Podcast #2: Cole Pepper with Sam Kouvaris

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by Cole Pepper

Podcast #2 features Sam Kouvaris, the dean of Jacksonville sports media. No active and fulltime member of the media (I ran into David Lamm at the Suns game, but he’s not full time) has covered Jacksonville sports for longer than Sam.

He had some great perspective on Shad Khan and his impact, Khan’s pursuit of the soccer team and what he expects out of the Jaguars. We also got into the local sports TV scene which has been quite an interesting place to work the past several months.

If you have other suggestions for who you would like to hear from on the podcast, leave them in the comments below.

Sam Kouvaris

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Kids Can Learn From Former Major Leaguers

Bragan Field

by Cole Pepper

Jacksonville is hosting the Southern League All-Star Game on July 17 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (Bragan Field). Among the festivities planned for that week, a youth baseball clinic (for kids 6-16) with former major leaguers, including Episcopal head coach Mike Jones (Royals) and Rick Wilkins (11 years, 8 teams).

The clinic will take place at the Baseball Grounds Monday, July 15, 2013, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. It’s part of the “Legends for Youth” program.  Legends for Youth is a charitable program running more than 85 free events each year nationwide. Its mission is to promote the game of baseball to America’s youth using positive sports images and personalities. Southern League All Star logo

Registration for the clinic is free, but there are a limited number of spaces. As of Wednesday afternoon, around 100 spots remained.  Registration is available online here: https://secure.mlb.com/mlbpaa/events/legends_form.jsp

The hope is to partner with the MLB Alumni in the future and bring more and larger events with big name stars to Jacksonville. There are a number of former big league players living in northeast Florida, and if the city make it a priority, there could be more events featuring former big leaguers to come.

 

What Khan’s Soccer Team Purchase Could Mean

Khan Joeckel
Jaguars owner Shahid Khan (left) is reportedly in talks to purchase Fulham FC of the English Premier League.

by Cole Pepper

There are reports that Jaguars owner Shahid Khan will buy a soccer team, Fulham of the English Premier League.

If this happens, what will it mean for Jacksonville?

For starters, there will be (and have already been) those who aren’t informed who will say that this, coupled with the Jaguars playing a game in London each of the next four years means the Jaguars will be moving to London.  That is very much NOT what this means.

For the Jaguars, this means that Khan’s interest in owning as much of the London market as possible is now expanded. This should help the Jaguars become more of an international brand. How? Think of it this way. How many Londoners knew of the Jaguars before Khan’s purchase. How many know of them now? And how many will know of the Jaguars after four games in London? Graph those numbers and it looks like a hockey stick.

If Khan buys Fulham, you will see this shirt worn by some fans at EverBank Field. (photo: fulhamfc.com)
If Khan buys Fulham, you will see this shirt worn by some fans at EverBank Field. (photo: fulhamfc.com)

Now consider Fulham. How many people in Jacksonville knew of Fulham before yesterday? How many Jaguars fans will decide that Fullham is “their” soccer team to root for in the English Premier League? There are so many cross-promotional opportunities. A double header of an NFL game followed by a Fulham friendly, for instance. As a note, the Premier League schedule runs from August to May.

How about some cross-over for Fulham? Fulham plays at Southampton the day before the Jaguars play the 49ers in London. Think that could be a hot ticket?

This could help in sponsorship for both teams as well. Jaguars president Mark Lamping has said repeatedly that increasing local revenue (not money from league agreements) is his top priority. The Jaguars/Fulham cooperative could access a huge number of sponsors for each team that previously, they could not reach. Granted, this will demand fair cooperation between the “boots on the ground” in the sponsorship departments of both, but when Khan says “do it,” it usually happens.

This move can also provide a serious boost for the push for pro soccer in Jacksonville. There is a push to get either a North American Soccer League (NASL) team or a United Soccer League (USL) team. Those would be potential stepping stones to an MLS team in Jacksonville. Having Khan involved in soccer, even in name, raises Jacksonville’s prestige as a soccer city.

There are so many ways to leverage the dual ownership, especially in a city gaining major momentum for soccer, that if Khan does indeed purchase Fulham, it might be one of the more significant business moves of the year for Jacksonville.

 

Podcast #1: Cole Pepper with Ryan O’Halloran

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This is the first in our series of podcasts leading up to the Jaguars opening of training camp.  We start with Ryan O’Halloran, the Jaguars beat writer for the Florida Times-Union as we discuss the quarterback battle and what will have to happen to make the 2013 season a success for the Jaguars.

