famer himself, he served as the President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and his broadcasting career as the lead tennis analyst here in the US and in Australia spanned over three decades.

In the high-velocity worlds of sports and broadcasting it’s hard to find a mentor but Tony was mine for the second half of my career as a genuine and trusted friend. He made me better at my job but more importantly taught me to be a better person. His level of grace was unmatched. Tony had a kind soul, a quick wit, an easy smile, a generous spirit and a look-you-in-the-eye firm handshake. I was lucky to write about Tony in this column a few times, a small look into his life and legacy, on and off the court.

Trabert called North Florida home for nearly forty years, meeting his wife Vicky while broadcasting at The Players Championship on March 20, 1982. “You know, our zip code, 32082,” he often joked.

Like anybody who knew him, I will miss him terribly.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame 2021 Boselli

This week the Pro Football Hall of Fame will reveal the Class of 2021. They’re hoping to keep it a secret until the NFL Honors show on Saturday night before the Super Bowl but with Hall President David Baker knocking on doors this week giving those selected the good news and making phone calls to those who aren’t in this year’s class, word might leak out.

Ten days ago, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee met on a Zoom call to discuss and vote on this year’s class. This was my twenty-eight year on the committee representing Jacksonville, and the first time we’ve ever met virtually. Usually it’s a day-long meeting the Saturday before the Super Bowl in the host city. This year the call lasted eight hours and forty-seven minutes.

I don’t know who’s in this year’s class as the PFHOF changed the voting procedure to keep the final five selected a secret. By now you’re probably familiar with how it goes.

From the thousands of players who put on an NFL uniform, the hundred or so who are eligible or nominated for the Hall in any given year are culled down in a Selection Committee vote by mail to twenty-five semi-finalists. Those twenty-five are cut again, by vote, to fifteen finalists. The finalists make “the room” where, in a live meeting, the Selection Committee discusses the merits of their career. There’s then a vote to ten, and then down to five. The final five then have to survive an up or down vote again by the full committee. Those receiving eighty percent ‘yes’ votes are selected to the Hall of Fame. This year they didn’t tell us who the final five were. We just voted up or down a second time on the final ten. As it sounds, it’s an arduous process. Maybe the toughest Hall of Fame in all of sports.

There were fifteen ‘Modern Era’ finalists to discuss, players whose career ended less than twenty-five years ago. This year we also talked about a senior candidate, receiver Drew Pearson, a Contributor, scout Bill Nunn from the Steelers and a coach, Tom Flores. They’re in their own separate categories and it would be a surprise if any of those three were denied entrance into the Hall. They also needed eighty percent of an up or down vote from the Selection Committee.

The fifteen Modern Era finalists are vying for only five spots, which makes it very difficult to gain entrance and I can tell you it’s tough on the selectors. Once you get into the room, a player has about an eighty-eight percent chance of eventually getting into the Hall. But deciding who’s essentially not getting in that year is daunting. All are qualified or they wouldn’t have made it through the morass of eligible players and into the final fifteen. I’ll find out along with everybody else who was denied entrance to the Hall this year. And again, it won’t be a good feeling.

Making the decision about which players move forward is a multi-faceted process. If it was just about statistics, you could just send out a spreadsheet and put in the top five. But a player has to have had an impact in his era that exceeds all others at his position. As one selector famously put it, “Could you write the history of the NFL in his era and not include him?”

Which players are on the finalists’ ballot in any given year also has an impact. How many ‘first time eligible’ players are listed on the ballot? And were they good enough to gain entrance in their first year of eligibility?

That ‘first ballot’ moniker has become a thing recently. I’m in the minority I’m sure but I don’t think first ballot is even a thing in the PFHOF. Baseball? Yes. The voting procedure is totally different. Football? No. Nobody ever asks how many years it took to get in. The first ballot idea in football has been pressed by sports networks and social media and has put pressure on the committee to acquiesce. That’s not a secret.

In the past decade, the Selection Committee has admitted forty-per cent of all first ballot nominees. Far more than any other ten year stretch in the history of the Hall since the start of the Modern Era in 1970.

Is Jerry Rice’s gold jacket any shinier than Lynn Swann’s? It is not. Rice was elected in his first year of eligibility, Swann in his fourteenth. I think first ballot players are when the presenter stands up and says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Joe Montana.” Or “Ladies and Gentlemen, Don Shula.” And sits down. It’s no secret that Peyton Manning is getting in this year in his first year of eligibility. His presentation took twelve seconds. And Charles Woodson looks like a first ballot selectee this year as well.

First-year finalist Calvin Johnson said publicly that if he wasn’t selected in his first year he’d be “insulted.” Nine years in the league, a great nickname in ‘Megatron’, Johnson ended his career voluntarily, citing the wear and tear on his body. I’ve got news for you, anybody with a near ten-year career in the NFL has plenty of wear and tear on his body.

Is Johnson worthy of the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. Does he have to be a first ballot guy? Not really. It’s one of those factors that has to go into the Selectors decision making. If you add Johnson to Manning and Woodson as ‘first ballot’ guys this year that leaves twelve finalists for two spots. If you keep doing that, year after year, deserving players are left behind.

John Lynch was a finalist this year for the eighth time. Alan Faneca was in the final fifteen for the sixth straight year. And the Jaguars Tony Boselli has been ‘in the room’ for five years.

Nobody doubts the greatness of those players or their Hall of Fame credentials but with the committee getting younger and relying more and more on statistics instead of the ‘eye test,’ and putting first-timers in at a record pace, those three are good examples of what can happen.

As the Jacksonville representative it’s been my job for the past five years to present Tony Boselli’s case for induction. Each year the presentation has to be different, building on what the committee already knows about his career. When Tony was first eligible, there were five offensive linemen on the final ballot and they were all presented, in alphabetical order. That put Boselli, starting with a ‘B’ at a disadvantage by always going first. By the time we got through the other four, his career impact was undeservedly diluted. Luckily, the Hall has changed the procedure, randomly pulling players names out of a hat for the order of presentation.

And although Boselli is listed as an Offensive Lineman, he’s a tackle and the only tackle on this year’s ballot. Tackles play a high value position. They’re very different than guards or centers. We don’t consider defensive backs in one lump, a nod to how different safeties and cornerbacks are.

You can’t compare what Boselli did as a player with Faneca’s game. Both were dominant at their position in their era and both are worthy of Hall of Fame status. But what they were asked to do was very different. Faneca was pulling and blocking and handling defensive tackles while Boselli was charged with handling Hall of Famers like Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas. By himself. Both great, both very different.

The perceived brevity of Boselli’s career has been the only knock on his candidacy for the Hall. Tony played ninety-seven games through seven seasons. Swann, Dwight Stephenson, Jimbo Covert and a host of other members of the Hall had comparable career year numbers. Even an iconic NFL player like Paul Hornung only played one hundred and four regular season games.

Thirteen percent of all players in the Hall played less than one hundred games. Twenty five percent of all Tackles in the Hall played less than a hundred games. Gayle Sayers was always the outlier as a member of the Hall with a short career. Sayers only played sixty-six games in the NFL before a knee injury ended his playing ability. But his greatness wasn’t denied, and he was elected to the Hall in 1977 at thirty-four years old, still the youngest player ever inducted.

Recently, the Selection Committee put Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley in the Hall. Davis played seventy-eight games and Easley eighty-nine. So, length of career isn’t a reason to keep Tony out.

“It’s hard to deny somebody who played nearly a hundred games and is considered one of the top two or three to ever play his position,” one non-Selection Committee scribe said to me last week. There’s really not much debate about the quality of Boselli’s play.

Will Boselli gain entrance to the Hall this year? I really don’t know. It’s a numbers game for Tony, again. Of those five offensive linemen who were on the ballot when he first was a finalist five years ago, two, Kevin Mawae and Steve Hutchinson are in the Hall. Joe Jacoby is in the senior pool. Tony and Faneca remain as finalists. Will they grab one of the two or three available spots for this year? And what about Lynch. Jacksonville’s native son LeRoy Butler has already been told he didn’t make it this year.

You could say Tony played in the ‘Golden Age of Tackles’ in the NFL. Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones and Gary Zimmerman were all contemporaries of Boselli. All are in the Hall. And all, in one way or another, have told me Boselli was the best of the bunch. Walter Jones said he wore 71 because Boselli wore 71. Willie Roaf said he checked his game against Boselli’s every week. Even though they weren’t even in the same conference.

I honestly don’t know but I’d call Tony’s chances 50-50 based on the numbers. If the committee thinks Calvin Johnson is a first ballot guy that cuts down the numbers and the chances. We did talk about Tony for over thirty-one minutes last week, third longest of all the candidates.

Based on the current criteria, I believe Boselli is a Hall of Famer. Without statistics, although there are now some metrics for offensive lineman, he’s subject to the eye test. And some of the committee never saw him play. The Jaguars sent out video clips this year to committee members showing Tony’s dominance. And it was a good reminder of just how dominant he was.

They say being selected to the Hall of Fame is a life changing experience. I hope it happens soon for Boselli and I hope it’ll be worth the wait.

Trent Baalke

A Baalke Change Up

There’s a learning curve in every new situation, even owning an NFL team. Shad Khan admits he’s learned a few things, sometimes jarring and big things, since taking control of the Jaguars in 2012.

Those things he’s learned have given him enough experience to have his own perspective on what works in the NFL. He’s tried a few different things but save for 2017, nothing’s really worked. That’s why he’s stopped using consultants and advisors in the hiring process and is leaning on his gut instinct.

“My whole aspect,” Khan said recently in a statement of his philosophy, “(Is) that we need to be a coach-centric team and organization, where the head coach really has to lead the kind of players he wants, the kind of team we need to be.”

Khan thinks Urban Meyer is the right coach for this situation, which makes his hire of Trent Baalke as the team’s general manager very interesting because of the chain of command Shad wants to use going forward. Both Meyer and Baalke will report directly to Khan.

Baalke is getting a second chance, and even he knows that’s rare in the high adrenaline world of the NFL. And as the complimentary counterpart to Urban Meyer’s personality, Baalke’s current take on what he’s learned and what his job is fits under Meyer’s view as the overseer of the whole operation.

“I’m a resource for coach, that’s the way I look at it,” he said Thursday when asked where he fit in the Jaguars hierarchy. “I provide a service where he can come in, he can bounce things off of me, because there’s going to be a lot of questions, there’s going to be a lot of things that are going to be first time for him.”

Baalke was named the Director of Player Personnel last year and in late November he took over as the interim General Manager when Khan fired Dave Caldwell. He knows the current Jaguars roster and which players might fit into Meyer’s now famous, “A to B, four to six” mantra. And with the average NFL roster turning over twenty players each year, picking the right players is paramount.

His resume is impressive, but his results are uneven. After twelve years with the 49ers, six as General Manager, Baalke was fired. And he thought it was the right thing to do.

“Sometimes you need to reset the culture. When you have a winning culture, which we did in 2011, ’12, ’13 and ’14, (there are) a lot of good football players,” he said shortly after he was let go. “Then you transition. At some point, those veteran guys move on. Blending in with younger guys, and sometimes it takes a little longer than you’d like. And this is probably one of those situations.”

That’s a rare amount of humility in the world of the NFL.

His 2012 and 2013 drafts were called “lackluster” by most draft experts and the following results showed. The ‘Niners quickly went from Super Bowl contenders to NFL also-rans. He clashed with head coaches Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly and it cost him his job.

He didn’t think he’d ever get another chance to be a General Manager and again, and he’s right, that rarely happens. But paying some penance on the staff in Jacksonville, Baalke was in the right place at the right time.

More importantly, he says he’s changed. He’s learned lessons from his mistakes.

“I’ve learned a lot about dealing and working with coaches, a lot about dealing and working with players, a lot about team building and what it takes,” he said on Thursday. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount. I think learning is a journey, and I think every day you wake up—if you’re not waking up with the mentality that you’re going to learn something, you’re missing something.”

And there’s nothing like being on the outside looking in that can give perspective in football. Guys who have made football their life don’t want to be on the outside.

“When you’re out of the business, you get to look at the business through a different lens. When you’re in it, you don’t have that luxury. Things are happening a lot quicker; you’ve got to make a lot of quicker decisions. And I grew, I think, more from being outside of this business looking in, than I ever grew inside of this business.”

So, Baalke has learned, he’s working in a situation that he wants to be in, and he now has a specific, and notably different, philosophy than when he was running the Niners.

There he took some chances, reached and even tried drafting injured players to stockpile them for the future. Marcus Lattimore, a running back from South Carolina is a prime example. Baalke took him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft despite serious knee injuries in his sophomore and junior years in Columbia. He never played a down in the NFL.

Losing his job, being on the outside, and knowing what didn’t work seems to have altered his idea of what makes a good football team.

“I think the focus is always on the draft and building your team through the draft,” he said. “I think you use the other avenues to supplement your roster. I think you’re always searching to build your roster whether it’s from the top down or the bottom up or somewhere in the middle.”

“We’re a value-based team, not a needs-based,” he added. “You always have needs regardless of when you set the fifty-three, so the best player available is usually the direction you want to go.”

One thing Baalke is, is a departure from the Jaguars personnel decision-makers in the past. He’s been there before, been around the league and has been the final word on personnel decisions.

