Jacksonville Jaguars

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.

Bortles is the Right Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

Jaguars Could Take a Lesson From the Blue Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly, both have to get it right.

Jaguars in London Pretty Routine

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

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

And the Jaguars got blown out.

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

And the Jaguars got blown out.

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

And they beat Buffalo 34-31.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frustration, Expectations Dog Jaguars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what it is, is not good.

Jaguars Need a Fix Fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kicking Is A Mental Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They cut me that weekend,” he explained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that superstition? Kickers say no.

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

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

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

And Scobee agrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars: More Questions Than Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will that mean?

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

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

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

Blake Bortles

Jaguars: Act Like You’re Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly.

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

Now is the time to make everybody play YOUR game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars Show Resilience, Beat Jets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can a Whole Town Have a Hangover?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a coincidence says Dr. Alloway.

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

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

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

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

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

Which means fiery halftime speeches could actually work!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or.

They could just play better.

Recovery is the Latest in the NFL

There’s a scene in Godfather II where Vito Corleone is in his dimly lit apartment worried about his son Fredo.  Fredo has pneumonia and is being tended to by his mother and a nursemaid using a glass tumbler with a flame underneath. The thought was it would suck the illness out of his tiny body.  It’s a centuries old routine done by the Chinese, the Greeks and the Italians among others.  I saw my grandmother use that process calling it, “ta koopia” in her island/mountain Greek/English.

Who’d have believed that a modern-day version of that is considered “cutting edge” in the world of sports recovery?

“If after our evaluation you need cupping, we can do that for you,” said Ashley Isleborn who operates the Sports Recovery Annex in San Marco. “Cupping creates a vacuum effect that brings nutrient rich blood into the area.  It promotes healing and increases range of motion in the muscles.”

Watching the Olympics you probably saw local swimmer Caleb Dressel with round bruise marks on his back and shoulder in a pattern.  That’s from cupping.

The Sports Recovery Annex is one of about a half-dozen recovery businesses that have opened in town in the past two years.  They all emulate the tools and services training rooms for professional sports teams have to keep their players in the game.  Blue 32 is run by former Jaguars DB Drayton Florence. Current Jaguars DL Malik Jackson has part ownership in Recovery Zone in Riverside.  Professional golfer Russell Knox helped start Cryotherapy Jax on the Southside.

“We saw a need for a community type athletic training room,” Iselborn added. “We wanted to make the equipment and medical professionals that are available to professional athletes available to the general public.”

Cupping is just one of numerous new-wave tools athletes, from professionals to weekend warriors, are using to recover, recuperate and perhaps extend their careers.

“I do it all,” Jaguars Defensive Lineman Calais Campbell told me after the Patriots game. “Massage, cryotherapy, Normatech, GameReady, dry needling, acupuncture, you name it.  What ever I can do to get ready to play.”

Recent research has shown that active recovery is the next step in getting your body ready to perform again.  You might not recognize any of those product names, but they’re everyday happenings for current NFL players. Teams even have a hyperbaric chamber (the thing Michael Jackson used to sleep in) to promote healing.

Former Jaguar John Jurkovic once said that playing on the defensive line in the NFL is like “being in 42 car wrecks in the same day.” And anybody who’s played football knows the difference of being “in shape” or being “In football shape.”  You know that soreness that comes a few days into practice.  They even have a clinical name for it now, “DOMS.” Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.”

Cryotherapy is a three-minute process, getting into a gas-filled chamber up to your neck that cools down to minus 200 degrees.  Normatech is a full body compression system designed to flush the lactic acid out of your limbs.  GameReady combines compression and cold and can reduce swelling.  Acupuncture has been around for 5,000 years and is part of every NFL team’s recovery regimen.  And dry needling is just what it sounds like.  They insert these small needles into a problem area, hook them up to some electric stimulation and it helps “release” that muscle.

Teams all over professional sports have come a long way in a short time.

Former NFL running back Pete Banaszak laughs about guys smoking in the locker room at halftime in the ‘60’s and “70’s. “Biletnikoff was always walking around looking for a light,” he said.

“You’d do the hot tub/cold tub treatment but basically you were just sore all the time,” he added.

Twenty years later, Jaguars Linebacker Tom McManus was among the early adopters of an active recovery regimen.

“I’d get two massages a week,” he recalled.  “The first a deep tissue that really hurt, and one later to help me get loose. I’d see a chiropractor once a week during the season.  I’d get in a cold tub almost every day. Up to my neck.  That cold down to my bones I liked.”

I was walking into the Jaguars locker room in Stevens Point, Wisconsin during their first training camp when McManus’ teammate, running back Randy Jordan literally climbed into a trashcan full of ice and water.

“Nothing, I hate the cold,” Linebacker Telvin Smith said when I asked him what he does for recovery.  “A couple of massages, that’s about it.”

Quarterback Blake Bortles says he does some but he probably hasn’t given enough of the new tech a chance. He sticks to a routine.  “Massages, hot tub, cold tub, the regular stuff,” he said standing in front of his locker with a few cupping marks on his back.

“I was old school,” Guard A.J. Cann said of his thought process coming out of college.  “I’d just work through it and get back out there.  But some of the guys said ‘you have to invest in this’ meaning your body.  So now I do all of it.  Dry needling? It hurts, but it works.”

In his seventh year in the league, Safety Tashaun Gipson says his age has already caught up with him.  He’s now working on active recovery in a lot of ways.

“I don’t know, since I turned 28 I’ve really started to do some things,” he said. “I used to not even stretch before games.  Guys in Cleveland would make fun of me.  Now, our massage therapist says I get more massages than anybody else. You have to take care of this body.”

Like a lot of players, he’s taking it to a new level.  Shunning old eating habits, getting the proper rest, using the active recovery tools, Gipson says it’s made him a better player.

“I used to have taco Tuesdays, had to have my Chick-fil-a on Wednesday.  I could eat French fries with every meal.  Not anymore.  I’ve hired a chef and they’re making it right.”

Drayton Florence started getting involved in recovery after six years in the NFL.  He started “Blue 32” after seeing enough “Weekend Warriors” trying to stay active. He’s invested in almost everything that’s in an NFL training room, plus a mobile unit.

“You have a lot of gyms popping up all over the place.  People are beating their bodies up,” he said.  “I wanted to give the average Joe a chance for recovery.  A guy like LeBron James spends over  $1.5 million on recovery every year.  There’s a reason he hasn’t missed a game. You can’t compete at a high level without taking care of your body.”

Florence gives free treatments to military veterans on the 22nd of each month, hoping to help with their transition into civilian life.

“We started as a training room for athletes. People thought we were crazy.” Maria Rivera the owner of Cryotherapy Jax said.  “But we’re more spa-like now. About 80% of our clients are people who want to stay active; another 10% are working on pain management.

“Our clients want to stay off medications and are looking for alternative therapies to stay active.”

Aren’t we all?

Marrone Spreads The Credit Around

On the day after the win over the Patriots, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone was moving forward.  While some teams talk about the “24-hour rule” to bask or wallow in the previous day’s result, Marrone was already preparing for the Titans.  He’s doing so with a new starter on the offensive line with the loss of Cam Robinson to an ACL injury.

“One thing that I have talked to this coaching staff about and I have talked to the players about is I don’t want anyone on this roster or on this team that is a backup,” Marrone said referring to Josh Wells stepping into the left tackle spot.  “I want everyone to be treated and prepare just like they are a starter.”

It’s been the Jaguars philosophy under Marrone since the beginning.  As a back-up himself as a player, Marrone knows how it feels to be treated like a stop-gap measure.  He’s comfortable with the guys on the roster getting into games, no matter what the situation.

“What I wanted to do is make sure everyone understands that we’re not scouring and we need to go out there and find some answers. We have the answers here in the building.”

So they’re not going around looking for new players.  They’ll also make sure the offensive linemen on the roster are up to speed at just about every position.  Marrone said Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann and the rest are capable of stepping in just about anywhere if they have “a problem” in the future.

He also was quick to point out, in a subtle way that it was Tashaun Gipson and not Jalen Ramsey who did the bulk of the work against Rob Gronkowski and kept the all-everything TE in check.

“I think we have two good guys back (at safety) there starting and I said it last year about T-Gip.  Gipson had a heck of a year last year for us and he is off to a really good start this year. I think a lot of things get overlooked. He was matched up about 17 or 18 times out there [on Gronkowski] and did an outstanding job.”

In a weird quirk, the Jaguars actually have higher offensive production when Leonard Fournette is out of the lineup compared with when he plays.  It’s a bit of a false stat since the game plan changes with Fournette in the game, more running game, more clock management, more grind it out.

Not sure if Fournette will play this week, Marrone didn’t want anybody to think the team can go long-term without him.  It’s just the other players getting it done.

“Let’s make sure we understand that Leonard is a very important player for us and a guy that can change games. To have the other players pick it up and do a good job is obviously important and I think that’s what the players have done.”

Make all the fun of Blake Bortles you want, Marrone is squarely in his corner and always has been.  VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin has said all along “we believe in the player.”  The head coach goes a lot further, acknowledging how tough Bortles has been, physically and mentally.

“The one thing I do admire though is his toughness through it.,” Marrone added. “It’s not like whether it’s this or that or percentage or a completion percentage or how he plays. At the end of the day, quarterbacks and players, coaches, everybody – we are just judged on winning and losing. We just want to win.”

And finally, the head coach leaned on his thoughts about being able to wear Jaguars gear and be proud of it.  He talked about it in the offseason, playing on a bad Syracuse team and not wanting to wear his football t-shirt in public.  The outpouring of support and the raucous nature of the fans at the game Sunday is just what Marrone likes.

“I know our fans fire us up. I hate to say that because you would think we are professionals and maybe I could do a better job of getting the team ready to go, but the fans are great. We’re trying to go out there every day and play the type of game and win games or have the opportunity to win games that the fans of Jacksonville can be proud of. They can be proud to wear that shirt on Monday. Sometimes when you don’t play well it’s tough. It’s tough to wear that shirt.  We talk about our support. We talk about the advantage that we have. The fans have been great. They have done their part. We’re hoping that they come out again and cheer this team on. When we win, they are a part of it.”

 

 

Jacksonville Jjaguars

Jaguars: Good Enough to Win

One of my favorite stories about the vagaries of the NFL comes from the 2010 season.  In their 13th game, the Jaguars secured their eighth victory of the year, beating Oakland at home to go 8-5 with three games left.  In the same week, the Green Bay Packers were also 8-5, losing to Detroit on the road. The Jaguars needed just one win in their final three games to qualify for the playoffs.  Instead they lost three straight, finished 8-8 and missed the postseason.  The Packers, on the other hand, won two of their final three, finished the regular season 10-6, clinched the Wild Card and continued winning through the playoffs, on the road and eventually becoming Super Bowl champions.

Just three weeks earlier there were high hopes in Jacksonville and lots of hand wringing and gnashing of teeth in Wisconsin.

In 1996, the Jaguars were in their second year of existence with no expectations to be among the league’s elite.  Their inaugural year, they mustered a 4-12 record and about the same was expected the following season.  They were 3-6 through their first nine games but won six of their last seven. They caught a break in their final game with Morten Anderson’s missed field goal to eek into the playoffs then famously got hot, upsetting Buffalo and Denver by identical 30-27 scores, only to fall in the AFC Championship game to the Patriots on a cold night in New England.

So does game one this week against the Giants mean anything for this year’s Jaguars?  Somewhat, but it’s not any great indicator of what they might be for the next seventeen weeks. First of all, early in the season, like any team, they need to avoid any kind of weird injury.  Although the Jaguars have had tough camps, hitting at game speed takes some getting used to so getting through the first couple of weeks healthy is always key.

What gives a team a chance late in the year when they seem to have been just noodling around for most of the season?  Health is a major factor.  Getting the right players on the field at the right time is a common thread among all contending teams in the NFL.  Last year, the Jaguars had only two missed games (Telvin Smith’s concussion) on defense.

