Incredibly many Jaguar fans continue to live in fear of their NFL franchise moving elsewhere. The news that the Jaguars will play “home” games in London for four years starting in 2013 has amped up their inferiority complex.

The London games are about owner Shad Khan and the city of Jacksonville making money. There’s nothing wrong with that and, if the plans works out, a lot of First Coast residents could benefit.

It has nothing to do with the Jaguars becoming the London Jaguars . . . or the Los Angeles Jaguars . . . or, for that matter, the Hong Kong Jaguars.

The Jaguars aren’t going anywhere. There are franchises that face bigger problems than Jacksonville. For the record, the Jaguars sold more tickets last year than any NFL franchise in the state.

Leaving a team in a growing Sun Belt state doesn’t make good sense. And among all of the things the NFL does well, making good business decisions tops the list.

Calm down, boys and girls. Don’t be depressed because the Ravens slapped around your Jaguars last night. I kept telling you after the Jags won those first two exhibitions not to get too excited. Now I’m telling you not the get too depressed.

It’s practice. These aren’t real games. Final score doesn’t matter.

That’s not to say practice isn’t important. This time of year is about fine tuning vets and evaluating prospects. It’s also about trying to identify strengths and potential weaknesses.

The Jags’ pass defense hasn’t been very good. Veteran Rashean Mathis looks a step slow to me. The pass rush still needs to improve. As usual, the way to move the ball on the Jags is to make to their linebackers play pass coverage. The special teams also were stinky against the Ravens. Even Josh Scobee missed a chip shot.

Another thing: Where’s Laurent Robinson? Are the Jags simply not targeting him in preseason games? Is he not getting open? The Jags need their biggest offseason free agent signee to be a major contributor.

But there were good things even in a 48-17 “loss”.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert did more good things than bad and that’s a major step forward.

Rashad Jennings looks like a better-than-average running back. I remember one play when he clearly made the wrong cut, but overall he gets a high grade.

But the No. 1 positive thing about the preseason is rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon. He catches everything he touches – and then he actually runs after the catch. Jags fans haven’t seen one of their receivers excel at running after the catch since the days of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell.

Perhaps the most important item on the Jags agenda is keeping Blackmon sober.

 

Women at Augusta No Big Deal

Posted: August 23, 2012 in golf, sports, The Masters

Ho-hum. Augusta National Golf Club invited two women to join the club, the first females in the club’s 80 -year history.

Before you start placing labels on me, let me say I believe in fairness and equality for all people. Everyone should have the same rights. No one should be judged solely on race, religion, gender, age, physical stature or lifestyle.

But here comes the giant BUT . . .

A private club that does not seek or receive outside help of any kind (taxes, etc.) should have a right to select its members solely on how its membership decides. Augusta National may be a bit snooty, — okay, it’s very snooty — but it is as private as a club can be. You’re not welcome unless you’re a member or the guest of a member.

Period. End of story.

I can’t imagine a Women’s Book Club being forced to include me as a member. If the Rotary Club doesn’t want me as a member, that’s the club’s decision. If I can’t afford to join a certain private country club, that’s my problem. I don’t have the right to join your private poker game.

I’m fine with Augusta National adding women to its membership because that’s what the club’s membership decided to do. I don’t think it’s a great day for women, just I didn’t think it was an injustice when they weren’t.

Martha Burke, who led a protest against Augusta National a decade ago, is taking a lot of credit now, saying she and the women’s groups she represents are the reasons Augusta National finally caved in. Bull. I think Burke’s protest, if anything, delayed Augusta National’s decision to include women because the club didn’t want the appearance of caving in. Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne has practically promoted having women guests play the famed course in recent years.

I realize some people, particular some women, will dismiss my take on this because I’m a man, but I don’t see this as a landmark occasion. Women getting the right to vote and the civil rights bill were milestones we should be proud of. If anything, forcing a truly private club to add certain members is taking away our rights and a step in the wrong direction.

