A Quick Thought On CTE

I don’t think we have seen anywhere near the full picture of the consequences of a link between playing football and CTE yet. Sure, some players have ended their careers early and cited CTE as at least playing a part in their decision to walk away, but those players have no idea if they have the disease and they won’t know until after they die because scientists can still only test for the disease in a deceased person. You wanna know what could really change football forever? The day that scientists figure out how to test whether or not a player has CTE while they are still playing football.

Believe me when I tell you that I understand. I understand that the picture I chose to include with this article is beautiful. I understand that the same picture is also viscous and visceral and devastating…and that’s why it is beautiful. It represents what football players risk every time they step on the field. They put their health at serious risk to entertain us and they get paid exceptionally well to do so.

One of those serious health risks, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, wasn’t even connected in any way to the game of football until 2005, but since then CTE has become one of the biggest ongoing stories for America’s most popular game. Some have said that CTE threatens the future of football itself. The recent Boston University study that found CTE in 110 of 111 former NFL players brains has thrust the disease, which has been referred to as the ‘NFL’s boogeyman’, back into the spotlight.

Trying to argue that football and CTE are not related is becoming harder and harder to do for those who still believe that a link doesn’t exist. I am not one of those. I am a football fan though. I want to see the game continue to thrive and if that is going to happen then football can’t ignore the real implications that playing football has when it comes to players long term health.

We still know so little about CTE, but the little we know is enough to make at least some players wary about continuing to play. What happens when a test is designed for CTE in a living player? What happens when we have a better idea of when the disease starts and how it progresses? What happens when the science gets to a point where a player might be able to take a test in the middle of the season and know that three days ago he didn’t have CTE and now he does?

Maybe most players would feel the way that New York Jets safety Jamal Adams said he feels about CTE. When asked about the disease and player safety at a fan forum on Monday, Adams responded, “Literally if I had the perfect place to die. I’d die on the field.” I still think the vast majority of players would feel that way even if they knew that they had the disease, but there is not anyway to be sure until we actually get to a point where they CAN know that they have the disease.

What happens when a player can’t assume that it is someone else’s problem? When they can no longer hear stats guessing that up to ten percent of NFL players have CTE and assume that they are part of the ninety percent? It’s not the only factor. As we learn more we can make the game safer and learn at what age kids should start playing the game to reduce the risk of CTE. However, I think a test for CTE in a living brain is the next truly game changing domino to fall.

 

 

Telvin is ‘Heated’

“There is still a culture here that needs to be broken before one can be created.” That’s one of several things that Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith had to say after Tuesday’s OTA.

Telvin is trying to do his part to remake the culture in Jacksonville after watching the team win just eleven games in his first three years in the league, but is frustrated with the progress that he has seen thus far. Smith felt the need to try to push that message after Tuesday’s OTA when he pulled the defense together to share where they are compared to where they should be at this point despite going through the first week plus of OTA’s without either starting safety and two of their top three corners.

When asked about what he said to his teammates Telvin deflected from talking about many details but did say, “With the players that we have I just think as a team we should be further than we are.” Telvin was also asked about where he thought the team was behind right now and he candidly responded, “Just our mentality. The mindset of this team. Things that we should be using to beat opponents are still beating us.”

Telvin will be playing the same position, weakside linebacker, this season, but the circumstances under which he will be playing it have certainly changed. He has spent three seasons knowing that he could turn and see Paul Posluszny standing out there with him at the middle linebacker spot. This year when Telvin turns to find the MIKE it will be second year linebacker Myles Jack. There is little doubt that Jack is the better athlete compared to Posluszny but there is even less doubt about how comfortable Poz’s teammates were with him patrolling the middle of the defense. Jack still has to earn that trust, and it’s not hard to project that part of the frustration that Telvin was venting today was about just that.

When Telvin was asked about the athleticism that Myles Jack can add to that spot Smith was quick to say, “I don’t want to say athleticism in the next couple week will change anything…a quote that we’ve been saying to one another is that hard work beats talent any day.” Telvin also talked about how much work Jack has been putting in saying that he is growing.

