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Trevor Lawrence Jaguars

Jaguars Draft Questions

There was that moment when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “With the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Clemson,” when it felt surreal.

Like, “Wait, the Jaguars are relevant again.”

After the disappointment and drudgery of last year, and for most of the last decade, the whole mood swung 180 degrees in the other direction. The worst record in the league gave the Jaguars the biggest reward: the first pick in the draft. And not just any first pick. A generational player of whom Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke says, “There are no negatives.”

Lawrence, in every instance in front of the media since becoming the number one pick, has said things and done things that make you believe he is the kind of player, and person who can reshape a franchise.

“I think it’s just important to be normal,” he said when asked about becoming part of the community. “One way to do that is plugging into the community, investing in the community and caring about the people around you,”

That’s not the typical answer from as twenty-one-year-old, no matter how much coaching and experience he’s had in the limelight.

And on his football expectations? Can he quickly adapt the NFL and be a starter week one?

“I expect to perform well and to adjust quickly and be ready to go, and that’s something I expect a lot out of myself. it’s just about earning – I think the biggest thing is – the respect and trust of your teammates,” Lawrence said without hesitation.

“Without that it doesn’t really matter what you expect going in, you’ve got to earn that first. I’m just going to take it step by step, but like I said I’m going to do everything in my power to prepare, to be the best I can be and put us in the best chance to win.”

From there, the Jaguas settled into reshaping their team. Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer said, “We have to get this right,” and agreed that at a minimum, their top four picks have to be impact players right away. Starters who make a difference.

Making Travis Etienne, Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson their second pick of the first round gives the Jaguars a look in the backfield they haven’t had in a while. They addressed some of their coverage issues taking Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell with their first pick of the second round. And their fourth pick was a bit of a head scratcher, considering Meyer’s praise of the current players on the offensive line over the last four months.

“Our offensive line is pretty good. It’s not a blow-up offensive line,” Meyer said at Lawrence’s pro day. “You know, we got some other areas we got to fix. There’s some good pieces there but we’re gonna make it even better.”

The Jaguars went so far as to put the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson, giving him a ten-fold raise in the process.

But with the fourth pick, an ‘impact’ player according to Meyer, they took Stanford offensive lineman Walker Little, who is anything but. At 6’7” 333 lbs., Little didn’t play in 2020. He said the Jaguars have talked to him about both left and right tackle but admitted “I’m just an offensive lineman prospect for them.”

He’ll compete for a backup spot on the offensive line with the thought he’ll eventually be a starter.

Little and their first pick in the third round, defensive back Andre Cisco, haven’t played football at all in the last year because of injury. That’s been part of Trent Baalke’s history as a General Manager.

“It’s risk, reward,” he said Friday night.

Now the reality sets in. Projections mean nothing. Forty speed, vertical jump, bench press, none of those mean a thing. You might be looking for athletes on paper, but on the field, you’re looking for football players.

It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from a movie in the early ‘70’s “The Candidate.” Robert Redford plays an idealistic, first time politician who is put up for election as fodder against an incumbent. It’s a great foreshadowing of what political campaigning has become in the television, media age. (“Wag The Dog’” is another.) The catch is, he’s supposed to lose. On Election Day candidate Redford pulls out a surprising victory. At the post-election celebration, he spots his campaign manager across the room and mouths “Now what?”

And that’s the question for the Jaguars: Now what?

Things like this never happen to this franchise. It started with them losing a coin toss to Carolina to get the first pick of their first draft in 1995. They’d have taken Tony Boselli no matter, but good fortune has never smiled on the franchise. They’ve always been one player, one play or one draft pick away from what they really want to be.

And save for a one-off year in 2017, they’ve been irrelevant for over a decade.

Not anymore.

The selection of Lawrence instantly puts the national spotlight on the Jaguars. But it’s the rest of the team makeover that will determine what they do on the field. They have their quarterback; they spent some money restocking in free agency and looked to the not-too-distant future with their draft picks.

But now what?

Every NFL team has a forty percent turnover each year. That means twenty of the fifty-three players on the game day roster will be different.

For the Jaguars, that number will be much higher.

“Jacksonville will be the most different looking team in the NFL,” long time NFL writer Peter King said before the draft. “Not just because they’re taking Trevor Lawrence, but they have a new coach who wants to impact every part of the team. Who are they keeping? At linebacker, they’ll say, ‘Myles Jack, you’re staying. Everybody else we’ll see when the season starts.”

That seems to be what the coaching staff is bringing across the board: competition at every position.

Will they be better? Las Vegas has put the over/under win total at six. That’s a whole lot better than one for sure, but you have to think with all of the changes they’ve made, they’re betting the over right away. Meyer nearly scoffed at the idea of a “rebuild plan” when asked about what kind of patience he thinks he’ll have with a new team.

“Well, the way I’ve always looked at everything is—at the moment whoever gives us the best chance to win is going to be playing,” he said. “And that’s every position at that moment who gives us the best chance to win and that there is an incredible amount of urgency. I told our players that, all due respect, the four-, five-, six-year plans, that’s not that plan at all. The plan is to try to do the very best to win. Every time we line up, we try to win.”

With the draft over it seems like an inordinate amount of work to add under a dozen unproven players. But all of that research doesn’t go to waste.

“Sometimes people say we made all those reports, and we only took a few players,” one personnel director noted. “My response always is, ‘We just made the first report for our pro personnel department on the other guys. They go right to that database, so you have it in September when they get cut or two Septembers from now.’

When they tell players every move they make on or off the field around an NFL team counts, they mean it. They’re not just auditioning for one team but for all thirty-two at the same time. And not just for today. That information is stored and leaned on for years to come.

That’s why Nick Saban’s “And Or But,” description is so accurate.

“I tell players they can help themselves in a lot of ways,” the current Alabama and former NFL Head Coach said this week. “When a team puts together a report on a player on height, weight, speed, hands, whatever, there can be an ‘and’ that includes ‘he’s a good teammate, great character. Or there can be a ‘but’ ‘he had a fight in the locker room, has a drug charge.’ Do you want to be an ‘and’ or a ‘but?”’

There’s one more situation where the scouts stick with the current class before moving on to next year. They’ll start looking at 2022 in earnest around Memorial Day but when this 2021 class takes the field, they have a rooting interest.

For the Jaguars, that’s scheduled for May 17th when the rookies will be on the field together for the first time in their own rookie mini-camp.
“You just don’t want to go out at rookie camp and see a guy you really fought for struggle,” one scout explained. “You want him to get off to a good start,”

After a lot of ‘no fun’ years following the Jaguars, don’t we all.

Lonnie Marts

Lonnie Marts Leveling the Playing Field

Sometimes it’s funny how life takes you in the direction you’re supposed to go. Former Jaguars Linebacker Lonnie Marts is a good example of that. In the twenty plus year’s Lonnie and I have been friends we’ve had a running joke about his role as a football player.

“When that hole at the line of scrimmage opened up, I always knew you’d be standing in that hole,” I’d say to him.

“Yep, that was my job,” he’d answer with a laugh.

As we all know, not everybody would be willing to ‘stand in that hole’ but Lonnie was that guy as a professional football player and now is filling another gap as a dad, husband, mentor, coach and a member of the community.

Last year Marts and his friend James Coleman started the Level the Playing Field Leadership Academy. For Marts, it’s a chance to again fill a gap in the line. This time it’s a gap he sees in Black community when it comes to nurturing, teaching and growing boys into men.

“Why boys? I’m always asked,” Marts said by way of explanation. “Because our girls need some upstanding men.”

Level the Playing Field’s goal is to take boys in the Black community, ten to thirteen years old, particularly athletes, and stay with them and support them until they’re twenty-one. And it’s not just an ‘after-school’ program. Marts says it’ll be “24-7.”

“We know we’re going to have times we need to check on the boys that are out of the normally expected times,” Lonnie explained. “We’re working on their mental wellness. There’s something that happened in their lives that left them in their situation. You can’t teach or train a child when they’re hungry or tired. So, we have to work on their situation full-time.”

There are a couple of other organizations who are involved in a similar mission. Mal Washington’s foundation celebrated it’s twenty fifth year in existence in 2021. Martz has leaned heavily on Mal’s experience with his youth foundation as well as the “Son of a Saint” organization in his hometown of New Orleans.

“Mal is one of the first people I called. Sonny Lee started Son of a Saint and I talk with him all the time,” Lonnie said. “They’re recognized as one of the reasons crime is down in New Orleans. They’re only in existence for ten years but they’ve had a great impact in the city. They’re impacting these boys’ lives.”

Marts wants to start with just fifteen boys here in Jacksonville and grow from there. Lonnie was raised by his mother in a single parent household in New Orleans, played college football in his hometown at Tulane and played in Kansas City, Tampa, Tennessee and Jacksonville as a professional. He chose to stay here to have an impact.

“We missed the explosion of those other cities when we left,” he said of the travels he and his wife Gionne and their five children have had. “We’re not in the carousel of looking for a team (to play for) and we found everything here. My wife likes everything about being here. It’s a sports town and we decided to try and be a part of the boom here and grow with the city.”

As friends and co-workers, Lonnie and I have had long discussions about our backgrounds and our commitment to our careers. Lonnie said he was kind of shocked when his NFL career came to an end and three of his kids had grown up without him around.

“I wanted to be the ‘Dad in the house’ for my two youngest kids. I’m getting time back with my oldest three right now.”

Marts filled a gap in the line for Harvest Community School when they wanted to start a football program. He became the Head Coach and the Athletic Director, learning plenty about himself in the process. He recognized the platform he had as a former NFL player and the impact he was having on his students as players and as young men.

“I realized as a head coach and in coaching meetings what I was doing for young men was leading them to be better,” he explained. “Just because you were good at doing it doesn’t mean you’re good at teaching it. That’s what I’m working on right now: To learn to take some of the talents I saw I had and apply them to these young men.”

Marts’ head coaches in the NFL included Marty Shottenheimer, Sam Wyche and Tony Dungy. Bill Cowher was his defensive coordinator with the Chiefs. Lonnie credits all of their commitments to their communities as his influence to do the same here.

“They were adamant about being part of the community,” he explained. “With a platform, you have a responsibility.”

Shottenheimer, Cowher and Dungy also had an influence on Marts’ coaching style. He never was a yeller and a screamer.

“I wouldn’t have taken up coaching if I hadn’t been coached by Coach Dungy,” Lonnie said. “I see a lot of cursing and screaming in the high school game and I disagree with that. Coach Dungy kept his cool in the most difficult situations. He’s the only reason I got into coaching. Marty and Bill were also like that. I didn’t yell and scream during games, that doesn’t do anything to build young men.”

Building young men is something Lonnie now considers a calling.

“Too many men and especially Black men are not ‘in place.’” Marts explained. “If they were, daughters would have the chance to live better lives. Boys need to see what it’s like to be in a married home, part of a family. What I’m trying to give them is what my Mom gave me. I want to open their vision to see “I don’t have to walk that path.”

Marts also has a different idea about why and how young Black men are finding the wrong path.

“If you’ve never been taught that skill, you get frustrated,” he explained. “I think that’s where the young male of color is, ‘I can see that, but I don’t know how to do that.’ We’re trying to teach boys how to grow and open up a wide world to them. It’s not only football that can give them a chance to get out of their situation. There are other things they can learn and do.”

“Young African American guys need to learn how to set up others for success,” he continued. “Not just themselves. It’s not just about Instagram followers and the cars and the houses and the jewelry.”

“That’s why we’re starting with fifteen boys of color, but we hope to open it up to anybody in single parent homes. It’s overwhelming how many on our Northside are in poverty. They’re thinking no one cares and they don’t have any hope. They need somebody who they know who cares and wants to help. They need to know they have another choice. Giving them the knowledge of another path gives them just that.”

Marts is working with Big Brothers, Big Sisters looking for mentors. He’s trying to get the word out on the Northside about potential Academy members. Delores and Wayne Weaver have provided a matching gift as seed money to get the Academy off the ground. He’s talking to the City about using a community center on the Northside to get their ‘kids’ together.

“How can we stop this?” Marts concluded. “How can we keep these young boys from getting locked into something that’s not good for them. We’re trying to teach the boys to be a value and not a burden to the city and their community.”

This week he’s hosting a virtual event called “The Huddle” to raise awareness, and hopefully funds. Dungy and Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks will be among the participants Thursday night at 7PM. If you’d like more information, or would just like to help, start at their website, leveltheplayingfieldla.org or find them on Facebook or Instagram.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars Should Avoid The Past

A couple of years ago I was sitting in the press box during a Jaguars game next to my good friend and colleague Dan Hicken. After a particularly goofy play, you know kind where the Jaguars get a turnover and immediately throw an interception that goes the other way for six? Dan turned to me and said, “Is this team cursed?”

We laughed and I told him the story of the phone calls and emails I received when the Jaguars original logo came out in 1994. “Don’t they know the blue tongue shows a cursed animal!” the writers exclaimed. I passed that along to Wayne Weaver at the time, knowing the “blue tongue” was his wife Delores’ idea. Wayne laughed it off, as did the current Jaguars ownership when they redesigned the Jaguars head. Dan and I had a laugh, then stopped with raised eyebrows and said, “Really?”

Google “Blue Tongue Curse” and this phrase pops up: “According to legend, animals that have blue tongues are a curse that was brought down by the gods.”

So, in some cultures, the blue tongue is a thing.

As we watch the Super Bowl today, we’ll suffer through the numerous former Jaguars who have populated the Bucs and the Chiefs rosters, including THREE former Jaguars starting quarterbacks.

It would be bad enough that Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert, the two backup quarterbacks in the game, are former starters here, but even Byron Leftwich plays a significant role in Super Bowl LV as the Bucs Offensive Coordinator. The Chiefs also have Patrick Omameh on their practice squad, as well as Dustin Colquitt who spent a minute here in December. In addition to Leftwich, the Bucs are using Leonard Fournette in a two-man backfield in a much more effective role than his three years here.

This is a familiar song for Jaguars fans. “Everybody who leaves here gets a Super Bowl ring,” is a common refrain. Because it’s true. If not a spot in the big game, former Jaguars players litter the rosters of playoff teams year after year.

Under different ownership, different personnel decision makers and coaches, the Jaguars have been on the wrong side of players’ decisions at nearly every turn in their history.

After buying a car specifically with a full lay-down front seat so he could sleep there in the parking lot trying to make the Jaguars, Allen Lazard was cut, signed with the Packers and is now one of Aaron Rodgers favorite targets. Marcedes Lewis is in his third year with the Pack, the Jaguars letting him go in free agency.

When it comes to players, and decisions about who to keep, who to let become a free agent and whom to draft, it’s not hard to see the path the Jaguars took to the bottom of the league and the top of the draft.

Go all the way back to the 2006 draft and there aren’t many players picked that year even still playing in the league, but the Jaguars first round pick is still a productive player. Problem is that Marcedes is still playing. With the Packers. Inexcusable to let him become a free agent at a time they desperately needed him in the locker room.

Jump ahead to the 2010 draft and there are about half of the players picked in the first round now finishing ten years in the league. Including the Jaguars first pick, Tyson Alulu. But he’s been in Pittsburgh starting nearly every game for the Steelers for the last four years. Could it have been that expensive to keep him around? It wasn’t like he was a hotly sought-after free agent.

It’s difficult to play the “But they could have had that guy” game when the context of the team isn’t part of the discussion.

But it’s hard not to play that game though in the 2011 draft. Blaine Gabbert was the best player in the draft according to Jack Del Rio at the time and while Gabbert is still in the league, he proved not to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. And the player taken right after him was J.J. Watt. At least the Jaguars didn’t take Christian Ponder in the first round. He was taken right after Watt by the Vikings and only lasted 38 games in the league.

In 2012 the Jaguars famously took Justin Blackmon in Shad Khan’s first draft as an owner. Supremely talented, Blackmon had problems beyond football and was out of the league after 20 games. Interestingly, none of the first six wide receivers taken that year, including four taken in the first round, are still in the league.

There were five tackles taken in the first round in 2013. Four are still playing and starting in the NFL. Only the Jaguars second overall pick Luke Joeckel isn’t playing football right now. Eric Williams was the first pick and while he’s injured and won’t play in the Super Bowl, he’s been a mainstay for the Chiefs up front.

There’s plenty to argue about the when it comes to the decisions made in the draft room in 2014. Dave Caldwell thought they could get either Blake Bortles and Marqise Lee or Jimmy Garaoppolo and Allen Robinson. Luckily Johnny Manziel wasn’t on their radar. They decided on Bortles over Garaoppolo and ended up getting Robinson late in the second round. He didn’t want to be a receiver on a Blake Bortles quarterbacked team, so he left as a free agent a few years later and is a star for the Bears. Teddy Bridgewater is still playing, another quarterback taken in the first round.

In 2015 they missed on Dante Fowler and his character issues. In 2016 they got the player they wanted in Jalen Ramsey but didn’t realize what a goofball he was.

The 2017 draft should irk all Jaguars fans. Tom Coughlin selected Leonard Fournette, looking for a back to carry the load. That’s fine, take a running back, but it looked like Coughlin was building a team to win twenty years ago instead of in today’s pass-happy NFL. Christian McCaffrey was the most versatile running back in that draft. And I won’t mention that Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were taken tenth and twelfth in the first round. Yes, the Jaguars were a play away from the Super Bowl that year but in this exercise, we can look at the bigger picture.

That was also the year they let Lewis go as a free-agent and Paul Posluszny retired. They never have recovered from the leadership void they left in the locker room. Calais Campbell filled that for a bit, but it’s tough to do by yourself. Six of the eleven defensive starters from the 2017 defense are still starting in the league.

Elsewhere.

I’m still perplexed by Coughlin’s pick of Taven Bryan in the first round of the 2018 draft. I suppose he was building across the defensive line of scrimmage hoping to have a cadre of linemen in a rotation. But Lamar Jackson was taken three picks later.

Hard to say what will come of the personnel the Jaguars acquired in last year’s draft. C.J. Henderson only played eight games before getting hurt and K’Lavon Chaisson did show promise at the end of this season. Yannick Ngakoue is on his second team after getting bad advice and forcing his way out of Jacksonville. And not figuring out how to keep Calais Campbell showed the decision-makers didn’t have a good handle on what was going on in the locker room. It’s the unpardonable decision that eventually cost Caldwell his job.

In fact, you throw all of those decisions at one team in just ten years, it’s no wonder they’re 1-15 and will pick first in this year’s draft.

Here’s to hoping that the new brain trust of Trent Baalke and Urban Meyer somehow leaps away from the “blue tongue” curse and puts the Jaguars on a new path.

Don’t over think it. It was good to hear Baalke say he was interested in taking the best player available on the board in the draft. Take Trevor Lawrence and move on. Use some of that $76 million under the cap and invest in some of the premium positions on the offensive line, at linebacker and safety.

Watch the Super Bowl today and enjoy it. Look at what the Bucs and Chiefs did with a new coach and a new quarterback to move from pretenders to contenders. And think of what can be in short time.

Author’s Note:

The sports and broadcasting worlds lost an icon this week and I lost a close and true friend as tennis legend Tony Trabert died at his home in Ponte Vedra on Wednesday. He was ninety years old. A NCAA Tennis Champion who also started on the University of Cincinnati basketball team, “Trabes,” as he was known to his generational friends, went on to win ten Major Championships including three legs of the Grand Slam, the French, Wimbledon and US titles in 1955. His only loss was to Ken Rosewall in the semi’s in Australia after helping the US team bring home the Davis Cup. That year Tony had one of the all-time great yeas in tennis, winning 106 matches, including 38-straight and taking 10 straight titles. Trabert played on five Davis Cup teams and went on to Captain the squad for five years. A Hall of Famer himself, he served as the President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and his broadcasting career as the lead tennis analyst here in the US and in Australia spanned over three decades.

In the high-velocity worlds of sports and broadcasting it’s hard to find a mentor but Tony was mine for the second half of my career as a genuine and trusted friend. He made me better at my job but more importantly taught me to be a better person. His level of grace was unmatched. Tony had a kind soul, a quick wit, an easy smile, a generous spirit and a look-you-in-the-eye firm handshake. I was lucky to write about Tony in this column a few times, a small look into his life and legacy, on and off the court.

Trabert called North Florida home for nearly forty years, meeting his wife Vicky while broadcasting at The Players Championship on March 20, 1982. “You know, our zip code, 32082,” he often joked.

Like anybody who knew him, I will miss him terribly.

Trent Baalke

A Baalke Change Up

There’s a learning curve in every new situation, even owning an NFL team. Shad Khan admits he’s learned a few things, sometimes jarring and big things, since taking control of the Jaguars in 2012.

Those things he’s learned have given him enough experience to have his own perspective on what works in the NFL. He’s tried a few different things but save for 2017, nothing’s really worked. That’s why he’s stopped using consultants and advisors in the hiring process and is leaning on his gut instinct.

“My whole aspect,” Khan said recently in a statement of his philosophy, “(Is) that we need to be a coach-centric team and organization, where the head coach really has to lead the kind of players he wants, the kind of team we need to be.”

Khan thinks Urban Meyer is the right coach for this situation, which makes his hire of Trent Baalke as the team’s general manager very interesting because of the chain of command Shad wants to use going forward. Both Meyer and Baalke will report directly to Khan.

Baalke is getting a second chance, and even he knows that’s rare in the high adrenaline world of the NFL. And as the complimentary counterpart to Urban Meyer’s personality, Baalke’s current take on what he’s learned and what his job is fits under Meyer’s view as the overseer of the whole operation.

“I’m a resource for coach, that’s the way I look at it,” he said Thursday when asked where he fit in the Jaguars hierarchy. “I provide a service where he can come in, he can bounce things off of me, because there’s going to be a lot of questions, there’s going to be a lot of things that are going to be first time for him.”

Baalke was named the Director of Player Personnel last year and in late November he took over as the interim General Manager when Khan fired Dave Caldwell. He knows the current Jaguars roster and which players might fit into Meyer’s now famous, “A to B, four to six” mantra. And with the average NFL roster turning over twenty players each year, picking the right players is paramount.

His resume is impressive, but his results are uneven. After twelve years with the 49ers, six as General Manager, Baalke was fired. And he thought it was the right thing to do.

“Sometimes you need to reset the culture. When you have a winning culture, which we did in 2011, ’12, ’13 and ’14, (there are) a lot of good football players,” he said shortly after he was let go. “Then you transition. At some point, those veteran guys move on. Blending in with younger guys, and sometimes it takes a little longer than you’d like. And this is probably one of those situations.”

That’s a rare amount of humility in the world of the NFL.

His 2012 and 2013 drafts were called “lackluster” by most draft experts and the following results showed. The ‘Niners quickly went from Super Bowl contenders to NFL also-rans. He clashed with head coaches Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly and it cost him his job.

He didn’t think he’d ever get another chance to be a General Manager and again, and he’s right, that rarely happens. But paying some penance on the staff in Jacksonville, Baalke was in the right place at the right time.

More importantly, he says he’s changed. He’s learned lessons from his mistakes.

“I’ve learned a lot about dealing and working with coaches, a lot about dealing and working with players, a lot about team building and what it takes,” he said on Thursday. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount. I think learning is a journey, and I think every day you wake up—if you’re not waking up with the mentality that you’re going to learn something, you’re missing something.”

And there’s nothing like being on the outside looking in that can give perspective in football. Guys who have made football their life don’t want to be on the outside.

“When you’re out of the business, you get to look at the business through a different lens. When you’re in it, you don’t have that luxury. Things are happening a lot quicker; you’ve got to make a lot of quicker decisions. And I grew, I think, more from being outside of this business looking in, than I ever grew inside of this business.”

So, Baalke has learned, he’s working in a situation that he wants to be in, and he now has a specific, and notably different, philosophy than when he was running the Niners.

There he took some chances, reached and even tried drafting injured players to stockpile them for the future. Marcus Lattimore, a running back from South Carolina is a prime example. Baalke took him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft despite serious knee injuries in his sophomore and junior years in Columbia. He never played a down in the NFL.

Losing his job, being on the outside, and knowing what didn’t work seems to have altered his idea of what makes a good football team.

“I think the focus is always on the draft and building your team through the draft,” he said. “I think you use the other avenues to supplement your roster. I think you’re always searching to build your roster whether it’s from the top down or the bottom up or somewhere in the middle.”

“We’re a value-based team, not a needs-based,” he added. “You always have needs regardless of when you set the fifty-three, so the best player available is usually the direction you want to go.”

One thing Baalke is, is a departure from the Jaguars personnel decision-makers in the past. He’s been there before, been around the league and has been the final word on personnel decisions.

Tom Coughlin had personnel responsibilities when the Jaguars first hired him and not being willing to share those responsibilities probably cost him a chance to keep his job in the early 2000’s. When he went to the Giants, somebody else had the final say on who came and who went on their roster. James Harris never had the General Manager title and was a pro personnel executive in Baltimore before coming here. Gene Smith was considered a “super scout” and was elevated to the GM job coming up through the ranks of the Jaguars scouting system. Dave Caldwell was an assistant in Atlanta and considered a rising star, but Jacksonville was his first, “The Buck Stops Here,” job.

Baalke at least has some experience behind him as the decision-maker. Sometimes you have to find out what doesn’t work to figure out what does.

“In this league there are thirty-two teams and I honestly believe twenty-six to twenty-eight of them beat themselves before they ever even hit the field, for various reasons, and I’ve been a part of them,” he said Thursday.

Baalke says he’s fine being criticized and has developed a thick skin. He’ll need it in his job, trying to build the Jaguars back to a relevant NFL franchise. One scribe in San Francisco listed making Baalke the General Manager as “the worst decision the franchise has made in the last decade.” Harbaugh didn’t have much nice to say about his GM after his departure from the Niners when he took the Michigan job.

Baalke seems unfazed, and perhaps, even changed.

“I know this,” he said. “We share a vision here, between ownership, between the head coach, myself, that I think we’re very focused in on and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

Urban Meyer

Urban Redux

Dear Shad,

Hope you and the family had a great holiday season and are looking forward to a happy and healthy 2021!