Tom Coughlin had personnel responsibilities when the Jaguars first hired him and not being willing to share those responsibilities probably cost him a chance to keep his job in the early 2000’s. When he went to the Giants, somebody else had the final say on who came and who went on their roster. James Harris never had the General Manager title and was a pro personnel executive in Baltimore before coming here. Gene Smith was considered a “super scout” and was elevated to the GM job coming up through the ranks of the Jaguars scouting system. Dave Caldwell was an assistant in Atlanta and considered a rising star, but Jacksonville was his first, “The Buck Stops Here,” job.

Baalke at least has some experience behind him as the decision-maker. Sometimes you have to find out what doesn’t work to figure out what does.

“In this league there are thirty-two teams and I honestly believe twenty-six to twenty-eight of them beat themselves before they ever even hit the field, for various reasons, and I’ve been a part of them,” he said Thursday.

Baalke says he’s fine being criticized and has developed a thick skin. He’ll need it in his job, trying to build the Jaguars back to a relevant NFL franchise. One scribe in San Francisco listed making Baalke the General Manager as “the worst decision the franchise has made in the last decade.” Harbaugh didn’t have much nice to say about his GM after his departure from the Niners when he took the Michigan job.

Baalke seems unfazed, and perhaps, even changed.

“I know this,” he said. “We share a vision here, between ownership, between the head coach, myself, that I think we’re very focused in on and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

Urban Meyer

Urban Redux

Dear Shad,

Hope you and the family had a great holiday season and are looking forward to a happy and healthy 2021!

Just wanted to send along my congratulations on your new head coach hire. It’s the kind of big splash that put the Jaguars back on the map instantly. With Urban on board and Trevor Lawrence waiting in the wings, the Jaguars are relevant again! I’m sure the phones for season tickets are ringing off the hook.

I’m not sure who you were leaning on for advice on this hire but there are a few of us who have been around for a while and know Urban from his seven years at Florida. I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on the excitement in town but there are a few things I wanted to make you aware of.

Wow, did they have some success there in Gainesville under Urban! I’m sure you asked and I’m sure he had a good answer for the lawlessness and the criminal activity that happened under his watch while he was in Gainesville as was reported and verified after his departure from there.

There are a lot of Gator fans who think the most amazing thing that happened while he was there wasn’t the two national championships but rather that nobody went to jail while he was in charge!

Nonetheless, winning seems to cure all ills, but it is kind of funny that he’s so reviled by Gator fans even though he brought two national titles there. They’re trying to figure out how to put Urban in the Gators Ring of Honor at Florida Field but they’re afraid he’ll be booed! Imagine that? Maybe they’ll bring the HBC or Timmy along to keep that from happening. I guess Gator fans didn’t like how he left, either time!

I mean, we were all concerned when his wife Shelley told us she couldn’t revive him one night despite her repeated “Urb, Urb,” calls to him on the floor. Turns out he had some kind of serious, as he described it, ‘esophageal spasms’ that were causing his problems. I guess the next year when he quit to spend more time with his family, that was the best thing for everybody. Who knew a stint with ESPN could be so much a part of family bonding?

But wow, medical science is amazing isn’t it? Just eleven months later he was back coaching at Ohio State! I’m not sure Gator fans in North Florida quite understand that but I’m sure they’ll be buying Jaguars tickets anyway.

As you said on Friday when you introduced him, Meyer was impressive above all candidates in the interview process. He is an impressive interview and was equally impressive in his first meeting with the press at the end of last week.

I just wonder how things will go as we get into the year and hopefully things start to get back to normal. You know when you met somebody and after you shake hands, (we used to do that) and look them in the eye, you got the feeling ‘Hey, something else is going on there’? That’s the feeling I always got around Urban. A friend of mine who worked with him a lot said, “It’s like he’s always looking past you.” “Yeah, that’s it,” I thought. Not quite transparent, not trusting, and with a whole agenda nobody else knows anything about. Hopefully as he moves to the pros that’ll change, right?

Because I\it can be a bit of a different transition from college to the pros. One thing I’m sure you talked with Urban about is dealing with the media. Going to a press conference in Gainesville or Columbus, the room is full of young reporters, many still students, who are learning their jobs and oftentimes are graduates and fans of the program their covering. Urban had control of that situation and honestly, not many hard questions were asked.

And when the hard questions were asked, he usually rebuffed, laughed off or answered them with a “Where are you from?” answer. I know, he asked me that more than once! That won’t be the case in a professional setting like the NFL. He’ll have to get used to being asked the how’s and why’s of what he’s doing. His decisions will be second guessed, legitimately, and constantly on every level.

But hey, wasn’t it funny when that cub reporter from my former employer started his question with ‘Go Gators!’ on Friday? Doubt that will happen again.

I’m sure you asked him what the heck happened at Ohio State with his assistant Zach Smith. Urban had to serve a three-game suspension for his role in handling the spouse abuse allegations against his former assistant. Urban said he “mis-spoke” at the summer Big Ten media days when he told us he didn’t know anything about that. Female Jaguars fans have asked me about that, but I’m sure he gave you the right answers.

And who says you have to be likeable and considered a good guy to be a good football coach anyway? It’s certainly no requirement for the players in pro sports. Some sort of a rap sheet is never a deterrent if you can play.

I mean, Look at some of the most successful coaches and they don’t’ fall into the category of ‘likeable.” That’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells or even Tom Coughlin. And Vince Lombardi doesn’t evoke warm and fuzzy feelings.

The difference though is all of those coaches have their private defenders. Talk to any of their friends and they’ll tell you stories about their philanthropy, their humor and their general goodness. I rarely heard that about Jack Del Rio and I’ve never heard that about Urban Meyer in the seventeen years I’ve covered his career. Hopefully sometime soon I will.

But again, that’s not a requirement to be a good football coach. Meyer has shown he can be a good football coach, but on a completely different level. Perhaps his executive skills, his ability to organize and create a ‘program’ will translate to the professional level. But we don’t know that. But there’s hope!

We do know that there’s a long list of college coaches who haven’t been able to transition to the pro game, and a few, like Urban’s friend from FOX Sports, Jimmy Johnson who have, and have done it very well.

Urban knows college players are still forming who they’re going to be as people. And I’m sure he knows sometimes a coach plays a significant role in that. Scientists say your brain isn’t fully formed until you’re about twenty-four years old and while you’re in college you’re still figuring out where you fit into the world. If somebody in authority gives you direction, especially if you’ve been coached in sports your whole life, you go along. Urban did that as a college coach with plenty of success.

And on Friday he admitted that the game has changed and said he’s changed with it. Professional athletes figure out what works for them and they’re a different breed.

Their first year they’re figuring out how to stay in the league. And that’s the overriding motivation throughout their career. As they get established, some figure out how to win, but they’re all trying to stay in the game. Nobody ever leaves when they want to.

Speaking of leaving, what did he have to say about leaving Columbus? I know he said Friday he was older and was very aware of his health and how to take care of it but wow, arachnoid cysts on your brain sounds serious! I hope collapsing on the sideline and those headaches he suffered at Ohio State isn’t in his future here. I guess medical science really is amazing! That FOX Sports gig must have been just the relaxing tonic he needed.

You’ve been in the Jaguars locker room and you’ve seen the different ways players get themselves ready. They know what works for them. When to eat, how much sleep, rest and nutrition they need. What kind of workouts get them best prepared? I hope Urban has thought about that and the difference coaching grown men.

They’ll follow along with his schedule and the concepts, but there’s much more individualism in pro sports. He’ll will have to get used to that, not the other way around. College coaches who try to impose their will and their way in pro sports flame out pretty quickly. Hey, even Tom Coughlin adjusted when he was with the Giants and won two Super Bowls.

Look, you and I know you don’t have to be good, or even nice to be a good football coach. But you have to be respected by the players, the assistants, the people in your organization, the media and the fans. I’m sure Urban realizes that he doesn’t have that from the start with football fans here in North Florida.

Unlike a lot of hires where the coach has a bit of a honeymoon period while everybody sees where he takes the team, Meyer’s track record doesn’t afford him that. He’ll have to earn respect every step of the way.

There’s also the CEO aspect of the job where the head coach represents the organization. That matters a lot here in Jacksonville. Maybe more than other cities. The Jaguars head coach is the face of the team and has to be out there in some way as part of the community. That’ll be great to see Urban helping out at the Sulzbacher Center and speaking at Rotary Clubs spreading the good word of the Jaguars.

I hope occasionally losing on the NFL level doesn’t bother Urban too much. One fellow reporter said losing “crushed Urban’s soul” more than any other coach we’ve covered. That’s great on one level that he cares that much, luckily, he only lost thirty-two times in his entire college career. I mean, geez, the Jaguars lost fifteen times just LAST YEAR! He’ll remember losing five games in a season might have cost him his job in college. But wow, if he only loses five games a year with the Jaguars, we’ll erect a statue!

Anyway, I’ve taken way too much of your time. Looking forward to your General Manager pick and hopefully seeing more of you around, and winning in 2021!

Best, SK

A Fans Fix

It would be no surprise that all of my friends are sports fans. Oh, they have plenty of varied interests, from tango to traveling, investing to industry. But sports binds all of us together, it’s our common denominator.

All of my friends are also old enough to have been around to see the Jaguars become an NFL franchise and take pride in having a team in our town. And like a majority of Jaguars fans, they moved here from somewhere else. So, their allegiance is split, but they all are Shad Khan’s definition of a fan: They buy tickets. Or more.

I asked them all this week about a new start for the Jaguars. A new coach, a new general manager, a whole new beginning.

“It’s a great opportunity,” ‘Big Beef’ a Giants/Dolphins/Jaguars fan said. Beef is an avid football fan and admits he looks at things through a fans eye. He supports the Jaguars by more than just buying tickets. He uses his time at the stadium to entertain and be entertained.

“With all of that cap space, the draft picks, the young guys on the team, I just hope they hire the right people to get the job done,” he added.

That was the consensus about hiring: get the right people in here.

Most of them said it makes them cringe to hear Urban Meyer’s name mentioned as a possibility to take over downtown. Citing the lack of success college coaches have had moving to pro football, they’re not sure Meyer’s resume should make him a candidate.

I agree with that and think it might be the most tone-deaf thing Khan and team president Mark Lamping could do in this search.

National pundits call Meyer a “prime candidate” citing his connection to Florida through his time in Gainesville. Obviously, they’re lapping up something Urban is putting out there or just didn’t pay attention to his departure from the Gators.

Meyer left as the most unliked guy he could possibly be for a coach who won two National Champions at Florida. And people still don’t like him to this day. Maybe he had health problems, but after leaving and saying he wanted to spend more time with family, I guess they were all living at the Fox Sports Studios because that’s where he spent most of his time. And he did almost the same thing at Ohio State.

None of this bothers my friend ‘Ghost of Chuck,’ a Bills/Jaguars fan.

“He’s a CEO type and that’s what the Jaguars need,” Ghost said this week. “He scares me as a college coach making the move to the pros. NFL players are different animals. I suspect the quality of his character over some of the things he’s done, but he has the leadership skills they need.”

My friend ‘The BQ’ also is a Jet/Jaguars fan. He sees Meyer as a bad fit altogether.

“College to the pros, it’s tough,” he agreed. Adding, “And he’s got a big ego, that’s hard to match a coach with a big ego with the ego of these players these days.”

“Look at Andy Reid,” he said as an example. “He never was bigger than his team. Coaches get carried away with themselves and they tend to shield themselves from the organization. That’s egotistical. Guys like Reid and Mike Tomlin, those guys are in the trenches with the players and the front office, the whole organization. The coach and the GM need to be part of the organization while leading it.”

Ghost said he doesn’t think the head coach has to be an x’s and o’s guy. Just somebody everybody trusts to lead.

“They need a coach who has the vision and passes it on to everybody else. The strength guy, the front office staff, the video guy The GM has to be a scout/personnel guy with an eye for the talent.

When I noted that the Jaguars have relied on ‘Super Scouts’ like Gene Smith and ‘highly thought of personnel guys’ like Dave Caldwell with no success, Ghost laughed.

“Just like in business,” he said. “Sometimes you have to keep the Peter Principle in mind. You promote somebody to the highest level of their incompetence. It really comes down to you have to pick the right players and you have to have a quarterback.”

You might remember my friend ‘Wooly’ from our trips to Las Vegas and the ‘action’ he likes associated with the NFL. As an Eagles/Jaguars fan, he’s stayed away from betting on the Jags saying he’s never sure what they’re going to do.

“I try to avoid betting with my heart,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve just stayed away from them. I never have confidence in them whether I bet with or against them. Their last two weeks in the regular season are a blueprint as why I’ve stayed away from ‘em.”

If you didn’t follow that, the Jaguars were competitive against the Bears in the first half in week sixteen, giving their supporters hope, and got blown out in the last thirty minutes. The next week they easily covered the spread against the Colts. A game where they were supposed to get blown out.

Which brings Wooly to his conclusion about a new Jaguars leadership team.

“The head coach has to have the experience of developing a young quarterback. You can’t rely on an assistant to get that done.”

