Eye Candy: Tour de France Crash

photo: NBCSports.com
photo: NBCSports.com

by Cole Pepper

I didn’t get to this during the news last night on Channel 4, but Stage 1 of the Tour de France had some craziness. In the wake of the Lance Armstrong flap and without a big name American to follow, it will be interesting to see what kind of interest there is in the race this year. That being said, when a bus gets stuck under the finish line and about a quarter of the peloton is involved in a crash, it’s something to see. Check out the video:
http://youtu.be/No8Zj9qojaw

 

Aaron Garcia Returns to Face Sharks

photo: Sunshinefootball.com
photo: Sunshinefootball.com

by Cole Pepper

The Sharks have experienced about every time of game and streak you can imagine in 2013. They started the season 6-0 and were the last team in the Arena Football League to lose a game.

But as in the outdoor game, as the quarterback goes, so goes an Arena team. First, Bernard Morris began to struggle–especially against some of the top teams. Head coach Les Moss made the move to sit Morris down and start R.J. Archer. That didn’t work. Back to Morris. Then he was injured. The Sharks then signed Kyle Rowley who started two up-and-down games before being replaced with Archer late in last week’s victory over Cleveland.

So where does that leave the Sharks now? Archer will start Saturday night against Orlando. And of all the irony, the man who led the Sharks to the Arena Bowl championships two years ago will be under center for the Predators.

Aaron Garcia retired, then un-retired and returned to the game and has played with three teams since. He started this year for San Jose and then was traded to Orlando in April. Since joining the Predators, Garcia has been sharp, leading the league in passing yards per game, averaging over 300 yards per game in his 8 starts with Orlando.

RJ Archer 1
R.J. Archer will start at quarterback Saturday for the Sharks as they host the Orlando Predators. (photo: Joshua Phillips/Jacksonville Sharks)

Slowing down Garcia is one challenge for the Sharks. The other, is getting to Garcia. Orlando has allowed only 11 sacks this year, third fewest in the AFL. Jacksonville got the pass rush going again last week, and the Sharks lead the league with 34 sacks this season. They’ll need to get to Garcia, who is known to wait until the last moment to deliver the ball.

Another obstacle for Jacksonville this week is the retirement of Jeff Hughley. Hughley had a shot in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers camp earlier this year, but was not signed to the team. He returned, injured his hamstring and had not been as much of a factor since. Expect London Crawford and Josh Philpart to get more playing time at wide receiver to compliment Jeron Harvey and Markee White.

Kickoff is 7:00pm Saturday. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network.

What Else Could Denard Robinson’s “OW” Stand For?

Denard Robinson mini-camp

by Cole Pepper

The Jaguars have done something that has never been seen on an NFL roster, listing Denard Robinson as an OW under his position, ostensibly as “Offensive Weapon.”

But could it mean something else?

Optimistic Wideout-Yes, he’s been taking snaps at running back, but maybe he really believes in his receiving ability.
Obviously Weathered-probably not…but give him some time in the Jacksonville sun during training camp and then see what you think.
Oxford Wearer-Perhaps not when he was drafted, but now that he has his signing bonus, maybe he’ll step up his fashion game. (insert draft video)
Obvious Winner-although folks in Columbus may have a different opinion.
Over Weight-sorry, that may just be me.
Occult Worshiper-This would be a real shot at the pro-Tebow crowd.
Outside Warlock-just don’t ask him to cast a spell indoors.Orenthal….never mind, we’ve had too much NFL murder investigations for one week.

Providence Guard Christian Terrell Dunks BIG!

Christian Terrell dunk
by Cole Pepper

Providence Guard Christian Terrell is 6’2″…of 6’3″ or 6’5″ depending on which website or roster you believe. He’s a rising senior being recruited by JU, Florida Gulf Coast and Appalachian State. And he just dunked. A lot! Somewhere, Wesley Snipes is rethinking his entire world view.

Check out the video here: 

Jones-Drew Will Not Be Charged, But What’s Next?

photo: AP/Stephen Morton
photo: AP/Stephen Morton

by Cole Pepper

Maurice Jones-Drew will not be charged in the fracas at the Conch House in May.