Just wanted to send along my congratulations on your new head coach hire. It’s the kind of big splash that put the Jaguars back on the map instantly. With Urban on board and Trevor Lawrence waiting in the wings, the Jaguars are relevant again! I’m sure the phones for season tickets are ringing off the hook.

I’m not sure who you were leaning on for advice on this hire but there are a few of us who have been around for a while and know Urban from his seven years at Florida. I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on the excitement in town but there are a few things I wanted to make you aware of.

Wow, did they have some success there in Gainesville under Urban! I’m sure you asked and I’m sure he had a good answer for the lawlessness and the criminal activity that happened under his watch while he was in Gainesville as was reported and verified after his departure from there.

There are a lot of Gator fans who think the most amazing thing that happened while he was there wasn’t the two national championships but rather that nobody went to jail while he was in charge!

Nonetheless, winning seems to cure all ills, but it is kind of funny that he’s so reviled by Gator fans even though he brought two national titles there. They’re trying to figure out how to put Urban in the Gators Ring of Honor at Florida Field but they’re afraid he’ll be booed! Imagine that? Maybe they’ll bring the HBC or Timmy along to keep that from happening. I guess Gator fans didn’t like how he left, either time!

I mean, we were all concerned when his wife Shelley told us she couldn’t revive him one night despite her repeated “Urb, Urb,” calls to him on the floor. Turns out he had some kind of serious, as he described it, ‘esophageal spasms’ that were causing his problems. I guess the next year when he quit to spend more time with his family, that was the best thing for everybody. Who knew a stint with ESPN could be so much a part of family bonding?

But wow, medical science is amazing isn’t it? Just eleven months later he was back coaching at Ohio State! I’m not sure Gator fans in North Florida quite understand that but I’m sure they’ll be buying Jaguars tickets anyway.

As you said on Friday when you introduced him, Meyer was impressive above all candidates in the interview process. He is an impressive interview and was equally impressive in his first meeting with the press at the end of last week.

I just wonder how things will go as we get into the year and hopefully things start to get back to normal. You know when you met somebody and after you shake hands, (we used to do that) and look them in the eye, you got the feeling ‘Hey, something else is going on there’? That’s the feeling I always got around Urban. A friend of mine who worked with him a lot said, “It’s like he’s always looking past you.” “Yeah, that’s it,” I thought. Not quite transparent, not trusting, and with a whole agenda nobody else knows anything about. Hopefully as he moves to the pros that’ll change, right?

Because I\it can be a bit of a different transition from college to the pros. One thing I’m sure you talked with Urban about is dealing with the media. Going to a press conference in Gainesville or Columbus, the room is full of young reporters, many still students, who are learning their jobs and oftentimes are graduates and fans of the program their covering. Urban had control of that situation and honestly, not many hard questions were asked.

And when the hard questions were asked, he usually rebuffed, laughed off or answered them with a “Where are you from?” answer. I know, he asked me that more than once! That won’t be the case in a professional setting like the NFL. He’ll have to get used to being asked the how’s and why’s of what he’s doing. His decisions will be second guessed, legitimately, and constantly on every level.

But hey, wasn’t it funny when that cub reporter from my former employer started his question with ‘Go Gators!’ on Friday? Doubt that will happen again.

I’m sure you asked him what the heck happened at Ohio State with his assistant Zach Smith. Urban had to serve a three-game suspension for his role in handling the spouse abuse allegations against his former assistant. Urban said he “mis-spoke” at the summer Big Ten media days when he told us he didn’t know anything about that. Female Jaguars fans have asked me about that, but I’m sure he gave you the right answers.

And who says you have to be likeable and considered a good guy to be a good football coach anyway? It’s certainly no requirement for the players in pro sports. Some sort of a rap sheet is never a deterrent if you can play.

I mean, Look at some of the most successful coaches and they don’t’ fall into the category of ‘likeable.” That’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells or even Tom Coughlin. And Vince Lombardi doesn’t evoke warm and fuzzy feelings.

The difference though is all of those coaches have their private defenders. Talk to any of their friends and they’ll tell you stories about their philanthropy, their humor and their general goodness. I rarely heard that about Jack Del Rio and I’ve never heard that about Urban Meyer in the seventeen years I’ve covered his career. Hopefully sometime soon I will.

But again, that’s not a requirement to be a good football coach. Meyer has shown he can be a good football coach, but on a completely different level. Perhaps his executive skills, his ability to organize and create a ‘program’ will translate to the professional level. But we don’t know that. But there’s hope!

We do know that there’s a long list of college coaches who haven’t been able to transition to the pro game, and a few, like Urban’s friend from FOX Sports, Jimmy Johnson who have, and have done it very well.

Urban knows college players are still forming who they’re going to be as people. And I’m sure he knows sometimes a coach plays a significant role in that. Scientists say your brain isn’t fully formed until you’re about twenty-four years old and while you’re in college you’re still figuring out where you fit into the world. If somebody in authority gives you direction, especially if you’ve been coached in sports your whole life, you go along. Urban did that as a college coach with plenty of success.

And on Friday he admitted that the game has changed and said he’s changed with it. Professional athletes figure out what works for them and they’re a different breed.

Their first year they’re figuring out how to stay in the league. And that’s the overriding motivation throughout their career. As they get established, some figure out how to win, but they’re all trying to stay in the game. Nobody ever leaves when they want to.

Speaking of leaving, what did he have to say about leaving Columbus? I know he said Friday he was older and was very aware of his health and how to take care of it but wow, arachnoid cysts on your brain sounds serious! I hope collapsing on the sideline and those headaches he suffered at Ohio State isn’t in his future here. I guess medical science really is amazing! That FOX Sports gig must have been just the relaxing tonic he needed.

You’ve been in the Jaguars locker room and you’ve seen the different ways players get themselves ready. They know what works for them. When to eat, how much sleep, rest and nutrition they need. What kind of workouts get them best prepared? I hope Urban has thought about that and the difference coaching grown men.

They’ll follow along with his schedule and the concepts, but there’s much more individualism in pro sports. He’ll will have to get used to that, not the other way around. College coaches who try to impose their will and their way in pro sports flame out pretty quickly. Hey, even Tom Coughlin adjusted when he was with the Giants and won two Super Bowls.

Look, you and I know you don’t have to be good, or even nice to be a good football coach. But you have to be respected by the players, the assistants, the people in your organization, the media and the fans. I’m sure Urban realizes that he doesn’t have that from the start with football fans here in North Florida.

Unlike a lot of hires where the coach has a bit of a honeymoon period while everybody sees where he takes the team, Meyer’s track record doesn’t afford him that. He’ll have to earn respect every step of the way.

There’s also the CEO aspect of the job where the head coach represents the organization. That matters a lot here in Jacksonville. Maybe more than other cities. The Jaguars head coach is the face of the team and has to be out there in some way as part of the community. That’ll be great to see Urban helping out at the Sulzbacher Center and speaking at Rotary Clubs spreading the good word of the Jaguars.

I hope occasionally losing on the NFL level doesn’t bother Urban too much. One fellow reporter said losing “crushed Urban’s soul” more than any other coach we’ve covered. That’s great on one level that he cares that much, luckily, he only lost thirty-two times in his entire college career. I mean, geez, the Jaguars lost fifteen times just LAST YEAR! He’ll remember losing five games in a season might have cost him his job in college. But wow, if he only loses five games a year with the Jaguars, we’ll erect a statue!

Anyway, I’ve taken way too much of your time. Looking forward to your General Manager pick and hopefully seeing more of you around, and winning in 2021!

Best, SK

A Fans Fix

It would be no surprise that all of my friends are sports fans. Oh, they have plenty of varied interests, from tango to traveling, investing to industry. But sports binds all of us together, it’s our common denominator.

All of my friends are also old enough to have been around to see the Jaguars become an NFL franchise and take pride in having a team in our town. And like a majority of Jaguars fans, they moved here from somewhere else. So, their allegiance is split, but they all are Shad Khan’s definition of a fan: They buy tickets. Or more.

I asked them all this week about a new start for the Jaguars. A new coach, a new general manager, a whole new beginning.

“It’s a great opportunity,” ‘Big Beef’ a Giants/Dolphins/Jaguars fan said. Beef is an avid football fan and admits he looks at things through a fans eye. He supports the Jaguars by more than just buying tickets. He uses his time at the stadium to entertain and be entertained.

“With all of that cap space, the draft picks, the young guys on the team, I just hope they hire the right people to get the job done,” he added.

That was the consensus about hiring: get the right people in here.

Most of them said it makes them cringe to hear Urban Meyer’s name mentioned as a possibility to take over downtown. Citing the lack of success college coaches have had moving to pro football, they’re not sure Meyer’s resume should make him a candidate.

I agree with that and think it might be the most tone-deaf thing Khan and team president Mark Lamping could do in this search.

National pundits call Meyer a “prime candidate” citing his connection to Florida through his time in Gainesville. Obviously, they’re lapping up something Urban is putting out there or just didn’t pay attention to his departure from the Gators.

Meyer left as the most unliked guy he could possibly be for a coach who won two National Champions at Florida. And people still don’t like him to this day. Maybe he had health problems, but after leaving and saying he wanted to spend more time with family, I guess they were all living at the Fox Sports Studios because that’s where he spent most of his time. And he did almost the same thing at Ohio State.

None of this bothers my friend ‘Ghost of Chuck,’ a Bills/Jaguars fan.

“He’s a CEO type and that’s what the Jaguars need,” Ghost said this week. “He scares me as a college coach making the move to the pros. NFL players are different animals. I suspect the quality of his character over some of the things he’s done, but he has the leadership skills they need.”

My friend ‘The BQ’ also is a Jet/Jaguars fan. He sees Meyer as a bad fit altogether.

“College to the pros, it’s tough,” he agreed. Adding, “And he’s got a big ego, that’s hard to match a coach with a big ego with the ego of these players these days.”

“Look at Andy Reid,” he said as an example. “He never was bigger than his team. Coaches get carried away with themselves and they tend to shield themselves from the organization. That’s egotistical. Guys like Reid and Mike Tomlin, those guys are in the trenches with the players and the front office, the whole organization. The coach and the GM need to be part of the organization while leading it.”

Ghost said he doesn’t think the head coach has to be an x’s and o’s guy. Just somebody everybody trusts to lead.

“They need a coach who has the vision and passes it on to everybody else. The strength guy, the front office staff, the video guy The GM has to be a scout/personnel guy with an eye for the talent.

When I noted that the Jaguars have relied on ‘Super Scouts’ like Gene Smith and ‘highly thought of personnel guys’ like Dave Caldwell with no success, Ghost laughed.

“Just like in business,” he said. “Sometimes you have to keep the Peter Principle in mind. You promote somebody to the highest level of their incompetence. It really comes down to you have to pick the right players and you have to have a quarterback.”

You might remember my friend ‘Wooly’ from our trips to Las Vegas and the ‘action’ he likes associated with the NFL. As an Eagles/Jaguars fan, he’s stayed away from betting on the Jags saying he’s never sure what they’re going to do.

“I try to avoid betting with my heart,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve just stayed away from them. I never have confidence in them whether I bet with or against them. Their last two weeks in the regular season are a blueprint as why I’ve stayed away from ‘em.”

If you didn’t follow that, the Jaguars were competitive against the Bears in the first half in week sixteen, giving their supporters hope, and got blown out in the last thirty minutes. The next week they easily covered the spread against the Colts. A game where they were supposed to get blown out.

Which brings Wooly to his conclusion about a new Jaguars leadership team.

“The head coach has to have the experience of developing a young quarterback. You can’t rely on an assistant to get that done.”

And he added they just need to do the obvious thing: pick Trevor Lawrence.

“They have the opportunity to select a player to be the face of the franchise for the next ten years or more. This is the obvious pick. They need a quarterback in a quarterback’s league. And t’s going to continue to be that way.”

I was amazed at how insistent my friends were about taking Trevor Lawrence. Not that he’s not the right guy to take, but they all mentioned their fear that the Jaguars might NOT take him. They’ve been beaten down by underperformance and bad decision making for so long they fear the team won’t do the obvious, best thing.

“Take the quarterback and build around him,” BQ said, somewhat exasperated. “It’s the tried-and-true formula for the league over the past 20 or so years. Don’t overthink it.”

“He’s a generational talent, scouts think so, the other players think so,” Ghost added. “I’m using the Buffalo blueprint. Sean McDermott was a defensive guy but had a plan laid out for everything when they interviewed him for the job. The weight room, the staff, the practice schedule, all of it. He was building a team in the best sense of the word and now they have one of the most productive offenses in the league because they got the quarterback (Josh Allen).”

BQ echoed what everybody said when it comes to building the team from scratch: Don’t get fancy.

“Need a guy that sticks to basics,” BQ said of both the GM and the coach. Follow the rule book until this team gets on its feet. Basic blocking and tackling until they get established. They have some good young players. Get a core of players that are going to be around for a while.”

When I mentioned that Shad Khan was the second fastest owner to a hundred losses ever in the NFL, nobody laid the blame at his feet.

“I don’t hold ownership accountable for how they’ve lost,” Wooly said “He hasn’t been erratic. He’s been supportive. He hasn’t shortchanged the opportunity for the team to win like some owners have. The brand is fine, the product has been terrible.”

Amen to that.

The Jaguars have won at a twenty seven percent clip in the last decade, or perhaps better said, they’ve lost at a seventy-three percent average.

“Losing gets old,” Beef lamented leading to his solution. “Take Lawrence, get a line to protect him, build a team around him. Belichick didn’t worry about the quarterback the whole time Brady was there. Do the same here. It’s a team effort.”

Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence

Forget Them

Over the past week social media has been ablaze with comments about the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence. Jaguars fans are giddy at the prospect of holding the number one choice in the April NFL Draft and the Clemson quarterback being chosen to wear black and teal.

Everybody else it seems, isn’t so happy with the prospect that a potential big-name talent would ply his trade in and outpost like Jacksonville.

Times Union columnist Gene Frenette outlined in these pages this week how the rest of the world will just have to buck up an accept the fact that in all likelihood, Lawrence is the next Jaguars quarterback.

In this new year, looking forward, I’ll add to that, euphemistically saying:

“Forget them.”

All of the talk about changing the draft process to a lottery and how Lawrence might refuse to sign with Jacksonville and stay at Clemson are a bit far-fetched. You can cite John Elway with Baltimore, Bo Jackson with Tampa Bay and even Eli Manning with San Diego as examples of top players forcing their way out of one franchise and into another.

All three of those had to do with ownership problems. Robert Irsay in Baltimore was famously loud and cheap. Hugh Culverhouse seemed to be content with just making money and Dean Spanos in San Diego never seemed interested in putting much effort into a winner. Shad Khan, despite his won/loss record as an owner, doesn’t have that kind of reputation. He’ll spend money and if he makes the right hire at General Manager, that person will have whatever tools they need to build something here. That’s why the GM hire is so critical.

Look at what’s happening in Buffalo as an example. A division title for the first time in forever thanks to solid personnel decisions and the right quarterback. (And the fact that Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay.)

There is some skepticism about Lawrence’s ability to play at the professional level. Some question his toughness or his ‘spindly’ frame and wonder aloud if he’s built for the pro game. Legitimate questions, but he’s excelled at every level he’s ever played.

If you’re a franchise that needs a quarterback, he’s the obvious pick among those that might be available. Head and shoulders, literally, above the rest.

There seems to be an unusual amount of vitriol when it comes to Jacksonville as an NFL city and the potential home for a “golden boy” in the league. Fans have wondered aloud why it’s OK when Detroit is terrible and gets Matthew Stafford or when Cincinnati is awful and gets Joey Burrow. And even when the Colts are really bad, three times in the last thirty years, and get Jeff George, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck with the number one pick. But when Jacksonville has the first pick for the first time ever, let’s change the rules.

That’s not happening. They might change the rules, but not this year. The Jaguars will have the number one pick.

That bias against our city and our franchise isn’t perceived, it’s real. As the Jacksonville representative over the past twenty-six years at all sorts of official NFL functions, I’ve seen it, and heard it, firsthand. It’s such a regular part of meetings and television commentary you’d think we’d be used to it by now.

Whether it’s comments about attendance or performance, the Jaguars get to be the butt of the joke. Even in Kevin Costner’s “Draft Day,” the Jaguars are swindled by his character who’s running CLEVELAND, of all franchises.

Sitting in a Hall of Fame meeting, a prominent member of the national media started his comments with, “We all know the league has admitted that putting a franchise in Jacksonville was a mistake.”

I interrupted with, “You know I’m sitting right here, and I can hear you right?” That got a laugh, but the perception of our city is that somehow, we tricked the NFL into giving us a team.

The only thing that hasn’t happened as the NFL projected into the future for Jacksonville in 1993, is corporate growth. The population has expanded but attracting businesses here hasn’t kept up with say, Nashville in the process. Blame that on civic leadership. It’s got nothing to do with ownership or the fans.

When the league awarded the Super Bowl here in 2005 the city rolled up its sleeves and put on a show every day and every night. But still got hammered because we weren’t Miami, or Tampa or New Orleans. Which is just fine with us, we don’t want to be any of those places. But if you’re not from here, you don’t understand that.

When media comes here, they’re confused and sometimes even intimidated by the fact that we’re comfortable in our own skin. There were a few glitches surrounding the Super Bowl but because it was a new experience, in Jacksonville, we bore the brunt of the jokes.

Generally respected commentator Howie Long makes it a point when hired as a corporate speaker to point out how terrible Jacksonville was as a Super Bowl host. His evidence? The stadium ran out of hot dogs during the game. The fact that the NFL, and not the city, was in charge of that just gets in the way of his story.

One scribe complained that people were WALKING to the game, impeding his bus’s progress to the stadium. “Wait,” I thought. “You’re complaining about people slowing you down on the free bus you’re taking less than a mile to the game, where you’re going for free after your hotel and meals had been picked up by your employer?” Obviously, he had never tried to get to the game in Miami or Glendale.

If you went from the airport to the Hyatt, then to the stadium and back to the airport, as most reporters do, you didn’t get to see much of Jacksonville. And that’s true in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and almost every other NFL city. The difference here, for that crowd, is the lack of strip clubs and late-night drinking establishments.

Did you realize that every head coach the Jaguars have ever had, save for Jack Del Rio, still lives here? Doug Marrone said he and his family aren’t leaving. Even if he’s coaching somewhere else, Marrone said, “I love this town.” Walk in any Publix and you’re libel to run into a former Jaguar player who realized what we have and who we are. And stayed.

If this is such a terrible place, why are all of those people from the northeast moving here?

We’ve got our problems, just like any other city. I don’t know what the long-term future of the Lot J project is, but I do know that for the first time in a while, somebody is talking about putting money, albeit some of it ours, into our town.

Our current administration has an issue with transparency and the Jaguars sometimes seem detached from the city. But those are OUR problems to deal with, not somebody from the outside’s right to lob insults from the peanut gallery.

Barring something weird happening, Trevor Lawrence will be the first pick in the draft, and the Jaguars hold that spot.

As I said earlier, euphemistically about the naysayers:

“Forget them.”

NFL Draft Number One vs. Number Two

It makes perfect sense for Jaguars fans to want the number one pick in the 2021 NFL draft. In need of a franchise quarterback, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is poised to be the top pick next April and create a building block for some NFL franchise in the future. Fans will want the Jaguars to lose their final two games to Chicago and Indianapolis and ensure Lawrence would soon be in Teal and Black.

But Jaguars players and coaches don’t think that way. In fact, no players and coaches think that way.

Remember the whole “Suck for Luck” thing in 2011? It was a complete fan and media fabrication. Fans are going to be fans year in and year out, but players and coaches come and go. It’s the nature of the business side of the game. Players don’t care about the franchise in the future. They care about now.

With a forty percent turnover on every roster every year, professional football players are trying to put their best stuff out there every week to try and keep a job, right now, with one of the thirty-two teams in the league.

Coaches have their reputations to protect and despite Doug Marrone being a good guy and a good coach, it would be an upset if he, or any of his coaching staff, were back on the sidelines next year in Jacksonville.

Marrone knows this and has even addressed the “Tank for Trevor” fervor that has swept over Jaguars fans since the Jets won their first game of the season last week.

“I really don’t pay a lot attention to that because I just have too much going on. But I’m not an idiot either, I understand that there’s talk out there,” he said this week.

“I wouldn’t be able to do that. I couldn’t do it. I just wouldn’t,” he added when asked if he’s ever heard of a coach losing on purpose to get a better draft position. “I’ve never done that with anything in my life. I had trouble letting my kids win when they were little. And I’ve never heard of it, no.”

Marrone even admitted that as a Detroit Lions fan in 1979 he was rooting for them to lose at the end of the year in order to pick Billy Sims with the number one pick in 1980. (Which they did.)

“Then I started thinking to myself, (this week) there I was a kid, I never took into play what those coaches and players on that team must be feeling. I told the players today that obviously that’s a lot of talk now, obviously [with] what’s gone on. I told the players about [how] we don’t know what the future holds, but we’re in here today and our job is to go out there and win and that’s the best thing we can do for each other.”

No matter, win or lose in the last two games, the Jaguars, Jets and possibly the Bengals will have the top three picks in the draft. The Bengals already have three wins so the Jaguars and Jets would have to win their final two games and the Bengals lose their final two to mix up the draft order. But in all likelihood, Jacksonville and New York will pick one, two. Or two, one.

Some years that can be a big difference. Others, not so much.

In fact, the best player in Jaguars franchise history was a number two pick. In 1995 based on a coin flip, the Jaguars selected Tony Boselli with the second pick behind Cincinnati’s choice of running back Ki-Jana Carter.

John Elway and Erick Dickerson went one, two in the ’83 draft and both went to the Hall of Fame. In 1994, defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson was the number one pick by Cincinnati. Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk went second. Last year Joe Burrow was the top pick and Chase Young went second. Both seem on their way to solid careers.

Perhaps the most famous one, two draft reversal in NFL history was in 1998. Future Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian was in his first year as Team President and General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts and had the number one pick. Another future Hall of Fame executive, Bobby Bethard, was the General Manager in San Diego and held the second pick with the Chargers.

Both men were considered ‘gurus’ when it came to personnel and the dominant story was which quarterback, Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf would go first. Polian played it very close to the vest leading up to the draft, having his choice of players with the number one pick. The comparisons between Manning and Leaf were constant, and Polian kept most people guessing about which quarterback he would pick. He called the constant comparisons “The noise.”

It’s hard to fathom now, but at the time, Leaf was considered the better of the two with a stronger arm and as a better athlete. On draft day, Polian did in fact select the future Hall of Fame (eligible this year) quarterback Manning with the number one pick. Beathard was thrilled and didn’t hesitate taking Leaf with the second pick. Manning went on to win two Super Bowls. Leaf, through a variety of physical and mental issues, is considered the biggest flame-out in draft history.

As the first pick in the 2007 draft, JaMarcus Russell comes close to that distinction, taken by the Raiders and signed to a giant contract. Russell stayed in the league three years and won only eight games as the starter before being released. The second pick in that draft was receiver Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, eligible for the Hall of Fame this year as well.

With the draft sometimes feeling like a roll of the dice, teams need to pick well and be lucky.

The Packers were neither in 1988 when the late Lindy Infante was in his first season as the Head Coach in Green Bay. Infante once told me the story of the last two weeks of the ’88 season as teams were racing for the bottom of the standings looking for the number one pick.

“We were terrible that year,” Infante, the former USFL Jacksonville Bulls head coach said. “I mean really bad. Although we had Don Majkowski as our quarterback, we were in line for the number one pick and we had already decided we’d take Troy Aikman.”

“We were two and twelve with two games to play, tied with Dallas for the worst record in the league. We both won the next week, and we knew we’d have the first pick if we finished the year with the same record as the Cowboys. Somehow, we went to Phoenix and beat the Cardinals in the last game of the year. Dallas lost at home to Philadelphia. They took Aikman, we took (Tony) Mandarich. The rest is history.”

Mandarich is also considered one of the top busts in NFL Draft history. He never developed at the pro level, with steroid testing often being cited as the cause for his diminished ability. Not only was he the second pick in the ’89 draft behind Aikman but Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders, all Hall of Famers were the next three picks.

While Lawrence looks to be a ‘can’t-miss’ prospect and the number one pick, who knows what the rest of next year’s quarterback draft class will produce? The number two pick looks certain to be a quarterback as well.

Is Justin Fields the same sort of prospect? Will Kyle Trask and Mac Jones be able to take their college success to the pro level? There’s a thought that BYU’s Zac Wilson already has the game to compete in the NFL as well as somebody you’ve never heard of, Trey Lance from North Dakota State. What about Kellen Mond or even Jamie Newman who opted out at Georgia this year?

With what’s happened this season it seems only one thing is certain: one of those guys will be in a Jaguars uniform next year.

Rivalries

Rivalries come in all shapes and sizes. Two of my children graduated from Florida eight years apart. My oldest says Tennessee was the Gators biggest rival while she was in Gainesville, while my son names Georgia as the team he wanted to beat the most. Neither have very good things to say about Florida State.

In their 26-year history, the Jaguars have counted the Steelers, the Colts, the Texans and most recently the Titans as rivals.

Without much recent Jaguars success against the Titans, is it still a rivalry?

When they were emerging stars early in their careers, Andy Roddick was asked about his budding rivalry with Roger Federer. Roddick and Federer were meeting in the Wimbledon final for the second straight year.

“To be a rivalry, I’ve got to win a few of these,” Roddick said to laughter among the assembled media. But he was right. Despite playing some epic matches, Federer had beaten him eight of the last nine times they had played.

In the last ten years the Titans/Jaguars “rivalry” has shifted Tennessee’s way. The two teams split the first fourteen games of the decade, but the Titans have won six of the last seven, including a 33-30 win this year in Nashville.

“You have to take into account the history,” former Jaguars and Titans linebacker Lonnie Marts said this week. “They want to shut Derrick Henry down. They want to see what Cleveland did last week to keep him in check. They’re thinking, ‘If we can win this game, that means the rivalry is still lit.’”

Most Jaguars fans don’t have to go too far back in their memory to hear then-Titans head coach Jeff Fisher refer to Jacksonville as Tennessee’s “other home stadium.” Fisher made the comment leading up to the Titans appearance in the Super Bowl after beating the Jaguars three times in the ’99 season. That run including the AFC Conference Championship game here in January of 2000.