They also have to be built for the long haul, which means a solid running game and a stout defense.  The 2010 Packers had that, as well as an emerging Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.  The ’96 Jaguars rode the legs of Natrone Means on offense and the stellar play of Clyde Simmons on defense all the way to the AFC title game.

Are the 2018 Jaguars built like that?  Absolutely. But better.

If you look at the components of how the Jaguars were put together, start on the offensive line where size does matter.  Four of the five starters up front are 6’6” and 320 or bigger. And they have serious attitude.  Three running backs are solid between the tackles, have the speed to get outside and can all catch the ball out of the backfield. Quarterback Blake Bortles showed last year he can win any kind of game you want to play.  If it’s 10-3 against Buffalo, his legs can do the work, or if it’s 45-42 against Pittsburgh, he can light it up through the air.  On defense, the Jaguars have a rotation up front that should carry them through four quarters and pressure quarterbacks pretty effectively.  Their linebackers are fast and willing to stand in the hole to stop the run.  The back four are talented, cocky and have a level of experience that can be a game changer.

In week one of every season hope springs eternal in all 32 NFL cities.  Every fan base, every team thinks with a couple of lucky bounces and if they stay healthy they can go far.  The difference this year for the Jaguars is they know they can win.  Last year was no fluke.  They have the talent and the right mind-set to win games.  Unlike Jaguars teams of the last decade, this one knows that their best is good enough.  If they go out there and just be who they are, they’ll win games.  It won’t take a superhuman effort or as Tom Coughlin often says, “playing above the x’s and o’s.”

They’re good, they’re talented and they’re deeper and faster than any Jaguars team since 1999. Now it’s just a question of going out and doing it.  What could hold them back?  Hall of Fame finalist Gil Brandt said the Jaguars and the Eagles are the two best rosters in the league so it won’t be talent.  Only some self-inflicted problems can stop this Jaguars team.  Locker-room division, back luck or an air of entitlement are the only things that can create issues for the 2018 Jaguars. I don’t think guys like Calais Campbell, Barry Church and newly minted captain Leonard Fournette will let that happen.  Which is why no matter what happens in New Jersey in week one, they’re still my pick to go to the Super Bowl.

Jaguars and Skynyrd a Natural Fit

Whoever thought of playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” to kick off the fourth quarter at Jaguars’ home games was a genius.  Whoever thought it was a good idea to stop that was something less than a genius.  Maybe it didn’t seem “sophisticated” enough to somebody new to town.  Or they wanted to be more “modern” and timely.  And that’s all good.  But Skynyrd is a part of who we are, and that’s not going to change.  I’ve been to plenty of stadiums where the home team has some kind of “tradition” that makes no sense to the visitors.

Because it’s not suppose to.

Playing Skynyrd at a Jaguars game is our own version of that.  With all of the losing going on at the stadium in the past decade, it’s about the only fun fans were having at the game at all.  That guitar lick by Ed King and Gary Rossington to start the music brought a cheer and a smile to anybody who was left at the game.  Now that the team’s winning, playing Skynyrd should be part of the celebration.

I’m not even sure if the Jaguars are going to play “Sweet Home Alabama” at home games in 2018 but there’s no question that they should.  The honoring of the military and the ringing of the bell between the third and fourth quarters is a noble endeavor. It’s the right thing to do. It absolutely has a place at every Jaguars game and if the right time is prior to the final quarter, that’s great.

Skynyrd also has a place at home games, wherever and whenever they want to play it.  First quarter, start of the second half, it doesn’t matter.  Somewhere during a Jaguars home game, some Skynyrd music should be playing.

Nothing has defined Jacksonville more in the last 40 years (with all due respect to Fred Durst and Limp Biscuit) more than Skynyrd and the Jaguars.  Cleaning up the air and getting rid of tolls are in the discussion but “the boys” from the Westside, both in the original band and the reunion version have always proudly told everybody they’re from Jacksonville. Waaaay before anybody anywhere thought the Jaguars in Jacksonville were a possibility.  (Except possibly former Mayor Jake Godbold.)  So you could say it was a natural to include some “local” music as part of the “game day experience.”

Any tailgate party at a Jaguars game has some Skynyrd music playing.  One of their songs on any pregame playlist would be considered a local anthem of sorts.

Today’s (Sunday’s) concert as part of the band’s “Farewell Tour” should forever solidify the link between Skynyrd and the team.  The Jaguars were part of the impetus to rename a street downtown after the band and to put up a mural depicting the legendary, and local rockers.

Johnny Van Zant and Rickey Medlocke were a big part of the announcement of the show here back in April.  Both professed to be huge Jaguars fans and recently went on a tour or the stadium with the team’s long-snapper Carson Tinker.

While he was rehabbing his knee last season, Tinker worked on his guitar licks and was invited by Johnny and Rickey to play along on an acoustic version of “Sweet Home Alabama” right there in the stands at the stadium. (Although I sang with the band in the late ‘80’s at their first “reunion” at the Morocco Temple, I was still VERY jealous.)  Carson held his own but told me, “I was hoping to get some of the lead in there but Rickey can REALLY play!” When he tweeted it out, Tinker called it his “dream.” Medlocke even had his bothersome thumb looked at by the Jaguars training staff during the tour.  His thumb has bothered him for some while from holding a guitar pick in that hand forever.

Skynyrd’s connection to sports goes back a long way.  Like any kids, they were involved early, with Ronnie being a pretty good baseball player.  But he was also a poet, so songwriting and leading the band won out.  Brother Donnie had a nice racquetball game in the ‘90’s when not on the road with .38 Special.

While the band has never performed at halftime of the Super Bowl (hmmm, there’s an idea) there is a connection between the band and the NFL that goes back a while.  Skynyrd has been a part of the Super Bowl Saturday Night Special in the past.  Eighteen years ago Skynyrd was part of a big blowout concert in Tampa Bay before the game and as usual, they brought the house down.

So it would be strange after all of the hype and the Jaguars involvement in Skynyrd’s final concert to not have them part of games.  They’re fun, they bring some extra excitement, and perhaps most importantly, they’re ours.

Doug Marrone

Marrone: Right Guy, Right Time

Even though there’s a bunch of rah-rah and it seems glamorous, a football team is much like any work environment. There’s a boss, some lieutenants and workers. The boss, in this case, the head coach, sets the tone, the policies and the overall structure of what happens.

In the Jaguars 23 years they’ve had different leadership styles, some successful, some, not so much, and some with mixed reviews.

With the imperious bearing of Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars had a CEO who was simultaneously distant, and always into the details. That wears on the workers and eventually the salary cap, injuries and Coughlin’s own demeanor led to his demise. Owner Wayne Weaver said his biggest mistake was getting rid of Coughlin. But that’s revisionist history. At the end, nobody was going to buy a ticket to a Tom Coughlin-coached team. We’ve all worked for a Jack Del Rio type boss, they guy who always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. That leads to short term success but it’s a recipe for flaming out. The workers, in this case, the players, eventually resent everything the boss stands for.

Mel Tucker brought a whole new premise to the role of the boss. He introduced the “servant leader” idea. Tucker is a fabulous coach and a really good guy as well. I’m surprised he isn’t a head coach somewhere. Mike Mularkey didn’t have much to work with and wasn’t given much of a chance. He was just trying to build something, anything actually, and then he was gone. Gus Bradley brought a whole new approach from a new generation, trying to empower the players for their own discipline and accountability. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. He’s also a very good football coach but his team was too young to grasp the power he was trying to give them.

Doug Marrone was at the top of a short list to be the next head coach of the Jaguars. Already on the Jaguars staff and well known to Coughlin, both of them played and coached at Syracuse.

Turns out, Marrone is the right coach in the right place with the right team at the right time.

While Marrone and Coughlin see the path to victory and success through the same lens, they’re very different people and personalities. Doug is able to impart that to the players in a very matter of fact, “here’s what we have to do” way. No screaming or yelling, no folksy, fake back slapping. He takes a serious approach to getting the job done. Like the offensive lineman he was as a player.

“We have a lot of work to do,” is one of his favorite expressions.

Marrone has no problem giving the players credit, just as long as they put the work in that’s necessary. He’s conducted two of the toughest training camps in recent memory. It’s no coincidence that he has said “We have to earn the right to win.” Which is also the title of Coughlin’s book.

“He’ll be more miserable when they win,” my friend from Buffalo said with a laugh when I was doing some early research about Marrone.. “Miserable” might not be the right word, but Marrone’s demeanor oftentimes seems so downtrodden that it’s easy to understand that his nickname at a few stops in his coaching career was “Eeyore.”

“I never have fun,” Marrone deadpanned last year during the Jaguars post-season run. “I like winning. I am not a fun person. That is my problem. I think when I look back I will say that it is fun.”

With all due respect to the media contingent in Buffalo, everybody who knew Marrone as the head coach there and has seen him with the Jaguars says he’s changed. But his core values on how to win have stayed the same. He’s able to break it down simply: You can either get the job done or you can’t.

“If we think the guy can play, let’s put him out there and see if he can do it. If we think, ‘You know what, I’m really not sure if this guy can.’ Well, put him out there and let’s see it.”

But he also admitted that he’s been able to separate the things that matter from the things that don’t when you’re in charge.

“You start to learn more of what, okay, this is important,” he explained. “Maybe this is not as important. Then, you create maybe more of a comfort in that. I don’t know. I just know that I feel more comfortable.”

Marrone is a good guy, somebody who wants to do well and do it right. He’s the guy who would be the designated driver on a night out if you asked him. And he’d be the guy who stepped in front of some jerk in a bar giving you a hard time.

Mostly he says he’s happy for the people around him as well as the fans and the organization. As a player at Syracuse, the Orange were 2-9 his freshman year and he didn’t want to wear his “Syracuse Football” gear anywhere. He knew the ridicule he’d be subjected to. He’s glad to help change that for Jaguars fans that have been in that situation for a decade.

“I grew up in a sports town, and I know what it’s like when your team’s not doing well and all the crap you take. For me I get a lot of joy when I see people that are proud of their team.”

He’s working. And although he says he’s not really a happy person, he’s happy in different ways.

“One thing in this profession, at least for me, it’s very hard to enjoy those things, but I do find a lot of joy for myself when I see other people happy with the success.”

Hard to not like that. He might be Eeyore, but he’s our Eeyore. Right guy in the right place at the right time.

Teams, Players, Reporters and the Truth

I was walking through the Jacksonville Bulls locker room in 1985 when running back Mike Rozier started a NSFW tirade toward me about something I had said on TV the night before.  In the course of his screaming he threatened to kill me, have me killed, “mess me up” and a variety of other unprintable things.

At the time, the Bulls had a defensive back named Don Bessillieu who was vocally unhappy with his contract and had threatened to “drop interceptions on purpose” until the Bulls gave him a new deal.  I thought that was so silly I said, on the air “That’d be like Mike Rozier saying he was going to fumble on purpose until he got a new deal.”  Rozier was the workhorse of the Bulls, carrying the ball 320 times for over 1,300 yards and catching another 50 balls out of the backfield. So he was their star and whatever he was screaming at me, he didn’t like me using “Rozier” and “fumble” in the same sentence.

Maybe he was sticking up for his teammate, maybe he was actually mad at me, but I saw it as just doing my job, a blend of information, commentary and entertainment on TV every night. It wasn’t the first, nor the last time I’d been threatened by somebody I’d been reporting on. I didn’t think I needed to report that and without any social media, Rozier and I worked it out in a “very clos” face-to-face” with a liberal exchange of ideas.  Remember, Mike and I are about the same age.

It was a very different time in media.  “Reporters” were just that, people who considered their job to “report” what was going on, not render constant opinions or take sides.  We were the public’s access to the closed worlds of sports, politics, entertainment and other cloistered societies.

I’ve had numerous veterans of every sport say to me, “I’m glad camera phones weren’t around when I played.”  Some say it with a laugh referring to their off the field excursions, others are glad practices were only watched by coaches and not recorded by teams and reporters attending, documenting their every move.