In a statement, Jones Drew said: “Naturally, I am pleased with this result and look forward to focusing on football. My rehab is going well and I’m anxious to join my teammates at the start of training camp.”

But there are still questions about how Jones-Drew will perform on the field in 2013.

Jones-Drew is recovering from foot surgery and hasn’t participated in team drills during any of the off-seasons practice sessions. The running back has been criticized this off-season for his apparent weight gain, although Jones-Drew says that he will be in playing shape when the season begins and expects to be ready to go in time for training camp, which begins July 26.Mojo Statement

I expect that Jones-Drew will be a little rusty during the preseason, but that by the time the regular season rolls around, he’ll be ready to go. Off-season drama involving the 2011 NFL rushing champion is nothing new.

Last off-season, he was embroiled in a contract negotiation that turned out to be one sided. The Jaguars were unwilling to renegotiate the contract and Jones-Drew missed time in the preseason. He came back and after a slow start, ran for 177 yards against the Colts in week 3, only to sustain the foot injury on October 21 against Oakland. He missed the rest of the season.

After playing the entire 2010 season with a torn meniscus in his knee, Jones-Drew came back to lead the league in rushing the following year.

And after the Jaguars let Fred Taylor go, Jones-Drew successfully renegotiated a more lucrative contract, despite the fact that he had never been the teams starting running back.

Jones-Drew likes to debate. He is the most competitive Jaguars player since Tony Boselli. He doesn’t like to lose. At anything. That includes fantasy football or a discussion about a random sports topic. Motivation is not a problem for Jones-Drew, who chose to wear uniform number 32 to remember all of the teams (including the Jaguars) who didn’t draft him in the first round.

Here are some reasonable questions to ask about Jones-Drew’s upcoming season:

  1. Can a 28 year old, physical running back with over 1500 career rushing attempts come back from another lower body injury to regain the form that saw him lead the league in attempts and rushing yards in 2011?
  2. Is Jones-Drew going to have a “contract year?” His deal is up after this season and the Jaguars can put the franchise tag on him if they wish. In a contract year, some players will get in the best shape of their lives and really focus on the game. That’s usually Jones-Drew’s approach every year, but this off-season, while recovering from surgery, Jones-Drew has not been able to do that. His goal is to be at his college playing weight of 205. He played at 217 last year.
  3. If Jones-Drew isn’t 100 percent by the time the season starts, what are the alternatives?

One question that would fall into the “not a reasonable question” category: “Will the Conch House incident be a distraction?” Answer, no. Now that charges will not be filed, don’t expect this to be mentioned in the Jaguars locker room.

Jaguars Off-Season Analysis: Safety

Dwight Lowery is one of the few players who figure to start at the same position on the Jaguars defense this year. (photo: Jaguars)
Dwight Lowery is one of the few players who figure to start at the same position on the Jaguars defense this year. (photo: Jaguars)

by Cole Pepper

Late last year, Jaguars safety Dwight Lowery looked at, shook his head, and said “something’s gotta change.”

He was talking about the Jaguars losing, but he may as well have been talking about his position group, the safeties.

When opening day arrives, Lowery and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny could be the only Jaguars on defense starting at the same position as a year ago.

Gone from the Jaguars defensive backfield is Dewan Landry, who started at strong safety in 2012. Rookie second-round pick Johnathan Cyprien is expected to start in Landry’s place. Cyprien met with rave reviews in the off-season mini-camp and OTAs. He has a reputation as a physical safety. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, let’s see what happens when he puts the pads on. Reggie Nelson also came out of college as a physical player and was a disappointing first round pick for the Jaguars.

The Jaguars also spent a sixth round pick on a safety, Josh Evans from Florida. He is expected to compete for a backup spot at free safety.

One veteran on the bubble is Chris Prosinski. The former draft pick from Wyoming has struggled when he’s been pushed into extensive work and most will expect that he’ll be a training camp casualty, but now in his third year, Prosinski could still be a factor.

Other newcomers who will compete for roster spots include Chris Banjo, Steven Terrell and, depending on the new coaches decide to use him, Antwon Blake.

