Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars Better 1st Impression vs. Patriots

All you get in the first preseason game is first impressions. Sometimes they’re false and other times they start a trend. For the Jaguars, you hope the first impressions against the New England Patriots are some indication of how the season might go. They scored points. They made some stops. Blake Bortles continued to improve and new guys stepped up.

“They’re a 10-6 team waiting on quarterback play,” one scout said in the offseason of the Jaguars. That means they have some talent on the roster that can be enhanced or negated by the play of Bortles. Blake was 3 of 5 for 16 yards with a drop in his one quarter of play against the Patriots. He didn’t look spectacular but he did find the open guy, even checking down to the third receiver. What they’re looking for is improvement and the Jaguars are getting that two weeks into the 2017 preseason from their quarterback.

“I had him going in there for the first quarter with the players,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said. “We had a bunch of good work all week against the Patriots. He took the majority of the snaps [during the week of practice]. It was the plan coming in and we just stuck with the plan.”

If there’s a theme to a Doug Marrone-run training camp it’s consistency. He felt like that showed against the Patriots.

“The first thing we were looking for is the discipline,” he explained. “In the first half, we only had one penalty as a team. Special teams, take a look over it, then obviously trying to create a run game and be physical. I think when you get that big return, those are the things that will kind of get you, so I will talk about to them offensively about in there.”

After getting in the game behind Chris Ivory, and T.J. Yeldon, Leonard Fournette was impressive on every snap. When they drafted him Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations told him “get ready to get the ball in the end zone son.” And added to the media, “It sets a tone. We know we’re going to run it. They know we’re going to run it.” And run it they did. Fournette carried it four straight times in one sequence, showing, power, speed, vision and that “wiggle” that successful NFL backs have.

In the “they know we’re going to run it” part, Fournette, on fourth and 1, broke through for a first down. Late in the second quarter he was back in the game and near the goal line had three straight carries, scoring his first preseason TD. Hard to be “better than advertised” when you’re the 4th pick in the draft but Fournette, so far, is everything you could hope for from a featured back.

“Good. I thought he looked good,” Marrone added when asked about Fournette. I” think he has to run a little bit with his pads lower at times. Obviously, you can see the power that he has.”

A long TD pass from Chad Henne to rookie WR Keelan Cole, 97 yards, was a surprise only if you hadn’t been to practice. Cole is a rookie from Kentucky Wesleyan who has speed and has been getting deep for the first two weeks of training camp. He’s making a case to make the team as the 6th wide receiver. The impressive thing about the play, and noticeable throughout the first half, was the time the quarterbacks, both Bortles and Henne, had to throw.

Using Cam Robinson, their 2nd round pick from Alabama as their starter at left tackle and Josh Wells at right tackle for an injured Jeremy Parnell, they looked like a pretty tight unit. Patrick Omameh, Brandon Linder and A.J. Cann were solid in the middle. If they’re looking for the “five best offensive linemen” as Head Coach Doug Marrone says, they’ve gotten a good look at five candidates in the first game.

As in any preseason exhibition game, the second half is all about the coaches getting to see players in “live” action. We already know Corey Grant is fast so it’s was no surprise when he ripped of a 79-yard TD run. Branden Allen is still a solid backup quarterback but Doug Marrone has already told us that Chad Henne is behind Blake.

So first impression is they’re a bit better. They run better and they’re deeper than they’ve been. But to quote Marrone, again, they’ve “got a long way to go.”

Bortles Better But Not Close To Brady

Maybe it’s unfair to compare Blake Bortles to Tom Brady. Bortles in his fourth year in the league and Brady just turning forty are two different animals. But seeing the contrast of what Brady does on the practice field and what Bortles does is stunning. Whether it’s the footwork and arm motion, reading defenses, command of the offense or body language, Brady is in a whole other universe.

That might be the case with any other quarterback on the field at the same time that Brady is taking snaps but in this case both #12 and #5 are starters for their NFL teams. You’d think that Bortles would want to gain from that comparison, but he toed the company line when asked about practicing against New England.

“I think this whole thing was about us,” Blake said after practice. “The Patriots just happened to be the team we were going against and where we were going. It’s cool to go practice against the defending World Champions. It was about what can we do, how do we react in this situation, how can we continue to get better.”

You can’t help but notice the tight spiral and velocity Brady has on every pass. As you watch, it’s a product of the footwork, the core strength and the hip and shoulder rotation. He’s spot on every time with the ball position and ability get rid of it when he needs to. And it’s on target. Bortles on the other hand, is flat-footed often with his shoulders aligned with the line of scrimmage instead of perpendicular. That might sound like a technical thing, but two days of side-by-side comparison revealed where the best quarterback in the game is getting his power and accuracy and where a guy who’s struggling can improve.

No question Blake is better mechanically than he’s been and not everybody can be Tom Brady. In fact, nobody can be Tom Brady. But there are things that Bortles can fix almost immediately. No matter the pass, Brady brings it with a crispness of purpose that’s missing from the Jaguars’ starters throws.

Nonetheless, Blake talked about how New England was posing a new challenge this week reading defenses and disguising coverages.

“Up front, they single everybody up,” he explained. “That’s kind of just making everything one-on-one as far as the blocking schemes and then they do a lot of different things in coverage with their safeties, whether they’re sprinting their guys down or staying too high and doing different stuff.”

There was a lot of publicity about *Bortles five interceptions in the third practice of training camp. He’s been better since then and says he’s learning when he throws a pick, even here in New England.

“I think any time you throw an interception, I think you learn from it,” he said. “It’s practice, not downplaying practice or justifying that it’s okay to throw five interceptions, it’s not. But if there’s a time to do it, that’s then.”

Are they better? Is the question asked constantly about the offense. There are stars on defense and money spent on that side of the ball. On offense, the addidition of Leonard Fournette has signaled a new emphasis on running the football. Better is going to depend on *Bortles and the offense live. Neither has been great, but have shown flashes of improvement over last season.

“There is no doubt there has been some bad stuff that has happened and we have to fix and continue to work on,” Blake said when asked about the offense getting better. “I think if you watched seven on sevens today or one on ones and there wasn’t a whole lot times we got stopped. We obviously didn’t have the team period we wanted to. We messed up some things there, but I thought from a receiver, passing-game standpoint, the one on ones and the seven on sevens were extremely good today. We just have to find a way to carry that over into the 11-on-11.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Patriots Practice: What It’s Supposed To Look Like

It was much more than just a joint practice between the Jaguars and Patriots in New England on Monday. It was an event.

A record crowd of more than 20,000 fans was at the Patriots practice fields to see 2 ½ hours of two-team workouts. Some of it boring but some of it scintillating. Most of the latter happened when Tom Brady had the ball in his hands.

Much like in games, Brady was in full control, hitting open receivers, hitting covered receivers and even hitting guys who were not open. Short, medium, deep, it didn’t matter. The ball was where it was supposed to be. On time and fast.

Still, the Jaguars might not be in the category of the World Champion Patriots but they deported themselves pretty well in their first joint practice of the year.

“Like I said before, there are so many positives coming to work with another team,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said after practice. “I felt like we got a great day done today. I think when you practice like this, obviously against a great football team, then it is going to make our team better. That really was the goal coming up here.”

As you’ve no doubt seen, the Jaguars motto for this year is #WINTODAY. So I asked Doug if his team got better today.

“We don’t talk about, we don’t use the phrase that you used right there,” he said. “We talk about our discipline, our focus, our competitiveness, our strain, our conditioning that we have to win each day.”

“So did that happen today?” I asked.

“Yes, absolutely. I think the environment brings that out more so than a normal practice environment.”

When I asked what he was looking for tomorrow, Marrone said they wanted to correct mistakes but added “Be able to go on that field and obviously we keep adding more situations and keep getting better in situational football, which we’ve been trying to do in our camp.”

Throwing on time and with precision, Brady looked to be doing what every coach hopes players would do in practice: treat every rep like it was the Super Bowl. There were no plays off, no joking around, no simple dump offs. Each snap meant something. And that attitude was infectious for the rest of the Patriots.

Some of that looked to rub off on Blake Bortles. While not “Brady sharp” he kept moving forward and appeared to have a stronger sense of purpose in this practice than at home. Maybe it was the way this practice was set up, but being on the same field with Tom Brady has to elevate your focus and your game.

“We talked about it real quickly,” Marrone said of Bortles performance. “I thought calm, cool, different defense and things of that nature. I think we have to see where we are from that standpoint of being able to get open in a press-man and things of that nature. Then, just ball location. I thought for the most part, he seemed to have control.”

You could tell the Jaguars Head Coach was a little envious of what they’ve established in New England, and clearly wants to move in that direction in Jacksonville.

He explained it this way:

“I think you look at the teams that are successful in this league consistently, that’s the one thing. They’re always in shape, they’re always well-conditioned, they’re always very physical, they have a great discipline and they’re great in situational football and can execute. So I think you need those things to be a great football team. It’s not necessarily that this team was lacking, this team was this, or this is what happened before, so this is what you need now.”

When asked if there is a better test for the defense than going against the Patriots offense this early in training camp Marrone had a one-word answer with a smile.

“No.”

And it’s no mistake the Jaguars are against the top team in the league this week. No doubt Tom Coughlin and Marrone were hoping they could show their current team what the top of the mountain looks like when nobody’s looking.

“I think when you look at their history, I think everyone understands where they are, what they’ve done. Like I said before, we have a great deal of respect for their coaches and their players. It’s a fact. I don’t think you really have to talk about it enough, I know everybody knows it. I really do. I think it gives us a good feel for where we are.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gipson Now Knows Tom Brady Is The Goat

It would be hard to overstate how solid and sharp Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady looked in the first practice against the Jaguars in New England. When he and the Pats first team offense took the field there was a noticeable hush of excitement going through the crowd, knowing they were watching something special.

