Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars Loss Shows What To Fix

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

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

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

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

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

But some others decided to take a different route.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do the Jaguars’ Wins Come From

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

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

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

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

So what’s the plan this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least this team should make it interesting into December.

I “hope” it all works.

When A Team Is A Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preseason Injuries Are The Worst

Doug Marrone is probably scared to death right now.

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

What he’s scared about is preseason injuries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars Ease Into Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars Locker Room Leadership

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

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

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

Because they have to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you handle that?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A lot,” was the quick answer.

“I appreciate that,” Yan said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that doesn’t happen overnight.

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

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

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

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

Odds Against Rookies in the NFL

Pictures courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars/Rick Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars/Rick Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I made that decision,” he explained.

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

Jaguars Take Allen, Easy Pick

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

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

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

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

Which made it an easy selection.

This was not a reach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This isn’t one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the spirit that brought the team here remains.

So let’s go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boselli Misses HOF Selection

No gold jacket for Tony Boselli again this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The HOF Case for Tony Boselli

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

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

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

So it’s a tough road to Canton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars “Can’t Miss” Offseason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bortles, Marrone Should Stay

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

Two things in Jacksonville should stay the same:

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

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

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

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

So if Tom’s in charge, Doug stays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After 11 years in the NFL, former Jaguars Center Dave Widell could have gone back home to New England or any of the other three stops in his pro career, but decided Jacksonville was home.

“We didn’t know where we’d end up, but after Atlanta, but I knew I was done with football. We came back for my son’s birthday, went to the beach, put our feet in the sand and said, “Jacksonville is our home.” I had radio opportunities, I had a small business but either way we loved Jacksonville.”

“Jacksonville makes it very easy to choose it,” he added. “The river, the ocean, the weather. There are so many choices and options for people here to stay.”

Boselli summed it up for everybody this way:

“Work might take me away for a period of time, but we’ll always call Jacksonville home. I know I’m from Boulder but I tell people my hometown is Jacksonville.”

.

Players Know Change is Coming

Like any other group, a football team is made up of a lot of different individuals. Guys come from the city, the suburbs, farms and ranches, from all kinds of different backgrounds. The common thread is that they’re all tremendous athletes and have supreme self-confidence in their athletic skill. They need both to get to the highest level of the game.

That skill is on display every time the ball is snapped. The self-confidence manifests itself a lot of different ways, but most directly in the locker room.

How players react to questions after a loss like the Jaguars suffered against Washington reveals where they see themselves in the big picture.

As a team leader, Calais Campbell never shrinks from that responsibility whether it’s dealing with his teammates, the coaching staff, the media or fans. His assessment of the Jaguars issues starts with the performance on the field.

“This season, we’ve been pressing and pressing, close to making plays, but just not making enough to win,” he said.

“It’s one of those years where things didn’t go well for us. At the end of the day, we have a lot of talent and a lot to play for. If we can get some momentum going into next year, I believe with the people we have here, coaching staff included, and the players, we can be successful going forward.”

Interesting that unprompted, Campbell gave a vote of confidence to the coaching staff, in a de-facto way, noting that he didn’t think they were the issue in 2018.

Calais showed once again that he’s the kind of guy you hope stays in Jacksonville when his career is over. He’s a positive influence no matter what he’s doing.

“Man, I’m worried about everybody here,” team captain Telvin Smith said before leaving. “Today, I dedicated my game to [Barry] Church. You don’t ever want to start a season with somebody and end up losing [them]. At the end of the day, you’re a part of it, you know what I mean? Yeah, it’s his job to go out and do whatever, but it’s family. You start a journey with everybody, you finish it together and then work it out.”

Clearly Smith didn’t think releasing Church last week was the right thing to do. It did seem strange that a veteran player would be cut loose before the season was over. It’s not a money thing, they owe him regardless. And as a solid locker room guy, something more was going on there than just freeing up a roster spot.

Contrast those comments with Jalen Ramsey’s when asked about Doug Marrone’s job after such a disappointing season.

“I ain’t worried about nobody but myself,” he said.

I suppose you could interpret that in a lot of ways, but it’s a bad look from your most talented player even give the impression that it’s all about him.

Ramsey has Hall of Fame talent. If he stays healthy, he could be one of the all-time greats. Great cover skills, high football IQ, and that tackle against Indianapolis to end the game is one of the great-unsung plays of the season. But manufactured celebrity is just that: manufactured. He’s already created a reputation as a great player in the league. Giving himself a nickname and calling attention to himself won’t enhance what fans, sponsors, coaches or teammates think about him.