Florida football fans have seen better days.

For 20 years – dating back to the arrival of Steve Spurrier and lasting until the departure of Urban Meyer – the Gators were the kingpins of the SEC. Now they are battling to stay relevant not just in the conference but in their own division. The Gators are fighting to catch up with Georgia and South Carolina and stay ahead of Tennessee. I won’t even mention how far they’ve fallen behind SEC West powers Alabama, LSU and, yes, Arkansas.

The Gators are not only struggling on the field, but in receiving media coverage as well. They’ve become an afterthought for the national media. To add insult to injury, the Gators are even suffering on the home front. Have you noticed the lack of coverage the Gators – for years the top priority of radio, TV and newspaper sports department through out the state — are getting from the local media?

Apparently Coach Will Muschamp likes it that way because he makes covering the Gators next to impossible. It’s easier getting top secret information from the Pentagon than it is any information from the Florida football program.

Muschamp has the right to run the program as he sees fit, but his closed doors policies of closed practices and ultra limited availability to coaches and players make it difficult for the media to provide fans with news and even human interest stories.

Muschamp isn’t the only coach with such policies. It is a trend that started a decade ago and grown rapidly ever since. Coaches want total control of what information gets out. The media is partly to blame. Journalism isn’t what it used to be. Taking information out of context, blowing out of proportion every comment and sensationalism has become the norm in the age of social media.

At the same time, coaches such as Muschamp have become control freaks and, perhaps, a bit paranoid. They see spies behind every tree. They see “enemies of the program” every where. They see every bit of information getting out as putting their teams at a competitive disadvantage.

I’m not complaining. I’m not whining. I’m not making excuses for the media. I’m simply giving fans the reason for the lack of coverage of their beloved teams. Nowhere is it more obvious than in Gator Nation.

The Jaguars’ first training camp under Coach Mike Mularkey has ended and by all measurable is was a success.

There was high energy and a strong work ethnic, which is to be expected with a first-year coach –not to mention a new owner.

Other note worthy points in no particular order:

  • Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is showing significant improvement. Improvement in a quarterback’s second season is to be expected, but Gabbert appears to be ahead of pace. No doubt better coaching and a better supporting cast are factors.
  • The better supporting cast includes a much better group of wide receivers. Rookie Justin Blackmon is an immediate upgrade. He looked like a No. 5 overall draft pick in his first pro test, not only catching everything thrown in his direction but running after the catch. Laurent Robinson appears to be a solid free agent signee.
  • Maurice Jones-Drew’s holdout has been a non-factor. I’m not saying Rashad Jennings is a better runner than Mo-Jo, but he is talented enough to get the job done in the Jaguars are a better passing team.
  • There were no significant injuries – that we know of. In the ultra secretive world of the NFL we seldom get the truth about injuries. The offensive line has had more than its share of what appears to be nagging injuries, but everyone should be ready for the season opener. The biggest question mark is left guard Will Rackley.
  • The Jaguars outscored their opponents in their first two exhibitions. Winning isn’t necessarily important but it’s better than being outscored.

Bottom line: Things are looking up for the Jaguars.

Gator fans are anxiously waiting to see who wins the quarterback job, Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Bissett. They’re nervously wondering if any of the highly recruited wide receivers will come close to living up to expectations. Can anyone run the ball? That’s another question searching for an answer.

Surely this season’s offense has to be better than last year’s, but will the new offense under coordinator Brent Pease be good enough for the Gators to beat Georgia and South Carolina in the SEC East and at least be competitive against SEC West defensive powerhouses Alabama and LSU?

And while the Gator defense was very good last year, it did give up 38 to Alabama and 41 to LSU.

But the biggest question for all Gators, even if they don’t know it, is can second-year head coach Will Muschamp get the job done of winning SEC championships and contending for a national championship.

