Jacksonville Jaguars

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 Jaguars

Jaguars: Good Enough to Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars and Skynyrd a Natural Fit

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

Because it’s not suppose to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug Marrone

Marrone: Right Guy, Right Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teams, Players, Reporters and the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s not going to happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s all they do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re not listening.

Coughlin culture still permeates Jaguars

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

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

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

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

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

Career Transition Happens Fast, And Every Day

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

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

Then all of the sudden, it’s gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never came.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Marrone’s Jaguars Year 2 Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AJ Bouye Returns, Sets Jaguars Tone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars Start 2018 “Not Dwelling On The Past”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anatomy Of A Pick: Jaguars Take Bryan At 29

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

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

So how did the Jaguars get to Bryan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars Draft is Wide Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coughlin: Same Guy, Different Role

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

No Sure Thing In The Pro Football Hall Of Fame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Argument For Tony Boselli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

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

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

But they’re not spelled out.

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

And that’s where it starts to get tough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars Pain Is Real, Because They Earned It

In the locker room, the pain was real.

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

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

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

And it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marrone explained that’s why this one especially stings.

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

Heartbreaking Loss In AFC Championship Ends Jaguars Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars In NE: “We’re Ready To Go”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Do you own a tuxedo?” he questioned.

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

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

And he was mostly right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telvin Smith Brings Talent, Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How big was the fine?

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

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

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

And about the free agents they added in the offseason?

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

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

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

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tom Mcmanus Says The Jaguars Will Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hard Work No Stranger To Marrone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marrone: Right Guy, Right Place, Right Time

When it comes to the subject of leadership, perhaps no group is easier to study than football coaches. At one point, fans in Jacksonville had Steve Spurrier, Bobby Bowden, Vince Dooley and Howard Schnellenberger or Jimmy Johnson leading the major college programs they followed. All very successful, all very different in philosophy and personality.

Although the Jaguars have only had a few head coaches, all have been very different, and that’s probably by design. From the imperious bearing of Tom Coughlin, Owner Wayne Weaver went completely in the other direction, hiring a former player, Jack Del Rio, who suffered (and perhaps still does) from the “I’m the smartest guy in the room” problem. Mel Tucker took over as the interim and 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 was suspicious of the media but never really had a chance to develop a relationship with anybody being in Jacksonville only a year. 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. (Plus I thought getting rid of guys like Montel Owens and Daryl Smith created a leadership vacuum in the locker room.)

When Jaguars Owner Shad Khan talked with Tom Coughlin about running the football side of the organization, Coughlin gave Khan a few names he’d bring in as head coach. One was Doug Marrone. Marrone had been serving as an assistant on Bradley’s staff and was known as a solid coach, a good soldier, and the guy who walked away from the head coaching job in Buffalo looking for greener pastures.

When Marrone was named the Jaguars head coach, I checked with one of my colleagues in Buffalo to get a sense of what he was like. “He’ll be more miserable when they win,” my friend said with a laugh. I wasn’t sure what to make of that but I’ve seen that transformation throughout the season. “Miserable” might not be the right word, but Marrone’s demeanor 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 at his Monday press conference after beating Pittsburgh and earning a shot at the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. “I like winning. 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. People always say the same thing. People that know me well will say, ‘Make sure you enjoy it.’ I sit there and I go, ‘Pshh, yeah.’ How do you enjoy it? I don’t know. My mind right now is focused on digging into New England and seeing what is going on.”

With all due respect to the media contingent in Buffalo, everybody who knew Marrone as the head coach there and has seen him this year says he’s changed. Changed in his approach to the other things that go along with being a head coach but not with his core values on how to win. He’s engaging with the media, and in turn, that somewhat of the snapshot that fans see of their head coach.

“I give a lot of credit to the guys here,” pointing to the group of beat writers and assembled media on Monday. “The media is something I have struggled with in the past, when people say what have you learned or what have you gotten better from. For whatever reason I feel comfortable with the guys in this room.”

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.

“People talk about experience. You gain experience. What does that mean? 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. I can’t really put it into words, as far as specific things. I just feel very comfortable. I feel comfortable in everything here.”

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.

Taking the Jaguars from a three-win team to the AFC Championship in one year is a monumental feat. The easy narrative is that Coughlin should get the credit, and some of that is true. Mostly in his hiring of Marrone. While they see the path to victory and success through the same lens, they’re very different people and personalities. Marrone agrees with Coughlin’s “Earn the right to win” philosophy, he’s able to impart that to the players in a very matter of fact; here’s what we have to do way. Easy to digest. No screaming or yelling, no folksy, fake back slapping, but rather a serious approach to getting the job done. Like the offensive lineman he was as a player.

He takes some satisfaction in the success his team has had, but 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 change that for Jaguars fans that have been in that situation for a decade.

“So last Thursday I went to a high school basketball game,” he said, storytelling being one of his media strengths. “I went to watch the J.V. play first. So when I went to the school there was a ton of people that had Jaguars stuff on, and I was like, ‘Holy Cow! That’s good.’ It wasn’t like that when I first got here, and I think that, and I’ve said this many times, we appreciate the support. It’s something that we needed to earn, but at the end of the day, the fans…it goes back to when I was a player.”