While Fisher mellowed and distanced himself from that comment in subsequent years, his contempt for the Jaguars as a rival was real. And personal. “He thinks he invented football,” Fisher told a media friend of mine from Nashville when asked what he thought of Tom Coughlin.

Losing those three games to the Titans, in Marts’ mind, “is like it was last week,” he said.

“I didn’t cover a guy down the seam, and they scored a touchdown in the first game. I was too focused on Eddie George. The next time we played them they used some different players and beat us again. So, when we went to play them the last time, we were focused on shutting all of that stuff down. And we did that for the first half. But when it came to the third quarter, they must have wanted it more. I went to tackle Steve McNair and it’s a tackle I make a hundred out of a hundred times and he stepped out it. And to this day, I don’t know how that happened.”

Former Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny agrees that the Titans are still a rival for the Jaguars, even with Tennessee’s recent success.

“You play teams in your division all the time, so you get to know them so well,” he said this week. “You know how to tackle them; you know how they run so we’d be prepped on all of that. When you look at game tape, you’re covering and tackling the same guys. From the outside a rivalry has to be close. From the inside, it doesn’t matter. That’s who you want to beat no matter what else is going on.”

Players and coaches universally agree that division games almost count as two in the standings. They’re a pathway to the playoffs. Every division opponent could be considered a rival. When he was with the Colts, Peyton Manning would say “Jacksonville” with a certain disdain. The Texans would wear that silly “Battle Red” at home when the Jaguars were coming to town.

“When I was with Buffalo, we didn’t like Miami, but we really had a thing going with the Jets,” Posluszny said of the Bills’ AFC East rivals. “You might think it was the Patriots, but they just got us twice a year,” he added with a laugh.

Some rivalries look like a real “hate-fest” from the outside. Marts was a part of one of those when he was with the Chiefs.

“In Kansas City it was the Raiders. It was unspoken with the Chiefs. Raider week was when the coaches stressed to putting pressure on them. And you could set your watch by it, they were going to do something stupid, maybe a late hit and give us a chance to score.”

When the Jaguars were in the AFC Central, the Steelers were their unquestioned rival. Tom Coughlin said as much noting that the division title went through Pittsburgh. And he built the Jaguars specifically to compete with the Steelers.

That rivalry was very tense. So tense in fact that being on the field at Three Rivers Stadium after a Jaguars victory could be a dangerous place. That was obvious in November of 2000 after Fred Taylor had rushed for a record 234 yards in a 34-24 win by the Jaguars.

“Stay near me,” one veteran Jaguars defensive lineman told me as we were exiting the field toward the tunnel. “They’ll throw batteries and stuff at you from up in the stands but if I have my helmet on, they won’t try it.”

Lehigh and Lafayette have played each other more times than any other two college football teams in the country. They’ve played so many times their matchup is just called, “The Rivalry.” Georgia and Georgia Tech is known as “Clean, Old Fashioned Hate.” Oregon and Oregon State have called their game the “Civil War” since the 1920’s. Steve Spurrier thought everybody considered Florida a rival, but he took special pleasure in beating Georgia and always referred to Florida State as “FSU,” or “that school up north.” Unless he was coining the phrase “Free Shoes University.”

“I think rivalries comes from personalities,” Marts theorized, admitting he still thinks of his rivals in high school. “Every other Catholic school in our district in New Orleans was a rival. My wife went to my biggest rival in high school. We still talk about it all the time. Heck, my Mom went to my rival high school!”

Posluszny has no problem remembering his college rivalries because they run deep. “At Penn State is was Ohio State and Michigan State. But being over there on the border with Ohio, you knew those guys at Ohio State. You played those guys in high school.”

What can be the difference in a rivalry game?

“Sometimes it was just ‘Who wanted it the most?’ Marts explained.

Posluszny echoed the same thought.

“It just sometimes came down to who played harder. You’re not going to get outsmarted playing your rival.”

Are We The Browns

Over the past decade or so, my favorite Jaguars fan, at least once during each season will say, “We’re the Browns, aren’t we? We’re the Browns, the Browns of the South.”

I usually scoffed at the comment. “Of course we’re not,” I’d say. “The Browns are always bad.”

But as of late, I’m not sure I’m right. In fact, I am sure there are some Jaguars fans currently who wish we were the Browns.

Since 2000, the Jaguars have had four winning seasons, but only one since 2008. The Browns didn’t play in 1996, ’97 and ’98 as owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore after the 1995 season to become the Ravens. The NFL put an expansion team back in Cleveland in 1999, but the Browns continued their losing ways going back to 1990.

Fans in Cleveland have had two winning seasons since 2000 and only one playoff appearance. They also endured a 1-31 record starting in 2016, the worst in NFL history over a two-year span, including a winless season the following year.

That’s right. O-fer.

They haven’t had a winning season since 2007. They’ve finished last in the AFC North nine of the last twelve years.

At least the Jaguars have sprinkled in an 8-8 year (2010) and a division championship (2017) in that span. In the last ten years, these two teams have had one winning season. Combined.

And there are more similarities between the clubs. The Jaguars have fifty-one wins in the last ten years: The Browns forty-four, including seven this season. Under their current ownership, Cleveland has won just over 30% of their games. The Jaguars in the Shad Khan era win 29% of the time.

This year is a different story.

Mired in a nine-game losing streak, the Jaguars seem destined for a top-five draft pick. The Browns, on the other hand, are a respectable 7-3 and appear a team on the rise. They seem to have drafted well recently. Quarterback Baker Mayfield looks to be their long-term solution at that position. Myles Garrett is considered the premier player at defensive end across the league. Their receiving corps looks solid.

They’ve had famous misses in the draft as well, most notably Johnny Manziel in 2014. I keep looking at the Jaguars high draft picks since 2014 and keep seeing names like, Fournette, Ramsey, Ngakoue, Fowler, Yeldon, Robinson, Lee and Bortles, none of which are still on the roster.

The Browns have had a colorful history at head coach and at quarterback. They’ve had twelve head coaches in the last twenty years and no less than thirty-two starting quarterbacks since 2000. And we thought six, including Mike Glennon for this game, was a lot for the Jaguars in the last four years.

I happened to be the sideline radio reporter in Cleveland in 2001for the Jaguars network during the infamous game when the Jaguars had to return to the field for two plays to ensure a victory.

Things got ugly at the end of the game as the Jaguars were winning in the “Dawg Pound” end of the stadium. Officials had reviewed a Browns 4th down play in that end, calling it an incomplete pass, turning the ball over to the Jaguars and enraging the fans. They started showering things onto the field from all sections and the officials took both teams to the locker rooms. A full beer bottle whistled by my head on the sidelines, tossed from the upper deck. It didn’t take long to deduce that it was the fourth quarter, and that bottle wasn’t full of beer. After that, the NFL instituted the rule that bottles are served with the tops removed.

In the middle of his post-game press conference, Head Coach Tom Coughlin was told that the Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had ordered the game finished with two final plays. I remember players grabbing their jerseys and helmets and whatever pants they could find and scrambling to the opposite field tunnel with the officials. They, and the Browns, along the with officials, sprinted to the other end of the stadium in Cleveland, had two quarterback kneel downs and hightailed it back to the locker rooms.

And the two cities have a few connections in general as well. Both are on large bodies of water. Cleveland sits on the south shore of Lake Erie; Jacksonville has the St. Johns River flowing through it. There’s a great trivia connection between the two. If you go directly north from Jacksonville, what city do you hit before you get to Canada? The answer is Cleveland.

They two cities even somehow combined for a mistake together, although in name only. When the North Deck of the newly renovated stadium was first opened, it was sponsored by the Clevelander Hotel. Yes, I know it’s operated in South Beach, but an ill-advised connection, nonetheless.

In 1986, former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien moved his Continental Basketball Association team, the Jets, here from Pensacola. Stepien didn’t really tell anybody the Jets were coming here and did no marketing. He threw open the doors of the old Coliseum and expected people to show up.

They didn’t.

One local columnist listed all ninety-eight people in attendance at one game by their first and last name as a column once in these pages. Needless to say, the Jets and Stepien moved on after a few months.

Looking over the two rosters, there are some connections. Joe Schobert left the Browns for the Jaguars as a free-agent last year. Olivier Vernon was considered a prized-free-agent leaving the Dolphins in 2016. The Jaguars made a major play for him, offering him more money than anybody, but he signed with the New York Giants.

“You can’t sign a guy if he says he doesn’t want to play here,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said at the time. Vernon signed with the Browns in 2019.

Ronnie Harrison, a former third-round pick of the Jaguars, was traded to Cleveland before this season. When he remarked how glad he was to be out of Jacksonville, Twitter followers hammered him, one saying, “Dude. You were traded to Cleveland!”

Which, at least right now, doesn’t look like a bad thing.

Jaguars vs Steelers

Jaguars Path to Glory

We’ve called the Steelers the Jaguars big rival for a long time. When the Jaguars began in the AFC Central, Head Coach Tom Coughlin molded the Jaguars in the Steelers’ image, knowing the only way to the division title was through Pittsburgh.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen those television commercials showing Fred Taylor, Rashean Mathis and other Jaguars of a bygone era beating up on the Steelers. Some were night games on national television. Those were fun. They were exciting. It’s hard not to yearn for those “good ole’ days.” Equally as difficult is to imagine those kinds of games for the Jaguars “under the present circumstances.”

Why?

Because they’re just not good enough.

And they know it.

When asked about beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh twice in 2017, one of those wins in the playoffs, Marrone explained how that happened.

“I think it was something that we had, a lot of good players, a lot of people that had a lot of confidence, believed in themselves, a defense that created turnovers. And then in the second game when we needed to score, we were able to score and run the football. So, it was a great moment for those players and those coaches that were there.”

In other words, “We’re not that same team. They might still be good, but we’re not.”

But give Marrone credit. He says losing “rips a part of his soul” that he never gets back. He also knows and has said often it’s a production business. The only thing that counts is winning and losing.

“I don’t want to be one of these guys that (BS’s) and tries to [explain] the philosophy and doing all that stuff; I do see improvement but it’s obviously not at the rate that we need,” he said when asked about the team getting better.

He added, “I don’t want to be that guy that comes out after you lose a game and is like, ‘Oh, we’re getting better.’ I think people don’t want to hear that (stuff), at least in my opinion.”

He’s right.

“A lot of times, the big difference with some of those things is some guy will just make a play, make a catch, break a tackle,” Doug said recently when I asked him if it was about making the difference on game changing plays.

“You see the explosive plays that we had given up, guys that are able to make a play where we can’t get a guy down, things like that,” he added. “I think it’s easier for everyone to kind of look and see you’re in position, but who’s going to be the playmaker? Is it you or is it your opponent?”

When I followed up, asking if it’s just a matter of the players stepping up and making plays, Doug thought for a second and said, “No, we have to do a better job as coaches. I’ll just stick with that.”

Marrone knows that the sum of the pieces deleted, and pieces added since that winning year in 2017 don’t add up. To be fair, no team is the same three seasons out from a championship game run based on the salary cap. But the decisions made by the teams that stay relevant year after year are different than the one’s made by Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell.

His moves have been well catalogued and dissected. Letting players like Marcedes Lewis and Calais Campbell slip through their fingers when they still had plenty of gas in the tank are glaring mistakes.

His drafting acumen has been rightly called into question, including missing on character issues when drafting Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler. Add Tom Coughlin’s decisions to take Leonard Fournette and Taven Bryant with their first-round picks in ’17 and ’18, adding pieces he thought would complete the puzzle, and the Jaguars cupboard in 2020 is not bare, but a Costco size shopping list is in order.

When Shad decided two years ago to keep Marrone and Caldwell to run his football team, I’m convinced it was Marrone that helped keep Caldwell around. Usually, the General Manager makes the decision on the coach, but I think in this case it was the other way around. My admiration for Marrone as a coach and a person is no secret. And I don’t know Caldwell well enough to have an opinion on anything else but his body of work. But I do think Khan listened to and bought into Marrone’s vision on how to run the team after Coughlin was dismissed and then asked the coach who he thought should run personnel. Marrone has plenty of loyalty and I believe he told Khan he was very comfortable working with Caldwell.

In my colleague Gene Frenette’s column in today’s Times-Union outlining the history of the Steelers and how they went from laughingstock to perennial contender, he defines how Pittsburgh has “set the bar for excellence as high as anyone.” He credits the Rooney’s “impeccable reputation” on and off the field for keeping the Steelers competitive.

“Shad Khan and the Jaguars may never get there,” he added.

I think the easy question is, “Why not?”

I’d agree that under, as Gene notes, “present-day circumstances” it would be, “hard to envision the Jaguars ever becoming the Steelers.”

And those “present day circumstances” include how Shad Khan is operating as the owner of the franchise. It’s a far cry from how the Rooney’s are fully invested in the Steelers. While admittedly, the Jaguars are one of Khan’s forty or so enterprises and the Steelers are the sole business of the Rooney’s, the two franchise couldn’t be run more differently from the top down.

On the business side and on the football side, the Steelers have figured out how to not only be a part of their community but reflect what their community is about.

There were times under Wayne Weaver’s ownership of the club that the team got close to that, but the Jaguars, too often in their history, have felt like an alien entity that happens to operate in our stadium.

Their level of philanthropy is certainly laudable, probably unmatched. But somewhere along the way there has to be a closer connection that differs from a straight line to the checkbook.

Perhaps this column would be better served at the end of the season. But whenever I’m out, if there’s conversation about the Jaguars at all, it’s whether they’ll win another game this year.

With their recent play, yes, they are playing better. But they’re still a double-digit underdog, at home, to the Steelers today. Remaining games against the Browns and Bears here seem within reach, as does the road game against the Vikings. But Indianapolis, Baltimore and Tennessee have plenty of motivation against a Jaguars squad that’s been depleted by injury and personnel moves.

One of the top three draft picks in 2021 would ensure that Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields could be wearing black and teal next year. No matter who’s making that decision next April, they should hope it’s their “Chuck Noll/Terry Bradshaw” moment of fifty years ago that started the Steelers on the path they continue to blaze.

Kyle Brady

Mastery Takes Time

It’s not hard to understand why Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone likes this year’s team. He’s said more than once how close he feel to the 2020 Jaguars. And it’s easy to see why. They play hard, they’re fun and they’re an easy group to root for.

But watching them can drive you crazy.

They’ll play great for a couple of plays, then look like they just drew something up in the dirt on the next. Talent and consistency win in the NFL. The Jaguars have plenty of the former and not much of the latter.

Even Gardner Minshew admitted that after last week’s loss to Houston. “We were actually just talking about that in the locker room,” he said. “Trying to figure out what it is, what’s missing, because we have moments where we feel really good about it, and then moments that it just all goes to s***.” kind of, and we just got to figure out how to be more consistent.”

In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it takes 10.000 hours to “master” a particular skill. Ten-thousand hours equates to about five years of work in the professional business world. I know it took me that long doing daily sportscasts before I felt like I could compete at the highest level. In TV you go through the 1) “terrified” phase (Yikes! I’m on TV!). Then 2) “creating an on-air persona you think is appealing. It’s usually followed by 3) acting like yourself (a lot of TV people get stuck there) and finally getting to 4) actually being yourself. (which is also terrifying since you know you’re really exposing who you are every time you’re in front of the camera.)

Ten-thousand hours is a good number to use in the professional sports world as well. With the current twelve-month schedule for players in the NFL, they reach that threshold somewhere in their fourth or fifth year. That’s where having a young team sometimes hurts. Their effort is great, but they don’t have the depth of experience that leads to “mastery.” The Jaguars have fewer than a dozen players with four or more years in the league, and only eight or nine of those get significant playing time.

“You need that unconscious confidence,” former Jaguar and thirteen-year NFL veteran Kyle Brady said this week. “It’s a process, it takes time.”

Brady was a first-round pick of the Jets and his first two years with the franchise was so disjointed he didn’t have a position coach. He split time between the offensive line and the receivers.

“(Bill) Parcells changed the whole situation,” he explained of the Hall of Fame coach coming to the Jets in Brady’s third year. “He righted the ship. He liked tight ends. Mark Bavaro came in to coach me and put my mind at ease. I was pressing, griding my teeth in the huddle, they taught me professionalism. They encouraged me. They said ‘you have everything you need. Just work at it.’”

Brady was one of the first NFL players to work on getting better in a dedicated “away” setting during the offseason. Now it’s commonplace for players to travel to Arizona or Pensacola to work at a sports performance center. Brady says working on the nuance of his position lead to a mantra of what he calls “being committed to ongoing skill mastery.”

“You never come off the field thinking you had a perfect day or a perfect practice,” Brady explained. “You don’t get to the pros unless you have some skill mastery in college. But in the pros, you have a lot of polishing to do. To be committed to the mastery, that’s being a professional.”

Former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts had to earn his way into the league in order to have a ten-year career. Marts signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane and carved out a starting spot through hustle and consistency.

“When they cut a guy in camp at your position you’re close to, you realize there wasn’t that much difference between you and him,” he explained. “You start working on self-mastery. You want to be better. You realize ‘I can be the guy to make the team better.’ You get more film time, more practice time. Because you’re the guy they keep, you’re privileged to be there. So, you need to make the team better. You have to be present. You have to concentrate on getting better.”

Basketball Hall of Famer Pat Riley has won at every stop in his career as a player, coach and executive. He agrees with Marts in his book “The Winner Within,” saying “Mastery demands and intense awareness of the present moment.” He adds, “Mastery is built on excellence, the gradual result of always wanted to do better.”

Following that line, Marts caught the eye of the late, legendary line coach Howard Mudd who told him he wasn’t Derrick Thomas, but he could be effective. Marty Shottenheimer was the Chiefs head coach and told Marts if he kept the effort up, they’d put him in the right position and work on his technique. From a free-agent, Marts became a starter in year four and for the rest of his career. He credits working on that “mastery” as the tipping point.

“(Defensive Back) Albert Lewis was cussing me out for not covering the flat in one game and told (Defensive Coordinator) Bill Cowher to get me out of there,” Marts recalled. “I had been working hard on covering the flat but just couldn’t get it. But I worked and worked on it and in one game I got out there and Jeff Hostetler just threw the ball right to me! After the interception, Albert was the first to tackle me out of bounds and yelled, ‘That’s what I’m talking about!”

Marts noted that working on that “mastery” and consistency kept him in the league.

“I had to learn where my faults were. Of course, a coach tells you that every Monday watching film, so it wasn’t hard,” he said with a laugh. “But I think four to five years into the league, you start to search out those vets after games who have been around for a while to tell them ‘Keep working, keep getting better. You’re doing it.”

Two things Hall of Fame Coach Vince Lombardi said apply to what consistent, winning teams have. “Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all the time thing, he said. You don’t do things right once in a while . . . you do them right all the time

He also talked about seeking perfection, knowing it was “not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

That takes some time to realize in the professional sports world. Athletic talent alone isn’t going to allow you to win at the highest level

“Obviously you need the talent to be able to go out there on the field and to be able to do it and then to prove that you can do it day in and day out,” Marrone said this week. “I think the players that are able to do that and show that consistency, they’re the ones that get the second contracts, play for a long period of time and play at a level where you can win.”

“Some guys come in the league and think they’re going to dominate. They usually get cut down quick,” Brady added. “My fourth year I played with more confidence. I could see it on film, and other players can see it as well. They know, “this guy is coming into his own.”

Marts agreed that it’s the other players that first notice your “mastery.”

“I felt like I was working hard, getting better, but then the offensive linemen on my own team started to notice,” he said. “Irv Eaton yelled at the coaches saying he wanted me off scout team, ‘Because he’s killing us over here.’”

“It comes from the ongoing commitment to skill mastery,” Brady concluded “Things you used to have to think about your first or second year start to come naturally.”

Mark Brunell

Can The 2020 Jaguars Repeat ’96

There are three teams that stand out in Jaguars history as the best in the team’s 26 seasons. All three went to the AFC Championship game, in 1996, in 1999 and in 2017.

And all three lost.

The ’99 team is one of the best I’ve seen assembled and clearly the best in Jaguars history. They were 14-2 in the regular season and probably the best team in the league that year. The 2017 team had a lot of good ingredients and talent as they battled all the way into the fourth quarter in New England only to be beaten by Tom Brady and a quick whistle.

That ’96 team is the one that’s an anomaly in the group. They weren’t overly talented, didn’t have a lot of veterans and came into the year with low expectations.

Very similar to the 2020 Jaguars. Young, with low expectations and maybe most importantly, no drama.

After Thursday’s loss to Miami, this year’s team is tracking much like that ’96 team. Both opened with wins and fell to 1-2. In ’96, they were 2-4, 3-6 and 4-7 before getting their act together.

Ninety-six was the second year of the franchise after going 4-12 in their inaugural season. They added some pieces to that team, Clyde Simmons, John Jurkovic and Keenan McCardell but the bulk of the team was made up of young players trying to establish themselves in the league.

This year’s squad doesn’t have a single player over thirty. The ’96 team had just four: Clyde Simmons and Dave Widell as starters, Paul Frase, a defensive lineman and Bryan Barker as the punter.

“We didn’t have any prima-donnas on that team, nobody we deferred to,” Kevin Hardy, the Jaguars first round pick that year said this week. “We had one, Andre Rison, and Tom (Coughlin) got rid of him.”

Hardy played all 16 regular season games that year for the Jaguars and through the playoffs. He remembers the team just going out and playing football.

“We were just young guys right out of college just out there playing football as hard as we could. We were 4-7 before we went on that run,” he recalled. “But we were in every game before that. We didn’t get blown out at all. The New Orleans game and the loss to the Rams, we could have easily won both of those games.”

Amazing how vivid his memory was of that season, 25 years ago And accurate.

Four games into the ’96 season Tom McManus took over at middle linebacker and started there the rest of the year. He finished the year third on the team in tackles. His memory of what happened that year is just as clear.

“Willie Jackson scored at the end of the New England game but they didn’t give it to us,” he recalled. “ We had New Orleans and the Rams beat but didn’t finish it. I knocked a ball down against the Saints that I should have picked. If I pick it off, that game’s over. But once we beat Seattle on Sunday night here to go 8-7 we were like, ‘Hey, this is real. It’s happening. We thought ‘We can beat anybody.’”

Only three games into the season, despite the disappointment against Miami, this year’s Jaguars squad has that same gritty feel the ’96 team displayed.

A couple of times in the past two weeks Head Coach Doug Marrone has said he feels really “close to this team.” I asked him to explain a little of that before Thursday’s game against Miami. He broke it down to good communication between the players and with the coaches and a common goal.

“The vision that you have for what you want to look like as a team, that I share with the players and we talk about quite a bit, is a shared vision,” he explained. “I think when you have that with no little groups on one side or a couple groups here and people trying to tear it down or question it, I really feel good about it.”

While you all can be on the same page and blend well, you still have to have talent and that talent still has to produce. This year’s Jaguars have shown some of that early in the season. The ’96 Jaguars also depended on some young players to get things done.

“That was my rookie year and I was just trying to come in and help the team,” Hardy. “There were guys like me, (Aaron) Beasley and (Tony) Brackens who were getting a lot of playing time as rookies and we were expected to contribute.”

“Everybody knows you need talent but it’s talent with the right personality,” McManus added.
“We had that in ‘96. We fit together. We were a tough team, mentally physically and emotionally.”

McManus likens this year’s Jaguars squad to that one from ’96 in a lot of ways. He particularly likes how they’ve ‘cleaned up’ the roster.

“We didn’t have any distractions (in ’96). These guys in 2020 been through a lot of upheaval with this team. They have a lot to prove. For years it was about ‘pay me money and showing up in Brinks trucks.”

Credit Marrone with creating an environment where the players feel free to play their best. There are consequences for making mistakes, but you can’t play worried if you’re going to make a mistake or not.

“I learned early on that you had to really work as a head coach to either create or break down those barriers so that you can communicate,” Marrone emphasized. “Communication’s obviously a two-way street so a lot of times you try to have conversations and you try to learn about people and it really has nothing to do with football. [It’s] just to get to know people and get a feel for them.

“This team is young and hungry,” McManus added. “A collective group like that can be dangerous. They have a lot of young guys they’re counting on. We had a lot of young guys who were contributing in ‘96. Draft picks that could play right away. Guys like Robert Massey and Travis Davis who nobody knows but they were a part of the success.”

“We didn’t have anything to lose,” he said. “We were 4-12 the year before. Same as these guys. Nobody expects them to do anything.”

Not every team is like that and not every team can be like that. Money, contracts, a lot of things can get in the way. In the professional game.

“Team success breeds individual success,” Hardy said of how things can start to fall apart. “Guys start looking around, thinking about getting paid. It just throws the team off a little bit.”

Not hard to think that happened to the Jaguars in 2000 and again in 2018. Marrone is committed to that not happening again.

“Everyone has a really good vision on how we practice, how we play, how we approach things and that’s what we’re talking about ,” he concluded. “I feel like we have a shared vision which I think creates the closeness.”

One thing they shared after the loss to Monday night: “We have to play better.”

“There seems to be, on all of us, that we just have to do a better job early on,” Marrone said. “This has been going on now for a couple weeks, as the game goes on, you can see where now all of a sudden, it’s starting to play the way we want them to play from the beginning. We just have to be able to get them off to that start.”

Gardner Minshew

Minshew Likes to Play

Gardner Minshew likes to play football. And he wants to win.

I know those statements sound like a call from “Captain Obvious” but have you always thought that about the Jaguars quarterback?

It’s easy to pick on Blane Gabbert and his time here but consider this: Did you think Gabbert acted as if he liked playing football while he was here? In fact, Minshew is almost the anti-Gabbert. Blaine was 21 years old when he was drafted out of Missouri in the first round by the Jaguars. He had played 31 games in college. Minshew was two weeks short of his 23rd birthday when the Jaguars drafted him in the 6th round out of Washington State. He played 42 games at three different schools in his college career. Gabbert was one of the greatest practice players anybody has ever seen. He couldn’t replicate that on Sunday’. Minshew takes that practice acumen to another level on game day.