Today the clear message from Telvin was that growth, whether from Jack or the defense as a whole, isn’t coming quickly enough. This time of year is important and is even more important for a team that won just three games last season. “I understand that right now we are making the team. It’s not going to be when we go to training camp and we say ‘OK, now let’s turn it on.’ We are going to decide where this team goes and our mentality right now.”

 

 

The Big Blake Takeaway

A couple of disclaimers before I get into what Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles actually said during his media availability today. 1. We all know that what Blake has to say right now has nothing to do with how well he is going to throw the ball in September. If you’re reaction to everything Blake right now is that nothing matters, you don’t have to read any more of this…but you probably will anyway. 2. Blake has always handled this part of being a professional quarterback well. Blake is honest and has been since he got to Jacksonville. Facing the music and answering difficult questions candidly has never been an issue with Blake. He clearly gets that part of the job, but hasn’t made it any easier on himself with his on-field play.

It is not surprising that the first few minutes of Blake’s media availability today was spent talking about his time in California and the offseason work he has been doing to improve his mechanics. In the middle of that line of questioning Blake was asked if he feels closer to the way he did going into the 2015 season when he threw for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns. Blake responded, “I would say similar to 2015, definitely nothing like last year. It’s a little different. It’s something that I feel better about and I think it just helps me be a more efficient quarterback and passer.”

News flash: Bortles thinks the plan that he and the team had for him last offseason wasn’t a good one. I’m not going to debate whether the plan was any good. The results speak for themselves, but I do want to provide a word of warning here.

This year’s plan being different from last year’s plan doesn’t mean that the 2017 plan will be a successful one. Sending Blake out to California seems like a reasonable thing to do. All of us, including Blake, know that his mechanics need to improve. Having Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone’s influence will likely be a positive thing considering that Marrone is replacing one of the worst head coaches in NFL history. There are reasons to want to feel optimistic, but those feelings have preceded some sad, stark realities for nearly the last decade in Jacksonville. This is, after all, the offseason. A time where hope abounds.

I don’t remember anyone saying a word about how bad last offseason’s plan was until the 2016 season was slammed off the rails by errant pass after errant pass by Bortles. We don’t know how good or bad the team’s offseason plan has been this year. That will be judged by how good or bad the team plays.

I like what I heard from Blake today, but I usually like what I hear from Blake. Which takes us back to point number one way up at the top of this article. Talk is cheap, even if it is honest and compelling talk.

All Eyes on Bortles as Jaguars OTA’s Get Underway

There is little doubt about who the biggest story is as the Jaguars get their OTA’s underway on Tuesday. Blake Bortles. The Jaguars have made a clear bet that Bortles will be able to, at a minimum, steer the ship through the 2017 season. What does that look like as they enter the heart of the offseason?

There will be reports and tweets and questions about Bortles during and following every practice of the offseason, and there should be. The mechanical issues in Bortles’ throwing motion have been discussed and dissected by people who understand what he is doing right and wrong much better than I can. Head coach Doug Marrone was asked about Blake’s mechanics a couple of weeks ago after the Jaguars rookie mini-camp and he said, “I think improved, there’s no doubt about it. There are certain things that I think you guys are able to go see there, as far as his elbow and his arm, it’s much improved. I think there are a lot of things we’re still working on, along with everyone else at this stage. We’re trying to build it up so when we get into the OTAs – it’s like anything else, he will, as anybody else will, benefit more if we’re throwing 100 footballs to 150; if we throw 150, he’ll be better. If we throw 200, he’ll be better. If we throw 250, he’ll be better. What we’re doing now is trying to build him up and build the arm strength and all the other things, along with all of our quarterbacks to get there. The more he throws, the better we’ll be.”

I fully expect Blake’s mechanics to look better as the OTA’s get underway. The story would be if they don’t. If that is the case then the noise regarding the way that Tom Coughlin and company have chose to approach the quarterback situation this offseason goes from a “Wait and see” whisper to a “What are they doing?” yell.