While injuries have decimated the Jaguars and wrecked their ability on offense, they’ve also gotten their share of bad breaks. Against Washington, a couple of tipped passes went against them and shifted the momentum to the visitors. Add to that a couple of holes on the defensive line on the last drive that weren’t there for Adrian Peterson all day, and the result is a three-point loss.

“I think the whole deal is when you’re losing that’s where it always seems like [that],” said Head Coach Doug Marrone. “I think at the end of the day you’ve got to fight to try to create those breaks that go in your favor.”

Two road games left with perhaps a chance to play the spoiler as their only team motivation. But Abry Jones gave some perspective to how to approach these next two weeks.

“It’s already a bad year team wise and you don’t want to end it on a bad year personally and I think that’s what a lot of guys are doing and I think it’s a good thing.”

Wrong Tone Early Sinks Jaguars

Again this week, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone was asked if he was “coaching for his job.” It’s the kind of question that’s asked with some regularity when your team is suffering though a disappointing year.

“Every day. Same as last year,” Marrone answered with an unusually clipped response.

Any different than last year?

“I approach every day that you are always coaching for [your job],” he said.

That exchange would have been unthinkable after last year’s team finished the regular season with ten wins, a division championship and a halftime lead on the road in the AFC Championship game.

But Marrone seems prescient at this point when he said in his post-game press conference last year after the loss to New England, “You can’t just pick up where you left off. Every year you have to build it again.”

I don’t know if Doug was calling on previous experience or if knew something was brewing within this team that wasn’t right. I said in this column at the beginning of the year that Marrone was the right guy at the right time to coach this team. His no nonsense, pragmatic style is what a veteran-laden, experienced team needed. The problem is that despite the talent and accolades this team had going into 2018, they didn’t have the maturity to handle lofty expectations.

Pointing fingers is something players refer to when a team isn’t playing well, and you can’t point a finger at one situation or one individual and note what went wrong with the Jaguars. It would take a couple of hands to try and pinpoint what went awry and who’s responsible.

When Jalen Ramsey had a lot to say in the offseason about himself and opponents, some wrote it off to youthful exuberance. In the locker room, guys shrugged it off. But it wasn’t the tone this team, with only one post-season run in recent memory under their belt, needed to set.

When Ramsey’s first child was born at the beginning of training camp, a landmark in any father’s life, Ramsey stayed out of camp for a week. Nobody’s going to criticize a teammate for anything they do regarding family, but as the camp days wore on with no word when he might return, there were a lot of shrugged shoulders when asked about his absence. Other guys have missed time to be there for life’s big events. But this had a whole different feel. Again, not the tone a talented team with lofty expectations would set.

As a rookie, Ramsey didn’t accept the normal hazing handed out by the veteran players. Didn’t participate in the normal team building and bonding exercises, simple stuff, and he let the vets know it right away. So he’s always seen himself as a bit separate from the other ten guys out there.

He reiterated that this week when asked if he would vote for himself for the Pro Bowl.

“I would. I don’t vote, though,” he said. “Some people get it confused because we are losing right now on the team, but if you look at what I do out here, I’m still performing at a high level. I’m still having productive games, doing well, doing my job for the team.”

He went on to outline his individual performance against the top receivers, quoting stats, despite those performances coming in losses.

“A.B [Antonio Brown], I did my thing that game,” he said of his performance in the loss to the Steelers where he had two highlight-reel interceptions. “He still got off, he still had his, but I wasn’t covering him right then.”

Awfully quick to note that Brown’s big catches were somebody else’s responsibility.

When that fight happened in training camp between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue, some eyebrows were raised about what was going on in the Jaguars locker room. An offensive and defensive player going at it after beating on each other in the heat for a couple weeks? Understandable. Two defensive players? Not good.

And its obvious Fowler was the problem, and they didn’t solve it quickly enough. They eventually sent him to the Rams, but it wasn’t for a lack of production or that he brought a big payoff. They knew he needed to go and it was the right thing to get rid of him. They just waited too long to get it done.

Even the players knew something wasn’t right. Despite a 3-1 record, they called two “players only” meetings in the first four weeks trying to straighten things out.

When the media was allowed in the locker room after the normal 12-minute “cooling off” period following the loss to Houston at home, there was plenty of shouting still going on. They pushed the media back out into the hall and got it worked out but again, not the tone a team wants to set.