The Jaguars knew it as well. While middle linebacker Myles Jack said it would be a “surreal moment” when Brady looked him in the eye and made a check down, the defensive backs got a first-hand look and what the reigning Super Bowl MVP can do. Even in practice.

“Going against Tom Brady, he might be the greatest of all time,” Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson said at the end of practice. “After being on the field and seeing him here today I don’t think he’s one of the best, I think he is the best. It’ll make this young group develop and it’s a great thing to get three days of work against a guy like him. It’s a blessing.”

Besides Brady, the whole feeling of practice for the Patriots is professional, buttoned up and purposeful. It’s what the new Jaguars leadership is striving for.

“I think were’ on the right track,” Gipson explained. “We’re righting the ship. “It’s good to see this and what it looks like. Every team in the NFL wants to have what they have here. You see it first-hand the way they operate the way they move and you see why year in and year out they’re super Bowl favorites.”

Marrone’s Jaguars Camp: Old Is New Again

At the NFL owners meeting last April, I asked a colleague from Buffalo, Doug Marrone’s last stop as a head coach, what we might expect in Jacksonville. “He’s a beaut,” the scribe said with a laugh. “He’ll be more miserable when you win.”

With that in mind, I set off to try and find out for myself. It’s a funny relationship built between the head coach of an NFL franchise or a major-college team and the media. They’re trying to control the message; you’re trying to find out the real story. If you can win their trust, you’ll have background on why things are happening. That’s if they’re willing to build that kind of relationship.

Early on during his first stint in Jacksonville, Tom Coughlin seemed willing to build that relationship. I talked with him on the phone; he called me, off the record, a few times during that first training camp in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He sharpened my reporting, gave me solid insight and I didn’t betray his trust. Over time, though, Coughlin distanced himself from me and other media members and it contributed to his eventual firing. In his book, “Earn the Right to Win” he talks about how his relationship with and view of the media morphed over his career, especially in New York. His wife Judy had a lot to do with that.

You spend a lot of time with these guys, and developing a relationship where you both get something close to what you’re looking for takes work. It’s the reporter’s job to be smart, respectful of the position and ask the right questions. Challenging the head coach with our opinions is not our job, except to ask “Why” when things go wrong, or right in some cases.

Hiring Jack Del Rio seemed the right move at the time. He was a coach with a “modern-day” sensibility. Walking into his introductory press conference a veteran writer grabbed me by the arm and said, “Another (expletive) coach, another (expletive) seven years.” He turned out to be right. Del Rio was as inconsistent with the media as Coughlin was removed. You could call it a roller coaster until we realized Jack was willing to lie, rather than just not answer the question. That’s when everybody in the media knew it was only a matter of time before he was gone. When the players realized that, his tenure came to a quick end.

His interim replacement, Mel Tucker, was a steady hand who uttered the phrase “servant leader” for the first time at the stadium and earned respect from the media right away. He was honest and likable. I’ve always thought he should get a shot as a head coach.

Even though he was only here for a year, year, the media sized up Mike Mularkey right away. I knew Mike from when he was a player at Florida and as a candidate for the Jaguars job when Del Rio was hired. I liked him immediately, and we remain friends. He had a bit of a bunker mentality during his time in Jacksonville that he couldn’t shake, and I was hoping we’d have a chance to talk about it away from the stadium. We didn’t have that chance. On the other hand, he intensely disliked some other members of the local media and let them know it without reservation. “They’re unfair,” he once told me. He was right, but that’s a battle the coach rarely wins.

You’ll never meet anybody better than Gus Bradley. I think he’s a great football coach, although his tenure as the head coach in Jacksonville doesn’t reflect anything like that. Everybody wanted Gus to win, from the players to the media, the front office staff and the fans. But I think his message was lost on a young team. He told me he disagreed with that in not so uncertain terms, but nonetheless, his Jaguars squads couldn’t create their own winning environment.

Which brings us to 2017 and Doug Marrone. While Tom Coughlin is the VP of Football Operations and has set the tone for the culture he wants, Marrone as the head coach is executing the “tougher, better” philosophy.

Sitting down with Marrone at the owners meeting, he discretely asked another journalist sitting at his table what my name was while I helped set up our equipment. He was affable, a storyteller and willing to talk about the big and small issues facing the Jaguars. We saw some of the same personality at the announcement of his hiring. As we’ve moved closer to and into OTA’s, mini-camp and training camp, Marrone is a bit more reserved, a bit more negative, perhaps a bit more realistic about who the Jaguars are at this point.

Maybe it’s a clear-eyed view of a team that won three games last year. Maybe he’s tamping down expectations. Either way, one of Marrone’s regular statements is “We have a long way to go.”

He’s still a great storyteller and very straightforward in his answers. If he’s not going to answer a question, he’ll tell you. He’s not playing music at practice and he’s upped the tempo. His old-school approach is authentic. He’s not taking orders from Coughlin; he’s a true believer in how to get a team ready to play.

“I have enough friends, I’m looking for players who can help us win,” was his response when asked about building a relationship with a player. It’s insightful if only in how different of an approach it is from the last four years. Give Marrone credit for coaching his position under Gus Bradley and never saying a thing about the overall culture, because it’s clear he believes is something very different.

“We won three games last year,” veteran defensive lineman Malik Jackson said this week. “Who are we going to complain to? If we wanted something different we needed to win more games for Gus.”

This week the Jaguars are practicing in full pads for five straight days. The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow two “padded” practices on the same day, something that was the norm just ten years ago. Marrone has called it a “grind,” and even veteran players agree it’s been a tough slog.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Marrone explained of his “toughness” approach. “Everybody’s doing it. So you’re just trying to get them in tough situations where your body might be saying no and your mind is saying yes. (I) think it’s something you have to learn how to do and that’s what we’re continuing to do. We’re learning how to do that.”

He continued, giving insight to his idea about the chain of command on a football team.

“I have a vision for it. If they don’t want to do it in that frame of reps, then we’ll keep taking reps until we get it the way we want to do it. I’ve never had a problem with that. I think that’s the responsibility that I have to make sure that we’re practicing the way we want to practice, It’s not just the way I want to practice. It’s the way we want to practice as a team and the physicality that we want in practice. If we don’t get that, then we’ll continue to stay out there until the maximum amount of time that the league allows us under the collective bargaining agreement, until I have to take them in.”

When asked “Where are they right now?” Marrone asked another question.

“Am I disappointed? No. In saying that, we still have a lot of work in front of us.”

Jaguars 2017: All About Blake

Noticeably leaner and seemingly focused, Jaguars Quarterback Blake Bortles was clearly the leader on the offense as the team opened their training camp for 2017. It was Bortles leading the way in drills, hustling from one place to another and “breaking it down” in the middle of the offensive get together at the end of practice.

Knowing it’s a make or break year for him, Bortles spent most of the off-season working with well known quarterback coaches on the West Coast, refining his motion and footwork. But making that stick is the key.

“You go out there and you’re throwing there, there’s nobody around you, there’s nobody coming at you, you’re not thinking about anything, you’re just throwing.,” Blake said in front of the assembled media after a rain shortened end of the first day of practice. “So that’s the kind of stuff you work on and then you bring it out here and hope it holds up and now, when we get out here, it’s about the thought process, the decision making, the accuracy and kind of all the football-related things.”

Today’s first day of training camp was “What I’ve been waiting for all year,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said afterwards. He’s planning to put pressure on the players, ramp up the intensity and the stress level to see which players can react. That was noticeable in day one.

“You feel good, you feel like you’re in shape and no matter how much you run, there’s no preparing you football-shape and running-shape,” Bortles said about the tempo of practice. “It’s something that you just have to get out there and get acclimated so you have to go do it, you have to go practice, you have to go run for two and a half hours in order to kind of get used to it.”

Assembling the 2017 roster should “take care of itself” according to Marrone, alluding to the competition he expects over the next several weeks. While they’ve put together more talent than they’ve had in five years, it’s the quarterback play they know they need in order to be improved.

“I think what I was looking at specifically with Blake coming in here was where are we from a standpoint of footwork, a standpoint of progressions and reads and all that stuff?” Marrone said when asked about his expectations of his quarterback early in camp.

“Are we close to where we were at the end of camp where we felt things were going in the right direction?” he explained. “Or are we in the beginning like we were when we first started having to build it up? I think he’s done a good job this offseason maintaining the footwork, the mechanics and the progression of what he’s been doing. Now the challenge is going out there and doing it consistently on a daily basis.”

While having confidence in his physical game, Blake admitted he and the rest of the team probably thought too much about it all last year.

“Yeah, I think so. I think it’s just about going out there, playing football, one, and making plays, making more plays than they make, score more points than they score,” he said. “I think last year we thought probably a little too much about it. So I think to be able to free the mind and just go play football and enjoy it and have fun and make as many big plays as we possibly can, is the goal.”

Adding Leonard Fournette through the draft signaled a shift in the Jaguars offensive focus to the running game. General Manager Dave Caldwell has said he expects Fournette to be on the roster with holdovers Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon and possibly Corey Grant. All of that sounds great to Bortles when it comes to getting things done on offense.

“I think so, definitely,” Blake added. “And if we’re doing that, that means Leonard and Chris and T.J. and Corey and those guys are running for 150, 200 yards. So that makes my job way easier and I’m fine with that. I’ll throw it five times or I’ll throw it 50 times, whatever can help us win and whatever is the most efficient way for us to put up points, I’ll do it.”

Bortles Knows This Is It

In his fourth year in the league, Quarterback Blake Bortles knows this is his last chance with the Jaguars. A typical rookie year was followed by great improvement but last year he, and the team fell apart. The Jaguars picked up the fifth year of his rookie deal, meaning if he proves he’s the right guy in 2017, they have a bargain the next year. If not, they can move on without penalty.