And he added they just need to do the obvious thing: pick Trevor Lawrence.

“They have the opportunity to select a player to be the face of the franchise for the next ten years or more. This is the obvious pick. They need a quarterback in a quarterback’s league. And t’s going to continue to be that way.”

I was amazed at how insistent my friends were about taking Trevor Lawrence. Not that he’s not the right guy to take, but they all mentioned their fear that the Jaguars might NOT take him. They’ve been beaten down by underperformance and bad decision making for so long they fear the team won’t do the obvious, best thing.

“Take the quarterback and build around him,” BQ said, somewhat exasperated. “It’s the tried-and-true formula for the league over the past 20 or so years. Don’t overthink it.”

“He’s a generational talent, scouts think so, the other players think so,” Ghost added. “I’m using the Buffalo blueprint. Sean McDermott was a defensive guy but had a plan laid out for everything when they interviewed him for the job. The weight room, the staff, the practice schedule, all of it. He was building a team in the best sense of the word and now they have one of the most productive offenses in the league because they got the quarterback (Josh Allen).”

BQ echoed what everybody said when it comes to building the team from scratch: Don’t get fancy.

“Need a guy that sticks to basics,” BQ said of both the GM and the coach. Follow the rule book until this team gets on its feet. Basic blocking and tackling until they get established. They have some good young players. Get a core of players that are going to be around for a while.”

When I mentioned that Shad Khan was the second fastest owner to a hundred losses ever in the NFL, nobody laid the blame at his feet.

“I don’t hold ownership accountable for how they’ve lost,” Wooly said “He hasn’t been erratic. He’s been supportive. He hasn’t shortchanged the opportunity for the team to win like some owners have. The brand is fine, the product has been terrible.”

Amen to that.

The Jaguars have won at a twenty seven percent clip in the last decade, or perhaps better said, they’ve lost at a seventy-three percent average.

“Losing gets old,” Beef lamented leading to his solution. “Take Lawrence, get a line to protect him, build a team around him. Belichick didn’t worry about the quarterback the whole time Brady was there. Do the same here. It’s a team effort.”

Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence

Forget Them

Over the past week social media has been ablaze with comments about the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence. Jaguars fans are giddy at the prospect of holding the number one choice in the April NFL Draft and the Clemson quarterback being chosen to wear black and teal.

Everybody else it seems, isn’t so happy with the prospect that a potential big-name talent would ply his trade in and outpost like Jacksonville.

Times Union columnist Gene Frenette outlined in these pages this week how the rest of the world will just have to buck up an accept the fact that in all likelihood, Lawrence is the next Jaguars quarterback.

In this new year, looking forward, I’ll add to that, euphemistically saying:

“Forget them.”

All of the talk about changing the draft process to a lottery and how Lawrence might refuse to sign with Jacksonville and stay at Clemson are a bit far-fetched. You can cite John Elway with Baltimore, Bo Jackson with Tampa Bay and even Eli Manning with San Diego as examples of top players forcing their way out of one franchise and into another.

All three of those had to do with ownership problems. Robert Irsay in Baltimore was famously loud and cheap. Hugh Culverhouse seemed to be content with just making money and Dean Spanos in San Diego never seemed interested in putting much effort into a winner. Shad Khan, despite his won/loss record as an owner, doesn’t have that kind of reputation. He’ll spend money and if he makes the right hire at General Manager, that person will have whatever tools they need to build something here. That’s why the GM hire is so critical.

Look at what’s happening in Buffalo as an example. A division title for the first time in forever thanks to solid personnel decisions and the right quarterback. (And the fact that Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay.)

There is some skepticism about Lawrence’s ability to play at the professional level. Some question his toughness or his ‘spindly’ frame and wonder aloud if he’s built for the pro game. Legitimate questions, but he’s excelled at every level he’s ever played.

If you’re a franchise that needs a quarterback, he’s the obvious pick among those that might be available. Head and shoulders, literally, above the rest.

There seems to be an unusual amount of vitriol when it comes to Jacksonville as an NFL city and the potential home for a “golden boy” in the league. Fans have wondered aloud why it’s OK when Detroit is terrible and gets Matthew Stafford or when Cincinnati is awful and gets Joey Burrow. And even when the Colts are really bad, three times in the last thirty years, and get Jeff George, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck with the number one pick. But when Jacksonville has the first pick for the first time ever, let’s change the rules.

That’s not happening. They might change the rules, but not this year. The Jaguars will have the number one pick.

That bias against our city and our franchise isn’t perceived, it’s real. As the Jacksonville representative over the past twenty-six years at all sorts of official NFL functions, I’ve seen it, and heard it, firsthand. It’s such a regular part of meetings and television commentary you’d think we’d be used to it by now.

Whether it’s comments about attendance or performance, the Jaguars get to be the butt of the joke. Even in Kevin Costner’s “Draft Day,” the Jaguars are swindled by his character who’s running CLEVELAND, of all franchises.

Sitting in a Hall of Fame meeting, a prominent member of the national media started his comments with, “We all know the league has admitted that putting a franchise in Jacksonville was a mistake.”

I interrupted with, “You know I’m sitting right here, and I can hear you right?” That got a laugh, but the perception of our city is that somehow, we tricked the NFL into giving us a team.

The only thing that hasn’t happened as the NFL projected into the future for Jacksonville in 1993, is corporate growth. The population has expanded but attracting businesses here hasn’t kept up with say, Nashville in the process. Blame that on civic leadership. It’s got nothing to do with ownership or the fans.

When the league awarded the Super Bowl here in 2005 the city rolled up its sleeves and put on a show every day and every night. But still got hammered because we weren’t Miami, or Tampa or New Orleans. Which is just fine with us, we don’t want to be any of those places. But if you’re not from here, you don’t understand that.

When media comes here, they’re confused and sometimes even intimidated by the fact that we’re comfortable in our own skin. There were a few glitches surrounding the Super Bowl but because it was a new experience, in Jacksonville, we bore the brunt of the jokes.

Generally respected commentator Howie Long makes it a point when hired as a corporate speaker to point out how terrible Jacksonville was as a Super Bowl host. His evidence? The stadium ran out of hot dogs during the game. The fact that the NFL, and not the city, was in charge of that just gets in the way of his story.

One scribe complained that people were WALKING to the game, impeding his bus’s progress to the stadium. “Wait,” I thought. “You’re complaining about people slowing you down on the free bus you’re taking less than a mile to the game, where you’re going for free after your hotel and meals had been picked up by your employer?” Obviously, he had never tried to get to the game in Miami or Glendale.

If you went from the airport to the Hyatt, then to the stadium and back to the airport, as most reporters do, you didn’t get to see much of Jacksonville. And that’s true in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and almost every other NFL city. The difference here, for that crowd, is the lack of strip clubs and late-night drinking establishments.

Did you realize that every head coach the Jaguars have ever had, save for Jack Del Rio, still lives here? Doug Marrone said he and his family aren’t leaving. Even if he’s coaching somewhere else, Marrone said, “I love this town.” Walk in any Publix and you’re libel to run into a former Jaguar player who realized what we have and who we are. And stayed.

If this is such a terrible place, why are all of those people from the northeast moving here?

We’ve got our problems, just like any other city. I don’t know what the long-term future of the Lot J project is, but I do know that for the first time in a while, somebody is talking about putting money, albeit some of it ours, into our town.

Our current administration has an issue with transparency and the Jaguars sometimes seem detached from the city. But those are OUR problems to deal with, not somebody from the outside’s right to lob insults from the peanut gallery.

Barring something weird happening, Trevor Lawrence will be the first pick in the draft, and the Jaguars hold that spot.

As I said earlier, euphemistically about the naysayers:

“Forget them.”

NFL Draft Number One vs. Number Two

It makes perfect sense for Jaguars fans to want the number one pick in the 2021 NFL draft. In need of a franchise quarterback, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is poised to be the top pick next April and create a building block for some NFL franchise in the future. Fans will want the Jaguars to lose their final two games to Chicago and Indianapolis and ensure Lawrence would soon be in Teal and Black.

But Jaguars players and coaches don’t think that way. In fact, no players and coaches think that way.

Remember the whole “Suck for Luck” thing in 2011? It was a complete fan and media fabrication. Fans are going to be fans year in and year out, but players and coaches come and go. It’s the nature of the business side of the game. Players don’t care about the franchise in the future. They care about now.

With a forty percent turnover on every roster every year, professional football players are trying to put their best stuff out there every week to try and keep a job, right now, with one of the thirty-two teams in the league.

Coaches have their reputations to protect and despite Doug Marrone being a good guy and a good coach, it would be an upset if he, or any of his coaching staff, were back on the sidelines next year in Jacksonville.

Marrone knows this and has even addressed the “Tank for Trevor” fervor that has swept over Jaguars fans since the Jets won their first game of the season last week.

“I really don’t pay a lot attention to that because I just have too much going on. But I’m not an idiot either, I understand that there’s talk out there,” he said this week.

“I wouldn’t be able to do that. I couldn’t do it. I just wouldn’t,” he added when asked if he’s ever heard of a coach losing on purpose to get a better draft position. “I’ve never done that with anything in my life. I had trouble letting my kids win when they were little. And I’ve never heard of it, no.”

Marrone even admitted that as a Detroit Lions fan in 1979 he was rooting for them to lose at the end of the year in order to pick Billy Sims with the number one pick in 1980. (Which they did.)

“Then I started thinking to myself, (this week) there I was a kid, I never took into play what those coaches and players on that team must be feeling. I told the players today that obviously that’s a lot of talk now, obviously [with] what’s gone on. I told the players about [how] we don’t know what the future holds, but we’re in here today and our job is to go out there and win and that’s the best thing we can do for each other.”

No matter, win or lose in the last two games, the Jaguars, Jets and possibly the Bengals will have the top three picks in the draft. The Bengals already have three wins so the Jaguars and Jets would have to win their final two games and the Bengals lose their final two to mix up the draft order. But in all likelihood, Jacksonville and New York will pick one, two. Or two, one.

Some years that can be a big difference. Others, not so much.

In fact, the best player in Jaguars franchise history was a number two pick. In 1995 based on a coin flip, the Jaguars selected Tony Boselli with the second pick behind Cincinnati’s choice of running back Ki-Jana Carter.

John Elway and Erick Dickerson went one, two in the ’83 draft and both went to the Hall of Fame. In 1994, defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson was the number one pick by Cincinnati. Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk went second. Last year Joe Burrow was the top pick and Chase Young went second. Both seem on their way to solid careers.

Perhaps the most famous one, two draft reversal in NFL history was in 1998. Future Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian was in his first year as Team President and General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts and had the number one pick. Another future Hall of Fame executive, Bobby Bethard, was the General Manager in San Diego and held the second pick with the Chargers.

Both men were considered ‘gurus’ when it came to personnel and the dominant story was which quarterback, Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf would go first. Polian played it very close to the vest leading up to the draft, having his choice of players with the number one pick. The comparisons between Manning and Leaf were constant, and Polian kept most people guessing about which quarterback he would pick. He called the constant comparisons “The noise.”

It’s hard to fathom now, but at the time, Leaf was considered the better of the two with a stronger arm and as a better athlete. On draft day, Polian did in fact select the future Hall of Fame (eligible this year) quarterback Manning with the number one pick. Beathard was thrilled and didn’t hesitate taking Leaf with the second pick. Manning went on to win two Super Bowls. Leaf, through a variety of physical and mental issues, is considered the biggest flame-out in draft history.

As the first pick in the 2007 draft, JaMarcus Russell comes close to that distinction, taken by the Raiders and signed to a giant contract. Russell stayed in the league three years and won only eight games as the starter before being released. The second pick in that draft was receiver Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, eligible for the Hall of Fame this year as well.

With the draft sometimes feeling like a roll of the dice, teams need to pick well and be lucky.

The Packers were neither in 1988 when the late Lindy Infante was in his first season as the Head Coach in Green Bay. Infante once told me the story of the last two weeks of the ’88 season as teams were racing for the bottom of the standings looking for the number one pick.

“We were terrible that year,” Infante, the former USFL Jacksonville Bulls head coach said. “I mean really bad. Although we had Don Majkowski as our quarterback, we were in line for the number one pick and we had already decided we’d take Troy Aikman.”

“We were two and twelve with two games to play, tied with Dallas for the worst record in the league. We both won the next week, and we knew we’d have the first pick if we finished the year with the same record as the Cowboys. Somehow, we went to Phoenix and beat the Cardinals in the last game of the year. Dallas lost at home to Philadelphia. They took Aikman, we took (Tony) Mandarich. The rest is history.”

Mandarich is also considered one of the top busts in NFL Draft history. He never developed at the pro level, with steroid testing often being cited as the cause for his diminished ability. Not only was he the second pick in the ’89 draft behind Aikman but Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders, all Hall of Famers were the next three picks.

While Lawrence looks to be a ‘can’t-miss’ prospect and the number one pick, who knows what the rest of next year’s quarterback draft class will produce? The number two pick looks certain to be a quarterback as well.

Is Justin Fields the same sort of prospect? Will Kyle Trask and Mac Jones be able to take their college success to the pro level? There’s a thought that BYU’s Zac Wilson already has the game to compete in the NFL as well as somebody you’ve never heard of, Trey Lance from North Dakota State. What about Kellen Mond or even Jamie Newman who opted out at Georgia this year?