A locker room doesn’t have to have an axe and a butcher block to bring it together. And taking the Ping-Pong table out doesn’t mean there’s better focus. It’s something totally different and intangible.

“Any winning team has to have an intense affection for one another,” Tom Coughlin once told me.

That was clearly missing here this year.

In Retirement, Poz Still Knows

So what happened?

Last year’s Jaguars team was, according to Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, “one whistle away” from going to the Super Bowl. And with virtually the same players, some free agents and draft picks sprinkled in, the Jaguars fell on their face in 2018.

“Aren’t you going to fill other pieces in and try to be as good as you can be?” Coughlin said this week during his Jay Fund annual radio fundraiser. “Well, the nature of the game got us, so we go back to the drawing board. But I’ll put the gloves on with anybody that wants to talk about what [moves the team made].”

It is kind of amusing to hear Coughlin say “put the gloves on” (figuratively I’m sure) when questioned after he’s turned down numerous interview requests this year from local media, including mine. I get that he wants the team to “speak with one voice” (Doug Marrone’s) but with all of the personnel issues between injuries and lack of performance, explaining it away by saying it’s the “nature of the game” just isn’t enough. Injuries are part of the game and the inexact science of personnel decisions (i.e. Bryce Paup, Tory Holt, etc.) can make it a literal crapshoot.

Everything on the Jaguars defense was the same at the start of this year. They even used their first round pick on defense, selecting Taven Bryan, a defensive lineman. Eight players on the Jaguars defense have been selected to the Pro Bowl. Yet their production was significantly worse this year than last.
One piece that’s missing is Linebacker Paul Posluszny, who retired after last season. Poz is a beloved figure in Jaguars history. He and his family have stayed in Jacksonville where he hopes to live while attending graduate school to study for an MBA. (He’s already been accepted at three prestigious Universities)

When I talked to him this week, he quickly admitted that he hasn’t watched Jaguars football since Week Two. Not because he didn’t want to. He just couldn’t.

“First one or two games I was glued to the TV,” he said. “I wanted to watch every play, every minute. I couldn’t get enough. But I found I loved it too much.”

Admittedly struggling with his transition to “post-football” life, Paul spoke with one of his mentors who had the same difficulty leaving the Marine Corps.

“He said he had to disconnect, in a respectful way. And I had to do that. I wanted to be there more than I wanted to watch. So I haven’t watched for a couple months.”

But after two weeks of watching, Posluszny was convinced this Jaguars team was on their way to greatness.

“It’s going to be so awesome,” he said recalling the team’s 2-0 start. “Realizing it’s all the same people with some improvements, this team is going to win the Super Bowl.”

By coincidence, Poz stopped watching the Jaguars as the team’s problems began to show themselves. Despite a 3-1 start, locker room leaders knew they weren’t playing well and called two “players only” meetings. Injuries eroded the offense at wide receiver, the offensive line and tight end.

Despite not watching the games, Paul admits that injuries anywhere can cause all kinds of problems.

“There’s no doubt about that, especially when it’s a recurring theme,” he said. “The offense and the defense have to be so supportive of each other, if one gets skewed, the other side can’t do their job. That’s why it’s the ultimate team game.”

We’ve heard often from Head Coach Doug Marrone about “communication” issues on defense. It seems odd when that crew is made up of veteran players who are playing in the same system as 2017 when they were ranked second in the NFL.

How does that communication work? I asked the guy whose job it was to communicate last year.

“Getting the call from the sideline and getting it to the huddle is the simple part,” Posluszny explained. “Once the offense gets into their formation and motion, it can change what the defense does. It has to be seamlessly communicated from player to player.”

Then, without seeing any of the last nine games, Paul explained what can happen and what we’ve seen too often this year from the Jaguars defense.

“If there’s a guy who missed a call, that’s when you see blown coverages. That becomes a total group effort. The defensive backs and linebackers have to have crystal clear and simple communication. Everybody has to be completely confident in what coverage you’re in.”

And he was quick to point out that it would be unfair to point the finger at one or two players.

“The ‘Mike’ (middle) linebacker does the majority of it, but the entire linebacker corps and the defensive backs are all involved in the calls.”

When I noted that he accurately had explained what was going on, I asked if Telvin Smith and Myles Jack could be losing their effectiveness because of the other opponent’s game plan.

He doubted that theory.

“I know the way those guys study and the way the coaches prepare them, I know how much work they’re putting in,” he said. “Other teams are trying to make it hard for them but that’s what I love about them, they want to win.”

