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2015 Jags a Blast to the Past

Jun 30, 2015 -- 9:29am

By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)

So much has been made this offseason about the progression of Blake Bortles and the solid camp Allen Robinson has put together. If you listen to the coaching staff, you hear them rave about TJ Yeldon and his ability to run and catch balls out of the backfield. The team is excited about what they have seen from Julius Thomas in limited action and again have high hopes for Allen Hurns and hope Marquis Lee escapes the injury issues which have plagued him.

The time is now for these Jaguars to prove they belong in the NFL.

The best way to look at this team is to go back 20 years ago and survey the roster the team had put together under Tom Coughlin and Michael Huyghue. Mark Brunell wasn’t a household name. Jimmy Smith was one year removed from being a street free agent. Keenan McCardell was a veteran who had been through the NFL wars with Washington and Cleveland before coming to Florida. The team wasn’t battle tested and it was questionable at best whether the roster could remain competitive in the AFC Central with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Houston (before the team moved to Tennessee).

Offensively (and to an extent, defensively) there are plenty of similarities to both rosters. The idea that a team from 1996 with a 9-7 record could overcome adversity and play in the AFC Title game shows that on any given Sunday and any given season, magic can happen.

The Jaguars are more talented than they were a season ago. Blake Bortles appears (by all accounts we have heard about) to be in better shape and more accurate with the football. Robinson appears to be faster in practice and fully healed from a stress fracture. Yeldon is the real deal, or so everyone thinks so.

If you believe in cycles, which all sports team appear to go through (unless you are the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Browns) there might be something special about this team. Maybe Bortles, Robinson, Hurns (or Lee) and Yeldon are this team’s answer to Brunell, Smith, McCardell and James Stewart (only to be replaced by Fred Taylor in 1998). Could this be a team that if it reels off a couple of wins and gets rolling becomes the steam engine the 1996 team became? Can Chris Clemons fill the role of Clyde Simmons on defense?

It’s just an idea, but work with me here on this.

The NFL is designed in such a way that one single player cannot carry a football team. Troy Aikman needed Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Dan Marino needed Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Joe Montana needed Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. And even today, Aaron Rodgers needs Eddie Lacy and Randall Cobb.

Given the youth of this team and the fact there is a lot of potential (yes, it is a dirty word), could our fan base witness the next great unit in the NFL growing up in front of their eyes?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

I’m not willing to anoint this team as great just yet, but I am willing to predict this is the best group of talent this franchise had since the mid and late 1990s. Those were playoff teams. Those were AFC Title contending teams. It took time for them to gel and mesh and play as a unit, but once they came together, they were some of the best – no, THE BEST players to come through this city.

This is a roster than can get just as good fi not better and instead of looking at history and trying to repeat it, we can all hope this is a team that looks at history and writes its own.

The time is now for players and coaches to start thinking about legacies and how they want to be remembered in this town and with this team. Everyone must look at the past and players as motivating factors, not rosters you only hope you can be as good as. Everyone has to believe they can be better – scratch that – they MUST be better in order for history to exceed itself.

 

Lessons Learned from TJ Yeldon

Jun 26, 2015 -- 10:46am

By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)

My son Bennett isn’t a football fan by any means, but if there is a lesson I wish he would learn from, it comes from one of our own NFL players.

TJ Yeldon has been very humble when talking about his growth so far with the Jaguars. Recently, Yeldon was interviewed about his role with the team. While it is thought to be a foregone conclusion that the second round running back will be the starter for game one of the NFL season against Carolina, the rookie said he still has plenty of work to do.

Yeldon went on to say he felt he was last on the team’s depth chart, that the veterans on the roster we ahead of him and he still had plenty to prove to the team, the fans and to himself.

Excuse me, but was that humility we read about concerning a rookie football player? Was that talk from someone who hasn’t done anything yet and has to prove the Jaguars made the right decision to make him the 36th pick in the NFL Draft? How refreshing is it that you listen or read the things Yeldon says and you get the sense he is going to be something special?