Perhaps that’s given Bortles more focus in this off-season, or maybe it’s just the change in his coaching staff. Either way, the Jaguars quarterback has spent the offseason working with quarterback experts on the west coast, trying to give himself the best chance at success.

“Two years ago, I went out there and last year, I stayed here the whole time,” Blake said without mentioning that after 2016 the Jaguars asked him to stay in town and throw with the receiving group.

“It just shows that guys are sick and tired of being below average and not being successful when we feel as though we have the ability to be a good team. We haven’t been. It’s time to make a change. It’s not going to happen overnight. You have to go do something about it.”

Between the mini-camp and the beginning training camp, Bortles will be back on the west coast, continuing to work on things he thinks he needs after four weeks of work in Jacksonville.

“I think it will definitely be more specific” he said, explaining what he’ll do out there in his second visit. “In the offseason one, or whatever you want to call it — February, March April — it was mechanic-based. ‘Let’s fix this, let’s make sure this is sustainable and can remain consistent.’ Now, I’ll go out there with some more descriptive things. ‘Here’s what I felt like I struggled with footwork-wise and throwing this route. Here’s what I’d like to get better at. Here’s something that was new, I’d like to just rep it.’ I think it’ll be a bit more dialed-in.”

Drafting Leonard Fournette is supposed to signal a culture change for the Jaguars offense. More run-oriented, less reliant on Bortles being able to keep drives going with the pass. He’s on board with all of that.

“You’d like to think that if you throw the ball less, you commit less turnovers, have a higher completion percentage, all that. That’s all stuff that comes along with it. You still have to, from a quarterback perspective, still continue to make decisions and deliver the ball where it needs to be.”

And in the mini-camp, the focus was on “situational football” trying to simulate the things the team will face when the season starts. None of it is a mystery.

“We’re notorious for going three-and-out on the first possession in the past couple years that I’ve been here,” Blake said with a wry smile. “We have to stop doing that. We have to come out and find a way, from the beginning, and no matter what the situation or scenario is, to find a way to be successful and efficient.”

In order to play at the level they want, the Jaguars coaching staff believes a new level of conditioning and toughness is where to start. Head Coach Doug Marrone said it’s no secret that the Jaguars were getting beat in the 4th quarter of games last year and he wants that to stop. That’s why his version of the OTA’s and the mini-camp were particularly grueling. Bortles thought the Jaguars receivers ran more in the four weeks than they ran in the last four years. “Yeah, I think so,” he said. “Definitely. I think doing all that, getting in shape. I think it’s not necessarily something you like right now. There are some guys that aren’t happy about it. I think that’s how you create a culture and establish the way that the Jacksonville Jaguars practice.”

Almost every sports adage applies to the Jaguars at this point. They’ve been losing games and it hasn’t been fun for anybody. The Jaguars have one playoff win in the last 17 years, so a change, any kind of change would be welcome. Bortles and his teammates in this generation of Jaguars would like to change that.

“I think my goal is for us and this team and this organization is to be very successful. We haven’t for three years since I’ve been here. I think even after that happens, I don’t think anything will change. It’s what I do. It’s our job. It’s my job and my passion. I’m going to do and exhaust every resource I have to be able to make this thing work and get it rolling.”

Marrone, Albert Lynchpins To Jaguars Success

It’s not that Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone is falling into what Tom Coughlin believes a team needs, it’s that Marrone believes the same things. And he has for a long time.

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” he said this week after another “activity” that was long on conditioning and not much else. Marrone says the team needs to be in better shape and they’ve only taken a small step in that direction.

“For us, in order to be a tough, physical team – the first thing you have to do is you have to be in shape,” Marrone said this week. “You have to be strong. You have to withstand the mental toughness because in this profession the day you walk in is probably the healthiest you’ll be and the day you start practicing everyone has something.”

‘Wow, this is where we are,” he explained. “You feel where we have to be at. We have a long way to go.’ I think now there is a vision of where we need to get to as far as being in shape, how strong we want to be, how fast we want to practice, how many plays we want to get run.”

That was the theme of the mini-camp on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Setting a goal of running about 100 plays per practice meant an up tempo two hours and an accelerated pace over the three days. Marrone told the players when they left Thursday afternoon that they need to continue to build their stamina and strength leading up to training camp. The end of July will be no time to work yourself into it according to Marrone’s message.

“We’re going to have to make some decisions, we’re going to have to make them quick, you better come in here ready to go because if you’re not ready to go and you’re thinking it’s going to take me a little while to get this thing going before I play, you won’t be in the mix.”

When Branden Albert reported on Tuesday, the first mandatory day for veterans, Marrone continued to hone his image and the Jaguars culture saying “I’m not here to make more friends,” when asked about building a relationship with Albert. “I have enough friends. I’m not about building a relationship. I’m here to win football games.”

Paramount among the things the Jaguars need to fix is the offensive line. Adding the former pro bowler Albert could give the team some options by the start of the preseason. It’s not a stretch to call him the lynchpin in the Jaguars offensive line plans for 2017.

“I think he understands when he comes back he’s going to have to be in much better shape and to be able to go out there and perform,” Doug noted. “He’s a professional so he knows that.”

Entering his 10th year in the league, Albert is a professional and displayed that by showing up for mini-camp and saying that business part of his no-show for OTA’s was over.

“My advisors and everything. We were trying to get the situation straight,” he explained. “It was something, it was business-wise. It wasn’t personal. Now, it’s over with. Now, I get back to work, be the best football player that I can be and move forward to help the Jacksonville Jaguars organization move on.”

Looking to have a competitive contract as a professional athlete is part of the job. Albert’s deal calls for about $9 million this year, well under the going rate for veteran left tackles in the league. But when the Jaguars balked at giving him a new deal, he showed up. But he knows what the other guys are making.

“Yeah, but you’re blessed. There’s not a lot of people even near my situation. You have to put it this way, that I’m one of the best experts at playing left tackle in the universe right now. I take that as a privilege and a blessing. It is what it is. Got to move on.”

When pressed on his contract, Albert was a realist about making $9 million or making zero.

“The market is the market. My situation is my situation. Each situation is different. The situation was presented to me. I can’t do anything to control it. Like I said, at the time, when you see this situation and the market came out, you try to do what’s best business-wise. It didn’t work that way. It’s time to move on. I don’t think I’m underpaid, but when you look at the market at that time and in that situation and you’re being moved around how I was, it’s just a business move. Now that’s over with, it’s time to play football.” Kind of exactly what you’d hope a professional would say.

As far as not being in shape, Albert basically told everybody to relax.

“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “It’s the end of June. It’s not game time yet. I’m just happy to be out here with the guys and with the team, just working. I feel blessed to be here and be back playing football. I’m way more healthy than I’ve felt the last few years. I’m just happy to be here.”

When he showed up, Albert passed his physical and the conditioning test but as everybody knows, there’s being in shape and there’s being in football shape. Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin made sure to give Albert some incentive to be ready when training camp started.

“He said something about my weight,” Albert said with a laugh. “It was more joking around. I believe he’s happy I’m here, working with the guys. I told him, don’t worry about that. I’ll be ready to go when it’s time. I had to take time for myself. It was a long three years in Miami. I took a beating. I think I needed to take a break for myself and get myself together.”

Marrone Unimpressed In OTA’s

“I consider it an activity.”

And with that, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone ended his first OTA’s in Jacksonville, keeping what was going on over the past few weeks in perspective.

Whether he was calling it “pajamas” practice or letting players know they can be cut by not performing during the OTA’s, Marrone was setting the expectations and laying down the culture he expects the Jaguars to follow.

Practices were up-tempo. Lots of running. No breaks and no music. They took the play clock from 30 to 20 to 16 and then to 14 on both offense and defense getting the players used to making decisions quickly and efficiently.

“It’s basically a progression of tempo of trying to get up, trying to get set,” he explained. So, this way, you get yourself immune to doing those type of things and then what happens is during the course of a game, the other team is not going to put you in check-mate, where you can’t get out of it.”

When teams are practicing football, they’re not playing the game. It’s about technique and conditioning, adjusting and reacting. But Marrone is going to try and change that, giving the Jaguars more opportunities in practice where it feels “game-like.” “I think we have to get a little more situational for our players and try to help them out in those situations and spending more time that way.”

As we’ve gotten closer to training camp and Marrone has had his team on the field, he’s revealing more of what he’ll be like as the Head Coach. He’s candid and straightforward with a lot fewer smiles and jokes during his meetings with the media. He already has the training camp schedule laid out, although he might adjust it after seeing what the team needs. And training camp won’t have anything to do with how the team practices once the season starts.

“Zero. None,” he said. “It won’t even be close to what a regular week is going to be like. I’m not going to get into those schedules until late in training camp.”

Bortles On Being Bad, Better

Any sports discussion in North Florida and South Georgia includes two questions:

Are the Jaguars going to be better? (You hope so)

Is Blake Bortles the guy? (We’ll find out this year)

Just looking at the facts and the stats, Bortles was a typical rookie quarterback, made great progress in his second year and just didn’t play well and never looked right in 2016.

“I get that,” Blake explained after the Jaguars first day of Organized Team Activities outside the stadium on Tuesday. “I didn’t play well, we didn’t play well. It doesn’t really bother me that you have something negative to say about me. I earned that. It’s okay. It doesn’t offend me or bother me at all.”

And while that might all be true, you have to develop a thick skin as a quarterback since you get most of the credit and most of the blame no matter what happens. *Bortles went to California to work on “quarterback things” mostly mechanics and footwork but getting out of town and not having to hear from fans how terrible he was every day was an added bonus.

“I think going to California did help to get away, go out there and not have to deal with any of that stuff and not be around it. That’s part of the job and that’s something that you have to be able to handle, both good and bad. It’s kind of the same thing.”

Returning to the stadium for the off-season conditioning program and now for the first of the on field workouts, Bortles saw an immediate change in the culture surrounding the football team. With Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone now setting the tone, the expectations are pretty clear. They want everybody to know what they need to do and what the consequences would be if that doesn’t happen. That’s all fine with Blake.

