And so begins the next New Era in Jacksonville Jaguars football, with Blake Bortles getting his first NFL start. Irrational exuberance is the watchword: I know of at least one person who benched Aaron Rodgers for Das Wunderkind in fantasy football, in what was an exercise in wish fulfillment writ large. (If that’s a money league, buddy, I want in next year).
The start of the game, despite a Toby Gerhart fumble 12 seconds in, was encouraging. Bortles’ passes were crisper than fresh celery, taking advantage of strong line play in the first couple dozen plays. He had the time to make reads, which resulted in a nine-completion, 83-yard first quarter; also, Denard Robinson looks to be learning the running back position, even taking over some inside runs (which may be preferable to leaving that duty to the motorless Gerhart). The defense had yet to be exposed, yet.
Small victories, right?
Jags fans sat and waited for the collapse, but Bortles kept them in the game until the second half. Deep to Allen Hurns, then a TD toss to a dude they just picked up from the Saints practice squad. If it were up to Bortles and our scrapheap wideouts, the Jags would have won. But the outcome this week was determined by that festering wound we call a pass defense.
The secondary, with or without the concussed Dwayne Gratz, is not NFL caliber. Probably, with some coaching and acclimation, they could function reasonably well in the Canadian Football League. Maybe not. The issue, after all, is coverage, and Canadian fields are even bigger, with even more open space.
Down 10, the Chargers began to jump Bortles' routes. The second half was ugly, yes, with Keenan Allen looking like J-Smooth in his big game against the Ravens —catching bombs from the Chargers QB.
Despite the obliteration of the third quarter, the Jags were only down 13. Compare that to the Colts catastrophe or the can of whoopass the Washington Racistnames opened on them, and it does …
In the last two decades, Jaguars fans have seen plenty of quarterback changes. Brunell for the ineffective Beuerlein, which no one mourned. Leftwich for Brunell, in Del Rio's first year, which occasioned racially-coded disses of B-Left the whole time he was here. Garrard for Leftwich, which happened with all of the smoothness of an Arab Spring revolution. Gabbert in, Gabbert out.
And now, hopefully, the last one for a while: Bortles for Henne.
Bortles took over in the second half, the team down 30-love, after one of the worst halves of football in franchise history, and the fans (most of whom stuck around through halftime, remarkably) cheered him as loudly as they booed the doomed Henne. He looked decisive and — in garbage time especially — competent. Not on that Kirk-Cousins-against-the-Jaguars way, maybe, but he made his reads, evaded pressure, and did all of the things a fan would want him to do. And hey, it's worth noting that the Jags won the second half 17-14, if you’re into moral victories.
Bortles is the team's third attempt in two decades at drafting a franchise quarterback. He is singular, in that he has the smarts and toughness Leftwich had, but (unlike Leftwich) he is guaranteed to be beloved in this market unless he is a Gabbert-level flop. He will be allowed to make his mistakes. And so too will Coach Gus, who starts the second straight year in an 0-3 hole.
The offensive line, an embarrassment all year, seemed to hold a little better for the rookie … at least this outing. The open question though is what happens to all of this good feeling when the novelty wears off. There were times in the first half, for example, when the defense appeared at times to have quit, or at least to lack the conditioning to play all out on a warm September afternoon.
During a tightly scheduled post-game press conference, Gus Bradley sounded very enthusiastic. And why wouldn't he? Despite being stomped on the field, the …
It’s true that any player on an NFL field is among the best in the world at the game of football. That includes Chad Henne. The Jags quarterback is in his seventh year now, having been drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the second round, and he’s always looked almost good enough.
The Jags thought so when they brought him back this year to be a veteran bridge between the dumpster fire that was Blaine Gabbert and the certain Valhalla that the Blake Bortles epoch will be. But no one has really been sold on Henne since he got here — and Sunday’s loss in Washington won’t silence the doubters.
