Jacksonville Jaguars

What Are They Up To

Like most everybody else, I’ve been staying home, following the guidelines, working on some projects, talking on the phone with friends and tracking the progress against the coronavirus.

And just like most everybody else, I’ve had a chance to let my mind wander about a lot of subjects.

Looking back over the last month or so here in North Florida there hasn’t been a lot of good news. Good journalism revealed an underhanded scheme to sell the JEA. The PGA Tour had to cancel The Players
The Jaguars announced they’re sending a second home game to London.

And they traded Calais Campbell to Baltimore.

The feds will get to the bottom of the JEA fiasco. There’s nothing good for fans the in Jacksonville as the Jaguars move another home game away. At least they say it’s temporary. And The Players will be back next year and I’ll look forward to that.

But I don’t think I’ll ever get over trading Calais Campbell. For now, at least, I don’t understand it.

There’s no way to replace Calais. His production on the field is easily quantified. It resulted in three Pro Bowl seasons while he was here. But his locker room presence and his off-field impact on the community can’t be measured.
Yes, he donated his time and money to local groups, but the goodwill he spread and the positive feelings people had about him, and consequently the Jaguars. are things that can’t be duplicated.

His efforts saw him named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year for how he represented the league, the Jaguars and himself in the community. No matter whom else they send out there, Calais can’t be replaced.

Who asked about that at the stadium? Did anybody from the business side ask what else they could do besides getting rid of Calais?

From a football perspective, I hope Doug Marrone was banging on the table saying “Absolutely not” when the idea of trading Campbell was floated.

We haven’t been able to ask any of those questions of Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell or Marrone, yet, because of league rules relating to the coronavirus. Those rules, rightly in place, have kept the Jaguars brass isolated from the media. When a transaction is completed, the team sends it out on their website and their social platforms. The Jaguars PR staff has been in touch with the media via text and email.

It’s a good process under the circumstances but we haven’t been able to ask how some of these decisions came about. They tells us there might be some conference calls this week so we might get a chance to ask some questions.

Campbell was due $15M from the Jaguars this year. He signed an extension with the Ravens for $27M over two years. So it’s not as if he had some outrageous contract demands. But the Jaguars clearly thought the money they could save on Calais could fund what they wanted to do in free agency. They got a fifth round draft pick in return.

“With more draft capital, we’ll be prepared to acquire new players via trade or in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft in April,” Caldwell said in a press release. “The acquisitions that we add to our team via free agency and the draft will complement the weapons that we already have on our roster, which allows our coaches and scouts to look at all opportunities to put the best possible team on the field in 2020 and beyond.”

That’s a pretty stock answer, and with the money they’ve created under the cap, the Jaguars have made some free-agent acquisitions.

Their biggest move is signing Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Shobert. Shobert is 6-1, 245lbs, so he’s Paul Posluszny. That moves Myles Jack back outside where he belongs. It’s a big improvement not just in talent but also in the personnel they have to run the kind of defense they like. It also atones for some of the strategic errors they’ve made since Poz retired.

Doug Marrone admitted as much.

“He brings an ability to tackle and diagnose plays. He’s a true middle linebacker.” Marrone said of Shobert in a prepared statement. “This gives us the ability to move Myles Jack to outside linebacker, which I feel is a more natural position for him.”

Otherwise, they’ve signed and resigned some players to fill some of the roster spots they think will be an upgrade to the 2019 roster.

But none of them are Calais Campbell. Nice players, good players, but not Calais Campbell.

So where will the leadership come from? Campbell was the undisputed leader in the locker room and showed it on the field. Gardner Minshew and Leonard Fournette will have to step up on offense. On defense, Shobert will have to quickly adapt and Josh Allen and Jack will have to be out front immediately.

“I hope all of this works,” one Jaguars insider told me.

It’s not the first time the Jaguars have made moves too early, looking at the salary cap and not paying enough attention to what’s going on in the locker room. You might think, “they’re professionals, none of that matters,” but it does. Teams that win have a culture and a social structure that’s set from the inside. Leaders are important. None has been more important than Calais.

Early on, the Jaguars let linebackers Tom McManus, Jeff Kopp and Brant Boyer go a year too early in each case. None were full-time starters but they were good stopgap players and excellent on special teams. But it was their presence in the locker room, the weight room and on the practice field that couldn’t be replaced. Younger players were cheaper but the Jaguars suffered each time when those three departed.

Same with guys like Montel Owens and even Daryl Smith. They were rebuilding the team for Gus Bradley but the locker room was set adrift when those veteran players were sent off. And wins were scarce.

There’s a leadership vacuum that happens immediately. Young players need other players to show them the way and lead by example.

When my friend Jim called the Jaguars offices this week to cancel his season tickets, the salesperson on the other end of the line said, “Can I ask why?”

“You got twenty minutes?” Jim responded.

At least the salesperson had the smarts to say, “Yeah, I get it,” as the conversation ended.

“What the heck are they doing down there,” my friend Harry said as I answered his call on Monday.

“Maybe that’ll be the headline of my column this week,” I said with a laugh.

Perhaps a better headline would be, “I hope they know what they’re doing down there.”

For their sake, and for ours.

Two London Games Hurts

Everything about the Jaguars moving a second home game to London stinks.

For now.

When the Jaguars made that announcement earlier this week all anybody heard was “They’re playing a second game in London, they’re taking a home game away from us”. When I talked to Jaguars President Mark Lamping later in the week he laid out the Jaguars reason why and a lot of it makes sense.

For the long term.

“We understood what the response from our fans would be,” Lamping told me Thursday. “But we have to make these hard decisions so there aren’t any questions about the future of the Jaguars in Jacksonville. “

So they’re saying that this short-term pain is going to insure the franchise in the future in Jacksonville?

Well, I like that part.

But how they just dropped the decision to play a second game in London in the middle of the week kind of out of nowhere was a strategic error by Lamping and Jaguars Owner Shad Khan. There were a lot of different ways they could’ve told us this without just one day saying, “Hey! We’re playing two games in London next year.”

Because as soon as they said that, nobody heard another word. All we heard was “They’re taking another home game from us! They’re moving to London!”

They underestimated how people from Jacksonville understand that we’re the underdog. We need to do things a little differently. We’re not stupid. Tell us why and bring us in on the process.

People outside the city have told us for years that eventually the team would move. First it was Los Angeles and since Khan bought the team it’s been London. I’ve defended Khan in the past both here and among my media colleagues when I travel. This will add fuel to their fire and diminish any argument in Khan or Jacksonville’s defense.

Except Lamping assured me that’s not part of the plan.

He said he Jaguars have no plan to play a a third game in London or Barcelona or Stuttgart in 2021 or a fourth in 2022.

Right now the NFL’s commitment to London ends this year with four games in 2020 and two more at Tottenham Hotspurs’ home ground at White Hart Lane for the next eight seasons. So the league is looking at what their international plan will be going forward.

And not just for London. They’d like to play games in Germany and Spain and perhaps continue in London and in Mexico City.

But for now, for us, it stinks.

If they break ground on Lot J and the Shipyards project this year, the timeline for those projects is to be completed by 2023. So I’d expect two games in London at least until then.

Add the fact that parking at Lot J is going away for a while and it’s Jaguars fans that will bear the brunt of the burden just to get six games in Jacksonville for possibly the next three years.

If the Jaguars are telling us the truth about their long-term plan, then that’s great. This team will always be the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Shad’s charge to me is ‘Do what we need to do to have a successful franchise in Jacksonville,’” Lamping said.

And Lamping and Khan believe that, for now, playing a second game in London, along with the Lot J project, the Shipyards and Daily’s place all will create enough revenue to keep the team competitive and solvent.

Once the revenue starts coming in from these alternate sources, according to Lamping, they can decide if playing a game overseas is necessary or still a good idea.

We all know they make more money playing home games in London, so what’s to keep them from just playing more games there?

Lamping points to Khan’s commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars to Jacksonville and says Shad wants the team here.

“The initiatives of the Lot J project, the Shipyards, Daily’s Place, all of those are important to our long term plan for the Jaguars in Jacksonville in the future.”

I’ll take him at his word on that only because he was most accurate when he said, “There might be some short term pain for fans to ensure our long term success here in Jacksonville.”

Lamping is used to this kind of heat. He was the most vilified person in St. Louis as he negotiated for the construction of a new Busch Stadium for the baseball Cardinals. When he talked to the Governor and state leaders in Illinois, gaining leverage for the new stadium, they wanted to run him out of town. He works for Shad and Shad wants to get this done. He’s judged by the bottom line.

There are a few other things that go into the decision to play two home games in London.

One is the NFL was looking for a team to play two games there in one season to see how it went. So the Jaguars are the guinea pigs for that experiment.

Will the league and the Jaguars renew in London?

Probably so.

They like the international vibe and certainly Shad likes being able to entertain his international clients from the UK, Asia and Europe at Wembley. Who knows he may own Wembley in the next couple years?

What the NFL is lacking is teams that have the flexibility to play a home game in London. The Jaguars have that flexibility for now, most teams do not based on their stadium lease.

Which brings us to the next five to eight years for the Jaguars franchise here in Jacksonville. If we want to stay competitive as a NFL city, a rebuild or renovation of the current stadium is in our not-so-distant future.

And if we’re going to contribute to upgrade or redo the stadium, one of the negotiating points will be the Jaguars have to commit to play their games there.

Because of the Jacksonville’s small market size, it’ll take other revenue besides just sellouts.

Lamping points to Patriots Place in Foxboro as a gleaming example of what can happen. And I agree with all of that. In the end, Patriots Place makes money for Patriots owner Robert Kraft. And the same will happen for Shad Khan, long term, with his downtown projects. But the Patriots play 10 home games right next door to Patriots Place. And they win games and go to the playoffs. Lamping says once the Lot J project starts to make money it might negate a need for a second game in London.

And the timeline for that is 2023.

When the Jaguars were a competitive franchise in the late ‘90’s, winning at a .560 clip, sellouts were a regular occurrence. Since then they’ve won about a quarter of their games. But when they win, like in 2017, people show up. Look around the league. It’s no different anywhere else. For years, the Bucs had about 40,000 fans in Tampa Bay and they showed up despite how bad the team was. You might remember they floated the idea of playing half of their games in Orlando. Same for the Saints in New Orleans and the Dolphins in Miami. When the Cowboys were 1-15 in 1989, Texas Stadium was empty.

The same thing happens here: Win games and fans show up.

To use Lamping’s words, “The fans have clearly outperformed the team.”

What hasn’t happened since the Jaguars founding in 1993 is corporate growth in North Florida. I blame civic leadership for that. The population has grown and like anywhere else, a winning football team brings fans to the stadium.

But the kind of underpinning NFL owners are looking for comes from corporations and sponsorship. The fact that Jaguars games are shown on television only in parts of Florida, South Georgia and in the visitors city doesn’t give potential corporate sponsors the kind of exposure they’re looking for.

How do you solve that? A big part of the answer is winning more games.

A winning team shows up on national television, on Sunday Night and Monday Night Football. It doesn’t get flexed out of prime time.

I don’t mind playing one game in London every year. It makes a good connection with one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Khan pointed out that the reaction to the one game in London was very positive. Apparently his reference to the expected positive reaction for playing a second game there was supposed to be for the attitude five years from now.

But not for how we feel now. Because for now, it’s painful, disappointing and is hard to see as a plus.

When it comes to revenue I’m always for people making money. At some point Shad and the NFL will have to decide if it’s just all about money

I’ll take him at his word that he wants to have a long-term viable franchise in Jacksonville and it’s these other revenue streams and, for now, the second game in London that will guarantee the Jaguars have “Jacksonville” as part of their name for the foreseeable future.

Lamping said this week any kind of franchise shift is something the current Jaguars management would never consider. They want to make more money, but they’re not moving like the Chargers, Rams and Raiders.

“They have taken steps that we would not consider, but they have taken steps to fix their revenue by leaving Oakland, by leaving St. Louis and by leaving San Diego.”

Maybe this was a public relations stumble, a miscalculation by Lamping and Khan. Maybe Lot J, the Shipyards and Daily’s Place will be the genesis of a much-needed renaissance for downtown.

I know owning an NFL team is not a charity project and that Shad wants the Jaguars to make money.

And I know Shad is a competitive guy and doesn’t want to sit in the bottom 25% of revenue earners among NFL teams.

But how they rolled out this step was a strategic mistake, underestimating Jaguars fans passion here in Jacksonville. They underestimated the people in Jacksonville and what we can do, and how we’ll buy in if we believe you’re on our side. We got rid of the smell, we got rid of tolls, and we even beat the odds and got an NFL team.

They seem to lack somebody with real roots in Jacksonville to help shape their decisions. When they got the Clevelander to sponsor the pool and the North End Zone, anybody who’s been around here a while knew that wasn’t the answer.

We’re Atlantic/Jax/Neptune/Ponte Vedra Beach. Not South Beach.

Lamping is fond of saying, “Watch what we do.” Not to worry Mark, we will. We’ll be playing close attention.

Because for now, this hurts.

Boselli Denied Again

If there’s a need to prove that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the most difficult Hall to get into, look no further than the Modern-Era Class of 2020.

While Jaguars fans are disappointed and frustrated that Tony Boselli hasn’t gained induction to Canton yet, Steeler fans and Bucs fans feel the same. Boselli was a finalist for the fourth consecutive year. The Steelers Alan Faneca has also been a finalist for four years. And John Lynch has been discussed “in the room” by the Selection Committee seven meetings in a row.

“We’ll go to Tampa and see what happens next year,” Boselli graciously told me after he was informed he wasn’t among the Centennial Class of 2020.

There’s a lot of support for Boselli among the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He’s been a finalist four years in a row and has made the cut to the final ten in the last three years. The Committee believes he was a great player. But he’s a great player in a crowded field of other great players.

This year there were five spots available for the 15-modern era finalists. Troy Polamalu had one locked up as a “first ballot” inductee. While I don’t think that should be a thing in football based on the process, it’s become a thing and it’s hurt Boselli and other’s chances for enshrinement in Canton.

And next year the numbers are difficult for any of the finalists. Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Calvin Johnson will be eligible for the first time. The general mind-set of the committee over the last decade is “this guy can’t wait.”

So if you put those three guys in, that leaves two spots for 12 players. Add Jared Allen to the mix as a first-year eligible and you see what I mean. Not a lot of room for Boselli, Lynch, or Faneca. Add LeRoy Butler, Bryant Young, Richard Seymour, Zach Thomas and the six other finalists from this year and the path to football immortality gets pretty narrow.

“You are elated when the candidate you advocate for gets his gold jacket and dejected when your nominee is turned away,” said Tampa Bay’s Ira Kaufman, a selector since 2005. “You can’t help but feel you could’ve done a better job making their case for a gold jacket.”

Kaufman presented Lynch for the seventh straight year on Saturday and has brought new information to the meeting every year. That can be difficult with only five minutes allotted for a presentation.

“There was a lot of pressure,” Ron Borges, a Hall of Fame Selection Committee member who presented Ty Law for three years said after Law’s selection in 2019. “It’s difficult when you bring someone back multiple times. You have to change your approach in some form or come up with some new-found statistic. But you have to be careful. You don’t want to stray too far from the basic facts you presented before.”

“While the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be the ultimate individual honor, the comments made by people like Jason Taylor, Michael McCrary, Chuck Smith and Bruce Smith as well as several others means so much and I am humbled,” Boselli added.

Those comments were a part of my presentation for Boselli this year. Without a lot of statistical comparison for a tackle, relying on the impression Tony left on his opponents and others of his era who played his position is important. And you can’t find anybody who doesn’t say Boselli wasn’t a great player and Hall of Fame worthy.

Up until this year, Hall of Fame Defensive End Bruce Smith, was reluctant to talk about his matchups with Boselli, but endorsed him just last week.

“He was a stud,” Smith said of Boselli and how he dominated him in their playoff game in Buffalo. “He gave me all I could handle. In that era of football, there was none better.”

Hall of Famers, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf all played in the same era as Boselli and all believe he belongs in the Hall.

“I used to check my game against his every week,” Jones said.

In the five concurrent years Tony played with those other tackles, it was Boselli who was named as the All-Pro 1st Team tackle three consecutive years.

John Hannah, considered the best guard to ever play the game said, “When I watched Tony Boselli play I thought he was the best offensive tackle I ever saw.”

So if everybody thinks he’s fantastic and worthy, why isn’t he in?

While it’s a numbers game as I mentioned earlier, and those numbers are dwindling with Joe Jacoby, Kevin Mawae and Steve Hutchinson no longer on the ballot, there was a log jam among offensive linemen for the past four years.

It’s happened before. We talked about Lynn Swann and John Stallworth for nearly a decade before Swann was selected and Stallworth was enshrined the next year. Same thing with Tim Brown, Andre Reed and Cris Carter. All eventually got in but it took a while.

When matching Boselli’s career against the other finalists, the only knock is his length of service. Boselli played 91 regular season games over seven years and six more in the playoffs.

There are plenty examples of “short careers” among those enshrined in Canton. Terrell Davis played 78 games. Kenny Easley 89. Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Swann, Kellen Winslow, and Dwight Stephenson all had careers that are considered “short.” But all have gained entrance into the Hall.

For some reason, the confluence of this particular collection of members of the Selection Committee, players who have been finalists, and offensive linemen also on the ballot have so far denied Boselli a spot in Canton.

One friend of mine called it “stupefying.” Some called it “baffling.”

Being in the room and listening to the qualifications of the other finalists, I understand it. I don’t like it, but I understand it. As I’ve said many times, the most frustrating thing about being on the committee are the players I have to leave off every year that I know are deserving of a bust in Canton.

So if Tony wants me back, I’ll go next year to Tampa and see what happens. I know it’s hard on him and nothing disappoints me more than the conversation I’ve had with him the last three years.