By the time the dust settles and the final cuts are made, I suspect that Dwight Lowery is going to be spending a lot of time playing the role of chaperon for all of the young players who will be in the safety meetings.

Projected Jaguars Depth Chart:

Safety Depth Chart*-Rookie

 

Can Jacksonville Support Another Professional Team?

photo: downtownjacksonville.org
photo: downtownjacksonville.org

by Cole Pepper

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has made hosting sporting events a major part of his administration’s outreach and business development program.

The NBA is returning to Jacksonville for a preseason game, the Suns continue to draw well (3rd in the Southern League this year), back-to-back soccer matches drew major crowds at EverBank Field. Does this mean that Jacksonville can support another professional team? Here’s my view on each sport, how likely and how soon (or not so soon) Jacksonville could be home to a second major sports franchise.

NBA

Average attendance in the league: 17,348. Home dates per season: 41. Avg. Ticket Price: $50.99

The Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena holds just over 14,000 for basketball. Clearly, the Arena would need a renovation. I’ve been told that it does have the bones to expand, but it would cost money. Almost certainly, any NBA team that would move to Jacksonville would want an NBA-ready arena waiting for them.

NBA following in Jacksonville is spread among a number of teams, mainly, whoever is doing well. Currently, teams like the Heat, Lakers, Bulls and Nets have small followings in Jacksonville, but there is not a clamoring for NBA basketball in the city outside of city hall, where the Mayor has stated that he would love to see an NBA team in town.

Basketball does not draw particularly well in Jacksonville, with the exception being the NCAA Basketball Tournament, which has sold out each of the two years Jacksonville has hosted. Jacksonville will again host in 2015.

Chances of Jacksonville getting an NBA Team: 1 in 50  |  Earliest it could happen: 2020

NHL

Average attendance in the league: 18,013. Home dates per season: 41 (24 this year due to strike) Avg. Ticket Price: $61.01 (increased to to strike)

Let’s be honest, there’s no way that the NHL is going to look at Jacksonville. There are maybe 150 die-hard hockey fans who routinely turned out to support teams like the Lizard Kings and Barracudas. Beyond that, there are some transplants that have their own team to root for, but it’s few and far between. When is the last time that you overheard a hockey conversation between two Jacksonville natives other than, perhaps, during the Stanley Cup Finals or the Olympics?

Chances of Jacksonville getting an NHL Team: 1 in 5,000  |  Earliest it could happen: 2080

MLB

Average attendance in the league: 29,767. Home dates per season: 81. Avg. Ticket Price: $46.49

Every five or six years, there is a team in Major League Baseball who is unhappy with their stadium deal and they need a city to hold up to the local politicians as “the place that wants to build us a new stadium.” Tampa used to be this place. Then they got a team. There isn’t that trendy city anymore. Sometimes Oklahoma City or Indianapolis comes up in conversation.  Why not Jacksonville? Until the new team (with a new stadium) came into the league in Pensacola, the Suns led the league in attendance every year since the Baseball Grounds was built (they’re 3rd in attendance this year, but there are still four more Thirsty Thursday’s to go). Major League Baseball would likely be hesitant to put another team in Florida without good reason, but a retractable roof stadium would make an attractive pitch. Then again, where is the money coming from for that? And where would you put it. There isn’t enough room for a stadium of that size on the current plot of the Baseball Grounds.

Chances of Jacksonville getting an MLBS Team: 1 in 99  |  Earliest it could happen: 2021

MLS

Average attendance in the league: 17,441. Home dates per season: 17. Avg. Ticket Price: $26.15

These attendance numbers are thrown out of whack a bit by Seattle, where they routinely draw over 40,000. Most teams fall into one of two categories, those drawing around 20,000 per game, and those drawing around 14,000 per game.

In order to become an MLS city, Jacksonville would have to build a stadium that could hold around 15,000-18,000. Its possible that the stadium could be a multi-use facility, but it would have to have soccer in mind when being built. This could happen. There are some influential folks around town are big soccer backers, and the city showed well (see photo above) when team USA played Scotland, drawing over 45,000 to the match, then shortly thereafter, over 18,000 tickets were sold for the US Women’s national team facing Scotland. There is a following of sorts.