The results of his mechanics have been clear. The Jaguars haven’t been winning and Bortles has been an inaccurate thrower. He has never completed more than 58.9% of his passes in a season through the first three years of his career. Last season Bortles 58.9 completion percentage was good enough for 28th in the league, just behind Brock Osweiler at 59%. In case it isn’t clear yet, that is bad.

That, I believe, is the heart of the issue. How much more accurate a passer will Blake Bortles be in 2017 than he was in 2016? That entails much more than just his completion percentage.

A more accurate passer is a less intercepted passer. Blake has thrown 51 interceptions in 46 games. 11 of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns which is the most through a player’s first three seasons in NFL history.

A more accurate passer not only completes more passes, but completes those passes for more yards. The idea here is pretty simple. If you hit a receiver in stride they have a better opportunity to maintain their momentum and gain more yards after the catch. That is more preferable to, let’s say, forcing a receiver to stop their route and adjust to the football by contorting in mid air or punting a ball into the air off of their foot.

I expect that the stories about Blake’s “new” mechanics will be positive over the course of the next three months, but we all know the truth before we read a word of it. None of it matters until Blake shows that he can uphold those mechanics with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney stampeding towards him on September 10.

My Five 2017 Summer Flicks

To say that I am excited about the casting news today that Tom Hardy will be playing Venom would be a drastic understatement. Tom Hardy is my favorite working actor and he just got announced to play my favorite comic book character of all time. So, yeah, I’m a little excited about that news, and it has got me in the mood to talk movies. Here are the five 2017 summer releases that I am most excited about:

5. The Dark Tower (August 4) – If you have ever read a book and absolutely loved it then you know the mix of excitement and nerves you feel when a movie based on it is announced. I love the Stephen King books, but it will be hard to capture the scope of those books in a movie. The preview didn’t do anything to settle down my fears with this one, but I am a fan of Stringer Bell Idris Elba and I’m still pretty amped to see the journey to the tower come to life.

4. American Made (September 29) – For the purposes of this article the summer season is through the end of September even if summer does officially end on September 22nd. It’s my list and I will build it however I wish. I don’t know a lot about American Made, but what I do know, I like. The IMDB summary is pretty simple, “A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 80’s.” The film will reunite Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman who teamed up previously for Edge of Tomorrow a movie that I really enjoyed except for the ending. Seriously, Edge of Tomorrow would have been one of my favorite films of 2014 if Tom Cruise’s character *spoiler alert* would have died. Maybe this time around they nail the landing as well as they did the rest of the routine.

3. It Comes At Night (June 9) – I know very little about the actual premise of this one and I am trying to keep it that way. I can tell based on the little that I have read that it is a psychological and claustrophobic thriller, which is right up my alley. If you know any more details than that you can feel free to keep them to yourself. The early reviews on this are great and have me excited to see it.

2. Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) – The 15 minutes we got of Tom Holland as Spidey in Civil War was the best 15 minutes of big screen Spider-Man we have ever gotten. The airport scene was pure joy to watch and Spidey was finally a flying, wise cracking image of what I had envisioned him to be when I was reading the comics. Marvel knows exactly how to handle our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and now we get the full film version of it for the first time. Nothing in the MCU has really disappointed me yet and I don’t expect my favorite Marvel character to start that trend.

1. Dunkirk (July 21) – Tom Hardy starring in a movie is likely to top this kind of list for me any year. Christopher Nolan releasing a movie is likely to top this kind of list any year. On July 21st I get a Nolan movie starring Tom Hardy. I don’t need any more details than that…I’m all in. Throw in that it’s a World War II film about the evacuation of Dunkirk which is one of the more incredible story from a war full of incredible stories and I am beyond hyped. The preview is incredible. Nobody is making movies as big as Nolan is and relying so heavily on practical effects. They feel real because he really is building a rig so that the actors are fighting in a rotating hallway in Inception and a big rig really is being flipped in The Dark Knight and he really did drop a plane in The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan movies are an experience and I can’t wait until July 21st when I am sitting in the IMAX and experiencing his latest endeavor.