With what’s happened this season it seems only one thing is certain: one of those guys will be in a Jaguars uniform next year.


Rivalries come in all shapes and sizes. Two of my children graduated from Florida eight years apart. My oldest says Tennessee was the Gators biggest rival while she was in Gainesville, while my son names Georgia as the team he wanted to beat the most. Neither have very good things to say about Florida State.

In their 26-year history, the Jaguars have counted the Steelers, the Colts, the Texans and most recently the Titans as rivals.

Without much recent Jaguars success against the Titans, is it still a rivalry?

When they were emerging stars early in their careers, Andy Roddick was asked about his budding rivalry with Roger Federer. Roddick and Federer were meeting in the Wimbledon final for the second straight year.

“To be a rivalry, I’ve got to win a few of these,” Roddick said to laughter among the assembled media. But he was right. Despite playing some epic matches, Federer had beaten him eight of the last nine times they had played.

In the last ten years the Titans/Jaguars “rivalry” has shifted Tennessee’s way. The two teams split the first fourteen games of the decade, but the Titans have won six of the last seven, including a 33-30 win this year in Nashville.

“You have to take into account the history,” former Jaguars and Titans linebacker Lonnie Marts said this week. “They want to shut Derrick Henry down. They want to see what Cleveland did last week to keep him in check. They’re thinking, ‘If we can win this game, that means the rivalry is still lit.’”

Most Jaguars fans don’t have to go too far back in their memory to hear then-Titans head coach Jeff Fisher refer to Jacksonville as Tennessee’s “other home stadium.” Fisher made the comment leading up to the Titans appearance in the Super Bowl after beating the Jaguars three times in the ’99 season. That run including the AFC Conference Championship game here in January of 2000.

While Fisher mellowed and distanced himself from that comment in subsequent years, his contempt for the Jaguars as a rival was real. And personal. “He thinks he invented football,” Fisher told a media friend of mine from Nashville when asked what he thought of Tom Coughlin.

Losing those three games to the Titans, in Marts’ mind, “is like it was last week,” he said.

“I didn’t cover a guy down the seam, and they scored a touchdown in the first game. I was too focused on Eddie George. The next time we played them they used some different players and beat us again. So, when we went to play them the last time, we were focused on shutting all of that stuff down. And we did that for the first half. But when it came to the third quarter, they must have wanted it more. I went to tackle Steve McNair and it’s a tackle I make a hundred out of a hundred times and he stepped out it. And to this day, I don’t know how that happened.”

Former Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny agrees that the Titans are still a rival for the Jaguars, even with Tennessee’s recent success.

“You play teams in your division all the time, so you get to know them so well,” he said this week. “You know how to tackle them; you know how they run so we’d be prepped on all of that. When you look at game tape, you’re covering and tackling the same guys. From the outside a rivalry has to be close. From the inside, it doesn’t matter. That’s who you want to beat no matter what else is going on.”

Players and coaches universally agree that division games almost count as two in the standings. They’re a pathway to the playoffs. Every division opponent could be considered a rival. When he was with the Colts, Peyton Manning would say “Jacksonville” with a certain disdain. The Texans would wear that silly “Battle Red” at home when the Jaguars were coming to town.

“When I was with Buffalo, we didn’t like Miami, but we really had a thing going with the Jets,” Posluszny said of the Bills’ AFC East rivals. “You might think it was the Patriots, but they just got us twice a year,” he added with a laugh.

Some rivalries look like a real “hate-fest” from the outside. Marts was a part of one of those when he was with the Chiefs.

“In Kansas City it was the Raiders. It was unspoken with the Chiefs. Raider week was when the coaches stressed to putting pressure on them. And you could set your watch by it, they were going to do something stupid, maybe a late hit and give us a chance to score.”

When the Jaguars were in the AFC Central, the Steelers were their unquestioned rival. Tom Coughlin said as much noting that the division title went through Pittsburgh. And he built the Jaguars specifically to compete with the Steelers.

That rivalry was very tense. So tense in fact that being on the field at Three Rivers Stadium after a Jaguars victory could be a dangerous place. That was obvious in November of 2000 after Fred Taylor had rushed for a record 234 yards in a 34-24 win by the Jaguars.

“Stay near me,” one veteran Jaguars defensive lineman told me as we were exiting the field toward the tunnel. “They’ll throw batteries and stuff at you from up in the stands but if I have my helmet on, they won’t try it.”

Lehigh and Lafayette have played each other more times than any other two college football teams in the country. They’ve played so many times their matchup is just called, “The Rivalry.” Georgia and Georgia Tech is known as “Clean, Old Fashioned Hate.” Oregon and Oregon State have called their game the “Civil War” since the 1920’s. Steve Spurrier thought everybody considered Florida a rival, but he took special pleasure in beating Georgia and always referred to Florida State as “FSU,” or “that school up north.” Unless he was coining the phrase “Free Shoes University.”

“I think rivalries comes from personalities,” Marts theorized, admitting he still thinks of his rivals in high school. “Every other Catholic school in our district in New Orleans was a rival. My wife went to my biggest rival in high school. We still talk about it all the time. Heck, my Mom went to my rival high school!”

Posluszny has no problem remembering his college rivalries because they run deep. “At Penn State is was Ohio State and Michigan State. But being over there on the border with Ohio, you knew those guys at Ohio State. You played those guys in high school.”

What can be the difference in a rivalry game?

“Sometimes it was just ‘Who wanted it the most?’ Marts explained.

Posluszny echoed the same thought.

“It just sometimes came down to who played harder. You’re not going to get outsmarted playing your rival.”

Jacksonville Jaguars

Everybody Wins

Having been in the media for most of my life, and almost all of my professional life (I was a bartender before my first TV job), I’ve lost a lot of confidence in this profession. Between the election, the reporting on the pandemic, lockdowns and everything else, it’s hard to figure out who to believe.

I’ve always been kind of a news junkie, always looking for information to make up my own mind. “News” coverage seems anything but what it supposed to be. Every outlet has an opinion and an agenda and everybody these days, professional reporters and everybody else, has a platform. Social media has given voice to every person with an idea.

Which is why this Lot J situation has me confused. I’m not sure I believe anybody. Not the media, not politicians, pollsters, nor businessmen involved.

I watched as Mayor Lenny Curry, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan and his guy on the ground here, team President Mark Lamping, laid out the scheme with impressive graphics for the whole Lot J plan.

I liked everything about it. It’s vibrant, it’s supposed bring people downtown and start to revitalize that side of the river.

The problem, it seemed, as the plan was fleshed out and scrutinized, was how to pay for it? Who’s making the money and what does the city get for it? Public, private partnerships need to be easy for the public to understand with everything out in the open.

It’s a great looking plan, reminiscent of what happened in New England and other NFL towns near their stadium. A mixed-use spot with entertainment, restaurants, a hotel, apartments and parking garages.

We thought the way downtown would come back to life would start somewhere near the Main Street Bridge. Or somewhere around Hemming Park.

But if it’s Shad’s plan to work on downtown by starting at the stadium and marching west, then so be it. I’m all for hitching our wagon to Shad and seeing where he takes us.

I’m also all for Shad making money. Heck, I’m all for everybody making money. And as Times-Union columnist Mark Woods said earlier this week, having an NFL team and the accouterments that go with it is more valuable than just the dollars it may, or may not contribute to the local economy.

Keeping the Jaguars here is important on a lot of levels.

Mark also pointed out:
“And then there’s the almost comical nature of a franchise that hasn’t won a game since September getting impatient about this. In the two months since the Lot J deal was unveiled, the Jaguars have lost seven games, extending their losing streak to ten.”
It is almost comical. Winning at a 29% clip over the last eight years isn’t any way to build leverage.
What I don’t understand is why all of the cloak and dagger stuff around the whole development? While making a big show about the economic impact and how great this development would be for the city, there were some of the economics involved that, well, just didn’t seem right.

Perhaps the whole deal is on the up and up. Maybe it’s a way the city will continue to prosper and flourish at a new level, Shad will make money, and everybody will be happy. I sure hope that’s the case.

But all along, something just doesn’t feel right. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s that little voice that Magnum used to hear in his head just saying some of the pieces don’t fit. Not enough transparency as Curry made the deal, supposedly on behalf of the city, with Khan and his development group.

This past Thursday the City Council said they didn’t want to push for the Lot J deal for a quick approval. You’ve got to agree with Council President Tommy Hazouri when he said, “If it’s going to take seven to nine years to build this project, what’s another two or three weeks?”

Using a Twitter storm to get his position out, Curry started babbling on about how the city needs to get this deal done, about how we had to decide if we wanted to be an NFL town or not. How we needed a decision by the end of the year and how if we didn’t have one, it would send a clear signal to everybody involved. It all sounded like a bunch of nonsense.

On top of this Lot J deal, Lamping threw out an opening salvo about how the team needed to have stadium improvements in place before signing a lease extension past 2030. I get how negotiations go. The city’s opening position should be, ‘OK, we’ll guarantee stadium improvements when a lease extension is signed.’ After all of that posturing, we all hope, and maybe they do as well, that they’ll meet somewhere near the middle.

And it all needs to be part of a big plan. Lot J, stadium improvements and a new lease all wrapped up in one big, happy deal.

It’ll be a very complicated deal, with tax credits, big loans, long-term payoffs and everybody getting somewhere near what they want.

What never has made sense to me is how these negotiations get played out in public here in Jacksonville. Do we ever hear about the Steelers and Pittsburgh squabbling about a lease extension or stadium improvements? The Chiefs and Kansas City? Chicago and the Bears?

The NFL is a business and good business deals benefit everybody involved. If we’re going to be an NFL city, we’ll have to pony up the money to keep improving the stadium and perhaps at some point, build a new one. That’s the price for playing in that arena.

So, where’s the Jaguars part in all of this? Shad’s ill-advised comments about fans “embracing” the idea of the Jaguars playing two home games in London were met appropriately with a “What?” Luckily, all of that was put on the shelf by the pandemic.

If playing a game in London ensures the financial well-being of the franchise here, that’s fine. Two home games over there won’t cut it. If the NFL wants to see what it’s like to have one team over there for more than one game, the Jaguars can figure out how to play a home game there and stay and play a game as the visitor.

As I’ve said before, oftentimes it feels like the Jaguars are an alien entity operating in our town. When was the last time somebody in management over there went to the Westside or the Northside? That’s where a lot of their ticket-buying fans live and you can learn a lot by hanging out there, talking to people, eating in their restaurants and knowing a little bit about the culture of our city.

Jaguars lobbyist Paul Harden (who has represented me in the past) said this week it was important to Shad to have a deal struck by the end of the year. He cited the changing tax code to “deal fatigue” among the reasons Khan wants an answer.

I can all too well remember the ups and downs of the chase for an NFL team. The times when it seemed dead. The times when Wayne Weaver didn’t see the support he needed and was calling the deal off. The times when some arbitrary deadline was set, only to be moved to see a deal through.

And they got it done.

I’m hoping Harden’s suggestion, that a lot of the issues we know about could be worked out before the council meeting this Tuesday, turns out to be true.

If they all went to the Westside and sat down in Leo’s or sat down in Cotton’s on Main Street and talked to some of the locals there, they’d get a feel for what makes this town tick. Then, on Tuesday they can have an open discussion about how it’s all going to play out.

Something we all can understand.

Something where everybody wins.

Are We The Browns

Over the past decade or so, my favorite Jaguars fan, at least once during each season will say, “We’re the Browns, aren’t we? We’re the Browns, the Browns of the South.”

I usually scoffed at the comment. “Of course we’re not,” I’d say. “The Browns are always bad.”

But as of late, I’m not sure I’m right. In fact, I am sure there are some Jaguars fans currently who wish we were the Browns.

Since 2000, the Jaguars have had four winning seasons, but only one since 2008. The Browns didn’t play in 1996, ’97 and ’98 as owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore after the 1995 season to become the Ravens. The NFL put an expansion team back in Cleveland in 1999, but the Browns continued their losing ways going back to 1990.

Fans in Cleveland have had two winning seasons since 2000 and only one playoff appearance. They also endured a 1-31 record starting in 2016, the worst in NFL history over a two-year span, including a winless season the following year.

That’s right. O-fer.

They haven’t had a winning season since 2007. They’ve finished last in the AFC North nine of the last twelve years.

At least the Jaguars have sprinkled in an 8-8 year (2010) and a division championship (2017) in that span. In the last ten years, these two teams have had one winning season. Combined.

And there are more similarities between the clubs. The Jaguars have fifty-one wins in the last ten years: The Browns forty-four, including seven this season. Under their current ownership, Cleveland has won just over 30% of their games. The Jaguars in the Shad Khan era win 29% of the time.

This year is a different story.

Mired in a nine-game losing streak, the Jaguars seem destined for a top-five draft pick. The Browns, on the other hand, are a respectable 7-3 and appear a team on the rise. They seem to have drafted well recently. Quarterback Baker Mayfield looks to be their long-term solution at that position. Myles Garrett is considered the premier player at defensive end across the league. Their receiving corps looks solid.