“It holds everybody accountable,” he explained. “It’s white and black. There’s not maybe or maybe you were wrong. It’s either you did it right or you did it wrong. I think having that, having that accountability that Coach Marrone and Coach Coughlin are going to hold guys to, I think it’s good.”

With a pretty clear-cut edit to get it right, Bortles said it also carries over to his decision-making on the field. Make the read and execute the play. Marrone agrees that the quarterback has to have some real guidelines so he can make decisions fast.

“Hey, if this comes out and they’re in this formation, hey this is the check,'” Marrone added. “So we’re trying to get all that stuff down and we’re trying to train the players mentally to think quickly because what happens is in this period of time, you tend to be more relaxed because you’re not in full pads.”

For all of the predictions of a new start and better results for the Jaguars, Bortles is a realist when it comes to what really effects a change on the scoreboard.

“You can’t just say, well, you got a new coaching staff with some new guys in the locker room, it’s all going to change. There’s a lot of work that needs to go into it. It kind of started a couple of weeks ago when everybody got here. It’s a long road, it’s a process. I’m excited for it and I think today was a good start.” Is Bortles the “guy?” He’ll play with a much shorter leash this year and without a player on the roster that will push him as the starter; he’ll get a chance to prove that he’s the long-term solution at that position. Coughlin has said “We think he’s the player,” and proved that in this year’s draft.

“Any time they take a tackle, a running back and a receiver, as a quarterback that’s always exciting,” Blake said, showing he paid attention in April. “All three of those guys are extremely good football players in college and it’s been fun the little time that we’ve got to be with them out there to watch those guys run around and integrate into the locker room.”

He’s noticeably leaner at 233 pounds coming into the OTA’s and that’s on purpose. Bortles says the practices are much more up-tempo and being in better shape is an important part of his ability to compete in the off-season.

“As of now, we’re remembered off of what we did last year and what I did last year,” he said, facing up to the big, obvious question. “I can’t wait to change that narrative. It’s more of a personal thing for me as far as what I’m thought of as a quarterback and definitely in this locker room and in this organization, to make sure to prove those guys right.”

And here’s the thing with Blake: He wants to be better. He wants to be great. Believe it or not, there are a lot of players in the league who are just fine with coasting along, making a paycheck. Plenty of quarterbacks who are more comfortable holding a clipboard and wearing a baseball hat on the sidelines. That’s not Bortles. And it’s one of the reasons he’s so popular among his teammates.

He was bad last year and maybe it was a shoulder injury. Maybe it was coaching. Maybe it was the sacks and the losing. But he hasn’t shied away from it, he knows he wasn’t good and is out to fix it. He’s an easy guy to root for and knowing, and wanting to be better is the first step to getting there.

Malik Jackson At The Players: “It’s Pretty Dope”

He’d be hard to miss in any situation. But Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson at 6’6″ and 290 lbs. was wearing a bright burnt, Tennessee orange shirt on Thursday watching golf in the first round of The Players.

“It’s just to see all of my Tennessee brothers and sisters,” he said with a laugh and a wink when asked what the actual intent of wearing Volunteer colors might be. “I want us to come out of hiding in this Florida, Florida State place. Because we (Vols) thrive here.”

Always affable and available in the Jaguars locker room, Jackson was clearly relaxed and enjoying himself in a different environment.

“I’m terrible at golf,” he said after coming into the Jaguars Den (chalet) from watching golf at the 17th hole. “You know when I first got here we had a little golf outing with Sen’Derrick (Marks) and Roy (Miller) as a D-Line and it was fun but not for me. I’d rather be home playing golf on video games.”

Still, Jackson has a special appreciation for what the best players in the world can do on a golf course.

“Kind of like when Pop Warner watches us,” he chuckled. ” It’s cool to see these guys do their thing, kind of like when they come to a football game and watch us. I have no clue what they do and how they do it. It’s cool to see another pro do his thing.”

Growing up in California, Jackson started his college career at Southern Cal, then to Tennessee. He played in Denver before signing as a free agent with the Jaguars. After being here a year, his still discovering what North Florida has to offer, year ’round. And he likes it.

“I didn’t know TPC was here,” he explained. “Jacksonville has a lot to offer with things like this and music festivals. It’s pretty dope to experience this,(and) the biggest outdoor cocktail party. It’s fun to be around. It’s opening my eyes to what Jacksonville has to offer.

Jaguars Take “Bama OL In 2nd Round

It’s not hard to see where Tom Coughlin wants to take the Jaguars as the VP of Football Operations. His long-time mantra of ‘run the football, stop the run’ is already reflected in the Jaguars signings in free agency and taking Leonard Fournette at the top of the draft. As a rookie, it’s hard to predict what impact Fournette can have behind the Jaguars current offensive line but Coughlin believes taking a back with Fournette’s qualities can show a culture shift for the franchise.

“The idea that you are going to run because of what you have invested, and your offensive line knows it,” he explained. “Your offensive line would much rather run the ball than pass protect all day long. When you make this kind of investment you know that you are going to see (in practice) nine on sevens, you are going to see 11-on-11 play-action pass.”

During his few minutes at the podium after the first round, Coughlin talked about toughness, finishing games and “putting it in the end zone.”

That’s why taking Cam Robinson from Alabama in the second round makes perfect sense. Robinson is the 8th Alabama offensive lineman taken in the last five drafts. That’s currently three more than any other school.

Robinson is 6’6″ 322 lbs. and officially is listed as a tackle. GM Dave Caldwell said Robinson is “A tackle and will compete with Branden Allen at left tackle.” He allowed three sacks in 861 career snaps. Robinson was a freshman all American and a consensus all-American as a junior. He won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top offensive lineman in 2016

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, Coughlin Moving On?

It appears the Jaguars and Tom Coughlin have decided in this case, “you can’t go home again.” Although there are conflicting signals, including Coughlin quoted as saying “If it’s the right fit” he’d be interested, at this point the Jaguars are looking elsewhere.

Whether it was the team or Coughlin or both, they couldn’t find enough common ground when it comes to a role Tom would occupy in the Jaguars management structure. All along, Coughlin was never going to just be a “candidate.” He was either going to be their head coach or he wasn’t instead of just one of the possibilities.

A reported meeting on Wednesday included Tom and some of the Jaguars brass, but it’s unclear whether General Manager Dave Caldwell was present. Either way, the two sides apparently have moved on at this point, only to return to the discussion if something drastically changes.

Having hired an executive search firm, the team will vet their findings as well as lean on Caldwell’s contacts and experience in the NFL. Having worked for Bill Polian in Indianapolis and Thomas Dimitrioff in Atlanta, Caldwell is well connected in the league and said he would use his “personal network” as a resource when looking for a new head coach.

While not necessary, according to Caldwell, the Jaguars general manager said past head coaching experience would be a plus in his search. He also was emphatic about creating a “winning culture” from the players the Jaguars currently have in their locker room.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coughlin As Head Coach, Czar?

It’s doesn’t necessarily need to be Tom Coughlin but a “Tom Coughlin like” coach is probably somewhere in the Jaguars near future. League sources and media reports have Coughlin interviewing with the Jaguars on Wednesday, possibly for the head-coaching job.

Since his departure from the New York Giants, Coughlin has said his career wasn’t over, but hasn’t ruled out joining an organization in a different role than head coach.

“We talked with several clubs but couldn’t come to an agreement,” Coughlin confirmed earlier this year when asked if he’d do something other than coach. “We couldn’t quite find the right role, so nothing happened,” he added. Since that admission, it’s been reported that Coughlin talked with the Bills, Eagle and Jaguars about various roles in the organization. In Jacksonville, it would have been a role akin to a President of Football Operations, working in concert with the Head Coach and the General Manager.

While they couldn’t find the common ground necessary before the 2016 season, now that the Jaguars are searching for a head coach, there could be more leeway for Coughlin to join the organization. That means he and General Manager Dave Caldwell would have to figure out how to work together since Caldwell currently has the final say on personnel decisions.

Since Coughlin currently isn’t coaching in the league, the Jaguars can talk to him about any position, including head coach. At 70 years old, Tom says age isn’t a factor in his ability to still work the sidelines. Talking to him now is important if the two sides decide that he’ll be with the organization in 2017. Whether as head coach or in some other capacity, Coughlin can get a head start on staff decisions based on what current head coaches and staffs in the NFL will be let go on January 2nd, commonly known in the league as “Black Monday.”

If Coughlin is going to be the head coach, they’ll make that announcement quickly. He’s not going to be a “candidate” among other coaches. He’s either going to be the head coach or he’s not. If so, he’ll start making discreet contact with potential members of a future staff so he will have his pick when they’re available.

It was revealed this week that the Jaguars have hired a search firm to vet the candidates for the head-coaching job. While that’s currently in vogue among NFL clubs, Coughlin probably isn’t part of that search. He’s an outlier among the assistants, coordinators and college coaches who will be considered suitable for the job. Getting rid of Gus Bradley two weeks before the end of the season gives the Jaguars a chance to decide whether Coughlin is the right fit. If not, they’ll move on quickly.

Coughlin was the first coach and general manager in Jaguars history and guided the franchise to a 68-60 record and a pair of AFC Championship Game appearances from 1995 to 2002.

The Jaguars fired Coughlin after the 2002 season with then owner Wayne Weaver saying it was the biggest mistake of his ownership tenure. But at the time, Coughlin was very unpopular in Jacksonville and ticket sales were lagging. . The Giants hired him in 2004, and he went on to compile a 102-90 record and win two Super Bowls. He is currently the NFL’s senior adviser to football operations, working in the league office on the weekends advising on replay and other matters.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Marrone: Business As Usual

It was pretty much business as usual for Interim Head Coach Doug Marrone’s first conference call after leading the Jaguars to victory last Saturday. He still deflected any credit for the win, saying the players made the difference.