Two Mexican pro teams will play on July 3 at EverBank Field and in February, the Philadelphia Union of the MLS will play a pre-season game in Jacksonville. Attendance for those games will likely  go a long way to determining whether Jacksonville will be on the long list for an MLS team.

Chances of Jacksonville getting an MLS Team: 1 in 15  |  Earliest it could happen: 2016

What’s your opinion? Vote in the poll:

[poll id=”2″]

 

Can the Sharks Bounce Back?

Jeron Harvey is on a record setting pace for the Sharks this season.
Jeron Harvey is on a record setting pace for the Sharks this season. (Getty)

by Cole Pepper

After a 10-day West Coast road trip that left the team bruised and twice beaten, the Jacksonville Sharks still have several reasons to be thankful.

For starters, despite back-to-back loses at Spokane and Utah, the Sharks (8-5) still hold a one game lead in the division and have the inside track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

They also will only have to go on the road one more time this regulars season.

Saturday, they host the 2-10 Cleveland Gladiators at Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena (7pm kickoff on WJXT Channel 4).

Here are five story lines to follow during the game:

Quarterback play: With Bernard Morris injured, the Sharks will give Kyle Rowley a second straight start. Rowley struggled early last week, but found a rhythm and led a comeback to within a touchdown before losing in Utah. He says he knows the offense and is comfortable with his receivers. Its worth noting that he has played in the past with Sharks receivers Markee White and Jeron Harvey, and has played for head coach Les Moss, so many of the concepts are familiar to him.

Pass Rush: The Sharks pass rush was a major force early in the season, but over the last month, the sack pace has tailed off. Jacksonville still leads the league with 31 sacks (11 from the league record), but over the past five games, the Sharks have only totaled six sacks, and in no game in that stretch did they record more than two sacks. Some of the drop off can be written off to opposing teams going with a short passing game, but the Sharks need to get pressure on Cleveland. In the week three win over the Gladiators, Jacksonville tallied four sacks.

Running Game: With regular fullback Rendrick Taylor injured and Morris on the shelf, the teams two top running threats won’t be on the field. While the indoor game is more about passing, the Sharks lead the league in rushing for a reason. Who will carry the load when Les Moss wants to go to the ground?

What’s My Motivation? Cleveland’s season is over. The question is, do they know it? Will they play like a team with nothing to lose or will they roll over? For some of the Gladiators, the rest of the season is about an audition for the future, or maybe for an NFL team

Record Watch for Harvey-Jackson High grad Jeron Harvey is the all-time leading receiver in Sharks history. He has at least one touchdown catch in nine straight games. He’s had a 16 catch game (against Arizona on May 4) and a 172 yard game (at Utah last week) as well as a five touchdown game (at Philadelphia), all team highs this year. With is 109 receptions, Harvey is second in the AFL in catches and 5th in touchdowns. He has a shot at Jomo Wilson’s team records set in 2011 with 131 catches, 1,737 yards and 44 touchdown catches.

 

Five Questions About the New Scoreboards

Yes, those are swimming pools at the bottom of that teal strip of improvements.
Yes, those are swimming pools at the bottom of that teal strip of improvements.

by Cole Pepper

Wednesday’s announcement that the Jaguars and the city will jointly fund a $63 million project to put in place the biggest scoreboards in the NFL and a one of a kind fan entertainment zone, certainly generated a buzz in, and out, of Jacksonville. But some questions about its impact linger. Here are five:

How much of this is the city of Jacksonville on the hook for?

The city will fund about $43 million of the entire project with the Jaguars picking up about $20 million. The Jaguars are also responsible for any cost overruns. Any project savings (don’t hold your breath) will be earmarked for additional improvements at EverBank Field.

Does this mean the Jaguars aren’t moving to LA or London?

Frankly, it doesn’t change the truth of the situation, but it might go a long way to change perceptions. For instance, here’s how Sam Farmer of the LA Times opened his story on the stadium improvements:

If there’s any lingering Jaguars-to-Los Angeles speculation out there, this should put it to rest.