They’ve had famous misses in the draft as well, most notably Johnny Manziel in 2014. I keep looking at the Jaguars high draft picks since 2014 and keep seeing names like, Fournette, Ramsey, Ngakoue, Fowler, Yeldon, Robinson, Lee and Bortles, none of which are still on the roster.

The Browns have had a colorful history at head coach and at quarterback. They’ve had twelve head coaches in the last twenty years and no less than thirty-two starting quarterbacks since 2000. And we thought six, including Mike Glennon for this game, was a lot for the Jaguars in the last four years.

I happened to be the sideline radio reporter in Cleveland in 2001for the Jaguars network during the infamous game when the Jaguars had to return to the field for two plays to ensure a victory.

Things got ugly at the end of the game as the Jaguars were winning in the “Dawg Pound” end of the stadium. Officials had reviewed a Browns 4th down play in that end, calling it an incomplete pass, turning the ball over to the Jaguars and enraging the fans. They started showering things onto the field from all sections and the officials took both teams to the locker rooms. A full beer bottle whistled by my head on the sidelines, tossed from the upper deck. It didn’t take long to deduce that it was the fourth quarter, and that bottle wasn’t full of beer. After that, the NFL instituted the rule that bottles are served with the tops removed.

In the middle of his post-game press conference, Head Coach Tom Coughlin was told that the Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had ordered the game finished with two final plays. I remember players grabbing their jerseys and helmets and whatever pants they could find and scrambling to the opposite field tunnel with the officials. They, and the Browns, along the with officials, sprinted to the other end of the stadium in Cleveland, had two quarterback kneel downs and hightailed it back to the locker rooms.

And the two cities have a few connections in general as well. Both are on large bodies of water. Cleveland sits on the south shore of Lake Erie; Jacksonville has the St. Johns River flowing through it. There’s a great trivia connection between the two. If you go directly north from Jacksonville, what city do you hit before you get to Canada? The answer is Cleveland.

They two cities even somehow combined for a mistake together, although in name only. When the North Deck of the newly renovated stadium was first opened, it was sponsored by the Clevelander Hotel. Yes, I know it’s operated in South Beach, but an ill-advised connection, nonetheless.

In 1986, former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien moved his Continental Basketball Association team, the Jets, here from Pensacola. Stepien didn’t really tell anybody the Jets were coming here and did no marketing. He threw open the doors of the old Coliseum and expected people to show up.

They didn’t.

One local columnist listed all ninety-eight people in attendance at one game by their first and last name as a column once in these pages. Needless to say, the Jets and Stepien moved on after a few months.

Looking over the two rosters, there are some connections. Joe Schobert left the Browns for the Jaguars as a free-agent last year. Olivier Vernon was considered a prized-free-agent leaving the Dolphins in 2016. The Jaguars made a major play for him, offering him more money than anybody, but he signed with the New York Giants.

“You can’t sign a guy if he says he doesn’t want to play here,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said at the time. Vernon signed with the Browns in 2019.

Ronnie Harrison, a former third-round pick of the Jaguars, was traded to Cleveland before this season. When he remarked how glad he was to be out of Jacksonville, Twitter followers hammered him, one saying, “Dude. You were traded to Cleveland!”

Which, at least right now, doesn’t look like a bad thing.

Jaguars vs Steelers

Jaguars Path to Glory

We’ve called the Steelers the Jaguars big rival for a long time. When the Jaguars began in the AFC Central, Head Coach Tom Coughlin molded the Jaguars in the Steelers’ image, knowing the only way to the division title was through Pittsburgh.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen those television commercials showing Fred Taylor, Rashean Mathis and other Jaguars of a bygone era beating up on the Steelers. Some were night games on national television. Those were fun. They were exciting. It’s hard not to yearn for those “good ole’ days.” Equally as difficult is to imagine those kinds of games for the Jaguars “under the present circumstances.”


Because they’re just not good enough.

And they know it.

When asked about beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh twice in 2017, one of those wins in the playoffs, Marrone explained how that happened.

“I think it was something that we had, a lot of good players, a lot of people that had a lot of confidence, believed in themselves, a defense that created turnovers. And then in the second game when we needed to score, we were able to score and run the football. So, it was a great moment for those players and those coaches that were there.”

In other words, “We’re not that same team. They might still be good, but we’re not.”

But give Marrone credit. He says losing “rips a part of his soul” that he never gets back. He also knows and has said often it’s a production business. The only thing that counts is winning and losing.

“I don’t want to be one of these guys that (BS’s) and tries to [explain] the philosophy and doing all that stuff; I do see improvement but it’s obviously not at the rate that we need,” he said when asked about the team getting better.

He added, “I don’t want to be that guy that comes out after you lose a game and is like, ‘Oh, we’re getting better.’ I think people don’t want to hear that (stuff), at least in my opinion.”

He’s right.

“A lot of times, the big difference with some of those things is some guy will just make a play, make a catch, break a tackle,” Doug said recently when I asked him if it was about making the difference on game changing plays.

“You see the explosive plays that we had given up, guys that are able to make a play where we can’t get a guy down, things like that,” he added. “I think it’s easier for everyone to kind of look and see you’re in position, but who’s going to be the playmaker? Is it you or is it your opponent?”

When I followed up, asking if it’s just a matter of the players stepping up and making plays, Doug thought for a second and said, “No, we have to do a better job as coaches. I’ll just stick with that.”

Marrone knows that the sum of the pieces deleted, and pieces added since that winning year in 2017 don’t add up. To be fair, no team is the same three seasons out from a championship game run based on the salary cap. But the decisions made by the teams that stay relevant year after year are different than the one’s made by Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell.

His moves have been well catalogued and dissected. Letting players like Marcedes Lewis and Calais Campbell slip through their fingers when they still had plenty of gas in the tank are glaring mistakes.

His drafting acumen has been rightly called into question, including missing on character issues when drafting Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler. Add Tom Coughlin’s decisions to take Leonard Fournette and Taven Bryant with their first-round picks in ’17 and ’18, adding pieces he thought would complete the puzzle, and the Jaguars cupboard in 2020 is not bare, but a Costco size shopping list is in order.

When Shad decided two years ago to keep Marrone and Caldwell to run his football team, I’m convinced it was Marrone that helped keep Caldwell around. Usually, the General Manager makes the decision on the coach, but I think in this case it was the other way around. My admiration for Marrone as a coach and a person is no secret. And I don’t know Caldwell well enough to have an opinion on anything else but his body of work. But I do think Khan listened to and bought into Marrone’s vision on how to run the team after Coughlin was dismissed and then asked the coach who he thought should run personnel. Marrone has plenty of loyalty and I believe he told Khan he was very comfortable working with Caldwell.

In my colleague Gene Frenette’s column in today’s Times-Union outlining the history of the Steelers and how they went from laughingstock to perennial contender, he defines how Pittsburgh has “set the bar for excellence as high as anyone.” He credits the Rooney’s “impeccable reputation” on and off the field for keeping the Steelers competitive.

“Shad Khan and the Jaguars may never get there,” he added.

I think the easy question is, “Why not?”

I’d agree that under, as Gene notes, “present-day circumstances” it would be, “hard to envision the Jaguars ever becoming the Steelers.”

And those “present day circumstances” include how Shad Khan is operating as the owner of the franchise. It’s a far cry from how the Rooney’s are fully invested in the Steelers. While admittedly, the Jaguars are one of Khan’s forty or so enterprises and the Steelers are the sole business of the Rooney’s, the two franchise couldn’t be run more differently from the top down.

On the business side and on the football side, the Steelers have figured out how to not only be a part of their community but reflect what their community is about.

There were times under Wayne Weaver’s ownership of the club that the team got close to that, but the Jaguars, too often in their history, have felt like an alien entity that happens to operate in our stadium.

Their level of philanthropy is certainly laudable, probably unmatched. But somewhere along the way there has to be a closer connection that differs from a straight line to the checkbook.

Perhaps this column would be better served at the end of the season. But whenever I’m out, if there’s conversation about the Jaguars at all, it’s whether they’ll win another game this year.

With their recent play, yes, they are playing better. But they’re still a double-digit underdog, at home, to the Steelers today. Remaining games against the Browns and Bears here seem within reach, as does the road game against the Vikings. But Indianapolis, Baltimore and Tennessee have plenty of motivation against a Jaguars squad that’s been depleted by injury and personnel moves.

One of the top three draft picks in 2021 would ensure that Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields could be wearing black and teal next year. No matter who’s making that decision next April, they should hope it’s their “Chuck Noll/Terry Bradshaw” moment of fifty years ago that started the Steelers on the path they continue to blaze.

Kyle Brady

Mastery Takes Time

It’s not hard to understand why Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone likes this year’s team. He’s said more than once how close he feel to the 2020 Jaguars. And it’s easy to see why. They play hard, they’re fun and they’re an easy group to root for.

But watching them can drive you crazy.

They’ll play great for a couple of plays, then look like they just drew something up in the dirt on the next. Talent and consistency win in the NFL. The Jaguars have plenty of the former and not much of the latter.

Even Gardner Minshew admitted that after last week’s loss to Houston. “We were actually just talking about that in the locker room,” he said. “Trying to figure out what it is, what’s missing, because we have moments where we feel really good about it, and then moments that it just all goes to s***.” kind of, and we just got to figure out how to be more consistent.”

In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it takes 10.000 hours to “master” a particular skill. Ten-thousand hours equates to about five years of work in the professional business world. I know it took me that long doing daily sportscasts before I felt like I could compete at the highest level. In TV you go through the 1) “terrified” phase (Yikes! I’m on TV!). Then 2) “creating an on-air persona you think is appealing. It’s usually followed by 3) acting like yourself (a lot of TV people get stuck there) and finally getting to 4) actually being yourself. (which is also terrifying since you know you’re really exposing who you are every time you’re in front of the camera.)

Ten-thousand hours is a good number to use in the professional sports world as well. With the current twelve-month schedule for players in the NFL, they reach that threshold somewhere in their fourth or fifth year. That’s where having a young team sometimes hurts. Their effort is great, but they don’t have the depth of experience that leads to “mastery.” The Jaguars have fewer than a dozen players with four or more years in the league, and only eight or nine of those get significant playing time.

“You need that unconscious confidence,” former Jaguar and thirteen-year NFL veteran Kyle Brady said this week. “It’s a process, it takes time.”

Brady was a first-round pick of the Jets and his first two years with the franchise was so disjointed he didn’t have a position coach. He split time between the offensive line and the receivers.

“(Bill) Parcells changed the whole situation,” he explained of the Hall of Fame coach coming to the Jets in Brady’s third year. “He righted the ship. He liked tight ends. Mark Bavaro came in to coach me and put my mind at ease. I was pressing, griding my teeth in the huddle, they taught me professionalism. They encouraged me. They said ‘you have everything you need. Just work at it.’”

Brady was one of the first NFL players to work on getting better in a dedicated “away” setting during the offseason. Now it’s commonplace for players to travel to Arizona or Pensacola to work at a sports performance center. Brady says working on the nuance of his position lead to a mantra of what he calls “being committed to ongoing skill mastery.”

“You never come off the field thinking you had a perfect day or a perfect practice,” Brady explained. “You don’t get to the pros unless you have some skill mastery in college. But in the pros, you have a lot of polishing to do. To be committed to the mastery, that’s being a professional.”

Former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts had to earn his way into the league in order to have a ten-year career. Marts signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane and carved out a starting spot through hustle and consistency.

“When they cut a guy in camp at your position you’re close to, you realize there wasn’t that much difference between you and him,” he explained. “You start working on self-mastery. You want to be better. You realize ‘I can be the guy to make the team better.’ You get more film time, more practice time. Because you’re the guy they keep, you’re privileged to be there. So, you need to make the team better. You have to be present. You have to concentrate on getting better.”

Basketball Hall of Famer Pat Riley has won at every stop in his career as a player, coach and executive. He agrees with Marts in his book “The Winner Within,” saying “Mastery demands and intense awareness of the present moment.” He adds, “Mastery is built on excellence, the gradual result of always wanted to do better.”

Following that line, Marts caught the eye of the late, legendary line coach Howard Mudd who told him he wasn’t Derrick Thomas, but he could be effective. Marty Shottenheimer was the Chiefs head coach and told Marts if he kept the effort up, they’d put him in the right position and work on his technique. From a free-agent, Marts became a starter in year four and for the rest of his career. He credits working on that “mastery” as the tipping point.

“(Defensive Back) Albert Lewis was cussing me out for not covering the flat in one game and told (Defensive Coordinator) Bill Cowher to get me out of there,” Marts recalled. “I had been working hard on covering the flat but just couldn’t get it. But I worked and worked on it and in one game I got out there and Jeff Hostetler just threw the ball right to me! After the interception, Albert was the first to tackle me out of bounds and yelled, ‘That’s what I’m talking about!”

Marts noted that working on that “mastery” and consistency kept him in the league.

“I had to learn where my faults were. Of course, a coach tells you that every Monday watching film, so it wasn’t hard,” he said with a laugh. “But I think four to five years into the league, you start to search out those vets after games who have been around for a while to tell them ‘Keep working, keep getting better. You’re doing it.”