Last week there was a bit of a firestorm when the beat writer for the TU posted a camera phone video of the post-practice altercation between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue.  The reporter was working inside the restrictions placed on him by the team, wasn’t breaking any rules, and was simply doing his job.  Posting the video was an editorial decision that followed the guidelines of what they think constitutes “news.”

The Jaguars, just like every other team, have very specific rules about reporters attendance at practice, where we can stand, when we can or can’t obtain video and when social media posts are acceptable.  They send us a written outline at the beginning of the year.  The players are aware that these training camp practices are open to the media.  That changes when camp ends and reporters are only allowed at practice for the first ten minutes or so.

All reporters, me included, have been privy to information, visuals, pictures, video, conversations and a million other things that we haven’t reported.  If the information isn’t about somebody breaking the law or endangering somebody else, it’s a news judgment about the public’s “right to know.”

I’ve said often that most organizations would like to manage information about their product and “break” news themselves on their social media accounts and on their own web sites.  That would mean excluding independent reporters from practices, locker rooms and player/coach access. Most leagues have rules against that so it’s not happening. Over the last ten-years most college locker rooms have been closed with the players and coaches being delivered in rooms or hallways to reporters. Players in individual sports are trying to manage stories about them by only making announcements on their own media platforms.

Some of that is just the changing time.  But some of that goes against what the job of reporters is supposed to be.  Developing sources, culling through the truth, the self-promotion and outright lies is what’s supposed to be part of our jobs.

Even the word “media” doesn’t mean the same that it did as little as 15 years ago.  While “the media” used to be considered independent reporting organizations, it’s now a blanket description for just about anybody with a microphone, a camera or a computer.  Much of what is called “the media” these days is actually somebody who’s just covering the coverage. Talking to coaches and players, seeing what happens in practice and talking to players gives the actual “reporters” a sense of the nuance of what’s actually happening.

As much as many of those people are friends of mine, some of the media now is considered people who actually work the for organizations they’re covering.  A writer or broadcaster who works for a team’s digital media outlets operates under a different set of rules than those who are from “the outside.”

Having said that, when I’ve gotten a paycheck from sports organizations for doing their play-by-play (including the Jaguars) or something else. I’ve never been told what to say or how to say it.  Bulls Head Coach Lindy Infante didn’t like it when I was hosting his show and asked him a question about his future when the team was 6 games under .500 and told the show’s producer. But we re-set the ground rules and he understood that was part of my job.

And that’s a question often asked by players or coaches who don’t like the critical nature of some commentary. Are reporters supposed to be fans?  Are they only there to spread sunshine about a team or an organization? Reporters have to make that judgment almost every day, what is actual news, good or bad.

I had a former Mayor call me one night and tell me I needed to “get on board” with his agenda. “That’s your job,” he said.  “We need to talk to my boss,” I responded.  “Because they think it’s something totally different.”

So viewers and readers have to make up their own minds about what’s reporting, what’s promotion and what’s just somebody else’s opinion. While it’s more work than it used to be for the news consumer, you can find the truth in there somewhere.  There’s a lot of information available for smart, honest people.  The truth is out there. Find it.

Adding London games is fine for Jaguars, as a road team

We haven’t heard much about “the Jaguars are moving” story in the past couple of years. Los Angeles has two teams and a multi-billion dollar stadium being built. But there’s a new, albeit faint drumbeat about more games in London and fewer games in Jacksonville. By now you’ve probably heard what NBC’s Peter King said a couple weeks ago regarding the Jaguars potentially playing four games in London beginning in 2022.

It would be pretty easy for the Jaguars to play more games overseas. But I don’t think fans will accept giving up any more home games here at home.

So that’s not going to happen.

Next year, I think the Jaguars will be playing two games in London, one as the home team and one as the visitor either the week before or the week after.

I’ve said all along the Jaguars would play more than one game overseas. And not all in London. Shad Khan has said he would like to have a game in Germany or in Spain at some point and I think it’s possible by 2022 the Jaguars would have already played in one of those places.

And they’ll play at Wembley whenever they play in England even though the league has a deal to play two games at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium at White Hart Lane. Shad is buying the national stadium outside of London and his team will always play there. Which means home or away, it’s a moneymaker for the local owner.

If the NFL really wants the Jaguars to have more of a presence in London how about one game as the home team, and a few more as the visitor all played over a three or four-week stay? While that means four games in London, it wouldn’t mean fewer games in Jacksonville.

I’ve been to every game the Jaguars have played in London and you wouldn’t know who was there as the home team or the away team. As the Jaguars have settled in on a schedule and gotten more comfortable with the routine, they’ve taken advantage of being the “home” team for the past few years.

Khan wants to have a base in North America to entertain clients and have meetings outside of a work setting. The Jaguars certainly provide that, both at home and when they play on the road in the States. Shad revamped the owners box here in Jacksonville, expanding it and making it pretty special to help showcase his team.

He’s building a new Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage in London, renovating the hospitality area to bring it up to a standard so he can entertain clients from Europe and beyond at Premier League games.

So from his perspective of using the NFL and the EPL as an adjunct to enhance his businesses, the Jaguars in Jacksonville and Fulham in London perfectly fit the bill.

“The fact we are playing one game a year at Wembley now, that we have other commercial interests in London and throughout the UK, has really made us stronger here in Jacksonville,” Jaguars president Mark Lamping recently told The Guardian newspaper in London. “I think most of our fans understand the role London plays,”

When the league wanted to expand the number of games in London, at first they couldn’t find enough owners willing to go. Now there aren’t enough games to accommodate the owners that want to play there.

Shad was way ahead of the curve, as usual, on this one and he’s gotten the other owners excited about taking their team to the UK.

Talk about the Jaguars playing in London, Germany or Spain doesn’t diminish the name “Jacksonville” in front of “Jaguars.” Au contraire, as the French would say, looking at it from the other side of the equation, it makes us the cool kids on the block.

Improvements around the stadium, the continued planning for a “Lot J” entertainment complex, the development of the Shipyards and a high end, world class hotel on the St. Johns river are pretty good indicators that Khan likes it here.

There’s even an idea floated about putting a giant sunshade over the stadium, like an arch a couple of hundred feet wide stretching over the structure from North to South.
“London strategically is really important to us and it’s really important to Jacksonville that the Jaguars don’t lose our position in London,” Lamping said. “Whenever you can include Jacksonville and London in the same sentence, it’s a good thing.”
“London is the NFL’s international primary focus. It’s a market they believe with appropriate amount of development over time could potentially be a city to host a full-time franchise,” he added. “Whether that ultimately accrues to the Jaguars or another team relocating there.”
That’s the first time I’ve heard anybody associated with the organization ever use “Jaguars” and “relocating” in the same sentence.

Of course, that’s exactly what the rest of the league, media and fans think.

Always kind of a mystery, Jacksonville didn’t have a sports identity outside of the city limits before the Jaguars were awarded. The only thing people knew was that it’s where the tolls were on 95 and it smelled badly. Getting rid of the tolls, cleaning up the air and the arrival of the Jaguars changed all that.

But outside of town we’re still the underdog city that’s always losing it’s team to somewhere, and is a complete afterthought among the league’s media.

If all you did in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or even New York was go from the airport to the Hyatt, to the stadium and back to the airport, you wouldn’t know much about any city.

And that’s all they do.

They don’t see the beach, or Mandarin, Ortega or explore the St. Johns. Time constraints and just plain laziness are both to blame. I’ve offered to give tours to the guys I know, but have gotten no takers.

All I ever heard was, “You’re not getting a team!” when I’d show up at the owner’s meetings with the Jacksonville contingent. But we partnered with Wayne Weaver, did everything right, and were awarded the 30th NFL franchise.

Thanks to Weaver, who was popular among the ownership as a prospective fraternity brother (and that’s what the owners group is) and Roger Goodell, who was the city’s biggest patron inside the league office, the city that couldn’t, did.

And that didn’t sit well with anybody else. Baltimore, Memphis and St. Louis, where Weaver had a history, couldn’t believe it. And Charlotte did their usual look down their nose at us.

“Don’t worry Charlotte, you’re not Jacksonville” said one columnist in the self-proclaimed “Queen City” the day after we got the team. Charlotte was awarded the 29th franchise a month earlier and couldn’t imagine being put in the same category as swampy tackle box Jacksonville.

Of course Charlotte is so snotty they can’t even call their downtown “Downtown.” They have to call it “Uptown.” And they’re right, they’re not Jacksonville. No beach, hot as blazes in the summer and cold as you-know-what in the winter.

And the fact that we like it here just plain makes people from elsewhere angry. I was raised in Baltimore and my parents always say the attitude in Jacksonville reminds them of “Charm City.”

In Baltimore they don’t want to be D.C. or Philly or certainly not New York. In Jacksonville we don’t want to be Atlanta, or Miami or Tampa and certainly not Orlando.

We’re perfectly comfortable in our own skin. Winning season or losing season, we’re pretty happy with our team, who we are, our friends and the lifestyle.

Everybody can come visit and we’ll even show them around. And they can even move here. Just don’t tell us how fabulous everywhere else is now.

We’re not listening.

Coughlin culture still permeates Jaguars

As the Jaguars gathered this week in Year 2 of the Coughlin/Marrone era, expectations are high. While quick turnarounds are common in the NFL, the Jaguars’ “worst to first” in 2017 seemed to come out of nowhere.

Can a management and coaching change make that much difference? There are a lot of moving parts that should get credit for where the Jaguars got last year, but no question the tone set from the “Win Lunch!” introduction of Tom Coughlin as vice president of football operations had a lot to do with it.

“Do you think you’ll hire somebody established or make your own star?” I asked my source in the Jaguars organization late in 1993. The team had quickly begun their search for their first head coach shortly after being named the 30th franchise in the NFL.

“I think we’ll make our own star,” was his quick response.

“Then you should hire Tom Coughlin,” I said.

Career Transition Happens Fast, And Every Day

Maybe you’ve heard I had a dramatic change in my employment status recently. It can be quite a shock if you’re not prepared, but you make of it what you want. No matter what career you have, you’re always looking forward to the next thing, the next accomplishment. When you’re suddenly not in it any longer, it changes your routine, tightens your social circle and, despite it being a cliche, you learn who your real friends are very quickly.

So it got me thinking about how quickly a professional athlete goes from celebrity stardom, fame and in some cases fortune, to displaced back into “civilian” life. It can be a harsh reality for those guys who have played sports their entire career. If you made it to the professional level, regardless of the sport, your athletic talent made you something special starting in elementary school. You’ve been celebrated and in some cases coddled to maximize your performance most of your life.

Then all of the sudden, it’s gone.

Whether they had it taken from them or they gave it up on their own, the reaction has been the same: They didn’t want it to end.

So what happens when somebody comes by your locker, (in the NFL he’s called “The Turk”) and says, “Coach wants to see you. And bring your playbook.”

“It’s a combination of shock, disbelief and fear,” former Georgia, NFL and USFL quarterback Matt Robinson said. “What does my future hold? Why does he think I’m not good enough for this job? What have I done differently than when I made teams?”

Broncos Head Coach Red Miller made a blockbuster trade with the Jets to acquire Robinson giving up a first and second round pick and another quarterback, Craig Penrose to get Matt as his starter. A year and a half later, a new Head Coach, Dan Reeves called Matt in the office and said, “I’ve never seen a guy so good one day and so bad the next. So I’m going in a different direction.”

Robinson laughed telling me that story saying, “Although it’s the truth it doesn’t make it any less painful this many years later.”

“Sometimes it’s a personality conflict with a coach or a teammate who has more value to the organization. It’s not always about how good you are. Sometimes it’s about money. I was anxious to get into the business world so the transition wasn’t traumatic for me. I had a longer career than I expected.”

Robinson is active in the NFL Players Association; helping recently “retired” players with their move out of the game. The NFLPA and the NFL through their Legends community recognized the need for a real transition plan for most players.

“I don’t think anybody believes it the first time they’re cut,” Robinson added. “It takes three or four times early in a career to come to that reality. Veterans around eight or nine years in the league start to look for “The Turk,” knowing their day is coming soon.”