It’s tough, which will make it that much more sweet when it happens. And it will.

Boselli’s Chance

This coming Saturday in Miami, former Jaguars Tackle Tony Boselli and Packers safety LeRoy Butler are among the 15 finalists for the remaining five spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s “Centennial Class.” Recognizing the NFL’s 100th anniversary and the year 2020, the Hall expanded this year’s class to include 10 seniors, two coaches, three contributors and five modern-era candidates. Those modern-era candidates are the finalists we’ll talk about this Saturday, players whose careers ended less than twenty-five years ago.

A “Blue Ribbon” Committee was appointed to select the first fifteen members of the Centennial Class. The regular Selection Committee will discuss the final fifteen Saturday and whittle that group down to the final five for enshrinement in Canton with a little twist on the rules from previous years.

Normally the Selection Committee talks about players and coaches and the final five have to endure an up or down vote. Each has to get 80% of the Selection Committee’s endorsement to gain entrance into the Hall. This year the Committee will only talk about players and there will be no up or down vote. The final five will be part of the class.

It’s the fourth consecutive year Boselli has made the finalists list. It’s the first time Butler has made it “in the room.” Making it “in the room” gives a player about an 88% chance of eventually making it to the Hall.

Because it’s his fourth year in the final fifteen, Boselli has a better chance this year than Butler but I think both deserve enshrinement in Canton. I’ll give support to LeRoy’s candidacy during the meeting. He’s a four-time All-Pro and four times was elected to the Pro Bowl. He played on a Super Bowl championship team. He was on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the ‘90’s. He has a strong case for the Hall.

But it’s my job as the Jacksonville representative to present Tony’s case to the other forty-seven selectors. The Green Bay rep will present LeRoy’s case.

The Selection Committee is a group of reporters and two Hall of Fame members who are serious-minded, smart, experienced and well prepared. They’re not swayed by flowery rhetoric or great oratory skills. They’re interested in facts they might not have uncovered. They want to hear what the candidate’s contemporaries say about his qualifications, his teammates and opponents, players and coaches.

Boselli had been eligible for the Hall for eleven years before he became a finalist. Give credit to my colleague Vito Stellino, a Hall of Fame writer himself and an at-large member of the Selection Committee for jump-starting Tony’s candidacy. His off-season reminder to Committee members that Boselli’s career exceeded the length of some recent inductee’s gave Tony’s case an early push.

There’s really not much debate about the quality of Boselli’s play. Nobody disputes that at the peak of his performance, he was among the best, maybe in the top two of those who ever played tackle in the NFL. (The consensus is Anthony Munoz is the best tackle ever. Even Boselli thinks so.)

Players from Tony’s era who have made it to Canton all believe in his qualifications.

Munoz said he thinks Boselli “is one of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”

“He had the versatility of Gary Zimmerman and Walter Jones,” said John Randle, who Boselli calls his toughest opponent. “He was patient, that’s what makes the great ones I don’t see that much these days. Tony had great feet, he never got crossed over.”

Jason Taylor suffered a beat down in a nationally televised game and said recently, “ Tony Boselli wore me out! In fact, if they didn’t turn off the lights, he would still be kicking my a**. He belongs in that (Hall of Fame) box.”

Even Bruce Smith, previously reluctant to talk about his matchups with Boselli, endorsed him this week. “He was a stud. He gave me all I could handle. In that era of football, there was none better.”

Walter Jones was a few years older than Boselli but admitted he looked at Tony’s game tape each week to compare his own game.. You could call the era that included Jones and Boselli the “Golden Age of Tackles.” Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf were all in that time frame and all are in the Hall. All also admit Boselli might have been the best of the lot.

John Hannah, considered the best guard to ever play the game said, “When I watched Tony Boselli play I thought he was the best offensive tackle I ever saw.”

Boselli ranks either first or second among the tackles of his era when it comes to sacks per game, rushing yards to his side and most other quantifiable statistics. He was named All-Pro four times by different organizations and was five times selected to the Pro Bowl. He’s a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team of the’90’s despite playing only half of the decade.

So the only question about Tony is the length of his career. Seven years. Ninety-seven games including six playoff contests.

There are numerous examples of players in the Hall of Fame who played less than ten years in the league.

Well respected NFL Historian and editor of Pro Football Journal John Turney recently named his “All-
Short Career” team perhaps in reaction to the recent early retirements of Luke Kuechly (8 years), Rob Grokowski, (9 years) Calvin Johnson (9 years) and Andrew Luck (6 years).

Boselli was an all-first team tackle on offense. The other was Jimbo Covert of the Bears, recently named to the Hall by the Blue Ribbon Committee. Covert played eight seasons and 111 games. Less than a full season more than Tony.

Names you might recognize also on that “Short Career” offensive team: Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Lynn Swann, Kellen Winslow, Earl Campbell, Terrell Davis and Dwight Stephenson, all in the Hall of Fame among others. Davis gained enshrinement in 2017 and played but 78 games in the NFL.

If you like numbers, here are some that might surprise you:

Twenty-five percent of the tackles in the Hall played less than 100 games. Thirteen percent of all players in the Hall played less than 100 games.

Pro football reference has a stat called “games as primary starter” at their position. A full 35% of the hall, 97 of the 279 players in the Hall of Fame were the “primary starter” at their position for ten years or less.

The same research lists 14 of the 30 tackles in the Hall of Famer, nearly half as the “primary starter” for their teams for ten years or less. Why?

There’s been an ebb and flow in the length of careers over the NFL’s first century. Until about 1960 it wasn’t unusual for a player’s career to be less than ten years.

There was not the same medical skill and procedures as now and certainly not the money. Guys went on to other careers. Duke Slater, a member of the Centennial Class, played nine years and ninety games before retiring at age 32. At the time he was an attorney and a judge in Chicago. It wasn’t until the very late 50’s and 60’s that careers in the NFL started to expand. Better medical attention, more money in the game. Now the trend could be shorter careers. The toll on guys bodies with a 12 month commitment, the amount of money now in the game is giving them an opportunity and for some an incentive to retire early.

So perhaps the Selection Committee will recalibrate it’s thought process when it comes to length of careers. Will they deny Kuechly, Gronkowski or Johnson entrance to the Hall because they chose to end their careers when it appeared they could still play? I would hope not. A less than ten-year career will be more the norm and not the exception in the future.

It’s still an uphill battle for Boselli with fellow offensive linemen Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson also as finalists again this year. John Lynch is a finalist for the seventh time.
Eight of the fifteen to be discussed in the room are finalists for the first time. Troy Polamalu is considered the only favorite to gain entrance this year.

While I think Tony has a strong case for the Hall, especially in light of the precedents set by the selection in recent years of players with short careers, I can tell you that in my twenty-five years on the Committee, in that room on that Saturday, anything can happen.

Marrone, Caldwell Last Chance

There’s a lot we don’t know about Shad Khan. His ownership of the Jaguars is different than Wayne Weaver’s. It’s different than a lot of other NFL owners as well. He doesn’t live in town so he’s not part of the day-to-day operations. As one of the businesses in his portfolio the Jaguars have their own operating management, and when he needs to get involved, he does.

There is one thing we do know about Shad Khan: He’s not stupid.

If you spend any time around Shad you see that he’s a good listener. He believes in people’s expertise. He gives the people around him the tools to be successful. And he has high expectations for that success.

“We would go into meetings at the end of the year with ten ideas of things we’d need to make things successful going forward,” one Jaguars manager told me. “We’d expect to get three or four. Shad would sit there during the meeting and listen, and if you made your case, he’d give you all ten.”

But there was a catch.

“When he’d get to the door,” the manager recalled, “He’d look back and ask ‘Got what you need?’ Then he’d say, ‘Good, I expect some results.’ He didn’t want to hear any excuses.”

Khan’s thing is business. He likes the whole process of finding a business that’s undervalued, figuring out how to get it going and making it work. And he likes to win.

There are a lot of people angry or at best perplexed about his decision to keep Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell running his football team. They’re track record isn’t great save for one year, 2017. The Jaguars winning percentage in the last decade, with the team mostly owned by Khan, is second-to-last in the league.

Which is why national pundits called Khan’s move to keep Marrone and Caldwell a “head-scratcher.” Or worse. One said Khan was too close to the situation to see what the problems are. That he was looking for the “comfortable” decision to make.

“He did what he always does. Status quo. All good. Nothing to see here. Just another occasionally sternly-worded press release,” is how he described Khan’s decision-making process.

We all know it’s become its own sport on a national level to bash Jacksonville and the Jaguars. We’re an outpost to those writers who never go anywhere other than from the airport to the Hyatt to the stadium and back. If that’s all you did in most NFL cities you wouldn’t think much of them either. But that’s a whole different story.

I’ve had friends and fans agree that they have to “blow the whole thing up” but when I ask “in favor of what?” I usually get a blank stare. And that’s what I think Khan was facing.

The trend of young 30-something coaches taking over franchises has cooled a bit with fewer “hot” candidates out there. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is a perennial name on the coaching carousel but after his short stint in Denver and jilting the Colts, other owners are a bit wary. And the question whether its McDaniels or the Brady/Belichick combination still remains.

So short of luring Belichick away for a challenge and proof that it’s not all about the quarterback, Khan could have looked at Baltimore’s offensive coordinator Greg Roman (Caldwell’s roommate at John Carroll. Also McDaniels alma mater) or Robert Saleh, the ‘Niners defensive coordinator and former linebacker coach here in Jacksonville. Neither has head coaching experience.

You could say he opted for the “status quo” but I’m looking at the other side of the equation.

These days in the NFL it’s the coaches who bring along their own general managers, not the other way around. So Shad had to make a decision on his coach first. In his meetings with Marrone, Khan was convinced that Doug was encumbered by Tom Coughlin despite their close relationship. Shad had already made the decision to move on from Coughlin as the football czar weeks before he fired him.
It was Coughlin who set a tense tone on the team, attending practices but without the daily contact with players he didn’t have any positive impact on their performance. It seems the only contact Coughlin had with players was when they found a letter in their locker telling them how much they’d been fined. Or whatever he said to Jalen Ramsey after week two this year.

Marrone convinced Khan he can change the culture overnight, and there was some evidence of that in how the team reacted after Coughlin’s firing. Especially last Sunday coming from eleven points down to bet the Colts.

“I have a clear vision of the type of communication that I want with our players from different heads of the organization,” Marrone said on Tuesday when I asked him what specifically he told Khan that would make him a better coach for this team. “I think that we can do a better job there creating a better environment.”

Without throwing Coughlin directly under the bus, Marrone let it be known that things would be different with him calling the shots.

And Khan believed him.

Doug would be easy to play for. Do your job, no problem. Step out of line or don’t perform and he’ll let you know right away. No mystery there.

Retaining Caldwell on the surface seems odd but it had to do with Marrone’s new role having some input in personnel decisions. Caldwell’s record acquiring players, even when he was making the calls on his own, is spotty. But not that different than most organizations. It’s the high profile, Blake Bortles pick that most critics can’t get past.

Marrone was quick to point out in the last two years that he didn’t have anything to do with picking players while Coughlin was there. “You’d have to talk with them,” was his answer when asked about personnel decisions. Now, with he and Caldwell on equal footing in the organization, he believes he can help make it work.

Marrone has a more global view of the whole organization than people outside the buillding would realize. He’s interested in getting everyone involved.

“It comes from everywhere,” he said when asked about change. “It comes from all the support staff in the building, to the way we’re handling the players, to the way we’re acquiring them, to the way we’re coaching them, to everything.”

And then he was very specific about how things will work going forward. He’ll decide as the head coach what kind of football team they’ll be and have input about the players who fit into that mold.

“We are talking about taking our coaching staff with our scouting staff and really putting it in a true, true partnership where we are meeting and talking and doing that and coming to decisions,” he explained. “My experience with that has been that probably 97 percent of the time, you are going to come up with a decision that is best for your organization.”

Those decisions for 2020 will be critical. Marrone’s decisions about his coaching staff, beginning next Monday will be critical. Everybody knows they have a quarterback issue looming. The offensive line needs to play better, probably with some new personnel. They need Marcel Dareus back on the defensive line and better linebacker play. And their wide receivers need to be better and more consistently open.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. But it’s not that unusual for a team in the NFL to turn it around.

This is the one chance these guys are going to get.

It’s Khan’s Call, So How

I don’t know if Shad Khan will make a change in the Jaguars management this week. I suspect he will, having given us a hint in his statement after firing Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice President. “I determined earlier this fall that making this move at the conclusion of the 2019 season would be in everyone’s best interests . . .” he said announcing he had relieved Coughlin of his duties earlier than expected. So he’s had change on his mind for a while.

I’ve never liked the change process in sports. But maybe that’s just me. There’s a lot written about how coaches and executives didn’t get the job done and much less written about the family upheaval and all of the other things that change entails.

But it happens every year. In fact, the Monday after the regular season has its own name in the NFL: Black Monday.

We’ve all seen in our own careers when managers are in over their heads, are in the wrong job or have just worn out their welcome. Neither Head Coach Doug Marrone nor General Manager Dave Caldwell fit those descriptions but the decision-making process in the NFL is based on one thing: wins and losses.

And everybody who gets into that profession knows that.

“I truly take responsibility and apologize,” Marrone said in a heart-felt opening statement during a press conference this week. “You want your team to be doing well so people can have some pride and some joy, and we haven’t done that and that’s my job. What I haven’t done a good job [with] is our performance on Sundays.”

What if Khan looks around, maybe can’t get exactly who he wants, and decides that Marrone, without Tom Coughlin looking over his shoulder, is as good a choice as any? And decides that Caldwell’s personnel acumen was better without Coughlin’s input and keeps him as well?

Fans would be in an uproar. But does that matter?

At this point with television revenue paying for virtually all of an NFL team’s expenses, ticket revenue is a small part of a team’s overall income. But it all goes straight to the black on the bottom line.

What factors does Shad Khan use to make a management change? If you look at his businesses, Khan expects results and isn’t afraid to make changes. Of the estimated 40 or so businesses he owns, the Jaguars and his soccer club, Fulham in London, generate the most media attention but aren’t in the top half of his portfolio when it comes to revenue.

His main business, Flex-n-Gate, reports more than 24,000 employees worldwide. According to Forbes, it’s the 49th largest company in America, generating $8.3 billion in revenue this year. So changing management there would be a grinding process based on revenue, culture and profits. Khan would be involved at the top level. Apparently they did have a management change, perhaps at one of his manufacturing plants in Detroit sometime this year. But there’s not a whole lot of press coverage of a change at the top of an automotive parts maker.

At his soccer club, Khan has had nine managers in the last six years, including interim leaders or “caretakers” as they’re called. If things aren’t going right at Craven Cottage, he makes a change. Fulham has three “directors,” including Jaguars President Mark Lamping and Shad’s son Tony is also involved. They’re quick to flip the switch there and while it’s different than the NFL, if you’re not winning on the West End, there’s a quick hook.

Being more patient with his NFL team hasn’t paid off for Shad. He made one quick change after his first season as an owner, moving on from General Manager Gene Smith and Head Coach Mike Mularkey after a dismal 2-14 campaign in 2012. Gene hired Mike after being held over from the Wayne Weaver era. Mularkey didn’t have much of a chance with a sub-standard roster and Blaine Gabbert at quarterback but moreover Shad didn’t like how the team was being run in general.

When he asked about the Jaguars draft in 2012 he said it was like “going into an iron vault” to find out who they were looking at, even though he was the owner. It turned out to be Justin Blackmon who was productive for a couple years before he went off the deep end. But Shad didn’t like the secrecy or the process inside the building. He likes upward transparency. He wants to know what’s going on.

One thing we know about Khan’s decision-making process is that he hires the best. He’s not worried about where you’re based. He’s hired the best lawyers, the best planners, the best construction companies on their production and results. He does his homework.

So when picking a leadership team for the Jaguars, where does Shad go for advice?

He’s popular among the other NFL owners and with the league as well. He leans on their ideas, whether it’s the Cowboy’s Jerry Jones or Commissioner Roger Goodell. Khan is a good listener. Unlike most management decisions he’ll make across the spectrum of his investments, hiring the Head Coach of an NFL team comes under intense scrutiny. And he’ll be the one to make the call.

I once asked George Steinbrenner about hiring and re-hiring Billy Martin so many times. He said that there aren’t a lot of candidates for that job with a winning record. When Khan starts asking around he’ll no doubt talk with Sandy Montag and Jimmy Sexton, the two agents who represent most of the coaches out there, and get some ideas. Bringing in a “young gun” who’s a coordinator is a bit of a crap-shoot. There are hits and misses. Same with hiring a successful college coach. Guys available with a winning record in the NFL is a short list. Mike McCarthy and Ron Rivera are the two most prominent unemployed winners with NFL experience.

Khan has gone both ways with the Jaguars: Mularkey and Doug Marrone had NFL head-coaching experience. Gus Bradley did not.

What’s he looking for anyway? Gus Bradley could be termed a “players-coach,” trying to empower the players to hold each other accountable. And that didn’t work. Coughlin brought a whole different idea of accountability and aside from an injury-free 2017, that didn’t work either.

Is there a happy medium?

Each year at the “State of the Franchise” we hear Lamping go over the revenue statistics and how the Jaguars are near the bottom of the league each season. They’ve done a lot of things to try to enhance their revenue streams, including sponsors for the London game, but there’s one sure-fire way to bring in more money: win more games.

They’ve had four winning seasons since 2000 and one, in 2017, in the last ten years. Only once in the last nine years have they not suffered double-digit losses. They’ve won their division three times in their 25-year history. We can all agree with Lamping when he says “the fans have outpaced the team” when it comes to buying tickets and going to games based on performance.

This year they lost five straight games by at least 17-points, an NFL record. Compare that to the Chargers who are also 5-10 but nine of their losses have been by one score. Which team would you buy a ticket to watch?