He’s already been named Coach of the Year by several organizations, and deservedly so. But it doesn’t seem to matter to Marrone. He wants to be successful, but he enjoys being a part of something bigger, in this case, the Jacksonville community that has rallied around the team after years of disappointment. He gets that part of being a fan that either lifts or dampens your spirit with every victory or defeat.

“The people that support you, you want to be able to do a good job so when they are around whether it’s the water cooler or a moment they can spend with their kids or a moment when they are in the airport and they are traveling and they can wear the team logo or say they support the team and not be ridiculed, I just always believe in that. 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 and I see the players that are happy with their performance and I see the building. That’s probably the joy that I look at the most of what occurs.”

So when you see Marrone in sound bites or brief descriptions this week as the spotlight gets pretty bright on the Jaguars, know that he’s ok. He’s working. And although he says he’s not really a happy person, he’s happy in different ways.

“it’s hard to enjoy. You win a game, after that game is over my mind’s [already on] what we could have done a better job in that game and my mind’s already on to the next opponent. 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, whether it be the players, especially the fans and I said that from the beginning. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve always felt the same way.”

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

Blake, Teammate, And That’s How He Likes It

I’ve been to Oviedo but I’m not sure I remember it.

Apparently, that’s not unusual.

“Kind of like Yulee but not that far away,” is how one Orlando native described it. They have a Target, a mall, movie theaters, all the things you’d expect of a suburb community.

South of Sanford and northeast of Orlando, Oviedo is the home of former JU basketball player Ronnie Murphy. Until recently Murphy was the most famous athlete to come out of Oviedo. Mark Bellhorn, a former MLB player is from there. Olympic runner Jennifer Simpson is also from there.

But now they have a “Blake Bortles Way.”

Not far from Oviedo is the campus of UCF, and that’s where Blake Bortles ended up as a college quarterback.

So with that as a backdrop, it’s not hard to see how Bortles personality has been shaped and his reaction to the bright lights of being in the NFL.

“I really don’t care what anybody says about me, I really don’t,” Blake said earnestly on Wednesday, echoing what he’s said all along. “I care what they guys in our locker room think about me and when they defend me, it’s cool. I’d do the same for them.”

And that’s about it. Honestly.

In his four years as the Jaguars quarterback, Blake has gone from raw rookie to rising star, slumping potential to just terrible. Of course he never been any of those things in reality or in his own mind but that’s how he’s been characterized. The storyline dictates what people think and those have been the storylines over his career.

But to him it doesn’t matter.

Always a “team first” guy, Bortles likes the atmosphere of coming to work with a bunch of guys he knows, laughing and working and getting things done. He was that way when they were losing; he’s that way now that they’re winning.

“The one thing about Blake that I know is that he doesn’t change,” his Head Coach Doug Marrone said recently. “He understands that as well as we all do that you are going to be judged on your performance, and we’re going to have to go out there and play well. When we play well, there’s going to be good things, and if we don’t play well, then there’s going to be bad things. That’s just the nature of the sport that we play.”

While Bortles was brought along in the league by Gus Bradley’s mentoring, it’s been the emphasis on winning and his developing relationship with now Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett that’s helped bring the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game this Sunday.

“He does what it takes,” wide receiver Marqise Lee said in front of his locker. “He needs to run, he’ll run. He needs to scramble, he’ll scramble. Whatever it takes, he’ll do it. Throw it? He’ll throw it, he’s not afraid.”

Under the scrutiny Bortles has been subjected to Lee said he’d have reacted differently.

“I’d have said something people wouldn’t like,” Marqise said with a wide-eyed grin. “I mean, I don’t know how he puts up with it. I’d be completely different.”

“Very impressed,” is how the AFC Defensive Player of the Year Calais Campbell said when asked about the Jaguars quarterback. “Blake is a guy who loves the game of football. He comes to work every day focused and trying to better himself to help the team win. He doesn’t get involved in all of that other stuff. He handles distractions well. He stays focused and keeps playing ball. As a teammate, you look for a guy who is going to keep fighting no matter what happens. During high and lows, he keeps staying even-keeled and doing his thing.”

So how is it that the storyline this week is all about how Tom Brady is the greatest of all time and how Blake Bortles is somewhere closer to the other side of that spectrum?

Two weeks against Buffalo, the Jaguars staff knew Buffalo wasn’t scoring many, if any points and their offensive game plan was mapped out accordingly. No early throws, no turnovers, win the game and advance. They thought it might be 17-6, and while it was 10-3, with the Bills only points coming in a drive where the Jaguars defense gave them 30 yards of unsportsmanlike penalties, the Jaguars plan kept the wraps on the passing game. But the storyline was: Bortles is terrible.

Against Pittsburgh they knew they needed to score some points and that’s when the called on Bortles to get the ball downfield through the air. He responded. The storyline? Blake had a miraculous transformation.

“Did you see him check down to T.J.?” Lee queried about the critical 3rd down check-down completion to T.J. Yeldon in the fourth quarter. “His head was moving. Here? No. Here? No. Here? No. Then he found him. Who does that?”