It’s coming, no matter what. It’s just a matter of time. If he’s smart with his money, a player could be set for life. The reality is a Sports Illustrated study showed 78% of all players in the NFL are bankrupt or in financial distress within two years of leaving the league. NFL Legends is trying to change that statistic, creating programs for continuing education, preparing players for jobs and life after football. Players have been part of a community in the locker room their whole lives, and suddenly they’re out of it.

“This ends,” I told former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell in the late ’90’s once in the locker room when he was a player here. I thought he “big timed” me and blew me off during an interview early in his career. He kind of rolled his eyes and walked off. Years later when his playing career ended, we ended up working together on several projects and laughed about that conversation.

“You’re right. It does end. And quickly,” he said with a chuckle.

Brunell played 19 years in the NFL but still wasn’t ready for it to be over. He kept himself in shape, ran, threw and did whatever that summer, waiting for the call for his 20th year.

It never came.

“It takes a while to realize that it’s over,” he told me. Brunell has stayed close to the game through his work with NFL Legends, and as the Head Coach at Episcopal. “I’ve been benched, traded and cut,” he said. “I’ll be alright.”

Other guys don’t adapt as well. Michelle McManamon is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Jacksonville based “Operation New Uniform.” They mostly work with veterans transitioning out of military service into the civilian world. Recently though they’ve included athletes whose careers have ended and are looking to reconnect with reality.

“Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary, when transitioning out of the military, professional sport, or a business, our roles sometimes get confused with our identity. McManamon explained. “The quicker we understand that our roles don’t identify who we are and that it is our identity; self-image, self-esteem, self-concept, and self-worth that make up our being, the smoother the transition will be.”

Athletes are accustomed to an interview being somewhere on the field, usually starting with a 40-yard dash. Stepping into the real world requires some adjustment and new skills.

“We teach our clients the importance of asking high impact questions in interviews,” McManamon added. “This gives the interviewee the ability to maintain control and gain confidence throughout the interview process.”

“You spend every minute during the week trying to make yourself better on Friday for high school, Saturday for college or Sunday for the pros,” former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts explained. “Then you don’t have that, and you’re thinking ‘OK, I’ll get back involved with my friends and family.’ Only to find out they also have lives of their own. You just didn’t notice.”

Martz has stayed close to the game as the Athletic Director and Head Coach at Harvest Community School. “Hey you need a job,” Lonnie quoted his wife saying with a laugh.

“I knew it was over when my agent called and said, “Nobody’s interested after your last workouts. It might be time to hang ’em up.”

“It’s kind of a fixed process,” Martz believes. “They want to slide the older guys out regardless of their talent. They tell you, “We don’t want you, and it’d be better if you went without a fight.”

It’s rare to see a Paul Posluzsny or Rashean Mathis walk away from their career as an athlete with some juice left.

“In my mind I was prepared mentally to stop playing,” Rashean told me. “I always told myself I was OK if I had to stop playing because of injury or whatever. I know that sounds counterproductive and not very positive but by saying that I was a little better in getting out.”

And even though he felt like he left on his own terms, the reaction of his mind and body somewhat surprised Rashean.

“Even when I stepped out, and I knew I was doing it, I was at a crossroads thinking, “What do I do next? What is my career move? Do I jump into something right away? Turn down coaching? A lot of stuff comes at you quickly and it takes time to sort it out. Your mind and your body has to figure it out at the same time.”

“I couldn’t look Telvin (Smith) or Myles (Jack) in the eye if I was a step slow and didn’t make a play,” Paul Posluzsny said at his farewell press conference. Paul knew he could still play, but he wanted something different.

“I don’t’ know,” he added when pressed. “Graduate school, something in aviation (he’s a pilot). When asked if coaching could be in his future he paused and said, “It’s something I wouldn’t not rule out.”

Former Major League Catcher Rick Wilkens said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “It happened more often than I’d like to remember,” about being told he wasn’t in a team’s plans. “It bothers you a little less the older you get. I’m an old fashioned guy, being an organizational player. So when it first happened with the Cubs it was a shock. I had invested a lot in the community and the people there.”

Wilkens spent time with eight different teams during an 11-year Major League career. As a left-handed hitting catcher, he was a pretty valuable commodity. At one point Rick was one of only six catchers in MLB history to hit .300 and 30 home runs in the same season. He did that with the Cubs early in his career so being traded from Chicago had his head spinning.

“Nobody wants to hear ‘We’ve traded you to the Houston Astros'” Wilkens said. “Nothing against the Astros but you go through the whole spectrum of emotions. I got pulled off the field during a game and the manger Jim Riggleman said, “Rick, I don’t know what’s going on but I’ve been told to take you off the field. Go in the clubhouse.”

“I was surprised, shocked, in denial and then you get mad. I was trying to play hurt, so I was pretty agitated. But it’s part of the game. As you get older you get a little smarter and your understanding gets a little deeper.”

And despite the wisdom that veteran status gives players, and his deeper understanding of the game, Wilkens wasn’t ready to end his career when he stopped playing.

“My last full season (w/ San Diego) I felt like I still had a lot to offer the game. I was brought up that if you put up good numbers and caught and played the game how you’re supposed to play it you’d be able to stay in the game. I played independent league ball thinking I might get picked up but it didn’t happen and I saw the writing on the wall.” The evolution of the game kind of forced me out.”

Even success on the field didn’t soften the blow for Brett Myers. While they didn’t yank him off the field, after the 2009 World Series with the Phillies, they called Myers into the clubhouse office while he was cleaning out his locker to tell him they weren’t brining him back next year.

“I felt like I was slapped in the face,” Myers recalled. “I busted my butt since I was 18 years old for you, so 12 years’ later you just said ‘beat it?’ You’d think they’d have some loyalty, but it is a business. I told them when I left, ‘You’ll never win a World Series without me.’ I was more bitter than thinking it through, but they haven’t. I wanted to finish my career in Philly. These days a lot of front office execs are basically running fantasy baseball with guys careers.”

A 12-year career with four teams ended in Cleveland for Myers. The Indians signed him and kept Corey Kluber in the minors. When Myers got hurt mid-year, they brought Kluber up and he flourished. Brett talked with him at the end of the season in Cleveland (they both lived in Jacksonville in the off-season) and explained to him how good he was. Kluber won the Cy Young the next year.

“That’s part of your job late in your career, to help the young kids come up. Take them under your wing. I don’t want any credit but I just hope some of them said ‘He gave me some good advice.'”

So is Myers happy at this point how his career played out?

“Over the year’s I’m more satisfied, but I also realize when you can’t help a team anymore and you should just pack up and go home. I’m still frustrated how my career was jockeyed around and how it might have been different. I took the ball even when I was hurt. I just told them ‘Give me the ball.'”

“I was always musically inclined so I’ve always dabbled in music a bit,” he said of his post-baseball life. “That’s really helped. The adrenaline of getting on stage is like playing. And staying here was important to me. This is my home.”

So if “The Turk” shows up at your cubicle one day just know that all of these guys picked North Florida as their home after their athletic careers ended, voluntary or otherwise. And they’re all doing well.

(Author’s note: I just wanted to say thanks to everybody who wrote, emailed, texted, called and stopped me on the street to offer their support in my own “transition.” You’ve been very kind and I appreciate it.)

Marrone’s Jaguars Year 2 Motivation

As the Jaguars enter their final week of OTA’s (scheduled Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) we’ve seen that they’re noticeably faster, they’re quarterback play is better than expected and they have high expectations of themselves.

“We achieved a lot but didn’t check all of the boxes of our goals. How great do we want to be?” Telvin Smith explained of the Jaguars motivation this year.

You don’t learn much in terms of actual football talent when it comes to OTA’s. “Everybody’s All-Airport” now retired NFL writer Vic Ketchman used to say. “Everybody looks like they’re going to the Pro Bowl when they’re walking through the airport.”

It doesn’t turn anybody’s eye when good things happen in “pajamas” as Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone calls the shorts and t-shirts practices.

“You can really get down on a guy in these situations,” Marrone explained. “You know, gee, he doesn’t run as well as I thought. And then when you put the pads on and start hitting you’re like, ‘Oh wait, he’s making all the plays.”

So as usual, you can’t make the tam in May or June, but you can get cut.

“We keep challenging the players with the discipline of mental errors at this time of year,” Marrone said. “One of the things that is important at this time of the year is making sure you have a true understanding.”

Honesty is one of the hallmarks of Marrone’s coaching philosophy. You can either do it or you can’t in his mind. And he’s developed his own way of evaluating players through mistakes he’s made.

As the Head Coach in Buffalo, Marrone admitted to making some mistakes in how he looked at who could play and who couldn’t. In his first year, he had a very simple way of seeing what was happening.

“It just went by what you saw on the film and how they did on the field,” he explained. “It was a very competitive environment. People rise to the occasion and thrive in that type of environment.”

But after he got to know the players, he started hedging on guys who he thought could play.

“I started to say he didn’t have a great day, but he has done this before. Putting those marbles in the bank based off of performance. I said to myself he will be fine. All last year he did this well. He will get this. He just had a bad day. The next day he had two bad days. Then all of a sudden you start coaching a little bit differently because of that experience you have had with that player.”

And he’s trying to avoid repeating that as the Jaguars head coach in year two.

“That experience has been in the past. You have to look what is going on right now and focus on the moment right now. That is why every day, myself included, if I just did everything exactly the same that I did last year then I am not helping this football team. I have to prove every day when I come in here that I am doing everything I can for us to win.”

It’s an old saying because it’s true in the NFL. You’re never staying the same. You’re either getting better or getting worse. Over the first two week’s of OTA’s the Jaguars are reminded of that every day.

AJ Bouye Returns, Sets Jaguars Tone

Back at the OTA’s Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye explained why he missed the first week.

“Stuff that happened towards the end of last year kind of motivated me, so I just needed extra time with myself and my family just to work on that,” he said on Tuesday. “I had specific trainers I was working with position-wise.”

He also said he was staying in touch with Jalen Ramsey and other defensive backs to be sure, “Everybody was still working.” We hadn’t heard that in a while.

“You can tell that we are a little bit more comfortable in the scheme. Everybody is gelling together and clicking. Everyone was happy that I was back, and it felt like towards the end of the season last year. We were still on the same page – having fun and flying around.”

There’s a story from when I was a kid in Baltimore about the Colts players and how close they were. Gino Marchetti’s wife Joan said they were getting ready to put a new floor in the kitchen. Nobody made any money back then so it was a “DIY” job. The materials were delivered and they were getting started when a knock came at the front door. “I went to answer it,” said Joan. “And there’s John Unitas standing there with a cup of coffee. He came over to help. John Unitas, really.” Of course both Marchetti and Unitas are in the Hall of Fame.

Players’ living out of town from where they played was unheard of then, but it’s more the norm now. Still, the Jaguars have a new closeness in the locker room that’s been missing.

Plus players co-mingle with the “opposition” more frequently in the modern game. Some of it’s because of the money made, ease of travel and just more opportunity. Bouye explained some of the things he’s been working on in the offseason he picked up from his best opponent.

“I talked to A.B. [Antonio Brown] at the Pro Bowl, and he saw how I kind of played him in the first game and he adjusted and I didn’t,” he explained. “He was showing me some of the stuff he was doing, and he was doing it in the walkthrough [at the Pro Bowl]. I was just like, ‘Alright. I am going to start playing that [style] and work on certain things with my body just to stay stronger at the top of the route.”

That might all be semi-new, but more importantly it gives some insight to how Bouye is still working. When you talk with him, you can tell he has a chip on his shoulder but more importantly, he wants to be great. And believe it or not, not all players have that mind-set.

So he’s learning from a player who’s an opponent but is generally considered the best receiver in the game.

“Yes. We both have a lot of respect for each other’s game. I was just picking apart a lot of other DB’s. After this, I am going probably going to work with [Richard] Sherman and all of them. I am going to start learning stuff from them, too.”

Is Ramsey coming to the OTA’s? Probably not, and it’s no big deal. But Bouye assured us his running mate is still working.