Being a Jaguars fan isn’t easy. So hard in fact it was a running joke on a popular TV sitcom. And it’s not even the team’s record. “They’re not fun to watch,” one fan wrote me this week. “They’re not even entertaining, outside of the occasional (Gardner) ‘Minshew Magic,’” another said.

What Shad will do is anybody’s guess. Having been around him during games I can tell you he’s a real football fan. Combine that with his business success and you can only be certain that he’ll do his homework, spend the time and money, and try to make it right. Outside of that, what happens in the future is anybody’s guess.

Tom Coughlin

Coughlin Complexity Didn’t Work

It was January of 1994 and I was sitting in a temporary trailer outside the exterior hulk of the stadium that is now the home of the Jaguars. It was a full-fledged construction site with puddles everywhere as they were “renovating” the Gator Bowl to bring it up to NFL standards. In truth, it was a total re-build with just part of the west exoskeleton still standing. I was there for my regular, weekly, semi-clandestine meeting with David Seldin, the Jaguars president, to get “background” on what was going on with the franchise.

They were getting close to hiring a head coach, somebody to not only lead he football team but to build the entire organization and set the tone for the expansion franchise. I knew they had talked with Tony Dungy, at the time the Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator. They also had discussions with Lou Holtz and even talked with Jimmy Johnson.

“Do you think you’ll hire somebody established or bring somebody else in,” I asked Seldin, fishing for a clue about where they were with the search.

“I think we’ll make our own star,” Seldin said flatly.

“Then hire Tom Coughlin,” I said from across the table.

Seldin pursed his lips and looked away, his face flushed in an instant.

I knew right then that Coughlin was not only on their radar, but he was their guy. It was only a question of when.

That happened the first week of February Tom was introduced as the Head Coach and General Manager of the Jaguars. He was friendly enough, but didn’t have that easy, casual manner dealing with the media that was the norm around here with Steve Spurrier in Gainesville and Bobby Bowden in Tallahassee.

There was a story going around that Coughlin didn’t listen to the radio on the way to work because it was too “distracting.” At the time I thought that was amusing.

But like a lot of the players, coaches and media that worked for or dealt with Tom I eventually came to understand it. He’s focused, dedicated and totally committed to getting the job done. That doesn’t mean I approved of how he went about it and in fact, we had our share of serious disagreements when it came to his tactics of coaching and dealing with the media.

But I was also privy to a completely different Tom Coughlin. His youngest daughter and my oldest daughter were good friends in high school. So I got to know him as a dad over time. We’d talk about all the things two dads with high school daughters talk about: where they were going, what they were doing together. I was always surprised at his ability to completely transform from an autocratic, unreasonable coach and executive to an engaged, caring and loving father.

There was nothing about Tom Coughlin, the dad that spilled over to Tom Coughlin, the coach.

Eventually that cost him his job. Nobody in Jacksonville liked Tom the coach. Almost nobody knew Tom the dad. He wouldn’t let them. His unparalleled philanthropic work with the Jay Fund failed to soften the harsh public opinion of Tom the coach.

Even after he sat out for a year and worked for the NFL, then taking the job as the head coach of the Giants, without the GM role, he was very much Tom Coughlin the coach without any of Tom Coughlin the dad.

“Do something to help yourself,” his wife Judy implored Tom early in his tenure with the Giants. “They hate you,” she said of the New York media who had a constant battle with Tom the coach.

Somewhere shortly after that, Coughlin began a transformation; establishing a rapport with his players and at the very least, tolerated the time he spent with the media.

And they won two Super Bowls.

Even when his time with the Giants came to and end,
the players who despised him at the start, penned love letters to Coughlin after his departure

“I respect how he conducted his business and also how passionate he is about his family,” Eli Manning wrote in The Players Tribune. “He loves talking about his wife, his children and grandchildren. Later, when I got married and had children of my own, he taught me about being a good husband, a good father, and a good man.”

Manning got to see the two Tom Coughlin’s early in his career in New York. He described Coughlin as a disciplined “Head Coach” during the season.

“Then all of a sudden, the offseason comes,” he explained. “You see him in the lunch room and he sits down to have lunch with you. He asks about your family and how things are going off the field. He tries to get to know you. He smiles. He laughs.”

“He was one of the most loyal men I would ever meet playing this game.,” said defensive back Antrel Rolle. “He became my guy, and I loved him for that.”

Steve Weatherford, Justin Tuck and Hall of Famer Michael Strahan also talk about love and their feelings for Coughlin.

“You know, there was a time when the very last thing I thought I would ever say to Tom was that I loved him,” Strahan says. “But now, that’s the only word to describe how I feel about the man. It’s love. I’m a part of his family and he’s a part of mine.”

I had read all about this transformation and figured it would continue when he was named the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Jaguars. But it didn’t. I don’t know if it was because he was removed from the day-to-day contact with the players from his perch in the front office, or he figured this team needed that “Old School” sort of discipline to get back on track. But over time it didn’t work.

Coughlin handpicked Doug Marrone to be the Head Coach of the Jaguars because Marrone would coach the team the way Tom wanted it to be coached. So when Marrone did something different in this year’s training camp, Coughlin let him know he didn’t approve.

You’d think Marrone might have some resentment, but that wasn’t the case.
“We talked every day. I wouldn’t use those terms that the relationship was strained, because I have so much respect for him and I listen,” Marrone said the day after Coughlin was fired. “To be around someone that has just a great heart, great principles, great family man. I think those are the things that come to my mind.”
Marrone was stuck between his respect for Coughlin (and the fact that he was his boss) and his belief in the NFL Players Association as a player’s advocate when it comes to the hefty fines levied by Coughlin for what he perceived as violations of team rules.

“The calendar and the clock are all set by the football season and the offseason,” is a quote from Coughlin’s book “Earn the Right to Win.”

That’s why the whole situation with fining Dante Fowler for missing non-mandatory rehab during the off-season seems way out of character, especially for the rules-driven Coughlin. Tom knows the rules. He knows the difference between the season and the offseason. He knows players can seek outside rehabilitation options in the off-season. It’s part of the collective bargaining agreement.

But for some reason Coughlin decided his own rules superseded the agreement the players had with the league. As well as I knew him, and for as long as I’d known him, Tom projected a level of hubris in his return to Jacksonville in his role as the EVP that wasn’t working for him or the people around him. And I don’t know why.

When the arbitrator ruled in favor of the Players Association last Monday, giving Fowler back the $700,000 in fines he had paid to the Jaguars it brought to light more than just Coughlin’s re-found autocratic manner. The NFLPA’s memo pointed out that a full 25% of all grievances filed against teams were filed against the Jaguars. It concluded saying players should “consider this when choosing their next team.”

That made Shad Khan’s decision to remove Coughlin from the equation easy, even with just two weeks left in the season. The Jaguars couldn’t compete with the 31 other teams in the free-agent market with that hanging over their head. Khan had already decided to make that move at the end of the year based on the poor performance the team has had since the 2017 AFC Championship game. He says he “reconsidered” after the NFLPA memo and made the move immediately.

Pay no attention to Fowler’s gloating or Ramsey’s childish Twitter postings. They’re both blips on the radar of Jaguars history. The team is better off without either of them, Coughlin’s status notwithstanding.

Although his agent, Sandy Montag, said Tom has “more football left” it was more than likely that at 73-years old, Coughlin was going to retire at the end of this season to spend more time with his family and his ailing wife.
It’s an unceremonious end to this chapter of Coughlin’s career. A career that could culminate with a spot in Canton.
I just keep thinking it didn’t have to happen this way.

Fans Love And Hate Their Jaguars

During my television career, whenever line producers or news directors wanted to steal time from the sportscast for more weather or a story about a cat with cute spots on its face, I’d try to explain why we needed the two and a half minutes they were allotting to cover the sports news of the day.

Rarely would I be successful holding onto the time, but occasionally I’d ask them a simple question: “What other thing are you covering today are people wiling to get in a fistfight about?” A steamy stare, followed by a “Get out of my office” usually followed. But it’s true, people are passionate about sports on so many levels it’s hard to describe to somebody who doesn’t get it.

That’s why the volume of frustration seemed to boil over this week with Jaguars fans, all having an opinion and wanting to tell anybody who was within earshot. My phone has been buzzing a whirring all week with friends asking the same thing: “What’s up with the Jaguars?”

Long ago I learned when fans asked me my opinion about something specific, actually they wanted to tell me what they thought. Which has been fun over the years, especially when their emotions spill over.

I’ve laughed many times when my friend, we’ll call him “Wooly,” has said to me, “I hate it when you don’t get swept up in the emotion of disdain.”

Fans can have that kind of reaction to bad performances or perceived slights by “their” team. Reporters, on the other hand, are supposed to try and give a critical look at things, taking the emotions out and being “professional observers.” We’re given the luxury of going into locker rooms and attending press conferences to see and hear the nuance and tone of what’s said, how questions are asked and whatever mood is pervasive throughout an organization.

I’ve solicited opinions from fans I know about the Jaguars this week and they probably reflect some of your feelings as well. These are season ticket buying, game-attending fans. So they’re into it. I also tried to take emotion out of each situation as it was presented to me. Names have been changed here to protect the innocent.

“The fact could not be clearer that this coach cannot get this team ready for game day,” Wooly said to me after last week’s shellacking by the Chargers. “Right now they’re the worst team in the league. Come on, who’s playing worse?”

That was a refrain I heard often this week as fans threw their hands up in the air and seemed resigned to another rebuilding “How long to we have to go through this ‘Groundhog Day’ scenario?” I was asked.

While Tom Coughlin handpicked Doug Marrone to coach this team, Coughlin also has been responsible for who’s on this roster.

That’s why when Marrone said, “These are our players” in response to a question last Sunday night, my ears perked up. Coughlin used that term in 1995 in a response to a question during the second half of the season seven game losing streak that year. It’s “coach speak” for “We need better guys but they’re not out there walking up and down the street.” Marrone is the first to know that the Jaguars are outmanned due to injury and some personnel decisions that haven’t worked on both sides of the ball in the last couple of years.

“I was sitting at the game going though all of the emotions I could have,” my friend known as the “Ghost of Chuck” said. “How can we get to be this bad? Must be coaching! I said fire everybody but then I said, ‘Wait, I’m tired; I don’t want to start over! “

That’s pretty close to the full spectrum of emotions and solutions I heard this week “You gotta clean house!” was near the top of the list.

Cleaning house for Owner Shad Khan would have to start with the entire management team. Coughlin is the VP of Football Operations and for all of his success early on with the franchise, fans are angry with him right now.

“What makes you think they’re going to draft the right people?” “Ghost” said he tells his friends as his voice rose. “I compare it to other teams, Buffalo, Cleveland, they’ve done that for decades. Most of the franchises aren’t very good at selecting players. We hold ourselves accountable for not taking Russell Wilson or Lamar Jackson or other stars but plenty of other teams passed on them as well.”

“It’s easy to assess from my seat what the symptoms are but I don’t know what the problem is,” long-suffering fan “True Blue” said. “There’s a culture issue with this team. They could adopt the Patriots Way, ruthlessly getting rid of guys who are on the outside of the lines. Look at the Pats, they’re getting the last or the second to last draft pick every year and still winning.”

“Who’s responsible for the culture?” I asked. “Players or coaches”

“My frustration is with the lack of leadership and maturity,” ‘Blue’ added. “Especially on defense. Stupid penalties. They seem to be undisciplined and unmotivated.”

That was a big rallying cry this week among fans, but taking the temperature of the team walking through the locker room and talking to players after last Sunday’s beating, they still are motivated. The locker room isn’t fractured. They’re not faking it.

But the undisciplined accusation is borne out in fact: the Jaguars are the most penalized team in the league. Is that coaching or players just not adhering to basic football fundamentals?

“If they’re going out there, not making mistakes and playing hard, people will put up with that,” Blue added. “It boils down to selfishness; It turns me off. I don’t have any interest in taking three and a half hours out of my Sunday and support that. It’s great to have a hometown team but it’s been a tough run.”

My friend “Big Beef” is a suite holder and says he’ll continue to buy in every year. But for the first time ever he and his guests left in the third quarter of last week’s game.

“I was so disappointed,’ he said. “The fans deserve better.
I come back from out of town to go to the games but at some point they’ve got to repay the people for their loyalty. These last three games are inexcusable.”

“Beef” has clearly been successful in his business life managing people and making big decisions. He wonders why the Jaguars brass can’t seem to get the best out of some top players who flourish elsewhere.

“I don’t know enough about football to know what’s wrong but there’s something the matter with that team,” Beef added. “I was thinking when I left Sunday that ‘Thank God I don’t have enough money to own a football team because I’d be irate.’”

Because of all the losing, some fans’ interest has faded. With one game left at home over the holidays between Christmas and New Years, the Jaguars brass already knew it would be a tough sell for fans unless the game against the Colts meant something in the AFC South or the playoffs. It doesn’t. But these four fans are planning to be there.

Why?

“Ghost” put it best.

“Look how great it is to have a team in town, so don’t be apathetic. It gives us a sense of community. It’s an entertainment piece that the city needs to have and embrace. People here embraced the players like they do in Buffalo and Cleveland. The players like living here. It’s an important part of who we are.”

Hmmm. Sports fans.

Bortles to Minshew and In Between. What Happened

Just two years ago the Jaguars were one play away from the Super Bowl. Since then, they’ve won nine of their last twenty-eight games. Nine.

How did they get here so quickly?

In his post-game press conference after the loss to New England in the AFC Championship game, Head Coach Doug Marrone was spot on when he said, “You don’t just pick up where you left off. You have to start all over again.” He was right. And the Jaguars haven’t been able to recreate what happened in 2017 either in their culture or their performance.

But why? Because they’re a very different team than they were just two years ago.

The league is very sophisticated; everybody knows what everybody else is doing. You can say Marrone has to go or that the locker room has gone tone deaf to his message after three years, but professional football is about the players on the field. Very few schemes or coaches have tipped the outcome. It’s the players on the field, their talent and their execution that makes the difference.

You know the play every team in the NFL runs where the QB sticks the ball in the running back’s gut, pulls it out, fakes to the wide receiver who has motioned through the backfield and then pitches it to the tight end who’s dragging the other way across on the inside of the line? Do the Jaguars even have that play? Are they running a lot of motion and deception to put pressure on the defense? No, they’re not.

Because they’re not built to do that.

They’re built to have a power running game, and throw the ball downfield. But they’re not doing that because their personnel aren’t up to the task at this point. It’s also a team that looks like one that could be built to win in the league fifteen or twenty years ago.

Are you going to beat Kansas City, Baltimore, Seattle and other creative teams like the Rams with this current game plan scoring seventeen or twenty-four points a game?

Obviously not.

Marrone inadvertently hit on at least one of the answers this week.

“You say, ‘I know that a percentage of the time, they’re going to be in this or that,’ but it’s just the personnel,” he said when asked about the Jaguars struggling. “That’s the big thing. You can run the same scheme on 32 teams, but you’re not going to have the same type of results, it’s going to be the personnel, but the problem is that you say,’ Hey, is my cat better than your cat?’”
And that’s where the Jaguars have fallen so quickly in less than two seasons. They’re a very different team with different personnel, than they were in 2017.

On defense they have at least six new starters, yet Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash is still running the same “gap control” scheme. It’s why the Jaguars have given up so many long runs this year where it looks like there’s nobody there. Paul Posluszny, Malik Jackson, Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson are all gone.

Poz retired and the Jaguars miss him as the “thumper” in the middle who was rarely out of position and when that “gap” opened, he stepped in there and filled it. His replacement, Myles Jack, it a phenomenal athlete but too often is swept up on the flow of a play. He isn’t that guy like Poz, or Lonnie Martz or Tom McManus before him, who would just stand there in the hole and say, ‘OK, come on.’ It would be hard to come close to quantifying how much they miss Poz’s leadership and locker room presence.

Jackson didn’t like the way he as being used and left when his contract was up. Telvin has some kind of personal issues that had him leave football altogether. Ramsey played well that year but was a disruptive force and wanted out. This year’s safety combo might be better athletes than Church and Gipson, but those two were where they were supposed to be and slowed some people down. Church’s lapse of judgment in London cost him a spot on the team and they let Gipson walk as a free agent.

On offense the pass catching group was Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Marcedes Lewis. They cut Hurns in somewhat of a salary cap move, Lee has been hurt and even though he had something left, they let Lewis walk. Another guy whose locker room presence is immeasurable. He’s still getting it done in Green Bay.

Although D.J. Chark might be an emerging star, the current group isn’t a productive upgrade.

Up front Cam Robinson played well as a rookie at left tackle. Free agent signing Andrew Norwell, signed to replace Omameh at left guard, hasn’t panned out. Norwell has been ordinary at best. I still think Brandon Linder would be a better guard than he is at center. A.J. Cann is a smart, tough and mobile player, but he might not be big enough for what the Jaguars are trying to do at guard. Jeremy Parnell was serviceable at right tackle. His replacement, Jawaan Taylor, could end up being a fixture there but the Jaguars are going through the growing pains that happen when you put a rookie in the starting lineup.

While the salary cap dictates that you can’t keep everybody, the Jaguars decision-making about who to keep and who to let walk hasn’t worked they way they expected.

To start, you can look at the decision to let Allen Robinson to become a free agent. I know he was hurt at the beginning of 2017 but wouldn’t they like to have him back?

Trading Dante Fowler and letting Aaron Colvin become a free agent are understandable. Fowler’s a goofball and Colvin wanted starter’s money.

Selecting Taven Bryan in the first round, a pick make out of hubris and not need, didn’t make the Jaguars any better. They had other positions that begged to be addressed.

Having made the decision to stick with Blake Bortles at quarterback at the time, they needed to get him some help with guys running and catching the ball and besides drafting Leonard Fournette, that didn’t happen.