Podcast #1 – Cole with Ryan O’Halloran

Ryan OHalloran

Top 10 Questions for Jaguars

Gus Bradley smiling
Will this man still be smiling at the end of the 2013 season?

by Cole Pepper

With training camp right around the corner the main theme with the Jaguars is new.  As in, new coach, new GM, new schemes on offense and defense, new uniforms, helmets and logos.

While much is new, one thing that is not is that the Jaguars must find a way to return to playoff contention. They haven’t played a post-season game since 2007 and haven’t hosted a playoff game in 14 years.

With camp about to open, here are the top 10 questions facing the Jaguars:

  1. The Quarterback-It’s a question that has been asked by the Jaguars since Mark Brunell’s last year. Some years, they knew who the quarterback would be, but not if he was THE guy. Heading into 2013, Blaine Gabbert has the inside position, but is certainly no lock for the starting job. This season will either be the first of Gabbert’s reign as THE guy, or the last before the Jaguars draft THE guy (or at least, the guy they hope will be THE guy).
  2. Pass Rush-The Jaguars have lacked a consistent pass rusher since Tony Brackens’ retirement. Can Jason Babin be a double digit sack man for the Jaguars? Can they develop a pass rush from other sides of the line. Gus Bradley wasn’t a big proponent of the blitz in Seattle. It comes down to the Jaguars getting pressure with the front four.
  3. Gus Bradley’s impact on approach-Bradley’s energy and enthusiasm are obvious. Will that translate into results? Also, how will Bradley’s positive vibe hold up if the Jaguars struggle early (a possibility with four of the first six games on the road)? My guess is that it will still be there, because Bradley isn’t faking the positive attitude, but he’s never lost a game as a head coach, and things can change when you are in the big chair.
  4. Will Justin Blackmon’s suspension hurt the offense? This is almost a given that it will, in some way. Cecil Shorts will see more double teams as Blackmon misses the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy on controlled substances. Part two of this question is whether the suspension will affect Blackmon’s game when he comes back. Year two is usually an important one for highly regarded young receivers.
  5. Is Luke Joeckel for real? All indications are that he is, but we haven’t seen him against NFL defenses in pads. There will be a spotlight on Joeckel for each of his preseason games. But when the regular season begins, we’ll be able to judge where he is as a rookie.
  6. Can Denard Robinson and/or Ace Sanders make a difference? If I was pinned down, I would bet that Robinson would have more “WOW” plays, but that Sanders would make more plays. Still, Robinson has the kind of speed and obvious athletic ability to make jaw dropping plays, if he stays healthy. He’ll also be learning a new position and new responsibilities like pass protection and catching the football.
  7. Will Maurice Jones-Drew return to form after foot surgery? Eventually, I think the answer will be yes, but since Jones-Drew didn’t participate in team drills during the off-season, it’s tough to predict that he won’t have any rust as the preseason begins.
  8. Can Marcedes Lewis be a factor in the passing game again? Part of this equation is Luke Joeckel. Lewis was the de facto second right tackle last year. If Joeckel lives up to expectations, Lewis should absolutely be a bigger factor. If the pass protection is better, and if the Jaguars quarterback (whoever that is) plays better, Lewis can still be a valuable weapon, especially down the seam and in the red zone.
  9. Is Cecil Shorts for real? I think the answer to this is yes, but we’ll certainly have a good litmus test in the first four games when Justin Blackmon is serving his suspension. Shorts has the kind of attitude that will fit perfectly with Gus Bradley’s “get better every day” credo. As a former quarterback, Shorts has made learning the wide receiver position a central tenant of his approach to the game. Perhaps the better question here is not whether Shorts is for real, but how good will he be?
  10. What will it take for this season to be a success? Ask 100 people, you might get 100 answers to this question. Is it a matter of the win/loss record? What about just showing improvement? Or figuring out whether Gabbert is the quarterback to take your team to the post-season in the future.  I asked someone this question the other day and they said 6-10 would be a success. My follow up was “so winning three more games than the previous year isn’t a success?” He scratched his head and then admitted that it would be. What about 4 wins? 3 wins? Tough to call those a success, unless that allows you to draft your quarterback of the future in the first round.

These questions won’t be fully answered when training camp begins, but we will get the first hints of the answers very soon.

Using the Old Name?

17hole

What is the name of this tournament? If you used a three letter code, you aren’t alone.

by Cole Pepper

I’m not sure if it only happens in the South, but for some reason, I encounter a lot of folks who refer to things by the names they used to have. For instance, I know some folks who consciously call EverBank Field the Gator Bowl, for one reason or another.

