Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars Take Fournette: “Physical”

I’m willing to be gladly surprised, especially if Leonard Fournette is everything the Jaguars think he is.

“He’s special, he’s special,” Jaguars VP of Football operations Tom Coughlin repeated at the podium tonight after making the pick. “We need players who can put it in the end zone. This guy can do that.”

With the 4th pick, the Jaguars took virtually no time to select Fournette, a 6′ 240 lb. running back from LSU. I liked Solomon Thomas but he was gone. They said they didn’t consider trading down (“We knew if they hadn’t called already, they weren’t going to” according to GM Dave Caldwell.)

They had Fournette as the next highest rated player along with safety Jamal Adams, also from LSU but Coughlin said, “We need playmakers.” (They also liked Myles Garrett and Thomas who were taken 1st and 3rd this year)

Over and over, first GM Dave Caldwell then Head Coach Doug Marrone and finally Coughlin used the word “physical.” They like how Fournette can be a physical player at the point of attack but also can get downfield when necessary.

“He’s powerful and can step on the gas when necessary,” according to TC.

“It puts a lot of spotlight on the offensive line,” Marrone said when asked about running behind the current Jaguars O-Line. “One can help the other. We had a lot of information on Leonard. How he ran in track, baseball. We knew a lot about him”

With so many questions about the Jaguars offensive line going into 2017, it’s legitimate to wonder how he’ll produce if the guys up front aren’t what the Jaguars brass are hoping they become. Marrone addressed that, kind of, saying, “We need to be physical. We need to practice like that and more importantly, we need to play that way.”

Physical is one of the first things Caldwell said about Fournette when explaining the selection process. “Us being physical, being able to run the ball, take some pressure off the quarterback.”

But Fournette takes exception to the thought that he’s a “pounder” and not elusive. “I ran track, I can run, (just over 21 seconds in the 200). When it gets on the field (his speed) it surprises a lot of people.”

When asked what would be a successful rookie season, Fournette said, “A Super Bowl,” without a hint of sarcasm. But it was clear listening to and watching him that he was thinking about team goals before any individual goals. “It’s a long process, visiting all those teams. I’m glad to have a new home and a new family.”

And regarding the Jaguars leadership, Fournette said Odell Beckham, Jr. clued him in when he was with the Giants. “I know Coach Coughlin don’t play no games. Odell told me that.”

So Coughlin stuck to his mantra of “Take the best player available” and was able to fulfill a need at the same time. “You got it,” he told me when I presented that scenario. Tom didn’t have to break any deadlocks since Garrett and Thomas were taken in front of the Jaguars and “getting the ball in the end zone” was clearly a priority over safety.

Asked to compare Fournette to Fred Taylor, the ninth overall pick in a Coughlin draft, Tom said, “The one thing they both did is put it in the end zone. That’s what we need.”

Past Is Prologue For The Jaguars Draft

To figure out what the Jaguars are going to do, the best barometer is what they’ve done in the past. And you can go back to when Tom Coughlin was last making the decisions in Jacksonville.

“You want to take the best player available,” he said last week discussing how the Jaguars will make the decisions in 2017. “At least in the first three rounds. That’s how great organizations have been built. Ideally ‘best player’ and ‘need’ meet when it’s your time.”

After winning three games last year, “need” is a relative term for the Jaguars since it appears they ‘need’ everything. With the fourth selection in the draft, Coughlin said, “We think we’ll get a good football player.” And he’s right, but the draft is always fraught with potholes.

Looking at the first round, the Jaguars don’t think there are actually 32 ‘first-rounders’ despite the availability of 32 picks. In 2017, their number is around players with legitimate first round talent. So they have a shot at an impact player if they stay at four or even if they’re in a position to trade down a bit.

“It’s hard to make a trade in the top five,” Coughlin explained. “It’s not hard to trade down, but it’s difficult for teams to come up that high because it’s so expensive. A lot of teams just can’t afford it.”

A best-case scenario for the Jaguars is if a team below them covets a quarterback (say Mitchell Trubiski) and he’s still there after the first three picks. Ideally the team that would covet Trubiski would still be in the top ten and the Jaguars would have a shot to select what they consider an elite player and gain some draft picks.

Over his career as a personnel evaluator, Coughlin has always liked big players over anything else. Think of Tony Boselli, John Henderson and even the free-agent signing of Leon Searcy. All big, physical players. That’s why I just don’t see the Jaguars taking Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick. Maybe he’s a ‘generational’ player but with an unproven offensive line, even last year’s breakout running back Ezekiel Elliott would have struggled. If they’re looking for a running back, Joe Mixon or even Dalvin Cook will be available where they pick in the second round. (His off-field issue well-documented, the Jaguars wouldn’t confirm Mixon was off their board.)

One scenario not discussed is the Jaguars figuring out how to move up and get DE Myles Garrett. If he’s the class of the draft, that’s something they’ve considered, especially if the Browns are thinking about a quarterback in the top of the first round and can get him in the fourth spot. If Garrett is only slightly higher rated than Jonathan Allen or Solomon Thomas than stay where you are and take one of those players.

The difference between the two is projection. Allen is considered NFL ready but he did have a small injury issue for the Tide. Thomas doesn’t have the true size that everybody likes in defensive ends, but his speed and flexibility make him the kind of player the Jaguars don’t have on their roster. That’s one of the reasons the Jaguars should take Thomas if he’s there. He’s also a smart, high effort player who still hasn’t found his ceiling. He’ll get better as his career develops. With Allen you probably get more immediate help but in a nine-player rotation up front on defense, I like Thomas’ upside.

There’s no guarantee that Thomas will get past San Francisco or Chicago in front of the Jaguars so as Coughlin says, “You have to be prepared for anything. My experience is that things happen in the draft where you say ‘Wow, where’d that come from.'”

That’s why after always saying opening weekend was the most exciting day of the year for Tom as a head coach, when I asked him if draft day will be that as a VP he said, “We’ll see.”

Jaguars Draft 2017: Take The Best Player

For all the changes the Jaguars have made on the team and the administration for 2017, one thing remains the same: No real information from the pre-draft luncheon.

At least this year it was a bit of a cat-and-mouse game between Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, Head Coach Doug Marrone, General Manager Dave Caldwell and the assembled media. It was clear they had decided before they stepped into the West Club what they were, and weren’t going to say.

To emphasize that point, when Coughlin was asked what he expected from the 4th pick in next week’s draft he had a quick and clipped response.

“We feel like we’re going to get a good football player.”

So it was more of a “feel” thing being in the same room with the three men charged with running the Jaguars football organization. Being there, seeing their body language and hearing their answers showed that Shad Khan’s idea that these three could work together seems to be developing. It’s not wholly there, but it’s developing.

No question Coughlin is in charge. Marrone is splitting his time between coaching, now that the players are in town, and sitting in on draft meetings. Caldwell is still scouting and evaluating, learning as much as he can about the players available but he understands his won’t be the final vote. That belongs to TC.

“It’s been a very good exchange throughout all of the preparations,” Coughlin explained. “Lots of things have been discussed and, by in large, we’ve agreed on the assessment of the players along the way, with the exception of one or two along the way.”

“There’s a lot more dialogue,” Caldwell added. “There’s a lot more good discussion between, with Tom, being able to bounce things off of him. Doug’s involvement, Doug’s been pretty involved up until this week since the players came back. I think the process has been the same and the involvement and the discussion has been different. It’s been good dialogue, too.”

Give Caldwell credit for giving this a go. He could have up and quit but this opportunity at this point in his career looks to be a good fit. He noted that Coughlin joined a 16-month process 12-months into it, so Caldwell hasn’t had to change much.

They seem to agree that the spot they’re in gives them a lot of flexibility, so they’re trying to anticipate what might happen on draft day and what they value in each round.

“All of the different scenarios that go along with the draft,” Coughlin said about preparing for next week. “You just have to be ready for that.”

As far as trading down out of the 4th spot. They didn’t dismiss the idea.

“That depends on the year,” Caldwell explained. “We had an opportunity last year to move down and we obviously decided to take Jalen (Ramsey). It depends on who’s there and what the talent is in the top four or five picks. There may be some teams that have specific needs and are willing to come up.”

But to get up to the 4th spot is an expensive proposition that a lot of teams can’t afford. That’s why you don’t see that kind of trade on draft day happen often. Coughlin says it’s tough for teams to part with enough to move into the top five.

At the 4th spot, they Jaguars have a pretty good idea about what might happen in front of them. If they trade down, a lot of different things could happen.

“It seems like there are a lot of opportunities,” Coughlin said, drawing on his experience. “Depending on where you draft – say you are in the middle, there is more of a tendency for something to happen in front of you that you didn’t expect there, but there seems to be, from my experience, in every draft, there is something that happens that (makes you say), ‘Wow, where did that one come from?’ You have to be prepared for that.”

Early in his tenure as Head Coach and General Manager of the Jaguars, Coughlin selected quarterback Rob Johnson out of Southern Cal even though the Jaguars didn’t need a quarterback. He was simply the best player on the board and he couldn’t pass him up. That seems to still be Tom’s mantra: Take the best player available.

“I think that’s what you want,” he said. “You have to be disciplined to do that anyway. You want to take the best available player, particularly in the first three rounds. And that’s the way over the years, with consistency, rosters have been improved.”

Which is where the Jaguars find themselves right now.

Nothing Good In The Jags 2017 Schedule

Of the things that come to mind when looking at the Jaguars 2017 schedule the best are the fact that seven of the 13 opponents had losing record in 2016 and there are only three playoff teams to face.

Everything else is summed up well by my colleague Cole Pepper:

“If the Jaguars are decent at Thanksgiving, the schedule helps them out. Otherwise, not so much.”

It’s a tough start and a tough finish. No primetime game for the first time in franchise history and two games in Jacksonville before November 5th.

Shad Khan can’t be happy.

Three straight home games in December will only help the Jaguars if they’re off to a fast start and are somewhere around .500 through the first three months of the season. That could be tough when they open against the pre-season AFC South favorite Houston Texans on the road, followed by a home game against an emerging Tennessee team and their quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Although it’s a home game, week three is a trip to London to face the Ravens with no bye week afterwards. In fact, the Jaguars will get back on a plane the following Saturday and fly to New York to face the Jets in week four. If that stretch isn’t already tough on the players’ bodies, the go back on the road the next week to face the always-physical Pittsburgh Steelers.

Nothing in the first five weeks favors the Jaguars except that they’ve won in London in back-to-back years. Anything less than 2-3 in that stretch will leave the players hurting, their confidence waning, the coaches mad, and the fans frustrated.

Three of the next five games are at home, with the bye week scheduled for Florida/Georgia weekend on October 29th. The Rams, Bengals and Chargers will be in Jacksonville with the one road trip in that stretch a division game against Indy. This is the stretch where we’ll find out what the Jaguars of 2017 will be all about. None of those teams are world-beaters with the Bengals the toughest out of the bunch.

Beating the Browns in Cleveland will be imperative at that point in the season because the next week they’re back on the road against the Cardinals in Phoenix with Carson Palmer.

Playing three straight home games in December is nice if you’re a contender, but it does nothing for the Jaguars allowing Indy, Seattle and Houston to come here and play a fair-weather game on the road. You want those games at home in September where you can use the home town heat to your advantage.

They finish with two road games, at San Francisco and at Tennessee on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve respectively. The ‘Niners are rebuilding but the Titans could be fighting for a playoff spot and get that game at home.

It’s the first time in franchise history there’s no prime time games, no Thursday appearance, nothing on Sunday or Monday nights. You could say they’ve earned that with their record of the last five years.

If Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone wanted a challenge, they certainly got one immediately. The league did them no favors.

Marrone Looking For Competition, Consistency

It doesn’t matter where Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone is or who’s asking the question. The question is always the same: “What about Blake Bortles?”

At the AFC Coaches breakfast at the NFL’s annual meeting in Phoenix, Marrone was asked about Bortles in every way possible. And he stuck by his answer: Blake is the Jaguars quarterback.

“The relationship with head coach and quarterback is important,” he said in front of a group of reporters gathered around his table. “We’ll set some goals. He’s our quarterback. No different than any other position. You have to earn the respect of your teammates and earn a roster spot.”

With Marrone and VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin preaching competition, it is interesting that they’ve done that at every position but quarterback. Pointing out that Brandon Allen and Chad Henne are still on the roster, Marrone said that will create competition but he doesn’t believe Bortles is the type of player who needs to be pushed.

“He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He’s able to stand up and be consistent. A lot of people wouldn’t know what’s that like, constantly being asked ‘Why aren’t you playing well, why aren’t you winning.'”

In the final two weeks of the 2016 season with Marrone as the interim head coach, Bortles seemed to settle down and play better. While he won’t take credit for that, Doug does say he changed the focus for his quarterback, giving him options to keep a play, series or drive going without taking chances. That seemed to allow Bortles to take some pressure off himself. “You appreciate that but as a coach you have to manage it,” Marrone explained of the expectations some players have of themselves. “You have to be smart, check the ball down, sometimes he puts a lot of pressure on himself to make a play and sometimes that play’s just not there.”

Not to say Doug doesn’t want players who have high expectations. Especially for themselves.

“The players that you want are the players who compete against themselves,” he added. “Those are the kind you want. I don’t think anyone on our team has a sense of ease.”

That uneasiness comes from the culture that Marrone and Tom Coughlin are changing around the organization. Their long-standing relationship is one of the things owner Shad Khan pointed to as why the new management structure on the Jaguars is working, along with GM Dave Caldwell. Marrone is pretty comfortable with the way things are.

“I know that from when I was a very young coach I’ve always looked up to Coach Coughlin,” he said. “When I was the head coach at Syracuse I relied on him quite a bit about culture, philosophy, dealing with coaches, dealing with players, without a partnership. He’s helped me grow so much as a coach.”

“I know I’m the head coach and I’m going to run this team but I have the greatest situation in the world, he continued. “I have someone who’s aligned with me philosophically. I tell him all the time, ‘By the time you’re done with me, I’ll have sucked every bit of information out of your brain.’ To have somebody to walk ten feet into his office and ask ‘Is there a better way to do this’ I just think is outstanding.” As they go about reshaping the Jaguars inside and out, Marrone says it’s not a mystery why certain teams win and others can’t.

“There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “When you look at teams that haven’t won, the same things pop up. Mental toughness, not being able to finish games. We want to create structure, discipline. You have to train mental and physical toughness. You have to experience adversity.”

When the regular carousel of coaching changes started happening right after the regular season, Marrone was named as a possibility for several other franchises. But he stayed in Jacksonville, partly because of his two years already here. Not necessarily on the Jaguars, but living in town, getting to know the people. He believes the team should take on the personality of it’s own community.

“I love these types of challenges. I was able to live in the community, you get to see the passion and the disappointment. When we come in as a coaching staff and as players, we have a chance to change that. And do it in a way that reflects the community. The community is a group of hard-working people. We have to reflect the people in the community who get up and go to work everyday and build something.”

Calling on his experience helping rebuild the Saints after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, Marrone says there has to be a connection between the fans and the team. When the Saints finally returned to the Superdome, he looked into the stands before the opening kickoff and saw people crying.