As the most disappointing season in Jaguars history plays out, Paul says he knows all too well about playing games that will bring the season to a finite end.

“It can be extremely challenging at times,” Poz said. “But we always had a core group of guys who were great professionals, regardless of the situation.”

“We still have a job to do. It’s hard late in the year. That’s when your true level of professionalism shows up. You’re playing for your team, your city, and your fans, regardless of the situation.”

Fans are angry as well as being disappointed. That feeling is not lost on the locker room according to Poz.

“We get it,” he explained “But our job is to compete at the highest level. We know all of Northeast Florida is better off when the Jaguars are winning. You saw what happened last year. You want that to continue. Not just for the players, but for everybody.”

Does the whole thing need to be blown up again? Without passing judgment, Posluszny doesn’t think so, simply because he believes in the strength of character at the core of the Jaguars locker room. He thinks it can be fixed.

“I think so,” he said. “Those guys are so powerful, Telvin, Calais, those guys are so powerful with a strong message, you can tell they love the game, the team, and they want to win. There’s no doubt they can find that.”

Jacksonville Gets a Team, 25 Years Later

Friday, November 30th will mark twenty-five years since the NFL awarded Jacksonville the league’s 30th franchise. It’s still an amazing, improbable story: Mayor Jake Godbold realized, in the 1970’s, that the people in town didn’t think much of themselves or the city. He believed a pro sports team could change that.

As a reporter following that story, here’s part of what happened that day, 25 years ago.

It was a cold morning in Chicago, November 30, 1993. I had watched ABC’s Nightline the previous evening with Wayne Weaver, then of 9 West shoe fame, and now the new face of Touchdown Jacksonville.

Nightline ran a segment during their show on NFL expansion, outlining how Charlotte had secured a franchise in October and the NFL had tabled the decision on the 30th team until their next meeting, 30 days later.

I had been with Weaver the day the league awarded Charlotte the franchise a month ago and then told him to wait.

He was not happy.

In October at the Chicago Hyatt, Weaver invited me to walk with him to the NFL’s temporary offices where he was to meet with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. As we waited outside the door for Tagliabue, I asked Weaver, “What are you going to tell him?”
Without hesitation, the future Jaguars owner turned to me with a narrow-eyed, unblinking stare and said, “I’m going to ask why we didn’t get what we came here for.”

And with that, the receptionist invited Weaver into the offices. He turned to me and said, “Wait here.” So I sat down, grabbed a newspaper (still popular back then) and settled in for a long wait.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t more than 15 minutes before Weaver walked back out the door, stern-faced and clearly not happy.
“How’d it go?” I asked somewhat jovially, trying to lighten the mood.

Weaver would have none of it.

“I wanted to know why we didn’t get a NFL franchise and he didn’t have an answer. He said, ‘Be patient,'” Wayne answered as he strode toward the lobby.

There, the other members present from Touchdown Jacksonville were briefed on what the NFL was thinking and what their jobs were for the next 30 days. No matter what was said, it was obvious the league was trying to put a franchise back in St. Louis and avoid Jacksonville. The Cardinals had moved to Phoenix and with the lure of Budweiser and other institutional money in St. Louis, the league wanted a franchise there. The little publicized fact was Weaver’s connection to St. Louis, where he had lived and worked.

But to Jacksonville’s advantage, Weaver turned down the league’s suggestion that he become the principal owner and managing partner in St. Louis instead of Jacksonville.

About 30 days later, we were back in Chicago at the same Hyatt, going through the same song and dance with the NFL owners. Weaver had invited me after the viewing of Nightline to go for a run in the morning.

“Seven AM, in the lobby,” he said.

At seven, I was standing in the lobby in running shorts and long sleeved shirt and a knit hat. Weaver appeared moments later wearing the most beautiful running suit I had ever seen. We headed out into the cold morning, well below freezing, anticipating approximately five miles. We chatted the whole time about how Weaver should present himself to the media when, or if, he got a franchise.

“You’re the shark, we’re the guppies,” I told him. “Move where you want and we’ll follow.”

Then I added, “When you’re up there with the Commissioner, look at the back row where the cameras are. I’ll be standing there pointing into the camera. You look there and you’ll be speaking to all of Jacksonville,” I said with a bit of hyperbole. (In a side note, we stopped at about the three-mile mark of our run to catch our breath and out of a grove of trees, in the suburbs of Chicago, stepped about an 8-point buck, just 10 yards from us. I’m not much for ‘signs’ but I turned to Wayne and quietly said, “You’re getting a team.”)