What did I miss? What are you looking forward to watching this summer? Like. Comment. Share. Discuss.

Jaguars OL Earl Watford: My First Impression

“Jacksonville is a place with amazing fans right off the top.” That was Earl Watford’s response when I asked him about what the conversation about the Jaguars was during his first four seasons in the league as an offensive lineman for the Arizona Cardinals on Jaguars Today. You can check out the full interview here, just skip ahead to the 1 hour and 9 minute mark.

Watford is a forgotten name in the Jaguars offseason plan, but has a chance to make a real impact on an offensive line that still has question marks at both guard spots. Watford was a fourth round pick of Arizona in 2013 and struggled to break into the Cardinals starting lineup until last season when he started eleven games. Eight of those starts came at right guard and three at right tackle.

There appears to be a clearer path to playing time on the Jaguars line at one of the guard spots. AJ Cann is one of the presumptive starters, but shouldn’t have anything locked down after a disappointing 2016 season, and the other guard spot is a mystery with second round pick Cam Robinson and Branden Albert being the two names most often mentioned there right now.

Brandon Linder, Cam Robinson and Branden Albert appear to be the best three lineman that the Jaguars have (as soon as Albert reports to the team) but there are big questions about where two of those names are going to play. Based on performance last season I think that Linder should be the only presumptive starter in that group while the other four positions ought to be opened up for the best man to win the job. However, we all know how “open competitions” usually go. Given the draft/free agency capital invested into them it would appear likely that Branden Albert, Cam Robinson, Brandon Linder, AJ Cann and Jermy Parnell will be the team’s starting five.

That creates an uphill battle for Watford to earn playing time, but not an impossible one. How long of a leash will AJ Cann be given in his third year? I don’t think Cann should be handed a starting job and I certainly believe he should feel the pressure to hold on to that spot, if he earns it, all season long.

 

When It Comes To Albert There’s No Need To Worry

There is no doubt, for me at least, that the most interesting tidbit to come out of Jaguars mini-camp were the comments of head coach Doug Marrone regarding his lack of communication with presumptive left tackle Branden Albert. It is rare for a coach to answer a question that honestly about something that there really isn’t any need to answer at all. Especially when you consider how little information there is to share.

The Jaguars traded for Branden Albert. Branden Albert said he expects his contract to be reworked. The Jaguars have made it their very public stance that they won’t rework that contract. Neither side has been in communication with the other, outside of the shots fired by the Jaguars representatives towards Albert.

Marrone hasn’t spoken with Albert. He didn’t have to say that. He could have said, “I’m only going to talk about the players that are here.” We have all seen coaches and executives handle these kinds of situations that way before, but he didn’t. Instead, Marrone answered in a very blunt, honest fashion. He said he hasn’t talked to him. He said that it makes him more frustrated than angry. Frustrated that he just doesn’t know what Albert is thinking and can’t give Tom Coughlin or Dave Caldwell any more information than that, and the he can’t speak FOR Albert because he simply hasn’t spoke TO Albert.

I am surprised that Albert hasn’t been in communication with the team, but I really don’t care that he isn’t here for the voluntary portion of the offseason. Albert has been around the league long enough (going into his 10th season) and has played the game at a high enough level (2 Pro Bowl selections with his last coming in 2015) to know how to get himself ready for the season. You can check out Albert’s Instagram page here to see him working out in his spare time right now. If he doesn’t show up on June 13th for the first mandatory portion of the offseason the conversation will drastically change, but for now it is a bit of a non story.

Albert is almost certainly one of the Jaguars five best offensive lineman when he gets here and is therefore a likely starter whenever that times comes. The building of chemistry during this time of year is blown out of proportion, in my opinion, especially considering how little and what kind of work players can actually do on field with coaches.

The discussion about a possible battle for the left tackle spot between Cam Robinson and Branden Albert is something I will entertain more when Albert reports to the team which I fully expect to be when the mandatory portion of the offseason begins. After all, there aren’t any other places where Albert is going to get paid nine million dollars this year. I think that, ultimately, will get Albert eager to put on a Jaguars uniform.