“The players went out and did well, if they didn’t would that be a reflection of me?” he asked rhetorically. “I’ve been a head coach before. I’m still focused on the players and the assistant coaches here.”

As a candidate for the permanent position with the Jaguars, Marrone seems to be an afterthought. But could he be a serious candidate if they win again next week? He still doesn’t see these two weeks as an audition.

“No matter what happens here, at least they can go forward, with a good idea of what can happen here in the future,” he said.

Whether watching it live or reviewing the game video, it’s pretty obvious that the difference in the Jaguars was the play of quarterback Blake Bortles. He made the routine throws; he made quick decision, just played like he was supposed to have played all year.

“For Blake it’s probably his best game of the season.” Marrone said. “He got off to a good start. Got ARod involved early. Overall, outstanding, taking what the defense was giving him. Very impressed.”

Was there a difference? Did they do something that made things better? Or is it just coincidence that Bortles and Allen Robinson as well as the whole offense played their best game of the year the week after Gus Bradley was fired? Marrone admitted they moved Robinson around to some different positions on the line of scrimmage but that was about it.

“I can’t answer how they were feeling but we did try to make an effort during the week to get a couple of extra throws in. We wanted to keep the communication happening.”

So why did the Jaguars as a whole play better? Marrone couldn’t answer that except to give credit to the players and how they approached the game. No different than any other according to the guy temporarily in charge.

“I think there were times that we put the ball on the ground and had penalties we wound up being fortunate,” he explained. “They felt comfortable with the plan and how we wanted to attack the Titans. I saw a level of focus that when we took the field that we had goals in mind and how to do them.”

As simple as that I suppose, but when it comes right down to it, your team goes as your quarterback goes in the NFL. If Bortles had played close to this way all year, the Jaguars would be one of the teams “in the hunt” for a playoff spot.

Some credit is due Marrone for keeping a steady hand during the week, tweaking a few things but getting the staff and the players ready to play a football game. He might have a bit of a self-deprecating manner about his role, but his actions set the tone for the team and allowed them to play.

On some specific notes, Doug said it was good play calling by both Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and Bortles that kept the Titans guessing. “The NFL is about trying to stay a step ahead. If you’re having success with a play, they’re going to make an adjustment and take that away.”

And that both Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue are coming along.

“It’s one of the more difficult situations for young defensive ends coming into the league. You can out-athletic or out-physical people in college. In the NFL, tackles are bigger, more athletic, have more patience. Quarterbacks get rid of the ball quicker.”

On the offensive line, he pointed to right tackle Jeremy Parnell as a player who’s lifting his game at the end of the year.

“The last three games we’ve played, Parnell has had the best three games he’s played since he’s been here. AJ has had some inconsistency in pass protection but had his most physical game. We feel pretty good about the direction they’re going.”

But he saved his most effusive praise for Jalen Ramsey saying he probably hasn’t come close to as good as he’ll be.

“I have been around some very good corners, Pro Bowl type players. Ramsey has everything you want, for me; the thing I’ve been most impressed with is his competitiveness. I see someone who goes out there who’s extremely competitive and wants to get the job done. There’s no ceiling to his ability.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Win, If Only . . .

There weren’t any over-the-top celebrations after the Jaguars win at home against Tennessee on Saturday. It seemed like they knew this is how they were supposed to play all year.

“This game was who we are,” Sen’Derrick Marks said in front of his locker. “I guess we kept shooting ourselves in the foot all year and it seemed like today, we didn’t. We did everything that was asked, stuck with the game plan, moved the ball and stopped them on defense. I think we just had a better understanding of what they were trying to do to us compared to what they did to us last game.”

For only the second time this year, the Jaguars scored on their opening possession against the Titans. A nice drive down the field with Marqis Lee catching a TD pass to give the Jaguars a 7-0 lead. It was Blake Bortles at quarterback, but he looked nothing like the Bortles we’ve seen for the first 14 games of the year. Decisive and accurate, Blake wasn’t waiting around in the pocket but rather making decisions and going with them quickly. And it was working. The Jaguars offense kept it up and the defense held up their end of the deal taking a 10-0 lead.

“From the first play, it was ‘Let’s be efficient.'” Bortles said in his post game remarks. “That was kind of our thing this week – ‘Let’s be efficient, let’s take the completions and when they give us a shot let’s take it when we can.’ I think we were able to do that, and I thought for the most part, we were pretty efficient throughout the game.”

That’s when the wrong mistakes at the wrong time came back to bite them again, Sheldon Day getting called for roughing the passer on third and long, extending the drive and helping the Titans to a TD to make it 10-7.

It was 19-7 at halftime as Chris Ivory (who fumbled again) scored from one yard out, the drive a combination of good play calls by offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and solid throws by Blake Bortles. And although he missed an extra point, Jason Myers hit a 48-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in the half to lead by 12.

The teams exchanged field goals in the third quarter with Jason Myers adding his 3rd and 4th to give the Jaguars a 25-10 lead.

It was a little more conservative decision-making for Interim Head Coach Doug Marrone than expected. Taking field goals and the points from Myers instead of going for it on 4th and short a couple of times near midfield.

You could sense the Jaguars confidence growing in the third quarter despite a few of the same old mistakes that have gotten them beat all year. Both TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory had left the game by the middle of the third quarter with injuries. Both with reoccurrences of their ankle and hamstring injuries. The Jaguars also broke open the playbook when the Titans drew within 25-17 with an end around pass from Lee to Bortles for a TD.

“I’m proud of the guys keeping their foot on the gas pedal. Getting points, kicking field goals.” Bortles said. It’s the first time since the ’85 Bears did it with Walter Payton and Jim McMahon that players have thrown TD passes to each other in the same game.

“I was telling somebody earlier that of the two or three inches we seem to be missing on all season, it kind of came together today,” Blake added. “He (Allen Robinson) made some unbelievable plays, had some unbelievable releases at the line to get open and get off of press coverage and did a really good job. So it felt good for him. I was really excited for him to have a big day.”

And as well as Jalen Ramsey has been playing, it was only a matter of time before he picked one off and ran it for a TD. On the first play from scrimmage for the Titans, Matt Cassell threw a little out pattern but Ramsey stepped in front and scored to make it 38-17.

In their first game without Gus Bradley on the sidelines, it was baffling to see the Jaguars play the way you expected to see them perform all year. Some mistakes that all teams make but competitive and effective most of the time.

“The 1st person who went through my mind was Gus and his family. The 2nd was our fans,” Marrone said in his post-game remarks.

Certainly this team had some extra motivation after being embarrassed by the Titans on national television in October but more than anything, it was the play by Bortles that kept the Jaguars from losing. Routine throws, fairly accurate and quick decision-making without turning it over saw the Jaguars moving the chains, controlling field position and scoring points. It’s a shame they couldn’t play like this for Bradley but as has been said all year, regardless of who the coach is, if your quarterback can’t play, you can’t win.

Marrone said, “This win isn’t about me. Gus Bradley is a major part of this.”

And Malik Jackson summed it up this way:

“The fans did an awesome job, the ones that came. I mean God bless them. It was huge. I don’t think they realize the noise they make really hurts the offense, so we really appreciate you guys and we’re going to keep trying to get this thing going, win next week and go into the offseason with some wins to build on for next year.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Fired: Who’s Next?

As the 2016 season progressed, it became obvious that Gus Bradley’s philosophy of empowering the players with the accountability and discipline of the team wasn’t working on the current Jaguars. Gus is about as good a guy as you’ll ever meet. You’d want him as a brother, a brother in law, a neighbor and even as a football coach. But as a head coach for this Jaguars team this year, his message didn’t take. “We let you down,” Jaguars Defensive Tackle Roy Miller tweeted Sunday night after Bradley was let go.

Each time we’d ask Gus about his job security, he’d deflect the question, saying he wasn’t worried about that. “He’s wrong,” ESPN’s Mike DiRocco said when we talked about that issue on Jaguars Friday Night. And while Owner Shad Khan saw changing coaches in-season as a sign of organization weakness, he and General Manager Dave Caldwell came to the conclusion last week that they were ready to move on from the Bradley era of the Jaguars.

“Gus and I have a unique relationship and I couldn’t lie to him,” Caldwell said of the timing of the announcement. He added that once he and Khan had made the decision on Saturday, they didn’t think it would be fair to tell Bradley before the game with the Texans. Caldwell says he followed Bradley into his locker room in Houston and told him they were moving on. He did give Gus the option of delaying the announcement until Monday but Bradley said he’d call his family and to get it out Sunday night. Bradley did board the bus and was on the team charter returning to Jacksonville. He thanked the staff, the coaches and the players as he made his way up and down the isles on the charter. Everybody involved seemed to be trying to make the best of a messy, clumsy, awkward situation.

Monday afternoon, Caldwell addressed the media and talked about the change as well as named Offensive Line Coach Doug Marrone as interim head coach for the Jaguars. Marrone is the former head coach for two years in Buffalo and at his alma mater Syracuse. He’s been the Assistant Head Coach for the Jaguars since 2015.

Beyond that, Caldwell will be the one starting the search for a new head coach and hiring the next leader of the team. Just where he’ll look is the big question. He said today that experience will play a role in his selection process.

“I don’t want to say that it’s a high priority, but I would say it’s something that would be helpful for a coach,” Caldwell said from the podium at the stadium. “I don’t want to avoid a candidate if he doesn’t have it because you can be overlooking a great future head coach. Experience is critical, even with our players. Our players are young, but they may lack experience in certain areas and I think experience is invaluable.”

When asked if former Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin would be on his list, Caldwell quickly said, “Tom Coughlin is somebody we’d be interested in talking to.”