The Jaguars managed to put together a full half of competence in Philadelphia, but all they managed to do in the first half against the Washington Racistnames — yes, the team’s official name is a racial slur; no, we will not print it — was injure a couple of superstars. Get well soon, RGIII and D-Jax. The funny thing was that when RGIII was in, struggling with this year’s offense, Washington looked almost as bad as the Jags. Once he was replaced by Kirk Cousins, however, and the offense was executed more efficiently, the Jaguars went from being exposed on offense to being exposed on both sides of the ball.
Given the 10 sacks the Jags allowed, there clearly were plenty of occasions when Henne didn’t have any time in the pocket. The interior line has been a liability since the preseason, and likely will be 14 more times to come. Even when Henne did have time in the pocket, however, he looked tentative making reads downfield. He tends, even this late in his career, to lock in on receivers — and he made the Washington defense look like a top-five unit. Which it isn’t. At all.
Well before halftime, the Jags looked like a beaten team — worn out and demoralized on a 68-degree day in Landover. There were a couple of nice moments in the second half, but overall the Jags looked ragged and ragtag. Which …
Every industry has its performance review season. Most of us who spend our waking lives in cubicles had performance reviews at year's end. Those whose jobs are in college basketball, however, face ongoing performance reviews, and one of the best locally just had his performance deemed lacking.
Cliff Warren was fired as Jacksonville University's head basketball coach — in a way, a predictable move. A 12-18 season; before that, two seasons averaging 20 losses between them, prompting the athletic director to act.
But was firing Warren the right move? Even after three losing seasons, it's important to be mindful of what else the former Georgia Tech assistant coach did in almost a decade at the helm of the Dolphins program. He got JU to the NIT twice (and beat the No. 1 seed one year), led the team to a victory over Billy Donovan's Florida Gators, and built up the program after Hugh Durham's departure.
His record over nine years — 126-150 — isn't great, but if the one-win season in 2005 is factored out, that's eight years of .500 ball. How much more can JU really expect in D-1 basketball in the 21st century?
JU's athletic director, Brad Edwards, came from Newberry in 2012 to take this job (missing the good years Warren had). He hasn't leveled with the media about why he dumped the coach. "It's not just won-loss record," he told the Times-Union. "The institution wants to move in a new direction. That's all I want to say, and can say. These decisions are never easy."
True. Live long enough, and you will fire someone (and be fired). Still, in this case, it's hard for me to imagine a new direction that will be appreciably better than the one taken throughout the Warren era.
We don't usually think of JU's NCAA Atlantic Sun conference as a powerhouse. However, it's a Division I conference, and has some schools with significant student bodies. Kennesaw State has about 25,000 students, and quite a few others have more than 10,000 students. JU, with about …
People often discuss the idea of Old Florida — the time before suburban sprawl and superhighways, when roads like U.S. 1 were the main thoroughfares into the cracker boroughs of Northeast Florida. That Old Florida ethos — of Rebel flags and casual violence against varmints — is a thing of the past … for the most part. Some vestiges, however, live on.
In Glen St. Mary, on a lovely late-winter Sunday afternoon the first week of March, the cops busted a cockfighting ring. The police found 19 men and women and nine children, some as young as 3, watching or participating in the action. Six people were arrested; 10 others face charges.
There's no doubt that cockfighting is a vicious sport (if you want to call it that): roosters peck at each other, ripping at eyes and organs, drawing blood, while a mob surrounds them in a perverse pastiche of family values. Show that to the kids — build a bridge over the generation gap from feathers and viscera.
But in some ways, there's an honesty to that — though probably not one appreciated outside cockfighting circles.
I reached out to Lauren Trad — a local activist who did as much as anyone to ensure that Duval County residents have the right to have hens in their yards — to get her take on the bust. She was unsurprisingly horrified. "I only advocate for hens," she says. "Eggs. Not fighting. Backyard hens are treated like pets, and their lives are filled with love and caring. Cockfighting is barbaric and cruel."
She's right. So, too, was Mark Twain, when he called it an "inhuman sort of entertainment."