This time in Chicago, they would award one franchise instead of two. Baltimore was still in the picture with two ownership groups. Memphis still thought they had a shot, but St. Louis and Jacksonville were the front-runners.

Current Jaguars President Mark Lamping knows the inside story of the St. Louis bid. The infighting, the problem with “who’s in charge” that sank their bid. To the public though, they brought in Dan Dierdorf to help make their presentation. Dierdorf, not yet a Pro Football Hall of Fame member (his friend Jack Buck was his biggest patron) might have told the St. Louis story to the NFL owners but in public, he spent most of his time running down Jacksonville. As part of the media in attendance at his press conference, I heard Dierdorf go out of his way several times to outline how Jacksonville couldn’t support a franchise and didn’t deserve one. Perhaps he thought he was doing his job. But at the time, it was unseemly.

Nonetheless, the presentations concluded and the different city representatives were sent to separate suites on the 25th floor of one of the Hyatt’s adjacent towers.

Weaver invited everybody along who looked like a familiar face from Jacksonville. Ensconced in the suite, the league sent instructions to sit tight while the owners voted. They’d let us know the outcome.

So along with several other media members, I settled in with TD Jax members like Tom Petway and Chick Sheerer and waited. I was looking at the plans HOK had proposed for stadium improvement with Petway when a security guard started to sweep through the suite saying, “Media out!”
I grabbed the plans, put them in front of my face and turned on the couch to look at Petway. He just smiled as the guard walked by.
Hearing “But Kouvaris is still in there,” from Gene Frenette of the Times-Union as the door closed only heightened my sense that I was in the right place at the right time. The news business is very competitive.
Suddenly, bursting through the front door was Ron Weaver, a Jacksonville local and Wayne’s brother who had brought Weaver to the table as the principal owner the league was looking for. TD Jax had put together enough money but the league didn’t want to deal with a committee. They wanted one person, and Weaver was that guy.

I jumped out of my seat and found myself in a circle with Ron, Weaver, his wife Delores, and David Seldin of TD Jax and the potential Jaguars President.

“You’re getting an NFL team,” Ron blurted out to his brother, red-faced with excitement.

Out of turn, I asked, “How do you know that?”

Ron turned to me and said, “Because I just ran into the finance committee chairman in the hallway and he said we were the choice.”
Everybody knew the full NFL Owners membership had never turned down a recommendation from the finance or expansion committee so this seemed to be it: the dream coming true.

“I should go,” I said to Seldin as I turned away, shook both Wayne’s and Ron’s hands, and hugged Delores. Seldin agreed and I walked to the sofa to gather my things.

In 1993, mobile phone technology was not what it is now and at the time, I carried one of those phones everybody makes fun of: big, bulky, looked like the son of something the GIs carried in WWII.

My boss, Nancy Shafran, and I, along with a high-level officer of TD Jacksonville, had arranged a code word, “Tangerine” to tip us off if Jacksonville were to be awarded the franchise.

As I carefully put the antenna up to the window to see if I had service, I dialed Shafran’s private number. When she answered, I simply said, “Tangerine.”

“Really? Are you sure?” Shafran said excitedly.

Before I could answer, the other phone in her office rang and she told me to hold on. In something that seemed surreal at the time, I heard a familiar voice say from the other room of the suite: “Tangerine.” It was our source, confirming what I had just told her.

We quickly formulated a plan, I said my goodbyes and headed to the ballroom where the announcement would be made.

As I approached the elevator, a young producer from our competition at the time stepped out of one of the two elevators and asked, “Where is everybody?”

“Down that hall,” I motioned to her, knowing full well the numerous security guards wouldn’t let her approach the Jacksonville suite.
As she walked off, I stepped into her elevator and hit every floor’s button and jumped out as the door closed. I then grabbed the other elevator and hit, “1.” Before the doors opened, I hit every floor’s button on that panel as well, figuring it would buy us some time.

I knew we were right, and wanted us to be first, an important element in the news business. As I mentioned, it’s competitive.

I briskly walked to the ballroom where my colleague Tom Wills was just about to go on the air with a live report.

On the way, I walked by a small room that had boxes of t-shirts and hats with “Baltimore Bombers” and other contenders emblazoned on the front. The one that was missing was “Jacksonville Jaguars,” confirming what I already knew.

As I entered the ballroom, I looked to Tom, shaking my head in disbelief, and said, “We’re getting a team.”

“If you’re sure, let’s go with it,” Tom said. I’ve always appreciated the trust he had in me at that moment, literally putting his credibility on the line just on my word.