“That’s when I started to realize what type of effect a football team can have on a town or a region. I’m not going to compare our situation to that but I want our fans to have that pride again to wear the Jaguars logo.”

In another offseason full of changes and the remaking of the roster, again, skeptics are everywhere around a team that looked like it had so much promise a year ago. And for the new head coach, that means even at home.

“My son’s friends, they want to know everything. You want to talk about being prepared to talk to reporters?” he said with a big laugh. “Try talking to a bunch of 13-year-old kids! ‘Why are we going after this guy? What are we doing?’ They have no filter. Even my son “What are we doin’ Dad?” And my wife asks, “Do you know what you’re doing? Are you sure?”

All good questions that will only start to be answered in September.

Khan “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”

In his five years as the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shad Khan has become an integral part of the NFL Ownership. On the finance committee and chairman of the league’s business development committee, Khan is helping make policy now and shaping the league for the future.

Since his investment in the team and subsequent investment in the stadium Shad transformed Jacksonville’s stature in the league from tenuous to solid.

“I think the right word is “action speaks louder than words,” Khan said sitting near the lobby of the Arizona Biltmore between meetings. “Hard to believe when I was introduced 5 years ago that I said we were going to do everything we could to make football viable in Jacksonville. And we’ve been trying to do that. From day one, that’s what you do.”

Changes to the north end zone, the scoreboards, the clubs and the south end zone have transformed the stadium from a place you’d go to see a game to an entertainment destination. According to Shad, the competition from just staying at home in front of your TV is a battle he and his fellow owners in the NFL have to fight.

“That’s a great product a HD TV so why would somebody want to come to a game?” he explained. ” It has to be a great game day experience where you want to be there. Just about every team owner who has been there can’t believe it’s the same stadium. I think we stand up very well. We want to move the needle. And I think we are doing that.”

Creating non-football revenue is key to any franchise success according to Khan. That’s why he believes the new Daily’s Place adjacent to the south end zone is an important piece in the Jaguars’ viability. Creating events over several days surrounding a game that will attract fans from all over, not just for the game but for a whole weekend is the goal. Daily’s Place is scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend, a tight timeline that the Jaguars owner acknowledges. In fact, so tight he admitted, the paint might not be dry.

“Probably not,” he said with a laugh. “So be careful, don’t lean on anything. There might not be paint at all. But as time goes on, it’s only going to be better and better.”

While he’s not involved in the football process, Khan is a fan and gets excited just like anybody would when his team has success. Lately that’s been limited to the offseason and 2017 is no different. The Jaguars have “won” the offseason again, a familiar spot that hasn’t translated to wins on the field.

“I had the same feeling I’ve had for the last couple of years,” he said rubbing his hands together. “Boy we did great, a whole bunch of checks got written so I’m excited that some of the players we wanted, other teams wanted and we got them. So we’re hoping for better results on the field.”

When he introduced Tom Coughlin as the new VP of Football Operations, Doug Marrone as the Head Coach and Dave Caldwell remaining as the GM, Khan said there was a “higher football IQ” in the organization with those three making the decisions. He says that has already shown itself in watching the decision making process.

“I really feel it,” Khan said of the feeling in the building these days. “I hadn’t really met Tom until this whole process started. They (Coughlin, Marrone and Caldwell) can mesh together. You can’t take three people and throw them together and always make it work. They have the age, the mindset, the culture and the personalities to really make this thing work.”

“They all bring a little different subset of knowledge,” he added. “I feel there’s a logic, a method to the madness.”

And what has he learned about Coughlin in the short time they’ve worked together?

“Passion to win. Attention to detail. Hard work. Those are elements whether you’re in football or digging a ditch. If those are your principals, you’re going to be successful.”

Coughlin “We Need A Culture Change”

It didn’t take long for Tom Coughlin to identify one change the Jaguars needed to make.

“We need a culture change. People need to know your goals when they walk in the door,” the Jaguars VP of Football Operations said at the NFL Owners meeting in Phoenix on Monday. “We have to define it, let everybody know what it is and how we reinforce it and how you’re going to be judged.”

Already the Jaguars roster has a distinct Coughlin look: bigger, more veterans, more competition. All by design given Tom’s success in the past both in Jacksonville and New York.

“You have to. It puts the players in a position of competiveness right off the bat. If they player’s young and wants to see how he matches up, he might be able to contribute.”

In his three months in charge of the football team, Coughlin has insisted on competition across the board: except at quarterback. He is giving Blake Bortles a chance to be the starter based on what he’s see in Bortles whole body of work since coming out of UCF.

“We think he’s the player. We believe that. Who knows?” he explained. But he did give himself and out, saying the draft could present some interesting options with the 4th pick.

“If there’s a quarterback there we’d have to think about it. Competition is good for everybody,” he noted.

With the fourth selection in this year’s draft, the Jaguars will have about every option you could expect. Defensive line, defensive backfield, quarterback, running back, you name it. But Coughlin’s experience in the league has told him that the first round might extend through the fourth pick, but maybe not much further.

“People have a misconception about the draft. The first round is not 32 players long,” he said, spreading his hands apart like a yardstick. ” You’re going to take your pencil out at some point and say, ‘the first round ends right here.’ Where we’re picking there are a number of good players.”

More than thirty years in the league has given t Tom a perspective and a lot of contacts he tries to take advantage of to help his team. At these meetings, he’s networking with people he’s worked with, including those in the NFL office. It’s no surprise that he’s well versed on the full agenda over the three days here.

“I try to take it all in, I try to talk to a lot of different people. I want to be abreast of all of the proposals and rule changes.”

To listen to Coughlin talk now about leadership and motivation and to have worked with him when he first became the head coach of the Jaguars shows a development in message and style. He’s believes he’s in the right situation at this stage of his career, and being at these meetings energizes him.

“I’ve been in the league a long time. I have some people I rely on for information. It’s what we talk about all the time. You better keep learning.”

Jaguars Free-agency Preview: Plugging Holes

As the Jaguars segue into a new era, how they approach free-agency in 2017 will give us some clues about what new Executive Vice President Tom Coughlin thinks the team needs to change to win. We know from his previous stint in Jacksonville and how he helped build the New York Giants that Coughlin likes big, tough teams.

“This team needs to be mentally and physically tougher,” he told us just two weeks ago before the NFL Combine. That means he’ll follow the philosophy he outlined in his book “Earn the Right to Win,” building from the inside out, starting with the offensive and defensive lines.

About to acquire Branden Albert, a left tackle from Miami, the Jaguars intend to plug him in as a starter. They seem committed to Jeremy Parnell at right tackle for now and Brandon Linder at center. A.J. Cann will get a shot again at guard but the other guard spot, either right or left, is one of the places they’ll be looking in free-agency. Kevin Zeitler, a free-agent from the Bengals is considered the top guard available. The Jaguars have interest in him as well as three other “20-something” starters who they could plug into their offensive line. T.J Lang, Larry Warford and Ronald Leary are all expected to command big money. One of them will end up in Jacksonville.

With Jalen Ramsey anchoring one cornerback spot, the team parted ways with Devon House and haven’t shown interest in Prince Amukamara so they’ll be looking to fill one of those spots through free agency. A.J. Bouye from the Texans has drawn a lot of interest from several teams around the league. The Jaguars will open their checkbooks to land the right player to play opposite Ramsey so if Bouye is just looking for money, he’ll come to Jacksonville. Stephon Gilmore is another corner the Jaguars could target. Head Coach Doug Marrone knows Gilmore from his days in Buffalo. The Patriots Logan Ryan is another possibility.

They’ve been able to negotiate with agents since noon on Tuesday with the signings becoming official on Thursday at 4pm. The Jaguars might spend some money early to grab a couple of starters but don’t be surprised if they also fill parts of the roster with later signings, somewhat under the radar.

The Case For Boselli In The Hall, And The Process It Entails

For nearly nine hours on Saturday, we debated the merits of two contributors, one senior and 15 “modern era” candidates and their worthiness for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As my fellow selectors have said, it’s a complicated process. We’re to consider only what happened on the field during the careers of the players eligible. Where the field starts and stops is a debatable question. Statistics help, but if it was just about stats, they could feed them into a computer and let some accountants say who gets in and who doesn’t.

But it’s more than that and that’s why it’s complicated. In my 23rd year on the committee I was asked to present a player to the assembled media for the first time. I was honored to do so with such a talented player to present as Tony Boselli.

I’m including much of what I talked to the committee about here as well as some thoughts on Tony’s chances to eventually be selected to the Hall in the future.

Anytime anybody talks about Boselli and the Hall, the first question, and usually the only question is about the brevity of his career. But the perception is that Tony played a few years but actually he played seven seasons in the league. Ninety-one regular season games plus six starts in the playoffs.

The varying length of seasons, 12 before 1960, 14 from 1961-1977 and 16 since 1977 makes comparing “games played” a good measuring stick.

Players who played about a 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 we discussed on Saturday, Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis, there are 30 players with less than 100 games played are already in the Hall including:

Gale Sayers, Dick Stanfel, Doak Walker, and Cliff Battles.

In terms of performance, Boselli was a dominant player in the era of his career, He shut down celebrated Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year in the ’96 playoffs, holding him to 3 innocuous tackles and no sacks in a 30-27 Jaguars win in Buffalo.

He shut down Jason Taylor on national television on a Monday night, another finalist in 2017 who was elected to the Hall. Taylor said last week, “Boselli beat me down on a Monday night. An epic beat down. Surprising it didn’t knock me into retirement.”

And closed down Derrick Thomas, a story best told by Phil Simms.

“Thomas had 6 sacks the week before for the Chiefs and were facing the Jaguars the following week. I was doing the game for CBS and in the production meeting prior I asked Coughlin how he was going to slow down Derrick Thomas: Double teams, chip him, whatever. Coughlin said, “I’m going to put my guy Tony Boselli over here. They’re going to line up their guy Derrick Thomas, and we will let them go one on one, then we’ll see who wins that battle!” I remember thinking, ‘That’s trouble for Jacksonville. No way is anyone going to match up against Derrick Thomas. As we broadcast the game the next day, Tony Boselli dominated Derrick Thomas from start to finish. For the period he played in, Tony Boselli was as dominating an offensive linemen that I have ever seen.”

That’s just one of the testimonials from former players and coaches who believe Tony belongs in Canton.

The man who drafted and coached him and went on to win two Super Bowls in New York, Tom Coughlin said, “Tony was simply the best offensive tackle in the game throughout his career. I never had to worry that his guy would make a play. Ever.”

Celebrated NFL personnel expert Gil Brandt said, “He’s in that same category with Willie Roaf and Anthony Munoz and Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones – he’s equal to all those guys. If you put all of those guys up you’d have a hard time deciding who you were going to take number one.”

Many long-time football watchers consider Anthony Munoz the greatest tackle of all-time. Munoz said, “My opinion, after watching Tony Boselli play during his NFL career, is that he is one of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”

And even Willie Roaf, a contemporary of Tony’s and a member of the Hall of Fame said, “I would always watch film of other players at my position. Even though I had two years on him, he was someone I would watch and gauge my game after.”

Perhaps being a good teammate counts in this process, so talking to his teammates, to a man they said he had no peer. Boselli made the guys around him better through his play and work ethic.

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.”

He was the sheriff on those teams as well, and its no coincidence that when the Jaguars were relevant when it came to the post season 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, and Tony Boselli. Joe Jacoby is still on the Hall of Fame ballot and his career started in 1981. There might not be another tackle for 10 years who get consideration for the Hall among the current group. Perhaps Joe Thomas and possibly Tyron Smith 15 years from now. So we’re talking about a special time from 1992 when Roaf came into the league and until Pace retired in 2009; all five of their careers were included in that time span. Tony Boselli played from 1995-2002.

Statically, Tony compares favorably with all of those HOF’ers. Gil Brandt’s statistical analysis of sacks allowed, yards rushing and other hard number show Boselli’s as an equal or above those other four.

In terms of accolades, Boselli was All rookie 1995, All Pro three times, 4 if you count the 1996 selection by Sports Illustrated and played in 5 pro bowls. He was named All-Decade first team of the 90’s at Tackle 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 was the other All Decade Tackle, Willie Roaf was second team. Every other offensive first-team All Decade Player of the ’90’s we’ve 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 brevity of his career, 97 games, should be viewed in its perspective. It wasn’t so brief after all. There are now 32 of the 265 players in the Hall who have less than 100 games played.

What’s changed for Tony is the selection of Terrell Davis to the Class of 2017. If the selection committee was willing to look past Davis having played only 78 games it helps Boselli’s chances exponentially.

As I mentioned, it’s a complicated process. In 2018, three players, Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss are eligible for the first time. Are they all first-ballot Hall of Famers? If so, that will leave two spots for 12 players. In 2019 Ed Reed, Tony Gonzalez and Champ Bailey will be eligible. Sometimes it’s a slotting process, sometimes, as it was this year with LaDanian Tomlinson, the player’s greatness dictates that he be selected as soon as he becomes eligible.

I thought Tony had a 50-50 shot at getting in this year and the fact that he advanced to the final 10 proved me right. But the committee surprised me by selecting Jason Taylor in his first year of eligibility. Tony’s domination of Taylor is one of his credentials for admittance to the Hall. Nobody argues Boselli’s greatness. At some point I believe he’ll be wearing a gold jacket. When that is, as difficult as the process is, as I’ve said, is hard to predict.

Coughlin Says Boselli “Should Be In The Hall Of Fame”

When Tom Coughlin was the Head Coach and General Manger (chief cook and bottle washer too) of the Jaguars in 1995, everybody knew he was going to take Tony Boselli with the franchise’s first draft pick. Coughlin tried to feint, saying he liked a couple of receivers at that spot but even he admits, “Nobody believed me.” Now 22 years later, Boselli is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“You’re just so proud about reading what his peers said about him,” Tom said at the stadium on Tuesday. “I mean it’s incredible. Willie Roaf and Anthony Munoz, I remember Anthony, a USC guy, telling me from the get-go, Tony Boselli is probably the greatest tackle that ever played on the left side.”

In our first chance to talk to Coughlin in a small setting, he’s is noticeably different than his first go-round here. A bit more jovial, more effusive and even with some self-deprecating humor. He laughed when he recalled Phil Simms’ story about how the Jaguars were going to deal with Derrick Thomas one week after he had recorded six sacks.

“When he asked me the question I said, ‘What do you mean what are we going to do? We’ll put Boselli on Derek Thomas and we’ll see where it goes.’ And that’s the way I felt from day one,” Tom said.

Delayed by a dislocated kneecap suffered in his first training camp, Boselli first played in 1995 in the fourth game of the year against Green Bay.

“They were a good football team,” Coughlin recalled. “And I held him for a little bit in the first quarter and I said, go, and that was the last time I worried about anybody coming off that side. And that’s a true story.”