Yeldon comes from an Alabama program where one stud player replaces another stud player once they move on to the NFL or graduates. It’s the theory of “Next Man Up,” that Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has implemented. Mark Ingram led to Trent Richardson. Richardson to Eddie Lacy and Lacy to Yeldon. After Yeldon, our very own Derrick Henry is ready to lead the Bama rushing attack.

The theory produces camaraderie and competition – something Yeldon is facing with his new team in a very young offense. There is no doubt, however, Yeldon is up for the challenge and welcomes it. Greatness was never given to an NFL player. It was earned and still is today. With high salaries and egos and entitlement, it is good to see Yeldon is still grounded and ready to prove something before he claims to be something he is not.

It also falls in line with the Jaguars roster – players who are working hard for something that isn’t there yet, but the vision keeps the team hungry. Maybe that was a concept lost on Jack Del Rio and Mike Mularkey. Maybe that message wasn’t conveyed enough over the last eight seasons of mediocrity or less.

It is also refreshing to read about given players in the NFL are mad with franchise tags that pay them $12 million a season or contracts that afford a team an “option” whether to keep a player if they do not meet the demands of the agreement they sign as a rookie.

If I teach Bennett anything in this world, now that he is 15, it is the world does not owe him a thing. He must make his own way, take chances, stay hungry and most of all, work for everything he wants. Yeldon may set that example this season here in Jacksonville. I can only ask Bennett to read these comments and think about his path in life. And if anything, get some sense of value from Yeldon. If a 21-year-old athlete gets it at such a young age, then maybe us older adults should follow suit. And to my neophyte of a son, I can say listen to Yeldon. He appears to be much wiser than I am, even at such an impactful age.

Cornerback Critical to Jags Success

Jun 25, 2015 -- 4:01pm

By: Patrick Wilkins (@wilp0016)

It’s clear that there is no lack of competition in the Jaguars’ locker room. Nowhere is this more evident than at the cornerback position. While a ton of competition exists on the defensive line, its success rests on the ability of the cornerbacks to remain physical and tight in coverage. 

After finishing the 2014 season ranked 22nd in total pass defense, general manager David Caldwell made it a point to address the cornerback position in free agency. He did so by signing Devon House.

At 6’0”, 200 pounds, House might finally be the lengthy corner that Gus Bradley has been looking been for since moving to Jacksonville. He’s physical in press coverage and will be able to match up against larger receivers like Julio Jones and Brandon Marshall. House’s experience will also help the younger corners reach their full potential.

Behind House, the Jaguars have a load of talent in Demetrius McCray and Aaron Colvin.

McCray recorded 49 tackles in 16 games last season and started the final 12 games after taking the job from Dwayne Gratz. The seventh round pick has great size and is physical at the line of scrimmage, though it’s his starting experience that is valuable to the secondary. McCray was easily one of the Jaguars’ best defenders last year and opposing receivers averaged just .78 yards/ cover snap against him. Pro Football Focus used this stat to rank McCray as the fourth best corner coming into the 2015 season.

Aaron Colvin spent most of last season rehabbing an ACL tear that he suffered at the 2014 Senior Bowl. The Jaguars were able to get an inside look at Colvin when they were the appointed coaching staff in Mobile, AL. Caldwell decided he was worthy of their fourth round pick in the 2014 draft. Colvin’s speed, coverage skills and instincts were on display in the six games that Colvin did play in last season. In his first 140 snaps, Colvin recorded 10 tackles, one pass breakup and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Playing mainly in the slot position in 2014, Colvin hopes to make his presence felt on the outside against receivers that have typically been extremely effective against the Jaguars.

The Jaguars’ pass defense ranking improved by three spots from 2013 to 2014, however the secondary was still ineffective against better quarterbacks. Case in point would be week four of last season. Philip Rivers passed for 377 yards and 3 touchdowns in this contest and embarrassed the Jaguars’ secondary.