It’s that kind of respect Bortles craves. In conversation with anybody in the Jaguars locker room they’ll all say the same thing: He’s tough as nails.

Nobody’s going to nickname him “Hollywood Blake.” He’s more comfortable in shorts and a hat, usually worn backwards than anything else. His reputation for socializing might be warranted but he’s never been late, never missed a meeting, never been disciplined by the team.

He’s just Blake. Teammate. And that’s how he likes it.

Jaguars Come Alive, Upset Steelers, Head To AFC Title Game

It was thirty minutes of the unexpected in the first half between the Jaguars and the Steelers.

Getting the ball first, the Jaguars looked like world-beaters on offense marching right down field in eight plays covering 66 yards and scoring on 4th down to take a 7-0 lead. Leonard Fournette dove in from the one for the TD while Blake Bortles avenged a bit of last week’s criticism going 3 for 4 in the drive.

It wasn’t what the Steelers or their fans expected from a team that only scored 10 points last week against Buffalo. Heinz field was quiet and the Pittsburgh sideline bewildered.

It didn’t get any better for the Steelers as Myles Jack tipped a Ben Roethlisberger pass to himself and tiptoed on the sideline for an interception at the 18. Fournette scored off right tackle to take a 14-0 lead. Crickets in the stadium.

On the Jaguars next possession in the second quarter they marched it right down the field again, this time with T.J. Yeldon scoring from 4 yards out to take a 21-0 lead.

Unexpected, but watching the game it was a legitimately dominating performance. The Jaguars offensive line was gouging the Steelers front four while Bortles was composed and getting the ball to the right guys. It wasn’t perfect, but things were happening all in the plus column for the Jaguars.

Up until the 21-0 lead the defense was stopping the run, playing fast and putting enough pressure on Roethlisberger to keep the Pittsburgh passing game at bay. But then they started playing a bit off the ball, giving up chunks of yardage and the Steelers scored making it 21-7. La’Veon Bell was doing most of the work but the TD was a pass from Ben to Antonio Brown where A.J. Bouye never turned around.

Momentum seemed to shift but Yannick Ngakoue stripped the ball from Roethlisberger and Telvin Smith picked it up and ran 50-yards for a TD to take a 28-7 lead. Smith was called for taunting as he went into the end zone so the 15 yards on the kickoff gave the Steelers the ball at midfield with 2:20 to play in the half. It’s a penalty that really hurt the Jaguars because it put Pittsburgh in great field position and gave them a little momentum.

Still the defense was getting the job done, forcing a 4th and 8 at the 36 with time dwindling and Pittsburgh out of timeouts. That’s when Tashaun Gipson inexplicably let Martavius Bryant get behind him for a TD to put the Steelers right back in it at 28-14. It’s the only thing the Jaguars couldn’t do in that situation to allow Pittsburgh to gain some momentum, but that’s what happened.

As I mentioned, it was a half of “unexpecteds” on both sides. Nobody expected the Jaguars to get things done the way they did in the first half and giving up two long TD throws is about the last thing anybody expected from the Jaguars defense.

It carried over to the second half with Pittsburgh taking the opening possession and driving right down field for a TD. Roethlisberger showed great trust in Bell on a little circle route against Telvin Smith, throwing the ball in the end zone where Bell was going to be. Telvin never saw it coming and Bell made a great catch to make it 28-21. Now it’s a game.

All the momentum remained with the Steelers and their fans came alive as well. A couple of good plays by the Jaguars offense were negated by Brad Nortman’s punt being deflected giving the ball to Pittsburgh at midfield to start the fourth quarter.

That’s when the Jaguars showed some life, the defense stopping Pittsburgh on 4th down to get the ball at midfield. After a couple of runs, Bortles hit Keelan Cole for 45 yards down to the 3 and Leonard Fournette scored his third TD of the game for a 35-21 lead.

But the Steelers came right back, converting their second 4th down touchdown of the game, Roethlisberger to Brown in front of Bouye to bring Pittsburgh within seven. It felt like playoff football. The Jaguars defensive backs said all week that Brown was the best receiver in the league and he proved it on this day. Who thought this would be a 35-28 game at any point?

Again the Jaguars responded, this time with Bortles showing poise, patience and throws that he’s not known for in his time in Jacksonville. A critical 3rd down to TJ Yeldon on his third or 4th read gave the Jaguars the ball in Steeler territory. Then just a beautiful play fake and a small toss to the fullback, Tommy Bohanon gave the Jaguars a 42-28 lead with 4 minutes to play. It might be the “coming of age” drive for Bortles who looked the part of a playoff quarterback.

Again, the Steelers drove down and scored, a sandlot play accounting for the TD. Roethlisberger was scrambling past the line of scrimmage but threw it backwards to Bell who went the final eight yards for the TD. Still a game.

But the onside kick didn’t go ten yards and was hit by a Steelers player, giving the Jaguars good field position. A couple of Fournette runs (he was over 100 for the game) made it 4th and 1 letting Josh Lambo kick a 45-yarder for a 45-35 lead and 1:40 to play.