Others just can’t seem to get into their heads that the Coliseum no longer stands and that there is a new building, the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena (the Arena, for short).

Admit it, you do it, too.  Which of the following do you most often call by it’s former name?

[poll id=”5″]

Is Jacksonville a Soccer Town?

soccerGame-feature-640x296

by Cole Pepper

Is Jacksonville a soccer town? It’s an interesting question. If you asked if Miami was a soccer town, you would immediately say, “yes, of course.” And in a way you would be right. There are a lot of soccer fans in Miami. But the MLS has tried to place a team in Miami and it hasn’t been sustained.

Why?

The working theory is that there are a lot of passionate soccer fans in south Florida who already have chosen their team of choice. They are dedicated to a specific team. Other than the fanatical Manchester United fan you run across (or the European transplant who has their home town team), that doesn’t seem to be the case in Jacksonville.

The numbers indicate that there are plenty of soccer fans willing to purchase tickets for big events like the US National teams playing in Jacksonville. Does that mean that soccer is an automatic sell on the First Coast?

That brings us to tonight, when two Mexican League teams, Cruz Azul and Tigres, play at EverBank Field at 7:30pm. Organizers are hoping for up to 10,000 people to attend. More importantly, its the next step in a process for the city of Jacksonville to add another professional sports franchise.

“I think we’ve established ourselves as a soccer community,” said Alan Verlander, the Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment for the City of Jacksonville. “The last three major soccer events here have set (attendance) records. I’d like to see a great crowd.”

Verlander says that the goal is to have a professional soccer team in Jacksonville, calling it “only a matter of time” and a “slam dunk” although admitting that it won’t start with the MLS.

Let’s take a step back here to dissect the different ways that sport can grow in Jacksonville.

1. One-off events-The city has hosted events like the NCAA Basketball Tournament and NBA exhibition games that may recur many years apart (March Madness returns to Jacksonville in 2015 and the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans open the 2013-14 preseason here), and the city has hosted one-time events like the Team USA soccer match or the Florida-Georgetown game on the Navy ship (we’ll see if those are one time event or if they recur). in June, Jacksonville hosted ESPN’s Friday Night Fights boxing program. These events can provide a small economic shot in the arm for hotels and restaurants, but the larger impact is part of a branding strategy that Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has made a big part of his platform: he wants the sports world to know that Jacksonville is ready and able to host sporting events.

2. Recurring annual events-Events like the Florida-Georgia game and the Players Championship are the best and biggest examples of recurring annual events, but the city would like to add more of these. Whether it’s a Monster Truck Show or the MLS team playing an exhibition game in town every year, these things engage the local machine for putting on events as well as further Jacksonville’s brand as a city that can put on great sporting events.

3. Franchises calling Jacksonville home-As of now, the professional teams in Jacksonville include the Jaguars (NFL), Sharks (AFL), Suns (Double-A baseball) and others like the Axemen (rugby). Soccer could potentially fit in that mix. A big part of getting a franchise here (likely NASL or USL to begin with, basically Triple-A level soccer compared to the MLS), is proving that there is a large enough (and dedicated enough) soccer community for the team to average 4,000-5,000 per game. That would put the franchise in the middle of the existing teams (see NASL and USL attendance notes here.

The next step would be pushing attendance to the top of the league, then making a pitch to the MLS. Of course, before you get there, you would need a plan for a new stadium, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

So what does tonight’s game mean? If tonight’s game draws around 5,000, it shows that there are probably enough folks to support an NASL or USL team. If the number is closer to 10,000, those leagues would be crazy to ignore Jacksonville. The scoreboard will be important tonight for the teams, but not as important as the box office, at least for soccer’s future in Jacksonville.

 

 

Jimmy Smith Will Serve The Rest of His Sentence on House Arrest

Jimmy-Smith TD
photo: footballperspective.com

by Cole Pepper

After just three months in prison, former Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith will spend the remainder of his sentence on house arrest.

Smith was scheduled to serve six years on cocaine possession and possession of a weapon by a felon, but under a Mississippi program known as the Intensive Supervision Program, Smith will be confined to house arrest because he has been determined to be a “marginal risk offender.” This means that the court has determined that he is a low risk and nonviolent.

You can see the details of the program here.

After not tweeting since December, Smith returned to social media on July 1.

Jimmy Smith's mug shot taken upon his arrest that led to his imprisonment.
Jimmy Smith’s mug shot taken upon his arrest that led to his imprisonment.

I spoke with a prominent defense attorney Monday who said that many states have this kind of program, including Florida. The intent of programs like these is to lessen overcrowding in prisons and reduce the cost to the state for housing non-violent offenders.