Two things Hall of Fame Coach Vince Lombardi said apply to what consistent, winning teams have. “Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all the time thing, he said. You don’t do things right once in a while . . . you do them right all the time

He also talked about seeking perfection, knowing it was “not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

That takes some time to realize in the professional sports world. Athletic talent alone isn’t going to allow you to win at the highest level

“Obviously you need the talent to be able to go out there on the field and to be able to do it and then to prove that you can do it day in and day out,” Marrone said this week. “I think the players that are able to do that and show that consistency, they’re the ones that get the second contracts, play for a long period of time and play at a level where you can win.”

“Some guys come in the league and think they’re going to dominate. They usually get cut down quick,” Brady added. “My fourth year I played with more confidence. I could see it on film, and other players can see it as well. They know, “this guy is coming into his own.”

Marts agreed that it’s the other players that first notice your “mastery.”

“I felt like I was working hard, getting better, but then the offensive linemen on my own team started to notice,” he said. “Irv Eaton yelled at the coaches saying he wanted me off scout team, ‘Because he’s killing us over here.’”

“It comes from the ongoing commitment to skill mastery,” Brady concluded “Things you used to have to think about your first or second year start to come naturally.”

Mark Brunell

Can The 2020 Jaguars Repeat ’96

There are three teams that stand out in Jaguars history as the best in the team’s 26 seasons. All three went to the AFC Championship game, in 1996, in 1999 and in 2017.

And all three lost.

The ’99 team is one of the best I’ve seen assembled and clearly the best in Jaguars history. They were 14-2 in the regular season and probably the best team in the league that year. The 2017 team had a lot of good ingredients and talent as they battled all the way into the fourth quarter in New England only to be beaten by Tom Brady and a quick whistle.

That ’96 team is the one that’s an anomaly in the group. They weren’t overly talented, didn’t have a lot of veterans and came into the year with low expectations.

Very similar to the 2020 Jaguars. Young, with low expectations and maybe most importantly, no drama.

After Thursday’s loss to Miami, this year’s team is tracking much like that ’96 team. Both opened with wins and fell to 1-2. In ’96, they were 2-4, 3-6 and 4-7 before getting their act together.

Ninety-six was the second year of the franchise after going 4-12 in their inaugural season. They added some pieces to that team, Clyde Simmons, John Jurkovic and Keenan McCardell but the bulk of the team was made up of young players trying to establish themselves in the league.

This year’s squad doesn’t have a single player over thirty. The ’96 team had just four: Clyde Simmons and Dave Widell as starters, Paul Frase, a defensive lineman and Bryan Barker as the punter.

“We didn’t have any prima-donnas on that team, nobody we deferred to,” Kevin Hardy, the Jaguars first round pick that year said this week. “We had one, Andre Rison, and Tom (Coughlin) got rid of him.”

Hardy played all 16 regular season games that year for the Jaguars and through the playoffs. He remembers the team just going out and playing football.

“We were just young guys right out of college just out there playing football as hard as we could. We were 4-7 before we went on that run,” he recalled. “But we were in every game before that. We didn’t get blown out at all. The New Orleans game and the loss to the Rams, we could have easily won both of those games.”

Amazing how vivid his memory was of that season, 25 years ago And accurate.

Four games into the ’96 season Tom McManus took over at middle linebacker and started there the rest of the year. He finished the year third on the team in tackles. His memory of what happened that year is just as clear.

“Willie Jackson scored at the end of the New England game but they didn’t give it to us,” he recalled. “ We had New Orleans and the Rams beat but didn’t finish it. I knocked a ball down against the Saints that I should have picked. If I pick it off, that game’s over. But once we beat Seattle on Sunday night here to go 8-7 we were like, ‘Hey, this is real. It’s happening. We thought ‘We can beat anybody.’”

Only three games into the season, despite the disappointment against Miami, this year’s Jaguars squad has that same gritty feel the ’96 team displayed.

A couple of times in the past two weeks Head Coach Doug Marrone has said he feels really “close to this team.” I asked him to explain a little of that before Thursday’s game against Miami. He broke it down to good communication between the players and with the coaches and a common goal.

“The vision that you have for what you want to look like as a team, that I share with the players and we talk about quite a bit, is a shared vision,” he explained. “I think when you have that with no little groups on one side or a couple groups here and people trying to tear it down or question it, I really feel good about it.”

While you all can be on the same page and blend well, you still have to have talent and that talent still has to produce. This year’s Jaguars have shown some of that early in the season. The ’96 Jaguars also depended on some young players to get things done.

“That was my rookie year and I was just trying to come in and help the team,” Hardy. “There were guys like me, (Aaron) Beasley and (Tony) Brackens who were getting a lot of playing time as rookies and we were expected to contribute.”

“Everybody knows you need talent but it’s talent with the right personality,” McManus added.
“We had that in ‘96. We fit together. We were a tough team, mentally physically and emotionally.”

McManus likens this year’s Jaguars squad to that one from ’96 in a lot of ways. He particularly likes how they’ve ‘cleaned up’ the roster.

“We didn’t have any distractions (in ’96). These guys in 2020 been through a lot of upheaval with this team. They have a lot to prove. For years it was about ‘pay me money and showing up in Brinks trucks.”

Credit Marrone with creating an environment where the players feel free to play their best. There are consequences for making mistakes, but you can’t play worried if you’re going to make a mistake or not.

“I learned early on that you had to really work as a head coach to either create or break down those barriers so that you can communicate,” Marrone emphasized. “Communication’s obviously a two-way street so a lot of times you try to have conversations and you try to learn about people and it really has nothing to do with football. [It’s] just to get to know people and get a feel for them.

“This team is young and hungry,” McManus added. “A collective group like that can be dangerous. They have a lot of young guys they’re counting on. We had a lot of young guys who were contributing in ‘96. Draft picks that could play right away. Guys like Robert Massey and Travis Davis who nobody knows but they were a part of the success.”

“We didn’t have anything to lose,” he said. “We were 4-12 the year before. Same as these guys. Nobody expects them to do anything.”

Not every team is like that and not every team can be like that. Money, contracts, a lot of things can get in the way. In the professional game.

“Team success breeds individual success,” Hardy said of how things can start to fall apart. “Guys start looking around, thinking about getting paid. It just throws the team off a little bit.”

Not hard to think that happened to the Jaguars in 2000 and again in 2018. Marrone is committed to that not happening again.

“Everyone has a really good vision on how we practice, how we play, how we approach things and that’s what we’re talking about ,” he concluded. “I feel like we have a shared vision which I think creates the closeness.”

One thing they shared after the loss to Monday night: “We have to play better.”

“There seems to be, on all of us, that we just have to do a better job early on,” Marrone said. “This has been going on now for a couple weeks, as the game goes on, you can see where now all of a sudden, it’s starting to play the way we want them to play from the beginning. We just have to be able to get them off to that start.”

Gardner Minshew

Minshew Likes to Play

Gardner Minshew likes to play football. And he wants to win.

I know those statements sound like a call from “Captain Obvious” but have you always thought that about the Jaguars quarterback?

It’s easy to pick on Blane Gabbert and his time here but consider this: Did you think Gabbert acted as if he liked playing football while he was here? In fact, Minshew is almost the anti-Gabbert. Blaine was 21 years old when he was drafted out of Missouri in the first round by the Jaguars. He had played 31 games in college. Minshew was two weeks short of his 23rd birthday when the Jaguars drafted him in the 6th round out of Washington State. He played 42 games at three different schools in his college career. Gabbert was one of the greatest practice players anybody has ever seen. He couldn’t replicate that on Sunday’. Minshew takes that practice acumen to another level on game day.

And Minshew’s teammates love him. That Gardner Minshew you see in interviews and commercials is the same guy his teammates know on the field, in the locker room and when it’s game time.

“We’re looking at the same Gardner Minshew, that’s what I see. I see a superstar,” Josh Allen, who’s emerging as a leader on this young Jaguars team said. “I think, in my eyes,. I think he’s a great quarterback. He has the whole team, the whole organization behind him. And I feel like that’s all you really need as a football player.”

And Allen wasn’t finished. He recognized that intangible thing that the “it” players have, regardless of position.

“He has the look, he has the swag, he has the arm and he has the plays to make—to be who I consider a great quarterback in the NFL. That’s my guy.”

We don’t know what the Jaguars will do this year. A win in their opening game against the Colts as a 7 ½ point underdog was a surprise to everybody outside the Jaguars locker room. Most wrap-ups of the game blamed Phillip Rivers and the Colts instead of giving the Jaguars credit. Which is typical as we know.

“There’s time to have some fun. He’s a fun guy to hang around with, he’s a funny guy, entertaining,” Jaguars Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden said this week about working with Minshew. “But for the most part, when it’s business, it’s business and he takes good notes, he studies the game, he spits out the plays in the huddle, which quarterbacks have to do It’s exciting to work with him because guys that are aware of how necessary it is to prepare and the guys that do prepare, it’s fun to watch them and develop.”

Minshew has deflected a lot of the praise he’s gotten this year and last when it comes to “Minshew Mania,” just what a quarterback should do. And he projects his feelings on to his team.

“I think one of the things that served us well today was that we all have so much belief in each other,” he said after the game last Sunday. “Whether it is me in them or them in me, when you have that, you can trust people to do their jobs.”

Knowing the Jaguars are the youngest team in the league, he reflected back on last year when he was thrust into the lineup and figured out how to play in the NFL.

“Until you actually do it, there’s a part of it you have to prove it to yourself,” he said. “You always say ‘I know I can play in this league’, but until you do it…you know, I know this time last year that was the time when I was really like ‘I really can do it’.

Didn’t it make you laugh when at the Super Bowl last year Minshew said on radio row, “It’s been great, I think I kinda found my people in Jacksonville you know, just the right amount of white-trashiness for me,” he said. “So we’re having a great time down there and lovin’ it.”

Clearly he’s not taking himself too seriously and neither do we.

Just this week NFL analyst Nate Burleson said, “I want to be in the huddle with this guy. Heck, I want to be in a street fight with this guy.”

For all of the moves the Jaguars have made I don’t like, they seem to have put together a receiving corps that takes a backseat to no one. D.J. Chark can take the top off of any defense. Collin Johnson is the real athlete they’ve missed in that group since Allen Robinson left. Laviska Shenault literally could become the next Larry Fitzgerald. Keelan Cole has a chemistry with Minshew you can’t just make happen. He had five catches and a touchdown against the Colts. Chris Conley provides leadership. And Dede Westbrook hasn’t even seen the field yet because of injury. They’re all growing up together with Minshew as their quarterback.

“They got that swag about them,” Gardner said of the young players on the Jaguars. “Our guys have that same confidence where they know that they belong here, and not only do they belong but they can be really good players for us.”

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone admits he didn’t know much about Minshew when the Jaguars drafted him except that “he played for 14 colleges” he joked this week.

“He had to learn different playbooks, so I knew he could do that,” Marrone said. “I knew he could handle that. He’s got a taste of it and I know he wants a bigger bite of it now.”

And for all of the preseason talk about “tanking” for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence in next year’s draft and now the revival of “Minshew Mania,” where does the Jaguars quarterback fall in all of this?

“I don’t care what you all talk about.,” he told the media this week. “We’re going to do what we do. Try to win one game a week. That’s all we can do. We’re very excited about this start.”

Marrone & Caldwell

At Least A Year Away

A few years ago I was sitting in the Jaguars locker room during training camp next to a veteran player just after a very tough practice. He took his shoulder pads off and let out a long breath.

“We could be in trouble,” he said quietly.

“Why’s that? I said.

As he looked around the room he said, “It’s a team thing. Some of the rookies just don’t get it.”

Knowing just what he meant I still asked “What’s up?”

“Ramsey’s out on his own. He says he’s not doing rookie stuff,” he explained. “Yan is a hothead and we can’t get through to him. Yet. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“So just tape Ramsey to a goal post for a while.,” I said, referring to a time honored tradition dealing with rookies. “He’ll come around.”

“Nooo,” he said. “’Cause as soon as he got loose he’d go directly to Caldwell and then he’d file a complaint with the Players Association.”

“Really?” I quired.

“Oh yeah, he won’t even carry shoulder pads and stuff,” he said.”

“And what about Yannick?” I asked.

“Oh, he’ll come around. We’ll beat the hell out of him every day. He’ll be OK.”

Anybody around the team at the time knew something was rotten in Denmark.

Talking to Jalen Ramsey in the locker room always left reporters shaking their heads. He was clearly more interested in his “brand” than anything else. Playing football, something he’s very good at, was a means to an end. His recent contract extension puts him in the perfect place for him over the next few years. He’s a phony who happens to be a great athlete. I was amazed he could find his way to his car after practice.

Ramsey, from that 2016 draft, along with Ngakoue and prized free agent Calais Campbell were important parts of the 2017 team that was within eight minutes of going to the Super Bowl.

While most teams would build on that success, for some reason, that team had been dismantled. Four players from that year’s starting twenty-two remain. And three of them are offensive lineman. Only Abry Jones remains from the second best defense in the league just two years ago. That team had five Pro Bowlers and two All-Pros on it.