Nonetheless, we must admit there is a strong case that cockfighting is part of a larger tradition of entertainment for rural people with little else to do beyond imposing violence on the natural world by setting animals athwart each other in a life-and-death struggle. After all, it's taken place in North America for centuries — as late as the late 1930s, in fact, Florida was a nationwide hub — …
Time was, I was really excited about NFL free agency (which began this week), the way fans are. That led to some columns that are, in retrospect, hilarious, like this absolute gem from 2008:
"I know deep down within that the decision to sign Jerry Porter was the right move. Matt Jones and Reggie Williams have flashed real potential, to be sure. But Jerry Porter has a different gear than either of those guys is capable of delivering. And a different rep; he will draw double coverage, and David Garrard will take advantage of it."
The only thing Jerry Porter drew was a check from the Weavers — great observation there, in a column that also gushed about the signing of Drayton Florence. So when it comes to free agency, I've learned that, sometimes, the best way forward is to avoid the big splashy moves. This year's free agency pool illustrates that all too well. Those who expect silver bullets are better off taking their chances with a can of Coors.
One thing I've noticed about the current class is that so many of the most attractive candidates are recent Jags. Linebacker Daryl Smith and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe — both on the Ravens' roster at the end of last year — are available for reacquisition. As well, Maurice Jones-Drew, whose performance has been widely discussed and often derided by fans and media alike, is one of the best tailbacks in the '14 pool.
What does that say? For starters: Maybe the Jags were too quick to cut bait on Smith or Monroe. Maybe the team needs to bring back MJD on a short deal with heavy incentives. There just isn't a lot to get excited about, as a position-by-position breakdown makes clear.
Quarterback, for example, offers little that's an upgrade even from Chad Henne — whom the Jaguars re-signed last week to a two-year, $8 million contract. Busted-up-and-old Michael Vick is the biggest name — and as the Eagles learned last year, he didn't have much tread left on the tires. Beyond those, a lot of …
After months in the shadows, Clay County's aspirations to lure a Big League Dreams franchise to Middleburg are finally getting the public scrutiny they so richly deserve. Last month, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced that it's investigating allegations that the Clay County Development Authority violated state open records and public meeting laws while negotiating a deal with the company to build a baseball-themed entertainment park.
Joe Riley, one of two Clay County residents who filed complaints with the FDLE last fall, has accused the county of negotiating with Big League Dreams outside of the Sunshine law. And indeed, last year the county commission asked one of its board members to privately hammer out a deal (though the county insists this is not illegal). You need only read the county auditor's report to realize why they'd want to keep the public in the dark: This is a sucker's bet, a sham that only the gullible could support.
The deal would work like this: Clay County would agree to build the facility, which the county estimated would cost $15 million but Michael T. Price, the auditor, says would more likely clock in around $25 million or higher. To pay for it, the county would use the projected leftovers from a road-construction bond it took out five years ago, as it can't secure bonds for the project without putting it to a public referendum. (Big League Dreams generously offered to lend the county the money to build Big League Dreams' facility, which the county would then pay back to Big League Dreams, with interest. For some reason, Price does not think this a wise move.) In exchange for this investment, the county would receive a portion of Big League Dreams' profits for the next 30 years.
A very small portion. Between 1997 and 2011, Big League Dreams paid out between $11 million and $16 million to its nine government partners, all of which are in the Southwest (the Middleburg deal is its first venture east of the …
Greyhound racing is, by all accounts, a dying sport. Less popular with each passing year, it seems more and more that the tracks that still exist aren't there because they themselves are a draw, but because of an arcane state law passed in the '90s that allows tracks to feature lucrative poker tables if they run at least 90 percent of the number of races they held in 1996. So even as fewer and fewer people gamble on the dogs — and even as the industry hemorrhages money (Florida tracks lost $35 million in 2012) — the tracks remain.
Poker is not without its problems. People can get in over their heads and spend money they don't have. But one thing poker tables don't have is a body count.
The same can't be said for greyhound racing.