In seconds we were on the air announcing that shortly, the NFL would award the 30th franchise to Jacksonville.

Sure enough, Tagliabue announced Jacksonville would be awarded the franchise and bedlam ensued at home.

Tom flew back on one of the two private planes Touchdown Jacksonville had brought to Chicago with Petway, Weaver, and several others. I was assigned to stay in Chicago and report from there. In a bit of irony, the plane Tom and Weaver were on had a flat tire and it took a while for them to fix it and get back to Jacksonville.

It didn’t matter, though. The people in Jacksonville knew: the team had already arrived.

Missing Poz, and a Lot More

To hear Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone’s comment about replacing players, it sounded eerily similar to Tom Coughlin’s answer to a similar question in 1995.

“You’ve got to see if someone you put in there is going to be better,” Marrone said when asked about lineup changes, particularly at quarterback. “You can’t just replace people just to replace them. You’ve got to replace them with people that you feel are going to do a better job for you.”

During the Jaguars first season, Coughlin was asked if he was considering some lineup changes when things weren’t going well. “These are our players,” he deadpanned.

In both instances, the coaches know that the guys on the field aren’t performing well enough, but they don’t have anywhere to turn. For Coughlin in ’95, it was a matter of using cast-offs from the expansion draft and rookies he drafted.

For Marrone, it’s a different story.

This year’s Jaguars team has plenty of talent. First-round picks all over the lineup and solid, emerging players in key spots. But this year, it just hasn’t happened.

On defense there are eight players who have gotten a Pro Bowl nod at one point or another in their career. But this year’s defense is a far cry from the one that dictated games in 2017.

Can they miss Paul Posluszny that much?

The answer might be pretty complicated, but generally the answer is “yes.”

Poz said he was leaving the game because he “couldn’t look Telvin and Myles in the eye if I couldn’t make that play,” when he decided his career was coming to an end. The problem is, Telvin and Myles aren’t making the plays they were last year with Poz in the lineup. Some of it’s the “communication” Marrone keeps talking about. But there’s an intangible there that’s missing.

This team has less “want to” than last year. Perhaps it’s the accountability they felt to Posluszny both in the locker room and on the field, but whatever it is, it’s missing and you can feel it.

”Its un-explainable” Malik Jackson said last week regarding the lack of production his team is having, particularly on defense. Which means something’s missing from just the x’s and o’s.

Injuries have wreaked havoc with the offense. From Leonard Fournette’s tender hamstring to the third and fourth stringers having to play at left tackle and tight end, you could point at that as a part of the offensive problem. Add to that the lack of production from a wide receiver corps that lacks a star and is just a tick above average, and it’s no surprise the offense isn’t getting it done.

Blame Blake Bortles all you want, but even Doug Marrone admits that it’s hard to evaluate a player when nobody around him is playing well either.

‘Do we need better play there?” Marrone asked rhetorically a couple of weeks ago. “Yes, but we need better play everywhere on offense,” was his own answer.

Bortles isn’t a superstar, but he has shown the ability to get the job done when the rest of the pieces are functioning as well. And it’d be nice if the receivers were open every now and then.

When you watch the game, (and often it’s instructive to watch the replay with the sound down) it’s obvious they’re not getting much don on offense. But Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett should shoulder some of the blame. From one of the best-called games ever against New England, Hackett has lost confidence in his receivers, his quarterback and most notably his offensive line, and his unimaginative play calling reflects that. If they don’t’ execute, that’s one thing, if you don’t give them a chance, that’s another.

I agree, Blake should have pulled the ball out and run it himself on the run-pass option in the 4th quarter against the Steelers, but without the confidence of your coaching staff, it’s a difficult decision to make.

And without addressing the lack of playmakers either in the draft or through free agency, Tom Coughlin and Dave Caldwell rolled the dice on a team who’s offense was modeled around a decade-old formula for winning in the league. And crapped out.

Watching that LA/KC game Monday night was fun, but for context, it’s the first time in NFL HISTORY that both teams scored at least 50 points in a game. So that’s not going to happen every week. You don’t think *Bortles could be either Jared Goff or Patrick Mahomes, but who knows? He’s never had that kind of talent around him.

At least the Jaguars should look to the future of their team with one eye on what the NFL is now. And act accordingly.

Social Media a Fact of Life in Pro Sports

Walk into the Jaguars locker room during the “media availability” time on any given day and there will be a smattering of players arrayed in front of their lockers in various positions of repose with one thing in common: They’re all on their phones. Not talking on their phones, not texting, but looking at their phones, perusing social media.