And it’s not as if most of those guys couldn’t play any longer. Paul Posluszny retired, Barry Church’s career was over and Telvin Smith went off the deep end. Everybody else on defense is still in the league. Ramsey from the first round and Ngakoue from the third were unhappy and are gone. Calais Campbell has been traded to Baltimore.

How did this happen? It happened on purpose.

Like or don’t like what General Manager Dave Caldwell has done to this team, but know that he’s a true believer in what he’s doing.

“Shad gave us a directive to put the best team out there and we feel like we did that with the players that we have,” Caldwell said when the roster was cut to fifty three players. “I love this team. I love the energy this team brings. I love some of the veteran leadership we brought in with Joe Schobert and Tyler Eifert.”

I understand the salary cap. But I don’t understand the philosophy. They had great veteran leadership and they let it slip away.

Campbell, Posluszny and Marcedes Lewis were the unquestioned leaders on that 2017 team. They set the tone, they were the veterans who helped create the culture for the success that year.

Under Caldwell, and even before, the Jaguars have a penchant for moving players off the roster who end up elsewhere, when they can still play. Fred Taylor, Mark Brunell and Tony Boselli, all members of the Pride of the Jaguars, ended their careers elsewhere.

Yes, they all were on the downside of their career, Boselli’s was cut short by injury, but name the players who have ended their career with the Jaguars as a simple retirement? Jimmy Smith’s retirement was anything but simple.

Paul Posluszny is one. And he was, and is, sorely missed.

After that run in 2017, Poz retired and Marcedes Lewis was allowed to become a free agent. Lewis is still playing, starting his third year with the Packers.

When Poz and Marcedes left, the culture changed overnight. You could feel it. Campbell tried to hold it together alone. The same thing happened when Jack Del Rio became the Jaguars head coach. From a lot of guys working together as a team, individual stats and performance, and most importantly their “brand” became the focus. There’s a reason Leonard Fournette’s locker was next to Campbell’s.

Keeping Lewis should have been a priority. Was he still the player he was when he came out of UCLA as the Jaguars first round pick? Of course not. Did he still have tremendous value? Absolutely. And the Packers, a perennial contender, are reaping the benefits.

And when it came to Poz, keeping him in the organization should have been job one. If he was done as a player, keeping him as the assistant to the assistant whatever, at whatever salary, could have helped save the culture.

Somewhere in the Jaguars organizational psyche, even back to players like Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith and Montel Owens, the thought seems to be only about a player’s cost and on-field production. Not much credit is given to what they bring to the locker room, teaching, creating the culture and leading.

These are the kinds of discussions you would hope are happening inside the Jaguars offices. But it seems too often, they are not.

Go back to the beginning of the franchise and look at the pieces added in different years trying to be competitive. Clyde Simmons and John Jurkovic were a presence on the defensive line and in the locker room when they were added right before the 1996 season. That team was very young as well with only four players and two starters, Simmons and center Dave Widell over thirty.

It sure doesn’t seem like the Jaguars have been in the market for those one or two pieces that would keep that “sustainable success” model they keep talking about for the last twenty years.

Were the Jaguars in the hunt for Jadveon Clowney before he signed with Tennessee? When Oakland had their fire sale on Amari Cooper and Khalid Mack, were the Jaguars suitors?

With that as background, here we are on the opening weekend of 2020. The Jaguars are the youngest team in the league. They don’t have a player over thirty. They have sixteen rookies among the 53 man roster. There’s not a Simmons or Jurko in sight.

Their quarterback produced some magic in his first go ‘round in the league. Now that defensive coordinators have seen what he’s good at, they’ll take that away. And he’ll have to figure something else out. The really good ones always do. They’re universally considered the least talented team in the NFL. Nobody’s picked them to win more than four games.

As the architect of the team, you’d expect Caldwell to strike an optimistic tone. And he does have a point when he says nobody actually knows whether the Jaguars are any good or not. They’ll find out quickly today against Indianapolis and next Sunday at Tennessee. Both teams are considered contenders this year.

“We feel like these guys, the guys in this locker room, nobody has seen them play together.” Caldwell said when asked about the team trying to “tank” this year to acquire the 2021 top pick in the draft.

“Don’t count this team out yet and I think they’ll tell you the same thing,” he added. “We can’t afford a rebuilding year and that’s not our mindset. Our mindset is to put the best team out there to play, to compete, and to win. Nobody has seen them play a game so, like I said, we’re going to know where we measure up.”

I don’t dislike Caldwell at all and in fact, I like Doug Marrone, both as a person and as a coach. I’d really like to see him succeed.

“I really think that this team can be special, I really do,” Marrone said this week. “And that’s what I feel, that’s what we put together. I don’t have the opportunity to go through a rebuild, right. I mean, we all know that, so that’s being realistic. We’ve got to go out there and win games and I’m confident that this football team will be able to do that.”

When it comes to pure, raw talent, the Jaguars have that.

And it could pay off in the future.

It just doesn’t seem they’re ready to do that this year. Players who were on the roster just two years ago who allowed the team to occasionally play “above the x’s and o’s” aren’t there any longer. The leaders they do have are still proving themselves.

I hope they prove me wrong.

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.”

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.

Gardner Minshew

Can the 2020 Jaguars Be Virtually Good?

It appears we’ll have some sort of NFL season in 2020. Several owners this week thought out loud that fans would be allowed, but the decision on that is a while off. With only fifteen percent of each team’s revenue coming from ticket sales, they could play a season without fans in the stands. It would be weird, like the fourth quarter of a preseason game but they could do it. Add in the money lost for concessions and in game sponsorship, and the money still made through the television contracts would make playing a season worthwhile.

Contrast that with college football, where about seventy-five percent of the revenue comes through ticket sales. Add in the support the football program gives to the other sports on campus and you can see it would be a difficult, and devastating blow to college sports if they can’t play a season.

Nonetheless, the NFL is plowing along, making preparations to play, albeit without any OTA’s or mini-camps, with the plan to have teams gather in person for the first time at the end of July for training camp. The current virtual team meetings will give way to actual coaching, on and off the field.

“It’s still difficult,” Jaguars new Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden said this week about not being able to see players in person. “It’s one thing to install plays on a chalk board and virtual meetings getting to know the concepts and all that stuff, but it’s another thing to go out and execute and see what we’re good at, to see what guy can do.”

“I don’t have a lot of information as far as how these guys can handle different positions and how to run different routes and all that stuff, “ Gruden continued. “We have to get these guys on the field but then getting them out there and seeing them execute it. We got to get out on the field soon.”

Taking this time at home in Mississippi, Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew has been able to focus on one thing in the last four months: getting better.

“Since the day after the Super Bowl, I’ve been going six days a week for the last, however many months it’s been,” he said via video conference call with the media this week “It’s been a lot of fun seeing growth in yourself and your game. I’ve been talking to the receivers, and everybody.

Minshew said he’s been tinkering with his weight and his strength trying to find the right combination. He was up to 230 lbs. about the first of March, but is back down under 225 now and feels comfortable with his size and speed as well as his arm strength at that weight. He’s also been leading his offensive teammates, albeit virtually, to try and stay ahead of things.

“We’ve been doing some players only walk throughs virtually that have been helping guys learn and also just getting us together,” he explained. “Then, moving forward we’re also going to try and get together a little bit more before camp to kind of get what reps we can, while being safe and smart.”

How does that even work? Minshew said he’s been getting the offensive guys together to just go through plays so his teammates can hear the call and understand what they need to do on each play.

“So on Microsoft TEAMS there is an application that is called white board and so you are basically on a group call,” he said. “I will call out a play and like whoever is in for that play will just draw their assignment and we just kind of go around and talk about it. I think it is a good way, it is one thing to learn it on paper but to hear the call and then know what to do right there, I think it has been a good way, got to make the best of a bad situation.”

Officially, the Jaguars coaching staff is meeting, virtually, with each other and with their position groups to install the offense, bit by bit, as if they were going through OTA’s and mini-camp. Minshew is trying to go the extra mile as the leader on offense.

“When you talk about the whiteboard and what Gardner is doing, that’s totally separate from the staff,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said Friday. “So, that pretty much, probably, for lack of a better way to describe it, really takes the place of, you know, you read about these quarterback that get together with their receivers and work on things extra during the off season. That’s separate.”

Marrone is the first to admit each season is different, each team is different and you have to build your team from the bottom up every year.

“I like that because obviously you have our players, they’re talking to each other, they’re trading some chemistry, and I think it creates accountability amongst themselves,” he said. “They’re also going to be even more so accountable, in my opinion, when you’re working with each other. I think that’s the best way to create accountability is when the players are keeping themselves accountable.”

So where do the wins come from for this young team that nobody expects to do anything? The over/under number for wins for the Jaguars out of Las Vegas is 4 ½. It’s the lowest total in the league, so they’re not expecting much out of Doug Marrone’s team, no matter how much they believe they’ve done the right things in this offseason.

“I think it should put a chip on everybody’s shoulder on our team, know being kind of counted out like that,” Minshew said of the low expectations for the Jaguars.

“I think we do have a lot to prove, prove that we are not what anybody says about us, the only people that really know, the only peoples whose opinions matter is who is in that huddle, who is on that team and I think we are going to set those expectations for ourselves and not worry about what anybody else has to say about us.”

We all play the game when the schedule comes out, but now that the Jaguars roster seems to be set, either with or without Yannick Ngakoue or Leonard Fournette, can they be a surprise team in 2020?

In the opening six games, let’s say they win a game they’re not supposed to and win one on the road and they’re 3-3. It’s possible they could be 0-3 in the division at that point since their only home division game is the opener against the Colts and Phillip Rivers as their new quarterback. Never a good scenario for the Jaguars. In the last ten games of the year, they might be an underdog in every game and will have a tough time beating the Chargers to start, because they rarely play well on the West Coast. Games against the Packers, Steelers, Ravens, Vikings and the Colts in Indy will all be uphill battles.

That leaves four home games against Houston, Cleveland, Tennessee, and Chicago.

If they win a couple of those and Minshew works his magic a few other times during the season, the 2020 Jaguars are still looking up at a .500 record.

We’re all hoping Las Vegas is wrong, but going through the schedule, they don’t seem that far off.

Hopefully these young guys will surprise us.

Where’s Shad?

In these “social distancing” times, it’s pretty normal to not see some people you’re used to seeing.

But where’s Shad?

In a literal sense,
I’m sure he’s working on one of the myriad of forty-plus companies he owns. The last time we saw him was in a picture during the NFL Draft, sitting at a table with his son Tony, apparently at his home in Illinois in their den, basement or office, watching and working on the Jaguars draft.

But I thought he was conspicuously absent from the Jaguars landscape this week when it was confirmed that the International Series for the NFL was cancelled for 2020. As the “face” of the International Series for the league in the last seven years and with two games scheduled in London this year, it’s a big move for the Jaguars to play all eight of their regular season home games in Jacksonville.

But we never heard from Shad.

Jaguars President Mark Lamping had a statement about playing here and tickets were available but nothing from Shad. As big a deal as they’ve made in the last few years about the revenue stream the London games put to the bottom line and how important the game has become to the franchise’s viability in Jacksonville, you’d have thought Shad would have something to say.

No doubt this is a difficult time for any business owner, and Shad, I’m sure, is no exception. His commitment to his employees is always evident and laudable.

“I know where my bread is buttered,” he told me at an NFL Owners meeting when I asked where the Jaguars fit into his portfolio. “I have 20,000 employees at Flex-N-Gate who are counting on me to help them take care of their families, pay their mortgages and fund their kids education.” I was impressed by that comment because of the spontaneity and the sincerity that came through as he sat next to me. It wasn’t a canned line written by some PR department.

So I’m sure he’s fully immersed in trying to keep his companies and employees fed and clothed and back on their feet as soon as possible.

But we need some of that. From him.

Even some kind of “Hey, we’re sorry we’re not playing in London but wow, it’s just great to be able to play those games in front of our fans here at home,” would have been great.

Owning an NFL team is a different venture than owning any other kind of business. You’re going to make money as the owner; the only question is, how much? And nobody has much of a problem with that.

But there’s a raw, visceral connection between a town and it’s football team. And here in Jacksonville, a working-class city, that connection is even more primitive. Part of it is being a “football town” and part of it has to do with the nearly two decades long chase for an NFL team.

And part of that connection has to be with the owner. We had some of that with Wayne Weaver. He lived here, you’d see him around, at restaurants at charity events. His philanthropy is unparalleled. Shad has also been very generous with his many donations both personally and through the Jaguars.

But we need more of him.

I told Weaver many times he was the most under utilized promotional tool the Jaguars had during his ownership. He usually laughed me off. But I believed that then and I believe that about Shad Khan as well.

When Shad bought the team and took over in 2012, we couldn’t get enough of him. Every appearance was sold out; every comment was dissected for meaning and nuance. His spontaneous cameo in a “Gangnam Style” video went viral immediately.

We haven’t seen that Shad in a while.

We’ve seen him at games and official events. He’s involved in the political and development landscape with several proposals for a Shipyards and Lot J development. His yacht the “Kismet” is parked in the St. Johns downtown. He usually stays at the beach when he’s in town. He’s a presence here.