Some obvious names will percolate to the top of the list along with Coughlin: Josh McDaniels the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and former head coach in Denver. Mike Smith, the former Head Coach in Atlanta, former defensive coordinator in Jacksonville and now the DC in Tampa. Todd Haley, the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, David Shaw, the current head coach at Stanford and Sean Payton, the Head Coach of the Saints, rumored to be out in New Orleans. Several NFL assistants will make the list, including Kyle Shanahan.

Names like Hall of Famer Tony Dungy and John Gruden will also be floated, but neither is likely to coach in the NFL again. Dungy is a mentor and advisor as well as a TV analyst these days and Gruden is having too much fun on ESPN and making too much money. Bill Cowher would be an excellent choice and if all it takes is money, Shad will offer it to him. But Cowher has turned down lucrative head coaching jobs in the past and said on Sunday on CBS when asked if he’d be interested in the Los Angeles job that he wouldn’t be coaching in the NFL again.

If Coughiin does want to coach again, the Jaguars would be a good choice if he would be willing to accept a role as the Head Coach with some personnel input but the decisions ending with Caldwell. The Jaguars spoke to Coughlin about a role other than head coach prior to this season but couldn’t find enough common ground. If Caldwell calls him, they’ll meet and try to solidify a relationship. I doubt there will be an interview process. He’ll either be offered the job or they’ll move on. Tom’s resume is well documented and contains two Lombardi Trophies. At 70 years old, a return to the sideline would also delay Coughlin’s eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There’s a five-year waiting period after retirement until eligibility.

After being fired in Denver, McDaniels went back to New England where he’s had plenty of success with Tom Brady. But he was disliked in Denver, which precipitated his firing and Tom Brady is, well, Tom Brady. If Blake Bortles were in Dave Caldwell’s plans for the Jaguars future, McDaniels would have to buy into that. In fact, that will be the first discussion Caldwell has with any potential head-coaching candidate: Do you think Blake Bortles is fixable?

Knowing Jacksonville well and a very popular figure here, Mike Smith could be an interesting choice for Caldwell. The downside is he’s a defensive coach and the Jaguars are hurting on offense more than anything. Smith’s charisma might overcome that as well as his track record in Atlanta. Since Caldwell worked for Thomas Dimitrioff, the GM in Atlanta, he’ll find out why he fired Smith and if he thought Smith would be a good fit here. His candidacy could soar to the top or be stopped by that one conversation.

As the quarterback Blake Bortles is most compared to, Ben Roethlisberger has enjoyed tremendous success under Todd Haley’s direction. Haley has been a head coach in the league in Kansas City and has stepped up Roethlisberger’s production since going to Pittsburgh and could be considered a good fit to work with Bortles.

If Caldwell is willing to go into the college coaching ranks, and he said as much today, Shaw from Stanford is on everybody’s list. A winner with a football pedigree, he’ll get a head coaching job in the league if he wants one.

Sean Payton would free up about $40 million for the Saints as they go through an ownership transition. Caldwell would have to part with a draft pick to sign Payton but since he has a record of success, is on the Bill Parcell’s coaching tree and has worked with successful quarterbacks like Drew Brees, he might be a possibility. Caldwell said he’d be willing to trade for a coach if the right coach was available.

After January 1st, the final day of the NFL season, several current coaches will be on the market. There will be talk about John Fox in Chicago, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and Mike McCoy in San Diego. All could be interviewed for head coaching jobs, maybe even here in Jacksonville.

And to be sure, Caldwell will be making the decision.

“Shad, he has made it very clear that he expects big things from me and this coaching search, me and our staff for our free agency and the draft, to have a great offseason and then to have a better season come 2017,” the Jaguars GM explained. “I haven’t had to sell him or anything, but we have constant conversation about, hey, I’ll be the first to admit where I’ve made mistakes. And I’ve laid it out to Shad different places where I failed Gus, some things you guys don’t even know about, but some that you do. There was no selling. Shad just said, hey, I expect big things.”

There’s no rush to name a head coach, but moving on from Bradley with still two games to play means Caldwell wanted to talk with somebody who’s not in the league at this moment. The Rams’ firing of Jeff Fisher “got the ball rolling,” in the process according to Caldwell. The last thing Caldwell wanted to do was to have Coughlin at the top of his list and Tom take the job in Los Angeles without ever having talked with him.

Although he said there are no “untouchables” on the Jaguars, including himself, Caldwell said he’s committed to Bortles as the starting quarterback. He added that he would solicit opinions about Bortles from the candidates to hear what they thought. He was willing to say he wanted to hear other opinions different from his own.

Once he gets the list down to a manageable size, he’ll get opinions around the league of “how he treats people, what he’s like,” but noted that the face-to-face meetings are the eventual determining factor on who they’ll hire.

“You want to find out as much about a person as you can and where they’ve been and how they’ve treated people, how they’ve acted. I think the biggest thing you’ve got to understand a lot of it’s second-hand information to you. You’ve got to sit down with the person and spend a lot of time not being impetuous with the decision and really kind of get to know the person before you make the decision. Then you’ve got to rely on your instincts when you select them.”

Here’s Shad’s statement:

“I thanked Gus Bradley today for his commitment to the Jacksonville Jaguars over the past four seasons. As anyone close to our team knows, Gus gave his staff and players literally everything he had. Our players competed for Gus and I know they have great respect for him, as do I.

Gus also represented the Jaguars, the Jacksonville community and the NFL in nothing less than a first-class manner as our head coach. That counts for a lot. It is unfortunately evident that we must make a change. I thought it would be best to do it immediately after today’s result so Gus can step away, relax and regroup with his family during the Christmas and holiday season.

Dave Caldwell agreed and will now be charged with exploring all options to hire the best head coach possible to lead what I feel is an extremely talented team and reward a very loyal and patient fan base in Jacksonville.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars vs. Ravens, London 2017

While we know the Jaguars will be playing in London next year and through 2020, tomorrow morning the NFL will announce the Jaguars opponent and the other three games to will be played in the UK.

Looking at the Jaguars home schedule for 2017 it will be a surprise if their opponent next year at Wembley is not the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are one of eight teams in the league that have not played a London game and Owner Steve Bisciotti has said he’s anxious for his club to participate in the International Series.

“I would absolutely love going to London,” Bisciotti said last year. “I think it would be great. Hopefully it would be the time of year that we could get a lot of fans over there, whether it be near Christmas or near Thanksgiving, or September when the weather is still beautiful, even in the U.K. I’m all for it. I think it would be a blast.”

Next year’s home and away opponents are already set, with the exception of the last place teams in the AFC East and West (Jets and Chargers for now.) With the Ravens on the schedule as a visitor in 2017, they’re the logical opponent to play in London next year.

Since the Jaguars are London’s “home” team, Owner Shad Khan has said they’ll always play at Wembley Stadium with its 90,000-seat capacity. Traveling to London to play a home game currently accounts for nearly 20% of the Jaguars yearly revenue through sponsorship and ticket sales.

It’s possible the Jaguars will play a second game in London in the future as the visitor but not in 2017. The league is expected to announce two games at Wembley and two at Twickenham Cricket Field for next year. In 2018, two games will by hosted by Tottenham Hotspurs’ new home field White Hall Lane.

When the Jaguars/Ravens game will be played probably won’t be announced until March or April with the release of the full NFL schedule. They’ve played in the middle of the season with a bye week following, but this year’s game against the Colts was in week four. The Jaguars organization seemed to like that with better weather and the early season trip. Indianapolis didn’t take their bye the week after London as teams have done in the past, so the Jaguars will study that as a possibility instead of taking their bye after the first quarter of the season.

Since the International Series was started in 2007 the Ravens haven’t been involved. The others teams are the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans.

This year the Browns are expected to host a game in London with Miami and New Orleans facing off in a third contest. The fourth game will no doubt involve at least one of the other teams that have never been overseas.

With financial help from the league, Khan has said the list of teams wanting to play in the UK has grown. “It used to be nobody wanted to go. Now everybody wants to be a part of it,” he said earlier this year.

The league is looking to expand its reach globally, and returned to Mexico for the first time in a decade this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Jaguars at some point were a “visitor” for an International Series game in Germany or Spain, two destinations Khan has mentioned in the past. They won’t give up another home game in Jacksonville according to team president Mark Lamping.

In each of the last three seasons the NFL has had three games in London to sold-out crowds. With four games in 2017, the league will have played 21 games there since the inaugural one in 2007.

“London staging a fourth NFL game is fantastic news — not only for the millions of sports fans who get to enjoy our iconic stadiums — but also because it confirms our status as the go-to choice for hosting the world’s biggest sporting events,” said Mayor Khan.

American football in the U.K. is booming. Sunday television audiences have more than doubled, and the Super Bowl audience has increased more than 75 percent. According to internal NFL research, the U.K. has almost 4 million avid fans, with a growing fan base of more than 13 million.

Critics of the International Series liken the NFL games in London to “circus performances and ice shows.” In the UK they, “cheer for punts and kicks more than touchdowns” one critic wrote. That might have been the case early in the series, particularly when the league played preseason games in London but no longer. The fans at Jaguars games, originally just NFL UK fans glad to be at a live game, have warmed to the Jaguars as their home team. The Jaguars home black is the predominant jersey at the games.

The NFL is scheduled to make the announcement before 10AM on Tuesday, December 13.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Will Jimmy Make It To The Hall?

As part of his journey to become a member of the Pride of the Jaguars, Jimmy Smith has seen a little bit of everything. From a draft bust to the rejected pile of NFL wide receivers, Smith rose to become one of the elite players in the game, only to fall from grace again as a jailed drug addict, now and forever recovering.

“Well, that journey has been tough and it’s not over yet,” Smith said on the day he was inducted into the Pride. “A friend was talking to me and he mentioned that I’m an all-pro at getting back up and that’s the message that I want to spread throughout – to every kid, every Jacksonville fan, every adult, everyone. Be an all-pro at getting back up, because you’re going to get knocked down.”