The road doesn’t become easier in 2015 for the Jaguars’ corners and they will again lineup opposite of exceptional quarterbacks. Aside from Andrew Luck, whom the Jaguars see twice a year, they also face-off against Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. The potential matchup against Tom Brady in week three also looms, however this all hinges on the appeal of his suspension for his role in Deflategate. All of these quarterbacks have playoff experience and know how to pick apart a secondary.

The play at cornerback will also help define the tenure of Johnathan Cyprien. Cyprien has yet to live up to the expectations that have been set for him, but I believe this is because he’s been trying to do too much. He’s found himself out of position several times which has led to big plays from the opponent. With good corner play, Cyprien will be able to stay in position and be as effective as the Jaguars have hoped.

There will be loads of competition throughout the Jaguars’ roster that will make for an exciting training camp.

How will the defensive line react to the Fowler injury? Will the offensive line be able to give protection to Blake Bortles? Will Bortles show that he should be considered a true franchise quarterback? All of these are important storylines to follow during training camp, though none are more exciting than the competition at the cornerback position. Keep an eye on this position battle and the play that follows after the starters have been named. 

Jaguars Rookie Neal Sterling Learned A Lot About Himself During First Offseason in NFL

Jun 25, 2015 -- 12:24pm

By: Amanda Borges (@Amanda1010XL)

Summer break is upon us but the break part doesn’t have to be taken to the extreme. For Jaguars rookie wide receiver Neal Sterling, the break means time spent home up north, but he still plans to stay focused and take care of his body.

Sterling has completed his first offseason as an NFL player and he’s learned a lot about himself. Sterling says it’s a grueling process and it takes a lot out of you. You’re expected to compete hard at practice, take care of your body, and then repeating that process every day.

Sterling comes to Jacksonville from New Jersey, so the heat is something he’ll have to get used to. Built like a tight end at 6-3, 238 pounds, he knows there’s a lot of work to be done to make the roster. When I caught up with him, Sterling said that come July, he’ll be ready to compete and prove he deserves a spot.

Listen to the full interview, below.

Like It Or Not, Change Is Here for Jaguars

Jun 24, 2015 -- 10:17am

By: Amanda Borges (@Amanda1010XL)

Ready or not, here come the new and hopefully improved Jaguars. With coaching changes, new players, a new mantra, and soon a new mascot, the Jaguars organization will be a completely revamped team this year.

I know many of you don’t like change. That’s okay. You don’t have to like it. But, I encourage you to embrace it.

Let’s start with the off-the-field stuff. Jaxson De Ville has officially retired. It’s sad to see the man inside the suit move on to other things, but luckily, the cat suit itself is not going anywhere. There will be another man, or woman, that will fill the role. You’re going to have to accept that. Curtis Dvorak is a friend and he was a fantastic piece to the Jaguars, but every good thing must come to an end, as they say. Embrace it, Jaguars fans.

As you already know, there have been some changes made to the coaching staff. New offensive coordinator Greg Olson worked hard to install his offense during minicamp, and players did their best to learn it and implement it. But, they’re not quite there yet. They are going to have some growing pains and that’s okay. They’ll kick it into gear during training camp.

You’ve heard this before and I’ll say it again, the biggest additions to the team are the big free agent pick-ups. Tight end Julius Thomas will be a favorite target for Blake Bortles. His size alone is what separates him from the rest. Don’t count out Marcedes Lewis by any means, but Thomas will impress you. On defense, defensive end Jared Odrick will make an immediate impact. He’s still learning the defense and his level of comfort improved during camp, but once Odrick gets it, he will make a direct impact on the line.

So, take the summer to adjust. Learn the new faces, the new #MoreJax mantra, and keep your eyes peeled for a new mascot. Be ready for change. In this case, change is a good thing.

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