And Minshew’s teammates love him. That Gardner Minshew you see in interviews and commercials is the same guy his teammates know on the field, in the locker room and when it’s game time.

“We’re looking at the same Gardner Minshew, that’s what I see. I see a superstar,” Josh Allen, who’s emerging as a leader on this young Jaguars team said. “I think, in my eyes,. I think he’s a great quarterback. He has the whole team, the whole organization behind him. And I feel like that’s all you really need as a football player.”

And Allen wasn’t finished. He recognized that intangible thing that the “it” players have, regardless of position.

“He has the look, he has the swag, he has the arm and he has the plays to make—to be who I consider a great quarterback in the NFL. That’s my guy.”

We don’t know what the Jaguars will do this year. A win in their opening game against the Colts as a 7 ½ point underdog was a surprise to everybody outside the Jaguars locker room. Most wrap-ups of the game blamed Phillip Rivers and the Colts instead of giving the Jaguars credit. Which is typical as we know.

“There’s time to have some fun. He’s a fun guy to hang around with, he’s a funny guy, entertaining,” Jaguars Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden said this week about working with Minshew. “But for the most part, when it’s business, it’s business and he takes good notes, he studies the game, he spits out the plays in the huddle, which quarterbacks have to do It’s exciting to work with him because guys that are aware of how necessary it is to prepare and the guys that do prepare, it’s fun to watch them and develop.”

Minshew has deflected a lot of the praise he’s gotten this year and last when it comes to “Minshew Mania,” just what a quarterback should do. And he projects his feelings on to his team.

“I think one of the things that served us well today was that we all have so much belief in each other,” he said after the game last Sunday. “Whether it is me in them or them in me, when you have that, you can trust people to do their jobs.”

Knowing the Jaguars are the youngest team in the league, he reflected back on last year when he was thrust into the lineup and figured out how to play in the NFL.

“Until you actually do it, there’s a part of it you have to prove it to yourself,” he said. “You always say ‘I know I can play in this league’, but until you do it…you know, I know this time last year that was the time when I was really like ‘I really can do it’.

Didn’t it make you laugh when at the Super Bowl last year Minshew said on radio row, “It’s been great, I think I kinda found my people in Jacksonville you know, just the right amount of white-trashiness for me,” he said. “So we’re having a great time down there and lovin’ it.”

Clearly he’s not taking himself too seriously and neither do we.

Just this week NFL analyst Nate Burleson said, “I want to be in the huddle with this guy. Heck, I want to be in a street fight with this guy.”

For all of the moves the Jaguars have made I don’t like, they seem to have put together a receiving corps that takes a backseat to no one. D.J. Chark can take the top off of any defense. Collin Johnson is the real athlete they’ve missed in that group since Allen Robinson left. Laviska Shenault literally could become the next Larry Fitzgerald. Keelan Cole has a chemistry with Minshew you can’t just make happen. He had five catches and a touchdown against the Colts. Chris Conley provides leadership. And Dede Westbrook hasn’t even seen the field yet because of injury. They’re all growing up together with Minshew as their quarterback.

“They got that swag about them,” Gardner said of the young players on the Jaguars. “Our guys have that same confidence where they know that they belong here, and not only do they belong but they can be really good players for us.”

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone admits he didn’t know much about Minshew when the Jaguars drafted him except that “he played for 14 colleges” he joked this week.

“He had to learn different playbooks, so I knew he could do that,” Marrone said. “I knew he could handle that. He’s got a taste of it and I know he wants a bigger bite of it now.”

And for all of the preseason talk about “tanking” for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence in next year’s draft and now the revival of “Minshew Mania,” where does the Jaguars quarterback fall in all of this?

“I don’t care what you all talk about.,” he told the media this week. “We’re going to do what we do. Try to win one game a week. That’s all we can do. We’re very excited about this start.”

Marrone & Caldwell

At Least A Year Away

A few years ago I was sitting in the Jaguars locker room during training camp next to a veteran player just after a very tough practice. He took his shoulder pads off and let out a long breath.

“We could be in trouble,” he said quietly.

“Why’s that? I said.

As he looked around the room he said, “It’s a team thing. Some of the rookies just don’t get it.”

Knowing just what he meant I still asked “What’s up?”

“Ramsey’s out on his own. He says he’s not doing rookie stuff,” he explained. “Yan is a hothead and we can’t get through to him. Yet. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“So just tape Ramsey to a goal post for a while.,” I said, referring to a time honored tradition dealing with rookies. “He’ll come around.”

“Nooo,” he said. “’Cause as soon as he got loose he’d go directly to Caldwell and then he’d file a complaint with the Players Association.”

“Really?” I quired.

“Oh yeah, he won’t even carry shoulder pads and stuff,” he said.”

“And what about Yannick?” I asked.

“Oh, he’ll come around. We’ll beat the hell out of him every day. He’ll be OK.”

Anybody around the team at the time knew something was rotten in Denmark.

Talking to Jalen Ramsey in the locker room always left reporters shaking their heads. He was clearly more interested in his “brand” than anything else. Playing football, something he’s very good at, was a means to an end. His recent contract extension puts him in the perfect place for him over the next few years. He’s a phony who happens to be a great athlete. I was amazed he could find his way to his car after practice.

Ramsey, from that 2016 draft, along with Ngakoue and prized free agent Calais Campbell were important parts of the 2017 team that was within eight minutes of going to the Super Bowl.

While most teams would build on that success, for some reason, that team had been dismantled. Four players from that year’s starting twenty-two remain. And three of them are offensive lineman. Only Abry Jones remains from the second best defense in the league just two years ago. That team had five Pro Bowlers and two All-Pros on it.

And it’s not as if most of those guys couldn’t play any longer. Paul Posluszny retired, Barry Church’s career was over and Telvin Smith went off the deep end. Everybody else on defense is still in the league. Ramsey from the first round and Ngakoue from the third were unhappy and are gone. Calais Campbell has been traded to Baltimore.

How did this happen? It happened on purpose.

Like or don’t like what General Manager Dave Caldwell has done to this team, but know that he’s a true believer in what he’s doing.

“Shad gave us a directive to put the best team out there and we feel like we did that with the players that we have,” Caldwell said when the roster was cut to fifty three players. “I love this team. I love the energy this team brings. I love some of the veteran leadership we brought in with Joe Schobert and Tyler Eifert.”

I understand the salary cap. But I don’t understand the philosophy. They had great veteran leadership and they let it slip away.

Campbell, Posluszny and Marcedes Lewis were the unquestioned leaders on that 2017 team. They set the tone, they were the veterans who helped create the culture for the success that year.

Under Caldwell, and even before, the Jaguars have a penchant for moving players off the roster who end up elsewhere, when they can still play. Fred Taylor, Mark Brunell and Tony Boselli, all members of the Pride of the Jaguars, ended their careers elsewhere.

Yes, they all were on the downside of their career, Boselli’s was cut short by injury, but name the players who have ended their career with the Jaguars as a simple retirement? Jimmy Smith’s retirement was anything but simple.

Paul Posluszny is one. And he was, and is, sorely missed.

After that run in 2017, Poz retired and Marcedes Lewis was allowed to become a free agent. Lewis is still playing, starting his third year with the Packers.

When Poz and Marcedes left, the culture changed overnight. You could feel it. Campbell tried to hold it together alone. The same thing happened when Jack Del Rio became the Jaguars head coach. From a lot of guys working together as a team, individual stats and performance, and most importantly their “brand” became the focus. There’s a reason Leonard Fournette’s locker was next to Campbell’s.

Keeping Lewis should have been a priority. Was he still the player he was when he came out of UCLA as the Jaguars first round pick? Of course not. Did he still have tremendous value? Absolutely. And the Packers, a perennial contender, are reaping the benefits.

And when it came to Poz, keeping him in the organization should have been job one. If he was done as a player, keeping him as the assistant to the assistant whatever, at whatever salary, could have helped save the culture.

Somewhere in the Jaguars organizational psyche, even back to players like Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith and Montel Owens, the thought seems to be only about a player’s cost and on-field production. Not much credit is given to what they bring to the locker room, teaching, creating the culture and leading.

These are the kinds of discussions you would hope are happening inside the Jaguars offices. But it seems too often, they are not.

Go back to the beginning of the franchise and look at the pieces added in different years trying to be competitive. Clyde Simmons and John Jurkovic were a presence on the defensive line and in the locker room when they were added right before the 1996 season. That team was very young as well with only four players and two starters, Simmons and center Dave Widell over thirty.

It sure doesn’t seem like the Jaguars have been in the market for those one or two pieces that would keep that “sustainable success” model they keep talking about for the last twenty years.

Were the Jaguars in the hunt for Jadveon Clowney before he signed with Tennessee? When Oakland had their fire sale on Amari Cooper and Khalid Mack, were the Jaguars suitors?

With that as background, here we are on the opening weekend of 2020. The Jaguars are the youngest team in the league. They don’t have a player over thirty. They have sixteen rookies among the 53 man roster. There’s not a Simmons or Jurko in sight.

Their quarterback produced some magic in his first go ‘round in the league. Now that defensive coordinators have seen what he’s good at, they’ll take that away. And he’ll have to figure something else out. The really good ones always do. They’re universally considered the least talented team in the NFL. Nobody’s picked them to win more than four games.

As the architect of the team, you’d expect Caldwell to strike an optimistic tone. And he does have a point when he says nobody actually knows whether the Jaguars are any good or not. They’ll find out quickly today against Indianapolis and next Sunday at Tennessee. Both teams are considered contenders this year.

“We feel like these guys, the guys in this locker room, nobody has seen them play together.” Caldwell said when asked about the team trying to “tank” this year to acquire the 2021 top pick in the draft.

“Don’t count this team out yet and I think they’ll tell you the same thing,” he added. “We can’t afford a rebuilding year and that’s not our mindset. Our mindset is to put the best team out there to play, to compete, and to win. Nobody has seen them play a game so, like I said, we’re going to know where we measure up.”

I don’t dislike Caldwell at all and in fact, I like Doug Marrone, both as a person and as a coach. I’d really like to see him succeed.

“I really think that this team can be special, I really do,” Marrone said this week. “And that’s what I feel, that’s what we put together. I don’t have the opportunity to go through a rebuild, right. I mean, we all know that, so that’s being realistic. We’ve got to go out there and win games and I’m confident that this football team will be able to do that.”

When it comes to pure, raw talent, the Jaguars have that.

And it could pay off in the future.

It just doesn’t seem they’re ready to do that this year. Players who were on the roster just two years ago who allowed the team to occasionally play “above the x’s and o’s” aren’t there any longer. The leaders they do have are still proving themselves.

I hope they prove me wrong.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Would You Play?

Sitting down at lunch this week, a friend of mine posed a hypothetical situation.

“The Jaguars need a quarterback and despite the fact that you’re on the wrong side of fifty, they think you’re the answer,” he said. “They’re offering you a $2M contract. The caveat is you might catch the virus. Will you sign?”

“That’s a big stretch,” I said with a laugh, “But yes, I’d sign.”

Over the course of the next hour we talked about the risk involved to the people around me, the risk to my health and who I’d have to give up seeing, specifically my parents who are in their mid 80’s.

It was a lot to think about, but in the end I still decided I would play.

Why?

My age puts me in what they’re calling the “vulnerable demographic” but other than that, I don’t know of any other underlying conditions that would accelerate my risk. It’s not all about the money either, but that was a factor, equal to how I remember how much I liked playing football.

“Put that equation in a 23-year old, established professional football player’s mind, and it’s easy to see why they’re playing,” he concluded.

“In the past six months there’s been a big learning curve about this virus,” Dr. Brian Turrisi, a retired pulmonologist from Georgetown and George Washington University Hospitals said recently “The vast majority of people very sick or dying are over 50 and the larger group is over 70. Pro sports are played by people younger than forty. When we confine this to young people who play professional sports, they’re the healthiest of all,”
All professional leagues have had players opt out of this season, most citing family concerns.

Several Jaguars players confirmed they considered sitting out but weighed the options and decided to play.

“I definitely thought about it because I do have two younger daughters,” defensive back D.J. Hayden said. “I felt like this year is a big year for me. I did not want to sit the season out. But I think the best thing for my family is for me to play this year.”

“I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t,” second year defensive end Josh Allen revealed when asked if he thought about opting out. “Family is first. I don’t want to put my family in jeopardy of any harm that I bring to them. That was always something that I kept close to me. Kate, my wife, she really encouraged me to keep playing football this year because she knows what I’m striving for in my career.”

With no traditional “training camp” situation, the Jaguars players are coming to the stadium each day, and then going home. The potential for exposure increases exponentially outside of their work environment, meaning the players have to put a lot of trust in their teammates to follow the protocols when they’re not at work.

“Yeah, no doubt,” Jaguars Quarterback Gardner Minshew explained. “I told all of the guys that we have a responsibility to each other and each other’s families to be safe. Sometimes it’s not fun and sometimes it’s not what you want to do, but it’s what we need to do.”

Besides organizing practices, evaluating talent and installing the playbook, one of Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone’s jobs is to keep the conversation going about Covid-19, Marrone is hammering home the trust teammates are putting into one another each day. He recounted a story he told the players about getting ready to walk out of the door of the coaches’ offices without his mask on.

“So I immediately put my shirt up, turn back and go put it on,” he said. “And I was telling those guys, ‘Hey listen, we’ve got to help each other, we’ve got to be responsible.’ I said things like this will happen, and I would appreciate it if I would’ve gone into the hallway and walked down, if someone would’ve seen me, I would’ve hoped they’d say something like, ‘Hey coach!”

There’s been some talk about putting NFL teams in a “home bubble” once they cut down to the 53 players on the regular season roster. That means everybody coming in contact with the players over sixteen weeks and through the playoffs would stay together and be shut off from the rest of the world.

That’s a tough ask, even for the outsized money professional football players make. But what about the coaching staffs? The support staffs? Would the team doctors, Dr. Kevin Kaplan and Dr. Anthony Iselborn be willing to give up their practices for four months? Probably not.

“It’s very difficult to do for a long period of time,” Marrone said of the bubble idea this week. “I think that for us, I just think it’s a level of responsibility until they tell [us] anything else. You know, if someone did come to us and said, ‘Hey listen, I don’t feel that I’m in a safe environment when I leave this building,’ we would be very proactive in doing whatever we can to make sure that that player feels safe and we put him in an environment where he can feel that way.”

Marrone said the protocols in the stadium regarding everything Covid-19 related make him feel very safe and secure.

Despite the Jaguars having more players than any other team on the league’s new Covid-19/Reserve list, the NFL’s rate of positive tests for the virus is less than one percent. Zero point eight-four to be exact. A player doesn’t have to test positive to be put on the list.

Minshew revealed he was on the list and missed a couple of days with the team because he was around another player who did test positive. He and teammates Andrew Wingard and Michael Walker were roommates until they decided the best course of action to combat the virus at home was to live alone.
“They’ve moved out this year, but I think everybody in the league just can’t afford to be around somebody,” Minshew said. “Even if you’re not going to contract it, you can’t afford sitting out those couple days. We are all just going to ride it out solo this year. But, that’s honestly a good thing that it happened now. It was a thing that we all agreed that was best for us.”
Minshew said it was like the first day of school when he rejoined the team, even having his outfit picked out for his return. He doesn’t want to go through that again and has adopted a “just get to work” leadership attitude when it comes to the virus.
“If I am here in the building, it’s all I can do, until they tell me I have to leave, and I’m going to give it all I have here,” he said. “And if I can’t be in here, then I am going to figure out how I can get better at home and how I can participate from home.”

Training Camp

Camp Changes For 2020

When he first popped up on the video conference this week, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone looked like he either had a mask under his chin or a weird shadow on his face. Turns out he’s grown a beard since the last time we saw him. I don’t know if Marrone has ever had a beard before but it’s another one of those strange, different things that are happening in this pandemic era.
Marrone admitted as much as the players have started to report for this year’s version of training camp: Everything’s different.

“As a coach, you want to get back on the field and that’s where we are now,” Marrone said, standing in a room alone, with two video monitors in front of him. “I think when people think of training camp or preseason, I think we can all paint a picture of what we expect. I think this is a very unique year, so I don’t really put it under that category of training camp and preseason because we are in a ramp-up period now and it’s a little bit different.”

By now in a “normal” year, we’d be approaching the first practice where players will put on pads and actually do some hitting. This year, the beginning of August has players undergoing a minimum of three Covid-19 tests before they’ll even be allowed in the building. If all goes well with the protocols in place, they don’t expect to be on the practice field in a traditional sense until August 17th.

“It’s been crazy,” Jaguars first round pick C.J. Henderson said on Friday of the virtual meetings and physical “walk-through’s” the rookies have been a part of. “We are learning how to adapt and live in these strange ways. I don’t know, it’s just different for everyone, so we are just trying to find a way since it’s new for all of the guys here.”

Usually, ninety players, twenty or so coaches, medical and training personnel, team media and video staff are all jammed into the team facility and a camp hotel for about six weeks during training camp and the preseason. There’s rarely any free time, all staying together, packed into meeting rooms, eating meals together, showering and dressing in the locker room and going to the practice field, together, twice a day.

Now, none of that is happening. The Houston Texans have posted a video overview of what their “training camp” set up looks like. No touch doors, physical distancing and signs everywhere reminding everybody of the current dangers. The Jaguars have four locker rooms they’re using at the stadium just as a start to achieve social distancing. There are arrows on every hallway showing which way to walk.

“I feel really comfortable about the protocols,” Marrone explained while wearing a “tracker” around his neck.

“When we’re in the building, one of the things is that you can see that it just flashed blue which means that I am in good physical distance from everyone that’s involved,” he said. “When it flashes red, then I know I’m too close to someone and so I can take two or three steps back until it flashes blue.”
That would be weird in any work situation.

While the NFL isn’t technically working in a bubble environment, they’re trying to keep everybody as isolated as possible. The NHL’s bubble has been successful in Canada with zero positive tests so far. The NBA has had some issues, specifically with players not following the protocols. Major League Baseball is in danger of cancelling their season, mainly because some players are ignoring the rules in place.

Every coach in every sport talks about team building, character and relying on each other. This year takes the idea of “teammates” to another level.

“I think that there’s a lot of self-discipline involved, there’s a lot of relying on your teammates, and that’s self-discipline,” Marrone said. “Unfortunately for me, fortunately maybe for my wife, I’ve really been staying away from my wife and children. That’s just a responsibility that we all have to each other to not bring this virus into the building and not to really spread it.”

From a competition standpoint, the pandemic has put the Jaguars in a conundrum. Players hurt the most by the lack of practice time and mentoring by fellow teammates will be the young players, especially rookies. The Jaguars are relying on rookies to fill key roles and for now, they’re the youngest team in the league.

“Everything is obviously strange right now with the limited access we have,,” said the Jaguars second, first-round pick, K’Lavon Chaisson. “t’s been hard to find some places to get some real work in as well try to stay socially distant from many people and try to stay safe.”

Hardly the situation you want when you’re bringing a new player to the team with high expectations for production right away.

“I learn great from the book, but even better when you walk me through things,” Chaisson explained. “I know we don’t get as much time on the field as we want to and there’s only so much we can do while we practicing with social distance.”

In recent years there’s been a lot more emphasis on the mental health and mental state of players in professional sports. They’re all great athletes. If you were in a pickup game with a guy recently cut by any team he’d be so good you’d think it was unfair. There are certain guys who can adapt to the mental pressures of the game, an others who can’t perform in that environment. Leagues and teams are trying to unlock the difference between the two and this year that effort is paramount.

“I think that the league is taking great strides in making sure that there is support available to them outside of just the coaching staff and player development,” Marrone said. “I mean, really truly some professional help because one of the things you look at as a coach is, ‘Okay what can come up? What can be one of those things that cause a lack of focus or anxiety that’s really going to hurt the player and the team?”

Making the team is the only thing on the minds of most players in training camps starting this week. Every step, every comment, every reaction is recorded and noted and can have an impact on whether they’re playing football this fall or looking for a job. It adds up.

Marrone knows that feeling.

“I think that stuff always does take away because there’s going to be some guys in the locker room that ignore things and some guys that can’t. Everyone handles that stuff differently.”
Although they won’t say it, it already felt like a rebuilding year for the Jaguars. They’ve shipped out productive veterans like Calais Campbell and have put their stock in a second-year quarterback and a draft full of team captains. They’re looking for leaders for the future.

I wouldn’t call it a throw away year, but measuring success in this environment will have very different criteria than just wins and losses.

They’ve had one player, newly signed defensive tackle Al Woods, opt out of the season. They were counting on him to be a force in the middle against the run. Will there be more once “camp” starts? There’s already talk of “quarantining” a quarterback throughout this year so there’s always one available to play.

Fielding a young team that is already rated as the least talented in the league is difficult enough. Take a few key components away and it’s a daunting task.

Gardner Minshew

Can the 2020 Jaguars Be Virtually Good?

It appears we’ll have some sort of NFL season in 2020. Several owners this week thought out loud that fans would be allowed, but the decision on that is a while off. With only fifteen percent of each team’s revenue coming from ticket sales, they could play a season without fans in the stands. It would be weird, like the fourth quarter of a preseason game but they could do it. Add in the money lost for concessions and in game sponsorship, and the money still made through the television contracts would make playing a season worthwhile.

Contrast that with college football, where about seventy-five percent of the revenue comes through ticket sales. Add in the support the football program gives to the other sports on campus and you can see it would be a difficult, and devastating blow to college sports if they can’t play a season.

Nonetheless, the NFL is plowing along, making preparations to play, albeit without any OTA’s or mini-camps, with the plan to have teams gather in person for the first time at the end of July for training camp. The current virtual team meetings will give way to actual coaching, on and off the field.

“It’s still difficult,” Jaguars new Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden said this week about not being able to see players in person. “It’s one thing to install plays on a chalk board and virtual meetings getting to know the concepts and all that stuff, but it’s another thing to go out and execute and see what we’re good at, to see what guy can do.”

“I don’t have a lot of information as far as how these guys can handle different positions and how to run different routes and all that stuff, “ Gruden continued. “We have to get these guys on the field but then getting them out there and seeing them execute it. We got to get out on the field soon.”

Taking this time at home in Mississippi, Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew has been able to focus on one thing in the last four months: getting better.

“Since the day after the Super Bowl, I’ve been going six days a week for the last, however many months it’s been,” he said via video conference call with the media this week “It’s been a lot of fun seeing growth in yourself and your game. I’ve been talking to the receivers, and everybody.

Minshew said he’s been tinkering with his weight and his strength trying to find the right combination. He was up to 230 lbs. about the first of March, but is back down under 225 now and feels comfortable with his size and speed as well as his arm strength at that weight. He’s also been leading his offensive teammates, albeit virtually, to try and stay ahead of things.

“We’ve been doing some players only walk throughs virtually that have been helping guys learn and also just getting us together,” he explained. “Then, moving forward we’re also going to try and get together a little bit more before camp to kind of get what reps we can, while being safe and smart.”

How does that even work? Minshew said he’s been getting the offensive guys together to just go through plays so his teammates can hear the call and understand what they need to do on each play.

“So on Microsoft TEAMS there is an application that is called white board and so you are basically on a group call,” he said. “I will call out a play and like whoever is in for that play will just draw their assignment and we just kind of go around and talk about it. I think it is a good way, it is one thing to learn it on paper but to hear the call and then know what to do right there, I think it has been a good way, got to make the best of a bad situation.”

Officially, the Jaguars coaching staff is meeting, virtually, with each other and with their position groups to install the offense, bit by bit, as if they were going through OTA’s and mini-camp. Minshew is trying to go the extra mile as the leader on offense.

“When you talk about the whiteboard and what Gardner is doing, that’s totally separate from the staff,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said Friday. “So, that pretty much, probably, for lack of a better way to describe it, really takes the place of, you know, you read about these quarterback that get together with their receivers and work on things extra during the off season. That’s separate.”

Marrone is the first to admit each season is different, each team is different and you have to build your team from the bottom up every year.

“I like that because obviously you have our players, they’re talking to each other, they’re trading some chemistry, and I think it creates accountability amongst themselves,” he said. “They’re also going to be even more so accountable, in my opinion, when you’re working with each other. I think that’s the best way to create accountability is when the players are keeping themselves accountable.”

So where do the wins come from for this young team that nobody expects to do anything? The over/under number for wins for the Jaguars out of Las Vegas is 4 ½. It’s the lowest total in the league, so they’re not expecting much out of Doug Marrone’s team, no matter how much they believe they’ve done the right things in this offseason.

“I think it should put a chip on everybody’s shoulder on our team, know being kind of counted out like that,” Minshew said of the low expectations for the Jaguars.

“I think we do have a lot to prove, prove that we are not what anybody says about us, the only people that really know, the only peoples whose opinions matter is who is in that huddle, who is on that team and I think we are going to set those expectations for ourselves and not worry about what anybody else has to say about us.”

We all play the game when the schedule comes out, but now that the Jaguars roster seems to be set, either with or without Yannick Ngakoue or Leonard Fournette, can they be a surprise team in 2020?

In the opening six games, let’s say they win a game they’re not supposed to and win one on the road and they’re 3-3. It’s possible they could be 0-3 in the division at that point since their only home division game is the opener against the Colts and Phillip Rivers as their new quarterback. Never a good scenario for the Jaguars. In the last ten games of the year, they might be an underdog in every game and will have a tough time beating the Chargers to start, because they rarely play well on the West Coast. Games against the Packers, Steelers, Ravens, Vikings and the Colts in Indy will all be uphill battles.

That leaves four home games against Houston, Cleveland, Tennessee, and Chicago.

If they win a couple of those and Minshew works his magic a few other times during the season, the 2020 Jaguars are still looking up at a .500 record.

We’re all hoping Las Vegas is wrong, but going through the schedule, they don’t seem that far off.

Hopefully these young guys will surprise us.

Where’s Shad?

In these “social distancing” times, it’s pretty normal to not see some people you’re used to seeing.

But where’s Shad?

In a literal sense,
I’m sure he’s working on one of the myriad of forty-plus companies he owns. The last time we saw him was in a picture during the NFL Draft, sitting at a table with his son Tony, apparently at his home in Illinois in their den, basement or office, watching and working on the Jaguars draft.