Year One under Muschamp was full of excuses and most of the blame for a 7-6 record was placed at the doorstep of former coach Urban Meyer. Still, the Gator fans have to be more than a little concerned that the victories came against FAU, UAB, Furman, SEC weaklings Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt and an Ohio State team in turmoil (Gator Bowl).

While Muschamp was building an impressive resume as a defensive coordinator and getting on everyone’s hot list as a soon-to-be head coach, it was a bit of a surprise when he landed his first head job at a national powerhouse that had won two of last five national championships. Usually the “hot” coordinators get jobs at elite programs that are struggling.

Muschamp still must prove he can command respect and be a leader, handle the pressure, make the right hires for his staff and make winning game-day decisions.

I’m not suggesting Muschamp will fail. I’m simply pointing out that the Gators have a lot of unanswered questions, and nothing about the Gators is as unproven as their young head coach.

Is he another Ron Zook, a great recruiter and motivator but not a great head coach? Or something much better?

 

Lose the Ego, MoJo

Posted: August 16, 2012 in Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL, NFL teams

Open letter to MoJo:

I don’t pretend to know you, MoJo, except as a media guy who’s talked to you dozens of times and observed you both on the field and in the locker room. From those experiences two things are obvious: You’re a helluva football player and a savvy guy when it comes to public relations. You seem to be an intelligent young man and one who’s motivated to succeed.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, in my role as a commentator I offer this advice: Get rid of the ego,  put your pride on the back burner and get back to work, which means reporting to the Jaguars and getting ready for the upcoming season.

Honestly, I don’t have a favorite in this fight between you and management, but not only does management have all of the high cards, I can’t make one argument in your behalf.

Let’s examine the issues:

  • You have two years remaining on your contract, a big-money contract the Jaguars gave you and you gladly signed when you were still a backup.
  • You’ve already been paid more than $20 million and will earn close to another $10 million by honoring your contract so no one can honestly feel you’ve been shortchanged.
  • You’re the first guy to say it’s all about the team and winning, not individual play. I don’t need to remind you, I’m sure, that while you won leading the NFL in rushing last season your team was 5-11. I’m willing to bet if the Jags had been 11-5 and you were 10th in the league in rushing there’d be no holdout. A hint of hypocrisy there, don’t you think?
  • Your position, running back, isn’t as important as it used to be. It’s a fact. That means you aren’t as valuable to a team as a top-flight quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, pass rusher and offensive tackle.

Yes, you are the face of the Jacksonville franchise. You’ve been great for the franchise and the city. You’ve thrilled fans and, no doubt, inspired youngsters. You get an A when it comes to being a role model. But surely you know how quickly things can change.

You made your point – I guess it’s all about the money – by skipping offseason workouts. By holding out now you’re looking greedy, selfish and . . . well, stupid.

Golf’s Star Shining Brightly

Posted: August 14, 2012 in golf

Professional golf is in a good place right now. Maybe the best place it has ever been.

The PGA Tour needs Tiger Woods, but it doesn’t need him to be the dominate player he was for a decade when he was winning 14 majors and a total of 74 tournaments. Just having Tiger near the top – winning more than his share of tournaments and contending in the majors – is enough to keep Americans’ eyes focused on the sport. As many golf fans seem to love seeing Tiger lose as they do seeing him win.

Throw in a charismatic, smiling, bushy haired superstar in 23-year-old Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and you have to perfect foil for the intense Woods.

And then there are all of those interesting supporting characters.

Phil Mickelson is still a huge fan favorite even though his desire, if not his ability, is fading.

Bubba Watson is a budding celebrity with his power, goofy looking swing and uncensored tongue, but he does need to a follow-up hit to his Masters victory.

Matt “Mr. Consistent” Kuchar has Mickelson’s personality. Dustin “Slugger” Johnson has star quality. Ditto for Ricky “Rainbow” Fowler. Ditto for Jason “What Me Worry?” Dufner. Ditto for Adam “Matinee Idol” Scott.

Golf fans have great respect for such successful veteran players as Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and Ernie Els.