So when Marrone asked that rhetorical question, ’Hey, is my cat better than your cat?’” Right now, the answer is no.

Minshew Foles and A Mistake

Watching the New Orleans Saints the other night I saw former Jaguars offensive lineman Patrick Omameh starting at left tackle in front of Drew Brees. Omameh is a solid backup who was making his first start ever at left tackle. It’s a tough job to begin with but having your first start out there on national television is no picnic. The announcers said Brees told them he was planning to “help Patrick and those guys up front out” by getting rid of the ball quicker and slightly altering the game plan with shorter routes and quick passes.

That’s where Jaguars Offensive Coordinator John DiFillipo and Quarterback Nick Foles failed last week against Tampa Bay. They knew the only thing the Bucs can really do is get after the quarterback so the plan should have included shorter routes and getting rid of the ball in 2 ½ seconds. Five step drop, pat and throw. Not a reset back there because at 3 ½ seconds Foles is going to the ground. Add into the equation how the current Jaguars offensive line is struggling, and you’re down 25-0 at halftime.

Crossing routes, quick dumps and flares in the flat to the running backs will be part of the offensive game plan with Gardner Minshew in at quarterback for the Jaguars. With Nick Foles, it was all downfield. That left him with no place to go with the ball quickly based on what was happening in front of him on the offensive line, and that’s a mistake. Putting Minshew back in at quarterback is the right call based on the current state of efficiency and imagination, or lack thereof, in the Jaguars offense.

This week the Jaguars VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said, “It won’t be easy for Nick but he’ll do what he can to help Gardner in these last four games. There will be another summer and another season for Nick Foles.”

While that statement has some ambiguity in it, one interpretation could be that Foles is coming back to compete for the starting job again in 2020. He’s a pure pocket passer and if the Jaguars offensive line is revamped to control the line of scrimmage, at least in pass blocking, he’d be the right guy as the starter.

Is Minshew a full-time starter in the NFL long into the future? The jury is still out on that but he has the moxie for the position. His arm is fine and the development for him looks like what Seattle did with Russell Wilson. They revamped their offense to get the most out of Wilson’s skills. Remember, when Wilson was drafted, the job was Tom Flynn’s, just acquired as a free agent. But Wilson was so good in camp, the Seahawks decided to change everything. And it worked.

Would the Jaguars be willing or able to do that? With the current front office it would be doubtful. Head Coach Doug Marrone would have to find an offensive coordinator to come up with a new scheme centered on Minshew.

That’s if any of those current decision makers are still around.

By the way, prop bets already being taken for the 2020 season by Sports Betting Dime have Foles as a solid favorite to be the Jaguars starter next year.

Jaguars At A Crossroads, Again

It’s a crossroads for the Jaguars franchise, again, against Tennessee in Nashville this week.

There are a lot of factors that go into the cauldron of who the Jaguars are now and who they’ll be in the future but they’re all lined up for the game against the Titans. How they perform could set the course for the foreseeable future. A win and there’s hope. A loss and they’re looking again to the future.

In back-to-back games, sandwiched around the bye, the Jaguars have been outperformed, outpaced and outclassed by division opponents. It’s not a good look for a team that’s been specifically built to compete in the AFC South. The Texans looked more talented, faster and smarter while dismantling the Jaguars in London. Last week, the Colts flat-out manhandled the Jaguars defense, pushing them around at will.

The team is healthy, outside of the tight end position. They’ve gone “back to the fundamentals” according the Head Coach Doug Marrone. The attitude is good in the locker room and they have six games left to right the ship on the 2019 season. Jaguars’ radio color analyst Tony Boselli predicted the team would go on a 7-0 run after the bye. Right now, going 4-2 to finish the season would look like a massive victory.

There’s a lot of finger pointing outside the stadium, a lot of it directed at Marrone and his coordinators, Todd Wash on defense and offensive coordinator John DiFillipo. Wash says, “We have to get off our blocks,” DiFillipo says, “We have to be better on third down.”

“It’s scheme, it’s motivation, it’s culture,” is the cry from interested, ticket-buying parties.

And while those things might be a factor the answer is actually simpler than that:

Play better.

Looking around the Jaguars roster, they’re pretty talented. But they’re not playing to what the roster looks like on paper.

The offensive line hasn’t developed the way it should with a combination of high draft picks and free agents involved. D.J. Chark is having a breakout year at wide receiver but the rest of that position looks pretty ordinary. On defense better play at linebacker would change their run stopping ability as well as help with pass rush up front and pass coverage behind.

Going to Nashville isn’t the exact recipe for the Jaguars to get well. They’ve lost five straight there, including last year’s embarrassing, Thursday night, nationally televised 30-9 loss that included a record tying 99-yard touchdown run by Yulee’s Derrick Henry.

In another Thursday night contest earlier this year the Jaguars beat the Titans here behind two TD passes from Gardner Minshew and a stout performance on defense.

Oh, how things have changed since then.

Switching quarterbacks and getting healthy seems to have invigorated Tennessee. Their improbable come-from-behind victory against Kansas City two weeks ago has buoyed their confidence. They’ve won three of their last four and are coming off their bye week. In contrast, the Jaguars had gotten to 4-4 but have looked miserable since.

With Nick Foles returning, the Jaguars have a few more options on offense and should have a level of consistency a veteran quarterback can bring. But with only nine rushing attempts last week against the Colts, they became predictable and easy prey. Leonard Fournette is frustrated, Foles says don’t press and freak out, and DiFillipo says it’s a “fair question” to ask about getting away from the running game so quickly in Indy. (As if he has some secret in his pocket that none of us know about.)

At least Head Coach Doug Marrone was straight forward in shouldering the blame.

“I thought we needed to score points in a quicker fashion and I think that’s what led to the increased pass attempts, so that’s on me as the head coach,” he said this week. “And I know we need to be more balanced moving forward. I was wrong, I made a mistake.”

Doug is easy to like and his quality as a “stand-up guy” is laudable. But that’s the kind of mistake a coach of his experience shouldn’t make. And it’s an unforgiving game. Opponents exploit your mistakes and make you pay. It’s a results oriented business and now, the Jaguars aren’t getting results.

But you can’t just point at Marrone and say he’s the problem. You have to go deeper into the organization to give his position some context.

When Owner Shad Khan tapped Tom Coughlin to run the football operation, Coughlin said there were two coaches he could work with. One was Marrone, the other reportedly was former Jaguars defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach Mike Smith. Both have distinct personalities and styles, but their core ideas on how to coach align with Coughlin’s. No matter who the head coach is for the Jaguars, with Coughlin in charge, he’ll be expected to coach a certain way.

“I look at the situation as being perfect, at least for me,” Marrone told Sports Illustrated last year. “He takes some things off my plate that are a little outside the realm of the team.”
When Khan assembled Coughlin, Marrone and General Manager Dave Caldwell, the decision was met with skepticism throughout the league. Khan was advised against it. Too many egos, too many cooks in the kitchen his friends said. But the success in 2017 and a trip to the AFC Championship game quieted the critics.

For a while.

Earlier this year Khan was asked about Coughlin’s future with the franchise and he said something like, “I couldn’t imagine anyone better.”

Although Khan gave the Jaguars brass a vote of confidence after last year’s 5-11 season, he did set some parameters.
“There were far too many long Sundays over the last three quarters of the season,” he said when he announced Coughlin, Marrone and Caldwell would be retained for this year. “And that cannot repeat itself in 2019.”
But is it?
There’s no denying Coughlin’s success in New York, winning two Super Bowls in 2008 and 2012. But those are both nearly a decade ago and the league has changed. While the Jaguars are built to run the ball, throw it off play action and stop the run on defense, the rest of the league has gotten faster and more innovative on offense. You’re not going to beat the elite teams 17-9 any longer. You’ve got to be able to score points in bunches and the Jaguars aren’t built that way.

Is the current Jaguars decision-making brain trust willing to move in that direction? Probably not. Do they believe a team built to win the Super Bowl a decade ago can still win in the NFL? Probably so.

I don’t buy into noted NFL scholar Jalen Ramsey’s assessment that Coughlin didn’t care to understand “this generation of guys — us as players or as people in general.” Do you think Bill Belichick is worried about understanding “this generation of guys?” Football is about blocking and tackling, not about whether or not you’re hurting somebody’s feelings.

Which leaves Khan with the ultimate decision. Let this group add a few pieces (including two first round picks in 2020) and see what happens or blow it up and start over.

Again.

Foles Leadership Unquestioned

For the Jaguars, Gardner Minshew is fun to watch as a leader. He is a jorts-wearing, mustache sporting, sunglasses-headband owning, cool guy who gives a swashbuckling tone to everything he does. He’s fun to be around. He jokes with his teammates and inspires them with his performance.

So what kind of leadership can they expect to get from Nick Foles?

When they’d show Foles on the sidelines recently while injured, the hoodie and glasses gave a “Who’s that guy?” impression to those who didn’t know he was the multi-million dollar quarterback of the Jaguars future. He didn’t jump off the screen as a team leader.

But don’t be fooled by what appears to be a detached demeanor. Foles has a quiet confidence and a clear head that allows him to take things as they are and perform at the highest level on the biggest stages. He’s very devoted to his Christian faith that follows the doctrine; he’s really not in control. But he uses the tools he’s been given, when he can, as good as anybody.

When he was injured in the Kansas City game at the beginning of the season, Foles immediately created clarity of mind, leaning on his faith.

“I was going into the locker room, I just realized this wasn’t exactly what I was thinking when I came to Jacksonville,” he said this week. “Obviously, you come here, and you want to create a culture and impact people, but at the end of the day, I was like, ‘God, this is the journey you want me to go on and I’m going to glorify you in every action, good or bad.’”

Leadership comes in many forms on a football field. Some players show it with toughness, others with a vocal exhortation of their teammates. There’s a common refrain among players who say they like to “lead by example” and still others who just have an aura that inspires their teammates.

Quarterbacks are, by nature and position, leaders. But how they get there oftentimes is very different from one another.

Tom Brady commands respect with his preparation and execution under duress. Patrick Mahomes leads with a joyful playfulness that brings his teammates along. Deshaun Watson does things that dazzle his teammates and makes them want to be a part of it. Same with Lamar Jackson. They all ooze confidence from the moment they step in the building.

For athletes and just anybody in a decision-making position, it doesn’t have to be religious faith that carries them in tough situations.

In his latest book “Stillness Is The Key,” author and researcher Ryan Holiday notes that Christians aren’t the only ones who call on a higher power to give them clarity in those situations. Every culture through the ages has recognized the need for a certain calmness of mind in times of adversity.

Roman philosopher Seneca and other Stoics called it apatheia. The Greeks refer to it as euthymia. Ancient Christians used the word aequanimitas. Buddhists, Muslims and Hebrews all had a particular word for the place you can go to in your own head to see a situation for what it is and can be, good or bad, without judging it as the best or worst thing that can happen.

That’s where Foles exhibits his leadership and his character. He’s solid as a rock when it comes to shouldering adversity.

Sports fans know his football odyssey with five stops in eight years including two different times in Philadelphia and a Super Bowl MVP Trophy. You might have read about the debilitating syndrome his wife Tori fights called POTS, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Or perhaps you read the couple’s announcement of Tori’s miscarriage last May.

So when Foles starts to talk, like he did this week for the first time since being injured, people listen.

Here’s how he explained how he approached the more than two months he’s been out of the starting lineup for the Jaguars. He believed that was his purpose for that time, rehabilitating his injury and helping Minshew in the quarterback room. But also getting to know his teammates on a whole other level.

“My purpose isn’t football, it’s impacting people, and my ministry happens to be the locker room,” he said. “And I’ve been able to get to know people, get to know these guys through an injury. Though I might not be playing, that is difficult from a fleshly perspective, but from a spiritual perspective, from my heart, I’ve been able to grow as a human being to where I feel like I’m at better situation here as a person then I was before because of the trial I just went under.”

If that sounds a bit like the beginning of a sermon, it was, and Foles said as much, adding he didn’t believe in the “Gospel of prosperity,” where only good things are supposed to happen.

Even though he hasn’t been in the lineup, Foles spoke to the team as they split up for the bye week, imparting a message to his teammates that had very little to do with football.

“You think your identity needs to be as a football player,” he told them. “You need to take a step back and realize you are more than a football player. Take this time to go into family time and take a breath. Step away from the game, clear your mind. Staying in the moment and just attacking the day at hand and simplifying things in your mind. The message was really simple.”

He’ll be able to make the throws, read the defenses and get the Jaguars offense into good play and out of bad ones. But what he’s focused on is every player getting the most out of their talent and then winning will take care of itself.

“At this point, culture is a really big thing,” he said of regaining the starting position from a popular teammate and not upsetting the balance in the locker room. “That is the biggest challenge of stepping back in there and playing football when it has been a while. I am a firm believer that in the fourth quarter, players make plays. If you trust the guy next to you, you are probably going to execute better than if you don’t. That is sort of what we are building here.”

The Greek philosopher Plato once said “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.”

If that’s truly the case, Jaguars fans should pick up the remote, clear their minds, take a deep, cleansing breath and flip on the game today to see where Nick Foles might take you.

Minshew or Foles? No Rush

In some ways the game against the Texans in London will help determine what happens with the Jaguars for the rest of this season and beyond. The decision at quarterback won’t be an easy one, and it could have franchise implications for years to come.

With a win at Wembley, the Jaguars will have won three straight with Gardner Minshew at quarterback, moved to 5-4 and have a say in who wins the AFC South.

In that scenario, it’s hard to take Minshew out of the lineup in favor of Nick Foles. You almost have to go with the hot hand.

If the Texans win, the Jaguars are 4-5 and are looking up at both Houston and Indianapolis in the division, at least two games behind with seven to play.

There are plenty of situations in the past where the head coach had to make a decision where to go at quarterback when the established starter has been injured but the backup plays well. Doug Marrone says he hasn’t thought about it one bit, so far.

“Why would I go through scenarios in my mind and waste my time with scenarios when I have to get ready for another game,” he said this week. “If we didn’t have a bye after the Texans game, I think somewhere along the line next week, I would start going through that in my mind. I really haven’t thought about it. The reason why is because I don’t have to, and I don’t want to. I’ll deal with it when it happens.”

I don’t think the money they’re paying Foles comes into the equation right now. If it’s about winning, which quarterback gives them the best chance to do that? You don’t know how this team plays with Foles as the starter. He got hurt after two series in the opener. He did throw a touchdown pass on the play when he was injured. You can go by the old adage that player’s don’t lose their starting jobs to injury. Or you can say Minshew throws all of the old adage’s out the window.

Ultimately It’ll be Marrone’s decision but actually what happens is up to Minshew. Marrone has to take into consideration the emotional impact Minshew has on the team. Call it “Minshew Magic” or call it chemistry but there’s no question he inspires the guys in that locker room.

That’s why it’ll be up to him. If they lose to Houston in London and the Jaguars brass decides to put Foles back in the lineup when they resume in two weeks against Indy, Gardner has to go along with it. I mean really go along.

If he says, “Yeah, I’m cool with it. Nick’s a great player and he’s our starter,” his teammates will buy into it.

But if he comes out and says, “It was a coach’s decision and I’ll stick to that” then there’s trouble in River City. The team will lose their motivation and unless Foles plays lights out, the season will grind to a halt.

There are plenty of examples in the past of injured starters and their backups: John Unitas and Earl Morrall, Morrall and Bob Griese, Jeff Hostetler and Phil Simms. This year Drew Brees was back in the lineup after his backup; Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 as the starter while Brees was out with a thumb injury.

Morrall came in for an injured Griese in game five of the ’72 season. He won 12 straight games for the Dolphins, including playoff wins over Oakland and Pittsburgh. Head Coach Don Shula put Griese back in the game as the starter in Super bowl VII against Washington to finish their perfect season.

Morrall told Shula, “I think I should play, but I’m not going to make a problem.”

These next three games will determine what kind of season 2019 will be for the Jaguars. Three division games, none of them here in Jacksonville. Win two out of three and they’ll be a favorite in four of their last five games (maybe not against the Raiders in Oakland) with a realistic shot at the post-season. Lose two out of three and it’s an uphill slog where they’ll need help to make the playoffs.
Virtually the same scenario happened to the 1978 New York Jets. Richard Todd was the Jets starter but broke his collarbone four weeks into the season. Second-year quarterback Matt Robinson came in and led the Jets into playoff contention over the next twelve games.

“We missed a field goal at the end of the game twelve games in against the Patriots in Shea Stadium to really be in the thick of it,” Robinson recalled.

Head Coach Walt Michaels had started Todd against New England, only to see him falter. He put Matt back under center mid-game. Robinson threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to revive the Jets chances.

“When Walt started Richard the next game, that split the locker room,” Robinson said. “And we were done. We missed the playoffs.”

That’s the dilemma the Jaguars face. Can you flip-flop your quarterbacks and not lose the locker room? If they start Foles against the Colts and he falters, do they return Gardner to the lineup?

Marrone already knows what Minshew can do.

“Sometimes I look and you’re like, ‘That’s a veteran move. That’s a veteran player,’” he said after the win against New York. “He does not play like he was brought into this league, a sixth-round draft pick or something like that. He doesn’t play like that.”

It’s going to have to be a gut call. Win in London and let Minshew keep playing. Foles has shown to be the best reliever in the game if things go south. Lose to the Texans and put Foles in the lineup. He can make throws Minshew can’t. He doesn’t have Gardner’s mobility or his ‘magic’ but he’s a proven winner. Give Minshew a chance to watch and learn some more, give him some seasoning. You know he can play.

There shouldn’t be any rush here. The Packers had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers on their roster together for three years. Foles and Minshew can co-exist.

As Minshew said when asked what he thought of Foles coming back to practice two weeks ago:

“I think we’re pretty good at quarterback.”

Learning To Win

Watching the Jaguars play New Orleans last week, you just got the feeling that the Saints would figure out a way to win and maybe the Jaguars didn’t quite know how.