When the Jaguars medical staff wouldn’t clear Boselli to play because of a shoulder injury after 2001, Coughlin walked down the street to tell Tony in person the team was going to expose him to the expansion draft for the newly formed Houston Texans. (They both lived in Marsh Landing at the time) “To walk down the street unannounced, Saturday,” Coughlin remembered. “Late morning I think it was, ring the doorbell and he comes to the door and I just went and sat on the stoop on the step. He came out and sat down with me. That is not one of my fondest memories.”

Having gone on to coach the New York Giants to two Super Bowl wins, Coughlin worked with Hall of Fame caliber players in New York. So is Boselli the best football player Coughlin ever coached? Is he in that conversation?

“No question, he certainly is. Without a doubt, because he could do so many different things,” Tom said. “He is such a great athlete on top anything else that he does. The real thing was the competiveness in him. He would go out on the field and the look in his eye and the way he could dominate people at times. No matter what you say. No matter what run you pick. ”

A 19-year veteran in the NFL, Mark Brunell was Boselli’s teammate during his entire career. Mark has often joked that he and Tony didn’t get along when the first met because, “Tony thought he was the best player on the team. Which he was,” Mark now says with a laugh. So was Boselli the best football player he ever played with in his career?

“I don’t know that I’d call him a better football player than Reggie White or Brett Favre or Drew Brees,” Mark said this week. “But he’s certainly in that conversation with them.” White and Favre are in the Hall. Brees no doubt get serious consideration after his retirement.

One of the qualifications that comes up for eligibility to the Hall of Fame each year is a player’s ability to make they guys around him better. According to Coughlin, Boselli did that by just being there.

“When you go on the field with somebody of that caliber – and I use the example normally when I’m talking about a quarterback, a great quarterback – but when you go on the field with somebody that good as Boselli and he plays at that level, you’re on that field with him, especially you talk about your interior offensive linemen. You’re looking at this guy thinking, man, I got to play my ever-loving off because if I don’t he’s going to make me look really bad and that’s the way it is.”

His leadership in the locker room is another thing that impressed Coughlin during his career with the Jaguars. Boselli was the enforcer, the leader, the Sheriff among his teammates.

“Oh he was. There’s no doubt and when he said things, they listened,” Coughlin noted. “He understood the game, he grasped it all, he understood the locker room. He knew when to speak and when not to speak, but when he spoke, they listened.”

When asked if “It’s hard to imagine in retrospect that it worked out so well, No. 2 overall, it was the first pick, first in the Pride, maybe best player to ever play here, he was the perfect storm?”

With his newfound humor, Tom laughed and said, “Look who picked him.”

Boselli is one of 15 Modern Era Finalists who will be discussed Saturday in Houston by the Selection Committee. I’m the Jacksonville representative on the Hall of Fame Selection Committee and have been charged with giving the committee a presentation about Tony’s career and his qualifications for the Hall. The announcement of the Class of 2017 for the Hall will be made Saturday night during the NFL Honors show broadcast from Houston.

Jaguars To Compete For A Head Coach

Since there is a “Win Now” philosophy among most NFL owners, what’s become known as “Black Monday” in the league has become a very intriguing and fluid day. What was true an hour ago might have flipped the other way by now.

What’s different in 2016 than in other years is the number of “hot” candidates will have their choice of jobs so the Jaguars will be in competition with other teams for the top candidates. Any head-coaching job in the NFL is an elite spot but coaching candidates will look at the rosters and the team ownership and figure out where they can win quickly and sustain that.

There are several reasons the Jaguars head-coaching job is attractive, not the least is the patience Owner Shad Khan has shown since buying the team five years ago. He wasn’t happy with the advice he got in 2012 so he quickly changed the team’s management and committed to a complete rebuild. It’s that kind of patience that will be attractive to a lot of coaches although doubtful Khan will wait four more years for a winner.

With just 15 wins in the past four seasons, Khan isn’t happy with where the Jaguars are now, but is the type of owner who will listen to the candidates to get their ideas on why the Jaguars aren’t winning. Personnel? Coaching? Discipline? Quarterback? All of those played a part in the Jaguars disappointing 3-13 finish. Khan has “charged” General Manager Dave Caldwell with finding a new coach but the owner will be part of the process.

Looking at the criteria, Caldwell has said head coaching experience will be helpful but not necessary for the next leader of the Jaguars. Someone who can create a “winning culture” is how the Jaguars GM termed it two weeks ago. And somebody who can either fix or move on from Blake Bortles will be part of the equation. Caldwell has said he’s open to all kinds of opinions about the Jaguars quarterback. Former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin checks a lot of those boxes but apparently last week Coughlin and the Jaguars couldn’t find enough common ground to have him join the organization so both parties have moved on.

The Other Candidates:

1) Josh McDaniels, Offensive Coordinator, New England Patriots. McDaniels has done wonders in New England but his quarterback, Tom Brady, is among those in the discussion for greatest of all time. McDaniels would be interested in the Jaguars if he thinks Blake Bortles is the answer or if there’s a quarterback either as a veteran free agent signing or in the upcoming draft that can make the Jaguars offense go. He wouldn’t have to worry about the defense, especially if he brings in a coordinator he trusts. His tenure at Denver as the head coach ended unceremoniously and his personality rubbed the entire organization the wrong way. He drafted Tim Tebow so he thinks he can fix flaws in any quarterback.

2) Harold Goodwin, Offensive Coordinator, Arizona Cardinals. Goodwin has been the Coordinator for the Cardinals since 2013 and has also been a coach for the Bears, Steeler and Colts. Not having head coaching experience could work against him but his offense in Arizona with Bruce Arians as the head coach and Carson Palmer at quarterback has been potent during his tenure. He also fulfills the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” of interviewing minority candidates for head coaching vacancies.

3) Mike Smith, Defensive Coordinator, Tampa Bay Bucs. Smith was very successful in Atlanta but was fired by one of Caldwell’s mentors, Thomas Dimitrioff. Perhaps a change of scenery was needed in Atlanta as they are the #2 seed in the NFL in 2016 but Smith was there for the initial development of Matt Ryan. As a former defensive coordinator for the Jaguars under Jack Del Rio, Smith is familiar with Jacksonville and was a very popular figure while he was here. If he thinks Bortles is fixable and perhaps current Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is on the right path, he would be an easy fit, even keeping most of the current staff. They’re all still under contract for 2017.

There will be other names bandied about including Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator in Atlanta. He reportedly has an interview with the Jaguars among other teams this week. His most natural landing spot is in Denver where his father coached, he knows John Elway and Gary Kubiak just resigned. Anthony Lynn will also get consideration but he’s most likely to stay in Buffalo and reportedly would like Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator with the Bills.

Hackett Stays As Jaguars OC

With all of the experience Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone have in the NFL and coaching in college, their reach and relationships with other coaches is far and wide. Coaching is a fraternity and some of those relationships have shaped the new staff under Marrone, with Coughlin’s input.

It’s not too big of a surprise that the Jaguars have decided to keep Nathaniel Hackett as their offensive coordinator. His success in the short term and his relationship with Blake Bortles no doubt played a part but his resume includes coaching with Marrone at both Syracuse and in Buffalo as the offensive coordinator.

“We are excited to announce Nathaniel Hackett as our offensive coordinator and he will immediately be tasked with installing and implementing our offense this offseason,” said Marrone. “I have had the pleasure of working with Nathaniel for seven consecutive seasons and know firsthand how knowledgeable and passionate he is about winning.”

“After taking over as the play-caller in 2016, the offensive unit made a significant jump under the direction of Nathaniel Hackett,” Coughlin added. “Nathaniel comes from a coaching family and is truly ardent about the game of football, which is contagious to his players and the assistants. He has a long history of working alongside Coach Marrone and we are fortunate to have him on our coaching staff.”

In 2015, Hackett helped Blake Bortles set single-season franchise records in passing touchdowns (35), passing yards (4,428), completions (355), and attempts (606). He also broke franchise marks with 72 completions of 20-plus yards and passing TDs in 15 consecutive games (Weeks 1 – 16). Bortles became the youngest of only three NFL players to record 4,000-plus passing yards, 35-plus passing touchdowns and 300-plus rushing yards (310). Although he took a step back in 2016, the Jaguars, including Coughlin, Marrone, Hackett and General Manager Dave Caldwell are sticking with him.

“Blake Bortles is our quarterback,” Coughlin said at his introductory press conference.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars have dipped into the college ranks and hired Clemson’s Marion Hobby as their defensive line coach.

“Marion Hobby is an excellent coach that breeds success and comes from a winning culture,” Coughlin said. “In recent years, Marion has overseen the development of top-tier players who are currently experiencing success at the highest level in the National Football League. His coaching prowess and ability to maximize his players’ abilities will bode very well for our organization.”

Hobby, 50, has 22 years of coaching experience, including the last six seasons at Clemson University where he served as the co-defensive coordinator/defensive ends coach for the 2017 College Football Playoff National Champions under Head Coach Dabo Swinney.

“Marion Hobby is coming off a national championship-winning season and over the past six years, has helped establish Clemson as one of the premier defenses in college football,” said Marrone. “I had the pleasure of coaching with Marion for two seasons in New Orleans and have personally observed his ability to get the most out of his players. Our team’s ability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks and to stop the run will be key factors in our success moving forward and I feel that under the leadership and direction of Coach Hobby, those goals will be accomplished at a high level.”

Coughlin, “Winning Is What It’s All About”

While the fire is still there, the approach is a little different for Tom Coughlin.

“The way to great leadership starts with service to others,” the former Jaguars and Giants Head Coach and now Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations said when he was introduced. That’s a departure from his former self where “top down” management was his hallmark.

Not to say Coughlin won’t still set the top and make the decisions, but his “modern day” philosophy of motivation and leadership is updated from his first stint here.

“Tom Coughlin will be the dominant personality in the building, long-time Jaguars reporter Cole Pepper said. “But he’s updated his leadership style a bit. It’ll be interesting to see how he works with the other two (Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell).

Quoting Pablo Casals, Coughlin said he wanted to follow the great cellist’s example of “getting better each day.”

Marrone might have a different style but carries the same philosophy when it comes to leadership. “I try to win every day. You have to earn the right to win every day,” he said, which coincidentally is the title of Coughlin’s’ second book.

“He’s my mentor,” Marrone said after the press conference. “It’ll be great to have him right down the hall, only feet away to pick his brain when I need to.”

It became apparent to Owner Shad Khan after talking to Coughlin about a role with the team that Marrone was a serious candidate. “Tom gave me two names that he could work with, that he thought were good coaches, and Doug was one of them,” he said. “I didn’t know how close their connection was until I talked to Doug about working with Tom and he said, ‘That’d be fantastic.’

“I have a vested interest in the success of the Jaguars in Florida,” said Coughlin. “When people come together as a team only then do you have a chance to win” he said in his opening statement. But it wasn’t until the questioning started that Tom’s fire started to blaze.

When asked if the focus would shift to winning, Marrone started to talk about that being the goal and that’s what they were trying to do.

“If we’re not here to win, what the hell are we here for!” Coughlin said, interrupting and causing a big laugh from the assembled media and guests.

Quick to point out that in his two years here he had “felt the pain” Jaguars fans have felt with losing football, Marrone sent a message to his players.

“Our players should be working right now.”

“This is the role I anticipated and wanted at this point in my career.” And although he had said in the past he wanted to coach again, Coughlin said that this role, with input across the organization, is what he anticipated at this point in his career. But he was clear about the path the Jaguars will be taking.

“There’s no easy way to success,” he said. “Mr. Khan’s story is the great American dream. I’m thrilled to be back. Team above all else.”

Marrone Starts To Change The Staff

In any coaching change, the first order of business is for the new coach to assemble his staff. For new Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone, Tuesday was a busy day virtually cleaning house of the coaching staff.

Despite having a year left on their contracts, Marrone dismissed Jerry Sullivan (receivers), Tony Sorrentino (assistant receivers), Chris O’Hara (offensive assistant), DeWayne Walker (defensive backs), Robert Saleh (linebackers), Scottie Hazelton (assistant linebackers), Aaron Whitecotton (assistant defensive line) and Daniel Bullocks (assistant defensive backs).

Any coach wants his own “guys” on his staff so it’s not unusual for a new head coach to bring a variety of changes to his staff. What is unusual for Marrone is having worked along side these coaches for the last two years as the Jaguars Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach. Saleh was thought to be one of the coaches Marrone might retain but the real puzzler is Sullivan.

A 44-year veteran of coaching with 23 in the NFL, he’s credited with the development of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee as young Jaguars receivers in the NFL. All three credit Sullivan with their progress but will now have a new position coach in 2017. Jerry told Ryan O’Halloran of the Times-Union that he still thought he had plenty to offer and in the right situation would coach again but if not, he plans on staying in Jacksonville. “Football saved me from the streets. Football helped me have a better life. This is a hard day,” he told the T-U.

He hasn’t said if they’d remain coordinators on his staff but Marrone kept Nathaniel Hackett, last season’s offensive coordinator and Todd Wash, the 2016 defensive coordinator. Defensive assistant Mike Rutenberg will also remain on the staff.

Marrone, Coughlin, Caldwell Try To “Fix” Jaguars

It’s no surprise that the Jaguars are restructuring the top of their football operation after five years of Shad Khan’s ownership. Khan is a good listener and makes moves that will enhance his organizations (businesses) and their opportunities to be successful. After his first year of ownership, Khan had spend $60 million on three free agents and asked rhetorically, “What did I get for that? Two wins.” So he made a move, away from his “football people” Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey, and started anew. Khan likes to hire “the best” as he has said repeatedly, so adding Tom Coughlin to the Jaguars mix on the football side is no surprise.

Two weeks ago Coughlin talked with Khan and others at the top of the Jaguars organization about the head-coaching job but didn’t find enough common ground to make that move. But Coughlin has said for the past year that he’d be interested in being a part of the Jaguars, “maybe in another role.” Now, he’ll have a lot to say about the success of the Jaguars as their Vice President of Football Operations. It’s a new job for the Jaguars but not uncommon in the league.

What the Jaguars haven’t confirmed is how Coughlin, General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Doug Marrone will work together. Reports are that both Marrone and Caldwell will report to Coughlin, but how much the decision-making ends with any of those jobs has yet to be announced. Knowing Coughlin, he’ll have plenty of input and probably the final say.

Which means that Caldwell needed to sign off on Coughlin joining the team and getting a two-year extension through 2019 mollified his acceptance. Marrone also had so sign off on being the head coach with a strong personality like Coughlin in the building, weighing in on his performance.

When I originally heard that the Jaguars had offered Doug Marrone the head-coaching job last Saturday night I said I had been impressed with Marrone, more than I expected to be, in his performance as the interim head coach of the Jaguars. He was a steady hand for the team and still a loyal lieutenant to the deposed Gus Bradley. He changed “a few things that I’m comfortable with” as the head coach, like meeting times and his availability, but he gave plenty of credit to Bradley when the Jaguars beat Tennessee on Christmas Eve.

Not knowing whether he’d even be a candidate for the head coaching job in Jacksonville, Marrone gave us a hint in his post game remarks after the loss in Indianapolis about what he thinks needs to be fixed with the current Jaguars roster.