The Steelers had a desperation drive at the end that burned the clock and scored with no time left for a 45-42 win by the Jaguars. Before the game was over, the Jaguars were already an eight-point underdog to the Patriots next weekend in New England. Of course, they were a touchdown underdog here in Pittsburgh and nobody gave them much of a chance.

That’s what happens.

Jaguars In Pittsburgh, All Business

It should be a little colder than expected for the Jaguars/Steelers game on Sunday. Temperatures in the teens during the game could impact play; with the thought the Jaguars should get the worse of it.

“It’s just a couple hours of sacrifice,” Linebacker Telvin Smith said after the team arrived in the Steel City. “Just understand you gotta do it.”

Departing the busses in downtown Pittsburgh the team was business-like but still loose. A hallmark of the Jaguars this week.

“We ain’t been talkin’ we just been preparin'” Smith said.” “That’s what I love about this team.”

Does it help that they have a playoff game behind them?

“That’s the thing, na, I feel like it’s the next game,” Telvin added. “The next one, on the road. I kind of like it’s on the road. We took care of business (at home) so now it’s time to go on the road.”

“You add the word playoff game to it and people start to get jittery. I can’t say it’s all on the line because that’s what you play for all season.”

As one of the youngest teams in the league and the most unlikely playoff participant, the Jaguars have gotten a lot of accolades for their defense. It’s been compared to the historic Super Bowl winning Bears and Ravens defenses and even the Broncos of two years ago. None of that seems to have gotten to the Jaguars D.

“It’s flattering to hear a lot of this stuff. That’s why I’m happy. Nobody’s bought into this stuff it just, ‘let’s play.'”

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars To Play Eagles In London

They’re not sure if it’ll be week 7 or 8 but the Jaguars will face the Philadelphia Eagles in London this fall. The game will be one of three in London for the NFL in 2018 including two at Wembley and one at the new home of Tottenham Hotspur, White Hart Lane. The exact date will be determined once the Jaguars and the NFL decide which week the team will take it’s bye next season.

Here’s more of the release from the NFL:

The Jaguars are 3-2 in London and have won three consecutive games at Wembley Stadium. It will be their sixth game in the NFL’s International Series. This marks the Jaguars’ third inter-conference game in London and the first since Nov. 9, 2014, when they faced the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10 of the 2014 season (L, 17-31).

On Aug. 21, 2012, the Jaguars made history by becoming the first NFL team to commit to playing four home games at Wembley Stadium. Jaguars Owner Shad Khan, along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, declared that the Jaguars would play one game each season in the United Kingdom from 2013-16. That deal was later extended through 2020.

On Sept. 24, 2017, the Jaguars defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 44-7, in a Week 3 matchup at Wembley Stadium. The official attendance for the game was 84,592, a then-record for any NFL game played in the United Kingdom. WR Allen Hurns has caught a TD in three consecutive games at Wembley Stadium, and joins Brandon Lloyd and teammate Marcedes Lewis as the only played to catch three or more TD passes at Wembley Stadium. Lewis tied the franchise’s single-game record when he hauled in three TD receptions from QB Blake Bortles in the Jaguars’ Week 3 victory in London.

The Jaguars’ footprint in London continues to grow, as the team has registered over 75,000 fans in the U.K. and rank eighth among NFL teams in European NFL merchandise sales.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Buffalo With Defense,”Grit”

You never know how the big stage will affect teams and athletes when they’ve never been there before. Against the Bills, the Jaguars looked like they weren’t sure they belonged in the NFL playoffs in the first half.

On offense they were horrible. Between play calling and execution, they couldn’t get out of their own way. They had 84 yards on 26 plays. Bortles had more yards rushing, 35, than passing. He was 6-of-15 passing for 33 yards but a couple of scrambles at the end of the half enabled Josh Lambo to kick a field goal to tie the game at three. Leonard Fournette had only 16 yards on six carries.

Luckily the defense was stout as usual, even getting a turnover on Aaron Colvin’s first career interception. But the Jaguars couldn’t do anything with it.

Getting the ball to start the second half the offense moved the ball a bit. They actually allowed Bortles to throw it on first down and changed the field position. An exchange of punts gave the Jaguars the ball on the 14 yards line.

And that’s when the offense started to produce. After a 15-play 86-yard drive that took 8:52 off the clock, the Jaguars took a 10-3 lead. On fourth down from the one, after not getting anything done, Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett called for Blake to fake it and hit the tight end over the middle. After all that, they trusted him on 4th down and he delivered. Bortles hit Ben Koyak in the end zone for a seven-point lead.

It wasn’t pretty after that on either side. A few more punts and the Jaguars controlled the game with the ball at their 20 and six minutes to play. But they couldn’t muster enough offense to seal the game and had to punt. Twice. After a pretty good performance through three quarters, Brad Nortman hit two very average punts giving Buffalo the ball just short of their 40 twice.

Both times the defense got the job done, the second time viscously taking Tyrod Taylor to the ground and knocking him out cold. It was a scary scene when they rushed on the field to check him out. Finally they sat him up and Taylor wobbled off the field. That brought in Nathan Peterman who had a couple of completions and a run for a first down. But the pass rush got to him and forced an intentional grounding and on the following play Jalen Ramsey tipped the ball in the air in coverage and grabbed it for an interception before it hit the ground to finally end the game.