Wanting to win is something we’re born with, but learning how to win is something we develop.

“It comes innately,” said Sheldon Kaplan, PhD, a clinical psychologist who’s been in practice since 1975. Dr. Kaplan specializes in childhood development and says being competitive and learning to win is developed from social interactions.

“When you’re eight or nine-years-old you think it’s nice to win. But at thirteen or 14 sometimes your very being is based on winning or losing.”

Kaplan has seen children as young as two have a strong desire to win, and others who are so afraid of losing they can’t even go on the field. He calls our awareness of where we stand in any competitive situation “social auditing.” Whether it’s getting back a math test or running a race.

“It’s a very complex process that develops because of social interactions. We monitor our performance. It intensifies with your age. It’s very complex. Those things in the locker room have an impact on what happens on the field.”

Just six games into the regular season, and with a rookie quarterback, are the Jaguars learning how to win?

“It’s a team-to-team thing,” Tackle Cam Robinson said Wednesday. “At Alabama there was an aura of winning. But each team, each year had to figure out how to do it with the guys they had.”

“One hundred percent,” Calais Campbell agreed. “Each team has to figure out every year how to win, what works for them.”

Campbell maintains that even at 2-4, the 2019 Jaguars have a chance to be a good team. But admits for some teams, it takes longer to figure out how to win.

“That’s why some teams get hot late in the year,” he said.

“You look at teams that win, there’s culture there that you rise to as part of that team,” Dr. Kaplan added. “It’s the culture and the leadership of the team. They learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses; it’s a vey elaborate social culture. It’s a collective effort.”

Kaplan says losing helps us cope and learn how to move forward. To do so is a process. “You have to be aware of your mistakes but not focused on them,” he said. “The focus has to be on what to do right the next time.”

Basketball Hall of Famer Pat Riley, who has won championships as a player, coach and an executive, believes each game has a turning point. “In every contest,” he says, “There comes a moment that separates winning from losing. The true warrior understands and seizes that moment.”

Although teams want to start fast and get ahead early, that moment usually comes sometime late in the third or early in the fourth quarter in an NFL game. One team figures something out and makes a play to turn the tide.

“You have to learn to adapt,” says tennis Hall of Famer Tony Trabert. “You get to a point where you have to make something happen. You’ve got to perform and not hope the other guy makes a mistake.”

Trabert won ten of the eleven Grand Slam finals he played in saying he was a “percentage kind of guy,” taking a few chances to keep the opponent off balance but playing to his own strengths.

“When I knew I was good enough, I expected to win,” he said. “Under pressure, do what you do best. You have the best chance of doing well with that in that situation.”

“I wasn’t superstitious, stepping on lines or over them or whatever, that’s negative stuff,” the former Davis Cup captain added. “You’re fit, you know your opponent, keep that negative stuff out of your head.”

There’s not a lot of negative energy in the Jaguars locker room. Head Coach Doug Marrone wants his team to focus turning their frustration into positive energy and point it toward getting better and winning. He sees that channeling through his rookie quarterback.

“He’s a young player, he’s had a lot of success early on,” Marrone said of Gardner Minshew’s struggles last week. “I think you get to a point where you have some success [and] people are going to start taking that away. People are going to start changing things up and testing you coverage-wise to see where you can go. He’s a smart kid, and he’ll learn from it.”

Minshew says he’s building a bank of experience that he’s starting to lean on after six games in the league.

“Absolutely. There’s a lot of learning that could be done and has been done from that tape,” he said of the New Orleans game last Sunday. “There’s things you’ll see in earlier games that we have to apply to this and that continues to grow, and we’ll continue to grow.”

Eighteen-time Golf Major Champion Jack Nicklaus says part of winning is learning how not to lose. One of his keys is to minimize mistakes, even though they’re going to happen.

“You have to learn how to shrink your mistakes (you will always make mistakes),” Nicklaus said. “How to make them small enough where they won’t cost you the tournament.”

In golf that means making just a bogey instead of triple-bogey. In football, don’t compound the holding call with unsportsmanlike conduct.

Now would be a good time for the Jaguars to apply the lessons learned in the first six weeks. Cincinnati is winless and the Jets come to town next week, both AFC opponents. The trip to London to face division opponent Houston follows with the Texans making their first trip to Wembley. A hot streak going into the bye week would put them right back in the race.

Minshew is More Than Magic

It’s fun to talk about Gardner Minshew’s mustache, “Minshew Magic,” his clothes and his resemblance to Uncle Rico from ‘Napoleon Dynamite.” But somewhere in all of that hype, the kind of quarterback he actually is can get lost. He’s twice been named the Offensive Rookie of the Week Twice and this week was named NFL Rookie of the Month for September.

When Florida was in it’s heyday in the ‘90’s, Steve Spurrier developed one quarterback after another. They all did the drills, the Head Ball Coach would put his visor in the back corner of the end zone and they’d drill dropping the ball back there with a high, arching throw from inside the 20-yard line. It’s a “feel” throw more than anything else. Danny Wuerffel had that feel. Jesse Palmer, perhaps more physically talented than Wuerffel, did not.

Minshew does.

It starts with a feel for the game, and Minshew has it.

It comes from practice, but it also comes from playing in your backyard as a kid. Minshew has that innate “feel” for the game only developed when nobody’s watching.

On the touchdown pass to Rock Armstead, he escaped three different guys, just like you would in the backyard. But unnoticed is how he made the throw.

The next time you see the highlight, notice that the ball never got past his ear when he took it back. That’s not anything you can teach. He knew there wasn’t much space left in there and no doubt somebody was coming from behind. So a “flick” into the end zone was the way to make play, and he made it.

“Try to protect the ball first and make a play,” is how Minshew described the play. “He (Armstead) did an awesome job. He ran a flat, came back around, and back out. It was awesome on him.”

Standing in the pocket, Gardner has that internal clock that tells him somewhere around three seconds after the snap he needs to get rid of it or get out of there. Somebody’s coming no matter how good the offensive line is blocking. He can feel the pressure immediately when taking the ball in the shotgun without looking at the blocking scheme like some quarterbacks do, especially later in their careers. He’ll make a slight move to the right or left or take a step up; all of those things keep the play alive and allow him to make a throw.

And that’s perhaps the most surprising part of Minshew’s game.

He’s throwing passes for the Jaguars that scouts didn’t think he could make coming out of Washington State. That’s why he lasted until the sixth round. His football IQ is plenty high and everybody knew that. He’s the same height as Drew Brees. He’s not fast, and he admits it. But nobody thought he could take that ball from the far hash and throw the deep crossing out pattern on the other side of the field.

Except in games he can.

Minshew is a “gamer” for sure, finding that little extra mustard or the right touch on the throw when he has to have it.

“I really don’t think they’re 50-50 balls,” he said of his willingness to put the ball up against one-on-one coverage. “Our guys can go up and get those.”

Minshew is developing that knowledge in practice with the receivers, knowing what they’re good at. For D.J. Chark, it’s back shoulder. For Dede Westbrook, it’s an outstretched arms catch. Chris Conley can “high-point” the ball and Gardner is able to throw that ball in the game for what’s best for his receivers.

Two throws stood out for Minshew on the Jaguars last two scoring drives. On third and 4 from their own 41 and 7:04 to play, the Jaguars called a crossing pattern to Marqis Lee. It looks like an easy throw, just five yards down the field. But Lee is streaking across the formation and the ball has to be delivered in perfectly for the play to work.. You get the timing for this play in practice. But in the game, with the pocket collapsing, Minshew delivers the ball in the ideal spot for a first down to keep the drive alive. It resuled in a Josh Lambo field goal.

On the final drive, starting at their own 25, Minshew threw incomplete on first down and fumbled the ball on second down, only to pick it up and throw it to D.J.Chark for 1-yard. On that play, Bradley Chubb was called for roughing the passer giving the Jaguars a new set of downs but leaving Gardner limping after the hit. (“Just football stuff,” he said afterwards. He’s expected to wear a knee brace against Carolina.)

On the very next play, Minshew had a couple of options where to throw it but picked the longest and most difficult choice, hitting Dede Westbrook, deep and across the field going away from him. One of the hardest throws for a quarterback to make but it was delivered perfectly. Westbrook tacked on some yards after the catch for a 32-yard gain to the Denver 27 and the Jaguars were already in field goal range.

“It was crazy. We knew we had to make some plays right there,” Minshew said after the game. “We had the ball, it got tipped up, I got hit, it was crazy. Then we get the penalty, Dede runs an awesome route. That was awesome.”

He’s the anti-Gabbert. Watching Blaine Gabbert in practice you wondered, “How do we ever lose?” The ball came out of his hand singing. He had command of the offense and nearly never missed a receiver. But that performance didn’t translate into games.

Minshew is the opposite.

In practice he looks fine, runs the offense and gets the ball there. But in games he steps up to another level. During the preseason Marrone was fine with Gardner’s performance but admitted he wanted to see more production.

“I don’t know if anxiety is the right word for me, but it’s more of I didn’t know. I really didn’t know,” the Jaguars head coach said of what he thought of Minshew coming out of the preseason. “I wasn’t sure, I just would have liked to see more production. Sometimes it’s about who’s around him at that position, trying to get a good beat on what that player is going to be able to do.”

When he was thrust into the game against Kansas City, he was handing the ball off to Leonard Fournette. Westbrook, Chark, Chris Conley and Geoff Swaim were running routes. That’s a big difference from standing in the huddle with guys just trying to make the team.

Starting this week there’s a big enough body of work for Minshew in the NFL for defensive coordinators to concentrate on taking the things away from him they perceive he’s good at: Crossing routes, quick outs, whatever. The good and great quarterbacks face that early in their careers and adjust. They make the defensive coordinators pick their poison. You can’t take it all away, they have a full arsenal of things they can do.

It’s why Marrone said this week, “I think it’s still early and we’ll see how it goes and we’ll take it week-by-week.” He knows what coaches are plotting to stop the Jaguars offense and their rookie quarterback.

The next couple of weeks will tell: Is it “magic” or just smoke and mirrors?

Calais Campbell

I liked Calais Campbell the first time we met. You know that feeling when you meet somebody and they emit some kind of aura that’s instantly disarming. His handshake, his body language, how he looks you in the eye during conversation.

“I feel the same way,” Jaguars Guard A.J. Cann agreed. “When I first met him I knew he was something special. He can step into a room full of people and when he leaves everybody loves him.”

He’s engaging and gregarious, smart and thoughtful. Where’d that come from?

“From my dad,” Campbell said after his normal media time this week on Wednesday. Calais’ dad, Charles, died just a few months after Campbell’s high school graduation. “He’d make five friends just going to the grocery store,” Calais added.

The youngest of six brothers, with two younger sisters, Campbell has always had athletic ability and size. “I’ve been this tall since I was 15,” he said. Listed at 6’9” and 300 lbs., Campbell is one of the largest people you’ll ever meet. Reminds me of Shaquille O’Neal when he was with the Magic. Just a few inches shorter.

“Big? He might be the biggest guy I’ve ever faced,” Jaguars Guard A.J. Cann said. “He’s freakish in a good way. I’ll be behind him getting on the scale and it’ll say ‘300’ and he’ll step down and he’s cut. He has abs, he’s broad shouldered.”

But it’s his demeanor, leadership, and presence that are universally respected. His father’s early influence has stuck with him though his days at the University of Miami and in the NFL.

“I used to brag on myself all the time” he added. “My dad hated it. He said, ‘If you’re that good, you don’t have to tell anybody.’ And he was right.”

Campbell, an All-Pro and four time Pro Bowler, was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in his Jaguars career for his play last Thursday against Tennessee.

Denver is Calais’ hometown so this week’s game against the Broncos is somewhat of a homecoming. He’s rounded up more than 200 tickets for family and friends and donated $20,000 from his foundation to Denver charities this week. He’s doing the same here at home, donating $20,000 a month to different charities in town based on his performance and encouraging fans and sponsors to donate as well.

“Success comes from a village,” Campbell said when asked about his community commitments. “I’ve had a lot of people help me along the way.”

“We have a lot of ballers,” said Tight End Geoff Swaim. “But Calais is much more than that. He’s a real leader.”

Swaim is a five-year veteran who spent four years in Dallas. He characterized the culture in the Cowboy’s locker room as “really good.” And says Campbell and Nick Foles, in different ways, set that same tone here.

“Calais says the right things and he backs it up with what he does,” Swaim explained. “Leadership is displayed in different ways. Calais is a great leader. He doesn’t show his emotions in a negative way. He’s human and that’s hard to do sometimes.”

“I try to be genuine,” Campbell said when his teammates words were relayed to him. “Talk it and walk it.”

“Super-human” is how his play on the field is described occasionally. Swaim has been a victim of that.

“I had him on one play in practice,” he explained. “It was a zone block and I got my hands on him in the right spot. My feet were right and I thought ‘I’ve got him.’ He saw the play and just extended his arm and zoomed me down the line and made the tackle. I looked at my assistant coach and he just shrugged his shoulders.”

“I just try and be a sponge,” Jaguars third-year tackle Cam Robinson said. “He’ll talk to me in practice about what he did and how I reacted and what I could do better. I’m listening because whatever he’s doing, it’s working!”

At 6’6” and 320 lbs. Robinson is big in his own right. But when he lines up in front of Campbell in practice, it gets his attention.

“He’s the biggest guy I’ve faced,” he said.

With 84.5 career sacks, 25 of those coming in Jacksonville, Campbell can get after the quarterback. But he’s equally effective stopping the run. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone says he’s a complete player. “Couldn’t ask for anything better,” he added.

“He doesn’t hear anything on the field,” Campbell’s defensive line mate Marcel Dareus said with a laugh when I asked for something about Calais we don’t know. “At least he acts like he doesn’t hear anything. We call the play and he’ll say one or two things and then he zones in. I’ll be yelling ‘Calais, Calais’ about what’s going on and he acts like he doesn’t hear a thing. But then the play goes and he does the right things and I say, ‘OK, he heard me.”

I’ve said many times that Campbell is the kind of guy you hope stays in town after his playing days are over. He can have a real positive impact on the community. So I asked him about that.

“We love it here,” he said, “We’re splitting our time between Arizona and here mostly.”

“But what about staying?” I asked.

“It’s tough because my family is out west,” he added. “Some in California, a few in Denver and some in Arizona.”

Hard to say what’ll happen when his career is over but currently in the third year of a four-year deal, Calais is still playing at high level. No matter his production from this point forward, the Jaguars shouldn’t let him get away. The Cardinals still lament the day they let him sign here as a free agent for both his on and off-field presence.

“He’s had some players and their wives over to his place and his wife and mine were going to get together,” Cann said of Campbell’s impact. “I told her ‘I’ll go,’ just to hang out with Calais.”

Ramsey Answer Is In The Mirror

After the Jaguars 20-7 win over Tennessee at home on Thursday night Head Coach Doug Marrone called it the ”longest short week we’ve had in the NFL.” While prepping for a division opponent and still looking for their first win, the Jalen Ramsey story hung over the Jaguars like a dark cloud that wouldn’t go away.

So it was a unique week in Jacksonville. That’s because Jalen Ramsey is a unique player. Unique in that he’s fantastically talented, and woefully misguided. But he’s not alone in this unique category. There have been others on the Jaguars in the past and sprinkled through NFL rosters as well.

For pretty much as long as he can remember, Ramsey has been told how good he is, that he’s special. And there is no denying that. At this point in his athletic career he’s always in the discussion about who’s the best cornerback in the NFL. So he has a special talent that he’s spent a few years developing. But he stopped developing everything else.

Ed Reed talked about this kind of player prior to his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. The one’s who have no concept of how the uniform they left on the floor in front of their locker yesterday was cleaned and hung up perfectly today. Call it immaturity, a lack of self awareness or whatever, but Ramsey lives in that “bubble” of an echo chamber where only good things said about him count.

One classmate at Florida State said, “It’s typical Jalen. He creates this kind of situation where ever he goes.”

When asked this week, his teammates have nothing but glowing things to say about him. So as a teammate, he apparently sets the right tone. And against the Titans, true to his word, Ramsey played, played hard and played well. But that’s all about football. His actions this week show he doesn’t’ know much about life. Because that’s not how life works.

One veteran player raised his eyebrows and shook his head “Yes” when asked this week about every player dealing with something on every play. “Even in practice” he added quietly. So they know what’s going on. You deal with whatever it was and you move on.

Would Ramsey have had the same demand if Leonard Fournette had scored on the 2-point play? An inch makes that much difference? The Jaguars now would be 2-1 and in the thick of the division race three games into the season. His problem is apparently with the front office saying that some “disrespectful” things were said to him after last week’s game. I guess he’s never worked in a newsroom.

Everybody deals with something. I’m always amused when people associated with professional sports say “it’s an emotional game, it’s a high stress situation” as if nobody else would understand. Try standing in the ER one night and watching nurses and doctors handle the “high stress” situations hour after hour. Or get behind the wheel of a fully loaded 18-wheeler in bad weather with bad drivers all around at night and see how stressful that is.

When something doesn’t go right, those people don’t just say, “I want out!” they figure out how to get the job done. And that’s what gains respect in our city. Jacksonville is more working class than white collar and people in this town put up with plenty. They go to work every day and get their jobs done. Nobody cares if you’re making a dollar or a million dollars. If you’re figuring out how to do your best at whatever you do, that’s fine with them.

Any championship team usually reflects the city where they’re based. Think about the Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Eagles in Philly and even 20 years ago the Raiders in Oakland. It’s why football fans in Jacksonville are entertained by offense but they LOVE defense. It’s a reflection of our culture. We’re pretty comfortable in our own skin and don’t have a problem if you want to leave. Planes and trains are departing every hour. Maybe Ramsey’s just not a good fit here.