“I was going to go and work with him and his dad in Nashville.” But he came to work in Jacksonville instead.

Jaguars Start 2018 “Not Dwelling On The Past”

“To be honest, I told the team it’s always good to learn from the past, but please do not dwell on the past.”

And with that, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone set the theme and the tone for the 2018 workouts for last year’s AFC runner-up.”

There’s an excitement in the air, no doubt, when it comes to the Jaguars prospects this year. With a first-place schedule but three home games in the first month of the season, everybody: fans, “experts” and media are picking the Jaguars to repeat their success of 2017. But nothing is a given in the NFL and while the Jaguars appear better on paper than they were last year, that’s no predictor of success once they take the field.

“I think when people come from the outside, they are going to try to get our team to talk about last year and these things of last year,” Marrone added before the Jaguars took the field for the first time as a team in 2018. “They are going to talk about how maybe failing at the end and how that is going to motivate you.”

But Marrone and the players are counting on recreating what happened last year. Not just on the field, but in the locker room as well.

“That’s the one thing – team chemistry, leadership – I believe that is something I can’t manifest,” Marrone said. ” In other words, I can’t just say ‘Hey, come on.’ It has to happen. I can put them in situations where people can take advantage of it, but you cannot manipulate or do things like that because the team has to feel that.”

Last year it was about Blake Bortles level of play and whether he could take the Jaguars to the elite level among teams in the NFL. He showed he could do that, but the Jaguars defense was the bell cow when it came to their identity. That is the case again this year, but the Jaguars have that identity before the season starts, meaning Bortles know his job is to protect the ball.

“I knew that if I did not turn the ball over, we were going to have a chance to win every game,” Blake said on Tuesday. “That should be and it is my mindset every single game we play, but I think it was just something in the playoffs that I made sure I wasn’t the reason we lost a game.”

With a second year under Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Bortles admits he’s more comfortable starting the season since the playbook is very familiar.

“I should know the offense better than anyone in the building, including him,” Blake said of Hackett’s offense. “I think that it is constant work towards that and being able to do and say and see everything that he can do as an offensive coordinator and being that coach on the field.”

And what does Blake think of going into this year versus last year’s success?

“I think playing with the same focus and the same intensity that we finished last season with is big,” he explained. “Being able to replicate that day after day will really help not only being better practice players and going through the week better, but making so that Sunday is just another day.”

Getting Bortles ahead of the curve is what the Jaguars need to start fast out of the gate. It might be the most critical position in sports, and the Jaguars believe Blake is on his way.

“I have always believed that when your quarterback is ahead of everyone and the rest of the offense has to catch up, that is a pretty good thing,” Marrone said of Bortles off-season work. “You don’t want the quarterback trying to catch up to the rest of the offensive players. I think that Blake is in a good spot from there as far as what he knows of the offense, what we want to do.”

So what are they looking for when it comes to the OTA’s, the mini-camp and even into training camp?

“You are going to have setbacks,” Marrone explained. “But if you looked at a graph. You may go up a little bit, down a little, up a little, down a little, But if you steadily drew a line, you want to see that line increase.”

Anatomy Of A Pick: Jaguars Take Bryan At 29

It wasn’t flashy or a big splash but rather described as a “value pick” as the Jaguars selected defensive lineman Taven Bryan with the twenty-ninth pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Bryan is listed at 6’5″ and 291 lbs and was projected to “become an instant starter” by the NFL scouts at the combine.

So how did the Jaguars get to Bryan?

They were a little surprised that three offensive linemen were picked so early in this draft. They knew G Quenton Nelson and OT Mike McGlinchy would be gone before their pick but going in the top 10 was a bit unexpected. That shifted their focus to other players, and once the Raiders took T Kolton Miller at 15, it shifted their focus to the next four players on their board.

“We felt like we solidified a lot of needs in free agency so we could take our highest rated guy. And we did,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said.

Of the nine picks before they were on the board, the Jaguars had four players rated about the same. Leighton Vander Esch, the linebacker who went to the Cowboys at 19 probably wasn’t in that group because the Jaguars, and much of the league, thought he’d be gone before then. Back to back centers were taken at 20 and 21, not on the Jaguars radar. They might have liked Rashaan Evans, the Alabama linebacker taken at 22 by the Titans but he was gone. Not a pressing need.

Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn, listed as an offensive tackle was a nice player but not rated that high by the Jaguars. Probably not big enough. Listed at 6’3.” He went to the Patriots.

The next three picks are probably players the Jaguars were considering if they fell to them at twenty-nine.

“We thought with about 10 picks to go, one of the players we liked would come to us,” Jaguars VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said.

It might not have been a top-heavy draft for receivers but D.J. Moore from Maryland was getting a lot of late attention. Even with third and fourth string quarterbacks he had plenty of production for the Terps. And he’s fast. Not unexpected the Panthers needed just that and took him at twenty-four.

Local product Hayden Hurst was a favorite in town and emerged as the top tight end prospect in the last several weeks. He would have filled a need, and at 25 years old, he’s got the maturity to step in and play. He spent two years in the Pirates organization as a pitcher before going to South Carolina to figure out a football career. Quite a story for a first round pick, the first ever out of Bolles. The Jaguars would have liked him, but the Ravens took him at twenty-five.

Was it possible Alabama’s Calvin Ridley would fall all the way to the Jaguars? Even though he dropped through the top twenty, there were still too many teams in front of the Jags to expect to get receiving help. In a surprise, the Falcons took him at 26, despite having Julio Jones, another Alabama receiver, and Mohamed Sanu as their starters. He was projected as an excellent slot receiver and could be that for Atlanta. Even if the Falcons hadn’t taken Ridley, he probably wouldn’t have gotten by the Seahawks or the Steelers, picking right before Jacksonville.

Coughlin said he took some calls from other teams but decided to stick in their spot. Bryan was the highest rated player remaining on the Jaguars board when they made their pick.

“Outstanding value,” Coughlin noted. Which means he thought Bryan would go higher.

‘He showed athleticism at the combine, that’s for sure,” Jaguars Coughlin said late on Thursday. “His 40, his vertical, his direction changes. He’s a solid young man.”

Running under 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash is impressive for a player his size, but it wasn’t just the “measureables” that convinced the Jaguars to take Bryan. Coughlin has always liked players who compete in the weight room as well as on the field and Bryan fits that bill.

“He’s a weight room guy,” Coughlin said with a big smile. “If I was a young guy like Bryan, I’d be getting Calais’ coffee to learn from a great pro like him.” Coughlin on Bryan’s personality.

“Is that what he said? Bryan said with a laugh on a conference call with local reporters. “I don’t know. I will have to see when I get there, I guess.”

With the success they had on defense last year, Bryan thought he might go to any team but the Jaguars. And he thought he’d go higher in the first round.

“Yes, honestly I was really surprised,” he noted. “I thought there was no way the Jags were going to pick us. You guys already have a bunch of Pro Bowlers and a bunch of great players. I was, ‘Well, they are definitely not picking me.’ Then you guys called me and it was awesome.”

Bryan said all of the right things you’d expect a rookie to say coming into a new situation in the NFL.

“It is a great opportunity. Those guys are Pro Bowlers. There is a mix of old and young guys. They are definitely good at what they do, seeing this past year. I’ll come in and try to learn everything I can from them and try to pick their brains as much as I can and try to do as much as a I can to help the team out.”

Jaguars Draft is Wide Open

As long as he’s been involved in the NFL and personnel decisions, Tom Coughlin has had very specific ideas. He likes big players, he believes in solidifying the run game and he wants a defense that can control the line of scrimmage.

“The first round might have thirty-two selections,” he recently told me, “But there might not be thirty-two first round players.”

As the VP of Football Operations for the Jaguars, Coughlin will have the final say on which players the team selects in this week’s draft. With the 29th overall pick, it’s doubtful Coughlin believes the player available there is a bona fide first rounder.

“You draw a line where you think the first round ends and you go from there,” he said. “Some years it can be twelve, others it can be twenty, or more.”

So nothing is predictable for the 2018 draft when it comes to the Jaguars. They could trade up, or down, or they could stay put if one of the players they like looks like he’ll be there at twenty-nine.

There’s plenty to like about the Jaguars defense the way it is so it would make sense that they spend their early draft picks on offense. It’s clear they’ve wanted to upgrade their receiving corps from 2018. They’ve done some of that through free agency and if one of these four wide receivers is available through either a trade up or they fall to the Jaguars, they should take him.

Calvin Ridley WR Alabama – Doubtful Ridley could fall to 29 but if the Jaguars believe in his production, they might try to move up to take him. Alabama pedigree is a proven plus. He’s 6′ and 189 lbs., but runs a 4.4. He’s from Ft. Lauderdale and will go in the first round. .

Courtland Sutton SMU – Sutton is a big wide receiver, 6’3″ and 218 lbs. totally different than anybody else among Jaguars wide receivers. He’s listed as about the same size at Allen Robinson. He runs a 4.5 and was plenty productive the last two years for the Mustangs. Was the competition tough enough? He could fall in the first round.

DJ Moore WR-KR Maryland – Moore is a possibility if the Jaguars are determined to take a WR with their first pick. But he doesn’t check all the boxes that would help add him to the wide receiver room He runs a 4.4. but at 6′ and 210 lbs is solid enough to run back kicks in the NFL as well. Tough competition in the Big 10 and was the conference receiver of the year. He’s probably a second round pick.

Christian Kirk WR Texas A&M – Kirk is another big receiver at 6’2″ and 200 lbs. He runs just under a 4.5 but his production is off the charts. He’s projected as a second round pick since he doesn’t have the explosiveness a lot of teams are looking for but a trade down out of the first round would be a good fit.

There was a lot of talk at the pre-draft luncheon about tight end. With Austin Seferian-Jenkins as an off-season acquisition the Jaguars still might be looking in the first round to add to this position. The only player of first-round talent at TE is Mike Gesicki from Penn State. At 6’6″ and nearly 260lbs, Gesicki is considered a pass catching tight end more than a run blocker. He’s considered such a great athlete that he’ll be gone by twenty-nine but if they love him, he’s first round talent.

If they’re looking for offensive live help in the first couple of rounds, these guys will be coming off the board

Mike McGlinchey T Notre Dame – probably the first offensive lineman taken

Kolton Miller T UCLA – seems destined to a west coast team

Connor Williams G-T Texas – Another good athlete who would have to get bigger to play O-Line for Coughlin

Orlando Brown T Oklahoma – Huge at 6’8″ and 345, he’s the son of Zeus Brown who played in the NFL. His size is his biggest asset but most teams aren’t sure he’s a good enough athlete to play tackle in the NFL.

Starting at 7pm CDT in Dallas, eight o’clock here so the draft could have the Jaguars picking at 29 as early at 10:45 or after 11:30. Of the above players profiled, don’t be surprised if one or two of them is on the Jaguars opening day roster in 2018.

Coughlin: Same Guy, Different Role

“Non-negotiable expectations from within. That’s all we look at. Our expectations are very high and anybody that comes on board has to understand there’s a way to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish and it’s through team, it’s through individual improvement and it’s through a relentless drive in team success.”

I’ve known Tom Coughlin since the day he was introduced as the Jaguars Head Coach in 1994. But that’s the most Tom Coughlin thing I’ve ever heard him say.

After a year as the Jaguars Vice President of Football Operations, Tom Coughlin is the same as he was the day he was hired by Wayne Weaver. He doesn’t cut corners, he doesn’t make excuses, and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. When he was first named the Jaguars head coach I laughed that he didn’t play the radio at all in the car driving from the beach to the stadium because it was “too distracting.” Now I get it. Fully dedicated, fully motivated and expects the same from the people around him.

“I enjoyed the winning. I didn’t like the press box,” Coughlin said of his first year back with the Jaguars. “I did enjoy working with Doug (Marrone) and Dave (Caldwell) and I basically was on the practice field for every practice, I was in the Saturday night meetings, I did everything I normally do, I prepared just as if I was in that coaching spot. And I would do things, like Doug might ask me to look at something and prepare a tape for him to look at and I would do that, so I enjoyed all that.”