“Media availability” happens four times a week for about an hour in the middle of the day, between meetings and around lunch. So it might be the only time the players have to check their phones.

While social media has given fans perceived access to their sports heroes, it’s also given players some ownership over a part of their public image and branding.

“My social media is about who I am not about what I have,” said Defensive Lineman Malik Jackson. “I’m fashion forward, so I post some fashion, some things about the team and some stuff about my family. That’s about it. Instagram is visual and written, that’s why I’m on it.”
We used to joke in the sports department about what goes happens on social media. “I woke up this morning thinking maybe Twitter would be nice today,” my colleague Matt used to say. “But then I got on it and.. . . Nope!”
Since becoming the NBA commissioner in 2014, Adam Silver has encouraged the use of social media league wide. So much so that it’s become an indelible part of the league’s culture.

“Those guys in the NBA, they’ve got a lot of time on their hands,” Jaguars Defensive Lineman Abry Jones said regarding what seems like the constant stream of tweets and post coming from NBA players. “Two hours here, two more there. We don’t have that.”

In 2018, the NBA has already been tweeted about more than any other sports league. The league’s official Twitter account has 27 million followers, 3 million more than the NFL’s. On Instagram, the NBA has 31 million followers, more than the NFL, MLB and the NHL combined. In the NBA, there are 33 players with at least 2 million followers on Instagram. In the NFL, there are nine.

But NFL teams are using social media platforms to expand their reach. The Green Bay Packers have more Twitter followers than the entire population of the Green Bay metropolitan area.

Jalen Ramsey is the most active and followed player on the Jaguars roster. Ramsey has nearly a million social media followers, three-quarters of those on Instagram. He’s created some controversy and has experienced plenty of blowback on social media. So much so that he recently tweeted, “I’m gone from here, y’all gone miss me. I ain’t even trippin lol.”

When asked who that was directed at, Ramsey said, ““Whomever. You have something to say, you have some negativity, I guess the fake fans, the fake … Whoever. Whoever.”

While the Lakers’ LeBron James has 44.5 million followers on Instagram, more than the top 12 NFL players on that platform combined, Sixers Guard J.J. Reddick has none. He deleted all of his accounts recently. He believes he was an addict and it was taking away from his real life.

“It’s a dark place,” he told Bleacher Report. “It’s not a healthy place. It’s not real. It’s not a healthy place for ego. It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism. It’s scary, man.”

“I encourage players to use social to interact with fans and the community,” said Tad Dickman, the Jaguars Director of Public Relations. “If they’re looking for a restaurant, I’d rather them ask fans on Twitter than just go to Yelp looking for a place to eat.”

At the beginning of the season, Dickman, a 29-year old a social media participant himself, conducts a seminar on social media use, gives the players a handbook outlining the do’s and don’ts and how players can use it to their benefit. While the NFL has a broad social media policy, most of the specifics are set team by team.

No game footage can be used and live streaming is prohibited according to NFL policy. For the Jaguars the rules are pretty basic: No pictures or videos that could harm the team. No pictures from the training room or the locker room.

“Just like missing a meeting or being late, violating the rules could involve discipline,” Dickman responded without elaborating when asked if the players could find themselves in trouble posting on social media.

Like any organization with young employees, the Jaguars warn their players about putting out too much information.

“I don’t want people all up in my business,” Jones said, explaining why he limits his social media use to Instagram and even there, not much. “I like to stay in touch with some friends.”

Most Jaguars players have limited their social media to the Instagram platform. And as Jackson alluded to, it seems that everybody on there owns everything and has a fabulous life going on.

“It’s all fake,” fullback Tommy Bohanon, an Instagram participant said with a laugh. “I like to keep up with some friends. I don’t post much, but I scan through it to see what’s going on.”

Bohanon said the negativity on his accounts isn’t an issue. “I don’t care what anybody outside this (locker) room says. They don’t know what’s going on anyway.”

“I’m just on Instagram, I got rid of the rest,” Offensive Lineman Josh Wells explained.

Any trolls?

“Me, no, not me. But I know guys on the team who really get it all over social (media).”

Which is why some players have self-imposed rules.

Famously, James halted his social media posts during the 2015 NBA Playoffs calling it, “Zero Dark Thirty-23” mode.
“No phones, no social media, I don’t have anything,” James said at the time. “There’s too much nonsense out there. Not during this time. This is when I lock in right now, and I don’t need nothing creeping into my mind that don’t need to be there.”
Golden State’s Steph Curry recently stopped his usual ritual of looking at social media at halftime.