In his first playoff game, Blake Bortles had more yards rushing than passing, the first time that’s happened since Steve McNair did it the last time Buffalo was in the playoffs.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the postseason mantra is win and advance and that’s what the Jaguars did at home. Don’t tell them it wasn’t pretty, they don’t care.

The Steelers are next, 1pm next Sunday in Pittsburg

Khan, “I’m very, very bullish on Jacksonville.”

In his five years as an owner in the NFL, Shad Khan has been surprised more than once. On and off the field he’s seen things he didn’t expect. But the business as a whole is different than the one he saw from the outside.

“It’s much bigger than I expected,” Khan said on Thursday afternoon at the stadium. “I looked at it as a sports, as a fan. It’s a business. It reflects the psyche of the community much more than I thought it would. And it’s hard.”

Despite early efforts to change the Jaguars fortunes on the field, the franchise floundered, finishing near the bottom of the division each year.

“Winning on the field is hard, especially if you don’t have a fundamental core to build on,” he explained.

So building a core, a culture that would change the results on the field started with hiring Tom Coughlin to run the football operation.

“You’ve got to remember, the structure we have has been tried before, unsuccessfully I might add. I didn’t know Tom Coughlin well, but I felt very strongly about it from day one. We have a guy who basically bleeds Jaguars. Having this structure and it’s unique and it’s going to work for us. What I felt like we were missing was football IQ. By having people with more experience and with them to work together. And very simply winning.”

And after five years of losing, the Jaguars made a giant leap forward, winning 10 games and taking the AFC South title for the first time in their history. No surprise, it’s energized the fans, a whole new generation experiencing what it’s like to have a winning football team in their hometown. “I think we have a fan base I have a lot in common with,” Khan added with a laugh. “As an owner I haven’t seen the winning we deserve. The key thing was to have a great game day experience. Then when we started winning, people are coming back. I would hear that a lot. The ultimate thing is winning.”

As a passionate fan, Khan admits the business was different for him from the inside. His passion as a fan hasn’t abated, but he makes sure to separate the owner from the fan when he can.

“You have to know where the lines are. You can’t be impetuous obviously.”

“You can’t fire everybody after a loss,” I said with a laugh.

“Yeah,” Khan replied. “I’ve had failures in business but it was nothing like Thursday night was in Tennessee for us last year. That might be the most humiliating moment of my life. You just can’t do what emotionally you might want to do because you know it’s not the right thing. You know, like the medial professionals in Jacksonville, “Do no harm.”

Using the Jaguars and the NFL as an entertainment venue for his businesses in North America has been very successful. Khan creates a weekend for his guests that culminate with the Jaguars game on Sunday. Has it met his expectations?

“I think it’s much more so. There are not that many NFL club owners who have a day job so to speak. For me, we have 30,000 employees around the world making auto parts. They get exposed to a different element, most are sports fans. To be able to experience this in a different way that money can’t buy is special.”

His first experiences in Jacksonville convinced Khan that North Florida wasn’t reaching it’s potential. With the natural resources, the river, the people and the weather (most of the time!) Shad saw real potential that wasn’t being realized. That’s changed in the last six year, somewhat thanks to him.

“I’ve seen a difference. We realize everything we’ve got going for us. People’s expectations are higher. We’ve been engaged in a lot of different efforts, not just development here, but the trip to London, we had the trip to Toronto with the chamber of commerce. Really just talking to people on the streets. The expectations are higher and we’re going to have more success.”

“I’m very, very bullish on Jacksonville,” he added.

And as far as the long term impact he might have on Jacksonville and the people who will live here, 20, 50, 100 years from now?

“You want to leave things a little bit better than you found them. That’s human nature. If you’re a parent that’s what you want to do with a child. If you have a product, I mean I’d like it to be a shade better than it was. If so, everybody’s better off.”

Boselli, Dawkins Finalists For 2018 Hall Of Fame

It’s never an easy process but the fifteen finalists for the Class of 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame are particularly qualified this year. For the second straight year, the Jaguars Tony Boselli and Jacksonville’s Brian Dawkins are among the final fifteen. That means they’ve made it from the 108 eligible players this year through the semifinal process down to 27 and now to the finalists round of 15. The selection committee will discuss them with the other 13 finalists, the two senior candidates and the contributor finalist on the Saturday before the Super Bowl in Minnesota the first weekend of February.

“My career’s not going to change,” Boselli said of his second year of eligibility. “It’s up to you now,” Tony chided me with a laugh. As the Jacksonville representative on the Hall of Fame committee, I’ll present Boselli’s case for the Hall for the second straight year in front of the full committee.

While it’s true his career isn’t going to change, the decision making of the committee has after last year. In the 2017 class, two players, Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis were included with short careers. Easley played in 89 games, Davis 78. Boselli played in 97 games and was considered the best at his position throughout his career.

That’s a pretty good place to be since four other tackles of that era, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf, are all in the Hall. Boselli was one of the two All-Decade Team tackles of the 1990’s.