While among the elite in his career, including five Pro Bowl appearances, does Smith deserve a place in the Hall of Fame among the all-time greats?

A look at his statistics has him 21st in receiving yards, 46th in touchdowns and 24th in receptions. Smith finished his career with 862 catches for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns in 11 seasons.

Impressive, and the dominant receiver statistically in the middle of his career, but the Hall hasn’t been kind to receivers in the modern era. Fellow selector Vito Stellino has pointed out repeatedly that since the 1978 rule change allowing receivers to run free, numbers have been inflated year after year. So it’s not the numbers that impress the selectors (a committee I’ve been on since 1994) but rather the impact they had in their era.

It doesn’t help Jimmy that he played in Jacksonville. The exposure that major market teams get week after week plus the Jaguars lack of an appearance in the Super Bowl are hard obstacles to overcome. The playoff run in 1996 and the dominance in the regular season in 1999 gave Smith a recognizable name in the league but the lack of exposure to the major media markets puts him a half step behind players from just about anywhere else.

As part of the process, the Hall sends selectors a list of the 100 or so eligible players, coaches and contributors and we’re asked to pare that number down to twenty-five. Those who make that cut are called “semi-finalists.” In six years of eligibility, Jimmy has never made it as a semi-finalist. (Tony Boselli has made it the last two years.) From there we’re asked to cut the list to 15, and those 15 are discussed as finalists the day before the Super Bowl. Only 5 can be selected along with contributor and senior candidates. (As a footnote, about 90% of the players who become finalists are eventually inducted into the Hall.)

So it’s a tough road for anybody to get into the Hall. There’s also a pretty big backlog of receivers waiting for Hall induction. And it’s no guarantee that any will get in. Tim Brown, Chris Carter and Andre Reed sat on the ballot for years without induction. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth cancelled each other out year after year. Terrell Owens has monster numbers but is a controversial candidate. Randy Moss and others have moved to the top of the statistical list but haven’t even been discussed as finalists.

“It’ll be tough,” I told Jimmy and his long time friend and teammate Keenan McCardell when they asked me about his chances for the Hall. “A spot in the Pride of the Jaguars is a great honor and brings you that sense of immortality.”

After an emotional induction ceremony at halftime of the Jaguars game against Minnesota, Smith said getting into the Pride is a big deal to him.

“Mainly because this city, the owner Shad Khan, these fans, my teammates all recognize what I’ve done in my career. I think it starts here, before we go to the Hall of Fame. So that’s why this is even more important than a Hall of Fame nomination or anything like that.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Still Searching For Answers

Since 2000, the Jaguars have had three winning seasons, the last coming ten years ago. So we have some experience with teams out of contention at the end of the year. Some give up, some just play out the string, others try to build for the future. The 2016 version of the Jaguars is different from any other. Talented, but without any results to show for it, they approach each game as if it’s own season. What’s weird is walking into the locker room after another loss and feeling like you’re in the movie Groundhog Day. Nothing seems to change.

“I think the one thing you can’t do is start to point fingers,” Blake Bortles said in his post-game press conference. “I believe that there’s nobody that would do that in our locker room and that’s why it’s such a special group of guys.”

He’s right about that. You’d have to be special and feel like you’re part of something that can be good to do this week in and week out.

“It’s hard because what we’re doing is not working, and it’s hard to believe in, kind of, I guess, our routine because there are no positive results,” Bortles explained. “There’s nothing you can do besides continuing to work.”

Nobody’s happy, but nobody has an answer either. They keep coming to work, doing the things they think will allow them to win, but they keep on losing. As if they’ve forgotten how to win.

“It’s tough anytime you lose,” Blake said. “I know for me personally, I can’t wait to play on Sunday the following week and get another opportunity and hopefully to try to erase some of this stuff that’s going on and maybe wake up from this nightmare.”

A common theme among the players is “do more.” Sometimes that leads to pressing, and that’s never the answer. But being as detailed as you can might make the difference.

“Yeah we’re doing good as a defense but we’re not doing enough,” Malik Jackson said in front of his locker. “I think we have to start nitpicking and really thinking about things as far as just looking at ourselves just more in the mirror.”

When asked for specifics, Head Coach Gus Bradley ticked some things off the top of his head that he saw from the sidelines.

“It’s special teams,” he said. “Field position, penalties, roughing the punter. The coverage teams haven’t been up to par.”

But just when you think one part of the team is coming together, like the defense, the Vikings score two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to come from behind and win the game.

“You have to make your own momentum,” Bradley explained. “You gotta play like you’re behind all the time.”

Could it be the defense just thinks it doesn’t matter what they do, the offense and special teams won’t do enough to win the game? It could be something close to that, but with every move on video, players don’t want a record of them loafing since they’re constantly auditioning for all 32 teams. Not just the Jaguars.

It’s almost as if they players realize that Gus’ attempt to give them the power of accountability didn’t work. They need a solid shot of discipline and focus. Attention to detail across the board. Bradley continues to talk as if this losing could pay off at some point. “This game teaches you so much,” he said. “I do believe this will bring us to greater places, but it’s just challenging. It’s tough man, I’m not gonna lie about that. It challenges your inner strength,”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: “It’s Disheartening”

When you’re a fan, a player or even the Head Coach of a 2-10 team, nobody wants to hear about the good things you’re doing. Gus Bradley admitted that Monday at his weekly press conference saying he understands what people are thinking because he’s thinking the same things.

“I think it’s just disheartening looking at this team,” Gus said. “I share the frustration with our fans and this team. It is difficult. I believe so strongly in these guys in the locker room and this staff and what is taking place here, but it’s not okay. I’m not going to make excuses for what took place. I know people don’t want to hear that. ‘I don’t want to hear the positives. We are hurting.’ I agree. We’re right with you and so are the guys in that locker room.”

Is it OK to see the same mistakes, albeit from different players every week? Of course not. Bradley knows that and is trying to put his finger on why that is happening. From the outside, most of the finger pointing is at him. From the inside, Bradley knows it’s his job to get it right.

“We have to get this fixed,” he explained. “It’s a tough league. It’s extremely difficult.. Our next opponent that we’re playing, look at that. I think they started off 5-0 and now they have lost six of their last seven. It’s hard. It’s a challenging, challenging league. You have to be on it at all times.”

If that sounds like a guy who’s committed to the process, that’s because he is. There’s not one hint from Bradley that his tenure with the team might be up in less than a month. He’s working as if he’s going to lead this team long term. He’s not naïve, he’s not stupid and he doesn’t have his head buried in the sand. That’s just how he is. He’s going to work for a solution the best way he knows until somebody tells him he can’t. If that happens, that somebody will be Dave Caldwell through Shad Khan, but for now, Bradley is the Head Coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a title and job he takes very seriously.

“You check out the type of people that you have in this locker room,” he said. “They’re unbelievable guys, unbelievable character. I’m talking about character, as a coach. You want players that have strong enough character that will help you through those tough times. That’s what you’re seeing in the locker room. It’s unbelievable. It’s unwavering, yet they’re hurting.”

Talking to the players in the locker room, they’re solidly behind Bradley and point at themselves rather than the coach, the scheme or the organization. So how does Bradley gauge if the team still has their head in the game?

“I think that’s a barometer for me, that these players are in it and they’re working hard and they’re going for it. It’s not enough. Like I told the whole team, I don’t believe in excuses. It’s not alright where we are. I’m not going to say it’s alright. I do know this: they work hard each and every week. That’s what I anticipate seeing again this week.”

And while Bradley is a positive upbeat guy, he’s not a rah-rah coach. He’s not pumping guys up. He’s pointing out what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong, giving them, what he thinks, is a chance to be their best.

“You still challenge everybody. It’s not the idea of positive or whatever the case. I think it’s just working hard. That’s what it’s all about in this game.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

At The Bottom, Jaguars Remain Committed

It’s a turnover, an interception for a touchdown, a penalty that keeps a drive alive or a break that doesn’t go in their direction. Any one of those things can lead to defeat in the NFL. A combination of those every week has put the Jaguars at 2-10 with seven straight losses.

“It’s the biggest nightmare possible,” Quarterback Blake Bortles said in his post game remarks. “But what are you going to do about it? You can’t sit there in a corner and pout. You can’t blame people. You can’t feel sorry for yourself because I think all that’s going to do is affect the way I play.”

He’s right about all of that and the reason to put the latest loss behind you and move on, no matter how many in a row it is. Blake also gave some insight to how he has to approach each game, each practice, every day.

“You can’t press,” he explained “I think I was doing some of that early in the season and that didn’t go well. You’ve got to stay true to what we do and what we believe in and go through the process. All you can do is put your head down and continue to play as hard as you can and prepare each week.”

It would be easy to see the locker room fall apart at this point in the season, especially as the defense comes into their own and the offense, with Bortles at the controls, continues to struggle. But there was no hint of that in the Jaguars locker room and some veteran players say they won’t let that be an issue.

“We’re going to keep holding each other accountable,” Malik Jackson said, defiantly. “We’re not going to start the blame game so the blame should be pointed at ourselves. We, as individuals, have to find a way to put the team over the cusp.”

It’s the same for defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks who has had his ups and downs this year, but says professional players should only know one way.

“I go out and see how I’m going to beat the guy in front of me every single week,” he explained in front of his locker. “This is what I do and who I am going to come in every week and play ball. I don’t know any other way of thinking about it. If you’re a football player, you have to go out and play football. Win or lose each week, there’s a whole different team we have to prepare for.”

It was a very matter-of-fact Gus Bradley at the podium after meeting with his team. When asked if turnovers were the difference Bradley deadpanned, “Yes.”

But he remains committed and somewhat philosophical when it comes to the losing and how it might have a positive effect on players in the long run.