But I thought he was conspicuously absent from the Jaguars landscape this week when it was confirmed that the International Series for the NFL was cancelled for 2020. As the “face” of the International Series for the league in the last seven years and with two games scheduled in London this year, it’s a big move for the Jaguars to play all eight of their regular season home games in Jacksonville.

But we never heard from Shad.

Jaguars President Mark Lamping had a statement about playing here and tickets were available but nothing from Shad. As big a deal as they’ve made in the last few years about the revenue stream the London games put to the bottom line and how important the game has become to the franchise’s viability in Jacksonville, you’d have thought Shad would have something to say.

No doubt this is a difficult time for any business owner, and Shad, I’m sure, is no exception. His commitment to his employees is always evident and laudable.

“I know where my bread is buttered,” he told me at an NFL Owners meeting when I asked where the Jaguars fit into his portfolio. “I have 20,000 employees at Flex-N-Gate who are counting on me to help them take care of their families, pay their mortgages and fund their kids education.” I was impressed by that comment because of the spontaneity and the sincerity that came through as he sat next to me. It wasn’t a canned line written by some PR department.

So I’m sure he’s fully immersed in trying to keep his companies and employees fed and clothed and back on their feet as soon as possible.

But we need some of that. From him.

Even some kind of “Hey, we’re sorry we’re not playing in London but wow, it’s just great to be able to play those games in front of our fans here at home,” would have been great.

Owning an NFL team is a different venture than owning any other kind of business. You’re going to make money as the owner; the only question is, how much? And nobody has much of a problem with that.

But there’s a raw, visceral connection between a town and it’s football team. And here in Jacksonville, a working-class city, that connection is even more primitive. Part of it is being a “football town” and part of it has to do with the nearly two decades long chase for an NFL team.

And part of that connection has to be with the owner. We had some of that with Wayne Weaver. He lived here, you’d see him around, at restaurants at charity events. His philanthropy is unparalleled. Shad has also been very generous with his many donations both personally and through the Jaguars.

But we need more of him.

I told Weaver many times he was the most under utilized promotional tool the Jaguars had during his ownership. He usually laughed me off. But I believed that then and I believe that about Shad Khan as well.

When Shad bought the team and took over in 2012, we couldn’t get enough of him. Every appearance was sold out; every comment was dissected for meaning and nuance. His spontaneous cameo in a “Gangnam Style” video went viral immediately.

We haven’t seen that Shad in a while.

We’ve seen him at games and official events. He’s involved in the political and development landscape with several proposals for a Shipyards and Lot J development. His yacht the “Kismet” is parked in the St. Johns downtown. He usually stays at the beach when he’s in town. He’s a presence here.

Since he’ll be 70 this year, maybe he’s turning some things over to his family? Maybe we’ll see more of Tony than in the past as fans of the Fulham soccer club have seen? I doubt that. Shad has too much vitality to step away from what he’s built. And he has too much of a sense of responsibility to the people who count on him.

If he showed up here in town now he might have to undergo a 14-day quarantine based on the Governor’s order. So we don’t want that. But if we’ve learned anything in these pandemic times it’s how easily accessible everybody is by video at a moment’s notice.

I don’t expect him to open a Twitter account like Jim Irsay of the Colts. Nor do I expect him to dance on the sidelines with an umbrella like Tom Benson of the Saints used to do. But some more of the Shad who danced with fans in the parking lot eight years ago would go a long way.

There’s a video of Shad being interviewed on the Jaguars website dated the beginning of February. He talks about how paramount it is to win on the field. He’s obviously a fan and somebody who has learned a lot about football. But he also talks about winning “off the field” with the development of Daily’s Place and the money invested in the stadium. He outlines the plans to help develop downtown. And he says, as he has often, ‘judge actions not words.” And added, “If Jacksonville is growing, it’s better for the Jaguars.” When asked about his slightly different role with the team he said, “there’s a fine line between abdication and delegation.”

I like al of that. So this isn’t so much of a complaint as a suggestion. We want to see more of you Shad. A quick video of encouragement in these tough times from a man of your stature would go a long way. Comments from your surrogates are fine but our connection is with you.

With your backstory, if there’s anybody who knows how the common touch is a powerful tool, it’s you.

Use it.

Draft Shows What Jaguars Think of 2020

“Read your article on the draft today,” my friend ‘Wooly’ texted me last Sunday. “Really liked it but thought you were holding something back,” he added.

It’s not that I was holding anything back, I told him. But the Jaguars clearly have their own ideas about how this team should be built and what it will be able to do.

And you can agree with that or not.

“I think you have to expect them to lie,” season ticket holder ‘Ghost of Chuck’ said as we talked about what the Jaguars said they were doing and what they’re actually doing.

While ‘lying’ might be a bit harsh, there’s no question that the days and weeks leading up to the draft are a time of, let’s say ‘disinformation’ in the NFL.

When you look at what the Jaguars did with the draft and what they said afterwards, it gives a pretty clear picture where Head Coach Doug Marrone and General Manager Dave Caldwell think this team can compete.

When asked if he thought about taking an offensive lineman with the ninth pick in the first round, Caldwell gave a direct and pretty revealing answer.

“We did, but the one we may have considered was probably gone at the time.” In the top eight picks before the Jaguars were on the board, the only offensive lineman taken was Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, a tackle, selected fourth by the Giants.

Cleveland took Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, another tackle, right after the Jaguars at the tenth spot. Tristen Wirfs another tackle from Iowa went 13th to Tampa Bay. Southern Cal’s Austin Jackson went to Miami 18th, Cesar Ruiz from Michigan and Isaiah Wilson of Georgia were also taken in the first round.

So elite offensive linemen were available in this draft, but the Jaguars didn’t select any at that position until Ben Bartch from Division III St. John’s of Minnesota in the fourth round. Bartch looks to have great potential but even the Jaguars admit he’s a ‘project.’

Clearly this draft and the renegotiated deal they made with Andrew Norwell sends the current Jaguars offensive line a message: “You’re it, get better.” Doug Marrone admitted as much.

“I think we have some good competition behind those guys right now,” Marrone said while the draft was going on. “Will Richardson, we have to get him locked him into a position. Tyler Shatley has done a good job for us I think those players have a lot on their plate to make sure they improve. We’ve said that. We really think they’re going to make a big jump.”

In other words, as my friend and colleague Mike DiRocco said in response to a question about the lack of offensive line picks, “They clearly have more confidence in the offensive line than you or the media do.”

Caldwell didn’t use any of his “ammo,” as he put it, of twelve picks to move up or back to get the players they wanted. According to him, they didn’t have to.

“We didn’t acquire picks to get less players, we acquired picks to get more players, and like I said there were so many players that we liked that at the end of it, we were like, ‘I wish I had a couple more picks in the seventh round.”

He admitted they’d have been happy to take wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. in the first round if they didn’t think he’d be there when they selected in round two.

“Should we go get Laviska?” Caldwell said about the conversations in the draft room when wide receivers started coming off the board. “We thought about it and I think we just said, ‘Let’s stick to the philosophy of this year’s draft. I’m not saying that’s every year’s draft. Next year, it may be different.”

A deep receiver class and Shenault falling “by the wayside a little bit,” allowed the Jaguars to wait and take him with the 42nd selection.

“If by chance he did go,” Caldwell said of his contingency plan, “We had enough players there where we would have felt good about possibly trading back and still getting one of the players we liked.”

Getting better up front on defense was a big priority; Caldwell said it helps him sleep at night knowing there are guys on the roster who can rush the passer. Marrone also likes the size they now have up front.

“Well the No. 1 identity that we have been talking about is the identity to be able to stop the run. In order to do that, you have to be big up front, you have to be physical and you are going to have to be able to tackle. That is something that has hurt us. That is something that we have put a priority on.”

Part of Marrone’s vision of what kind of defense the Jaguars can have relied on getting a “Number one type corner.” Either Jeff Okudah or C.J. Henderson would have fit the bill and when Henderson was there with the ninth pick, they didn’t hesitate.

“He is a big guy. He can play against guys that have speed, he can play against guys that are big and try to outmuscle them,” Marrone said, explaining why that position let’s them do so many things elsewhere on defense. “At the same time, we want to be able to cover on third down and let our rushers go.”

At quarterback, Marrone said Gardner Minshew would be the guy behind center if they rolled the ball out there right now. And Caldwell said they’d look at signing a veteran QB in addition to selecting Jake Luton from Oregon State in the sixth round. It’s the third year in a row the Jaguars have used their sixth round selection on a quarterback.

Based on Marrone’s “no drama” emphasis, the Jaguars aren’t going to sign Cam Newton and Jameis Winston said he wanted to get a “Harvard education” by signing with New Orleans. Now that Andy Dalton has been released by the Bengals, his logical connections to the Jaguars through offensive coordinator Jay Gruden make him an easy choice if he’s willing to work for a reduced rate. And former Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, a Caldwell 1st round draft pick, is still a free agent. Before you say that’s crazy, as sturdy and athletic as Blake is, couldn’t he fit a Taysom Hill kind of role for the Jaguars?

When asked if he’d told Leonard Fournette’s agent to tell Leonard to prepare to play in Jacksonville this season, Caldwell gave a quick, “No,” and didn’t elaborate.

But he gave some insight into how the Jaguars seem to think they can move on, if necessary, without Fournette, and with the guys they have and not address running back in the draft.

“I think maybe it’s misunderstood of how we feel about the other guys we have in our room besides Leonard and Roc(quell Armstead) and Devine (Ozigbo),” Caldwell explained. “And those are two guys that as you look down, you start to get into the fourth, fifth round, and you’re like, ‘Do we like these guys better than Rock and Devine?’ And the real answer is no.”

Regarding the Yannick Ngakoue situation, Caldwell said they’d welcome him back with ‘open arms.’ He also noted that there weren’t any offers for Yan from other teams, mainly because of his long-term contract demands. Expect the Jaguars to be willing to let Ngakoue sit if he doesn’t sign the franchise tender. That would be really dumb on his part. As I’ve said, he’s getting bad advice.

What kind of team will they be?

“Young, smart, tough. Guys that love football,” Marrone said. “Everything that we’ve talked about, not a lot of stuff going on that’s going to distract them, a bunch of guys that are excited for their opportunity, appreciative. These guys want to go to work. They want to play.”

“You’re never going to come out of a draft completely satisfied. But this is about as satisfied as we’ve been,” Caldwell said in summary. “We feel good about the players we got and filled some needs.”

Agree or disagree with what they’re doing, the Jaguars brass are true believers in their vision. They got the players they wanted, and the kind of players they wanted and expect to compete now. Not rebuild, not ‘roll into it’ but compete in the AFC South if they have an NFL season in 2020.

Jaguars Get What and Who They Wanted

There’s always been a two-way discussion for NFL teams about the college draft: Do you pick for need or just draft the best player available?

For the Jaguars this year they were picking for something different: No drama.

Head Coach Doug Marrone stressed that point several times leading up to the draft and the Jaguars followed through, picking players who aren’t bringing a lot of baggage to Jacksonville.

“Is it big? Absolutely,” Marrone said of getting rid of any drama surrounding the Jaguars. “Is this something that we’ve stressed? Yes. But we were able to do that without sacrificing the talent or potential.”

They call these types of players “high-character guys” in the NFL. There is a theory that you need some “low-character guys” on your team to win in the league just to keep the other team honest.

This year, the football staff and the personnel department had a plan and they stuck to it. The draft was deep so they felt like they could not only get the player they liked but the kind of player they liked as well.

“So our goal was, ‘we have 12 draft picks, we don’t want to be flippant with the picks.’’ General Manager Dave Caldwell explained. “It’s easy to be like, ‘I have 12 picks, so let’s use this pick to trade up and trade that,’ but let’s just let the draft come to us and still get talented players that fit our culture, fit our locker room and that can come in and compete at a high level.”

There are team captains all over this Jaguars draft. Ten of the first eleven players selected by Marrone and Caldwell were named captains in college. The eleventh, Davon Hamilton (who might have the biggest arms you’ve ever seen) played on the defensive line at Ohio State where Chase Young was the captain but was described by Gene Smith, the Buckeye’s Athletic Director as, “A Sunday kind of guy. He’s disruptive. He’s smart. I love Davon because on top of everything he’s a great human being.”

So coming out of this draft, even if the Jaguars don’t win, you can have them all over for dinner.

“When they’re good players and they’ve been good in the locker room and they’re good on these college campuses and in their community, and then really what that means is now you can coach football and whole focus can be on football,” Marrone explained.

The Jaguars had specific needs, but he wanted players to come into the locker room not worried about their “brand” or their Instagram account. Marrone was looking for workers. He personally talked to college assistants about what kind of workers and teammates potential draft picks were, looking for a specific type of player to come to Jacksonville.

“I really believe that when you don’t have a lot of things going on on the outside with this person or that person or whatever it may be, and you can totally focus just on football when you’re in the building, you have a chance to be a pretty good player,” he added.

That’s not to say they didn’t address their needs, or give up on getting talent either. This draft was so deep at the positions the Jaguars were looking for they could get the guys they wanted without a lot of jumping around. Marrone was quick to say the Jaguars didn’t “settle” on anybody. He claims the players they took early were the highest rated players on their board.

“That is the one thing. I don’t want these players from a situation of, ‘Well, you know what. Jacksonville went ahead and they took two guys that are really great guys, but they may not be talented,’ Marrone said. “We feel that we have gotten great talent, guys that can produce at positions that we needed, but we did not have to go and take them [out of position]. They were the highest rated players on our board when we were going to go and pick.”

And Marrone even leaned on some of his current players when deciding whether a potential draft pick would fit with the culture he’s trying to build. He talked to Jawaan Taylor about C.J. Henderson. They were teammates at Florida. Same with D.J. Chark and K’Lavon Chaisson at LSU, and he was happy with the answers he got.

“There’s players in our locker room that know these players, and that’s important for me to get a sense of, ‘Hey, are these guys going to fit? Are they what we’re looking for?’ Marrone said of his internal research.
“They understand the challenges we have as a team. ‘How are they going to be there?’ I was very comfortable with that. I couldn’t be happier about where we are right now. Who we’re bringing in, we still have that responsibility trying to create this locker room.”

Prior to the draft, Caldwell said that his twelve picks gave him some “ammo” to move around and get the players the Jaguars wanted. So we anticipated some fireworks. That just didn’t happen. The draft unfolded just about how everybody predicted. No big surprises.

“I haven’t been reluctant, I just felt like we had options at every pick,” Caldwell said after day two.

Every time the Jaguars were getting close to their pick, Caldwell said he was ready to make a trade to move up to get who they wanted but he didn’t need to.

‘”Okay, well there’s two picks to go and we feel good about three players or five players,” is how explained what happened. “So there’s no real need to trade up. There’s been enough players that we like. I think sometimes patience pays off.”

This collaboration between Marrone and Caldwell has worked well: at least at getting players and the kind of players the Jaguars wanted. You can disagree with what they’re doing, but they’re building the team they think will work. The model of everybody reporting to one football czar, didn’t work, at least from a personnel perspective.

Marrone told everybody what kind of team he wants the Jaguars to be and the coaching staffs and personnel department worked together to find the players that would fit that model.

Caldwell says the idea they presented to Owner Shad Khan about how to build a team after Khan fired Executive VP Tom Coughlin has worked.

“The process has been really good and it’s been really seamless and enjoyable on my part with our coaching staff and our personnel staff,” he explained. “Good dialogue where everyone can speak freely and not be judged.”

I’ve often thought that the Jaguars should reflect what kind of people live in Jacksonville. Like the Steelers reflect Pittsburgh, the Bills reflect Buffalo and the Ravens reflect Baltimore: Tough, hard working, “I don’t care who gets the credit let’s just get the job done” kind of guys. You know, the anti-Jalen Ramsey type.

This draft seems to have accomplished that. Now let’s see if they can play.

A Complicated Draft, In More Ways Than One

There are a lot of moving parts for any NFL team when it comes to the yearly college draft.

This year there will be even more moving parts as the NFL will conduct the draft virtually with everybody, from GM’s, scouts, coaches, medial staff and anybody else with input to a team’s pick meeting via video conference. NFL organizations will use Microsoft Teams to communicate. The Jaguars expect to have everybody who is normally in the draft room on that call. From there, all thirty-two teams will use WebEx to be in touch with the league. If it all crashes, they’ll pick up the phone.

So it’ll be a complicated process, seven rounds over three days with the first round this coming Thursday. There was some lobbying for more time in the first round and even more picks and honestly in this environment, it sounded like whining.

Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell wasn’t part of that carping chorus. He said he’s pretty comfortable with the mechanics of how it will happen this week. There won’t be any time problems making trades in the ten minutes allowed in the first round according to Caldwell but he did say, “I might have to see if my left hand is as good as my right to get something done in the later rounds.”

Teams have all kinds of questions as they go into the off-season and prepare for the draft. Decisions made in the draft can impact franchises for years.

What did they do in free agency? What specific needs to they have? Do they want to get younger? Can they fit players under the salary cap? Are they rebuilding or just reloading for a playoff run?

That’s why when Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell said, “We want to hit on all twelve,” when asked about the big number of draft picks he has on Thursday, he might have been giving a standard answer but he might also be thinking that’s exactly what the Jaguars need to happen to be competitive. “We want to make every one of them count,” he added.

The Jaguars don’t have one of those questions to answer. They have all of them. And not much time to find solutions.

“If we went to play right now and Gardner Minshew is our guy, I’m excited about that,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said. So they appear to be confident enough in Minshew that quarterback with their ninth pick doesn’t seem like a possibility.

While saying he feels like he could line up and play with the guys on the roster right now, Marrone was excited about the draft possibilities.

“Do we want to add players? Absolutely,” he said. “We are going to have a great opportunity to do so in this draft with 12 picks. My personal philosophy is you can never go wrong with taking who you view is the best player.”

Marrone was also open to developing a team based on the talent available, and not the other way around.

“We want to get playmakers and make them make plays,” he said. “When you put a player on the field as a starter, you’re saying ‘I have confidence in that player.’ Am I happy with Gardner,? Absolutely.
A lot depends on how Gardner progresses. If he’s hot, we’ll roll with him.”

And he hammered home the point of what kind of team he expects the Jaguars to be in 2020.

“We’re going to be a younger football tem. Team concept, not a lot of drama,” he said, emphasizing the ‘no drama’ point again. “Great teammates and guys in the locker room.”

As you might imagine, teams rehearse what is going to happen on draft day, coming up with all kids of scenarios in their own mock drafts leading up to that day. They feel like they’re prepared for any eventuality.

Last year though, was pretty unique.

“We ran over a hundred scenarios in our draft room,” one senior Jaguars personnel official told me, “and not once did Josh Allen fall to us.”

Perhaps that was a bit of hyperbole since Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell denied that this week saying, “There were a few scenarios where Josh fell to us.”

Either way, they were surprised, and fortunate when the player they considered one of the top two in the draft fell in their lap.

You can tell when that happens for a team by the amount of time it takes for the previous pick announcement to be made and when the “pick is in” graphic comes up on the screen. Last year, it was almost immediate.

This year the number of players in the draft the Jaguars consider elite is a little higher.

“Four,” Caldwell said without hesitation when I asked him how many players in the top nine this year he wouldn’t hesitate to take if they’re still available when the Jaguars are on the board. You’d figure that Joe Burrow and Chase Young would be two of them.

Overall, the Jaguars have the draft split by offense and defense.

“Offensively you can get a good player late,” Caldwell said. “Defensively there’s a big drop off and there’s not as much depth.”

It’s apparent Alabama Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the lynchpin to what happens in the first 20 picks in this year’s draft. Some teams covet him; others aren’t convinced, based on his injury record that he can hold up under the pounding an NFL quarterback must endure.

One thing seems certain: If there’s a run on quarterbacks in the top six or seven, one of the four players the Jaguars would like to have at nine will still be there.

With two picks in the first round the Jaguars have plenty of options and lots of possibilities. Caldwell said he’d let it play out in front of him. If all of the players they like are gone early they could trade back.

Or if the exact opposite is happening, the Jaguars could go in the other direction.

“If you are sitting there at No. 9 and No. 20 and there is only one guy you like left at pick No. 5,” Caldwell said. “You might have to use some of that ammo to go up and get the guy that you want.”

He added that the Jaguars have worked some scenarios to trade up or back and have been in touch with GM’s across the league to discuss some of the possibilities.

Just a couple of years ago, Caldwell didn’t hesitate to call Jalen Ramsey when the FSU cornerback fell to the Jaguars with the fifth pick in the 2016 draft. The Cowboys had the pick in front of the Jaguars and as soon as Roger Goodell in Chicago announced “Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Ohio State”, Caldwell was on the phone. It was a situation the Jaguars knew was a possibility, but considered it very remote. When a player like Ramsey falls in the draft, some teams might pass but others will snatch him right away, and that’s what the Jaguars thought about Ramsey that spring.

That’s why when a player of the talent level Josh Allen has does fall, some teams start to wonder why and pass while others have such high marks on him they can’t say no.

You might remember Dan Marino’s Hall of Fame career started with him falling all the way to the second to last pick in the first round in 1983. He was the sixth quarterback taken after drug rumors scared teams off. It’s why the Packers took Aaron Rodgers in the first round with Hall of Famer Brett Favre still on the roster. Rodgers could have been the number one pick but when the ‘Niners took Alex Smith he started to fall. Green Bay didn’t need a quarterback but they couldn’t pass on him.

In 1995, he Jaguars did the same with Rob Johnson. They didn’t need a quarterback; they already had Steve Beurlein and Mark Brunell. But after the first day, Johnson was the only player left on their board they thought would be picked in the first three rounds. Tom Coughiin considered him borderline first round talent. They took Johnson, who won an important game for them a couple of years later in Baltimore, then traded him to Buffalo for the draft pick that eventually became Fred Taylor.

One thing that wasn’t evident during their pre-draft conference call was panic. Neither Caldwell nor Marrone seemed under undue stress or pressure although Shad Khan seems to have given both men one year to get this right. They didn’t have and telltale paranoia that usually shows itself when decision-makers are under the gun.

So good for them, and let’s hope they have a little luck. They could use it.

Author’s Note:

I wanted to just take a second here to give you a sad update on two people you might have read about in this column over the last year.

My friend of nearly forty years, Sharon Siegel-Cohen lost her battle with ALS last week. Sharon was a newscast line producer when I first arrived in television here in Jacksonville in 1981. We became friends right away as I got my feet wet and she helped me learn about the city. She was so talented, she was promoted out of that position quickly and moved on to stations in Atlanta and Tampa before coming back to Jacksonville in a management role. Because of her promotions and moves we didn’t work closely together at our jobs but we became close friends. Sharon was about the kindest and most easygoing person I’ve ever met who also kept one foot firmly planted in reality. I don’t know that I ever heard a cross word out of her and she was such a superb judge of character that just one tilt of her head was all you needed to know. Her fight with ALS seemed supremely unfair but I never heard her complain and she always kept her wry sense of humor. As said in her obituary, which she wrote, “I am lucky to have had a wonderful life. My final wish is to find a cure for ALS. Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939. It’s time to find a cure.” Sharon was only 62 years old and I’ll miss her terribly.

We also lost Jim Frey last week. Frye had a lifelong career in baseball with a storied minor league playing career and even more success as a coach, manager and GM during stops in Baltimore, Kansas City and Chicago. Frey spent most of the year in Ponte Vedra near his family after retiring and when he found out I was from Baltimore, we spent a lot of hours talking baseball and the Orioles. An avid golfer, Frey shot his age (88) at Marsh Landing last summer. It was the 500th time he’d done that in the last 20 years. Jim was smart, a great storyteller and fun to be around. I’ll miss him as well.

Two London Games Hurts

Everything about the Jaguars moving a second home game to London stinks.

For now.

When the Jaguars made that announcement earlier this week all anybody heard was “They’re playing a second game in London, they’re taking a home game away from us”. When I talked to Jaguars President Mark Lamping later in the week he laid out the Jaguars reason why and a lot of it makes sense.

For the long term.

“We understood what the response from our fans would be,” Lamping told me Thursday. “But we have to make these hard decisions so there aren’t any questions about the future of the Jaguars in Jacksonville. “

So they’re saying that this short-term pain is going to insure the franchise in the future in Jacksonville?

Well, I like that part.

But how they just dropped the decision to play a second game in London in the middle of the week kind of out of nowhere was a strategic error by Lamping and Jaguars Owner Shad Khan. There were a lot of different ways they could’ve told us this without just one day saying, “Hey! We’re playing two games in London next year.”

Because as soon as they said that, nobody heard another word. All we heard was “They’re taking another home game from us! They’re moving to London!”

They underestimated how people from Jacksonville understand that we’re the underdog. We need to do things a little differently. We’re not stupid. Tell us why and bring us in on the process.

People outside the city have told us for years that eventually the team would move. First it was Los Angeles and since Khan bought the team it’s been London. I’ve defended Khan in the past both here and among my media colleagues when I travel. This will add fuel to their fire and diminish any argument in Khan or Jacksonville’s defense.

Except Lamping assured me that’s not part of the plan.

He said he Jaguars have no plan to play a a third game in London or Barcelona or Stuttgart in 2021 or a fourth in 2022.

Right now the NFL’s commitment to London ends this year with four games in 2020 and two more at Tottenham Hotspurs’ home ground at White Hart Lane for the next eight seasons. So the league is looking at what their international plan will be going forward.

And not just for London. They’d like to play games in Germany and Spain and perhaps continue in London and in Mexico City.

But for now, for us, it stinks.

If they break ground on Lot J and the Shipyards project this year, the timeline for those projects is to be completed by 2023. So I’d expect two games in London at least until then.

Add the fact that parking at Lot J is going away for a while and it’s Jaguars fans that will bear the brunt of the burden just to get six games in Jacksonville for possibly the next three years.

If the Jaguars are telling us the truth about their long-term plan, then that’s great. This team will always be the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Shad’s charge to me is ‘Do what we need to do to have a successful franchise in Jacksonville,’” Lamping said.

And Lamping and Khan believe that, for now, playing a second game in London, along with the Lot J project, the Shipyards and Daily’s place all will create enough revenue to keep the team competitive and solvent.