If there is a knock against Boselli, it’s only the brevity of his career. But with the admission of Easley and Davis, the committee has admitted that only greatness is necessary for selection to the Hall. Tony checks off every box in that category.

As a second time finalist, Brian Dawkins has the attention of the selection committee. A safety mainly for the Eagles and then the Broncos, Dawkins started four NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl. He was All-Pro five seasons and went to nine Pro Bowls. He’s the first player in the NFL history to record a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and a touchdown catch in the same game. Brian was also named to the All Decade Team of the 2000’s.

The Class of 2018 will be announced during the NFL Honors show on Saturday night, February 3rd in Minneapolis.

Marrone’s Routine Stays The Same

For a young team that doesn’t have much playoff experience, the Jaguars will lean on their veterans who have been there and a coaching staff that has been around the league a while. Head Coach Doug Marrone doesn’t have that much postseason experience as a player or as a coach, but his staff, including Keenan McCardell, Tyrone Wheatley and Pat Flaherty has seen plenty of playoff football in the NFL. And Marrone’s mentor, Jaguars VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin knows a few things about the post-season in the league, including two Super Bowl runs.

“This is the start of a different type of season,” Marrone said at his Monday press conference. “This is twelve teams. Every one of those teams is dangerous and it comes down to how you perform on that Sunday. It really does.”

We know Marrone as a coach, and as a player, likes the structure and routine of preparing for a game. For him, he won’t change for the playoffs. He had a bologna sandwich last night when he got home from Nashville.

“The routine is the same. I think the focus just naturally picks up,” he said. “You want to make sure there is a lot of communication. It is like you do every week, but you are just checking the boxes, just one more time. That is probably it. To say, you want to make sure everything is clear, the plan is clear, what we want to do is clear, everyone understands and the reason why, that is a big thing is because when everything is clear, you can play harder and play faster.”

When Marrone was the head coach in Buffalo for two years, the Bills didn’t make the playoffs. He exercised a clause in his contract to leave the Bills and pursue another job. He thought another head coaching job was on the horizon, but instead ended up in Jacksonville as the offensive line coach. Naturally, there were some hard feelings in Buffalo when he left. But he says that’s not anything he’s paid attention to and it’s far in the past.

“For me, the past is the past. I’m happy for them. We’ve earned it the same as they’ve earned it. It’s as easy as that for me.”

When pressed, Marrone understood the storyline but clearly doesn’t think its part of winning a football game on Sunday.

“This stuff happened so long ago,” he explained with an exasperated tone. “There has obviously been a lot of stuff out there. That stuff is done. It is over. I can’t put it any simpler than that. I am not going to take away from my primarily responsibility to look back on a situation that occurred three years ago. If I do that, then I shouldn’t be the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. My job is to make sure I do the best job for this team. My focus is on our fans, our team and where we want to go.”

As happy as Marrone says he is for Buffalo, and the rest of the playoff teams for that matter, he said he’s more pleased for the Jaguar fans this week.

“I look at it for our fans,” he said. “Their resiliency through difficult times, not being in the playoffs since 2007 and not at home since 1999 (2000 AFC Championship game). I’m excited for our fans.”

Knowing there were several possibilities for the Jaguars opponent in the first round, the video and research staffs have been putting together background on everybody, Buffalo included.

“I’ve seen them during the year,” Marrone revealed. “You get crossed, some of the games you cover. We’re all prepared before, knowing that we were going to play after the season was over. We have it broken down so we’re ready to go right away.”

Even though it’s a long season, Marrone said the schedule will be the same, including practicing in pads this week on Thursday.

Will they be putting in overtime since it’s a one-and-done scenario?

“I can’t put in any overtime,” Marrone said with a laugh. “There’s no more time left in the day. I’m serious. Coaches are creatures of habit. Everything on the schedule, it’s like, I could go back, it’s so easy if someone says, ‘during the season in 2007 and whatever on this Wednesday at this time, what were you doing?’ And if it’s something during work time, I can pretty much tell you we were doing red zone or we were doing third down.”

So just as a test, Marrone was asked what he did during “Chicago week, Thursday” when he was coaching in New Orleans in 2007.

“Thursday? We were always-Thursday in New Orleans was red zone night. I can tell you exactly what we ate, too. We always had pizza and we always had, for me, I always wanted crab dip. Outstanding. So we always had that and that night we went through every single red zone clip from the season, from Chicago season and I guarantee you I didn’t get home until about 12:30.”

Pizza, crab dip, bologna sandwiches, all part of the Doug Marrone routine. He says he only pets his dogs after wins. Jaguars fans are hoping the Marrone dogs get plenty of love Sunday night.

Jaguars Home, Have Already Moved On

After a New Year’s Eve flight home and a look at the 15-10 loss to the Titans aboard the Jaguars charter, players didn’t see it much differently than when the left the field in Nashville: That’s over, it’s on to the playoffs.

“It’s what you fight so hard for, it’s what camp is all about, grinding those 16, 17 weeks,” said former Super Bowl champ Malik Jackson in front of his locker Monday. “We’re one of 12, we’ll continue to climb the ladder.”

As one of the few Jaguars with any postseason experience, Jackson can give his teammates a few ideas what to expect starting next Sunday against Buffalo.