“With this team the players will have to understand the pressure we need to put on them as coaches in practice during the week,” Marrone said after reviewing the game. “We have to force them as coaches to be accountable for that so they have the ability to go out here on Sunday and win games.”

He was also realistic about what happened in Indy as a microcosm of the entire season.

“You can’t make the mistakes that we made today and expect to go out there and win the game.”

And another glimpse into his thought process was the comment,

“I told the players at halftime, (when the Jaguars were winning 17-3) you either are either going to be the hunter or the hunted. You’ve got to learn how to hunt.” The Jaguars have said the formal announcement of the new management structure and the introduction of Coughlin and Marrone will happen on Thursday at 10 AM.

Boselli Makes Hall Of Fame Final 15

Of the hurdles players have to overcome for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, perhaps none is bigger than the jump from “semi-finalist” to “finalist.” And that’s where former Jaguars Tackle Tony Boselli finds himself for the first time in 2017. In his 11th year of eligibility, Boselli is one of 15 finalists for the Hall.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Boselli said when I told him of his move to the final fifteen.

It’s a difficult process to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At the beginning of our annual meeting, the President of the Hall charges us (the selection committee, of which I’m a member) with the gravity of our decision-making. “When we leave here today,” he seriously intones, “You will have changed some men’s lives forever.”

In a bit of a rarity, nine of the 15 finalists on this year’s ballot are there for the first time. Which means the selection committee, made up of representatives of each team, at- large members and two members of the Hall of Fame, will hear the case for induction for a majority of the finalists for the first time.

Out of a list of around 100 former players who are eligible, the selection committee, by vote, cuts that number down to twenty-five “semi-finalists.” From there, the committee votes for the final fifteen. The 15 finalists are then discussed, one by one, during our annual meeting on Saturday of Super Bowl weekend. Two “contributors” (this year Paul Tagliabue and Jerry Jones) and one senior candidate (Kenny Easley) will also be discussed, individually.

Jacksonville native Safety Brian Dawkins is also among the first-time finalists on this year’s ballot. Dawkins played at Raines and at Clemson before spending 13 years in the NFL with the Eagles and Denver Broncos.

As the Jacksonville representative, I’ll be asked to make the case for Tony, outlining his career statistics and presenting testimonial evidence from his teammates, opponents and coaches. As an at-large selector, Vito Stellino, of the Times-Union and in the Hall himself, will probably also be asked to help present Tony’s case.

You could call the time Boselli played in the league as the “Golden Age of Left Tackles.” Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden along with Tony were dominant and fixtures for their teams. Among those four, only Boselli is not in the Hall. And only for one reason: the brevity of his career.

Because of injury, Tony played in 91 games in the NFL over seven seasons. Three times he played in all 16 games and once 15. He played 13 games his rookie year, starting twelve. Jones played in 180 games. Pace 169 and Ogden 177.

When he was drafted, Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin called Boselli “A corner stone for the franchise for the next ten years.” Once he stepped on the field for good, he was a dominating force, a leader on offense and a commanding presence in the locker room. He was as good a player as you could be at his position. His domination of Jason Taylor, a fellow first time finalist, on national television is legendary. Bruce Smith, a member of the Hall of Fame, was a non-factor in the games when he faced Tony.

There will be a lot of numbers tossed around as the finalists are compared to each other and to current members of the Hall of Fame. To compare Boselli’s 91 games, another Hall of Fame finalist, Terrell Davis, played in 78. Short careers haven’t kept Gayle Sayers (68 games), Dwight Stephenson (87 games) or Lynn Swann (116 games) out of the Hall.

More than anything though, Tony passes the “eye” test. You can talk all the numbers you want, but when you saw Boselli play, you knew he was among the greats. He was a Hall of Fame player.

What are his chances? As a first time finalist, the committee will hear his credentials for the first time whereas we’ll talk about Morten Andersen, Don Coryell and John Lynch for the forth year in a row. The committee will hear the case for Kurt Warner and Terrell Davis for the third time. Terrell Owens, Alan Faneca and Joe Jacoby were finalists last year. Once you make it “into the room” your chances of eventually being selected for the Hall of Fame are around 88 percent. So for Boselli, an eventual spot in the Hall could be in his future. There are no “slam dunk” first time eligible players in 2017 so it’ll be interesting to see what the committee thinks of Boselli in Houston this year.

Here’s the thumbnail from the Hall of Fame of Boselli’s career:

TONY BOSELLI
Tackle … 6-7, 324 … Southern California … 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars … Seven seasons, 91 games … Selected by expansion Jaguars as second player overall in 1995 NFL Draft … Quickly became face of the franchise … Sat out rookie training camp with knee injury, saw first action in Week 4 … First career start came following week in franchise’s first victory … Earned All-Rookie honors … Regarded as an elite tackle in the NFL during career … Noted for superb foot speed and agility … Persevered through numerous injuries … Leader of team that led expansion Jaguars to AFC championship game by second season … Anchored offensive line that helped team to four straight playoff appearances with records of 9-7, 11-5, 11-5 and 14-2 from 1996-99 … Picked as team’s Most Valuable Player in 1998 after helping Jaguars to team’s first division title … Voted to five straight Pro Bowls (1997-2001) … Named first-team All-Pro three consecutive seasons … Selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s despite only playing in half of decade … Suffered severe shoulder injury that ultimately ended career and placed on injured reserve after three games, 2001 … Houston Texans’ first pick of 2002 expansion draft but injury prevented him from playing again … Born April 17, 1972 in Modesto, California.

And here’s the Hall’s summary of Dawkins career:

BRIAN DAWKINS
Safety … 5-11, 200 … Clemson … 1996-2008 Philadelphia Eagles, 2009-2011 Denver Broncos … 16 seasons, 224 games … Drafted in second round (61st overall) by Philadelphia in 1996 draft … Named Eagles’ Defensive MVP five times … Helped Eagles to eight playoff appearances … Started in four NFC championship games, one Super Bowl … First-team All-Pro five seasons (2001, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009) … Earned first of nine Pro Bowl nods after 1999 season … First player in NFL history to record a sack, interception, fumble recovery and touchdown catch in same game (vs. Houston Texans, Sept. 29, 2002) … Set Eagles record for most games played … Voted to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s … Intercepted pass in 15 straight seasons … Led Eagles in interceptions back-to-back seasons, 1997-98 … Recorded 37 career interceptions returned for 513 yards and 2 touchdowns … Recorded multiple interceptions in a season 11 times … Pick sixes included 64-yard return vs. Giants, 1997 and 67-yard score vs. Dolphins, 1999 … Averaged nearly 100 tackles per season throughout career … Registered 26 career sacks … Also had 49-yard fumble return for TD, 2001 … Recorded 3 sacks in final season with Broncos to help Denver to division title, 2011 … Born October 13, 1973 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Lose To Colts (Playoffs?)

The question all week was “Can we beat the Colts.” The answer was easy. “If they play like they have been, they can win.” The problem is, they didn’t play anything like they’re capable of playing.

Indianapolis had been struggling on both offense and defense. Peyton Manning didn’t have all of his regulars and even his new star, Austin Collie was just returning from a concussion. Manning likes to play the Jaguars, particularly when their defense is ranked 29th against the pass. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when he marched the Colts downfield on their first possession, hitting Collie in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

The Jaguars responded with a field goal, but that’s never enough against Indy. You have to score TD’s when you have a chance. So when Manning hit Collie again for a TD, wide open down the middle seam, the Colts lead 14-3.

Indianapolis clearly was concentrating on stopping the run, the Jaguars bread and butter and did just that, holding Maurice Jones Drew for under 100 yards (actually 46. his lowest ever against the Colts) and ran the ball themselves. They’d be averaging just 80 yards a game on the ground, this week they ground out 155 against the Jaguars.

Mike Thomas returned a punt 78-yards for a TD to cut the lead to four, 14-10 and it seemed the momentum was changing. (Some Colts claimed Thomas signaled for a fair catch but the officials said no).

That’s when Jack Del Rio made a move that could be debated for a long time as the game-changing, season-changing call. On 4th and 1 from their own 39-yard line, Del Rio said go for it. I don’t mind the bravado that comes along with that call or the confidence it shows in his team. That’s Jack. He’s been making that call ever since he became a head coach. But I hated the call, a toss-sweep that gives the defense a chance to adjust. That leaves a chance for too many guys to make a play and that’s just what happened. MJD was hit behind the line, mis-handled the toss and fumbled the ball. The Jaguars turn it over on downs and the Colts do just what the Colts always do, they took advantage of the situation. Donald Brown ripped off a 40 yard TD run to give the Colts a 21-10.

But showing their resiliency, the Jaguars started marching right down the field looking to make a game of it. That’s when Garrard sailed one over Jason Hill’s head and into the arms of Antone Bethea for an interception and a field goal for the Colts going the other way, 24-10. That’s the throw that makes the difference in the game. A completion and it’s for 20 yards, a first down and keeps the Colts on their heels. Instead it changes the momentum of the game and keeps Indy in control. Garrard just flat out has to make that throw. He picked the right guy, he made the right read, but he just didn’t get the job done at THE most critical time.

Maybe that’s harsh but Garrard is one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league. He’s paid at that level to make that play.

But he didn’t.

Yes they hung in there and kept it close but the outcome seemed inevitable from that point on. The on-side kick returned for a TD sealed it, 34-14.

It’s disappointing for Jaguars fans because they were hoping to get excited about this team. It’s an easy team to like from a personality standpoint but the up and down nature of their performances are enough to drive people crazy. They have two games left, at home against Washington and then on the road to finish the year against the Texans. Wins there and a 10-6 record isn’t bad, but might not make the playoffs.

So all is not lost, but that opportunity to establish themselves as a contender instead of pretenders is gone. As Jack said, “if we’re going to beat these guys, we’ve got to be able to get that one tough yard. We had two chances at that today and didn’t get it done.”

Amen.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Raiders

It was a pretty upbeat and loose locker room after the Jaguars beat Oakland 38-31 Sunday. I was trying to interview Don Carey and Derrick Cox kept interrupting. In a fun way. Rashad Jennings has his locker cordoned off and Montel Owens was giving him grief for being messy.

That kind of stuff doesn’t happen in a losing locker room.

It doesn’t happen in most locker rooms in professional sports unless the team has a certain bond and a team goal. All along, head coach Jack Del Rio has said his team has “put the work in and knows what we can do,” but when you’re hovering around .500 nobody gets excited about how much work you’re doing and what you “might” be.

But at 8-5, people are starting to take notice.

And it’s not just an 8-5 record but how they got there. They beat the Colts on a record setting kick with no time on the clock. The Texans went down on a literal “Hail Mary.” The Titans succumbed to a strong running game and Oakland followed suit. Save for the second half against the Giants, the Jaguars have done nothing but get better in the second half of the season.

Right now they’re the “team that came out of nowhere.” Indy’s injuries have helped. Tennessee’s implosion has helped. Houston’s ineptness in crucial situations has helped. But the bottom line is when they’ve had their chances; they’ve taken advantage of them.

There were a few games earlier in the year where David Garrard was nearly perfect and helped the Jaguars to victory. But as the season wore on, it became apparent that this was a running football team, and the coaches bought into that. That’s why for three consecutive games, the Jaguars have run for more than 200 yards.

Against Oakland both Jennings and Maurice Jones Drew had more than 100. It’s what winning football teams do in December: run the ball and get first downs. Score touchdowns and don’t settle for field goals. And don’t give up big plays.

Ah yes, that was a problem against Oakland. “There were some real ugly plays there,” Del Rio admitted in his post-game press conference. “But we’ll get it fixed and move on. It’s a lot easier to fix things with a smile on your face.”

That’s probably the best explanation Jack has ever given for the difference between a practice after a win or after a loss.

And that’s why winning breeds winning. These guys now believe they’re going to win, even when they’re down by 10 at halftime. MJD stood up and told his teammates, “We’ve given them everything they’ve gotten. They haven’t earned it. Let’s go out and play our kind of game and we’ll win.” Jones Drew is not a big rah-rah guy and in fact, he’s not much of a talker. So when he said something at halftime, his teammates paid attention and he didn’t have to raise his voice.

No panic. Do your job and we’ll be OK.

MJD certainly has enough gravitas among his teammates to pull that off and it’s good to hear that he’s willing to exert some of that authority when it’s necessary. He and Jennings will be key ingredients this week against Indianapolis.

The only formula for beating the Colts is run the ball; stop the run and pressure Peyton Manning up the middle. Get around his legs and make him make that “happy feet” move. If he has time, he always picks apart the Jaguars pass “D” and it’ll be worse this week based on their recent performances and their league ranking.

Having said that, the Jaguars know how to beat the Colts and don’t go up there with any trepidation.

Just respect.

And trying to earn some.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Wayne and Jack’s Gamble

“Accountability” was the theme Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver brought to the press conference this week. He rarely sits down in front of the media and cameras and answer questions “en masse” but Weaver thought it was important to do so after all of the speculation regarding his Head Coach Jack Del Rio.

Don’t get me wrong, Wayne never hides, but he doesn’t like to get in front of the camera and he likes to stay in the background. That’s one of the reason the fraternity of NFL owners picked him to head up the Jacksonville franchise. He fits their mold. But he’s always good in that situation and this week he was better than ever.

Weaver is a solid guy, self-made and very earnest when it comes to getting things right. I spent a lot of time with him during the run-up to getting a team (we went for a run in Chicago together the morning of the announcement) and he’s always been very straightforward. So when he talked about being “self-critical” and being accountable, I’m sure people sat up and listened. I know I did.

Weaver had taken more than a week to go through his organization to see what could be fixed. “The last seven years have been average,” he said. “And average is not acceptable.”

I tried to extrapolate that out to the conversation he had with Del Rio that morning (“all morning” according to Weaver) and came up with Wayne asking Jack to look around, be introspective and see what he personally could do better to get the team back on the way toward a championship. “I believe Jack is the right man to take us to the elite level,” Wayne said. “Fans will just have to trust my judgment when it comes to this decision.”

So I asked Wayne if he was talking about “accountability” that perhaps he could get Jack out there to talk to us. “Jack has a full schedule today,” was Wayne’s response. I pressed him a bit but it was obvious Del Rio was going to make himself available when he was ready. (Apparently he did talk to the Jaguars news partner, Channel 47 that evening, but with all due respect, their audience doesn’t encompass a big part of the Jacksonville community.)

So Del Rio wasn’t going to be around, the story still was Wayne’s vote of confidence in Jack and Weaver’s denial that money played any part in it. I was very surprised when Weaver said the USC job “never came up,” and pressed that issue saying that it had been reported that the process had gotten so far as Southern Cal sending Jack a contract. “I can assure you, he’s not going to Southern Cal,” was Weavers terse response. (It was funny that the Trojans moved directly to Lane Kiffin right after Wayne said Jack wasn’t available.)

So I went to the “Team Teal” event on Tuesday night at the stadium wondering what was next. Weaver was there, Carl Cannon, the head of the new Touchdown Jacksonville, Jaguars GM Gene Smith, local businessman Ed Burr and Mayor John Peyton. As the evening developed (a lot of fans stayed in the Bud Zone because it was a chilly night) I started to think that the whole thing might be a setup. Wayne was going to stop in the middle of his speech and re-introduce Jack as the man who was going to “take us to the elite level.”