Since he’ll be 70 this year, maybe he’s turning some things over to his family? Maybe we’ll see more of Tony than in the past as fans of the Fulham soccer club have seen? I doubt that. Shad has too much vitality to step away from what he’s built. And he has too much of a sense of responsibility to the people who count on him.

If he showed up here in town now he might have to undergo a 14-day quarantine based on the Governor’s order. So we don’t want that. But if we’ve learned anything in these pandemic times it’s how easily accessible everybody is by video at a moment’s notice.

I don’t expect him to open a Twitter account like Jim Irsay of the Colts. Nor do I expect him to dance on the sidelines with an umbrella like Tom Benson of the Saints used to do. But some more of the Shad who danced with fans in the parking lot eight years ago would go a long way.

There’s a video of Shad being interviewed on the Jaguars website dated the beginning of February. He talks about how paramount it is to win on the field. He’s obviously a fan and somebody who has learned a lot about football. But he also talks about winning “off the field” with the development of Daily’s Place and the money invested in the stadium. He outlines the plans to help develop downtown. And he says, as he has often, ‘judge actions not words.” And added, “If Jacksonville is growing, it’s better for the Jaguars.” When asked about his slightly different role with the team he said, “there’s a fine line between abdication and delegation.”

I like al of that. So this isn’t so much of a complaint as a suggestion. We want to see more of you Shad. A quick video of encouragement in these tough times from a man of your stature would go a long way. Comments from your surrogates are fine but our connection is with you.

With your backstory, if there’s anybody who knows how the common touch is a powerful tool, it’s you.

Use it.

Draft Shows What Jaguars Think of 2020

“Read your article on the draft today,” my friend ‘Wooly’ texted me last Sunday. “Really liked it but thought you were holding something back,” he added.

It’s not that I was holding anything back, I told him. But the Jaguars clearly have their own ideas about how this team should be built and what it will be able to do.

And you can agree with that or not.

“I think you have to expect them to lie,” season ticket holder ‘Ghost of Chuck’ said as we talked about what the Jaguars said they were doing and what they’re actually doing.

While ‘lying’ might be a bit harsh, there’s no question that the days and weeks leading up to the draft are a time of, let’s say ‘disinformation’ in the NFL.

When you look at what the Jaguars did with the draft and what they said afterwards, it gives a pretty clear picture where Head Coach Doug Marrone and General Manager Dave Caldwell think this team can compete.

When asked if he thought about taking an offensive lineman with the ninth pick in the first round, Caldwell gave a direct and pretty revealing answer.

“We did, but the one we may have considered was probably gone at the time.” In the top eight picks before the Jaguars were on the board, the only offensive lineman taken was Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, a tackle, selected fourth by the Giants.

Cleveland took Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, another tackle, right after the Jaguars at the tenth spot. Tristen Wirfs another tackle from Iowa went 13th to Tampa Bay. Southern Cal’s Austin Jackson went to Miami 18th, Cesar Ruiz from Michigan and Isaiah Wilson of Georgia were also taken in the first round.

So elite offensive linemen were available in this draft, but the Jaguars didn’t select any at that position until Ben Bartch from Division III St. John’s of Minnesota in the fourth round. Bartch looks to have great potential but even the Jaguars admit he’s a ‘project.’

Clearly this draft and the renegotiated deal they made with Andrew Norwell sends the current Jaguars offensive line a message: “You’re it, get better.” Doug Marrone admitted as much.

“I think we have some good competition behind those guys right now,” Marrone said while the draft was going on. “Will Richardson, we have to get him locked him into a position. Tyler Shatley has done a good job for us I think those players have a lot on their plate to make sure they improve. We’ve said that. We really think they’re going to make a big jump.”

In other words, as my friend and colleague Mike DiRocco said in response to a question about the lack of offensive line picks, “They clearly have more confidence in the offensive line than you or the media do.”

Caldwell didn’t use any of his “ammo,” as he put it, of twelve picks to move up or back to get the players they wanted. According to him, they didn’t have to.

“We didn’t acquire picks to get less players, we acquired picks to get more players, and like I said there were so many players that we liked that at the end of it, we were like, ‘I wish I had a couple more picks in the seventh round.”

He admitted they’d have been happy to take wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. in the first round if they didn’t think he’d be there when they selected in round two.

“Should we go get Laviska?” Caldwell said about the conversations in the draft room when wide receivers started coming off the board. “We thought about it and I think we just said, ‘Let’s stick to the philosophy of this year’s draft. I’m not saying that’s every year’s draft. Next year, it may be different.”

A deep receiver class and Shenault falling “by the wayside a little bit,” allowed the Jaguars to wait and take him with the 42nd selection.

“If by chance he did go,” Caldwell said of his contingency plan, “We had enough players there where we would have felt good about possibly trading back and still getting one of the players we liked.”

Getting better up front on defense was a big priority; Caldwell said it helps him sleep at night knowing there are guys on the roster who can rush the passer. Marrone also likes the size they now have up front.

“Well the No. 1 identity that we have been talking about is the identity to be able to stop the run. In order to do that, you have to be big up front, you have to be physical and you are going to have to be able to tackle. That is something that has hurt us. That is something that we have put a priority on.”

Part of Marrone’s vision of what kind of defense the Jaguars can have relied on getting a “Number one type corner.” Either Jeff Okudah or C.J. Henderson would have fit the bill and when Henderson was there with the ninth pick, they didn’t hesitate.

“He is a big guy. He can play against guys that have speed, he can play against guys that are big and try to outmuscle them,” Marrone said, explaining why that position let’s them do so many things elsewhere on defense. “At the same time, we want to be able to cover on third down and let our rushers go.”

At quarterback, Marrone said Gardner Minshew would be the guy behind center if they rolled the ball out there right now. And Caldwell said they’d look at signing a veteran QB in addition to selecting Jake Luton from Oregon State in the sixth round. It’s the third year in a row the Jaguars have used their sixth round selection on a quarterback.

Based on Marrone’s “no drama” emphasis, the Jaguars aren’t going to sign Cam Newton and Jameis Winston said he wanted to get a “Harvard education” by signing with New Orleans. Now that Andy Dalton has been released by the Bengals, his logical connections to the Jaguars through offensive coordinator Jay Gruden make him an easy choice if he’s willing to work for a reduced rate. And former Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, a Caldwell 1st round draft pick, is still a free agent. Before you say that’s crazy, as sturdy and athletic as Blake is, couldn’t he fit a Taysom Hill kind of role for the Jaguars?

When asked if he’d told Leonard Fournette’s agent to tell Leonard to prepare to play in Jacksonville this season, Caldwell gave a quick, “No,” and didn’t elaborate.

But he gave some insight into how the Jaguars seem to think they can move on, if necessary, without Fournette, and with the guys they have and not address running back in the draft.

“I think maybe it’s misunderstood of how we feel about the other guys we have in our room besides Leonard and Roc(quell Armstead) and Devine (Ozigbo),” Caldwell explained. “And those are two guys that as you look down, you start to get into the fourth, fifth round, and you’re like, ‘Do we like these guys better than Rock and Devine?’ And the real answer is no.”

Regarding the Yannick Ngakoue situation, Caldwell said they’d welcome him back with ‘open arms.’ He also noted that there weren’t any offers for Yan from other teams, mainly because of his long-term contract demands. Expect the Jaguars to be willing to let Ngakoue sit if he doesn’t sign the franchise tender. That would be really dumb on his part. As I’ve said, he’s getting bad advice.

What kind of team will they be?

“Young, smart, tough. Guys that love football,” Marrone said. “Everything that we’ve talked about, not a lot of stuff going on that’s going to distract them, a bunch of guys that are excited for their opportunity, appreciative. These guys want to go to work. They want to play.”

“You’re never going to come out of a draft completely satisfied. But this is about as satisfied as we’ve been,” Caldwell said in summary. “We feel good about the players we got and filled some needs.”

Agree or disagree with what they’re doing, the Jaguars brass are true believers in their vision. They got the players they wanted, and the kind of players they wanted and expect to compete now. Not rebuild, not ‘roll into it’ but compete in the AFC South if they have an NFL season in 2020.

Jaguars Get What and Who They Wanted

There’s always been a two-way discussion for NFL teams about the college draft: Do you pick for need or just draft the best player available?

For the Jaguars this year they were picking for something different: No drama.

Head Coach Doug Marrone stressed that point several times leading up to the draft and the Jaguars followed through, picking players who aren’t bringing a lot of baggage to Jacksonville.

“Is it big? Absolutely,” Marrone said of getting rid of any drama surrounding the Jaguars. “Is this something that we’ve stressed? Yes. But we were able to do that without sacrificing the talent or potential.”

They call these types of players “high-character guys” in the NFL. There is a theory that you need some “low-character guys” on your team to win in the league just to keep the other team honest.

This year, the football staff and the personnel department had a plan and they stuck to it. The draft was deep so they felt like they could not only get the player they liked but the kind of player they liked as well.

“So our goal was, ‘we have 12 draft picks, we don’t want to be flippant with the picks.’’ General Manager Dave Caldwell explained. “It’s easy to be like, ‘I have 12 picks, so let’s use this pick to trade up and trade that,’ but let’s just let the draft come to us and still get talented players that fit our culture, fit our locker room and that can come in and compete at a high level.”

There are team captains all over this Jaguars draft. Ten of the first eleven players selected by Marrone and Caldwell were named captains in college. The eleventh, Davon Hamilton (who might have the biggest arms you’ve ever seen) played on the defensive line at Ohio State where Chase Young was the captain but was described by Gene Smith, the Buckeye’s Athletic Director as, “A Sunday kind of guy. He’s disruptive. He’s smart. I love Davon because on top of everything he’s a great human being.”

So coming out of this draft, even if the Jaguars don’t win, you can have them all over for dinner.

“When they’re good players and they’ve been good in the locker room and they’re good on these college campuses and in their community, and then really what that means is now you can coach football and whole focus can be on football,” Marrone explained.

The Jaguars had specific needs, but he wanted players to come into the locker room not worried about their “brand” or their Instagram account. Marrone was looking for workers. He personally talked to college assistants about what kind of workers and teammates potential draft picks were, looking for a specific type of player to come to Jacksonville.

“I really believe that when you don’t have a lot of things going on on the outside with this person or that person or whatever it may be, and you can totally focus just on football when you’re in the building, you have a chance to be a pretty good player,” he added.

That’s not to say they didn’t address their needs, or give up on getting talent either. This draft was so deep at the positions the Jaguars were looking for they could get the guys they wanted without a lot of jumping around. Marrone was quick to say the Jaguars didn’t “settle” on anybody. He claims the players they took early were the highest rated players on their board.

“That is the one thing. I don’t want these players from a situation of, ‘Well, you know what. Jacksonville went ahead and they took two guys that are really great guys, but they may not be talented,’ Marrone said. “We feel that we have gotten great talent, guys that can produce at positions that we needed, but we did not have to go and take them [out of position]. They were the highest rated players on our board when we were going to go and pick.”

And Marrone even leaned on some of his current players when deciding whether a potential draft pick would fit with the culture he’s trying to build. He talked to Jawaan Taylor about C.J. Henderson. They were teammates at Florida. Same with D.J. Chark and K’Lavon Chaisson at LSU, and he was happy with the answers he got.

“There’s players in our locker room that know these players, and that’s important for me to get a sense of, ‘Hey, are these guys going to fit? Are they what we’re looking for?’ Marrone said of his internal research.
“They understand the challenges we have as a team. ‘How are they going to be there?’ I was very comfortable with that. I couldn’t be happier about where we are right now. Who we’re bringing in, we still have that responsibility trying to create this locker room.”

Prior to the draft, Caldwell said that his twelve picks gave him some “ammo” to move around and get the players the Jaguars wanted. So we anticipated some fireworks. That just didn’t happen. The draft unfolded just about how everybody predicted. No big surprises.

“I haven’t been reluctant, I just felt like we had options at every pick,” Caldwell said after day two.

Every time the Jaguars were getting close to their pick, Caldwell said he was ready to make a trade to move up to get who they wanted but he didn’t need to.

‘”Okay, well there’s two picks to go and we feel good about three players or five players,” is how explained what happened. “So there’s no real need to trade up. There’s been enough players that we like. I think sometimes patience pays off.”

This collaboration between Marrone and Caldwell has worked well: at least at getting players and the kind of players the Jaguars wanted. You can disagree with what they’re doing, but they’re building the team they think will work. The model of everybody reporting to one football czar, didn’t work, at least from a personnel perspective.

Marrone told everybody what kind of team he wants the Jaguars to be and the coaching staffs and personnel department worked together to find the players that would fit that model.

Caldwell says the idea they presented to Owner Shad Khan about how to build a team after Khan fired Executive VP Tom Coughlin has worked.

“The process has been really good and it’s been really seamless and enjoyable on my part with our coaching staff and our personnel staff,” he explained. “Good dialogue where everyone can speak freely and not be judged.”

I’ve often thought that the Jaguars should reflect what kind of people live in Jacksonville. Like the Steelers reflect Pittsburgh, the Bills reflect Buffalo and the Ravens reflect Baltimore: Tough, hard working, “I don’t care who gets the credit let’s just get the job done” kind of guys. You know, the anti-Jalen Ramsey type.

This draft seems to have accomplished that. Now let’s see if they can play.