“The game gets a lot faster, every play counts,” he added. “It’s critical. We can’t give up that screen (from yesterday’s game).”

A veteran of nine playoff games in Arizona, the Jaguars Calais Campbell agrees the postseason is different.

“Doesn’t matter what seed you are,” he said. “At this point, it’s anybody’s game. What you did in the regular season doesn’t matter.”

And in terms of preparing? Campbell said it’s up to each individual player to figure that out. Stay in his routine, and prepare to give more.

“Whatever you have to do to get ready,” he explained. “For some guys, it’s a little more focus. Just a little more. You don’t have anything spectacular, just do you job. Every play is critical. You don’t have to do anything extra.”

For a player like wide receiver Allen Hurns, the playoffs are something new, but he’s taking a cue from his teammates.

“Put the regular season behind us and start the playoffs,” he said, echoing the experienced veterans in the locker room. “We had a couple of rough games here and there but we’re playing in the most important part of the year, January.”

And it’s a special feeling for Hurns and numerous other Jaguars who have been around for a few years. Their seasons were finished with playing out the string games, mounting losses and thinking about some time off. Not this year.

“It feels good,” he said with a smile. “Some guys this time of year are making offseason plans. You have to go forward. They (Buffalo) will look at the film for the past couple of weeks but we have to put that behind us.”

With the game scheduled for Sunday at 1 o’clock, the Jaguars will have their regular home routine for the week. That means today some running and lifting to stay loose, off tomorrow and back to practice Wednesday through Saturday.

Jaguars Look Ahead To Playoffs

While the loss to the Titans might have “done it’s job” according to the Jaguars players in the locker room in Nashville, they know losing two straight going into the post season isn’t ideal.

“We better bounce back,” said tight end Marcedes Lewis. No do overs next week. Too many mistakes that we can’t have. We’re excited about going home to win a game. It’s for all the marbles.”

Getting the running game untracked will be a priority this week in practice. The Jaguars should get wide receivers Allen Hurns and Marqise in the game and Leonard Fournette found a bit of his stride against the Titans.

“I having fun this week,” said Fournette of his focus on playoff football. “This game will build or break you. I believe in every single guy on this team. I’m on to next week and this playoff run.”

“At the end of the day playoff football is different,” echoed Tashaun Gipson. “It’s a brand new season. What we did in the 16 weeks of the season doesn’t matter right now. It’s playoff football and we’re super excited about that.”

Getting a chance to play at home is important according to head coach Doug Marrone. He called it “a rough two weeks” as they finished the season on the road. But their body of work over the 16 games of the regular season earned them the AFC South title for the first time and a home playoff game.

“We know the city is going to come out,” said Telvin Smith. “We’re ready to come home and be with the city and bring this playoff win home.”

Jaguars Limp Into Playoffs

Whether they call it “a game of inches” or “on any given Sunday” or “playing above the x’s and o’s,” there’s an intangible you can feel when a team is playing winning football. It’s an edge, a little hop, a swagger in the body language that’s easily identifiable.

On their run to the playoffs, the Jaguars had that edge on both sides of the football and on special teams as well. Over the last two weeks since winning the AFC South Division title, it hasn’t been there.

With nothing to prove in Tennessee except that they’re a playoff worthy team, the Jaguars didn’t have that edge and now limp into the playoffs with more questions than answers.

Maybe it’s too much to ask of a receiving corps that didn’t expect to see much playing time across the board when the season started to continue to make plays at a high level. Without Marqise Lee but with Allen Hurns back, the Jaguars were still leaning on Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and, on occasion, Jaydon Mickens to get the job done. As good as they’ve played, they’re still not Hurns, Allen Robinson and Lee, the starting WR’s the Jaguars expected to have on offense.

With a short-arm and a drop in the end zone, Westbrook showed he’s not the complete professional package as a rookie. It’s a different game in the NFL and as talented as he is and as much flash as he’s shown, he’ll have to make those plays if he wants to be a solid, consistent and eventually great pro.

If there’s one constant, the Jaguars defense is legit. Consistently good, occasionally spectacular. A long screen pass/run by Derrick Henry for 66 yards showed the Jaguars susceptibility to getting overly aggressive, up the field, and out of position. But that’s rare. Pressure on the quarterback, tough against the run and able to score, the defense kept the Jaguars in the game through three quarters.

Then they scored, Yannick Ngakoue picking up a fumble in the backfield and ran 67-yards for a touchdown to bring the Jaguars within 15-10. They had only allowed the one long TD and 3 FG’s through three quarters to keep the game close.

There’s narrative that quarterback Blake Bortles is the problem, but if nobody’s open, there’s not much he can do. Except for the one ill advised throw, Bortles was on the mark, going through his progressions and throwing into tight windows. But without much help from the receivers, the offense sputtered.

They had a couple of chances in the 4th quarter but couldn’t convert. And although the defense had Tennessee on the ropes, Marcus Mariota danced around three defenders for a first down to seal the game for the Titans.