With a mediocre stint in Buffalo and a messy departure, Marrone was still on a very short list of names Tom Coughlin had as the next head coach in Jacksonville. He knew what he wanted the VP of Operations job to look like and knew there were only a couple of coaches who could withstand that kind of scrutiny. Somebody like Coughlin looking over his shoulder.

“Just his overall manner; he was himself, he established the way that we would work, the work ethic was obvious,” were the first thing Tom said about Marrone when asked what kind of job he did in the first year. “Players responded well to that. He did a great job one-on-one with the players, he did an outstanding job in front of them, challenging them from the team perspective, he did a nice job going through the rough times, the beginning of the season, etc. He did a very good job of that as well.”

Once a coach, always a coach, and even Coughlin’s description of what he did last year seems a little “cringe-worthy” except Marrone was hand picked by his fellow Syracuse alum and might be the only other head football coach on the planet who could abide by Coughlin’s routine. Adding Caldwell to the mix, or maybe more correctly keeping him in the mix looked like a difficult task from the outside when it was first announced. But they got it done.

“We basically rolled our sleeves up, there was no great philosophical discussion,” Coughlin explained. “I knew exactly what Doug was all about and Dave and I knew what we wanted to do in terms of trying to provide the kind of players that we were looking for in Jacksonville.. Yeah, we rolled our sleeves up, went to work and it was a team concept all the way.”

“Well it was just a feeling of who we are, what we represent. It’s a good look, it’s a solid look. It is, as I said at one point in time, we have guys that will be in the Hall of Fame and the connection will be there, the uniform will be very similar as we go forward. We just wanted a little bolder statement and I think we got it.”

“It does. There’s no doubt it does. You have to do a better job of who’s going to be there and who’s gone and so on and so forth. Over the years, some good things have happened in that spot. I know when I was in New York, Chris Snee happened to be sitting there at the top of the second round and that helped.”

No Sure Thing In The Pro Football Hall Of Fame

Privileged to be in the room as the Jacksonville representative during the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame discussions, I’m annually surprised but never shocked at what happens during the selection meeting. When you get 48 people with an opinion talking about the same thing, the winds of change are always blowing. Players you figure going in are locks aren’t always that at all and others who seemed to float into the final fifteen without much fanfare turn into “can’t miss” finalists.

It’s unpredictable. Even among the selectors during breaks in the eight hour meeting the question, “What do you think?” is always met with the same answer: “Who knows?”

Getting to the final fifteen to be discussed by the selection committee is extremely difficult. That’s why listening to the presentation for each player is sometimes awe-inspiring and never disappoints. The players were so great during their careers that “I’m voting for that guy” is my first thought when his credentials are laid out.

Of course, of the fifteen, only five will get in, and the cut process from fifteen to ten and ten to five becomes more and more difficult. Sometimes the cut only comes because the committee figures a player will be back in the room again. Some of it’s a perceived slotting process, with one player waiting on another who’s been a finalist longer.

I know, it seems convoluted and perhaps even unfair, but that’s why it’s so hard to get into the Hall.

This year the three first-time eligible finalists all got in. Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss were certainly Hall of Fame-worthy players. There’s a thought that when a player of that caliber becomes eligible, he should go in immediately. A “first ballot” Hall of Famer is a line thrown around by everybody as if it’s that easy. It’s not.

While this year’s class is the youngest every selected, where does that leave players who had Hall of Fame careers but didn’t get tagged with the “first ballot” line?

This year five offensive linemen made up a third of the finalists. Joe Jacoby was eliminated in the first cut, still leaving four in the final ten, including Tony Boselli. You knew they were going to cancel each other out in the next round; it was only a question of whether one might sneak through.

None did, confirming that it’s a logjam that might not soon easily be fixed.

No one questions Boselli’s greatness. He’s considered the second best tackle in the history of the game behind Anthony Munoz. But the credentials of Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson and Kevin Mawae are impeccable. All great players, all eventually get to Canton. But when?

You could make the distinction that Boselli is a tackle with the other three interior linemen. But if you pit one against the other, it never works out well.

That’s why all the talk of momentum and who’s on deck is generally wrong. Although he’s the next wide receiver “on deck,” there’s no guarantee Isaac Bruce will get in next year. Same with Tony. Or the other three lineman.

Tony Gonzalez, Champ Bailey and Ed Reed are all first-time eligible players in 2019 and look to be finalists. Do they have the “first ballot” tag that seems to spark outrage when they don’t get in? If so, that leaves two spots for 12 other players, at least four of them offensive linemen.

That’s why the answer inside “the room” will carry outside all year as well: Who knows?

The Argument For Tony Boselli

If there’s one sticking point to Tony Boselli’s inclusion as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s the perceived brevity of his career. The numbers are straightforward: Boselli played 91 regular season games plus six playoff games for a total of 97 games.

Games played is a good measuring stick instead of seasons since the length of an NFL regular season has expanded from twelve to fourteen and to the current sixteen games.

So by comparison, players who played about one more modern 16-game season more than Boselli who are in the Hall of Fame include:

Lynn Swann … 116
Earl Campbell … 115
Dwight Stephenson … 114
Kellen Winslow … 109
Paul Hornung … 109
In addition to the two players who were selected for induction last year, Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis, played 96 and 78 games respectively. In all, there are 32 players with less than 100 games played already in the Hall including: Gale Sayers, Dick Stanfel, Doak Walker and Cliff Battles. That’s about 12% of the total number of players in the Hall. So including a player with less than 100 games played takes a special talent and Boselli qualifies as that.
Having drafted Boselli with the second overall pick in 1995, Tom Coughlin saw every play Tony played. He called him the “cornerstone of the franchise” and believes Boselli lived up to the expectations.

“Tony was simply the best offensive tackle in the game throughout his career,” Coughlin said. “I never had to worry that his guy would make a play. Ever.”

Often called the best tackle to ever play the game, Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz agreed.

“In my opinion, after watching Tony Boselli play during his NFL career, is that he is one of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”

I asked Mark Brunell, who said Boselli was easily the best player on the Jaguars, if Boselli was the best football player he’d ever played with. The 19-year veteran and teammate of Boselli for Tony’s entire career said “I wouldn’t say Tony was better than Brett Favre, Reggie White or Drew Brees, but those are the guys he’s in the conversation with.” Pretty high praise and comparison to two, no discussion, first ballot Hall of Famers and a Super Bowl winning quarterback.

It’s no coincidence that when the Jaguars were relevant when it came to the post season in their infancy, it was during Boselli’s career. They went to the post-season four times in his first five seasons and twice played in the AFC Championship game.

You could call the era Boselli played in the “Golden Age of Tackles” in the NFL.

Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace all Hall of Famers, and Tony Boselli had an overlapping career with all of them. Another tackle might not be a Hall of Fame finalist for another ten years. Maybe Joe Thomas and possibly Tyron Smith or Taylor Lewan15 years from now. So we’re talking about a special time from 1992 when Pace came into the league until he retired in 2009.

Statically, Tony compares favorably with all of those players. In an analysis of sacks allowed and yards rushing and numerous other categories, Boselli is equal to or above those other four.

Boselli was on the All-rookie team in 1995. He was All Pro three times, 4 if you count the 1996 selection by Sports Illustrated. He was named to five Pro Bowls.

He was named All-Decade first team of the 90’s despite only playing five years in the decade and one was his rookie year. He passes the eye test. If you saw him play, you knew you were watching a special talent.

Gary Zimmerman, in the Hall of Fame, was the other All-Decade tackle. Willie Roaf, in the Hall of Fame, was second team. Every other offensive first-team All Decade Player of the ’90’s has been elected to the Hall.

Everybody I talked to from Boselli’s era agreed that he was Hall of Fame material during his playing career. The perceived brevity of his career, 97 games, should be viewed in its perspective. It wasn’t so brief after all.

If the election of Easley and Davis last year showed that greatness is the overriding qualification for the Hall, Tony Boselli checks every box.

What Are Tony Boselli’s Chances? Inside The Hall Of Fame Process

It’s a long process to induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While the only eligibility for players to be retired for five years, the qualifications are stiff.

But they’re not spelled out.

If you were a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro player, you’ll get on the initial ballot, but pretty much any player who’s been out of the game for five years can be placed on the list through a simple call to Canton.

And that’s where it starts to get tough.

This year just over 100 former players were nominated for the class of 2018. That list was sent to the 44 members of the selection committee. Those selectors represent the 32 NFL teams, the Pro Football Writers Association, at-large journalists who cover professional football, and two current members of the Hall. The list has grown with NFL expansion as well as the desire of the Hall’s Board of Directors to include more “national” broadcasters and writers who don’t necessarily cover one team.

I don’t remember if there were many “at-large” selectors when I was asked to join the committee in 1995 as the Jacksonville representative but I do remember the committee was much smaller. At the time, pro football coverage was still dominated by the “legacy” writers and broadcasters of the game. Jack Buck, Will McDonough, Edwin Pope, Tom McEwen, John Steadman and Furman Bisher were all regulars. They were a tight knit group who traveled together, drank together and had definite opinions about who was worthy of induction to the Hall.

There wasn’t really a hierarchy, but certain members provided a little more clout than others. It always helped a candidate if they spoke up on their behalf. And almost always sank their candidacy if a negative opinion was offered.

Two things were certain in the early years of my membership on the committee: As the new guy I’d get lobbied by some other members to be a part of their cause and Jack Buck would always end the meeting with a hilarious, profane joke.

I’m not sure if I was the youngest guy on the committee, but the average age was 56 in the late nineties. It relied on some statistical analysis, but mostly on the “eye” test: Either a guy was a Hall of Famer or he wasn’t.

Now, the committee is younger, more broadly informed about everything that goes along with pro football (the explosion of information has helped that) and while the “eye” test is still a good gauge, statistics have a larger role in a player’s career.

From the more than 100 on the original list this year, the 44 members of the committee were asked to cut that list to 25, and then to 15. The 15 are called “finalists” and in the vernacular of the committee, they get “into the room” to be discussed at our annual meeting, the day before the Super Bowl.

The meeting used to start around 7AM and ended at noon because that’s when the press conference was scheduled for the announcement. Over the years that time has been pushed back to accommodate the meeting, and television, the NFL network, and now the NFL Honors show that airs on Saturday night.

Each player is presented to the committee by the media member from the city where he played the majority of his career. Sometimes two selectors will speak if a player, like Cris Carter, spent his career predominantly in two different places. (Philadelphia and Minnesota). The presentations are supposed to last about 5 minutes and are generally positive, although a player’s career is laid out including the ups and the downs.

A comment, question and answer period follows each presentation, so with 18 presentations including the contributor and the senior categories, it’s a long day. When I first joined the committee, coffee and pastries were offered before we started. Now the Hall of Fame staff provides two full meals.

Once the presentations have ended, a vote is taken to cut from 15 to ten, and then the ten remaining are voted on to cut the list to five. Even after that arduous process of getting to the final five, an up or down vote is taken on each of the final five with an 80% approval of the committee necessary for election to the Hall.

I used to sit at the meetings between Furman Bisher of Atlanta and Edwin Pope of Miami. Kind of an amusing coincidence since Jacksonville is between those two cities. Furman loved to talk about golf in North Florida, which courses he liked and what tour players he had no use for. He joked that he talked about golf since he didn’t have any Falcons to present to the selectors for the Hall. I can remember Furman making presentations for Deion Sanders and Claude Humphrey as players who spent parts of their career in Atlanta. By contrast, it seemed that Edwin was up and down in every meeting presenting the numerous Miami Dolphins who had made it into the final fifteen.

So I felt more like Furman than anybody else last year when I made the presentation for Tony Boselli. It was the first time in 22 years I’d been asked to make a presentation, with Boselli being only Jaguars player to ever make it into the room.

This year I’ll also present Tony to the committee. Last year he made the first cut to 10 but was eliminated in the cut to five. Sometimes that means a player has the support of a big part of the committee, other times it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s carry-over, sometimes there isn’t.