Once the revenue starts coming in from these alternate sources, according to Lamping, they can decide if playing a game overseas is necessary or still a good idea.

We all know they make more money playing home games in London, so what’s to keep them from just playing more games there?

Lamping points to Khan’s commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars to Jacksonville and says Shad wants the team here.

“The initiatives of the Lot J project, the Shipyards, Daily’s Place, all of those are important to our long term plan for the Jaguars in Jacksonville in the future.”

I’ll take him at his word on that only because he was most accurate when he said, “There might be some short term pain for fans to ensure our long term success here in Jacksonville.”

Lamping is used to this kind of heat. He was the most vilified person in St. Louis as he negotiated for the construction of a new Busch Stadium for the baseball Cardinals. When he talked to the Governor and state leaders in Illinois, gaining leverage for the new stadium, they wanted to run him out of town. He works for Shad and Shad wants to get this done. He’s judged by the bottom line.

There are a few other things that go into the decision to play two home games in London.

One is the NFL was looking for a team to play two games there in one season to see how it went. So the Jaguars are the guinea pigs for that experiment.

Will the league and the Jaguars renew in London?

Probably so.

They like the international vibe and certainly Shad likes being able to entertain his international clients from the UK, Asia and Europe at Wembley. Who knows he may own Wembley in the next couple years?

What the NFL is lacking is teams that have the flexibility to play a home game in London. The Jaguars have that flexibility for now, most teams do not based on their stadium lease.

Which brings us to the next five to eight years for the Jaguars franchise here in Jacksonville. If we want to stay competitive as a NFL city, a rebuild or renovation of the current stadium is in our not-so-distant future.

And if we’re going to contribute to upgrade or redo the stadium, one of the negotiating points will be the Jaguars have to commit to play their games there.

Because of the Jacksonville’s small market size, it’ll take other revenue besides just sellouts.

Lamping points to Patriots Place in Foxboro as a gleaming example of what can happen. And I agree with all of that. In the end, Patriots Place makes money for Patriots owner Robert Kraft. And the same will happen for Shad Khan, long term, with his downtown projects. But the Patriots play 10 home games right next door to Patriots Place. And they win games and go to the playoffs. Lamping says once the Lot J project starts to make money it might negate a need for a second game in London.

And the timeline for that is 2023.

When the Jaguars were a competitive franchise in the late ‘90’s, winning at a .560 clip, sellouts were a regular occurrence. Since then they’ve won about a quarter of their games. But when they win, like in 2017, people show up. Look around the league. It’s no different anywhere else. For years, the Bucs had about 40,000 fans in Tampa Bay and they showed up despite how bad the team was. You might remember they floated the idea of playing half of their games in Orlando. Same for the Saints in New Orleans and the Dolphins in Miami. When the Cowboys were 1-15 in 1989, Texas Stadium was empty.

The same thing happens here: Win games and fans show up.

To use Lamping’s words, “The fans have clearly outperformed the team.”

What hasn’t happened since the Jaguars founding in 1993 is corporate growth in North Florida. I blame civic leadership for that. The population has grown and like anywhere else, a winning football team brings fans to the stadium.

But the kind of underpinning NFL owners are looking for comes from corporations and sponsorship. The fact that Jaguars games are shown on television only in parts of Florida, South Georgia and in the visitors city doesn’t give potential corporate sponsors the kind of exposure they’re looking for.

How do you solve that? A big part of the answer is winning more games.

A winning team shows up on national television, on Sunday Night and Monday Night Football. It doesn’t get flexed out of prime time.

I don’t mind playing one game in London every year. It makes a good connection with one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Khan pointed out that the reaction to the one game in London was very positive. Apparently his reference to the expected positive reaction for playing a second game there was supposed to be for the attitude five years from now.

But not for how we feel now. Because for now, it’s painful, disappointing and is hard to see as a plus.

When it comes to revenue I’m always for people making money. At some point Shad and the NFL will have to decide if it’s just all about money

I’ll take him at his word that he wants to have a long-term viable franchise in Jacksonville and it’s these other revenue streams and, for now, the second game in London that will guarantee the Jaguars have “Jacksonville” as part of their name for the foreseeable future.

Lamping said this week any kind of franchise shift is something the current Jaguars management would never consider. They want to make more money, but they’re not moving like the Chargers, Rams and Raiders.

“They have taken steps that we would not consider, but they have taken steps to fix their revenue by leaving Oakland, by leaving St. Louis and by leaving San Diego.”

Maybe this was a public relations stumble, a miscalculation by Lamping and Khan. Maybe Lot J, the Shipyards and Daily’s Place will be the genesis of a much-needed renaissance for downtown.

I know owning an NFL team is not a charity project and that Shad wants the Jaguars to make money.

And I know Shad is a competitive guy and doesn’t want to sit in the bottom 25% of revenue earners among NFL teams.

But how they rolled out this step was a strategic mistake, underestimating Jaguars fans passion here in Jacksonville. They underestimated the people in Jacksonville and what we can do, and how we’ll buy in if we believe you’re on our side. We got rid of the smell, we got rid of tolls, and we even beat the odds and got an NFL team.

They seem to lack somebody with real roots in Jacksonville to help shape their decisions. When they got the Clevelander to sponsor the pool and the North End Zone, anybody who’s been around here a while knew that wasn’t the answer.

We’re Atlantic/Jax/Neptune/Ponte Vedra Beach. Not South Beach.

Lamping is fond of saying, “Watch what we do.” Not to worry Mark, we will. We’ll be playing close attention.

Because for now, this hurts.

Boselli’s Chance

This coming Saturday in Miami, former Jaguars Tackle Tony Boselli and Packers safety LeRoy Butler are among the 15 finalists for the remaining five spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s “Centennial Class.” Recognizing the NFL’s 100th anniversary and the year 2020, the Hall expanded this year’s class to include 10 seniors, two coaches, three contributors and five modern-era candidates. Those modern-era candidates are the finalists we’ll talk about this Saturday, players whose careers ended less than twenty-five years ago.

A “Blue Ribbon” Committee was appointed to select the first fifteen members of the Centennial Class. The regular Selection Committee will discuss the final fifteen Saturday and whittle that group down to the final five for enshrinement in Canton with a little twist on the rules from previous years.

Normally the Selection Committee talks about players and coaches and the final five have to endure an up or down vote. Each has to get 80% of the Selection Committee’s endorsement to gain entrance into the Hall. This year the Committee will only talk about players and there will be no up or down vote. The final five will be part of the class.

It’s the fourth consecutive year Boselli has made the finalists list. It’s the first time Butler has made it “in the room.” Making it “in the room” gives a player about an 88% chance of eventually making it to the Hall.

Because it’s his fourth year in the final fifteen, Boselli has a better chance this year than Butler but I think both deserve enshrinement in Canton. I’ll give support to LeRoy’s candidacy during the meeting. He’s a four-time All-Pro and four times was elected to the Pro Bowl. He played on a Super Bowl championship team. He was on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the ‘90’s. He has a strong case for the Hall.

But it’s my job as the Jacksonville representative to present Tony’s case to the other forty-seven selectors. The Green Bay rep will present LeRoy’s case.

The Selection Committee is a group of reporters and two Hall of Fame members who are serious-minded, smart, experienced and well prepared. They’re not swayed by flowery rhetoric or great oratory skills. They’re interested in facts they might not have uncovered. They want to hear what the candidate’s contemporaries say about his qualifications, his teammates and opponents, players and coaches.

Boselli had been eligible for the Hall for eleven years before he became a finalist. Give credit to my colleague Vito Stellino, a Hall of Fame writer himself and an at-large member of the Selection Committee for jump-starting Tony’s candidacy. His off-season reminder to Committee members that Boselli’s career exceeded the length of some recent inductee’s gave Tony’s case an early push.

There’s really not much debate about the quality of Boselli’s play. Nobody disputes that at the peak of his performance, he was among the best, maybe in the top two of those who ever played tackle in the NFL. (The consensus is Anthony Munoz is the best tackle ever. Even Boselli thinks so.)

Players from Tony’s era who have made it to Canton all believe in his qualifications.

Munoz said he thinks Boselli “is one of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”

“He had the versatility of Gary Zimmerman and Walter Jones,” said John Randle, who Boselli calls his toughest opponent. “He was patient, that’s what makes the great ones I don’t see that much these days. Tony had great feet, he never got crossed over.”

Jason Taylor suffered a beat down in a nationally televised game and said recently, “ Tony Boselli wore me out! In fact, if they didn’t turn off the lights, he would still be kicking my a**. He belongs in that (Hall of Fame) box.”

Even Bruce Smith, previously reluctant to talk about his matchups with Boselli, endorsed him this week. “He was a stud. He gave me all I could handle. In that era of football, there was none better.”

Walter Jones was a few years older than Boselli but admitted he looked at Tony’s game tape each week to compare his own game.. You could call the era that included Jones and Boselli the “Golden Age of Tackles.” Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf were all in that time frame and all are in the Hall. All also admit Boselli might have been the best of the lot.

John Hannah, considered the best guard to ever play the game said, “When I watched Tony Boselli play I thought he was the best offensive tackle I ever saw.”

Boselli ranks either first or second among the tackles of his era when it comes to sacks per game, rushing yards to his side and most other quantifiable statistics. He was named All-Pro four times by different organizations and was five times selected to the Pro Bowl. He’s a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team of the’90’s despite playing only half of the decade.

So the only question about Tony is the length of his career. Seven years. Ninety-seven games including six playoff contests.

There are numerous examples of players in the Hall of Fame who played less than ten years in the league.

Well respected NFL Historian and editor of Pro Football Journal John Turney recently named his “All-
Short Career” team perhaps in reaction to the recent early retirements of Luke Kuechly (8 years), Rob Grokowski, (9 years) Calvin Johnson (9 years) and Andrew Luck (6 years).

Boselli was an all-first team tackle on offense. The other was Jimbo Covert of the Bears, recently named to the Hall by the Blue Ribbon Committee. Covert played eight seasons and 111 games. Less than a full season more than Tony.

Names you might recognize also on that “Short Career” offensive team: Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Lynn Swann, Kellen Winslow, Earl Campbell, Terrell Davis and Dwight Stephenson, all in the Hall of Fame among others. Davis gained enshrinement in 2017 and played but 78 games in the NFL.

If you like numbers, here are some that might surprise you:

Twenty-five percent of the tackles in the Hall played less than 100 games. Thirteen percent of all players in the Hall played less than 100 games.

Pro football reference has a stat called “games as primary starter” at their position. A full 35% of the hall, 97 of the 279 players in the Hall of Fame were the “primary starter” at their position for ten years or less.

The same research lists 14 of the 30 tackles in the Hall of Famer, nearly half as the “primary starter” for their teams for ten years or less. Why?

There’s been an ebb and flow in the length of careers over the NFL’s first century. Until about 1960 it wasn’t unusual for a player’s career to be less than ten years.

There was not the same medical skill and procedures as now and certainly not the money. Guys went on to other careers. Duke Slater, a member of the Centennial Class, played nine years and ninety games before retiring at age 32. At the time he was an attorney and a judge in Chicago. It wasn’t until the very late 50’s and 60’s that careers in the NFL started to expand. Better medical attention, more money in the game. Now the trend could be shorter careers. The toll on guys bodies with a 12 month commitment, the amount of money now in the game is giving them an opportunity and for some an incentive to retire early.

So perhaps the Selection Committee will recalibrate it’s thought process when it comes to length of careers. Will they deny Kuechly, Gronkowski or Johnson entrance to the Hall because they chose to end their careers when it appeared they could still play? I would hope not. A less than ten-year career will be more the norm and not the exception in the future.

It’s still an uphill battle for Boselli with fellow offensive linemen Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson also as finalists again this year. John Lynch is a finalist for the seventh time.
Eight of the fifteen to be discussed in the room are finalists for the first time. Troy Polamalu is considered the only favorite to gain entrance this year.

While I think Tony has a strong case for the Hall, especially in light of the precedents set by the selection in recent years of players with short careers, I can tell you that in my twenty-five years on the Committee, in that room on that Saturday, anything can happen.

Marrone, Caldwell Last Chance

There’s a lot we don’t know about Shad Khan. His ownership of the Jaguars is different than Wayne Weaver’s. It’s different than a lot of other NFL owners as well. He doesn’t live in town so he’s not part of the day-to-day operations. As one of the businesses in his portfolio the Jaguars have their own operating management, and when he needs to get involved, he does.

There is one thing we do know about Shad Khan: He’s not stupid.

If you spend any time around Shad you see that he’s a good listener. He believes in people’s expertise. He gives the people around him the tools to be successful. And he has high expectations for that success.

“We would go into meetings at the end of the year with ten ideas of things we’d need to make things successful going forward,” one Jaguars manager told me. “We’d expect to get three or four. Shad would sit there during the meeting and listen, and if you made your case, he’d give you all ten.”

But there was a catch.

“When he’d get to the door,” the manager recalled, “He’d look back and ask ‘Got what you need?’ Then he’d say, ‘Good, I expect some results.’ He didn’t want to hear any excuses.”

Khan’s thing is business. He likes the whole process of finding a business that’s undervalued, figuring out how to get it going and making it work. And he likes to win.

There are a lot of people angry or at best perplexed about his decision to keep Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell running his football team. They’re track record isn’t great save for one year, 2017. The Jaguars winning percentage in the last decade, with the team mostly owned by Khan, is second-to-last in the league.

Which is why national pundits called Khan’s move to keep Marrone and Caldwell a “head-scratcher.” Or worse. One said Khan was too close to the situation to see what the problems are. That he was looking for the “comfortable” decision to make.

“He did what he always does. Status quo. All good. Nothing to see here. Just another occasionally sternly-worded press release,” is how he described Khan’s decision-making process.

We all know it’s become its own sport on a national level to bash Jacksonville and the Jaguars. We’re an outpost to those writers who never go anywhere other than from the airport to the Hyatt to the stadium and back. If that’s all you did in most NFL cities you wouldn’t think much of them either. But that’s a whole different story.

I’ve had friends and fans agree that they have to “blow the whole thing up” but when I ask “in favor of what?” I usually get a blank stare. And that’s what I think Khan was facing.

The trend of young 30-something coaches taking over franchises has cooled a bit with fewer “hot” candidates out there. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is a perennial name on the coaching carousel but after his short stint in Denver and jilting the Colts, other owners are a bit wary. And the question whether its McDaniels or the Brady/Belichick combination still remains.

So short of luring Belichick away for a challenge and proof that it’s not all about the quarterback, Khan could have looked at Baltimore’s offensive coordinator Greg Roman (Caldwell’s roommate at John Carroll. Also McDaniels alma mater) or Robert Saleh, the ‘Niners defensive coordinator and former linebacker coach here in Jacksonville. Neither has head coaching experience.

You could say he opted for the “status quo” but I’m looking at the other side of the equation.

These days in the NFL it’s the coaches who bring along their own general managers, not the other way around. So Shad had to make a decision on his coach first. In his meetings with Marrone, Khan was convinced that Doug was encumbered by Tom Coughlin despite their close relationship. Shad had already made the decision to move on from Coughlin as the football czar weeks before he fired him.
It was Coughlin who set a tense tone on the team, attending practices but without the daily contact with players he didn’t have any positive impact on their performance. It seems the only contact Coughlin had with players was when they found a letter in their locker telling them how much they’d been fined. Or whatever he said to Jalen Ramsey after week two this year.

Marrone convinced Khan he can change the culture overnight, and there was some evidence of that in how the team reacted after Coughlin’s firing. Especially last Sunday coming from eleven points down to bet the Colts.

“I have a clear vision of the type of communication that I want with our players from different heads of the organization,” Marrone said on Tuesday when I asked him what specifically he told Khan that would make him a better coach for this team. “I think that we can do a better job there creating a better environment.”

Without throwing Coughlin directly under the bus, Marrone let it be known that things would be different with him calling the shots.

And Khan believed him.

Doug would be easy to play for. Do your job, no problem. Step out of line or don’t perform and he’ll let you know right away. No mystery there.

Retaining Caldwell on the surface seems odd but it had to do with Marrone’s new role having some input in personnel decisions. Caldwell’s record acquiring players, even when he was making the calls on his own, is spotty. But not that different than most organizations. It’s the high profile, Blake Bortles pick that most critics can’t get past.

Marrone was quick to point out in the last two years that he didn’t have anything to do with picking players while Coughlin was there. “You’d have to talk with them,” was his answer when asked about personnel decisions. Now, with he and Caldwell on equal footing in the organization, he believes he can help make it work.

Marrone has a more global view of the whole organization than people outside the buillding would realize. He’s interested in getting everyone involved.

“It comes from everywhere,” he said when asked about change. “It comes from all the support staff in the building, to the way we’re handling the players, to the way we’re acquiring them, to the way we’re coaching them, to everything.”

And then he was very specific about how things will work going forward. He’ll decide as the head coach what kind of football team they’ll be and have input about the players who fit into that mold.

“We are talking about taking our coaching staff with our scouting staff and really putting it in a true, true partnership where we are meeting and talking and doing that and coming to decisions,” he explained. “My experience with that has been that probably 97 percent of the time, you are going to come up with a decision that is best for your organization.”

Those decisions for 2020 will be critical. Marrone’s decisions about his coaching staff, beginning next Monday will be critical. Everybody knows they have a quarterback issue looming. The offensive line needs to play better, probably with some new personnel. They need Marcel Dareus back on the defensive line and better linebacker play. And their wide receivers need to be better and more consistently open.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. But it’s not that unusual for a team in the NFL to turn it around.

This is the one chance these guys are going to get.

It’s Khan’s Call, So How

I don’t know if Shad Khan will make a change in the Jaguars management this week. I suspect he will, having given us a hint in his statement after firing Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice President. “I determined earlier this fall that making this move at the conclusion of the 2019 season would be in everyone’s best interests . . .” he said announcing he had relieved Coughlin of his duties earlier than expected. So he’s had change on his mind for a while.

I’ve never liked the change process in sports. But maybe that’s just me. There’s a lot written about how coaches and executives didn’t get the job done and much less written about the family upheaval and all of the other things that change entails.

But it happens every year. In fact, the Monday after the regular season has its own name in the NFL: Black Monday.

We’ve all seen in our own careers when managers are in over their heads, are in the wrong job or have just worn out their welcome. Neither Head Coach Doug Marrone nor General Manager Dave Caldwell fit those descriptions but the decision-making process in the NFL is based on one thing: wins and losses.

And everybody who gets into that profession knows that.

“I truly take responsibility and apologize,” Marrone said in a heart-felt opening statement during a press conference this week. “You want your team to be doing well so people can have some pride and some joy, and we haven’t done that and that’s my job. What I haven’t done a good job [with] is our performance on Sundays.”

What if Khan looks around, maybe can’t get exactly who he wants, and decides that Marrone, without Tom Coughlin looking over his shoulder, is as good a choice as any? And decides that Caldwell’s personnel acumen was better without Coughlin’s input and keeps him as well?

Fans would be in an uproar. But does that matter?

At this point with television revenue paying for virtually all of an NFL team’s expenses, ticket revenue is a small part of a team’s overall income. But it all goes straight to the black on the bottom line.

What factors does Shad Khan use to make a management change? If you look at his businesses, Khan expects results and isn’t afraid to make changes. Of the estimated 40 or so businesses he owns, the Jaguars and his soccer club, Fulham in London, generate the most media attention but aren’t in the top half of his portfolio when it comes to revenue.

His main business, Flex-n-Gate, reports more than 24,000 employees worldwide. According to Forbes, it’s the 49th largest company in America, generating $8.3 billion in revenue this year. So changing management there would be a grinding process based on revenue, culture and profits. Khan would be involved at the top level. Apparently they did have a management change, perhaps at one of his manufacturing plants in Detroit sometime this year. But there’s not a whole lot of press coverage of a change at the top of an automotive parts maker.

At his soccer club, Khan has had nine managers in the last six years, including interim leaders or “caretakers” as they’re called. If things aren’t going right at Craven Cottage, he makes a change. Fulham has three “directors,” including Jaguars President Mark Lamping and Shad’s son Tony is also involved. They’re quick to flip the switch there and while it’s different than the NFL, if you’re not winning on the West End, there’s a quick hook.

Being more patient with his NFL team hasn’t paid off for Shad. He made one quick change after his first season as an owner, moving on from General Manager Gene Smith and Head Coach Mike Mularkey after a dismal 2-14 campaign in 2012. Gene hired Mike after being held over from the Wayne Weaver era. Mularkey didn’t have much of a chance with a sub-standard roster and Blaine Gabbert at quarterback but moreover Shad didn’t like how the team was being run in general.

When he asked about the Jaguars draft in 2012 he said it was like “going into an iron vault” to find out who they were looking at, even though he was the owner. It turned out to be Justin Blackmon who was productive for a couple years before he went off the deep end. But Shad didn’t like the secrecy or the process inside the building. He likes upward transparency. He wants to know what’s going on.

One thing we know about Khan’s decision-making process is that he hires the best. He’s not worried about where you’re based. He’s hired the best lawyers, the best planners, the best construction companies on their production and results. He does his homework.

So when picking a leadership team for the Jaguars, where does Shad go for advice?

He’s popular among the other NFL owners and with the league as well. He leans on their ideas, whether it’s the Cowboy’s Jerry Jones or Commissioner Roger Goodell. Khan is a good listener. Unlike most management decisions he’ll make across the spectrum of his investments, hiring the Head Coach of an NFL team comes under intense scrutiny. And he’ll be the one to make the call.

I once asked George Steinbrenner about hiring and re-hiring Billy Martin so many times. He said that there aren’t a lot of candidates for that job with a winning record. When Khan starts asking around he’ll no doubt talk with Sandy Montag and Jimmy Sexton, the two agents who represent most of the coaches out there, and get some ideas. Bringing in a “young gun” who’s a coordinator is a bit of a crap-shoot. There are hits and misses. Same with hiring a successful college coach. Guys available with a winning record in the NFL is a short list. Mike McCarthy and Ron Rivera are the two most prominent unemployed winners with NFL experience.

Khan has gone both ways with the Jaguars: Mularkey and Doug Marrone had NFL head-coaching experience. Gus Bradley did not.

What’s he looking for anyway? Gus Bradley could be termed a “players-coach,” trying to empower the players to hold each other accountable. And that didn’t work. Coughlin brought a whole different idea of accountability and aside from an injury-free 2017, that didn’t work either.

Is there a happy medium?

Each year at the “State of the Franchise” we hear Lamping go over the revenue statistics and how the Jaguars are near the bottom of the league each season. They’ve done a lot of things to try to enhance their revenue streams, including sponsors for the London game, but there’s one sure-fire way to bring in more money: win more games.

They’ve had four winning seasons since 2000 and one, in 2017, in the last ten years. Only once in the last nine years have they not suffered double-digit losses. They’ve won their division three times in their 25-year history. We can all agree with Lamping when he says “the fans have outpaced the team” when it comes to buying tickets and going to games based on performance.

This year they lost five straight games by at least 17-points, an NFL record. Compare that to the Chargers who are also 5-10 but nine of their losses have been by one score. Which team would you buy a ticket to watch?

Being a Jaguars fan isn’t easy. So hard in fact it was a running joke on a popular TV sitcom. And it’s not even the team’s record. “They’re not fun to watch,” one fan wrote me this week. “They’re not even entertaining, outside of the occasional (Gardner) ‘Minshew Magic,’” another said.

What Shad will do is anybody’s guess. Having been around him during games I can tell you he’s a real football fan. Combine that with his business success and you can only be certain that he’ll do his homework, spend the time and money, and try to make it right. Outside of that, what happens in the future is anybody’s guess.

Tom Coughlin

Coughlin Complexity Didn’t Work

It was January of 1994 and I was sitting in a temporary trailer outside the exterior hulk of the stadium that is now the home of the Jaguars. It was a full-fledged construction site with puddles everywhere as they were “renovating” the Gator Bowl to bring it up to NFL standards. In truth, it was a total re-build with just part of the west exoskeleton still standing. I was there for my regular, weekly, semi-clandestine meeting with David Seldin, the Jaguars president, to get “background” on what was going on with the franchise.

They were getting close to hiring a head coach, somebody to not only lead he football team but to build the entire organization and set the tone for the expansion franchise. I knew they had talked with Tony Dungy, at the time the Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator. They also had discussions with Lou Holtz and even talked with Jimmy Johnson.

“Do you think you’ll hire somebody established or bring somebody else in,” I asked Seldin, fishing for a clue about where they were with the search.

“I think we’ll make our own star,” Seldin said flatly.

“Then hire Tom Coughlin,” I said from across the table.

Seldin pursed his lips and looked away, his face flushed in an instant.

I knew right then that Coughlin was not only on their radar, but he was their guy. It was only a question of when.

That happened the first week of February Tom was introduced as the Head Coach and General Manager of the Jaguars. He was friendly enough, but didn’t have that easy, casual manner dealing with the media that was the norm around here with Steve Spurrier in Gainesville and Bobby Bowden in Tallahassee.

There was a story going around that Coughlin didn’t listen to the radio on the way to work because it was too “distracting.” At the time I thought that was amusing.

But like a lot of the players, coaches and media that worked for or dealt with Tom I eventually came to understand it. He’s focused, dedicated and totally committed to getting the job done. That doesn’t mean I approved of how he went about it and in fact, we had our share of serious disagreements when it came to his tactics of coaching and dealing with the media.

But I was also privy to a completely different Tom Coughlin. His youngest daughter and my oldest daughter were good friends in high school. So I got to know him as a dad over time. We’d talk about all the things two dads with high school daughters talk about: where they were going, what they were doing together. I was always surprised at his ability to completely transform from an autocratic, unreasonable coach and executive to an engaged, caring and loving father.

There was nothing about Tom Coughlin, the dad that spilled over to Tom Coughlin, the coach.

Eventually that cost him his job. Nobody in Jacksonville liked Tom the coach. Almost nobody knew Tom the dad. He wouldn’t let them. His unparalleled philanthropic work with the Jay Fund failed to soften the harsh public opinion of Tom the coach.