But that didn’t happen.

Del Rio was nowhere to be found and if that wasn’t a big mistake it at best was a missed opportunity.

Del Rio’s popularity might be at an all time low here in town and he had a chance to come out and show his commitment, thank the fans and give a rallying cry for the upcoming season.

But that didn’t happen either.

I still can’t find the reasoning for Jack not showing up. I know the Jaguars communications staff was really pushing for Jack to do some kind of presser or at least make an appearance. But he refused. It’d be nice to give Jack the benefit of the doubt here, but without any information from him, besides some stonewalling and vanilla gloss-over, he shouldn’t get much of a pass here.

Pouting?

Unacceptable.

Angry?

Bite your lip and put on a happy face for five minutes.

Busy?

Make time.

Didn’t think it was important?

Arrogant and misinformed.

Sometimes you’ve just got to trust the people around you to help you make decisions that are important. Jack didn’t do that.

And it cost him.

Again.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Del Rio’s Future (For Now!)

It’s always quick when coaching changes take place. Pete Carroll said the offer from the Seattle Seahawks “came out of nowhere.” I’m sure Jim Mora Jr. thought the same thing when he was fired a week after the season concluded.

Carroll didn’t have much success in the NFL the last time around, but times change and perhaps he’ll figure out what he needs to do to run a professional operation this time around. (Remember, Seattle, the team that just fired their head coach, beat the Jaguars like a drum, 41-0 this year).

So as soon as the word got out that Carroll was interested in Seattle, speculation ran rampant regarding his replacement At Southern Cal. Somebody at ESPN put Mike Riley’s name up as a possible replacement and all of the sudden, Riley became the front-runner. No reason, except at Oregon State he beat USC this year and he’d worked in Southern California and for USC in the past. So the list started to grow and college administrators started to get anxious.

Riley signed an extension and said he wasn’t going anywhere. Steve Sarkasian, the former Offensive Coordinator at Southern Cal said they hadn’t called. Jeff Fisher and Chris Peterson said they weren’t ‘interested. So as the speculation moved down the list, Jack Del Rio’s name bubbled somewhere near the top. Part of the reason Jack’s name remains on the list is because he hasn’t taken it off by denying any interest. And he’s supposed to meet with Wayne Weaver on this week (Tuesday.)

Weaver isn’t going to get rid of Del Rio but he won’t keep him from taking the USC job either. I’m sure Wayne thinks his team is starting to take shape and there are several coaches who, along with Gene Smith, can make them a winner pretty soon. This isn’t like the LSU dalliance Jack had a few years ago. He has no leverage. He’s not getting a raise over the $5 million a year he’s making and at around .500, he’s not in demand anywhere. Wayne is probably going to get his money’s worth from Jack and if Del Rio is going to be interested in the Southern Cal job, Weaver will move on without a second thought.

While Southern Cal is one of the schools that doesn’t have to panic and put somebody in place right away to keep the recruiting season going, they don’t want to drag their feet either. Del Rio might be a good fit in Southern California having played there and has ties to the region and the school, but he’s not what stokes the fires of big boosters. His personality is very cool as opposed to Pete Carroll. He’s not a big glad hander. He’s a football coach and the pro game is suited for him.

All of this speculation won’t last long.
The whole process should be over in a day or two.

One thing that has come out of this though: Jack’s not real popular among the Jaguars fan base. Although I’ve been saying it for a while, his personality hasn’t grabbed anybody’s attention or sold any tickets. He’ll be tolerated if he wins, but nobody’s rushing down to the stadium to see Jack coach.

Perhaps the shame of it is that it’s so easy for any coach to be a superstar in this town.
They just have to be a part of this town as well.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Change Afoot?

Right now, it’s bad.

I’ve been around this team since their first day of practice in 1995 and it’s bad. Maybe worse than their first expansion team.

As much as I liked what I saw last week, this week was a step backwards. As in back in time. They were listless and unfocused. They couldn’t execute. Penalties caused stopped the smallest of drives. Fumbles gave the Cardinals the ball. They’re not disciplined. Each time it looked like something might be happening, the Jaguars created their own problems.

And, oh by the way, Arizona went to the Super Bowl last year and played like the defending NFC Champions. Kurt Warner threw on time and with accuracy. (24-26 223) Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin caught everything thrown in their direction. (In fact Warner tied a club record for consecutive completions at the beginning of the game.)

I knew they’d take their lumps this year. Starting four rookies including two rookie tackles on offense was supposed to be the start of a rebuilding process. But this was not good. Arizona looked like a professional football team contending for a division title and perhaps a championship.

The Jaguars looked lost.

There are lots of reasons this stuff can happen but it starts at the top, especially with the head coach. Wayne Weaver is a competitive guy and a good owner when it comes to trying to win. But I think it’s time to really take a hard look at what Jack Del Rio is doing as the head coach of this club.

The penalties the Jaguars incurred in the first half were the product of sloppy play, undisciplined actions and a lack of focus. As John Madden used to say, “Discipline isn’t wearing ties on the plane, it’s not jumping off sides when it’s third and 4.”

Del Rio has adopted this “cool” personality and it’s rubbed off on his team.

This week Torry Holt said when asked how to get going in the right direction that this team needed to figure out what they wanted. “Do you just want to say you’re in the NFL, that you play for the Jaguars or the Cardinals? Or do you want to try and be great? It’s an all the time thing. You can’t just turn it on and off. It has to start when you wake up in the morning.”

I was pretty concerned when heard those comments. While he didn’t call anybody out individually, he left the impression that this team was fairly “cool” toward their objective. If that’s the case, something drastic has to change.

With the game in reach and the breaks going their way, the Jaguars did just about everything they could to back away from success.

I’m also concerned about Garrard. He’s a big trigger shy, a little late on just about every throw. He should be made to watch Warner operate his offense, looking like he knows where the ball’s going before the ball is snapped. Garrard isn’t anything like that. And what’s disappointing is how he’s ‘regressed from the player he was in 2007.

So they have multiple problems, with none looking like they’re going to be solved in the next couple of weeks in the division at Houston and at home against Tennessee.

0-4 doesn’t look like any fun.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gene Smith’s Team

There’s a lot you can say about the Jaguars draft. You can complain they don’t know what they’re doing. You can say it’s not “sexy.” But you can’t say they didn’t follow exactly what they said they were going to do.

New General Manager Gene Smith told us all along that he was going to trust his research, trust his scouts and trust “the process” when it came time to make his picks, including his first one.

“We believe there will be value at the eight spot,” Smith said last Tuesday.

When it came time to make their selection, Smith and the Jaguars didn’t hesitate. “It was a no-brainer,” Smith admitted. Eugene Monroe was there at #8 and he was by far, the highest rated player on there board so they took him. “We’ll take the best player available,” Smith said all along and he was true to his word.

Monroe was expected to be gone in the top five but when he was there at eight , the Jaguars jumped on him. They passed on Michael Crabtree and a bunch of other flashy, skill players to take an offensive tackle. It’s pretty clear they weren’t making that pick to sell tickets and get people to buy jerseys. It’s about building the team for the long haul.

Again, you can disagree all you want but we really don’t know how this draft will work out until a few years go buy.

Tra Thomas and Tony Pashos? They’re just like any other player in the league, penciled in on the depth chart and trying to keep their jobs. Could Pashos be moved to guard? Is he a backup? Who knows? They now have at least seven offensive linemen who could be considered starters in the league, not a bad scenario to create.

Perhaps you consider drafting tackles not good enough when it comes to addressing need. The Jaguars are far enough away from being an elite contender that starting anywhere is a good spot. Wide Receiver? Unless you think there’s a star available, (and I don’t think Michael Crabtree will be a huge star) then there’s no difference between drafting a receiver in the 2nd round or the 5th.

It doesn’t matter. They all have the potential to be stars or busts.

It’s not about what guy on television said he thought about the picks. And it’s not about the stats at the combine. It’s about who will become “football players.” That’s what teams are looking for.

The Jaguars aren’t done dealing either. I’m sure they’re going to be looking during training camp to see who’s being released, particularly among defensive lineman, tackles to be specific. They’ll also keep their eye on receivers as well.

But when it comes to this draft, we’ll check again in 2011.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Fred’s Farewell

Nice sendoff for Fred Taylor sponsored by the Downtown Rotary on Monday.

Taylor was released by the Jaguars a couple of weeks ago but some of the members of Downtown Rotary didn’t think he was given a proper farewell. So the Monday lunch meeting was dedicated to celebrating Taylor’s career here in town. “I’m not bitter,” Fred said afterwards. “I really love Jacksonville, the fans, the city. I’ll retire a Jaguar.”

Taylor will be playing for the New England Patriots this season and said he’ll be keeping an eye on the Jaguars. “I’ll be rooting for Jacksonville every week, except when they come to New England this year.” The Jaguars will be on the road at Foxboro this season. The exact schedule hasn’t ‘been set yet.

I did think it was interesting that Taylor had some of his friends there, including former teammates Jimmy Smith and Rashean Mathis. Smith was moved to tears when Taylor choked up giving a few farewell remarks. It just made me think of Smith’s retirement announcement and how abrupt it was in comparison.

The Jaguars brass flew to South Florida to talk with Fred and make the decision. Smith’s retirement was announced in a last-minute press conference at the stadium. It fueled speculation that Smith was stepping aside instead of facing a drug suspension for a failed test.

But Fred’s situation was different. He is a beloved player here in town and as strange as it seems that he would get a sendoff, isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? When a guy spends his career in town, stays out of trouble, says the right things and is a part of the community, shouldn’t there be some kind of a celebration of his career?

Isn’t this what’s supposed to happen?

I think so and by Fred’s emotional reaction, he appreciated it.

Obviously, this doesn’t happen enough. Certainly the players and free agency play a part, but sometimes there’s so much business involved that teams forget the emotional connection that’s created between fans and players. The organization might reap the benefits but the fans have the connection, the memories, and the memorabilia and feel ownership.

I just thought it was nice.

Maybe the Jaguars were paying attention.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Matt Jones: His Fault Or Ours?

The Jaguars released Matt Jones on Monday, March 16 after 4 years with the team.

Jones was the 21st overall pick in the 2005 draft but never reached the potential the Jaguars had expected out of him catching 166 passes and 14 touchdowns in four seasons. Last year was his best with five TD catches and 65 receptions as David Garrard’s favorite receiver. Jones accounted for half of the Jaguars yardage from wide receiver for the year.

His release was about “character” according to both Owner Wayne Weaver and General Manager Gene Smith.

“I hope Matt gets his life in order,” Weaver said outside the stadium. “But we have standards and when you step over the line, you have to pay the price.”

Only three players, Troy Williamson, Dennis Northcutt and Mike Walker remain on the roster as wide receivers who have caught a pass in the NFL.

===========================================================================
(Ed. Note: Original 3-11-09 posting)

“Why would he be so stupid?”

That’s what most people were saying when they heard Matt Jones had been put in jail for violating his probation.

The other prevailing comment was “Figures.”

Either is not good.

Giving up drinking might be hard for some people and impossible for others (I gave up drinking for Lent once but thought it was too easy. Or course I’m working most of the evening so my drinking isn’t all night long). But anyway, giving it up is one thing: not drinking because a judge told you not to is something completely different. And Jones falls into the latter category.

“I made a bad decision,” he pleaded to the judge in Arkansas after he failed a random drug test on February 27th. Jones admitted he drank some beers with friends while playing golf. No big deal right? Wrong. He knew it was a violation of his probation but did it anyway.

Knowingly.

Where does that thinking come from?

I can only suppose that it’s how he’s always acted. In the locker room, Jones is aloof, at least with the media. He doesn’t have a “carefree” attitude; he has an “I don’t care” attitude.

Big difference.

Perhaps it’s because he’s never been held accountable for anything he’s done. His athletic talent has always carried him. Since he was in Junior High, Matt Jones was able to do whatever he pleased. Throw his clothes on the floor in the locker room? Sure, somebody would pick it up and clean it. Stay out late? No problem, just score some baskets tomorrow night and everything will be all right.

After while, you kind of get used to being treated special and think if you do it, it must be right. Why? Because I did it! Nothing matters but your athletic talent. Go to college on a scholarship. Get whatever you want in High School. Many times local law enforcement looks the other way at your transgressions.

Then all of the sudden you’re rich beyond your wildest dreams and an adult. And now without the safety net of high school, college and your hometown, people are starting to expect you to live up to that money, and the status you have wherever you’re plying your trade. “But wait, I can do anything I want,” is what you’re mind is screaming but all of the sudden, you’re an adult and the rules change.

Problem is, nobody told you.

So somewhere in this kind of twisted logic, Matt Jones’ problems are actually our problems and his parents. (Although everybody told me that back in Arkansas to serve his probation they were sure things would go well because Jones’ father would “beat his butt” if he got out of line.) The consequences of his actions just haven’t sunk in for the Jaguars wide receiver. He still thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Even the judge in Arkansas said she didn’t think he was a bad person and he’s probably not. But when it comes to personal responsibility, he has none.

And that’s where we come in.

Athletes are just that: Athletes. Guys with tremendous athletic gifts. Different from the rest of us when it comes to the things they can physically do. But it doesn’t make them different when it comes to the accountability of who they are. And only we can hold them accountable.

We shouldn’t accept bad or irresponsible behavior from our athletes, starting at a young age. If they’re out of line in junior high, they should be made to understand that as an elite athlete not only can they not step out of line, but also they’re actually held to a higher standard. Make them be a role model. Just don’t let other kids model themselves after them. Encourage them to explore who they are, to test their limits, to be the best they can be.

Perhaps if we had asked that of Matt Jones and others, he wouldn’t be sitting in jail today.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Del Rio: Smarter, Tougher Jaguar

“A player’s coach,” is either the best thing a coach can be called or the worst. “Disciplinarian” and “Old School” fit into that same category. Obviously, somewhere in between is where you find success as a coach, especially in the NFL.

Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio has been described as a “Players coach.” By players it’s been a big compliment. Otherwise it’s a derisive term for

“soft.”

Del Rio hates soft.

But when you look at how he handled the 2008 team, that’s what they were. Soft.

His “Hollywood” demeanor allowed the team to skate through the off-season, training camp and the preseason, with Jack figuring he had put together a collection of players who would be ready when the bell rang. But instead of jumping at the chance to prove themselves, the Jaguars danced around, said, “We’ll be all right,” and started sinking.

From the opening game loss to Tennessee through the final disappointment in Baltimore, the Jaguars didn’t do the little things, didn’t get that one big play that could change the game. They were a little soft.

And Jack recognizes that.

And that’s why he’s getting back to what he believes in. “Smart, tough football, with players who like to play the game and care for each other,” is how he put it in his year-end press conference. If Del Rio’s going down, he’s going down doing the things he believes in.

“You can’t assume that because something was one way last year that it’s going to be the same the next season. Good or bad,” Jack elaborated.