Smith will have to wear an ankle bracelet, but he can go to work, school and medical treatment if cleared by the court.

Smith will also be supervised by a corrections officer, although not.

In his playing career, Smith was suspended for four games a second violation of the league substance abuse program. He is the Jaguars all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards and was selected to five AFC Pro Bowl teams.

Florida Sports Hall of Fame Ceremony Set

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by Cole Pepper

Chipper Jones had his #10 retired by the Braves on Friday. Then, on Saturday, it was time for the Suns to give away his bobble-head, complete with his Bolles uniform. Now, Jones and the rest of the Class of 2013 will be inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame on August 10 at the Times-Union Center in Jacksonville.

The ceremony was originally scheduled for April, but there was difficulty in getting all of the inductees schedules lined up.

Chipper Bolles
Chipper Jones (pictured in high school at Bolles) will be among the Florida Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013.

Among the class to be inducted: Jones, former Florida Gators and Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, The PLAYERS champion Mark McCumber, football coaching legend Corky Rogers, tennis star Brian Gottfried, Olympic gold medal swimmer Brooke Bennett, NBA star Tim Hardaway, NASCAR legend Leeroy Yarbrough, and rodeo star Pete Clemons.

Taylor was inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars, the team’s ring of honor, last year. Rogers is in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Florida High school Athletic Association Hall of Fame and the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame.

The class has a strong Jacksonville flavor. Jones played high school baseball at Bolles, Taylor is one of the greatest players in Jaguars history, Gottfried lives in Ponte Vedra Beach and Rogers coaches at Bolles.

Individual tickets to the ceremony start at $20 and VIP packages that include a reception with the inductees can be purchased for $100. For more information on sponsorships and VIP packages, contact the City of Jacksonville Sports & Entertainment office at (904) 630-3697. Tickets can be purchased online at the Florida Sports Hall of Fame website.

Jaguars Off-Season Analysis: Linebackers

Poz blood

by Cole Pepper

Paul Posluszny is back. So is Russell Allen. But there will be a big hole left in the Jaguars linebacking corps this year. Daryl Smith is gone.

Smith was the Jaguars Mr. Reliable over the past decade. From his rookie year in 2004 until the 2011 season, Smith never missed more than two games in a season, piled up tackles and collected rave reviews from everyone who played with or coached him.

Posluszny called him “our best defender” last season. That was when Smith, for the first time in his career, missed significant time due to a groin injury. Smith was a free agent this off-season and the new regime, including GM Dave Caldwell decided to let Smith explore his options. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens. At the age of 31, Smith still has some good years left in him, although most 31 year old linebackers are on the downhill slope of their time on the field.

So what are the Jaguars left with? Let’s start with this: the Jaguars linebackers are going to be asked to do some things a little differently this year with new head coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich installing a new system.

That begs the question: what are the linebackers expected to do? That may impact who makes up this group in the future, but for now, it is clear who the starters will be.

Posluszny, for one, will start in the middle. He authored one of the more memorable snapshots of the NFL season last year with his “bloody battle face” in Houston (see above). He’s the dictionary definition of a middle linebacker, although that definition may be changing in the NFL. Tough, smart, dedicated and chiseled from granite. If you were casting a middle linebacker for a movie, Posluszny is your guy. He also could have served as the stunt double for Thor until he cut his hair short.

Russell Allen has been an NFL success story. Undrafted out of San Diego State, he earned a spot on the roster playing special teams in 2009, working his way into spot duty at linebacker due to injuries. As each year passed, Allen improved as a player and he started every game last season. In his four years in the NFL, he’s never missed a game and has played all three linebacker positions in the 4-3.

The third linebacker spot will almost certainly be manned by free agent acquisition Geno Hayes. The former Florida State Seminoles signed with the Jaguars after one season with the Bears. He was originally drafted by Tampa Bay and played four years there. He has connections to both Bradley and Babich. Bradley was on the Buccaneers staff in 2009 when Hayes came into the league and Babich served as the Bears defensive coordinator in Hayes’ one and only season in Chicago.

As for the reserves, Julian Stanford is most intriguing. He showed some ability in the preseason last year and started six games for the Jaguars, but most of the time was taken off the field in nickle and dime situations. He bears watching.

As a group, the Jaguars have a chance to be solid at linebacker, but not spectacular. You can win with that formula if the pass rush and pass coverage stands out. That’s exactly what the Jaguars coaches are hoping for this year.

Projected Linebacker Depth Chart:

LB Depth1

*-rookie