Even after he sat out for a year and worked for the NFL, then taking the job as the head coach of the Giants, without the GM role, he was very much Tom Coughlin the coach without any of Tom Coughlin the dad.

“Do something to help yourself,” his wife Judy implored Tom early in his tenure with the Giants. “They hate you,” she said of the New York media who had a constant battle with Tom the coach.

Somewhere shortly after that, Coughlin began a transformation; establishing a rapport with his players and at the very least, tolerated the time he spent with the media.

And they won two Super Bowls.

Even when his time with the Giants came to and end,
the players who despised him at the start, penned love letters to Coughlin after his departure

“I respect how he conducted his business and also how passionate he is about his family,” Eli Manning wrote in The Players Tribune. “He loves talking about his wife, his children and grandchildren. Later, when I got married and had children of my own, he taught me about being a good husband, a good father, and a good man.”

Manning got to see the two Tom Coughlin’s early in his career in New York. He described Coughlin as a disciplined “Head Coach” during the season.

“Then all of a sudden, the offseason comes,” he explained. “You see him in the lunch room and he sits down to have lunch with you. He asks about your family and how things are going off the field. He tries to get to know you. He smiles. He laughs.”

“He was one of the most loyal men I would ever meet playing this game.,” said defensive back Antrel Rolle. “He became my guy, and I loved him for that.”

Steve Weatherford, Justin Tuck and Hall of Famer Michael Strahan also talk about love and their feelings for Coughlin.

“You know, there was a time when the very last thing I thought I would ever say to Tom was that I loved him,” Strahan says. “But now, that’s the only word to describe how I feel about the man. It’s love. I’m a part of his family and he’s a part of mine.”

I had read all about this transformation and figured it would continue when he was named the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Jaguars. But it didn’t. I don’t know if it was because he was removed from the day-to-day contact with the players from his perch in the front office, or he figured this team needed that “Old School” sort of discipline to get back on track. But over time it didn’t work.

Coughlin handpicked Doug Marrone to be the Head Coach of the Jaguars because Marrone would coach the team the way Tom wanted it to be coached. So when Marrone did something different in this year’s training camp, Coughlin let him know he didn’t approve.

You’d think Marrone might have some resentment, but that wasn’t the case.
“We talked every day. I wouldn’t use those terms that the relationship was strained, because I have so much respect for him and I listen,” Marrone said the day after Coughlin was fired. “To be around someone that has just a great heart, great principles, great family man. I think those are the things that come to my mind.”
Marrone was stuck between his respect for Coughlin (and the fact that he was his boss) and his belief in the NFL Players Association as a player’s advocate when it comes to the hefty fines levied by Coughlin for what he perceived as violations of team rules.

“The calendar and the clock are all set by the football season and the offseason,” is a quote from Coughlin’s book “Earn the Right to Win.”

That’s why the whole situation with fining Dante Fowler for missing non-mandatory rehab during the off-season seems way out of character, especially for the rules-driven Coughlin. Tom knows the rules. He knows the difference between the season and the offseason. He knows players can seek outside rehabilitation options in the off-season. It’s part of the collective bargaining agreement.

But for some reason Coughlin decided his own rules superseded the agreement the players had with the league. As well as I knew him, and for as long as I’d known him, Tom projected a level of hubris in his return to Jacksonville in his role as the EVP that wasn’t working for him or the people around him. And I don’t know why.

When the arbitrator ruled in favor of the Players Association last Monday, giving Fowler back the $700,000 in fines he had paid to the Jaguars it brought to light more than just Coughlin’s re-found autocratic manner. The NFLPA’s memo pointed out that a full 25% of all grievances filed against teams were filed against the Jaguars. It concluded saying players should “consider this when choosing their next team.”

That made Shad Khan’s decision to remove Coughlin from the equation easy, even with just two weeks left in the season. The Jaguars couldn’t compete with the 31 other teams in the free-agent market with that hanging over their head. Khan had already decided to make that move at the end of the year based on the poor performance the team has had since the 2017 AFC Championship game. He says he “reconsidered” after the NFLPA memo and made the move immediately.

Pay no attention to Fowler’s gloating or Ramsey’s childish Twitter postings. They’re both blips on the radar of Jaguars history. The team is better off without either of them, Coughlin’s status notwithstanding.

Although his agent, Sandy Montag, said Tom has “more football left” it was more than likely that at 73-years old, Coughlin was going to retire at the end of this season to spend more time with his family and his ailing wife.
It’s an unceremonious end to this chapter of Coughlin’s career. A career that could culminate with a spot in Canton.
I just keep thinking it didn’t have to happen this way.

Fans Love And Hate Their Jaguars

During my television career, whenever line producers or news directors wanted to steal time from the sportscast for more weather or a story about a cat with cute spots on its face, I’d try to explain why we needed the two and a half minutes they were allotting to cover the sports news of the day.

Rarely would I be successful holding onto the time, but occasionally I’d ask them a simple question: “What other thing are you covering today are people wiling to get in a fistfight about?” A steamy stare, followed by a “Get out of my office” usually followed. But it’s true, people are passionate about sports on so many levels it’s hard to describe to somebody who doesn’t get it.

That’s why the volume of frustration seemed to boil over this week with Jaguars fans, all having an opinion and wanting to tell anybody who was within earshot. My phone has been buzzing a whirring all week with friends asking the same thing: “What’s up with the Jaguars?”

Long ago I learned when fans asked me my opinion about something specific, actually they wanted to tell me what they thought. Which has been fun over the years, especially when their emotions spill over.

I’ve laughed many times when my friend, we’ll call him “Wooly,” has said to me, “I hate it when you don’t get swept up in the emotion of disdain.”

Fans can have that kind of reaction to bad performances or perceived slights by “their” team. Reporters, on the other hand, are supposed to try and give a critical look at things, taking the emotions out and being “professional observers.” We’re given the luxury of going into locker rooms and attending press conferences to see and hear the nuance and tone of what’s said, how questions are asked and whatever mood is pervasive throughout an organization.

I’ve solicited opinions from fans I know about the Jaguars this week and they probably reflect some of your feelings as well. These are season ticket buying, game-attending fans. So they’re into it. I also tried to take emotion out of each situation as it was presented to me. Names have been changed here to protect the innocent.

“The fact could not be clearer that this coach cannot get this team ready for game day,” Wooly said to me after last week’s shellacking by the Chargers. “Right now they’re the worst team in the league. Come on, who’s playing worse?”

That was a refrain I heard often this week as fans threw their hands up in the air and seemed resigned to another rebuilding “How long to we have to go through this ‘Groundhog Day’ scenario?” I was asked.

While Tom Coughlin handpicked Doug Marrone to coach this team, Coughlin also has been responsible for who’s on this roster.

That’s why when Marrone said, “These are our players” in response to a question last Sunday night, my ears perked up. Coughlin used that term in 1995 in a response to a question during the second half of the season seven game losing streak that year. It’s “coach speak” for “We need better guys but they’re not out there walking up and down the street.” Marrone is the first to know that the Jaguars are outmanned due to injury and some personnel decisions that haven’t worked on both sides of the ball in the last couple of years.

“I was sitting at the game going though all of the emotions I could have,” my friend known as the “Ghost of Chuck” said. “How can we get to be this bad? Must be coaching! I said fire everybody but then I said, ‘Wait, I’m tired; I don’t want to start over! “

That’s pretty close to the full spectrum of emotions and solutions I heard this week “You gotta clean house!” was near the top of the list.

Cleaning house for Owner Shad Khan would have to start with the entire management team. Coughlin is the VP of Football Operations and for all of his success early on with the franchise, fans are angry with him right now.

“What makes you think they’re going to draft the right people?” “Ghost” said he tells his friends as his voice rose. “I compare it to other teams, Buffalo, Cleveland, they’ve done that for decades. Most of the franchises aren’t very good at selecting players. We hold ourselves accountable for not taking Russell Wilson or Lamar Jackson or other stars but plenty of other teams passed on them as well.”

“It’s easy to assess from my seat what the symptoms are but I don’t know what the problem is,” long-suffering fan “True Blue” said. “There’s a culture issue with this team. They could adopt the Patriots Way, ruthlessly getting rid of guys who are on the outside of the lines. Look at the Pats, they’re getting the last or the second to last draft pick every year and still winning.”

“Who’s responsible for the culture?” I asked. “Players or coaches”

“My frustration is with the lack of leadership and maturity,” ‘Blue’ added. “Especially on defense. Stupid penalties. They seem to be undisciplined and unmotivated.”

That was a big rallying cry this week among fans, but taking the temperature of the team walking through the locker room and talking to players after last Sunday’s beating, they still are motivated. The locker room isn’t fractured. They’re not faking it.

But the undisciplined accusation is borne out in fact: the Jaguars are the most penalized team in the league. Is that coaching or players just not adhering to basic football fundamentals?

“If they’re going out there, not making mistakes and playing hard, people will put up with that,” Blue added. “It boils down to selfishness; It turns me off. I don’t have any interest in taking three and a half hours out of my Sunday and support that. It’s great to have a hometown team but it’s been a tough run.”

My friend “Big Beef” is a suite holder and says he’ll continue to buy in every year. But for the first time ever he and his guests left in the third quarter of last week’s game.

“I was so disappointed,’ he said. “The fans deserve better.
I come back from out of town to go to the games but at some point they’ve got to repay the people for their loyalty. These last three games are inexcusable.”

“Beef” has clearly been successful in his business life managing people and making big decisions. He wonders why the Jaguars brass can’t seem to get the best out of some top players who flourish elsewhere.

“I don’t know enough about football to know what’s wrong but there’s something the matter with that team,” Beef added. “I was thinking when I left Sunday that ‘Thank God I don’t have enough money to own a football team because I’d be irate.’”

Because of all the losing, some fans’ interest has faded. With one game left at home over the holidays between Christmas and New Years, the Jaguars brass already knew it would be a tough sell for fans unless the game against the Colts meant something in the AFC South or the playoffs. It doesn’t. But these four fans are planning to be there.

Why?

“Ghost” put it best.

“Look how great it is to have a team in town, so don’t be apathetic. It gives us a sense of community. It’s an entertainment piece that the city needs to have and embrace. People here embraced the players like they do in Buffalo and Cleveland. The players like living here. It’s an important part of who we are.”

Hmmm. Sports fans.

Bortles to Minshew and In Between. What Happened

Just two years ago the Jaguars were one play away from the Super Bowl. Since then, they’ve won nine of their last twenty-eight games. Nine.

How did they get here so quickly?

In his post-game press conference after the loss to New England in the AFC Championship game, Head Coach Doug Marrone was spot on when he said, “You don’t just pick up where you left off. You have to start all over again.” He was right. And the Jaguars haven’t been able to recreate what happened in 2017 either in their culture or their performance.

But why? Because they’re a very different team than they were just two years ago.

The league is very sophisticated; everybody knows what everybody else is doing. You can say Marrone has to go or that the locker room has gone tone deaf to his message after three years, but professional football is about the players on the field. Very few schemes or coaches have tipped the outcome. It’s the players on the field, their talent and their execution that makes the difference.

You know the play every team in the NFL runs where the QB sticks the ball in the running back’s gut, pulls it out, fakes to the wide receiver who has motioned through the backfield and then pitches it to the tight end who’s dragging the other way across on the inside of the line? Do the Jaguars even have that play? Are they running a lot of motion and deception to put pressure on the defense? No, they’re not.

Because they’re not built to do that.

They’re built to have a power running game, and throw the ball downfield. But they’re not doing that because their personnel aren’t up to the task at this point. It’s also a team that looks like one that could be built to win in the league fifteen or twenty years ago.

Are you going to beat Kansas City, Baltimore, Seattle and other creative teams like the Rams with this current game plan scoring seventeen or twenty-four points a game?

Obviously not.

Marrone inadvertently hit on at least one of the answers this week.

“You say, ‘I know that a percentage of the time, they’re going to be in this or that,’ but it’s just the personnel,” he said when asked about the Jaguars struggling. “That’s the big thing. You can run the same scheme on 32 teams, but you’re not going to have the same type of results, it’s going to be the personnel, but the problem is that you say,’ Hey, is my cat better than your cat?’”
And that’s where the Jaguars have fallen so quickly in less than two seasons. They’re a very different team with different personnel, than they were in 2017.

On defense they have at least six new starters, yet Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash is still running the same “gap control” scheme. It’s why the Jaguars have given up so many long runs this year where it looks like there’s nobody there. Paul Posluszny, Malik Jackson, Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson are all gone.

Poz retired and the Jaguars miss him as the “thumper” in the middle who was rarely out of position and when that “gap” opened, he stepped in there and filled it. His replacement, Myles Jack, it a phenomenal athlete but too often is swept up on the flow of a play. He isn’t that guy like Poz, or Lonnie Martz or Tom McManus before him, who would just stand there in the hole and say, ‘OK, come on.’ It would be hard to come close to quantifying how much they miss Poz’s leadership and locker room presence.

Jackson didn’t like the way he as being used and left when his contract was up. Telvin has some kind of personal issues that had him leave football altogether. Ramsey played well that year but was a disruptive force and wanted out. This year’s safety combo might be better athletes than Church and Gipson, but those two were where they were supposed to be and slowed some people down. Church’s lapse of judgment in London cost him a spot on the team and they let Gipson walk as a free agent.

On offense the pass catching group was Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Marcedes Lewis. They cut Hurns in somewhat of a salary cap move, Lee has been hurt and even though he had something left, they let Lewis walk. Another guy whose locker room presence is immeasurable. He’s still getting it done in Green Bay.

Although D.J. Chark might be an emerging star, the current group isn’t a productive upgrade.

Up front Cam Robinson played well as a rookie at left tackle. Free agent signing Andrew Norwell, signed to replace Omameh at left guard, hasn’t panned out. Norwell has been ordinary at best. I still think Brandon Linder would be a better guard than he is at center. A.J. Cann is a smart, tough and mobile player, but he might not be big enough for what the Jaguars are trying to do at guard. Jeremy Parnell was serviceable at right tackle. His replacement, Jawaan Taylor, could end up being a fixture there but the Jaguars are going through the growing pains that happen when you put a rookie in the starting lineup.

While the salary cap dictates that you can’t keep everybody, the Jaguars decision-making about who to keep and who to let walk hasn’t worked they way they expected.

To start, you can look at the decision to let Allen Robinson to become a free agent. I know he was hurt at the beginning of 2017 but wouldn’t they like to have him back?

Trading Dante Fowler and letting Aaron Colvin become a free agent are understandable. Fowler’s a goofball and Colvin wanted starter’s money.

Selecting Taven Bryan in the first round, a pick make out of hubris and not need, didn’t make the Jaguars any better. They had other positions that begged to be addressed.

Having made the decision to stick with Blake Bortles at quarterback at the time, they needed to get him some help with guys running and catching the ball and besides drafting Leonard Fournette, that didn’t happen.

So when Marrone asked that rhetorical question, ’Hey, is my cat better than your cat?’” Right now, the answer is no.

Minshew Foles and A Mistake

Watching the New Orleans Saints the other night I saw former Jaguars offensive lineman Patrick Omameh starting at left tackle in front of Drew Brees. Omameh is a solid backup who was making his first start ever at left tackle. It’s a tough job to begin with but having your first start out there on national television is no picnic. The announcers said Brees told them he was planning to “help Patrick and those guys up front out” by getting rid of the ball quicker and slightly altering the game plan with shorter routes and quick passes.

That’s where Jaguars Offensive Coordinator John DiFillipo and Quarterback Nick Foles failed last week against Tampa Bay. They knew the only thing the Bucs can really do is get after the quarterback so the plan should have included shorter routes and getting rid of the ball in 2 ½ seconds. Five step drop, pat and throw. Not a reset back there because at 3 ½ seconds Foles is going to the ground. Add into the equation how the current Jaguars offensive line is struggling, and you’re down 25-0 at halftime.

Crossing routes, quick dumps and flares in the flat to the running backs will be part of the offensive game plan with Gardner Minshew in at quarterback for the Jaguars. With Nick Foles, it was all downfield. That left him with no place to go with the ball quickly based on what was happening in front of him on the offensive line, and that’s a mistake. Putting Minshew back in at quarterback is the right call based on the current state of efficiency and imagination, or lack thereof, in the Jaguars offense.

This week the Jaguars VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said, “It won’t be easy for Nick but he’ll do what he can to help Gardner in these last four games. There will be another summer and another season for Nick Foles.”

While that statement has some ambiguity in it, one interpretation could be that Foles is coming back to compete for the starting job again in 2020. He’s a pure pocket passer and if the Jaguars offensive line is revamped to control the line of scrimmage, at least in pass blocking, he’d be the right guy as the starter.

Is Minshew a full-time starter in the NFL long into the future? The jury is still out on that but he has the moxie for the position. His arm is fine and the development for him looks like what Seattle did with Russell Wilson. They revamped their offense to get the most out of Wilson’s skills. Remember, when Wilson was drafted, the job was Tom Flynn’s, just acquired as a free agent. But Wilson was so good in camp, the Seahawks decided to change everything. And it worked.

Would the Jaguars be willing or able to do that? With the current front office it would be doubtful. Head Coach Doug Marrone would have to find an offensive coordinator to come up with a new scheme centered on Minshew.

That’s if any of those current decision makers are still around.

By the way, prop bets already being taken for the 2020 season by Sports Betting Dime have Foles as a solid favorite to be the Jaguars starter next year.

Jaguars At A Crossroads, Again

It’s a crossroads for the Jaguars franchise, again, against Tennessee in Nashville this week.

There are a lot of factors that go into the cauldron of who the Jaguars are now and who they’ll be in the future but they’re all lined up for the game against the Titans. How they perform could set the course for the foreseeable future. A win and there’s hope. A loss and they’re looking again to the future.

In back-to-back games, sandwiched around the bye, the Jaguars have been outperformed, outpaced and outclassed by division opponents. It’s not a good look for a team that’s been specifically built to compete in the AFC South. The Texans looked more talented, faster and smarter while dismantling the Jaguars in London. Last week, the Colts flat-out manhandled the Jaguars defense, pushing them around at will.

The team is healthy, outside of the tight end position. They’ve gone “back to the fundamentals” according the Head Coach Doug Marrone. The attitude is good in the locker room and they have six games left to right the ship on the 2019 season. Jaguars’ radio color analyst Tony Boselli predicted the team would go on a 7-0 run after the bye. Right now, going 4-2 to finish the season would look like a massive victory.

There’s a lot of finger pointing outside the stadium, a lot of it directed at Marrone and his coordinators, Todd Wash on defense and offensive coordinator John DiFillipo. Wash says, “We have to get off our blocks,” DiFillipo says, “We have to be better on third down.”

“It’s scheme, it’s motivation, it’s culture,” is the cry from interested, ticket-buying parties.

And while those things might be a factor the answer is actually simpler than that:

Play better.

Looking around the Jaguars roster, they’re pretty talented. But they’re not playing to what the roster looks like on paper.

The offensive line hasn’t developed the way it should with a combination of high draft picks and free agents involved. D.J. Chark is having a breakout year at wide receiver but the rest of that position looks pretty ordinary. On defense better play at linebacker would change their run stopping ability as well as help with pass rush up front and pass coverage behind.

Going to Nashville isn’t the exact recipe for the Jaguars to get well. They’ve lost five straight there, including last year’s embarrassing, Thursday night, nationally televised 30-9 loss that included a record tying 99-yard touchdown run by Yulee’s Derrick Henry.

In another Thursday night contest earlier this year the Jaguars beat the Titans here behind two TD passes from Gardner Minshew and a stout performance on defense.

Oh, how things have changed since then.

Switching quarterbacks and getting healthy seems to have invigorated Tennessee. Their improbable come-from-behind victory against Kansas City two weeks ago has buoyed their confidence. They’ve won three of their last four and are coming off their bye week. In contrast, the Jaguars had gotten to 4-4 but have looked miserable since.

With Nick Foles returning, the Jaguars have a few more options on offense and should have a level of consistency a veteran quarterback can bring. But with only nine rushing attempts last week against the Colts, they became predictable and easy prey. Leonard Fournette is frustrated, Foles says don’t press and freak out, and DiFillipo says it’s a “fair question” to ask about getting away from the running game so quickly in Indy. (As if he has some secret in his pocket that none of us know about.)

At least Head Coach Doug Marrone was straight forward in shouldering the blame.

“I thought we needed to score points in a quicker fashion and I think that’s what led to the increased pass attempts, so that’s on me as the head coach,” he said this week. “And I know we need to be more balanced moving forward. I was wrong, I made a mistake.”

Doug is easy to like and his quality as a “stand-up guy” is laudable. But that’s the kind of mistake a coach of his experience shouldn’t make. And it’s an unforgiving game. Opponents exploit your mistakes and make you pay. It’s a results oriented business and now, the Jaguars aren’t getting results.

But you can’t just point at Marrone and say he’s the problem. You have to go deeper into the organization to give his position some context.

When Owner Shad Khan tapped Tom Coughlin to run the football operation, Coughlin said there were two coaches he could work with. One was Marrone, the other reportedly was former Jaguars defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach Mike Smith. Both have distinct personalities and styles, but their core ideas on how to coach align with Coughlin’s. No matter who the head coach is for the Jaguars, with Coughlin in charge, he’ll be expected to coach a certain way.

“I look at the situation as being perfect, at least for me,” Marrone told Sports Illustrated last year. “He takes some things off my plate that are a little outside the realm of the team.”
When Khan assembled Coughlin, Marrone and General Manager Dave Caldwell, the decision was met with skepticism throughout the league. Khan was advised against it. Too many egos, too many cooks in the kitchen his friends said. But the success in 2017 and a trip to the AFC Championship game quieted the critics.

For a while.

Earlier this year Khan was asked about Coughlin’s future with the franchise and he said something like, “I couldn’t imagine anyone better.”

Although Khan gave the Jaguars brass a vote of confidence after last year’s 5-11 season, he did set some parameters.
“There were far too many long Sundays over the last three quarters of the season,” he said when he announced Coughlin, Marrone and Caldwell would be retained for this year. “And that cannot repeat itself in 2019.”
But is it?
There’s no denying Coughlin’s success in New York, winning two Super Bowls in 2008 and 2012. But those are both nearly a decade ago and the league has changed. While the Jaguars are built to run the ball, throw it off play action and stop the run on defense, the rest of the league has gotten faster and more innovative on offense. You’re not going to beat the elite teams 17-9 any longer. You’ve got to be able to score points in bunches and the Jaguars aren’t built that way.

Is the current Jaguars decision-making brain trust willing to move in that direction? Probably not. Do they believe a team built to win the Super Bowl a decade ago can still win in the NFL? Probably so.

I don’t buy into noted NFL scholar Jalen Ramsey’s assessment that Coughlin didn’t care to understand “this generation of guys — us as players or as people in general.” Do you think Bill Belichick is worried about understanding “this generation of guys?” Football is about blocking and tackling, not about whether or not you’re hurting somebody’s feelings.

Which leaves Khan with the ultimate decision. Let this group add a few pieces (including two first round picks in 2020) and see what happens or blow it up and start over.

Again.

Foles Leadership Unquestioned

For the Jaguars, Gardner Minshew is fun to watch as a leader. He is a jorts-wearing, mustache sporting, sunglasses-headband owning, cool guy who gives a swashbuckling tone to everything he does. He’s fun to be around. He jokes with his teammates and inspires them with his performance.

So what kind of leadership can they expect to get from Nick Foles?

When they’d show Foles on the sidelines recently while injured, the hoodie and glasses gave a “Who’s that guy?” impression to those who didn’t know he was the multi-million dollar quarterback of the Jaguars future. He didn’t jump off the screen as a team leader.

But don’t be fooled by what appears to be a detached demeanor. Foles has a quiet confidence and a clear head that allows him to take things as they are and perform at the highest level on the biggest stages. He’s very devoted to his Christian faith that follows the doctrine; he’s really not in control. But he uses the tools he’s been given, when he can, as good as anybody.

When he was injured in the Kansas City game at the beginning of the season, Foles immediately created clarity of mind, leaning on his faith.

“I was going into the locker room, I just realized this wasn’t exactly what I was thinking when I came to Jacksonville,” he said this week. “Obviously, you come here, and you want to create a culture and impact people, but at the end of the day, I was like, ‘God, this is the journey you want me to go on and I’m going to glorify you in every action, good or bad.’”

Leadership comes in many forms on a football field. Some players show it with toughness, others with a vocal exhortation of their teammates. There’s a common refrain among players who say they like to “lead by example” and still others who just have an aura that inspires their teammates.

Quarterbacks are, by nature and position, leaders. But how they get there oftentimes is very different from one another.

Tom Brady commands respect with his preparation and execution under duress. Patrick Mahomes leads with a joyful playfulness that brings his teammates along. Deshaun Watson does things that dazzle his teammates and makes them want to be a part of it. Same with Lamar Jackson. They all ooze confidence from the moment they step in the building.

For athletes and just anybody in a decision-making position, it doesn’t have to be religious faith that carries them in tough situations.

In his latest book “Stillness Is The Key,” author and researcher Ryan Holiday notes that Christians aren’t the only ones who call on a higher power to give them clarity in those situations. Every culture through the ages has recognized the need for a certain calmness of mind in times of adversity.

Roman philosopher Seneca and other Stoics called it apatheia. The Greeks refer to it as euthymia. Ancient Christians used the word aequanimitas. Buddhists, Muslims and Hebrews all had a particular word for the place you can go to in your own head to see a situation for what it is and can be, good or bad, without judging it as the best or worst thing that can happen.

That’s where Foles exhibits his leadership and his character. He’s solid as a rock when it comes to shouldering adversity.

Sports fans know his football odyssey with five stops in eight years including two different times in Philadelphia and a Super Bowl MVP Trophy. You might have read about the debilitating syndrome his wife Tori fights called POTS, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Or perhaps you read the couple’s announcement of Tori’s miscarriage last May.

So when Foles starts to talk, like he did this week for the first time since being injured, people listen.

Here’s how he explained how he approached the more than two months he’s been out of the starting lineup for the Jaguars. He believed that was his purpose for that time, rehabilitating his injury and helping Minshew in the quarterback room. But also getting to know his teammates on a whole other level.