Many national writers/bloggers may not believe it, because it has been a convenient story line since the sparse attendance during the 2009 season. Truth be told, three factors combined to hurt the Jaguars attendance. First, the economy tanked. This hurt all small market teams, some more than others. Second, the team wasn’t winning. If the Jaguars were winning and they were still struggling to sell tickets compared to the rest of the league, then there would be a problem. And third, and this should not be underestimated, Wayne Weaver was positioning the franchise for a sale. He was reducing expenses and not putting a lot of long term debt on the books. Those three factors limited the Jaguars ability to sell tickets more than anything else. All of the fan enhancements that the Jaguars have implemented since Shad Khan bought the team are nice, but they are only there to overcome some of the objections that the team has heard from fans who no longer buy tickets.

But getting back to the question, no, it doesn’t mean the Jaguars aren’t moving because they weren’t moving before these improvements.

Really? Swimming pools?

Yep, Two of them in the North End Zone platform area. At this point, we don’t know if the pool will be a ticketed area, but my guess is that at least one of the pools will be available to be “rented” for the game either via a sponsorship deal or a premium ticket of some kind.

What are the chances that this helps draw a national championship game to Jacksonville? How about another Super Bowl?

Rick Catlett thinks so. The President/CEO of the Gator Bowl has been working for years to land the national championship game in Jacksonville. This can’t hurt. But as with the Super Bowl, it’s about more than just the stadium. The city has to be ready for all of the visitors. I’m told that Jacksonville has enough infrastructure to host a national championship game. However, it takes more hotels to host a Super Bowl, as we learned in 2005. As far as a future Super Bowl bid goes, treat these improvements as chicken soup for a cold. Is it a cure? Don’t know, but it can’t hurt.

Will this sell more tickets?

Keep in mind that the improvements won’t be ready to go until 2014. Will it sell more tickets this year? Maybe, if only because some fans will feel like the commitment is there from Shad Khan. But I would expect that this will do much more to create a buzz right now. Next year is when we will more likely see a more noticeable impact on tickets. If it works in Jacksonville, you can bet that other owners around the league who are having trouble getting fans off the couch on gameday, will follow suit with some kind of scoreboard arms race or add things like a pool (probably won’t see that in Minnesota).

 

NBA Game Coming Back to Jacksonville

NBA Jax scoreboard

by Cole Pepper

It took four years, but the NBA is coming back to Jacksonville.

The Orlando Magic will play the New Orleans Pelicans on October 9, 2013 at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. it’s the third time the Magic have played in Jacksonville and first in five years.

In 2008, the Magic and Miami Heat played an exhibition game. The following year, the Heat faced the Atlanta Hawks. Those games had some star power, even in the pre-Lebron James era for Miami. Dwayne Wade and Dwight Howard were the featured players n 2008, and in 2009, there was some local flavor with former Gator Al Horford on the Hawks and Udonis Haslem on the Heat.

This game will feature substantially less star power considering that Eric Gordon and Tobias Harris were the leading scorers for the two teams (if you don’t know who was on which team, don’t feel bad).

IMG_0718
Will the next Magic star get this as a signing bonus?

However, the Magic hold the #2 pick in the NBA draft and could select a more recognizable name (albeit in a weaker draft). Kansas freshman Ben McLemore and Michigan’s Trey Burke have both been mentioned as possible selections for the Magic.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, as he reminded us today, dreams big and he “can see an NBA team in Jacksonville’s future.”

That remains to be seen. This game is also not much of a draw for visitors. What it does, it continue to show the nation that Jacksonville is a sporting event friendly city.

“It’s going to showcase that Jacksonville is a destination for sports and entertainment,” Mayor Brown said. “This also allows us to diversify our portfolio.”Mayor NBA quote

By portfolio, the Mayor means the variety of sporting events that have come to Jacksonville in his administration. That would include everything from the college basketball game on the Navy ship to International soccer matches to much smaller events.

Tickets for the NBA preseason game, which will be the pre-season opener for both teams, are on sale at the Arena ticket office, online at JaxEvents.com or on Ticketmaster. Prices range from $15-$250 for courtside seats. VIP opportunities are also available via the City of Jacksonville Sports & Entertainment office at (904) 630-3697.