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.

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: 

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.

 

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.

Jaguars Defense Will Look and Feel Different

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player
by Cole Pepper

In the previous 18 season of Jaguars football, you can count on one finger the number of Jaguars defenses that really got after the quarterback.

That was 1999. An you can make the argument that it was as much about the offense getting ahead of teams as it was about the personnel. Dom Capers was the defensive coordinator back then, but Capers was running a 4-3 defense instead of his favored 3-4. Still, with Capers employing an adapted version of the zone blitz defense, the Jaguars set a franchise record with 57 sacks during a 14-2 regular season.

The Jaguars have never truly had a “keep the quarterback up at night” pass rusher. Tony Brackens came close. Never in the history of the franchise have the Jaguars had a Dwight Freeney, DeMarcus Ware or Derrick Thomas.

They still don’t have that guy on the roster.

So it is up to Bob Babich to work with the players on the roster to find a pass rush.

That’s why the Leo position has been talked about so much.

The Leo position is the pass rushing position in the defense that Gus Bradley used in Seattle and that Babich will utilize in Jacksonville. What is the Leo?

“That’s a guy who can set the edge against the run and who creates problems for the offensive tackle,” said Babich.

Rules changes have made the passing game an even more vital part of NFL offenses and so the ability to pressure the quarterback is even more essential to defensive success. I asked Babich what is more important in creating sacks, pass rush or coverage, and he wouldn’t commit to one over the other.

“You know what we talk about? We talk about rush AND cover,” Babich said. “It’s a combination of both. The ball has to come out quick, but at the same time, to get a lot of sacks, you have to have good coverage. To have good coverage, the ball has to come out quick. We talk about that all the time.”

Still, it’s much harder to scheme coverage than it is to scheme pass rush. It’s not easy to do it without the horses in either case.

I’ll detail the defensive line in an upcoming post, but for now, the move of Tyson Alualu from defensive tackle to defensive end will mean that the Leo position will be hotly contested in training camp. Jason Babin is the front runner, but Andre Branch and possibly Jeremy Mincey could compete for time at that position. Mincey isn’t an explosive pass rusher and my expectation was that that would eliminate him from the competition, but that’s not the case according to Babich.

“Until we get the pads on…we haven’t had a chance to see what we have,” Babich admitted. “Ideally, we’d like for [the Leo] to be explosive. and we would like our (other) defensive end to be explosive.”

How this defense will fit together is going to be one of the four or five most intriguing story lines of the preseason. Will the Jaguars find a pass rush? Will the revamped defensive backfield provide enough coverage to allow the pass rushers to get to the quarterback?

It’s too early to tell for sure, but it appears that the other X-factor is middle linebacker. Paul Posluszny is the dictionary definition of a 4-3 middle linebacker. And although the Jaguar are technically going to be a 4-3 team, there are hints that the middle linebacker position will be different than in the past. How will Posluszny, who is as football-smart as they come, adapt?

In general manager Dave Caldwell’s first draft, he addressed the defensive backfield heavily, spending four of his seven draft picks in the back end. That left the front seven to be the focus of free agency. I suspect that the Jaguars first round pick in 2014 will either be a quarterback or a pass rusher, but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here.

Ultimately, like the rest of the team, this is year one of a rebuild of the defense. When the season begins, its likely that only Dwight Lowery, Posluszny and Russell Allen will be returning starters at the same position, and Allen isn’t a lock since he can play all three linebacker positions.

The Jaguars defense is a summary study of the Jaguars organization this year: a few recognizable parts, but an almost entirely new construction.

Kommentary: Colllege Wurld Ceries

photo: CardinalSports.com
photo: CardinalSports.com

Eye dont cee whut thu bigg deel iz wit thu spellling misteak onn thu duggowt ruf att thu Colllege Wurld Ceries.

Eye meen, wutz thu bigg deel wit spellling anywai? Everywon haz spelll chek nowadaze. Soe sum gie wit uh payntbrush addedd un xtra lettr. Bigg wup. Didd peeple inn thu standz thynk thay wur watcheeng sum uther eevent?

Alll u colllege profesurs neeed two git ovur urselvs. Gust injoy thu gamez, wroot four yer skool andt grabb uh hawt dogg unda drynk. Everythyng wull wurk owt gust phyne. Et didd four thu Kanzasitee Chefs.

Cee?