Things can change from week to week and the Jaguars have to hope they can flip the switch to get back to the team they were in November. Opportunistic on defense, confident on offense, the November Jaguars were the best team in the league. Bortles was the top rated quarterback and the lynchpin on offense. They haven’t looked like that team for a couple of weeks now and it’ll take a big transformation to win a playoff game, even at home.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Dominate Texans 45-7, Qualify For Post-season

It’s not that the Jaguars beat the Houston Texans easily to qualify for the post-season for the first time since 2007, not even how they dominated all over the field winning 45-7. It might be who’s making plays for the Jaguars that are the biggest surprise.

Midway through the first quarter Marqise Lee left the Jaguars game against the Texans with an injured ankle. He was hurt on a running play of all things. Since the Jaguars only dressed four wide receivers for the game, it forced punt returner Jaydon Mickens into the game.

“Who’d of thought that in week 14 the Jaguars would be playing with a guy off the street, an undrafted free agent and their 4th round pick as their wide receivers?” my colleague Brian Jackson said in the press box. “And getting the job done?”

But that’s exactly what happened against the Texans as Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense got untracked early and dominated Houston in the first half, 31-0.

Already with the top quarterback rating in the league in December, Bortles was 17 of 25 for 246 yards and 3 TD’s with a 139 rating in the first half. Only Mark Brunell had thrown for three touchdowns in the first half of the game in Jaguars history.

And all of it done with three guys catching it that didn’t figure to get much playing time when the season started.

“He worked and worked and did everything he could to make this team,” Jaguars Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said of Keelan Cole when the original 53 man roster was announced. Cole was on the team, but pretty far down the depth chart with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee slated as starters.

Cole played at Kentucky Wesleyan in college and said after his first preseason game in New England that it was the largest crowd he’d ever played in front of as a football player. We figured out that the crowd at his first game was bigger than the sum total of fans that had ever seen him play throughout his career. Cole has great speed and made some catches in the preseason but a few drops also showed he was still a rookie. Nonetheless, he was pressed into action when Robinson went out with a torn ACL in the Jaguars opener.

When he was drafted in the 4th round, Dede Westbrook knew he had something to prove. From a Heisman finalist, Westbrook fell out of favor with NFL teams after some off-field, domestic violence issues. The Jaguars drafted him in the 4th round as a “prove it” pick and while he showed promise in the preseason, the Jaguars were deep at receiver and he was somewhat injured so they put him on revocable injured reserve. All he was expected to do was work, stay in shape, learn the offense and be ready. When he was activated, you saw on a couple of plays why he was such a highly regarded college player at Oklahoma. But he was still a rookie.

After being cut by the Raiders, Jaydon Mickens was out of football when the Jaguars signed him to their practice squad. Mickens and fellow rookie Larry Pinkard weren’t sure what their future would bring but they desperately wanted to be football players. So they slept in their cars in the parking lot of the stadium during their practice squad days.

“It wasn’t any big deal,” Mickens told us earlier this week. “We’d hang out at Marqise’s or wherever until it was time to leave at night and just go to our cars and get some sleep. Then we’d get up, go into the stadium, workout, eat, and spend the day there.”

In case you’re wondering, Mickens drives a Nissan Altima, so he folded the back seats down to he could stretch out into the trunk. “I’d use some towels or whatever to make a pillow,” he told us.

So when the Jaguars only had four receivers active for the Houston game, Mickens was pressed into service when Lee left with an ankle injury.

With those three guys on the receiving end, Blake kept his hit streak going, hitting Mickens twice and Cole once for touchdowns. In addition to the TD catches, Mickens caught beautiful corner throws by Bortles and Cole was the recipient of another great throw by Blake down the sideline that turned into a 73 yard reception and a first down at the one.

Add two Tommy Bohannon touchdowns from short yardage and everybody was getting in the act. The two Bohannon TD’s were from a position the Jaguars didn’t even have on the roster the past few years.

While Bortles is playing great and the wide receivers are “playing above the x’s and o’s” as Coughlin likes to say, the defense continues to dominate. If we’ve learned anything from the 2017 Jaguars it’s that defense travels. No matter where, no matter who the opponent is, defense can carry a team to victory. DeAndre Hopkins caught a touchdown pass over Jalen Ramsey in the third quarter to give the Texans their only points in the game. Ramsey was so irritated he wouldn’t let any of his teammates talk to him when he came to the sideline. It’s that kind of swagger and attitude, wanting a shutout, that allows you to win 45-7. (Corey Grant scored a TD in the 4th quarter)

Against an overmatched Texans offensive line, Calais Campbell recorded his franchise record 14.5 sack, helping bring the team’s season total to 50. Telvin Smith returned to the lineup giving defensive coordinator Todd Wash more flexibility.

While Houston is banged up and terrible this year, the Jaguars did what you’re supposed to do this time of the season against an inferior team: Beat them easily and move on.

It brings up some interesting scenarios for the post-season. Next week’s game at San Francisco has the possibility of clinching the division for the Jaguars. They’ve never won the AFC South since it was formed in 2002. Both of their division titles came when they were in the AFC Central.

Winning the division gives the Jaguars a home playoff game but it’s possible, if they win out, they could move up to the #2 seed, have a first round bye and play a home game the following week.

Pretty heady stuff for a team that won three games last year.