Bumping into the coach, shouting obscenities at the boss, holding onto that moment and ultimately asking to be traded sounds like something out of middle school. Walking away from a Ramsey press opportunity has always had that “middle school” feeling. Most times the press corps looks at each other in the aftermath and asks, “Really?” You might have seen it in the press conference he called on Tuesday. When it was over, mostly the reaction was “What was that?”

It reminds me of an episode of “30 Rock” centered on John Hamm’s character Drew Baird. He’s a good-looking doctor who’s always been told how good he is at everything. People try to curry favor with him because he’s a doctor and he’s good looking. Tina Fey’s character starts up a relationship with him only to find out he lacks so much self-awareness that he’s actually terrible at just about everything, But he has no idea since nobody’s every actually told him that. They’re too busy telling him how good looking and what a great doctor he is. “Drew Baird,” she says. “So good looking and so, so stupid.”

It’s not that Ramsey is stupid at all. He just lacks the self-awareness of how the rest of the world works and how it applies to him. You might say the NFL is a unique place, but when things aren’t exactly to your liking, you can’t just run away from it looking for something else. Because it’s usually not there.

Jalen has been called out plenty by former NFL players including Jaguars TV analyst Leon Searcy who cited Rod Woodson as an example of how to get things done. One of the former player-analyst on a post game show last week, Nate Burelson, called the modern player, and he paused for a second before saying this, “umm, sensitive.”

“They have their faces in their phones in the locker room. Everything that happens to them or anything they do is on social media immediately. They’re reacting to what the people in their circle are saying about it.”

“It’s football,” another analyst chimed in, “It’s not a sport for ‘sensitive.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

Neither does the rest of the world.

I don’t harbor any ill will toward Jalen. I know he’s young and we all look back at things we did and said when we were 24 and usually cringe. I do hope he does find what he’s looking for, even if it’s here.

Because it’s actually right in the mirror.

Jaguars Loss Shows What To Fix

Pretty often my favorite Jaguars fan asks me, “Are we the Browns? We’re the Browns of the South right?” I’ve always laughed the question away but when you look at the 24 years of Jaguars history, their lack of consistent success certainly puts them in a category something other than perennial favorites.

After Week 1 of the NFL season, every team starts to have a feel for what they’ve got and how their players will react in game situations. Teams that win in the opening week don’t get too high; teams that lose get back to work. Nobody panics, and nobody pops champagne.

Fans, on the other hand, have already decided what their team’s fate is going to be. Patriots, Chiefs and Ravens fans are making plans for the Super Bowl. Jaguars, Browns and Dolphins fans are making plans to go skiing.

After Sunday’s game, Jaguars fans were of two minds regarding the 2019 version of their team.

“It was ugly and embarrassing,” one fan wrote to me. “Where’s the defense?” another tweeted. “Fragile Nick,” was a popular DM on my feed.

But some others decided to take a different route.

“I’ve decided to put some positivity in the universe and am going to say it’s not as bad as it looked,” one wrote to me last Sunday night. Another pinged me saying, “Fournette looked good and Minshew looks like he can play.”

It’s an interesting position reporters have, hearing what the fan base is thinking but also dealing directly with the players and coaches. On one hand, fans can be pretty harsh, deriding the players’ and usually referring to their social life, their effort or the money they’re making. On the other hand, being in the locker room, talking to players and coaches and watching parts of practice, we get to see the effort and hear the commitment most players and coaches have to being their best and winning.

“We’ll be alright. We just have to find a way to win these games,” is a quote I’ve heard from numerous Jaguars players in post-game locker rooms in the last ten years, most recently from Calais Campbell. You can see the wheels spinning when they say that, trying to figure out the next thing they can do to contribute to a win. They don’t give up. It’s not in the nature of any athlete who makes it to the NFL to give up. Especially after Week 1. They’re highly competitive people.

When Head Coach Doug Marrone says, “Stuff happens,” (trying not to curse), he accepts the reality of a performance-based outcome.

“We’re in a profession where people are going to say, ‘Hey, you should do this, you have to do this, you didn’t do this well with the team, you didn’t do that,’ and I understand that,” he added. “A lot of times, what people say, it’s right out there on the screen and that’s the way it is.”

Nobody is happy that Nick Foles is injured after just two series in the opening game. What the Jaguars should be more concerned about is how their defense disappeared and how undisciplined they played. Granted, Kansas City might be the best offense in the league but if the Jaguars are going to hang their hat on defensive performance, it has to be better than that.

And for all of the talk about Myles Jack becoming a complete player in his third season, to get thrown out of the game just makes you shake your head. It’s out of character for him. But don’t tell me “it’s an emotional game.” He’s a professional and knows he’ll have his chance to exact a toll on the opposition the next time the ball is snapped.

It seemed like a stretch to keep just two quarterbacks when one was a rookie, but Gardner Minshew validated the confidence the Jaguars had in him by naming him the number two quarterback. He set the franchise record for completion percentage; a league record for consecutive passes completed in his debut and gave fans some hope. Remember, this is the guy who told Tom Coughlin at the combine when they first met, “I know, I’m too short, too slow and don’t have a good enough arm. But I did win eleven games last year.”

With Foles out at least half the season, the Jaguars are going with a rookie quarterback as the starter and acquired Josh Dobbs from Pittsburgh as some insurance. Trading for Dobbs shows that Coughlin, Caldwell and company thinks this team is ready to win now. Is Minshew Earl Morrall or Jeff Hostetler or just another rookie trying to make it in the league?

One thing’s for sure, the team and the coaching staff have the confidence that he can get the job done. Not just from his stats against the Chiefs but what he’s been able to fight through at every level he’s played.

“He’s a guy that really works hard outside of this building,” Marrone said of his new starting QB. “He’s a guy that has been through a ton of adversity. He has been through a hell of a lot more as an athlete than a lot of people have at his stage. He’s probably going to have to go through a lot more now that he’s playing.”

All of that traveling from school to school, competing for playing time, taught Minshew how to become the starter. Not just a stopgap guy.

“Going to different schools and learning the right way to step in and try to lead,” Minshew said of his assimilation into the starting job. “And that’s through going in and earning respect and not demanding respect. Earn it with how you work, with your habits, everything like that, instead of just going in, and talking and being loud. So, that’s been one thing that’s served me well through my whole career.”

Where Do the Jaguars’ Wins Come From

Every team is ready to win going into the first week of the season. A lot of teams think they can be good. A few know they’re good.

For the Jaguars, thinking they can be good might be half the battle after last season’s collapse. If there’s a flaw in their thinking, it’s what they “expect” to happen with about half of their roster.

Hope is not a strategy. Yet it seems the Jaguars are ‘hoping’ a lot of different things will fall into place. Nobody says ‘hope’ any longer when talking about their team, but “expecting to” or “anticipating” something are the euphemisms you hear coaches and personnel decision-makers use.

I don’t think there is any question that the Jaguars Oline will be the key to their success on offense. That’s the case with most teams but injuries on offense and specifically up front in 2018 eliminated any chance of success for the Jaguars.

So what’s the plan this year?

It appears the Jaguars are “expecting” Cam Robinson, Andrew Norwell and Brandon Linder, all lost last year to injuries, to return to their previous form. They barely played in the preseason, as the Jaguars plan for this training camp was to get as many players to the regular season healthy and ready to play.

At wide receiver, the Jaguars are “anticipating” Dede Westbrook and D.J. Chark to blossom into their potential and Marqise Lee to return to the player he was before last year’s knee injury. They’re also “expecting” Chris Conley to bring some consistency to that position and Keelan Cole to be the player he was in 2017 and the clock not strike midnight on him as it did last year. At tight end, new faces will be “expected” to block and catch in a fashion the Jaguars haven’t had in a while.

Admittedly, Leonard Fournette looks like the player he was as a rookie. He reported in shape and has the quickness at around 220lbs as well as the power that he misses at 230. He might be a three-down back this year, coming out of the backfield on third down. He can be a star. But behind him the backups at running back don’t have much, if any, NFL experience so the team is “expecting” them to be able to do the job if called on.

Even at quarterback, as much as there is to like about Nick Foles, he’s an unknown quantity over 16 games. Coming off the bench and leading an already solid team, he took the Eagles to the Super Bowl and was named the MVP. Signing him in the offseason shows that the Jaguars are “anticipating” him being that player for a whole season. Behind him I like Gardner Minshew developing in his first year, but as a rookie, he won’t be the answer for anything but the short term if Foles can’t play.

So on offense, the Jaguars are really an unknown quantity. If all of those things they’re “anticipating” or “expecting” happen, they’ll be fine. But there are a lot of moving parts in that equation.

On defense it’s almost exactly the opposite. This defense is built to win now. The Jaguars aren’t “expecting” or “anticipating” anything to happen. They know Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye might be the best cornerback tandem in the league. They know Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue can stop the run and get to the quarterback. They’ve seen the upside in Josh Allen. They gave Myles Jack a contract extension to keep playing like he has. They have some holes to fill at linebacker and their safeties are untested over a full season. But this is a defense you can win with.

And they’ll have to play just like the Jaguars are “expecting.” Only because that’s how the team is built.

Executive Vice President Tom Coughlin has said he wants the Jaguars to stop the run, get to the quarterback, run the ball and be successful a with play-action passing game. That means keeping the score down, controlling the ball and the clock on offense and limiting the opposition’s offense to a couple of possessions per quarter at most.

Clearly this team is built to beat teams in the AFC South. With Andrew Luck’s retirement, the Jaguars will be the favorites to beat the Colts both times they line up. Without Lamar Miller, the Texans will have to figure out a running game and rely more on Deshaun Watson. And the Titans will lean on Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariotta and the Jaguars know that. Plus their three-time Pro-Bowl tackle Taylor Lewan is out for the first four games of the year, including week three vs. the Jaguars.

Does that beat the Chiefs? Kansas City is a team built to score points from all kinds of angles and in bunches. They’re where the league is heading. Only if the Jaguars defense does their job, and they probably need to score some points, do the Jaguars come away from Week One with a win.

Not trying to be “Debbie Downer” here but that’ll be the theme throughout their schedule. Nine wins could win the division, which means stealing one or two on the road in Charlotte, Cincinnati, Oakland or Denver and winning games at home against the Chiefs and Saints where they’ll be underdogs to get to that number.

At least this team should make it interesting into December.

I “hope” it all works.

When A Team Is A Team

One thing I like about this Jaguars team is it’s honest. That might sound like a strange thing to say about a team but after walking into locker rooms for over 40 years, you can tell when they’re feeding you a line.

Most of Jack Del Rio’s teams were full of it. Gus Bradley’s teams were honest, knowing they weren’t very good. Doug Marrone’s teams have been a little bit of both.

In 2017 they were straight up, giving real answers and backing them up with solid play. Last year’s Jaguars used the same words but you could tell they were hollow. Calais Campbell knew it from the start. That’s one of the reasons he held two “players only “ meetings in the first four weeks of the season, even though they were 4-1.

So when Campbell says, “this team could be special” I believe him. He knows they have some talent on the 53-man roster and the addition of Josh Allen makes the defense better in every aspect. But when Campbell talks about “communication” he’s actually giving us a peek into the team chemistry, especially in the locker room.

You can get a hint of what’s going on with a team noticing how they interact with each other off the field. Little things like how they walk off the practice field, how long they hang around the locker room together. What kinds of conversations are happening when they’re not talking about football?

This all might seem silly, but Head Coach Doug Marrone talks about it at the beginning of every year when he says, “We’re a team in name only. We’ll see what kind of team we become.”

When he was a head coach, Tom Coughlin said no team becomes successful without “an intense affection for one another.”

Some of the “honesty” from a team comes from the quarterback. Mark Brunell gave canned responses and kept the media at arms length on the successful Jaguars teams of the ‘90’s. But he could because Tony Boselli was the emotional leader on those teams. Blake Bortles was honest about his shortcomings and was respected for his toughness by his teammates. That worked in 2017 with complimentary parts around him. It didn’t last year when things started going south.

Nick Foles is an earnest and honest guy who always puts a positive spin on things. A lot of what he’s said since joining the Jaguars has sounded like platitudes from a guy tying to fit in.

Until this week.

Foles took the field last week for the first time in a Jaguars uniform. He said it was an emotional experience but then gave some insights to this team between the lines of his answers.

“You can tell when you step in the huddle what it’s going to be like and tonight was a step in the right direction,” he said after playing in Miami. “Just the feeling in the huddle.”

If you’ve ever been in a huddle and especially if you’ve ever been the quarterback in that huddle, you know exactly what he’s talking about. It’s almost intangible, but the confidence each player has in themselves and in the other guys around them is evident at that moment.

“I’ve stepped in a lot of huddles and just the energy was really positive in the huddle,” Foles added. “A lot of that comes from the O-line. Guys are growing closer and closer together every single day.”

This year’s training camp was designed to foster those relationships. Foles said the schedule gave the players more time off the field to talk, study and just be together. “I’m not just talking to the offense,” he said early in camp.

Cutting players is no fun for Doug Marrone and he was honest when he started the week saying that. But there’s enough talent among the 90 players who have been in camp for the Jaguars that some players released will end up on other rosters.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “The ones that are easy and are the ones that are guys that are a**holes that are not going to make it anyway. You cut them with a smile on your face. You can’t get them out of the building fast enough, but we don’t have that. We have guys that are truly working their butts off.”

The talent level in the NFL is close, top to bottom. It’s the teams that gel, stay healthy, have confidence in each other and make plays that get to the post season. If it were only all about blocking and tackling and game plans, everybody would be 8-8.

So you probably tuned Foles out when he said the following after the Miami game, although he revealed the secret to his ability to come off the bench in Philadelphia and win the Super Bowl.

“The things I focus on when I play the game are trust, love and carrying for the guys around me. All of those things can overcome anything. Execution comes when there’s like an energy when you trust the guy next to you.”

Some of you are rolling your eyes and talking about “Kum-by-ya” about now saying ‘Come on” and asking if they can hit somebody. But f you’ve ever been on any kind of team, you’ll understand the rest.

“There’s a special energy when you run a play. I was on the sideline, I was in the huddle, this thing is building. It’s about those relationships. It’s about caring for one another and the locker room is full of that right now. That’s something special. That’s something that’s built over time. We’ve been building since OTA’s and it was good to see tonight.”

Preseason Injuries Are The Worst

Doug Marrone is probably scared to death right now.

It’s got nothing to do with wins and losses, not scoring against the Ravens, what his team might do this year or his job security. He’s too good of a coach, too good of a guy, too well respected in the league and has been around long enough to know a lot of those things are out of his hands.

What he’s scared about is preseason injuries.

Whether they happen in conditioning, OTA’s, mini-camps, training camp or preseason games, Marrone admits to losing sleep over the possibility of players getting hurt on the last days of any offseason workouts.

“It drives coaches and head athletic trainers crazy,” says Mike Ryan, the Jaguars Head Athletic Trainer for the Jaguars for their first 20 years. “It’s a nerve racking time. Its one thing to lose a guy in October but if you lose a guy in training camp? The risks are higher than a regular season practice.”

That’s one of the reasons the Jaguars sat thirty-two players including most of the projected starters in the exhibition opener against the Ravens last Thursday night.

And Marrone is right to worry about injuries this time of year.

According to NFL research from the six years between 2012 and 2017, players average 81 concussions in the preseason. There are an average of 26 ACL and 43 MCL tears all before the real games even start.

“You can’t train enough to avoid a soft tissue injury,” says Matt Serlo, the Senior Clinical Director and
Licensed Physical Therapist at PT Solutions in Ponte Vedra.

Serlo has worked with hundreds of athletes from the NFL, the PGA Tour and other college and professional leagues over nearly three decades. He sees the progress their bodies can make quickly through hard work in rehabilitation. But he admits, those injuries are unpredictable.

“Sometimes guys can actually over train,” Serlo explained. “Those tendons and ligaments sometimes need a break. Sometimes going too hard and too quick makes it tough on their bodies.”

In the past week the Jaguars have lost rookie Tight End Josh Oliver to a hamstring problem, Linebacker Quincy Williams to a MCL tear and Linebacker James Onwualu is probably gone for the year with a knee injury suffered in practice in Baltimore. All three are players who were expected to contribute this year. Oliver and Williams have a chance to be starters.

“Hydration is a big part of it,” added Ryan who also owns Mike Ryan Sports Medicine and now is the Sports Medicine Analyst for Sunday Night Football and NBC Sports.

“There’s a direct correlation between hydration and soft tissue injuries. I’d give a talk before camp about supplements, legal supplements, anything that isn’t allowing you to hydrate properly.”

New technologies are available to every player in the NFL for rehab and recovery. Cutting edge stuff like hyperbaric chambers, cryotherapy tanks, compression boots, you name it, are all available. But sometimes it just comes down to simple rest that can make the difference.

“The hamstrings are some of the longest and strongest muscles in the body,” Serlo explained. The inflammation has to go down, the body needs rest. These guys want to push, push, push because they’re on a short timeline. The best treatment out there can’t change that over rest.”

With players trying to earn jobs for the year, unlike when the season starts, some guys are going a hundred miles an hour in practice. When you get guys that big changing direction at fifteen or 16 miles an hour, it doesn’t take an opposing impact to cause an injury.

“Players are sleep deprived, they’re under stress, their immune systems are down. They could be doing something they think helps them earn a job but it creates more problems than it helps,” Ryan explained. “I try and educate them on what to drink and what to eat to give them the best chance to stay healthy.”

Research shows that If you lose at little as 2% of your body weight your mental capacity starts to deteriorate. When Ryan puts it in those terms to the players and coaches, they listen.

“Your comprehension is a little bit cloudy. The player is just as not as sharp as he was. Dehydration is a health issue but also makes a difference in performance.”

Anytime a player is hurt, Marrone takes the time to talk with them about what to expect. When Doug talks about that process, you can tell it bothers him.