Incredibly, John Daly still moves the TV needle.

That’s a lot of star power for a sport that a few years ago many feared would be in trouble if Tiger wasn’t winning at least two major championships a year.

Now if Tiger does start winning majors again and Rory doesn’t get distracted, pro golf’s popularity will be greater than ever.

 

The good news is Blaine Gabbert didn’t suck.

The Jaguars quarterback began his second season and looked okay in the team’s 32-31 “victory” over the New York Giants. He completed half of his 10 passes for 62 yards and, yes, his short TD pass to Cecil Shorts showed a nice touch.

What Gabbert did in his brief appearance in the Jaguars’ first exhibition game of the 2012 season was encouraging mainly because it wasn’t a step back. I did think he looked a little skittish on one of his deep throws, but who thought he’d suddenly become Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket?

All in all, the Jaguars looked like they’re moving in the right direction. First-year Mike Mularkey has brought an energy that was clearly lacking in last year’s dysfunctional coaching staff.

Hindsight tells us we should have expected a miserable season in ’11. Maybe 5-11 wasn’t so bad considering the obstacles the Jaguars faced. Those obstacles started with a lameduck coaching staff. Jack Del Rio knew he was around for his eighth season only because of the lockout. Former owner Wayne Weaver wasn’t going to fire Del Rio and hire a new coach when it wasn’t certain there’d even be a season. What owner in his right mind would pay TWO head coaches when there might not be any games? Many on Del Rio’s staff spent most of the season looking for new jobs.

The releasing of starting quarterback David Garrard a week before the season opened was another clear sign. Was it Del Rio’s decision? Gene Smith’s decision? Could Garrard have even played considering his back issue?

The formula of poor coaching and a rookie quarterback is not one for success.

Enter Mularkey. He inherits a solid defense, although not the NFL’s sixth best as the statistics would indicate. Whoever took the job would have improved the energy in the locker room and the enthusiasm of the fans. Mularkey still has to prove he can be a winning head coach, and he must do so with the distractions of a pouting star and holdout in Maurice Jones-Drew and a first-round draft pick in Justin Blackmon who had an off-the-field issue and then started late because of a holdout.

For the moment, things are looking up. Exhibition scores don’t count, but it’s always better to win than lose. Of course, everything about this season depends on Gabbert. Is he going to be a star or a bust?

He passed his first test, but remember what that renowned philosopher Allan Iverson once said, “Practice? It’s practice.”

My 8-year-old grandson recently attended his first summer football camp.

“How’d it go,” I asked. “Have fun?”

“The coach hollers a lot,” he replied, a look of confusion and unhappiness on his face.

Has football gotten too big, too important – even for 8-year-olds – to be fun?

There’s no question we are a nation obsessed with football. The sport blows away all other sports in this country when it comes to popularity, passion and being a part of our lives. All demographics – age, race, gender, economic — are captured by the game’s spell. Media coverage of the NFL and big-time college football are year-round. Football training camps receive more coverage than other sports’ real games.

How much bigger can football get in America? Has it peaked?

There are signs that trouble lies ahead.

The caretakers of the sport are wrestling with how to make the sport safer. The concussion issue isn’t going away. The NFL is facing litigation that could cost it millions and millions of dollars. All levels of football may find themselves with a similar problem. A bigger problem with the concussion issue, however, may be the fact more and more parents aren’t letting their children even play the game.

But the biggest problem of all is that more and more of our kids don’t want to learn and play to the game because it isn’t fun.

Rick Reilly of ESPN.com wrote a column about this. He points to an e-mail sent this summer by a coach to his players about the commitment he expects from them. The e-mail referred to having a “killer instinct” and about how “intense” summer camp would be. The coach wrote that “mental and physical toughness are requirements.”

The coach expressed his disappointment about several players quitting the Frisco, Tex., team.  He told Reilly he felt his e-mail was appropriate.

The team is made up of 8-year-olds.