Chefs endzone

Jaguars Off-Season Analysis: Cornerback

Trufant
Marcus Trufant bring experience in Gus Bradley’s defense from Seattle. He figures to start at one cornerback spot for the Jaguars this season. (photo: Jaguars.com)

by Cole Pepper

When last season began, the Jaguars starting cornerbacks were Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox. Neither are still with the team.

Aaron Ross was expected to serve as the nickle corner. He’s not longer with the team.

Backups included Will Middleton, Kevin Rutland and Mike Harris.

Of those top six corners, only Rutland and Harris are back for 2013. No position saw as much turnover from the Gene Smith-era to the first year of the Dave Caldwell regime.

So who starts in 2013? Using mini-camp as a guide, it would appear that defensive coordinator Bob Babich will go with one corner with a lot of experience in the Jaguars defense and one with no experience in the NFL. Former Seattle Seahawks Marcus Trufant on one side, and rookie third round pick Dwayne Gratz on the other.

Trufant’s best years may be behind him, but he bring experience in this defense. He played under Gus Bradley when Bradley was the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks. Hi familiarity with the scheme will be invaluable in the early stages of the season. He could be pushed by free agent acquisition Alan Ball. Ball signed as a free agent this off-season after one season in Houston. He has only been a starter for one year in his career (2010 with the Cowboys).  His reputation is more of a physical corner than a ball hawk, he has only three career interceptions.

On the other side, watching Gratz in mini-camp, you can immediately see what the Jaguars scouts liked about him. He’s smooth, quick and athletic. That doesn’t always translate into being a great corner, but the former UConn star seems on track to start from day 1.

Who fits in after that? If Trufant beats out Ball to start, Ball could play nickle, although second year man Mike Harris looked good in that role at the end of last year. Kevin Rutland is also back. Speed is his best asset. And then there’s Antwon Blake, who was a rising star on special teams. That’s likely to be where he makes his largest impact.

In addition to Gratz, the Jaguars spend a pair of seventh round picks on corners. New Mexico State’s Jeremy Harris and Demetrius McCray from Appalachian State will both have a chance to make the team, but to do so, they will likely have to unseat Mike Harris, Rutland or Blake and its most likely that they would have to shine on special team to make the cut.

In any case, the corners, and the defensive backfield as a whole, will have a much different look for the Jaguars. After giving up nearly seven yards per attempt to opposing passers, that’s a good thing.

CB Depth Chart

 

*-rookie

Father’s Day Memory

al20cowens1
I wonder if Al Cowens remembers seeing me at my first baseball game in 1977.

by Cole Pepper

Neither my father nor I are particularly emotional people. I am, however, fairly nostalgic, especially when it comes to sports. In particular, the teams that I cheered for in my youth.

On this Father’s Day, I thought I would share the story that most powerfully comes to mind when people start talking about memories with their fathers.

In 1977, the Kansas City Royals were a young team with a starting lineup that featured five players 26 years old or younger: second baseman Frank White, left fielder Tom Poquette, catcher Darrell Porter, right fielder Al Cowens and 24-year old third baseman George Brett.

In addition, 21 year old Willie Wilson, 19 year old Clint Hurdle and 23 year old U.L. Washington all got a cup of coffee that year. Most of these names would serve as the foundation for the success of the Royals in my early formative years.

For those of you under 30, I should take a moment here to point out that in those days, not only did the Royals content, but they actually won. You can check out the championship flags at Kauffman Stadium if you don’t believe me.

On April 30, 1977 (it was a Saturday), Dad announced that he was going to take me to the Royals game the next day. At the age of four, I was already a Royals fan. I watched every game that I could and had a better chance of reciting the batting order than I did of finishing my ABC’s. I don’t know what first grabbed me about baseball. Maybe it was the excitement of the announcers when something happened. Maybe it was that the home team was winning and so I felt like I had “chosen” correctly to root for the Royals. Whatever the reason, the next day would be my baseball baptism.

I would love to tell you all of the details of the morning, but all I can remember is climbing into my dad’s old Audi (I think it was an Audi 100) and spending the 30 minute drive in overload knowing that I was going to see the Royals in person. This was to be one of the two most memorable moments of 1977 (I’ll thank George Lucas for the other one).

When we arrived at then-Royals Stadium, I had a hundred questions. They started as we approached the parking attendant. “Dad, what’s that guy do?” “Dad, did you see that truck?” “Dad, can we get cotton candy?” “Dad who are the Royals playing?”