“It’s just a tough situation,” Marrone said. “You thank the player for everything he put in, but you kind of know what the road looks like ahead, which is always a tough road for anyone that has an injury.”

And when you hear estimates on a return to the lineup that are inexact, it’s on purpose: nobody actually knows.

“Pro athletes respond so much faster than the weekend warriors,” Serlo said. “They’ll go the extra mile. Their bodies are so in tune with what they’re trying to do. The hardest thing to do is to get them to understand that it takes time.”

And there’s no rhyme or reason for when or where an injury might happen.

“It’s funny sometimes,” Serlo added. “Dan Marino tore an Achilles just dropping back, something he did a million times. It just happened that time for no real reason.”

Ryan says the whole injury process is unpredictable, something he learned during his 26 years in the league.

“I’ve had training camps where guys are dropping like flies. We went to Detroit in the preseason our first year (1995) and had three very serious injures in five plays. I had some camps without any. You don’t know when they’re going to come and whom they’re going to happen to. Sometimes injuries can happen in the craziest ways that you don’t expect. Some of its just bad luck.”

Jaguars Ease Into Camp

In the first week of training camp all 32 NFL teams believe. They’re healthy, their free agents are signed and generally everybody’s ready to go. Yannick Ngakoue and the Jaguars negotiations notwithstanding. They’ll come to a deal.

There are different approaches to training camp. Since there used to be six preseason games, NFL camps were two months long. The Cowboys one year brought 200 players to camp. When Don Shula was the head coach of the Baltimore Colts he wrote a letter at the beginning of summer to each of his players outlining his expectations of their fitness and weight on the first day of camp.

Now it’s a year round process to be ready to play in 16 regular season NFL games. Between off-season workouts, OTA’s and mini-camps, teams have a pretty good gauge of their players’ fitness status for most of the year. There are spots in the schedule where a player is on their own but most know the competitive nature of the job and keep staying fit near the top of their priorities.

There are exceptions. Leonard Fournette last year. The Jaguars knew past players Natrone Means and Damon Jones had a tendency to slip during the offseason, so they tried to give them plans, have them check in and be ready to play.

“I was very pleased with the way the team came back in from the standpoint of weights,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said this week prior to the first day of camp. “We’re in great shape there from a standpoint of conditioning which is outstanding, so I’m very, very happy with where we are with what the players have done.”

At the end of last season, Marrone quantified players who “missed their marks” in the offseason when it came to their weight and their fitness level noting that those players missed an average of 5 ½ games during the regular season.

So not only were they more vigilant in the offseason about players keeping their fitness up, but also their approach to training camp for 2019 is different.

“We’ve tried to build in better recovery time,” Marrone noted. The one thing you’re going to see in practice is we’re looking to build up our practices, meaning that we’re going to take it in a progression and build up to a level where we can go. These first 10 days have been a high level of soft tissue injuries.”

“It’s way different. It’s a nice change, though,” Calais Campbell said about this year’s camp with a laugh. “I think the team is maturing and he’s allowing us to be pros and to kind of do what we need to do to get ready. We have a lot more free time which I think allows us to take care of our bodies.”

Measuring height and weight and passing the conditioning test are part of a numbers game every team keeps track of but players can tell, in the locker room and on the field, who showed up leaner, quicker and ready to play.

“Yeah. I think that anytime you come off of a season where you didn’t do as well as you wanted to, guys kind of—you develop a chip on your shoulder again,” Campbell explained. “I’m sure you can see it around when you look at guys, they’re working hard trying to earn back that respect that we once had,”

New Jaguars Quarterback Nick Foles has his own routine in the offseason. While he stays close to his playing weight and looks like a starter in camp (lots of spirals, not many balls on the ground) he doesn’t throw much out of season. Maybe three times. Once with his wife.

“You know that you might not be as accurate,” Foles explained. “And you may not be as great on your deep ball, that’s part of it. That’s just something that I’ve always done. I didn’t just switch it, that’s just what’s best for me and some guys throw all the time, that’s just how it is.”

The new schedule is also giving the Jaguars a chance to spend more time together off the field, building the things Marrone believes makes them a team.

“I’m not just talking to the offensive guys,” Foles said of the off-field conversations he’s having. “I want to see what the defense sees, I want to see what they’re thinking based on our splits, what they’re seeing based on my footwork, because I feel like we can make each other better as a team.”

After their success in 2017, the Jaguars showed they couldn’t handle it last year falling back to 5-11. This year’s camp, according to the players, already has a different feel.

“Well, I’ll say that there’s an energy,” Campbell explained. . “There’s just a pep in our step and I think that comes from being in quality shape. Guys are ready, focused, locked in. I think it’s not even just physical shape.”

Now in his 12th year in the NFL, Campbell explained the work he puts in contributes to his longevity in the league.
“The guys who are the most successful are usually the hardest-working people, and so I try and be on the same par, the same playing field as those guys.” he said. “But I also know that you only get so much tread on your tires and so I have to be smart and take advantage of allowing my body to adjust slowly. I can’t just go out here and act like I’m 25 again.”
So as the Jaguars ease into the physical demands of training camp, Marrone has laid out his expectations.

“One, I obviously want everyone to be on time. No. 2, I want everyone to be prepared. No. 3, I want everyone to give their best effort. No. 4, I want us to focus on winning. That is why it is a performance-based business and you have to make sure you are ready to go and do the things during the week, but you are going to be judged, myself included, the coaches included, on what you do on that Sunday.”

Jaguars Locker Room Leadership

Don’t spend any time worrying about Yannick Ngakoue not coming to the mini-camp. I can tell you this: the players don’t care.

They all know this is the business part of the season and running around in his “pajamas,” as Head Coach Doug Marrone likes to say, isn’t going to make a bit of difference for Ngakoue. His teammates aren’t worried. He’s said he’s playing during the regular season and if he shows up for the first game and can help them win, they’re good with that.

The Jaguars will sign him to a new deal, and next year they’ll do the same with Jalen Ramsey.

Because they have to.

Those are the players, along with Nick Foles, who will be the leaders, the tone setters for the Jaguars in the future.

It’s always been kind of interesting that professional sports seems to be the only profession where what you signed for doesn’t matter in the last couple of years of your deal. Pro football is a little unique because of the possibility of injury and the former lack of guaranteed money. In most professions a contract is in force until the end. But pro sports is a little different. The players are athletes and entertainers. Nobody cares these days about how much money they’re making. The day of screaming headlines about tens or hundreds of millions being paid to players are gone. Everybody’s making money from the owners on down. How much doesn’t matter.

In a negotiation, both sides have a responsibility. The player has to perform and bring to the table realistic numbers for what he thinks he’s worth. The team has to recognize that and be prepared to pay a player and fit it into their salary cap equation. It’s not as if they don’t have the money. As well as a salary cap, there’s a salary floor every team has to meet. It keeps teams from tanking and just putting money in the owner’s pocket.

Besides the injuries, what’s the difference between 2017 and 2018?

It was obvious from the beginning that the locker room was different last year. Even the now departed Dante Fowler noted that the team rested on their laurels. The departures of Paul Posluszny and Marcedes Lewis, and the personal issues of Telvin Smith left a leadership void.

Blake Bortles’ struggles without much help around him sowed discontent between the offense and defense. Calais Campbell saw it coming, holding two “players only” meetings in the first four weeks of the season. And that’s when they were 3-1 with a win over the Patriots. He had to hold Ngakoue back from attacking his own teammates after the home loss to Houston.

Leadership has to evolve on any professional sports team. It has to come from the top players whom their teammates respect. The only player who fit that bill last year was Campbell.

This year, Ngakoue has said he wants to be a team captain. He warrants that based on his production and how he’s matured as a player. And the Jaguars need him to develop as a leader to be successful.

“There are a few guys who really came in and changed the culture and made things pop and he’s definitely one of them,” Jalen Ramsey said this week of his defensive teammate. “Yannick is an important piece on this team. He’s also a leader, and I really hope something is done. I think he has earned it.”

“He’s a hothead,” one veteran told me during Ngakoue’s rookie year. “But he’s good now.”

“How did you handle that?” I asked.

“We knocked the hell out of him everyday until he came around,” the vet said with a laugh.

Ngakoue was subjected to the standard rookie hazing, being in charge of getting food and drinks for the veterans on road trips. They sent him all over town to pick stuff up before boarding the team plane.

Here’s an exchange from a couple of weeks ago between Ngakoue and a reporter after practice. He was asked if it was important to show some leadership this year.

“It is important because I love the game and I try to go hard every day 100 percent. I’m trying to be a captain this year,” he said.

“Do you think about a 100-million-dollar contract,” the reporter asked.

“That money don’t mean nothing. But I know what I’m worth,” was the reply.

“What do you think you’re worth,” asked the reporter.

“What do you think I’m worth,” Ngakoue shot back.

“A lot,” was the quick answer.

“I appreciate that,” Yan said.

When asked if he would consider playing in 2019 if a long-term deal doesn’t come, Ngakoue was adamant.

“Absolutely. Of course I’m going to play. I love the game. I’m in God’s hands at the end of the day. I’ve been playing this game my whole life and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Although he shuns the “leader” label, Ramsey is an important part of the Jaguars locker room culture.

“Jalen just leads by example once he gets on the grass,” Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash explained. “He’s not a vocal guy in the room or anything like that, but they follow Jalen also even though he might not want that, but Jalen is also one of the leaders.”

“Once you get into year four, people expect you to put yourself in a leadership role,” Ramsey said. “That is not something you can force. I want to continue being myself, leading kind of from behind the scenes and by actions more so than breaking down the team and giving speeches to the team. That is not how I view leadership. I think there are different ways to lead.”

Leadership naturally falls to the quarterback so he has to be equipped to handle it through his play and his actions. Nick Foles admitted that right away.

“I think the big thing is being genuine, being who I am,” he said. “Obviously, leading by example. That’s why this part of the year is great because we come to work four days a week. You get an opportunity to get to know the guys and then you can build that trust and go from there.”

And that doesn’t happen overnight.

“Trust is something you can’t just rush,” Foles explained. “That’s why you come in here each day. I don’t try to be anything other than myself. I think guys respect that. My goal is right here to be who I am all the time.”

Head Coach Doug Marrone is well aware of the void in leadership in the Jaguars locker room but also realizes it’s something that can’t be manufactured.

“The team picks the captains. I don’t think as a coach you can go out there and orchestrate it and manipulate the situation,” he said. “ It’s going to come from those guys. They know, or should know, what they want in a captain, who they want the captain to be.“

What’s important for the Jaguars in 2019 is that their captains aren’t in name only.

Odds Against Rookies in the NFL

Pictures courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars/Rick Wilson

There’s a prevailing thought that “all jobs are open” during the offseason in the NFL. There are 90 players on every roster once OTA’s start. Eventually that number gets pared down to the 53 on the team when the season starts. That means when the 32 teams get to opening day in September, over a thousand players currently on NFL rosters will be out of a job.

This weekend’s Jaguars rookie mini-camp highlighted the uphill slog for any player trying to break into the league. The reality is that on average, on the final fifty-three-man roster, six rookies might make the team. Factor in the top three or four draft picks will be given a long leash to prove themselves and that leaves two spots for the 62 rookies and first year players to compete for throughout the summer. Seven draft picks, 21 rookie free agents and 28 workout players are included in that number this weekend.

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone knows these facts all too well. Coming out of Syracuse in 1986, Marrone was the 164th player picked in the draft, a sixth round selection of the LA Raiders. They cut him before the season. He sat out in ’86, was with the Dolphins a couple of years and they cut him. Signed with the Cowboys and they cut him on the first day of training camp. Picked up by New Orleans in ’89, Marrone had a meeting with Hall of Fame General Manager Jim Finks at the end of the year when Minnesota offered him more money and a chance. And that conversation impacts what he says to players today.

“I have to be honest,” Marrone recalled Finks telling him. “If you’re playing for us, that means someone got hurt. You’re not good enough to be a starter.”

That’s a pretty harsh assessment and Marrone admits he was not happy leaving that meeting. But he leans on that experience evaluating and talking to players.

“I always admired that at least someone told me the truth. I try to do that,” Marrone said after practice with the rookies this week. “I don’t know if I can tell someone in a short period of time that I think they can’t play in this league. But I can tell them that we feel we have better players.”

“It really doesn’t matter why you are sitting here right now or how you got here,” Marrone told the rookies at their meeting Thursday night. “It’s an opportunity and you never want to waste an opportunity to make a good impression. You are going to have opportunities. Take advantage of it and leave the stuff you can’t control out.”

Courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars/Rick Wilson

Counting starters and back-ups, draft picks and free agents, the Jaguars have 48 spots “penciled in” of the 53 who will be a part of their quest in 2019. There will be some new faces in new places, but players like Nick Foles, Josh Allen, Chris Conley, Geoff Swaim and Jawaan Taylor will be on the roster come September.

And the chances aren’t unlimited. Once the final cuts are made in August, more than 67 percent of those players will never play in an NFL game. Half of those players released have never played in the league and never will.

What’s amazing is how great the athletes are who will not make this or any other NFL team. The last man on the roster has been a star at every level, a standout in high school and college. If you saw him in a pickup game, you’d think he was so good it was unfair. He has a case full of trophies, MVP awards and Player of the Year accolades. But in the NFL, none of that matters.

One player trying to make a quick impression is former Alabama cornerback Saivion Smith. Smith was invited to the combine, was projected as a third round pick but never heard his name called. He signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Jaguars.

“I was disappointed,” he admitted after practice this week. “Everybody dreams of being drafted. But now I have to know the playbook, what I have to do and play fast. That’s all I can do.”

Looking at Smith’s athletic resume he fits the role of “what are you doing here?” Six feet one, 200 pounds, he’s been a star everywhere, a phenomenal athlete. Rated the best cornerback in the country coming out of high school in Tampa, he signed with LSU, played for Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, played a year at Alabama and then declared for the NFL draft. He’s a shutdown corner who can also hit and returns punts and kicks.

He knows the numbers game he’s in but isn’t focused on it.

“I’ve talked with some of the guys I know on the team, Ronnie Harrison, Leonard Fournette,” he explained. “I tried to know something about what goes on here before I got here. I’m spending some extra time with the coaches and guys I know. I’m trying to control the things I can control.”

That’s an overriding theme for players trying to stick with the Jaguars or any team.

“What I try and do is make sure,” Marrone said, recalling his time as a player “I tell them ‘Don’t look around and put into your mind, ‘Oh, this guy is going to be here.’ You try to get them to understand that they are not only competing with the guys in the room, but they are competing with 31 other teams, too.”

Some dreams will be realized in the next few months, others will be crushed. Both Marrone and Smith are aware of how it happens.

“I’m not ever going to be that guy that sits there and stops somebody’s dream,” Marrone said. “The one thing about this game you have to make sure that you are happy with yourself.”

Marrone left the field after playing in the World League for London, turning down a chance to go back to camp with the Raiders to stay at the Coast Guard Academy and start his coaching career.

“I made that decision,” he explained.

“I’m going to play as hard and fast as I can,” Smith said. “The rest is up to the coaches.”

Jaguars Take Allen, Easy Pick

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

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

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

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

Which made it an easy selection.

This was not a reach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This isn’t one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the spirit that brought the team here remains.

So let’s go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Jaguars acting with confidence or hubris? That answer is important.

There’s a certain level of confidence that’s needed to lead. Whether it’s a business, a political movement or a sports team, the leader has to believe in what he or she is doing.

The problem is, sometimes those leaders are so cloistered, so single-minded that their confidence turns to hubris and things don’t go so well.

The confidence coach Bill Belichick has in what he’s doing in New England has turned into Super Bowl championships for the Patriots. Belichick can come off as arrogant but you can’t knock the results: They win.

For the Jaguars, things are a bit different. While they were in the AFC title game (against the Patriots) two years ago, history says that’s more of an anomaly than the norm with this team. Tom Coughlin was brought in to run the football operation and create a “sustainable winner” and so far he’s one for two in that department.

From a “whistle away” from the Super Bowl, the Jaguars floundered with five wins in 2018. And despite Coughlin’s protestations, he should bear the brunt of the Jaguars’ failure last year to prepare for what “could” happen.

“The nature of the game” is how he described the Jaguars’ troubles after going 3-1, referring to the injuries on offense, particularly on the offensive line, as the explanation for the team’s failure to capitalize on winning the year before. It was Coughlin’s only comment during the year, and it come in a radio interview promoting his charity. He needed to be more accountable than that.

In his first stint with the Jaguars, Coughlin chose R.J. Soward in the first round to bolster the Jaguars’ passing game. Despite his behavior problems at USC, Coughlin was convinced Soward would be different as a professional. “Because the young man’s never played for me,” was his answer when I asked him on draft day what gave him the idea that Soward’s problems were behind him.

With Soward’s flameout now a distant memory and hindsight being 20-20, Coughlin’s confidence in his ability as a coach and a motivator spilled over into hubris and it cost him and the franchise.

There’s no disputing Tom’s growth as a coach and a leader once he joined the New York Giants, getting to and winning two Super Bowls with his blend of discipline and “no tolerance” that players need to buy into.

This year, Coughlin and the Jaguars have made a series of predictable moves trying to take advantage of a winning window their defense has provided.

Signing quarterback Nick Foles and releasing Blake Bortles was in the cards once Bortles was benched last year. There’s a reason Foles hasn’t been able to win and keep the starting job wherever he’s been. Having said that, if the Jaguars are going to stick to their philosophy of play defense, run the football and use play-action passing to throw downfield, he might be the right guy.

This week, coach Doug Marrone told Sports Illustrated, “Really, for me, you gotta be able to talk to people you trust,” referring to the process of signing Foles without ever talking to him or working him out.

“You have to hear that, so you get the truth. And sometimes, that’s the hardest thing — when you’re trying to find out, and going through the process, whether it’s free agents or the college draft, finding someone you can trust that’s gonna tell you exactly what’s going on,” Marrone said.