“When everybody is watching your game every night, if you let one ounce of negativity or one terrible comment creep in, especially right before a game or at halftime or something, it’s probably not the best bet,” Curry told the Mercury News.
I asked Head Coach Doug Marrone if he’d ever been on social media, he laughed as he headed to practice.
“Never. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, nothing. When I’m gone from here nobody will know how to find me!”
Probably a generational thing, but for sure, social media is a fact of life sports teams will have to continue to deal with in the future.

Only the Jaguars Can Stop the Slide

At 3-6, this Jaguars team doesn’t resemble last year’s squad at all. It doesn’t feel like the ’96 team that was also 3-6 but made the playoffs. That team was young and playing with a bunch of exuberance that carried them through the second half of the season. It doesn’t even feel like some of the teams in the Mike Mularkey/Gus Bradley era. Those teams were undermanned and we knew it. Winning was going to be the exception not the expectation.

No, this team is unique in that it’s underperforming across the board. Injuries are part of it, but the defense is nowhere near what they were in 2017 and that’s inexcusable. Talk about communication problems or being out of position are for teams that are young and building. This team is neither.

Whether it’s Paul Posluszny’s retirement, or expectations that were too high, this is the most disappointing season in Jaguars history.

While it’s not mathematically over, it sure feels like it’s over. A 0-3 record in the division is a deep hole to climb out of, not impossible, but unlikely. Add to the problems the announcement on Monday that starting center Brandon Linder will be out for the season, and it adds to the unlikeliness that this thing will turn around.

“Yeah, I just think you talk about being a pro, you talk about having pride, you talk about staying together,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said after the loss to Indy regarding not letting the season completely slip away. “Because if you don’t, it only gets worse as it goes on. So we all have a job to do – it’s my job to keep everybody together and make sure we’re all going on the right path to do that. And it’s their job too, as professionals, to do it – and I really believe that.”

“I think you just have to rely on the character of the guys in the locker room,” echoed Quarterback Blake Bortles. “I know guys that have been here before, prior to last year, who have been through some other seasons. We have to stay together and get it fixed. It’s on us and we’ve got to fix it as a group, fix it as a team and find ways to win a football games.”

Those comments even sound like three and four years ago coming from a team that knows it’s underperforming.

“It’s a lot of the same guys out there that were a part of the team and that run last year,” Blake added. “So, I think there’s a little confidence boost in knowing that. But also, the reality is that we’re 3-6 and have lost five straight. Whatever happens at the end happens. But this is not a team that should be losing games like this.”

It’s always amusing when fans and analysts have opinions and views that seem so common sense that they don’t understand why the players and coaches don’t see it that way. The reality is, they DO see it that way. They’re no different when it comes to understanding a lack of performance. It might not be what they say in press conferences but reading between the lines, they get it; they’re not getting the job done.

“At the end of the day, our goals are still intact,” Calais Campbell said in the losing locker room. “I know it is hard, it’s probably going to take seven in a row for us to be able to go on a run. But is it possible? Without a doubt.”

Based on what the Jaguars have put on the table so far this season that seems overly optimistic. But better than resigning 2018 to a lost season.

“Can this team do it?” Campbell asked rhetorically. “I believe we can. If we played like we did in the second half, I believe we can. So it all just comes down to doing it, that’s to be determined but this team is very capable of doing it.”

“Let’s not put (our preparation) in a spot where other people can capitalize,” Marrone said on Monday. “Assignments are good but penalties are costing us. It looks good during the week but then there are mistakes in the game. We have injuries but that shouldn’t have an effect on what we’re doing.”

When the players talk, they don’t have an explanation. In fact, Malik Jackson says it’s beyond explanation.

This team had a locker room problem in camp that really never went away. If it was offense versus defense, that’s understandable during a long, hot training camp. But it was a true personality clash that the Jaguars hoped to solve by trading Dante Fowler.

But it might have been too late.

Despite a 3-1 start, all of the offseason talk of playoffs, Jalen Ramsey’s spouting off and thinking of the Super Bowl, Marrone was spot on when he said at the end of last season it doesn’t carry over from one year to the next. It’s everybody’s job to find whatever intangible bound them together in 2017.

“The only way to change it is to win football games,” Marrone said plainly. “People are pissed, and rightfully so. We’re not performing anywhere near what we’re capable of.”

The quicker the better.

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.”

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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.