Nobody denies Tony’s Hall of Fame ability as a player. It’s the perceived brevity of his career that is the only sticking point.

That’s where there’s one difference this year that plays in Boselli’s favor. Last year’s class included Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis. Easley played 95 games, Davis 86. So length of career didn’t’ keep either one of those players out of the Hall and both played fewer games than Tony.

Will that matter? No prediction here out of respect for the entire process but I do think Boselli belongs in the Hall based on the criteria presented. With fifteen worthy players, including five offensive linemen on the ballot, for only five spots, the competition, like every year, is very tough.

Jaguars Pain Is Real, Because They Earned It

In the locker room, the pain was real.

Quiet and somber, the Jaguars went about the business of breaking down the loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, speaking with the media and having small conversations among themselves.

I’ve been in the losing locker room for the Jaguars for three of these and they’re the same in many ways but different in others.

In 1996, the Jaguars finished the regular season at 9-7 and got hot behind Clyde Simmons on defense and Natrone Means at running back. The trip to the AFC Championship game in January of 1997 was so unexpected that it had a “glad to be here” feel. Nobody expected the Jaguars to beat the Patriots on a cold night in Foxborough at the old and dumpy Sullivan Stadium. A couple of critical turnovers did the Jaguars in that night, but the team was so young and exuberant that in the losing locker room that night it felt like the start of something.

And it was.

The Jaguars were an upstart expansion franchise that got good fast. They were in the playoffs the next three years straight, culminating with a trip to the AFC Championship game after the 1999 season.

After going 14-2 and demolishing the Miami Dolphins in the divisional round after a bye, the Jaguars hosted the conference title game. Leading at halftime, they melted in the second half and fell to the Tennessee Titans for the third time that year. Titans head coach Jeff Fisher called Jacksonville “our other home field.”

While that one hurt, it was more anger and disappointment than hope in that locker room. The Jaguars were the best team in the league that year and they knew it. A blend of veterans and young players, they were right in the peak of the cycle of competitiveness. There was no talk of “next year,” the team knew their chance had happened “now” and they lost. After getting beat at home, the Jaguars had four consecutive losing seasons.

Sunday’s loss to the Patriots had a similar feel to 1996, much like the entire 2017 did as well. Except this year’s team wasn’t just “glad to be there.” They believed they could win the game and win the Super Bowl. The swagger and proclamations by Jalen Ramsey and others weren’t just boastful: It was what they really believed.

“I believe in this team,” Calais Campbell told me in front of his locker. “We know we can do this but we didn’t get it done tonight. I believe in these guys in this locker room and believe we’ll be back here.”

As emotionally painful as the loss was to the players, it also showed a steely determination that burns in these guys, even after getting beat.

“We created our core, and that’s what you build from” Telvin Smith said.

“We have a good core group of guys,” echoed Malik Jackson. “We changed a lot of peoples minds, got them thinking about us in a positive light.”

“I think these guys can’t wait to get back to work,” former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell explained. “When you have a team like that and you get that close, you can’t wait to start again and finish the job.”

Every year is different and the Jaguars were blessed with good health, especially on defense throughout the year. That doesn’t always happen so it’s difficult to project that they’ll just pick up where they left off.

“We’ll start all over again,” head coach Doug Marrone explained. “You have to build that foundation. Right now what you feel is the end. It’s sad.”

Although most analysts didn’t give the Jaguars much of a chance this year, the turnaround was remarkable. From 3-13 to the AFC Championship from the outside looked impossible. But the team thought they were something special from the beginning.

Marrone explained that’s why this one especially stings.

“We wanted more and we knew we had the ability to do it in our hearts.’ That’s what hurts. I think if you feel lucky, like you feel like, ‘oh gosh, we were lucky’ or, ‘oh gosh, that was unbelievable,’ then maybe you don’t feel like you’ve earned that right in some capacity. Then I think you can let it go quicker. When you feel like you’ve earned it, you were there, you feel you’re good enough, you feel all those things.”

Heartbreaking Loss In AFC Championship Ends Jaguars Season

If there was an early indication of how the AFC Championship game against the Patriots would go it was how the Jaguars would survive the original onslaught from New England. Gillette Stadium can be a tough place to play when the Patriots are rolling and the noise meter is rising.

Giving New England the ball after winning the toss, the Patriots zipped downfield, using mismatches putting wide receivers on linebackers in four- and five-wide formations. Tom Brady found the open receivers to drive it inside the ten.

But the defense came up with a big stop and forced a field goal and a 3-0 Patriots lead.

Right away the Jaguars offense responded behind Blake Bortles. On their second possession, mixing the pass to receivers and running backs and using Leonard Fournette in the middle of the line, the Jaguars scored to make it 7-3. Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was mixing up the calls and using Corey Grant going wide for big chunks of yardage. The Jaguars clearly knew the Patriots couldn’t keep up with Grant on the edge and he burned them. A nice play call for Marcedes Lewis who blocked then released to the end zone gave the 12-year veteran the first post-season touchdown catch of his career.

On the next possession the Jaguars did a lot of the same, this time Grant catching a pass in the flat and taking it to the four. Fournette bulled it in from there to give the Jaguars a 14-3 lead.

They are the Patriots so you knew they’d get something going. After not targeting Rob Gronkowski for the entire game, Tom Brady threw it to him 4 of the next five plays. A couple of incompletions and nice catch then a vicious hit by Barry Church on a ball up the seam was called for unnecessary roughness. Church probably needed to go lower there but Gronkowski left the game and didn’t return after halftime. Brady threw a ball down the left sideline to Brandin Cooks that was out of bounds but A.J. Bouye was called for pass interference. A really questionable call, the ball was probably uncatchable and Cooks ran himself out of bound as the ball was in the air.

A couple of more completions and James White scored from the one to make it 14-0.

On the Pats scoring drive the Jaguars defense was called for 47 yards of penalties. Seemed rather conspicuous.

Although there were 55 seconds on the clock, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone chose to kneel on it and go to halftime with a four-point lead.

The pass interference play as well as a delay of game on a critical third down catch that was negated by the penalty were two of the key plays in the half.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the Jaguars moved it; converting some third downs leading to a 54-yard Josh Lambo field goal and a 17-10 Jaguars lead. Marrone showed a lot of confidence in Lambo there. He sure didn’t want to give the Patriots the ball at midfield.

The rest of the third quarter was a lot of give and take but the Jaguars defense found a way to keep the Patriots from crossing midfield.

With the ball inside their own ten a couple of times, the Jaguars did just enough to keep New England at bay before driving the ball to the Patriots 25 yard line and getting another Lambo field goal to make it 20-10.

Just when it looked like New England had found a rhythm, including a trick, throwback play, Myles Jack stole the ball and forced a turnover keeping the Patriots off the board.

But the offense couldn’t do anything with it and punted it back to the Patriots.

That’s when Tom Brady started doing his thing. Without any blitz pressure from the Jaguars, Brady threw it all over the field, including another throwback play and scored on a nine-yard TD Pass to make it 20-17.

In the 4th quarter the Jaguars running game disappeared. It was obvious the Patriots weren’t going to let Fournette get going. They swarmed Bortles on passing downs and the Patriots switched the field. A very mediocre punt by Brad Nortman was returned by Danny Amendola to the Jaguars 30.

From there a methodical Brady led offense moved it to the 5 yard line where Amendola caught a TD pass in the back of the end zone for a 24-20 lead.

With the ball, three timeouts and the 2 minute warning, the Jaguars had a chance to win the game but came up short despite a good effort. Bortles 4th down pass to Dede Westbrook was a little short after a scramble and it was deflected away.

With their three timeouts, the Jaguars were able to keep over a minute and a half on the clock but on third down they lost the edge and James White ran for a first down.

Sitting in the second row of the press box, Jaguars VP of Football Operations said, loudly, “Are you serious,” and packed his stuff, loudly, and stomped out, loudly.

Heartbreaking stuff, but classic Patriots and Tom Brady, doing just enough to send the Jaguars home and return to the Super Bowl as defending champions.

While heartbreaking, not completely discouraging. These opportunities don’t come around all the time, but without much change on the roster, the Jaguars could be good for a while.

Jaguars In NE: “We’re Ready To Go”

It was very business like when the Jaguars departed the busses at their team hotel in Providence this afternoon. That’s not unusual. The team’s goal this week has been to keep their routine the same.

“At the end of the day you just gotta play ball,” said the Jaguars Calais Campbell. “The game is the same since we were kids. Just a bigger stage, bigger audience.”

It is the third appearance in a conference championship for Campbell and he knows that this doesn’t happen every year.

“You have to earn the right to be here. This is very special. It’s a great opportunity and we know that. We prepared the way we’re supposed to prepare and we believe when we do it that way, it leads to a win.”

Although the Jaguars routine is the same, their surroundings are not. A large group of reporters and photographers met the team busses chronicling every move as they arrived. Leonard Fournette had a big shearling coat on. Paul Posluszny wore a business suit. Some players had on the coveted Jaguars beanie. Campbell wore his own Jaguars stocking cap, the same one he wears on every cold weather trip.

“I’m always observing, just trying to get a feel for the guys,” Campbell told us. “We’re loose, sometimes I wonder if it’s too loose but it’s worked for us all year. There’s no reason to doubt at all. It’s just a great opportunity.”

Tonight, meetings and meals, curfew and a bed check will mostly occupy the players’ time. Head coach Doug Marrone will address the entire team, something that Campbell is looking forward to.

“Coach gets a little fired up,” Calais noted. “He likes to get the blood boiling a little bit. He likes to keep it simple. You can tell he’s excited, focused and ready. It’s going to be nice to go to meetings tonight and hear his message.”

With the preparation finished, it is, after all the AFC Championship game, not just any other week. So, will Campbell have any trouble sleeping tonight?

“We’ll see, hopefully I will sleep like a baby,” he said with a laugh. “I might watch a movie or something to get my mind off the game. Definitely some excitement that will keep me tossing and turning a bit, but I’ll wake up, ready to go.”

Respect For The Jaguars? We Don’t Care, We Live Here

There’s been a lot of talk this week about getting “respect” for the Jacksonville Jaguars. A 3-13 team in 2016, the Jaguars are on the verge of their first Super Bowl appearance, playing in their third AFC Championship game in franchise history. But the Jaguars are still suffering from what they consider a lack of respect from other teams, other fans, the odds makers and the national media.

“At this point, if we don’t got respect, that might be a lost cause,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said on Friday. “We just might not get none. We’re one of the final four teams in the NFL playing right now, so if we ain’t got no respect then, get it.”

That consideration as an outlier isn’t unique to this year’s team. It’s not even a new phenomena regarding the franchise. From the first days of Jake Godbold’s dream of bringing an NFL franchise to Jacksonville, we’ve always been the outlier, “the not-really-in-it” city, much more than an underdog.

“What do you guys do with this stadium the rest of the time,” I asked when covering my first Gator Bowl in 1978 while working in Charleston. “Well, we have Florida Georgia,” was the response.

I was puzzled by that, not knowing about the Georgia Florida rivalry, but thought it was pretty different that a city could have a huge stadium for just two games a year.

“Look at that,” I said to our anchorman two years later at Channel 2 in Charleston, “the Teamen are moving to Jacksonville and not even changing their name. That’s kind of silly.” Of course I knew little about the NASL and why the Teamen were keeping the name (they were owned by the Lipton Tea Company.) And little did I know that shortly my career would take me to Jacksonville and I’d be the play-by-play voice of those Teamen. Always kind of a mystery, Jacksonville didn’t have a sports identity outside of the city limits. The only thing people knew was that it’s where the tolls were on 95 and it smelled bad.

“Did I read in the paper you were moving to Jacksonville,” my playing partner at Wild Dunes asked me in early 1981. “That’s right, I go next week” I said, somewhat proudly to be moving to a much bigger market, important at the time in the TV business.

“I’m sure you think that’s great,” he added. “You’re making a jump on the economic scale, but a couple steps back socially.”