And that’s what he bought into after 2007.

It’s a good team. Motivated, tight and just missing a few pieces. So fill those holes and you have a championship caliber team. But it didn’t happen.

“It’s disappointing, embarrassing to have such high expectations and not fulfill your dreams. There’s too much work going into it to not have people around who want to get involved.”

Del Rio and the rest of the Jaguars staff and administration fell in love with a couple of free agents and some guys who might have been an inch taller and a tenth of a second quicker. But they weren’t better football players.

Jimmy Kennedy for Grady Jackson? Drayton Florence for Sammy Knight? Jerry Porter for Ernest Wilford? Every time the Jaguars made a change it flopped.

“We swung and missed on a couple of free agents this year,” Jack admitted. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t get back into the batters box,” he added, saying the team isn’t going to be shy when it comes to free agency.

I specifically asked Jack who was going to set the tone for the off-season and the coming year. “I am,” he quickly responded. “We’re going to have a tough off-season and I’m anxious to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

It’s the exact answer any fan was looking for. The Head Coach shouldering the blame, taking charge and winning or losing based on what he believes in. And when it comes to Del Rio’s beliefs, he wants tough players who “buy in” to his philosophy.

“If you want to play football the way it’s supposed to be played come to Jacksonville,” Maurice Jones Drew said in the locker room as he cleaned out his things. “If you don’t, then go somewhere else. Plain and simple.”

And it is plain and simple. If the team is going to be reflection of the coach and who he is, Del Rio is going back to what worked for him as a player: practice, hard work and sacrifice.

“No doubt there will be some changes in our off season and the camp for next year. There will be some edges that weren’t there in the past. There’s something to a group of men sweating, working hard together, being sore, hating me, doing it together that breeds the kind of player, the kind of team I’m looking for,” Jack said before he left. “That’s what we’ll have.”

Del Rio was asked about players working out, out of town instead of coming to the stadium to do their off-season conditioning. “Anybody who wants to be a Jaguar will work out here in the off-season.”

“What about Fred Taylor and others who have worked out in South Florida?”

“Anybody who wants to be a Jaguar will work out here in the off-season. I think it’s important.”

Jack also said he wasn’t firing any assistants, a real departure from the past. “That’s not to say they’re not going to have other opportunities, but I like my staff.”

So look for a little bit different version of the Jaguars starting right now. A little tougher, a little less celebrity oriented and little harder working.

Losing will do that to you.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Shack Resigns: Remaining Jaguars Brain Trust Should Look in The Mirror First

Somebody had to pay for the Jaguars dismal season in 2008 and apparently when he looked around, owner Wayne Weaver decided James “Shack” Harris would be sacrificed.

You knew somebody would be asked to fall on their sword and you knew it wouldn’t be head coach Jack Del Rio after he signed a big-money extension last year. Gene Smith has been around since the inception of the franchise so he’s an insider and Weaver couldn’t fire himself so Harris got the boot.

They said all the right things and they called it a “resignation” but clearly Shack is the scapegoat for a bunch of flawed decision-making that runs through all four men at the top of the brain trust with the Jaguars: Weaver, Harris, Del Rio and Smith.

It was a strange management model from the beginning, six years ago. Weaver admitted when he bought the team that he wasn’t a “football guy” and pretty much let Tom Coughlin run the show when it came to picking players and coaching them on the field. But when he replaced Coughlin with Del Rio, Weaver was convinced that the job had grown too big for one person to be the General Manager and the Head Coach all at the same time and told me as much during his search for Coughlin’s replacement.

But Del Rio must have impressed Weaver in some way to allow him to have massive input into choosing the players because when Weaver hired Del Rio, and then Harris (after being turned down by Phil Savage who ended up with the Browns) publicly, he was pretty cagey when it came to defining their roles on draft day and in free-agency.

“I’ll break the tie,” Weaver joked at the announcement of Harris’ signing when asked what would happen if Shack and Jack disagreed on a player.

He also promoted Gene Smith at the time, (and promoted him again today, giving him Shack’s job) giving him a bigger role in the scouting and since he owned the team and was a smart guy and wasn’t a football neophyte any longer, Weaver became part of the process. So starting in 2003 those four began to rebuild the team.

Byron Leftwich, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Marcedes Lewis, Reggie Nelson and Derrick Harvey were their first round picks since then, none having established themselves among the elite at their positions in the league. In fact, you could say a couple of offensive linemen and Maurice Jones Drew are the best draft picks since this brain trust took over the decision-making.

And as we know, anytime you get more than two people making decisions, one emerges or at least has a little more influence than the others. Was that Harris early on? Maybe so, but since Del Rio fired Leftwich, he clearly ascended to the top of that food chain since Byron was Shack’s project.

“Tell me Harris is a slow talker and not a slow thinker,” one pretty well connected season ticket holder asked me in the last couple of years. I’ve always liked Shack and have picked his brain over the years regarding who was on the Hall of Fame Ballot. Listening to him talk about the pros and cons of each player gave me some insight into what he was looking for each year in the draft and free agency. It helped show me what he valued in a player. He’s big on production and isn’t tied to the stats as closely as other talent “evaluators.”

I don’t know if he had some other agendas when it came to picking certain players. Everybody figured that he liked Byron because he was a black quarterback, and reminded Harris of himself during his playing days. I don’t know if that’s true but it wouldn’t be the first time that happened and it wouldn’t be the first time somebody accused a decision-maker of having a different agenda only to be way out in left field.

The three guys left making the decisions need to take a long, hard look at themselves and how they come to the conclusions that they have.

The Jaguars don’t have a Pro Bowl player on their roster and really haven’t had a player who is lock, solid perennial guy who gets consideration for the Pro Bowl since Tony Boselli and maybe Jimmy Smith.

In their 14 years of existence is there a potential Hall of Famer somewhere on the Jaguars all-time roster?

Not right now.

They’ve passed on players like Ben Roethlisberger and Brady Quinn in the draft. They’ve won one playoff game in six years. They’ve had more assistant coaching changes under Del Rio than any franchise in the league, and that trend is likely to continue starting next Monday. And they proved to be pretty fragile when they added $23 million in free agents to an 11 win team, only to see things go south in a hurry.

Weaver has seen the Dolphins turn it around from a one-win team to a playoff contender. Del Rio and Smith don’t have any honeymoon time if they expect to last into the next decade.

As Jack says, “I’m going to re-evaluate everything we’re doing from top to bottom, including myself.”

Which is a good place to start.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Present and Future

With the post-season looking like something that’s on the other end of a wrong-side telescope, the Jaguars fans are looking at the current team and questioning how good they really are. Without a bunch of stars, (and if you look at the roster who’s really going to the Pro Bowl) the Jaguars have to play as a tight team to be a contender.

This year, guys who were supposed to take the next step just didn’t. So it makes sense to review the personnel decisions made since Jack Del Rio took over for Tom Coughlin.

Here’s the list of first round picks:

  • Byron Leftwich
  • Reggie Williams
  • Matt Jones
  • Marcedes Lewis
  • Reggie Nelson
  • Derrick Harvey.

Do any of those guys scare anybody?

Leftwich is gone, Williams is a possession receiver at best. Jones has been a better player this year but not a world-beater by any means. Lewis is solid but as a first rounder people were thinking Tony Gonzalez. Nelson is a good athlete and a ball hawk but either can’t cover or can’t figure out how to play the defense that’s called. You can’t judge Harvey yet, but an impact player he’s not.

So who’s making these decisions?

You could say Maurice Jones Drew is the best draft pick they’ve made in the past six years. No matter because it hasn’t been hit and miss it’s been mostly miss when it comes to the draft picks.

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to building a team. Certainly Del Rio is a driving force in the decision-making. In fact, when he cut Leftwich, he moved to the front of the power structure as the lead decision maker.

James Harris is supposed to have an equal vote as the personnel director and Gene Smith as the lead scout has a lot of input. But there are assistant coaches, scouts, other personnel guys and even Wayne Weaver as part of the process on draft day so if you’re going to affix blame, you can point to the whole organization.

This year is a different story. While it might come down to talent, and the team doesn’t have a superstar to lean on, this team’s attitude from the beginning was a sense of entitlement.

“We went deep in the playoffs last year so we’ll be back this year,” was the over riding theme of training camp. And training camp wasn’t much. Not a lot of hitting, not a lot of stress on a team that Jack Del Rio thought would take the next step.

Maybe write this year off to experience. A learning process.

Del Rio now knows that he has to keep a firm hand on the wheel. The players should understand that nothing is given to you in this league.

Here’s the bottom line though: This team has to play as a team and it’s Del Rio’s job to get them together. If he can’t do that, it’ll be a long time before they contend again.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Values, Culture and Real Life

It was jarring and somewhat shocking when the official announcement was made Monday about Jaguars offensive lineman Richard Collier’s condition.

Collier’s family, his doctors and his agent revealed that he had been shot 14 times on September 2nd in Riverside.

The shooting left Collier paralyzed below the waist and after suffering an infection and pneumonia doctors had to amputate his left leg to save his life.

It’s an unbelievably tragic life and while Collier is still alive, he’s only here because of his physical condition, a result of being a professional athlete.

There’s not much information being handed out by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office regarding the investigation. I suppose that means they have a lot of information but are trying to make sure they have a solid case. Maybe the gun is missing. Either way, Collier’s life is forever changed and hopefully he can find a productive venue for his energies.

He’s a vibrant smart guy and the Jaguars would do very well to hire him in some capacity. The disturbing thing is what it says about our culture. Obviously there was some kind of dispute and the shooter decided the best way to fix it was to get a gun and shoot Collier. Somebody knows who did this, and I don’t know if it’s the “anti-snitch” culture or the reward isn’t big enough but it’s wrong that whomever did this is still walking the streets.

There’s not enough of an outcry from the churches and community leaders in town regarding this shooting. Maybe it’s because it happens all too often and this time it just happened to be somebody we all know. But either way, fixing this “culture” should be one of our top priorities. Some of it is through education; some of it has to be through peer pressure.

David Kossak, a local businessman, called me the other night saying he was willing to double the reward money being offered. I had gotten a bunch of calls and emails from people disappointed that the Jaguars players hadn’t put up more money. Of the total, players apparently contribute about $277 each. Of course, that’s not enough, especially when the lowest salary on the roster is over $250,000.

Collier was perhaps the most popular player on the team. A free-agent signee from Valdosta State, he had pushed Khalif Barnes for the starting left tackle spot and observers thought that he might take the starting job eventually. He was the biggest guy on the team, and as part of our story on the makeup of the team, Collier shared a laugh with Sean Woodland after practice during training camp. Sean asked him about being big and Richard just said, “I’ve always been big, biggest guy on every team.”

“Dennis Northcutt is the smallest guy on the team,” Sean continued. “If you were really hungry do you think you could eat him?”

Collier followed right in the spirit of the story and had a laugh saying, “Maybe a leg.”

Tragic.

But all too common.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

David Garrard: Star?

When he showed up at the End Zone, David Garrard had his family in tow (including in-laws) and was all smiles. And why not. The Jaguars had just beaten the Colts, thanks to a game winning drive engineered by Garrard. He has a new $60 million dollar contract, a beautiful wife and children and his health is good.

David was resplendent in a light grey-oatmeal suit, white suit and multi-colored white tie. His pocket square was perfect. In fact, a little too perfect. I’ve always liked David, so it’s kind of funny to see him change and try to get comfortable in his new role. He’s rich, he’s a starter and he’s considered a leader. So from back up to “the man,” Garrard is working is way through how to act.

He’s always been accessible. As the occasional starter, he was a quote machine, happy to oblige. He’s become a little “dodgy” in his current role, but generally cooperative. I’m sure now everybody wants a little piece of him, or a big piece.

He was willing to come on the End Zone, and believe me, a lot of players aren’t interested at all in giving up their Monday night to come by and talk football but Garrard stepped right up after the Jaguars first win. This might sound funny, but the advice he’s getting from his “stylist” is a little off. He’s got David wearing bow ties and chartreuse jackets, funny hats and occasionally an ascot.

Honest.

When David was wearing that chartreuse jacket I told him, “Prince called, he wants his coat back.” David didn’t think that was funny. I guess I’m being nitpicky, (and I’d rather this than a New York Knicks jersey and a platinum rope” but Garrard has a chance to own this town.

Not just be the quarterback and make some money but to own this town big time.

He’s smart and is talented. He knows what he can do and maybe more importantly, what he can’t. He’ll find his way; he’ll figure it out.

On the field, he’s starting to settle into the player he was at the end of next year. For the first two games of the season, David looked like he was trying to hit a home run every time he dropped back into the pocket. He wasn’t the efficient player he was that got the Jaguars a playoff win last year. He looked like he was trying to be a star.

In the game against the colts, he was much more himself and perhaps that will be the start of a run for the Jaguars. If not for an efficient quarterback, the game doesn’t work for the Jaguars. Garrard can be that guy who gets the job done and uses the personnel around him to do just that.

One more story about David. As I mentioned, even though he’s blown me off a couple of times, I guess that comes with the territory. But after the End Zone, I had arranged for Garrard and his family to slip out the back door with an escort so as to not be accosted by the fans in attendance (yes, that happens).

Garrard was all ready to go and leaned over to me and said “I’ll feel bad if I don’t stick around and sign a few things.”

And that’s just what he did.

Garrard sat down at the autograph line and signed for all of the kids in attendance. He left after about 10 minutes, but he did stop and sign, something a lot of other players (see Reggie Hayward, et al) blow off.

Garrard’s easy to root for. I hope he figures it out, on, and off the field.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Change For The Better

When I first heard of Fred Taylor, he was a prized recruit coming out of South Florida to the University of Florida. He really was just a kid. Raised by his grandmother in a house with dirt floors in a tough neighborhood, he was about as wide-eyed and impressionable as any freshman in college history. Not college football history, college history.

“I couldn’t breathe,” Fred told me after his first game at Florida Field. “Running out of that tunnel, I couldn’t believe how many people were there. I couldn’t catch my breath. I’ve never seen that many people in my whole life.”

We have a good laugh about that occasionally. Fred’s able to laugh at some of those things now. That wasn’t always the case. While at Florida he got himself into trouble a couple of times. Nothing really major, if I remember correctly. But I do remember that Steve Spurrier looked him in the eye one day and said, “You’ll be out of here the next time,” and Fred paid attention and straightened up.

He was a hot commodity coming out of college. A strong and fast tailback who had moves and power. At over six feet and 230lbs. many teams coveted Taylor. Tom Coughlin originally wanted Curtis Ennis out of Penn State but when he traded Rob Johnson to Buffalo for their first pick, the ninth overall, Taylor was the obvious selection.

“Hey Sam,” Fred said at his initial press conference as a rookie, flashing a smile that revealed several gold teeth. We did several interviews that year that I sent to other stations in the state and to a couple of the networks. He was a hot topic. But his grandmother didn’t like the way he looked with those gold teeth. I saw him in training camp the following year without the teeth and mentioned how he looked good. “My grandmother didn’t like those teeth,” Taylor admitted somewhat embarrassingly. “So I changed them out. No big deal.”