So, clearly, Marrone and Coughlin heard enough from people they trust in the league to give Foles a starting quarterback contract. He might be fine, but as Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers showed last year, it’s not just about the quarterback. Rodgers is one of the best QBs in the league, but his team won only six games. So Foles will need the Jaguars to be right in almost every other move they make.

As expected, they cleared cap space cutting reliable veterans on defense, expecting other players to step up.

They’ve decided the injury bug on the offensive line was unique, so they’re going into the season with Cam Robinson, Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder and A.J. Cann starting up front, with competition for the right tackle spot. Not a big departure from last year. And the thought that their injuries from 2018 won’t linger.

They’re counting on Leonard Fournette coming back from offseason workouts in Wyoming as the player he was in 2017: in shape and motivated.

They didn’t make a bold move at receiver despite the injuries and lack of production from that position last year. They’re counting on the development of DJ Chark and Dede Westbrook, adding Chris Conley to that group as a reliable, if not spectacular pass catcher.

Signing linebacker Jake Ryan, also coming off an ACL injury, could be the tweak the defense needs, putting him in the middle and letting Telvin Smith and Myles Jack go back to their natural positions.

What they do in the draft in the first couple of rounds will show their mindset for the next two years. Addressing offensive line or tight end early and possibly looking to develop a quarterback out of the second round would make sense.

Last year’s first round pick, Taven Bryan, looks like a pick made out of hubris rather than confidence. With a couple of positions they needed to address, Bryan was their first-round pick in an already stacked position. He finished with one sack and that was in the final game of the year.

“I’ll put the gloves on with anybody,” Coughlin said of the doubters regarding his offseason moves in 2018. That’s amusing since Tom is 72 and making those decisions internally and never speaking of them again.

There are a lot of question marks and “ifs” for the Jaguars so far in this offseason. Their “counting on” and “expecting to” need to pay off in a similar fashion to 2017. If so, they’ll win some games. They know they won seven of their ten games in 2017 against backup quarterbacks. That won’t be the case this year.

Fans are counting on the confidence team management has in the players being put on the field. If those moves are made out of hubris, the window is closing and somebody else will be making the decisions in 2020.

Boselli Misses HOF Selection

No gold jacket for Tony Boselli again this year.

It’s the third year Tony has been among the final fifteen players up for selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For the second straight year, Boselli made the cut to the 10 finalists but not to the final five and was passed over for entrance to Canton.

The Class of 2019 included three first-time eligible players, safety Ed Reed, tight end Tony Gonzales and cornerback Champ Bailey along with cornerback Ty Law and center Kevin Mawae. All deserving of a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but a somewhat surprising class that includes two corners and a center.

Again this year, I thought Boselli was sixth in the committee voting, and I was surprised by the selection of both Law and Mawae. Perhaps there was a bit of New York bias in the voting as can be the case. Hall of Famer John Randle mentioned that as an impediment to Boselli’s stature among the voters. “If Tony had played in New York or Philly, everybody would know who he is,” he said this week.

Just so the Selection Committee doesn’t have to consider positions in the same order each year, the Hall of Fame staff randomly selects where they’ll be discussed during the meeting. Regardless of when the position is discussed during the meeting, the players in each position are slotted in alphabetical order. Which means Tony Boselli is always the first offensive lineman presented and discussed. Although tackles, guards and centers play very different positions, they’re all considered offensive linemen so they’re thrown into the same pool. I don’t think that’s particularly fair and the Hall staff is considering a complete change to that process, discussing each player randomly. Once Tony’s case is presented and the discussion period ends, there’s no chance to defend his candidacy against the other linemen on the ballot. But nonetheless, it’s how they’re discussed right now. Is that a disadvantage for Tony? Hard to say.

The case I presented for Boselli compared the length of his career to the rest of the Hall, (including tackles) outlined his accomplishments, and highlighted the comments from his competitors. Based on the confidentiality agreement with the Hall of Fame, I can’t reveal the pros and cons of the discourse regarding Tony but the give and take among the Selectors was spirited and thorough. I can tell you that the discussion about Tony was nearly the longest of the day among the Modern Era players being considered, over 26 minutes. Only Ty Law’s Q&A period of 27 minutes was longer. (We did talk about Contributor candidate Gil Brandt for more than a half hour.)

There’s no dispute about Boselli’s greatness. The only question ever raised is about his length of service. Why that’s even in the discussion, I don’t know. Two years ago the Selection Committee chose Terrell Davis from the Modern Era eligible players (78 games) and Kenny Easley from the senior pool (89 games) for induction. Boselli played 97 games, 91 in the regular season plus six in the playoffs. About 12% of the players in the Hall played less than 100 games. Twenty-five percent of tackles in the Hall played 105 games or less. So Boselli checks the boxes when it comes to qualifying.

This year it felt like a competition among the four offensive linemen on this year’s ballot. It’s not supposed to be a competition because they’re all great players and all deserving of induction into the Hall. But it’s rare a bunch of players from one position are put into the Hall in the same year.

And with only five spots available, they all can’t get in the same year. The past two years have included six “first-ballot” Hall of Fame players taking up a majority of the available slots. Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss were elected in 2018, their first year of eligibility, leaving two slots. This year, Reed, Gonzalez and Bailey did the same. I don’t think “first-ballot” is a thing in football, but a lot of other people do, although it’s a recent phenomenon. Of the “first-ballot” selections to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, forty percent of them have been since the year 2000.

It shouldn’t be about slotting players in the queue or making guys “wait their turn.” It should be about where you see the players who get to the final 15 in the pantheon among the greats of the game. A recent survey among players and coaches chose Boselli as the first among the four linemen on the 2019 ballot but Kevin Mawae was selected, perhaps because he was the only center.

It’s fitting that this year’s annual Selection Committee meeting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame happened on Groundhog Day. For many of the fifteen finalists, it’s the same, year after year. The first Saturday of February they’re in the Super Bowl city, sitting in a hotel suite, waiting for the outcome of the Committee’s deliberations. Will they get the knock on the door and an invitation to football immortality? Or will they answer the phone and hear the message, “Maybe next year?”

I talked with Gary Zimmerman this week, a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2008 who said, “I feel sorry for those guys who sit there all day waiting for the ‘secret knock.’ My year, I told them no, I went skiing. I figured they’d find me.”

Next year, Troy Polamalu is eligible for the Hall for the first time. He’ll be touted as a lock, taking up one of the five spots available. That might mean 2020 is the right year for Tony. They might even add a class that year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NFL. In 2021, Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Calvin Johnson will be first year eligible players.

If a player has been a finalist, one of the final 15, twice, he has an 89.2% chance of eventually getting into the Hall. This was Tony’s third straight year as a finalist and I’m confident he’ll be on that list for a fourth year in 2020.

He’ll get in the Hall of Fame. When, based on all of those factors, is anybody’s guess.

The HOF Case for Tony Boselli

As noted in this column two weeks ago, 2019 is the third consecutive year former Jaguars Tackle Tony Boselli has been named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And for the 24th year, I’ll be the Jacksonville representative on the Selection Committee and again I’m charged with presenting the case for Boselli’s credentials to achieve football immortality.

The process starts with a list of the eligible players and coaches being sent to the forty-eight members of the Selection Committee. This year, that list had 102 names at the start. Fifteen of those players have made it as “finalists” and will be discussed by the Committee this Saturday in Atlanta. Only five “Modern Era” players can be inducted each year.

So it’s a tough road to Canton.

In his career, Boselli played 97 games, including six in the playoffs. Two years ago the Selection Committee seemed to put the “length of career” debate to rest by inducting Kenny Easley with 96 games played and Terrell Davis with 78. Thirty-two of the 273 players in the Hall played less than 100 games.

Tony played in what can be called the “Golden Age of Tackles” in the league. His career overlapped fellow tackles Gary Zimmerman, Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace. All five of those players have a place in Canton. The next tackle the Committee discusses might be Cleveland’s Joe Thomas.

Boselli was named to the All-Decade first team of the ‘90’s, despite only playing half the decade. Zimmerman was the other first team tackle. Willie Roaf was second team. Every other offensive first-team All Decade player of the ‘90’s has been elected to the Hall.

In his playing days, Roaf said he was always watched film of Boselli. “Even though I had two years on him,” Roaf explained, “he was someone I would watch and gauge my game after.”

Anthony Munoz, considered the best left tackle to ever play the game, called Boselli “One of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”

Gil Brandt, on the ballot this year as a contributor, believes Boselli was the best of all of those tackles in the Hall.

“He’s as good as any tackle, Jim Parker, Anthony Munoz, any guys you’ve ever been around,” Brandt said this week. “You can’t play the position any better. All of those guys. Ogden, Jones, Pace. If they were all sitting there, I’d take Boselli.”

“It’s not guess work, it’s police work,” Brandt said pointing to the statistical comparison of Boselli to other great tackles. “We’re not comparing him to if ands or buts, we’re comparing him to great players. “I’d ask anybody, ‘What didn’t they like about Tony Boselli?’”

Everybody from Boselli’s era agrees that he was Hall of Fame material during his playing career. He passes the eye test. If you saw him play, you knew you were watching a special player

There’s not much debate that Boselli is the best player to ever wear a Jaguars uniform. His teammate and best friend Mark Brunell, who had a 19-year NFL career with five teams, puts Boselli in some rarefied air.

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

Even his former on-field opponents are staunch voices for Boselli’s Hall of Fame candidacy.

Jaguars’ fans will remember Boselli waving Hall of Famer Jason Taylor to the other end of the field on national television.

“Boselli beat me down on a Monday night,” Taylor recalls. “An epic beat down. Surprising it didn’t knock me into retirement.”

“Pass rushing is an art, some people don’t understand that,” Hall of Famer John Randle said. “He had versatility of (Gary) Zimmerman and (Walter) Jones. He was really patient, that’s what makes the great ones. The great ones are there and whatever you want to do, they’re just saying ‘I’m going to wait for you to come to me.’”

“I’d go against Walter Jones in practice (in Seattle) and Gary Zimmerman and Randall McDaniel (in Minnesota). They’re so patient. I watched tape of the week before when he went against Bruce Smith. I watched it and Bruce tried to make him move and Tony was such a strong guy he could absorb him. You had to come at him full bore.”

“He had great feet. Like a great dancer. He never got crossed over, he had the versatility of Willie Roaf, he could take you just with his feet.”

“I like how he was old school. First off, he was so big it was like wrestling with a big bear. When you got into him, you see that in the movies, he would just cover you up like a blanket. I had to take off quick and get to that point on the outside shoulder to try to make him do something. If he beat you there, he’d shove you by. It just didn’t work out. If you got there, he’d just adjust his feet and take you on.”

“He had the mindset. You couldn’t acknowledge he got the best of you. He was a quiet talker. You’d see a DB come up to the line and you could tell Tony was talking to him, telling him to get out of there. He’d try to get you out of your game.”

Former Giants quarterback and current CBS broadcaster Phil Simms remembers Tom Coughlin telling him he was going to put Boselli on Derrick Thomas and he’d handle him.

“I thought that was crazy,” Sims said. “But as we broadcast the game the next day, Tony Boselli dominated Derrick Thomas from start to finish. Tony Boselli was as dominating an offensive lineman that I have ever seen.”

As the first pick in Seattle out of FSU, Hall of Famer Walter Jones said he wore 71 specifically because of Boselli.

“I’ve never told anybody this,” Jones said this week while traveling. “But I went in the equipment room and I told them ‘I want to wear 71.’ I wanted to do it right. I told the people in Seattle I wanted to be what Tony was for the Jaguars: That left tackle they built the franchise around. He set the tone for who we wanted to be. Even how he wore the uniform. I wanted to look like that when they took my picture out there as a left tackle. I watched that matchup he had with Bruce Smith. I wanted to be that guy.”

“If Hall of Famers had a vote, I’d vote for him this year,” Jones added. “If I was starting a team, I’d start with Tony. I know the other offensive linemen on the ballot. They were all great players but I’d start with Tony.”

Gary Zimmerman, the other All-Decade tackle of the ‘90’s said Boselli had the special skills necessary to be at the top of the game.

“My career overlapped Tony only two years but I was always impressed with what a great technician he was,” he said. “He had great, what I call, “flowing feet.” He could always get himself back into position. He had that patience that allowed him to absorb whatever was coming at him.”

Zimmerman then laughed at the current process the goes on all day and culminates with a television show in the evening.

“I feel sorry for those guys now, sitting around waiting for the secret knock. I went skiing.”

And John Randle brought up the unspoken part of Tony’s career.

“The market he was in plays a part,” John admitted. “If he was in a different market, if he was in Philly or New York, everybody would know about Tony. He was up there with the best of them.”

With Champ Bailey, Ed Reed and Tony Gonzalez being hailed as first –ballot selections for the Class of 2019 that would leave two open spots this year for 12 remaining candidates. Boselli is one of four offensive linemen among the finalists. If you do get into “the room,” you have about an eight-eight percent chance of eventually getting into the Hall.

So for Tony, like everybody else, it’s a tough road to Canton.

Jaguars “Can’t Miss” Offseason

Last week’s column about the Jaguars future elicited the full gamut of responses. From “I agree” to “stop drinking and writing,” fans are clearly passionate about what the team should do going forward. A friend of mine once said, “When the reader agrees with you, they’re brilliant. When they disagree, you’re an idiot.” My favorite was “You make a lot of good points but the p****ed off side of me says fire them all.” Because that’s the emotional sentiment of a large part of the Jaguars fan base.

Either way, the Jaguars offseason moves have started with keeping the top brass and firing four assistant coaches, all in positions that underperformed this year.

It’s an important year for everybody involved with the football side of the Jaguars, from the top down. While Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone have been given a vote of confidence by Owner Shad Khan, another year like this one and they’re all gone.

It’s not the 5-11 record that’s so galling; it’s how they got there after an appearance in the AFC Championship game the year before. Yes, injuries played a large part in the Jaguars downfall on offense, but did the lack of production on that side of the ball cause so much locker room discord that the team became totally dysfunctional?

There was a screaming match in the locker room between defensive and offensive players following the loss to Houston at home in week seven. It went on for a while; forcing the Jaguars PR staff to push the media back out into the hallway past the normal “cooling off” post-game period.

So does all of what happened this year impact the decision-making in the offseason? If the team’s commitment to Blake Bortles is perceived as a lack of commitment to winning in the locker room, will that force their hand when deciding about what to do at quarterback?

While the player’s pettiness, lack of leadership and inability to handle success contributed to the Jaguars 2018 downfall, Coughlin has to shoulder some of the blame as well. Dave Caldwell is handling the day-to-day operations as General Manager, but nothing is happening without Coughlin’s approval. Same with Marrone. He might be making the calls as the Head Coach but he’s not doing anything without running it by Coughlin first.

“We believe in the player,” is how Coughlin characterized their commitment to Blake and not addressing the quarterback position in the last couple of years outside of Tanner Lee with their sixth round pick in 2018.

I’m not a fan of where you look at who they could have picked instead of whom they did. The draft picks and the free agent signings were made based on what they already had on the team and what they thought would augment their success. You can’t cherry pick in each draft who they might have taken without looking at the whole picture.

The extension given to Bortles colored their decisions across the board and if they think that’s the problem, they only have one year to fix it. If the players on the team don’t believe in Blake, the brass has to know that and make their decisions accordingly.

In his first stint at running the Jaguars, Coughlin had full control, running the personnel and football operations as the head coach and the general manager. Wayne Weaver has said his biggest mistake as Jaguars owner was getting rid of Coughlin but that’s a bit of revisionist history. Nobody was going to buy a ticket to a Tom Coughlin-coached team at the time and Weaver never broached splitting the job up as an idea. Doubtful Coughlin would have gone for it, but eventually he did take the head-coaching job with the Giants, working with General Managers Ernie Acorsi and Jerry Reese. Two Super Bowl victories followed.

As the Jaguars personnel chief this time around, Coughlin’s drafts have been spotty. With the jury still out on Leonard Fournette and Cam Robinson injured, Dede Westbrook appears to be the only emerging star from Tom’s 2017 picks. Taking Taven Bryan with the first pick in 2018 was adding to an already perceived strength on the defensive line. Bryan wasn’t an impact player, as you would expect a first round selection to be, getting his only sack of the year in the season finale at Houston. Perhaps DJ Chark becomes the playmaker the Jaguars need, but that didn’t happen in 2018. Ronnie Harrison, Will Richardson, Leon Jacobs and Logan Cooke could all become regular starters in Jacksonville.

This is a “can’t miss” offseason. As in, the Jaguars “can’t miss” at all across the board in the draft or in free agency. While all decisions will be made based on what they’re going to do at quarterback, their subsequent moves will determine the near future success, or lack of it for the Jaguars. They can’t take any flyers, or have the luxury of adding to an already strong position group. Without immediate impact from the players acquired in this offseason, they’ll have to blow the whole thing up and start over again.

Bortles, Marrone Should Stay

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

Two things in Jacksonville should stay the same:

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

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

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

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

So if Tom’s in charge, Doug stays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boselli summed it up for everybody this way:

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

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Players Know Change is Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong Tone Early Sinks Jaguars

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

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

Any different than last year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was clearly missing here this year.

In Retirement, Poz Still Knows

So what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He doubted that theory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Gets a Team, 25 Years Later

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

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

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

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

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

He was not happy.

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

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

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

Weaver would have none of it.

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

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

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

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

“Seven AM, in the lobby,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing Poz, and a Lot More

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

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

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

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

For Marrone, it’s a different story.

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

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

Can they miss Paul Posluszny that much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Media a Fact of Life in Pro Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any trolls?

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

Which is why some players have self-imposed rules.

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

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

Only the Jaguars Can Stop the Slide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it might have been too late.

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

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

The quicker the better.