“He takes money for the parking lot, yes I did, we’ll see and the Toronto Blue Jays,” he answered. We had just gotten out of the car.

I think we parked pretty close, but at 4 years old and in anticipation of what was about the happen, the stadium looked like it was a million miles away.

When we finally got into the stadium, we walked to our seats and as we walked down the concourse, I could see the bright green of the Royals Stadium artificial turf flash through the tunnels. I had never seen anything so…well, so green.

I asked dad about and he said that it was artificial turf, which led me to refer to all artificial turf as just “turf” for quite a few years. It wasn’t until someone offered my surf and turf that I realized my mistake.

Dad patiently answered questions about what the scoreboard was all about and when John Mayberry was going to hit (I remember being disappointed when he walked, instead of hitting a home run).

Looking at the box scored on the indispensable website Baseball-Reference.com, I see that Brett led off and that Tom Poquette, who never quite lived up to the early promise, hit third. The Royals collected five doubles (they hit a lot of doubles and triples in those days) and that Larry Gura pitched seven efficient innings of six hit ball to get the win as the Royals beat the Blue Jays 8-2. Most of those facts I don’t remember. For some reason, i remember the name Otto Velez. Maybe because he hit a home run for the Blue Jays.

All I remember is that the Royals won, Dad had an answer for every questions. I think we got cotton candy and to that point in my life, it was the best day that ever existed.

A Little Fun with Baseball Numbers

Do you know this man? He almost won the American League Most Valuable Player Award once.
Do you know this man? He almost won the American League Most Valuable Player Award once.

by Cole Pepper

This one is mostly going to be for my Kansas City friends or for people who really like to look at old baseball statistics, you know, the nerds.

Take two players. Here’s player A:

162 games, 98 runs, 189 hits, 32 doubles, 14 triples, 23 homers, 112 RBI, 16 stolen bases and a .312 batting average. For some advanced numbers .885 OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage).

Here’s Player B:

139 games, 105 runs, 176 hits, 32 doubles, 13 triples, 22 homers, 88 RBI, 14 stolen bases and .312 batting average. For some advanced numbers, .905 OPS.

Player A finished as the runner up in the American League MVP voting. Player B finished 13th in the voting. They played on the same team.

These were the statistics for the 1977 Royals teammates Al Cowens (player A) and George Brett (player B). At the time, Cowens was 25, Brett was 24. Brett batted leadoff most of the year, was the defending batting champ and for the second year in a row, was chosen as an All-Star.

Cowens lost out to Rod Carew in the MVP voting and at first glance you would be impressed that there were two of the top 13 MVP candidates from the same team. Until you realize that five Yankees finished in the top 11 (Graig Nettles, Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson and Mickey Rivers). Heck, the Red Sox had three in the top 10 (Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and some guy named Bill Campbell, nicknamed Soup like every other guy name Campbell in history, who led the league with 31 saves that year while averaging two innings per outing).

What got my attention was how similar the numbers were for Cowens and Brett at about the same point in their careers. 1977 was Cowens’ breakthrough season. He had never hit .300 in his three previous big league seasons, had never driven in 100 and never had more than 155 hits, much less the 189 he collected that year. He also won the gold glove in right field in a year when he had 14 outfield assists (Cowens always had a good arm, hitting double digits in outfield assists in his first four seasons in the big leagues). Cowens did commit six errors, a lot for a right fielder.

From looking at the numbers, you would have thought that these two young hitters who could both run, had good gap power and emerging home run pop would both be in line for great careers.

Instead, Brett went on to the Hall of Fame, while Cowens never again hit .300 again, never drove in more than 78, and never collected more than 152 hits in a season. What happened? Was the 1977 season just a flash in the pan? Statistically, yes it was.

Cowens had been a long shot, drafted in the 75th round in 1969. Mike Piazza is the famous late round draft success story. Clearly, he had a better career than Cowens, but Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round as a favor.

Cowens had his jaw broken by a pitch in 1979 and I recall the jaw guard that Cowens had attached to his batting helmet. It would be easy to say that the broken jaw was the catalyst for his career tailing off. The Royals traded Cowens to the Angels for Willie Aikens and two utility infielders, Todd Cruz and Rance Mulliniks.

I suppose its a less in two things. First, just because a young hitter has a good year, it doesn’t mean they will keep having good years (it’s just statistically more likely to happen). Second, baseball favors outfield defense a whole lot less now than it did in 1977.