I didn’t think anything of it at the time but I should have known that a pattern was developing. Off the field, Fred was getting a reputation as a very “sociable” player part of a group of young players not afraid to have a good time. He made news when his agent, Tank Black, made off with $5 million of Fred’s signing bonus and Taylor admitted he wasn’t paying much attention. Reportedly, Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver made it right and gave Fred a little fatherly advice.

When Taylor stepped out of line off the field, Head Coach Tom Coughlin also gave him some advice. “Keep this up,” Coughlin told Fred, “and you’ll be out of the league soon.”

“I admit I wasn’t taking care of myself. My nutrition, not getting enough rest and just wasn’t acting right. But I’ve changed that and I’m on the right path.” That was Fred just a few days ago, admitting that he’s had several revelations in his career.

“I also got married, had kids and that really changed my life.” He’s right about that. Taylor is close to his family and closer to his faith. “God is a good God,” Taylor said during the End Zone on Monday night. “He didn’t lose faith in me and neither did my teammates.”

You might have noticed that Taylor now wears a captains “C” on his jersey in games. “That’s an honor I bestowed on him a couple of weeks ago,” Head Coach Jack Del Rio said explaining his change in philosophy. “He’s earned it. He’s done things here on the field and in the organization that has shown he’s a leader.” Del Rio usually likes to name his captains game to game, but Taylor is an exception.

“I’m doing the same things as before. I’m not a rah-rah guy but I’m willing to show my teammates how to do things right,” he said when I asked him about the “C” after the win over San Diego. That’s a statement I never thought I’d hear from Fred.

“I didn’t think I’d still be in the league,” Taylor told me when I asked him if he thought he’d gain 10,000 yards in his career.

Taylor’s gone from a mumbler in interviews to an eloquent spokesman for himself and his teammates. He’s unbelievably popular, a testament to his likeability that seems to come through. I was disappointed when he didn’t stick around for 10 minutes to sign autographs but other than that he’s turned into quite a solid guy.

I’ve seen enough guys go the other way, from easy-going to unlikable. It’s nice to see somebody go in the other direction. Especially somebody who’s as easy to like as Fred.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Personal Responsibility

I guess you could write this column every day. Athlete does something stupid, gets caught, pays a penalty, claims he didn’t realize it was a mistake, apologizes and moves on. I guess that’s accepted in today’s world and even expected. But I think fans have had just about enough. I know they have here in Jacksonville.

Marcus Stroud isn’t a rookie and isn’t a stupid guy either, but his use of a substance that contained a banned element is stupid because that doesn’t have to happen.

“The resources are there,” Rashean Mathis told me last week. “Anything you have that you want to take, you can ask the doctors or the trainer or you can get something from them.”

What did Marcus take? Who knows! He’s not saying except to give it the tired, “Must have been something tainted in the supplement,” answer. So he lets down his teammates and everybody in the organization and won’t play for the next four weeks. That’s Tennessee and Indianapolis, both division games and San Diego and Buffalo, both conference games.

He’s out ¼ of his salary because of the suspension and will have the specter of cheating over his career for as long as it lasts. Maybe he was taking something for his ankle. Maybe he was trying to put on/lose weight. Whatever it was, it’s a stupid decision when it comes to being a professional athlete and the fans aren’t taking it so well.

People ask me every day, “Why, aren’t they smarter than that?” So what’s the answer? I’d like to say they are, but their actions seem to prove the contrary.

Justin Durant and Richard Collier were both arrested last Friday night after leaving a nightclub near Bay meadows and Rte. 1. Alcohol was involved in both cases begging the question, “Why not just get a ride home?” I’m sure anybody who’s been charged with DUI has said that to themselves, but you’d figure with the resources at the player’s disposal as far as money or free rides, it should make that decision easier.

I remember being 22 and bulletproof and invisible and I’ve driven plenty of times when I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel, but at the time I didn’t have the resources in front of me that the players do. Nor the standing in the community or the support of a bunch of teammates. I often wonder why Brittany Spears doesn’t have a driver either!

Anyway, the Jaguars are playing with the emotions of the fans with their off-field actions and how they got beat by New Orleans. The rumors about the number of players at that nightclub in Baymeadows have spread around town and chip away at the credibility of the team and the players.

People really want to believe in professional athletes who represent their town, but they’re now to the point where bad behavior is kind of expected. Expected but not tolerated. The league and the Jaguars realize this and have taken the first steps to trying to fix that.

Wayne Weaver said he was “disgusted” with the players’ lack of discipline and knowing Wayne, he won’t put up with it. But who are the team “enforcers” on the Jaguars? Which guys in the locker room are the ones the other players are accountable to?

Jack Del Rio and James Harris have gotten rid of the middle year veteran players, perhaps because of money and the salary cap but it seems that those players are the ones who set the tone. Look at New England. The Patriots have a bunch of guys who don’t put up with anything and even said so when Randy Moss was on the horizon. That’s where the personal responsibility and accountability come into play. I don’t think it’s a goose that can lay golden eggs forever.

If the league and the Jaguars don’t get a firm handle on it, they’ll be fewer people watching on television and in person no matter how many blackouts there are.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Stop Picking Sides

I keep hearing stories about Byron Leftwich and whether it was the right thing to do to cut him and go with David Garrard. “Is Leftwich happy?” is the over riding theme. The answer is: “Who cares?”

I don’t have any beef with Byron and I didn’t have a huge opinion about whether he or Garrard should have been the starter all along. (But I did write in this column the week before the draft that the Jaguars shouldn’t take Leftwich. It’s in the archives.)

But he’s gone and somehow, his talent and ability to move the team, let alone stay on the field and avoid injury, is blown way out of proportion. “Now that he’s with the Falcons, he’ll be a star,” is how one fan put it to me while I was waiting in line last week at a restaurant.

Really? So he’s automatically changed? He’s more nimble? He has better mechanics?

He’s in the next phase of his career in a different city and a different conference. Bob Petrino is a big passing game guy so maybe the system in Atlanta will suit him. But if they think Joey Harrington isn’t mobile enough, Leftwich is a statue in comparison.

No question he didn’t like Jacksonville and he didn’t get along well with Jack Del Rio but did those things hold him back from being a superstar? I don’t think so. I always thought he was OK. “Stop telling me he’s Namath,” was my standard line. “There’s probably 10 guys in the league I’d rather have than him and I’d probably rather have him than 10 other guys in the league. He’s OK.”

But stop thinking about Leftwich and whether it was the right thing for the Jaguars or not. He’s gone and he’s not coming back. In fact, Jack Del Rio staked his career as the Jaguars head Coach on cutting Leftwich and putting Garrard in the game. If the Jaguars aren’t a playoff contender this year, Wayne Weaver will be scanning the lists of potential head coaches for 2008.

And James Harris will be gone as well.

I’ve often wondered how different Garrard would be if he was given the same opportunities as Leftwich, a first round pick. Would he have tried so hard last year that he couldn’t get out of his own way? I’m not sure but given a little rope, we’re going to find out. In the first two games, David’s played well but hasn’t been spectacular. That might or might not happen, but for now, the quarterback situation isn’t the issue.

There’s an undercurrent that also drifts through the fans attitude toward cutting Byron and keeping Garrard: David’s not black enough. I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous things but that’s about the most spectacularly ignorant thought process I can even conjure up.

Both Leftwich and Garrard were popular teammates, perhaps David a little more popular because he was the backup, which is pretty normal. Leftwich is a kid from D.C. and hasn’t changed. He’s a bit lazy with his speech and it cost him in endorsements. That and some unreasonable demands when he first came to town, looking for money that nobody had when he was first shopping himself around. It’s rumored that the Jaguars asked him to take some speech lessons, which he refused to do.

One teammate told me, “He’s a weird dude.” “How so,” I asked. “Who do you know wears sunglasses in the locker room at 7AM?” Ok, a little idiosyncratic, but I wouldn’t call that weird. Maybe it was a bit of a rough night. I’ve been told that Leftwich had a few of those on his resume as well. But of course, all of us have at one time or another.

So how can Garrard win the fans support, even those who thought he should be gone and the team should have stuck with Byron. Or even Quinn Gray.

Easy.

Win.

That fixes everything.

Mark Brunell has iconic status in Jacksonville but he was somewhere in the middle of the quarterback pack even in his heyday. But in ’96 and ’99 the team won and #8 was at the helm.

I’ve heard it all when it comes to quarterbacks. He’s too short, his feet are too small, he’s not Christian enough, he’s too religious, he throws too hard and he’s scared and doesn’t want to get hit anymore. No matter what it is, everybody’s got an opinion. I’m sure it was the same in Miami when Marino was playing. Somebody had a beef with what he was doing. I know they moaned in Denver about Elway before he won two Super Bowls and even with his four titles all we ever heard about Terry Bradshaw was that he was stupid.

As for Garrard, let’s let him play. Let’s see what he is before we pass judgment. As Del Rio said when he made the change, “It’s a matter of style.” And Jack got it right. Let’s see what kind of style David brings to the table.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Take Brady Quinn?

Sitting there at the stadium, I was debating the pros and cons of what the Jaguars should do with their first round pick with a couple of other members of the local media. The team was on the clock and Brady Quinn had fallen to the 17th spot and was there for the taking.

“How many games does Reggie Nelson win for you this year,” I asked to no one in particular. “None,” was the collective answer. “And how many does Brady Quinn win for you this year? None,” I answered my own question.

“So, all things considered, and if you’re Jack (Del Rio) you have to know you’re on the hot seat. You take Quinn, you clear up the quarterback situation, you buy yourself another year, and you probably buy yourself another year or two to win,” I said with logic following my thought process. That’s when the Jaguars traded out of the 17th spot, picked up two more draft picks and took Denver’s position at 21.

“They still can get Quinn there,” we observed, “and probably Nelson too” The only player the Jaguars couldn’t get any longer who was on their radar was Jarvis Moss. That’s whom Denver wanted and moved up to get him. Nobody was going to jump in front of them at 21 to take Nelson, and it didn’t look like teams were that anxious to do that to get the Notre Dame quarterback either. So when their pick rolled around again, both Nelson and Quinn were still there.

“We had already made up our mind,” Jack Del Rio said later. “We don’t want to be making any decisions while we’re on the clock. Reggie was a combination of the best player available and he filled a need for us.”

But what about Brady Quinn?

“We decided that we weren’t going to take a quarterback at that spot and we’re excited about Reggie Nelson,” Jack said quickly in coach-speak.

Even though they had Nelson and Quinn rated nearly equally on the board, Nelson was the pick, despite the things that Quinn brought to the table outside of his ability as a quarterback. There is a reason he lasted until the second half of the first round. He was the “buzz” pick, the hype guy in this draft. Some teams rated him among the top three players available this year; others didn’t even have him in the first round.

Clearly the Jaguars were among the latter.

The questions about Quinn started with his accuracy, his ability to win big games and his decision-making process as a quarterback. If you’re not convinced he’s the guy for the future, then you pass on him and move on. But don’t expect to get a free pass because of it.

“I was really angry,” one fan told me on Saturday night. “I’m a Gator,” she explained, “and I like Reggie Nelson, but Brady Quinn! Come on! We get rid of Byron, we get a likable guy at quarterback, we have a player for the future and he’s better than what we have,” she went on to explain, voicing the opinion of a majority of fans in one sentence.

So the Jaguars passed on a golden PR opportunity, twice, in order to take a safety that might fill a need but doesn’t excite anybody. He’s not apiece to the puzzle that changes anybody’s opinions about a team that went 8-8 last year.

I was fascinated by the ESPN panel’s “Yeah, but,” assessment of last year’s Jaguars team. “Boy they have a great defense,” they kept saying “but they’re the ‘Yeah But” team. “They beat Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Dallas, “Yeah But Houston beat them twice.”

So that’s what everybody thinks about the Jaguars, and rightfully so. They need to hope that fans don’t translate that into this year as in, “They took Reggie Nelson. Yeah, but they passed on Brady Quinn.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Aloha Rashean

Looking at Rashean Mathis’ short NFL career, it seems that, as he has said, he was destined to be here. Being elected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2006, Mathis joins another Jacksonville area athlete, Champ Bailey, as the starting corners for the AFC in this year’s game in Hawaii.

Mathis is tied for the league lead in interceptions with 7, has 17 official passes defended and played well on the big stage of the two Monday Night games against both Pittsburgh and New York. But it might be his consistency and his continued improvement that impressed the voters and the fans.

“My teammates are responsible for this,” Rashean told me on the phone shortly after his election was revealed. “No cornerback makes the Pro Bowl on his own. The guys up front have to do their job, they have to pressure the quarterback, the safeties have to be in position and I just have to make some plays.”

I covered Rashean in High School, but he dropped off my radar in college when he attended Bethune Cookman. Even though he led the nation in interceptions as a 4-year starter in Daytona, he was considered a “lower class” player by most observers.

Except those who scout for the NFL.

They seemed to see the things in Rashean that have put him in the Pro Bowl when he was in college. That’s why the Jaguars made him their second round pick bringing a resounding “who?” from their fans. But he has speed, skill and desire. That’s why as he improved, the Jaguars gave him more and more responsibility. He kept improving and went from safety to corner.

“I was just an athlete playing corner that first year,” Mathis is fond of saying. “I’ve started to learn how to play this position now.”

Rashean knew early on he could compete at the highest level. “At the Senior Bowl, I looked around and noticed that I could play with those guys and I figure these were the guys going into the NFL and said ‘yeah, I can play with them.”

Rashean is an unassuming guy, close to his mother and grandmother and pleasant to be around. Florida State fans will lament that his scholarship offer during his senior year was rescinded because of a broken leg. “Come over to Tallahassee and we’ll see how your leg responds,” is how his recruiter put it.

“Oh no,” Rashean’s Mom told him. “You’re going somewhere where they’re going to take care of you.” That’s how he ended up at B-CC with Alvin Wyatt.

Rashean is an unassuming guy, close to his mother and grandmother and pleasant to be around. His demeanor convinced me that he would be the perfect host for our weekly “End Zone” show on Monday nights. He’s turned out to be as good a guy as he is a player.

Part of my job is to fine-tune the on-air performance of the players who have hosted the show and Rashean has come as far as anybody has. He works on his language skills. He’s accepting of criticism and advice. Like what the coaches saw at every level he’s played football, I’m seeing him improve and continue to try and get better.

And that’s all anybody can ask.

Work at it, play as hard as you can, and see how you’re doing when it’s over. That might just get you to the Pro Bowl.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Ankle-gate

Ankle-gate took another turn on Saturday when the Jaguars announced that Quarterback Byron Leftwich would have surgery on his injured ankle and would return when his recovery was complete. Very unusual to make any kind of announcement on a Saturday and certainly not one a major as the quarterback was out indefinitely.

If you remember, the first we heard about the ankle was when Byron turned up on the injury report out of the blue. “You know when you wake up with a ‘crick’ in your neck,” Head Coach Jack Del Rio said when originally asked about it. “That’s the same thing here but with the ankle.”

