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

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?

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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″]

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.

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).

 

Jaguars Defense Will Look and Feel Different

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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.

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

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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.