“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Do you own a tuxedo?” he questioned.

“Three,” I said, in the standard Charlestonian answer.

“You’ll never wear it,” he deadpanned.

And he was mostly right.

We’ve always been more casual, more of a big beach town than any great metro city.

And we like it that way. And people who don’t live here don’t get it.

Once we cleared out the tolls and cleaned up the air the town started to take off. Our bid for an NFL team started to crystalize, although no one took us as a serious candidate.

“You’re not getting a team!” all of my media brethren would say with a giant laugh when I’d show up at the owner’s meetings with the Jacksonville contingent. But as outlined in the excellent documentary “Destiny: How Jacksonville won the Jaguars,” we did everything right and were awarded the 30th franchise in November of 1993.

Thanks to Wayne Weaver, who was popular among the ownership as a prospective fraternity brother (and that’s what the owners group is) and Roger Goodell, who was the city’s biggest patron inside the NFL office, the city that couldn’t, did.

And that didn’t set well with anybody else. Baltimore was incredulous. Memphis looked away, St. Louis couldn’t believe it. And Charlotte did their usual look down their nose at us.

“Don’t worry Charlotte, you’re not Jacksonville” one columnist in the self-proclaimed “Queen City” the day after we got the team. Charlotte was awarded the 29th franchise a month earlier and couldn’t imagine being put in the same category as swampy tackle box Jacksonville.

Of course Charlotte is so snotty they can’t even call their downtown “Downtown.” They have to call it “Uptown.” And they’re right, they’re not Jacksonville. No beach, hot as blazes in the summer and cold as you-know-what in the winter.

So our own “second city” mentality was settling in, despite now being an NFL city. Fans and scribes around the country were so incredulous that they spent the next 15 years talking about where our franchise was going to move.

Even when the team went to the AFC Championship in 1996, the storyline was everybody else and the “upstart Jaguars” In 1999, the Jaguars were the best team in the league but their 14-2 regular season record was “only because of the easy schedule they played.” No credit, no respect.

Talk of the team moving has subsided since Shad Khan bought the team and started to invest in the city. But even after hosting the Super Bowl in 2005, nobody likes us.

“Not enough strip clubs or late night drinking places,” one NFL writer told me.

“I like doing stuff. And they’re nothing to do in Jacksonville,” another chided in a column during his annual trek to league training camps.

Of course if all you did in any city was go from the airport to the Hyatt, to the stadium, back to the Hyatt and back to the airport, you’d have the same impression no matter where you were. And that’s all they do. They don’t see the beach, or Mandarin, Ortega or explore the river. Time constraints and just plain laziness are both to blame. I’ve offered to give tours to the guys I know, but have gotten no takers.

And the fact that we like it here just plain makes people angry. I was raised in Baltimore and my parents always say the attitude in Jacksonville reminds them of “Charm City.”

In Baltimore they don’t want to be D.C. or Philly or certainly not New York. In Jacksonville we don’t want to be Atlanta, or Miami or Tampa and certainly not Orlando.

We’re perfectly comfortable in our own skin, and people in the “big city” just don’t get it. So they try to run us down.

There will be plenty “Duuuvalll” chants this weekend in New England and in North Florida, a rallying cry all our own.

And everybody else will deride it as some kind of backwater slogan. But it doesn’t matter.

Win or lose, winning season or losing season, we’re pretty happy with who we are, our friends and the lifestyle.

They can all come visit, and they can even move here. Just don’t tell us how great it was where you came from.

We’re not listening. And we like it that way.

Telvin Smith Brings Talent, Heart

There’s a reputation in the league that follows the Jaguars defense. Tough, talking, swagger, fast and relentless. They’ve put up historic numbers this season. While that’s the exterior, the public persona, the spirit and emotion of that side of the football is embodied in Linebacker Telvin Smith.

A fifth-round pick out of Florida State, Smith looks more like a safety than a linebacker. He runs more like a cornerback than a linebacker. But he hits and thinks like a linebacker.

“He’s a natural-born leader,” said defensive lineman Calais Campbell. “He’s very gifted in his ability to inspire. He’s the guy who breaks it down before we go on the football field. Every time he’s getting us hyped, I’m ready to run through a wall. He has that natural gift of gab to inspire people. I love being a teammate of his. He’s a great player.”

For all of his physical gifts, it’s Smith who spoke up early in his career saying guys weren’t giving enough. He’s the player who came into the locker room during training camp and told his teammates they needed to be better. He’s the one who speaks to the team on Saturday nights. And he’s the guy who makes that speech on the field, known as “breaking it down” after warm-ups on Sunday and right before the game. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s R-rated but all of it is authentic. And it works.

“I talk to guys all throughout the week,” Smith said at a press conference at the stadium on Thursday. “That’s what I kind of get it from. Whatever guys are talking about, whatever I see going on throughout the building and in the media. Whatever it is, I take it from everywhere and kind of…I’m preparing all week for my guys.”

So he’s a motivational speaker? That’s not how he sees it.

“In that sense, I would call myself an enlightenment speaker because if you need to be motivated then we lost already.”

It’s that kind of perspective that draws his teammates to Smith as a leader. He’s a captain on the defense, and is as “real” as it gets. When asked right after the game Sunday in the locker room about the pointing and the unsportsmanlike penalty he caused last week against Pittsburgh he was unapologetic. He said, “I was pointing at Le’Veon. We have the same agent. I wanted him to know I was scoring on him.”

Today, after the league levied a fine, Smith took a u-turn and during his press conference wanted to address what happened in a playful way.

“That’s what’s crazy,” he said with his trademark smile. “Let me talk to the cameras. NFL, please listen. I am sorry. I got the fine today. I apologize. I take the point back, the taunting. I’m a great player. I assure from now on.”

How big was the fine?

“It was big. Like $10,000. What a point.”

After signing a new, big contract before the season, Smith was teased by his teammates as is bound to happen in any locker room. He took it in stride, and laughed along with some of the other big-money free agents who were added to the team. He knows that the money can’t get in the way of production and being part of an eleven-man solution.

“They talk about the offense because they put up points. The most heralded guys on the field are the quarterbacks. So I would say nine times out of 10 your detail goes into your offensive planning and things like that. Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships. I’m happy I’m on the defensive side.”

And about the free agents they added in the offseason?

“Your question answers your question. It just shows that the organization is trying to build and go in that right direction. It shows obviously that it worked. You spend that money and you see what happens. You get in these situations.”

Barring injury, Telvin will be around a long time, contributing to his team with his play and his speech, all not lost on Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash.

“The leadership with Calais (Campbell) and Malik (Jackson) is unmatched,” Wash said today. “In the back end, we have (Barry) Church and in the second level we have Telvin (Smith). That leadership is going to be big. Overall, we’re young but we have some great leaders and those leaders are going to take us as far as we can.”

Tom Mcmanus Says The Jaguars Will Win

It’s almost unbelievable how they’ve turned it around from a three-win team to go the AFC Championship game. The common denominator has to be Tom Coughlin but it also has to be Doug Marrone. They’re two in the same. They are committed to winning. They’re different personalities but they see that at the end of the day in the NFL that’s all that matters.

Blake said it this week, winning wasn’t always in the forefront of what we do around here, but now it is. It’s all about winning.

I had two years with Tom Coughlin at Boston College. Jack Bicknell, my first coach at BC was tough, but he let you handle business. Tom came in and controlled everything. Class, study hall, eating, discipline, lifting, everything, the whole deal.

I never threw up so much in my life than in the winter of 1991. Tom was weeding out the guys who weren’t going to stick around. I hated it, but stuck it out. Nine of 25 guys who were redshirts with me and had graduated came back to play. The rest said, “No way.” It was too tough

I spent training camp in 1993 with the Saints before they cut me and in 1994 I had a weekend tryout with the Redskins. But nothing happened. So I got a job in Boston. That’s when Steve Szabo, my linebackers coach at BC called to see if I was interested in playing. He hadn’t seen me in two years. He was going to be on Tom’s staff for an expansion team and wanted to work me out. I told him I was in shape, but I wasn’t, and luckily I had two months to get there. I went to my parents place in New Smyrna Beach to work out for eight weeks and showed up in Jacksonville for the workout. They signed me and I eventually made the team. I was injured a bit but played on some Jaguars playoff teams. The playoffs are incredible; you almost can’t put it into words. Exciting, the anticipation, it’s packed. It’s different. But it’s great.

What I like about this team this year is it’s toughness. You never see anybody loafing. You never see anybody just jogging over. You never see anybody take a play off.

The kind of guys they brought in are tough guys, Calais, A.J. Jalen, they’re all tough guys. They really care about their performance. They’re all trying to get a hit on somebody. They can score at any time.

They feel like they have nothing to lose this week against New England. If you play like that you have a chance. The negative is they’re playing against a dynasty. They’re good enough to put up fifty. That’s more of the mystique. They’re not going to put that up on this defense.

I think they’ll pound the rock this weekend. They have a chance to win this game and in fact I think they’re going to win. You’ve got to make sure you stay in Brady’s face. I’d put Ramsey on Cooks and I’d put Myles Jack on Gronk. I think he can do it. He’s fast enough and big enough to get the job done.

They’re rewriting history in Jacksonville, they want to better the old guys like me. I think it’s great, and it’s time.

I’ll find a way to be in Minneapolis in two weeks. Hope to see you there.

Hard Work No Stranger To Marrone

If there’s one thing that Doug Marrone has learned in his years of coaching in the NFL it’s that it takes 53 guys, not just the starting 22 to compete. Injury, slumps, whatever, not every player is playing at his best on every play. So Marrone sees the big picture when it comes to who’s has and who is going to produce when it comes to game time.

“I remember Chris Reed being in there and (Tyler) Shatley being there and all the different players,” he said today talking about the different offensive line combinations he’s made. “You know it brings me back to a point where you want to make sure you’re ready to prepare, when someone taps you on the shoulder that you’re ready to go so you don’t live with regret. But it’s a credit to them and that has been part of us being able to win games with those guys stepping up even though it’s not written quite a bit.”

Plenty of theories abound regarding the Jaguars success this year. Marrone, Tom Coughlin, Calais Campbell and the free agents, Leonard Fournette. As the head coach Marrone has said all year he likes this team but it’s still a mystery to him.

“I still can’t figure out our own team,” he said. “They’re going to do the best job they can and make sure they are prepared and focused. They understand what we’re up against and we can’t make mistakes. We have to execute. You got to know what you are and what you have to do and we know it’s a great challenge.”

When he took over as the Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin had a short list of three for the head-coaching job. Marrone was at the top of that list, already on the Jaguars staff and well known to Coughlin. Both played and coached at Syracuse and Marrone sought him out as the coach of the Orange when Coughlin was in New York, looking for advice. They have a long history, so using Coughlin as a resource won’t be that much different this week based on Coughlin’s success against New England in the post-season.

“I have leaned on Coach pretty good since day one,” Marrone explained. “I don’t think I can lean on him anymore because I’m a big guy. If I lean on him, I hurt him a little (laughs). No but honestly, it’s not something that now all of a sudden that they have had success that Coach will get more involved. It’s been the same way from day one when we started working together. We’ve worked with each other the same amount of time together and talk about the same things.”

So while Coughlin and Marrone have the same ideas about how to win and what it takes, their personalities are very different. Marrone’s personality allows him to give the players credit, to give them some leeway on how they express themselves, even with the bravado the Jaguars have shown. But it goes back to his core values on what it takes to, as the title of Coughlin’s book reveals, “Earn the right to win.”

“I believe confidence comes in preparation,” he noted. “Being able to have success to some extent, so I think it is a little bit different for everyone else. What I will say is that I do believe that all three phases support each other and know that if something is not working well in one of the phases, that the other phase can pick it up. I think that is important.”

It’s worked for Marrone in his career to see himself as the guy who has to strive to get to the top. Hard work has paid off for him. So it’s no surprise that being the underdog this week seems to fit just fine.

“When you play against New England, who has not been an underdog? Everybody should. They’re the team you have to beat.”