On Feb. 15, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times published an exposé of the industry. Drawing on newly available records, the investigation found that 74 dogs had died on racetrack properties in Florida in the last six months of 2013 — one every three days, on average. Jacksonville tracks were not immune.
One greyhound, the 3-year-old, fawn-colored Penrose Jake, had his final race at Orange Park Kennel Club last August. Jake started strong that night, but then slammed into another dog and finished last. A few hours later, following a 127-race career, he was dead. The track didn't say what caused Jake's death. It didn't have to: While Florida lawmakers recently began forcing tracks to report greyhound deaths, the tracks don't always provide detailed information about what happened.
In early September, a greyhound named Hallo Spice Key died after being sprinted around a Jacksonville track in the pre-dawn hours, long before a race. "It appears the death could have been prevented had the greyhound not been sprinted in the dark," the report concluded.
Most of these deaths are, in fact, preventable, the dogs victims of the industry's greed. Thirty-one dogs in that six-month span died or were euthanized for race-related …
As we approach the NFL Scouting Combine and Draft, all the talk has shifted from the top-shelf players — Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel — to a player projected to be a mid-rounder just a couple weeks ago: University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who rocked the testosterone-fueled pigskin world by announcing earlier this month that he's gay.
The All-American and Southeastern Conference co-defensive player of the year, Sam was vital to his squad. He was also a rarity — a player known to be gay by teammates who protected his secret and valued his play regardless.
Sam reportedly wanted to come out before the Senior Bowl in January, but his agent talked him down. Sam then planned to come out sometime between that game and the combine in May, but reporters started approaching him with pointed questions about his dating life, in effect pressing the issue.
So Sam announced. A shitstorm ensued.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated posted an article full of on-background sources claiming that coming out would damage Sam's draft stock. This quote, from an unnamed general manager, seems the most salient: "The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘How will drafting him affect your locker room?' And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it's going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room."
Some Jaguars would disagree. Uche Nwaneri staked out this rather evolved position to ESPN: "I would welcome a gay teammate same as any other. Something about team sports really transcends color and orientation. In between the lines, it's all football. Purest form of it. I don't know how it will play out in specific locker rooms around the league, but I know that as adults and professionals, the only thing that should matter is the game and the team."
Tyson Alualu — the first-round …
Acouple of weeks back, on Folio Weekly's blog, I wrote an appreciation of George Zimmerman's "painting" of Angela Corey. That, combined with Wes Denham's excellent analysis of the painting in last week's Crime City ["Red Becomes Her"], likely stand as the last critique of Zimmerman's visual arts in this magazine for the foreseeable future.
After all, the Z-man's forte isn't really painting, but self-promotion. Those who wonder where he would turn up next can't be surprised by his foray into the sports world — that is, if you can call celebrity boxing a sport.
Promoter Damon Feldman, known for his fixed celebrity fights, booked the portly pugilist for a "fight" on March 15 against gone-and-almost-forgotten rapper DMX, most notable for poignant cultural-touchstone singles like "Where Tha Hood At" and "What These Bitches Want."
Feldman announced this fight on the eve of what would have been Trayvon Martin's 19th birthday, an especially classy touch. Following a thunderstorm of outrage — imagine that — over the weekend, he announced that he'd cancelled the fight. Then he said he was rethinking the cancellation, and that there would be a press conference on Tuesday (after this publication goes to press) announcing his "final decision." "Zimmerman," he told one website, "still wants to fight."
Whether or not this thing actually happens, it's still a remarkable footnote in the seemingly endless George Zimmerman saga — and more evidence that Zimmerman (a dead ringer for King Hippo from Mike Tyson's Punch Out) will do just about anything to monetize reasonable doubt and the highest-profile loss of the Corey era. This, as you might expect, has led some to criticize him.
One such critic: Jacksonville defense attorney John Phillips, who is working on behalf of Jordan Davis' parents in the legal action against gas station gunman Michael Dunn, and who is vigilantly opposed to Stand Your Ground.
"The first thing everyone needs to realize is that this …