“My purpose isn’t football, it’s impacting people, and my ministry happens to be the locker room,” he said. “And I’ve been able to get to know people, get to know these guys through an injury. Though I might not be playing, that is difficult from a fleshly perspective, but from a spiritual perspective, from my heart, I’ve been able to grow as a human being to where I feel like I’m at better situation here as a person then I was before because of the trial I just went under.”

If that sounds a bit like the beginning of a sermon, it was, and Foles said as much, adding he didn’t believe in the “Gospel of prosperity,” where only good things are supposed to happen.

Even though he hasn’t been in the lineup, Foles spoke to the team as they split up for the bye week, imparting a message to his teammates that had very little to do with football.

“You think your identity needs to be as a football player,” he told them. “You need to take a step back and realize you are more than a football player. Take this time to go into family time and take a breath. Step away from the game, clear your mind. Staying in the moment and just attacking the day at hand and simplifying things in your mind. The message was really simple.”

He’ll be able to make the throws, read the defenses and get the Jaguars offense into good play and out of bad ones. But what he’s focused on is every player getting the most out of their talent and then winning will take care of itself.

“At this point, culture is a really big thing,” he said of regaining the starting position from a popular teammate and not upsetting the balance in the locker room. “That is the biggest challenge of stepping back in there and playing football when it has been a while. I am a firm believer that in the fourth quarter, players make plays. If you trust the guy next to you, you are probably going to execute better than if you don’t. That is sort of what we are building here.”

The Greek philosopher Plato once said “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.”

If that’s truly the case, Jaguars fans should pick up the remote, clear their minds, take a deep, cleansing breath and flip on the game today to see where Nick Foles might take you.

Minshew or Foles? No Rush

In some ways the game against the Texans in London will help determine what happens with the Jaguars for the rest of this season and beyond. The decision at quarterback won’t be an easy one, and it could have franchise implications for years to come.

With a win at Wembley, the Jaguars will have won three straight with Gardner Minshew at quarterback, moved to 5-4 and have a say in who wins the AFC South.

In that scenario, it’s hard to take Minshew out of the lineup in favor of Nick Foles. You almost have to go with the hot hand.

If the Texans win, the Jaguars are 4-5 and are looking up at both Houston and Indianapolis in the division, at least two games behind with seven to play.

There are plenty of situations in the past where the head coach had to make a decision where to go at quarterback when the established starter has been injured but the backup plays well. Doug Marrone says he hasn’t thought about it one bit, so far.

“Why would I go through scenarios in my mind and waste my time with scenarios when I have to get ready for another game,” he said this week. “If we didn’t have a bye after the Texans game, I think somewhere along the line next week, I would start going through that in my mind. I really haven’t thought about it. The reason why is because I don’t have to, and I don’t want to. I’ll deal with it when it happens.”

I don’t think the money they’re paying Foles comes into the equation right now. If it’s about winning, which quarterback gives them the best chance to do that? You don’t know how this team plays with Foles as the starter. He got hurt after two series in the opener. He did throw a touchdown pass on the play when he was injured. You can go by the old adage that player’s don’t lose their starting jobs to injury. Or you can say Minshew throws all of the old adage’s out the window.

Ultimately It’ll be Marrone’s decision but actually what happens is up to Minshew. Marrone has to take into consideration the emotional impact Minshew has on the team. Call it “Minshew Magic” or call it chemistry but there’s no question he inspires the guys in that locker room.

That’s why it’ll be up to him. If they lose to Houston in London and the Jaguars brass decides to put Foles back in the lineup when they resume in two weeks against Indy, Gardner has to go along with it. I mean really go along.

If he says, “Yeah, I’m cool with it. Nick’s a great player and he’s our starter,” his teammates will buy into it.

But if he comes out and says, “It was a coach’s decision and I’ll stick to that” then there’s trouble in River City. The team will lose their motivation and unless Foles plays lights out, the season will grind to a halt.

There are plenty of examples in the past of injured starters and their backups: John Unitas and Earl Morrall, Morrall and Bob Griese, Jeff Hostetler and Phil Simms. This year Drew Brees was back in the lineup after his backup; Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 as the starter while Brees was out with a thumb injury.

Morrall came in for an injured Griese in game five of the ’72 season. He won 12 straight games for the Dolphins, including playoff wins over Oakland and Pittsburgh. Head Coach Don Shula put Griese back in the game as the starter in Super bowl VII against Washington to finish their perfect season.

Morrall told Shula, “I think I should play, but I’m not going to make a problem.”

These next three games will determine what kind of season 2019 will be for the Jaguars. Three division games, none of them here in Jacksonville. Win two out of three and they’ll be a favorite in four of their last five games (maybe not against the Raiders in Oakland) with a realistic shot at the post-season. Lose two out of three and it’s an uphill slog where they’ll need help to make the playoffs.
Virtually the same scenario happened to the 1978 New York Jets. Richard Todd was the Jets starter but broke his collarbone four weeks into the season. Second-year quarterback Matt Robinson came in and led the Jets into playoff contention over the next twelve games.

“We missed a field goal at the end of the game twelve games in against the Patriots in Shea Stadium to really be in the thick of it,” Robinson recalled.

Head Coach Walt Michaels had started Todd against New England, only to see him falter. He put Matt back under center mid-game. Robinson threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to revive the Jets chances.

“When Walt started Richard the next game, that split the locker room,” Robinson said. “And we were done. We missed the playoffs.”

That’s the dilemma the Jaguars face. Can you flip-flop your quarterbacks and not lose the locker room? If they start Foles against the Colts and he falters, do they return Gardner to the lineup?

Marrone already knows what Minshew can do.

“Sometimes I look and you’re like, ‘That’s a veteran move. That’s a veteran player,’” he said after the win against New York. “He does not play like he was brought into this league, a sixth-round draft pick or something like that. He doesn’t play like that.”

It’s going to have to be a gut call. Win in London and let Minshew keep playing. Foles has shown to be the best reliever in the game if things go south. Lose to the Texans and put Foles in the lineup. He can make throws Minshew can’t. He doesn’t have Gardner’s mobility or his ‘magic’ but he’s a proven winner. Give Minshew a chance to watch and learn some more, give him some seasoning. You know he can play.

There shouldn’t be any rush here. The Packers had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers on their roster together for three years. Foles and Minshew can co-exist.

As Minshew said when asked what he thought of Foles coming back to practice two weeks ago:

“I think we’re pretty good at quarterback.”

Learning To Win

Watching the Jaguars play New Orleans last week, you just got the feeling that the Saints would figure out a way to win and maybe the Jaguars didn’t quite know how.

Wanting to win is something we’re born with, but learning how to win is something we develop.

“It comes innately,” said Sheldon Kaplan, PhD, a clinical psychologist who’s been in practice since 1975. Dr. Kaplan specializes in childhood development and says being competitive and learning to win is developed from social interactions.

“When you’re eight or nine-years-old you think it’s nice to win. But at thirteen or 14 sometimes your very being is based on winning or losing.”

Kaplan has seen children as young as two have a strong desire to win, and others who are so afraid of losing they can’t even go on the field. He calls our awareness of where we stand in any competitive situation “social auditing.” Whether it’s getting back a math test or running a race.

“It’s a very complex process that develops because of social interactions. We monitor our performance. It intensifies with your age. It’s very complex. Those things in the locker room have an impact on what happens on the field.”

Just six games into the regular season, and with a rookie quarterback, are the Jaguars learning how to win?

“It’s a team-to-team thing,” Tackle Cam Robinson said Wednesday. “At Alabama there was an aura of winning. But each team, each year had to figure out how to do it with the guys they had.”

“One hundred percent,” Calais Campbell agreed. “Each team has to figure out every year how to win, what works for them.”

Campbell maintains that even at 2-4, the 2019 Jaguars have a chance to be a good team. But admits for some teams, it takes longer to figure out how to win.

“That’s why some teams get hot late in the year,” he said.

“You look at teams that win, there’s culture there that you rise to as part of that team,” Dr. Kaplan added. “It’s the culture and the leadership of the team. They learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses; it’s a vey elaborate social culture. It’s a collective effort.”

Kaplan says losing helps us cope and learn how to move forward. To do so is a process. “You have to be aware of your mistakes but not focused on them,” he said. “The focus has to be on what to do right the next time.”

Basketball Hall of Famer Pat Riley, who has won championships as a player, coach and an executive, believes each game has a turning point. “In every contest,” he says, “There comes a moment that separates winning from losing. The true warrior understands and seizes that moment.”

Although teams want to start fast and get ahead early, that moment usually comes sometime late in the third or early in the fourth quarter in an NFL game. One team figures something out and makes a play to turn the tide.

“You have to learn to adapt,” says tennis Hall of Famer Tony Trabert. “You get to a point where you have to make something happen. You’ve got to perform and not hope the other guy makes a mistake.”

Trabert won ten of the eleven Grand Slam finals he played in saying he was a “percentage kind of guy,” taking a few chances to keep the opponent off balance but playing to his own strengths.

“When I knew I was good enough, I expected to win,” he said. “Under pressure, do what you do best. You have the best chance of doing well with that in that situation.”

“I wasn’t superstitious, stepping on lines or over them or whatever, that’s negative stuff,” the former Davis Cup captain added. “You’re fit, you know your opponent, keep that negative stuff out of your head.”

There’s not a lot of negative energy in the Jaguars locker room. Head Coach Doug Marrone wants his team to focus turning their frustration into positive energy and point it toward getting better and winning. He sees that channeling through his rookie quarterback.

“He’s a young player, he’s had a lot of success early on,” Marrone said of Gardner Minshew’s struggles last week. “I think you get to a point where you have some success [and] people are going to start taking that away. People are going to start changing things up and testing you coverage-wise to see where you can go. He’s a smart kid, and he’ll learn from it.”

Minshew says he’s building a bank of experience that he’s starting to lean on after six games in the league.

“Absolutely. There’s a lot of learning that could be done and has been done from that tape,” he said of the New Orleans game last Sunday. “There’s things you’ll see in earlier games that we have to apply to this and that continues to grow, and we’ll continue to grow.”

Eighteen-time Golf Major Champion Jack Nicklaus says part of winning is learning how not to lose. One of his keys is to minimize mistakes, even though they’re going to happen.

“You have to learn how to shrink your mistakes (you will always make mistakes),” Nicklaus said. “How to make them small enough where they won’t cost you the tournament.”

In golf that means making just a bogey instead of triple-bogey. In football, don’t compound the holding call with unsportsmanlike conduct.

Now would be a good time for the Jaguars to apply the lessons learned in the first six weeks. Cincinnati is winless and the Jets come to town next week, both AFC opponents. The trip to London to face division opponent Houston follows with the Texans making their first trip to Wembley. A hot streak going into the bye week would put them right back in the race.

Minshew is More Than Magic

It’s fun to talk about Gardner Minshew’s mustache, “Minshew Magic,” his clothes and his resemblance to Uncle Rico from ‘Napoleon Dynamite.” But somewhere in all of that hype, the kind of quarterback he actually is can get lost. He’s twice been named the Offensive Rookie of the Week Twice and this week was named NFL Rookie of the Month for September.

When Florida was in it’s heyday in the ‘90’s, Steve Spurrier developed one quarterback after another. They all did the drills, the Head Ball Coach would put his visor in the back corner of the end zone and they’d drill dropping the ball back there with a high, arching throw from inside the 20-yard line. It’s a “feel” throw more than anything else. Danny Wuerffel had that feel. Jesse Palmer, perhaps more physically talented than Wuerffel, did not.

Minshew does.

It starts with a feel for the game, and Minshew has it.

It comes from practice, but it also comes from playing in your backyard as a kid. Minshew has that innate “feel” for the game only developed when nobody’s watching.

On the touchdown pass to Rock Armstead, he escaped three different guys, just like you would in the backyard. But unnoticed is how he made the throw.

The next time you see the highlight, notice that the ball never got past his ear when he took it back. That’s not anything you can teach. He knew there wasn’t much space left in there and no doubt somebody was coming from behind. So a “flick” into the end zone was the way to make play, and he made it.

“Try to protect the ball first and make a play,” is how Minshew described the play. “He (Armstead) did an awesome job. He ran a flat, came back around, and back out. It was awesome on him.”

Standing in the pocket, Gardner has that internal clock that tells him somewhere around three seconds after the snap he needs to get rid of it or get out of there. Somebody’s coming no matter how good the offensive line is blocking. He can feel the pressure immediately when taking the ball in the shotgun without looking at the blocking scheme like some quarterbacks do, especially later in their careers. He’ll make a slight move to the right or left or take a step up; all of those things keep the play alive and allow him to make a throw.

And that’s perhaps the most surprising part of Minshew’s game.

He’s throwing passes for the Jaguars that scouts didn’t think he could make coming out of Washington State. That’s why he lasted until the sixth round. His football IQ is plenty high and everybody knew that. He’s the same height as Drew Brees. He’s not fast, and he admits it. But nobody thought he could take that ball from the far hash and throw the deep crossing out pattern on the other side of the field.

Except in games he can.

Minshew is a “gamer” for sure, finding that little extra mustard or the right touch on the throw when he has to have it.

“I really don’t think they’re 50-50 balls,” he said of his willingness to put the ball up against one-on-one coverage. “Our guys can go up and get those.”

Minshew is developing that knowledge in practice with the receivers, knowing what they’re good at. For D.J. Chark, it’s back shoulder. For Dede Westbrook, it’s an outstretched arms catch. Chris Conley can “high-point” the ball and Gardner is able to throw that ball in the game for what’s best for his receivers.

Two throws stood out for Minshew on the Jaguars last two scoring drives. On third and 4 from their own 41 and 7:04 to play, the Jaguars called a crossing pattern to Marqis Lee. It looks like an easy throw, just five yards down the field. But Lee is streaking across the formation and the ball has to be delivered in perfectly for the play to work.. You get the timing for this play in practice. But in the game, with the pocket collapsing, Minshew delivers the ball in the ideal spot for a first down to keep the drive alive. It resuled in a Josh Lambo field goal.

On the final drive, starting at their own 25, Minshew threw incomplete on first down and fumbled the ball on second down, only to pick it up and throw it to D.J.Chark for 1-yard. On that play, Bradley Chubb was called for roughing the passer giving the Jaguars a new set of downs but leaving Gardner limping after the hit. (“Just football stuff,” he said afterwards. He’s expected to wear a knee brace against Carolina.)

On the very next play, Minshew had a couple of options where to throw it but picked the longest and most difficult choice, hitting Dede Westbrook, deep and across the field going away from him. One of the hardest throws for a quarterback to make but it was delivered perfectly. Westbrook tacked on some yards after the catch for a 32-yard gain to the Denver 27 and the Jaguars were already in field goal range.

“It was crazy. We knew we had to make some plays right there,” Minshew said after the game. “We had the ball, it got tipped up, I got hit, it was crazy. Then we get the penalty, Dede runs an awesome route. That was awesome.”

He’s the anti-Gabbert. Watching Blaine Gabbert in practice you wondered, “How do we ever lose?” The ball came out of his hand singing. He had command of the offense and nearly never missed a receiver. But that performance didn’t translate into games.

Minshew is the opposite.

In practice he looks fine, runs the offense and gets the ball there. But in games he steps up to another level. During the preseason Marrone was fine with Gardner’s performance but admitted he wanted to see more production.

“I don’t know if anxiety is the right word for me, but it’s more of I didn’t know. I really didn’t know,” the Jaguars head coach said of what he thought of Minshew coming out of the preseason. “I wasn’t sure, I just would have liked to see more production. Sometimes it’s about who’s around him at that position, trying to get a good beat on what that player is going to be able to do.”

When he was thrust into the game against Kansas City, he was handing the ball off to Leonard Fournette. Westbrook, Chark, Chris Conley and Geoff Swaim were running routes. That’s a big difference from standing in the huddle with guys just trying to make the team.

Starting this week there’s a big enough body of work for Minshew in the NFL for defensive coordinators to concentrate on taking the things away from him they perceive he’s good at: Crossing routes, quick outs, whatever. The good and great quarterbacks face that early in their careers and adjust. They make the defensive coordinators pick their poison. You can’t take it all away, they have a full arsenal of things they can do.

It’s why Marrone said this week, “I think it’s still early and we’ll see how it goes and we’ll take it week-by-week.” He knows what coaches are plotting to stop the Jaguars offense and their rookie quarterback.

The next couple of weeks will tell: Is it “magic” or just smoke and mirrors?

Calais Campbell

I liked Calais Campbell the first time we met. You know that feeling when you meet somebody and they emit some kind of aura that’s instantly disarming. His handshake, his body language, how he looks you in the eye during conversation.

“I feel the same way,” Jaguars Guard A.J. Cann agreed. “When I first met him I knew he was something special. He can step into a room full of people and when he leaves everybody loves him.”

He’s engaging and gregarious, smart and thoughtful. Where’d that come from?

“From my dad,” Campbell said after his normal media time this week on Wednesday. Calais’ dad, Charles, died just a few months after Campbell’s high school graduation. “He’d make five friends just going to the grocery store,” Calais added.

The youngest of six brothers, with two younger sisters, Campbell has always had athletic ability and size. “I’ve been this tall since I was 15,” he said. Listed at 6’9” and 300 lbs., Campbell is one of the largest people you’ll ever meet. Reminds me of Shaquille O’Neal when he was with the Magic. Just a few inches shorter.

“Big? He might be the biggest guy I’ve ever faced,” Jaguars Guard A.J. Cann said. “He’s freakish in a good way. I’ll be behind him getting on the scale and it’ll say ‘300’ and he’ll step down and he’s cut. He has abs, he’s broad shouldered.”

But it’s his demeanor, leadership, and presence that are universally respected. His father’s early influence has stuck with him though his days at the University of Miami and in the NFL.

“I used to brag on myself all the time” he added. “My dad hated it. He said, ‘If you’re that good, you don’t have to tell anybody.’ And he was right.”

Campbell, an All-Pro and four time Pro Bowler, was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in his Jaguars career for his play last Thursday against Tennessee.

Denver is Calais’ hometown so this week’s game against the Broncos is somewhat of a homecoming. He’s rounded up more than 200 tickets for family and friends and donated $20,000 from his foundation to Denver charities this week. He’s doing the same here at home, donating $20,000 a month to different charities in town based on his performance and encouraging fans and sponsors to donate as well.

“Success comes from a village,” Campbell said when asked about his community commitments. “I’ve had a lot of people help me along the way.”

“We have a lot of ballers,” said Tight End Geoff Swaim. “But Calais is much more than that. He’s a real leader.”

Swaim is a five-year veteran who spent four years in Dallas. He characterized the culture in the Cowboy’s locker room as “really good.” And says Campbell and Nick Foles, in different ways, set that same tone here.

“Calais says the right things and he backs it up with what he does,” Swaim explained. “Leadership is displayed in different ways. Calais is a great leader. He doesn’t show his emotions in a negative way. He’s human and that’s hard to do sometimes.”

“I try to be genuine,” Campbell said when his teammates words were relayed to him. “Talk it and walk it.”

“Super-human” is how his play on the field is described occasionally. Swaim has been a victim of that.

“I had him on one play in practice,” he explained. “It was a zone block and I got my hands on him in the right spot. My feet were right and I thought ‘I’ve got him.’ He saw the play and just extended his arm and zoomed me down the line and made the tackle. I looked at my assistant coach and he just shrugged his shoulders.”

“I just try and be a sponge,” Jaguars third-year tackle Cam Robinson said. “He’ll talk to me in practice about what he did and how I reacted and what I could do better. I’m listening because whatever he’s doing, it’s working!”

At 6’6” and 320 lbs. Robinson is big in his own right. But when he lines up in front of Campbell in practice, it gets his attention.

“He’s the biggest guy I’ve faced,” he said.

With 84.5 career sacks, 25 of those coming in Jacksonville, Campbell can get after the quarterback. But he’s equally effective stopping the run. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone says he’s a complete player. “Couldn’t ask for anything better,” he added.

“He doesn’t hear anything on the field,” Campbell’s defensive line mate Marcel Dareus said with a laugh when I asked for something about Calais we don’t know. “At least he acts like he doesn’t hear anything. We call the play and he’ll say one or two things and then he zones in. I’ll be yelling ‘Calais, Calais’ about what’s going on and he acts like he doesn’t hear a thing. But then the play goes and he does the right things and I say, ‘OK, he heard me.”

I’ve said many times that Campbell is the kind of guy you hope stays in town after his playing days are over. He can have a real positive impact on the community. So I asked him about that.

“We love it here,” he said, “We’re splitting our time between Arizona and here mostly.”

“But what about staying?” I asked.

“It’s tough because my family is out west,” he added. “Some in California, a few in Denver and some in Arizona.”

Hard to say what’ll happen when his career is over but currently in the third year of a four-year deal, Calais is still playing at high level. No matter his production from this point forward, the Jaguars shouldn’t let him get away. The Cardinals still lament the day they let him sign here as a free agent for both his on and off-field presence.

“He’s had some players and their wives over to his place and his wife and mine were going to get together,” Cann said of Campbell’s impact. “I told her ‘I’ll go,’ just to hang out with Calais.”

Ramsey Answer Is In The Mirror

After the Jaguars 20-7 win over Tennessee at home on Thursday night Head Coach Doug Marrone called it the ”longest short week we’ve had in the NFL.” While prepping for a division opponent and still looking for their first win, the Jalen Ramsey story hung over the Jaguars like a dark cloud that wouldn’t go away.

So it was a unique week in Jacksonville. That’s because Jalen Ramsey is a unique player. Unique in that he’s fantastically talented, and woefully misguided. But he’s not alone in this unique category. There have been others on the Jaguars in the past and sprinkled through NFL rosters as well.

For pretty much as long as he can remember, Ramsey has been told how good he is, that he’s special. And there is no denying that. At this point in his athletic career he’s always in the discussion about who’s the best cornerback in the NFL. So he has a special talent that he’s spent a few years developing. But he stopped developing everything else.

Ed Reed talked about this kind of player prior to his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. The one’s who have no concept of how the uniform they left on the floor in front of their locker yesterday was cleaned and hung up perfectly today. Call it immaturity, a lack of self awareness or whatever, but Ramsey lives in that “bubble” of an echo chamber where only good things said about him count.

One classmate at Florida State said, “It’s typical Jalen. He creates this kind of situation where ever he goes.”

When asked this week, his teammates have nothing but glowing things to say about him. So as a teammate, he apparently sets the right tone. And against the Titans, true to his word, Ramsey played, played hard and played well. But that’s all about football. His actions this week show he doesn’t’ know much about life. Because that’s not how life works.

One veteran player raised his eyebrows and shook his head “Yes” when asked this week about every player dealing with something on every play. “Even in practice” he added quietly. So they know what’s going on. You deal with whatever it was and you move on.

Would Ramsey have had the same demand if Leonard Fournette had scored on the 2-point play? An inch makes that much difference? The Jaguars now would be 2-1 and in the thick of the division race three games into the season. His problem is apparently with the front office saying that some “disrespectful” things were said to him after last week’s game. I guess he’s never worked in a newsroom.

Everybody deals with something. I’m always amused when people associated with professional sports say “it’s an emotional game, it’s a high stress situation” as if nobody else would understand. Try standing in the ER one night and watching nurses and doctors handle the “high stress” situations hour after hour. Or get behind the wheel of a fully loaded 18-wheeler in bad weather with bad drivers all around at night and see how stressful that is.

When something doesn’t go right, those people don’t just say, “I want out!” they figure out how to get the job done. And that’s what gains respect in our city. Jacksonville is more working class than white collar and people in this town put up with plenty. They go to work every day and get their jobs done. Nobody cares if you’re making a dollar or a million dollars. If you’re figuring out how to do your best at whatever you do, that’s fine with them.

Any championship team usually reflects the city where they’re based. Think about the Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Eagles in Philly and even 20 years ago the Raiders in Oakland. It’s why football fans in Jacksonville are entertained by offense but they LOVE defense. It’s a reflection of our culture. We’re pretty comfortable in our own skin and don’t have a problem if you want to leave. Planes and trains are departing every hour. Maybe Ramsey’s just not a good fit here.

Bumping into the coach, shouting obscenities at the boss, holding onto that moment and ultimately asking to be traded sounds like something out of middle school. Walking away from a Ramsey press opportunity has always had that “middle school” feeling. Most times the press corps looks at each other in the aftermath and asks, “Really?” You might have seen it in the press conference he called on Tuesday. When it was over, mostly the reaction was “What was that?”

It reminds me of an episode of “30 Rock” centered on John Hamm’s character Drew Baird. He’s a good-looking doctor who’s always been told how good he is at everything. People try to curry favor with him because he’s a doctor and he’s good looking. Tina Fey’s character starts up a relationship with him only to find out he lacks so much self-awareness that he’s actually terrible at just about everything, But he has no idea since nobody’s every actually told him that. They’re too busy telling him how good looking and what a great doctor he is. “Drew Baird,” she says. “So good looking and so, so stupid.”

It’s not that Ramsey is stupid at all. He just lacks the self-awareness of how the rest of the world works and how it applies to him. You might say the NFL is a unique place, but when things aren’t exactly to your liking, you can’t just run away from it looking for something else. Because it’s usually not there.

Jalen has been called out plenty by former NFL players including Jaguars TV analyst Leon Searcy who cited Rod Woodson as an example of how to get things done. One of the former player-analyst on a post game show last week, Nate Burelson, called the modern player, and he paused for a second before saying this, “umm, sensitive.”

“They have their faces in their phones in the locker room. Everything that happens to them or anything they do is on social media immediately. They’re reacting to what the people in their circle are saying about it.”

“It’s football,” another analyst chimed in, “It’s not a sport for ‘sensitive.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

Neither does the rest of the world.

I don’t harbor any ill will toward Jalen. I know he’s young and we all look back at things we did and said when we were 24 and usually cringe. I do hope he does find what he’s looking for, even if it’s here.

Because it’s actually right in the mirror.

Jaguars Loss Shows What To Fix

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

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

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

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

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

But some others decided to take a different route.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do the Jaguars’ Wins Come From

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

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

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

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

So what’s the plan this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least this team should make it interesting into December.

I “hope” it all works.

When A Team Is A Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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