“And what I’m hoping is through all this pain we’re going through as far as adversity that we’re worthy of it come in the end. When that happens, I don’t know if it’s next week or two weeks, but I think this team is really trying to gain as much strength from this as they can for future times.”

There are plenty of calls for Bradley’s job and he’s been around long enough to hear it, but ignore it. To him, he has a job to do and he’s going to do it as well as he can until somebody tells him it’s over. It’s a laudable personality trait that has carried him through four tough years as the Jaguars Head Coach. Maybe the expectations were set too high, too soon for this team. Almost every personnel evaluator in the league says the Jaguars will be a winning team shortly. While Bradley might not be around to lead them, he remains a believer in the character of the 2016 Jaguars.

“I know the question was asked do you think they’ll come back next week? Well, I felt like they came back this week. Do you think they’ll come back next week? Yes I do. It’s who they are. They’ll work their tails off and they’ll come back and they’re going to learn from this and I truly believe these things that this team is going through will only benefit.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coughlin To Jaguars Surfaces Again

When the first rumblings of the Tom Coughlin-to-Jacksonville story happened back it May, it seemed like distant thunder. Coughlin himself filled us in, saying he’d been in touch “with a few teams about a role” but didn’t’ find the right fit. Coughlin was still smarting from being fired by the Giants, “I’ll still fight you on that one,” he said at the time. As we reported then, the Jaguars were among the teams he talked with, including the Bills and possible another former employer, the Eagles.

After the Jaguars blowout loss to Tennessee in late October, the story surfaced again, with Coughlin linked to the Jaguars “in some capacity” but probably not as the Head Coach.

Now, much like those distant thunderstorms that roll into North Florida, the sound of that rumbling is much more like a thunderclap. As the losses mount and the pressure to replace Gus Bradley grows, the appeal of Tom Coughlin is partly based on nostalgia for Jaguars fans and partly rooted in what is perceived as the disciplined approach this team looks like it needs.

Although former Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said it was the biggest mistake of his tenure, firing Tom Coughlin, it was the inevitable move necessary for the franchise at the time. The team was coming off three straight losing seasons and Coughlin’s act had worn thin on the players, fans and other staffers in Jacksonville. Tom had both the head coach and the GM role and wasn’t about to give it up. On the day he was fired, he laid out a plan for Weaver that he thought would put the Jaguars back in contention for the division in about a year. Weaver didn’t budge and knew nobody at the time in Jacksonville was going to buy a ticket for a Tom Coughlin-coached Jaguars team. After sitting out a year, Coughlin went on to be the Giants head coach and won two Super Bowls during his tenure there. He was not the General Manager in the Giants system, just the guy in charge of the football, on-field operation. In both of those championship seasons, Coughlin was on the verge of being fired but held onto his job by creating a better communication process with the players. His “management council” was a borrowed tool from Bill Parcells who used to carry guys like Keith Byars and Dave Meggett around from team to team as his locker room conduits to the rest of the players. Coughlin was told that his message wasn’t getting to the players so he met with some of the veterans every week to ensure that what he was saying was what they were hearing.

“We asked him to do that three or four times while he was here,” one well-known, well-respected Jaguars alumni player explained. “And basically he threw us out of his office,” another former star said with a laugh.

So while the climate in 2002 lent itself to firing Coughlin, the atmosphere is a bit thicker but feels about the same when it comes to 2016 and the future of Gus Bradley. In a production business, Bradley hasn’t been productive, garnering only 14 wins in four seasons. Last year, “Better than 5-11 I can tell you that,” was Owner Shad Khan’s response when asked what his expectation was for this year. General Manager Dave Caldwell has said the first two years under Bradley don’t count, but he was also expecting better results this year based on the free agent money spent and the draft picks put on the roster.

Why wouldn’t Coughlin become the Jaguars next Head Coach? At 70 years old, perhaps he doesn’t want the detailed, daily grind that’s required in the league these days for the head coach. (Remember, when then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue declared a mandatory day off in the league after September 11, 2001, Coughlin was the lone employee at the Jaguars facility, pouring over video). Also with two Super Bowls with NY and two AFC Championship appearances with the Jaguars, Coughlin will get consideration for the Hall of Fame when he’s eligible, 4 years from now. But if he comes back as a head coach, that eligibility gets deferred by 5 years from when he officially retires.

“Does he really want to wait ’till he’s 80 for that,” one of his close friends said recently. “Why not enjoy the grandkids and see if that happens in a few years?”

While it’s hard to imagine Coughlin being idle or satisfied with going to New York during the season on Sunday’s as a “special assistant” to the commissioner, a role as President of Football Operations could be something he’d be comfortable with, wouldn’t effect his HOF eligibility and would still give him a role on the football side of things with some organization.

Could that organization be the Jaguars? He lives in Atlantic Beach and his Jay Fund charity is run by his daughter here in town. Certainly since they spoke to him last year, they’ll be in touch again this offseason to see if they can work out just where he’d be in the decision-making process for the club. Tom was interested then and he still has an ear out to join a club instead of working for the league. Caldwell will almost certainly still be the GM next year, so he and Coughlin would have to co-exist somehow when it came to personnel calls. If Bradley is fired, and I still think it’s an if, (10% chance he stays) what role would Coughlin play in choosing Bradley’s successor?

(BTW, I think Khan will let Caldwell make the decision whether to keep Bradley or not. If he still thinks he’s the guy, he could cite, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Bill Bellichick or Bill Walsh as guys who were big losers in the league before they became big winners. You’re right, fans won’t be happy and ticket sales would lag but Khan is looking long-term and isn’t worried about short-term sales.)

So for the third time this year the “Coughlin to Jacksonville” mill is at work. Will it continue to gain steam or much like many of those thunderstorms, get to the intracoastal and fade out? The Jaguars could use some “Coughlin like” influence. Whether the original is still the right fit is the question.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Despite Losses, Bradley Soldiers On

With nine losses and six of those in a row, you might expect many of the questions asked of Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley are the same week in and week out. And they are. A lot of “What happened” and “Why” is discussed at his weekly press conferences. It can be frustrating on both sides, asking the questions and answering them but Bradley has kept his head about him through the tough times.

“I think all the questions are appropriate. I think there is a coach’s perspective,” he said discussing the Jaguars loss to Buffalo on Sunday.

He’s protective of his team, but is right when he says the team remains focused and motivated. “Character” is how he’s described it in the past.

“It’s hard to explain, but these guys are professionals,” Gus explained. “They know when you go through tough times like this, you just have to work. You just have to go through it and stay strong with one another and keep doing the things that you’re doing that you believe are helping you get to a place.”

As the losses mount, Bradley and the team have been under heavy criticism, fans and media alike calling for changes, including Bradley’s firing. It’s not that Bradley hasn’t heard that, or doesn’t understand it. To him, it’s just another thing he can’t control.

“You can’t control critics. You can’t control anything other than — what we can do is how we handle the circumstance and how we can handle where we’re at right now,” he said when asked how he deals with talk of the future. “The way they played and how they go after their job is impressive to me. You just hurt because you want those wins to come with it for the effort.”

When he’s asked about a specific player or play, Bradley usually deflects the question, saying he doesn’t want to get into scheme or reveal too much. But on Monday when asked about the 75-yard TD run by LeSean McCoy on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Gus didn’t name Tashaun Gipson as the culprit, but for the first time, outlined, in football coach speak, what happened.

“It’s a D-Gap running play where he cut back. Corners on the outside fitting of the D-Gap and the safety has the inside fitting of the D-Gap. If they became both on the outside of the D-Gap, then they’re wrong. It’s the D-Gap. I don’t know if that helps you. It was a D-Gap running play that cut back in there and you have two guys on the outside or the inside of the D-Gap.”

Got that?

Regarding the second punt at the end of the first half that resulted in a long return and led to a touchdown, Bradley said he thought about all of the things that went into the first effort, their lack of coverage and the time on the clock. But he thought Brad Nortman was capable of flipping the field at that point. (It was particularly noticeable since Steve Tasker, an announcer on the broadcast and a noted special teams player during his career, disagreed with Bradley’s decision making and what he predicted might happen, happened.)

“He’s (Nortman) seeming to be fine, he shook it off and he was ready to go. You’re hoping that to have a drive start on the 40-yard line with a minute and 20, 30 seconds left and one timeout, when we have a chance with Brad, hit a 60-yarder with hang time. We had one later in the game, a 60-yarder, hang time, fair catch and we’re good just to put them at the 20 or the 25,” he said of his thought process.

As far as holding players accountable, Rashad Greene’s two fumbles on back to back punt returns were going to bring him out of the game, regardless of injury. Bradley says a players effort has to be borne out by his execution.

“I am sure he is frustrated over the fact that he knows he is very capable of doing it and he had a couple like that take place.,” Gus said. “After that, the decision was [to replace him], but never got to making the decision because [the medical staff] told us he was out.” (Greene officially left the game with an Achilles injury)

And as far as not calling time out on the 4th and 4 when the Jaguars suffered a delay of game, while the responsibility ultimately falls on the head coach, Bradley had seen Blake Bortles take the play clock down near zero while changing the play earlier in the game and thought he’d do that again. But it didn’t happen. Blake didn’t call time out either. And the 4th and 4, a manageable distance, became 4th and 9, a much tougher play.

“He has the ability. I saw it. I felt like that was what was going to happen. It delayed a little bit, but looking back at it I take responsibility for that. I should have called a time out. In a critical situation like that, to keep it in that down and distance where it is manageable, would have been great looking back at it. I take full responsibility for that.”

Very noble of Bradley, but that’s on Blake. The play clock is right in front of him. You can coach Bortles to call the time out, but if he doesn’t, who’s to blame? You can coach Denard Robinson to make the tackle in front of him, but if he doesn’t, who’s to blame. And you can coach Tashaun Gipson to stand in the hole, or Allen Hurns to make the routine catch but if they don’t who’s to blame.

In the end, players gotta play.