He played against Houston and was fairly ineffective in a 27-7 loss. Did the ankle play a role? “It didn’t have anything to do with it,” Leftwich assured us after the game. “I don’t believe it was a factor,” Del Rio echoed in his Monday press conference. “Have you looked at the tape,” was the collective response from the assembled media.

To his credit, Del Rio came back on Wednesday and said the ankle was a factor and that Leftwich and David Garrard would split snaps in practice. Leftwich wasn’t happy and let everybody know through his body language and his locker room demeanor. “I was actually hurt in the Redskins game,” Leftwich revealed the next day. That was news to Del Rio who was clearly miffed when Leftwich changed his story.

On Thursday the media was in the locker room when Leftwich dropped his “I don’t know, but it’s not me” comment when asked about the starting QB situation. “Nobody’s said anything to me,” Garrard said. I asked to speak with Del Rio but was told he was “unavailable.” Very strange. So Garrard was named the starter and promptly played an efficient game against the Eagles and won.

“I’ve played on worse,” Byron kept up the patter and the pressure to get back in the lineup when asked about the ankle.

All of this was against the backdrop of rumors that Leftwich was taking pain pills just to get through practice and wasn’t telling anyone. Garrard started again, and won against Tennessee. Leftwich headed to Birmingham to see the famed Dr. James Andrews at the Andrews clinic, apparently hoping a second opinion on his ankle would force the Jaguars hand and have him back on the field soon. Andrews gave him the opposite diagnosis, saying he had to rest the ankle and get re-evaluated the following week.

And that surgery was an option.

Del Rio confirmed all of that in his weekly press conference, but when asked about it in the locker room, Leftwich gave a terse “I’m not talking about it” response.

Again, silly.

Then the announcement that Leftwich would have surgery this coming Tuesday. I know Byron’s ‘upset because he wanted to play all the time this year, be successful and signed a new contract extension. Without him in the lineup the Jaguars can make some decisions about the QB position into the future.

Is Leftwich done as a quarterback for the Jaguars after 08?

Is Garrard the guy of the future?

None of it has been clear and none is coming into focus any time soon.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Exhibitions Don’t Count

We’re now three weeks into training camp, four weeks for a couple of teams and we’ve now got at least one “preseason” game behind us. Hard to believe that it’ll be three more weeks of games and practices before anything happens that really counts in the standings.

Already, things have happened that matter though. Clinton Portis has a separated shoulder and is out for the rest of the exhibition season and might miss the Redskins’ opener. Rookie linebacker Chad Greenway injured his knee in his first action ever in a Vikings uniform Monday night and won’t play again until next year.

Every team will have some kind of injury in these glorified practices that will impact their season, one way or another. Some players getting injured give other players a chance to play; other player’s injuries dash the hopes of an entire season.

True, LeCharles Bentley’s injury happened on the first day of training camp in a non-contact drill, so injuries are a part of training camp. But even the players will tell you, the intensity picks up a little bit when you’re playing against guys in different uniforms and bad things can happen when you don’t expect it, especially in an exhibition game. (The NFL wants to call them preseason in order to give some gravity to the games instead of calling them exhibition games or what they actually are, a glorified practice.)

There is talk each year of changing it to three or two games before the real ones start, but the problem is money. You might have heard John Madden say the other night that he coached in the era of twelve regular season games and six preseason games. “You’d be in camp for two months,” Madden noted.

That only came to an end with the rise of the Players Union.

You might not know that NFL players only get paid during the regular season. They get one/seventeenth of their salary spread out over 17 weeks of the regular season. Before that they get a stipend, not much, to carry them through camp. In camp, they’re housed and fed, but not paid.

So the question is, can you eliminate two preseason games outright? The answer is, of course, no.

The teams in the NFL include the preseason games in the season ticket package, charging full price, and it’s a big moneymaker. How about dropping the number of preseason games to two and just adding two regular season games? You could do that, but then you’d have to figure out how to increase the players’ salaries by 1/8th (the equivalent of adding two games that count.)

Would the owners be willing to do that? Probably not.

So until the Players Union and the league can work out something that makes money or doesn’t cost money for both sides, We’ll have 16 regular season games and 4 “preseason” games. All with the possibility that a team and a town’s hopes, could be finished before any snap that counts.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jimmy Smith: Original Jaguar

You can look at Jimmy Smith’s career and follow the success of the Jaguars along with it. When he was great, the team was great, when he was down, the team tended to be down as well. There was a time when Jimmy Smith was the best receiver in the game. His five straight Pro Bowl appearances from 1997-2001 were in the prime of his career. He went to the Pro Bowl the year before as the guest of Keenan McCardell but left Hawaii after a day saying he’d only return when he made the team.

Smith retired on Thursday after 15 years in the league, 11 with the Jaguars holding most of the team’s receiving records.

He made spectacular catches, and he made routine ones. He was blazing fast and made himself a great player.

A second round pick out of Jackson State, Smith had a bit of a chip on his shoulder after not sticking with the Cowboys (he was out a year with an appendix problem) and the Eagles not showing much interest either. He was signed by the Jaguars and played mostly special teams but eventually moved into the starting lineup. When he was on, he was great. Over 12,000 yards, 862 catches and 67 touchdowns. He was a great route runner and his speed demanded respect.

“Jimmy Smith is not one of the most acclaimed receivers in the league,” Jaguars Personnel director James Harris said at the retirement announcement today, “but he is one of the most respected.” Harris said defensive backs always named Smith among the hardest receivers to cover. For most of his career, he drew double coverage and opened up the rest of the offense.

No doubt his skills diminished in the last couple of years. His drops were more noticeable and in more crucial situations. His drop on third down against New England in the playoffs ended a drive the Jaguars desperately needed. He didn’t like that at all. Apparently, he talked with Jack Del Rio about retirement right after last season, but was talked out of it. Even McCardell called him on Wednesday night to tell him to keep playing. But Smith said he was done, ready to call it a career and move on with the next phase of his life.

The timing was a bit strange that’s for sure. Instead of before the draft or before the free-agent signing period, Smith’s announcement came right before mini-camp fueling speculation that his retirement could have been somewhat forced. Jimmy’s history of substance abuse is well documented, suspended for four games at the beginning of the season in 2001 for his second violation of the league’s policy. There were constant reports last year that he had failed another test, but his appeal was granted when the lab committed some procedural errors on the second sample. So he was able to play. If he had failed another test, Smith would have been ineligible to participate in the team’s mini-camp this weekend and his absence would have been noticed.

When asked if his retirement had anything to do with drugs or substance abuse, Smith said, “I’m 37 years old and it’s time for me to retire.” The follow up “Is that a no?” was meekly answered, “Yes.” Not a ringing repudiation.

I can’t imagining not taking that opportunity on live television in front of everybody to look at the reporter and say, “No, an emphatic no. I’m clean. I’ve made some mistakes in the past, but they’ve got nothing to do with today.” That would have ended all of the talk. But he didn’t say that, leaving the door open to fuel the talk about drug use and Smith’s past.

I sat in Jimmy’s living room on live television with his wife Sandra, (who by the way is a fabulous person) and his kids and had him look me in the eye and deny he had any involvement in drugs. He was lying directly to me and continued to do so until he got caught. The whole “pulled over for a traffic violation” video was screened on local television with Smith being taken to the Sheriff’s office and charged with DUI. He lied to me, he lied to radio and print reporters as well.

I know that’s symptomatic of an addict, but it became part of Smith’s legacy, part of his life’s story. He was inconsistent in his dealings with the media, sometimes being brutally honest and always accessible to nowhere to be found after the 1999 AFC Championship game loss to the Titans. He stood us up on the End Zone a couple of times, but when he made an appearance, he was about the best guest you could have.

So he leaves the Jaguars with an up and down history, mostly up on the field with his greatness outshining his failings. If it were all about statistics, Jimmy would be a solid candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it’s not just about stats so truly history will judge his place among the greats of the game.

As far as the team goes, Head Coach Jack Del Rio says they won’t go out and find anybody new for Jimmy’s spot. They have plenty of receivers on the roster that can do the job according to Del Rio. Some with different skills that Smith. I’m not sure who that is, unless they think Cortez Hankton or Reggie Williams is ready to emerge as a #1 receiver.

As a fan and as a guy, I’ve always liked Jimmy and enjoyed seeing him succeed. And that part of me wants him to walk away from the game unscathed and leave his problems behind. At 37 he has become a young man again, with young children to raise. As a journalist, I have that voice calling to me saying something in the retirement just seemed a little off.

I hope I’m wrong.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Season

“The season?” Mike Peterson asked in response to a question about his reflections of the year. “The season was great, 12-4 but we didn’t get it done tonight. I’m not into making excuses. If I’m on the field, I’m supposed to make tackles. I didn’t. We lost.”

That was the general theme in a quiet but not somber Jaguars losing locker room after their 28-3 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots. “They’re a good team, and when you make mistakes, a good team makes you pay for it,” Rashean Mathis said in front of his locker. “We’ll learn from this.”

That’s what the entire game looked like. The Patriots looked like they knew how to play in the post-season and they were going to teach the Jaguars what it meant. New England wasn’t dominating. They controlled the field position for the entire first half, yet only lead 7-3. But they never looked out of control. When the Jaguars went three and out in the first series of the third quarter, the Patriots promptly took the ball 81 yards for a touchdown.

When the Jaguars didn’t make a crisp tackle, Ben Watson ran 67 yards for a TD. And when Byron Leftwich threw a predictable pass in the flat, Assante Samuel picked it off and ran it back for another six points.

“The difference is one or two plays,” Deon Grant said as his teammates dressed around him. “Some of the guys have been in games like this before and knew we had to play perfect football. When you don’t, you get beat.”

Nine-year veteran Terry Cousin agreed. “You want to be what the Patriots are. Efficient, in control, and mistake free. When you’re not, it’s hard to overcome turnovers. You’ve got to make those catches, convert those third downs, make those tackles and get them off the field.”

For all of the talk about Byron Leftwich’s “rust,” that’s not what got the Jaguars beat. Leftwich was indecisive and not as accurate as usual, but he was OK. It was things like Jimmy Smith’s drop on third down that forced a punt. The three missed tackles on Watson’s TD. The ball bouncing right back to the Patriots each time they fumbled it. Alvin Pearman coughing it up on a big hit, even though he had two hands around the ball.

Teams that win championship type games don’t have those things happen to them. They’re the one’s making the play, forcing the turnovers and taking advantage of it. But the Jaguars aren’t there yet. They didn’t have the maturity of the Patriots even if they could match them in talent. Taking that next step doesn’t must mean getting to the playoffs, it means playing like a team that looks like they belong there.

“It is what it is,” Jack Del Rio and other coaches are fond of saying. So the Jaguars 12-4 record during the regular season proved to be no real training ground for the post-season. It got them there, but they weren’t ready yet to be prime time players.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Risk-Reward Jaguars

Sometimes it’s meaningful, and other times it’s just for the pride factor.

Against the Colts, the Jaguars really didn’t have anything tangible to play for except pride.

The Colts are going to win the division, win or lose in Jacksonville, and the Jaguars are going to have to win a couple of games down the stretch against inferior teams to make the playoffs. Jacksonville will have to face the Colts in Indianapolis sometime in the playoffs if they want to get to the Super Bowl, so this game, in reality and on paper, was meaningless.

But, of course, the game isn’t played on paper.

The Jaguars wanted this game to put them on the map. They want somebody to notice that they’re 9-3 (now four) and a different team than they were a year ago. But the Colts poise and professionalism were too much. Peyton Manning throws it where he wants it every time, and has the time to do it. Marvin Harrison goes to the open spot and doesn’t drop the ball, and Edgerrin James runs methodically, getting those all important four to nine yard runs and allow his offense the flexibility to do a lot of different things.

So where were the turning points that separated the Colts from the Jaguars?

Turnovers were a key as Kyle Brady’s fumbles stopped drives and Garrard’s turnover cost them points with still a quarter to go. But go back to the end of the first half with the Jaguars down 14-3 having stopped Indy’s trick play out of a field goal formation. There were two minutes to play with the ball inside their own five. A couple of handoffs and a QB sneak play, and the Jaguars were punting back to the Colts.

I know they were trying to manage the game, control the clock and keep Manning off the field, but it was pretty obvious at that point that it didn’t matter whether Indy had an 80 yard or a 40 yard field, they were going to move the ball and score. So that’s where the mind set of the coaching staff has to change. Attack the situation at that point. Spread the ball out, go four wide and start moving it down field, or not.

To beat the Colts at this point, it’s going to take a team that’s methodical like Indy, and can, and it willing to throw the ball around. Take the eight to ten yard gains, keep getting first downs and keep frustrating the opponent. With David Garrard at quarterback, the Jaguars have that ability but didn’t seize the moment. Garrard gives them a lot of options, not the least of which is the ability to get the ball out of the pocket without setting his feet. He’s got a big arm and can use it, and his feet get him, and the team out of trouble when it seems that all is lost on a play.

Aggressiveness is always a risk-reward situation and the Jaguars are going to have to accept the risk with the rewards when they get into games against the Colts or other teams who can score, no matter how good your defense is. Perhaps they were lulled into a false confidence after holding Peyton Manning down to just 10 points in their first meeting. Either way, you only hope that the players and the coaching staff do a self-check after this game and move on.

It was a good effort, just not quite good enough.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jacksonville’s Jaguars

No surprise that the Jaguars and the City resolved their differences in a fact-to-face meeting between Wayne Weaver and John Peyton. Once they got into the room together, Peyton knew he needed to figure out a way to get the deal done, and Weaver knew he had all of the legal cards on his side of the table but needed a public relations boost to help rebuild his image.

The last thing any NFL owner wants to be thought of is greedy in their own town. Sure, there’s a cost of doing business in any entertainment venture and every city that’s trying to improve the quality of life for their citizens knows that. But the owner of a franchise has to be thought of as benevolent. A businessman, but a benevolent corporate citizen, willing to do their part. Weaver and the Mayor both came out with what they wanted so the whole thing looks good.

I would like to know what Peyton told Weaver the city could do to help sell the 3,000 unsold club seats. The mayor’s office can use their corporate influence and maybe that’s the direction they’ll take. If they get together and behind this idea, it could be a very positive thing for the city and for the Jaguars.

Weaver does have a problem that came to light out of this whole situation. Despite his talk about moving the team (through an intermediary) and how the deal he was looking for was only worth less than a half million dollars a year, there was no corporate outcry, no coalition of corporate executives who told the mayor, publicly to get the deal done. Every time I mention that to anybody, they say, “Of course, Weaver has made everybody mad.” Or something of that nature.

The best thing Wayne could do is get all of the people he’s dealt with in the past, either made a deal with or rejected them and offer up a “new beginning.” Somewhere, the Jaguars went wrong when it comes to making partners in the corporate community in town. Either they were too tough, not loyal enough or overestimated the amount of money corporations in this town had to spend. Either way, nobody was rushing to the Jaguars’ side to defend them or let the city know how important the team is to the city’s future.

Selling out the club seats is important. Selling out the stadium for home games is important. Having the Jaguars and the City grow together is the most important thing of all.