Jaguars Free Agency Primer

Free agency is right around the corner and the Jaguars are expected to be players in it…again. I’m looking forward to the day when the Jags are like the Packers and Steelers and Patriots and have drafted well enough that they can just use their cap space to hold onto their own players that they have drafted and developed and dip into free agency, but we clearly aren’t there yet.

A couple of notes as we head into the frenzy of the next couple of days…

1. Worrying about how much money your team (in this case that is likely the Jaguars) spends on a player is dumb. The Jaguars have nearly $80 million dollars to spend despite having been big players in free agency the last two years. They could land the top four free agents this year and STILL have no issue resigning anyone that they want (Allen Robinson, Telvin Smith, etc.). The cap keeps going up and up. The issue isn’t how much money a player costs, the issue is choosing the RIGHT PLAYER. That’s what matters. The Jaguars haven’t done that enough…and that’s a wild understatement.

2. Why are you still worried that they signed a guard for 12 million a year? I know, this largely goes back to my first point, but it’s important. If the cap is going to keep going up, then the money that teams can spend is going to keep going up which means the value of positions (like guard) that teams used to fill in for 5-6 million at the top end are going to go up. This is basic logic, but let me lay it out as simply as I can. A player is worth whatever a team is willing to pay them and if a team has more to spend then the player’s will make more money. Simple, right? Remember that when you start to ask, “Why did they spend…” Just stop and remember two things. They spent it 1. because that is what they had to spend to get a player they liked and 2. it isn’t your money…why are you worried about it? Worry about the player, not the contract.

3. I’ve been saying it for months and I’m not backing off of it now. If the Jaguars don’t land one of the four offensive guards that we’ve been talking about since before the season ended that would be a failure to me. They need help on the line and there are high end options available to them to get that help and they have enough money to land one. Get. It. Done.

Obviously more thoughts on free agency to come on Jaguars Today. You know where to find me. Comment. Share. Like.

Tim Tebow is A Met

Tebow is signing with the Mets and once again I’m watching the two sides of the Tebow dividing line fly to the extreme sides that sports most polarizing figures have always pushed fans to take. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle.

To say that it is offensive for Tim to play baseball is taking it too far. The guy loves to play sports and is still young enough to play them at a high level. Is he going to succeed playing baseball? I have no idea, but I’m not mad at him for trying.

If you think Tim Tebow playing baseball is a joke then you should direct your anger at the Mets for signing him. I don’t remember this kind of anger directed at Michael Jordan for ‘taking someone’s spot’ with the White Sox organization. Jordan packed stadiums everywhere he went on his baseball tour and that’s why he was in the organization…playing double A baseball…badly. The Mets to this point are going to have Tim playing in their Instructional League. Time will tell if Tim gets beyond that. I know if I were the Mets I would have him up just for the gate. That’s the honest truth.

You can also direct your anger at ESPN who tweeted out Tebow alongside other great two sport stars like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. That’s a joke, and it’s something worth getting upset about. Jackson was one of the best baseball and football players at the same time. Sanders is a hall of fame football player and was good enough to play major league baseball. Tebow flashed for a season in Denver and has accomplished nothing in football since, and just signed to play in an instructional league. Tim, as far I know, doesn’t ask to be portrayed in that kind of light. He just is. Why? Because he’s Tim Tebow and his name alone draws attention from those who support and hate him.

Tim has never struck me as anything other than a likeable, earnest guy. He is a lightning rod for controversy that has nothing to do with anything other than a guy being likeable and earnest and people thinking he isn’t good at what he is likeable and earnest doing. It’s really funny when you step back and think about it, and if your opinion on Tebow is too serious to take a step back and chuckle about it…lighten up. It’s not that serious.

Oh and one last thing, baseball doesn’t need Tim Tebow so hush with that nonsense, but Tebow doesn’t need baseball either, which is why I think his interest in playing is earnest.