Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


As most of you who have read my work here know, I was critical of the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting Blake Bortles with the third overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. It’s not that I felt Bortles wasn’t worthy of being a first round pick, I felt that neither he nor any other quarterback in the 2014 class was worthy of being drafted in the top 10. The better strategy would have been trading down and then selecting Bortles.

Based on how Bortles played as a rookie last year I felt justified. His stats were average and his play regressed as the season wore on. For the season, Bortles completed 280 of 475 passes for 2,908 yards, 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. In the stat that counts the most, the Jags won only three games. Bortles did not look like a quick-reacting, instinctive quarterback.

During the offseason, the Jags did everything they could to revamp the offense. Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch was replaced by Greg Olson, who I feel is one of the most underappreciated offensive minds in the NFL. Olson did a remarkable job last year working with rookie Derek Carr in Oakland. Kelly Skipper was also hired as the new running backs coach, Doug Marrone as the offensive line coach, and Nathaniel Hackett as the quarterbacks coach.

General Manager David Caldwell also brought in some new veteran players to help out Bortles. The biggest new name was tight end Julius Thomas from Denver whose presence will help young wide receivers Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson.

I have been able to watch the Jaguars twice so far this preseason and the improvement in Bortles play is remarkable. Friday night, in his most extensive action in the preseason, Bortles completed 20 of 29 throws for 245 yards, and a touchdown. For the preseason he is 39 of 60 for 461 yards and a touchdown.

Bortles is playing with more confidence, reacting quicker, making better decisions and getting the ball out of his hand quickly. He is doing a very good job going through his progressions and finding the open man. Most importantly, is he is not forcing throws into coverage and throwing interceptions. He does not have a turnover so far in the preseason.

Not only has Bortles completed a high percentage of his throws (65%), but his ball placement has been very good. Ball placement is what it’s all about. If a quarterback has good ball placement skills, the receivers have a chance to make plays after the catch and it greatly reduces the amount of turnovers a team has.

While I attribute much of Bortles improvement to Olson, a lot of credit has to go to Bortles also. He has done the work necessary to improve his game and that work should pay off in the success of the Jags.

While it may be too early to say that Jacksonville will challenge for a playoff spot, I will say that the Jaguars will find their way out of the AFC South cellar and could finish as high as second in the division. Bortles just may be a little better than I gave him credit for when he was coming out. If that turns out to be the case, give the credit to Greg Olson.

 

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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Erik Oehler
Guest Stars


Hi, Rex. It’s me, Erik. Great win Saturday!

I mean it, you guys looked great!

Yeah, I know! EJ looked good! I saw both of his touchdowns.

Yeah…that’s kinda what I’m calling about. Listen, I know you’re getting it from all sides right now. You’ve got guys in your ear, in the locker room, maybe even in the front office, and they’re telling you things. Things that don’t sound so bad right now. Things that, after yesterday, you might be thinking about.

Well, things like the Earth is flat, dinosaurs didn’t exist, EJ is the guy…but yeah, mainly EJ is the guy.

No, I know. I know. I’m not saying he didn’t play really well Saturday. He did! Absolutely! But Rex, I’ve been here a while. I’ve watched a LOT of bad quarterbacks. And I’ve watched a lot of new coaches try to work with those bad quarterbacks. It’s not pretty, Rex. But, I’ve got good news for you. You don’t have to do that! You went out there. You got not one, but TWO solid guys in Matt Cassell and FROM VIRIGINIA TECH, WEARING NUMBER 5, YOUR STARTING QUARTERBACK OF THE FUTURE, TYROOOOOOOOOOOOOD TAYYYYYYYLOR-AYLOR-LOR!!!!!!

No, I don’t really have a favorite.

I mean, yeah, if you’re asking me, Tyrod played pretty well…Great, even! And then there’s Matt right behind him. And then EJ.

Yeah, so actually it’s just like Tyrod and then Matt…yeah.

So basically, Tyrod.

Tyrod.

Tyrod.

NOOOOOO! REX! No, Rex don’t do this! Don’t do this Rex. Rex, I want to tell you a story. A story about wasted years and lessons learned. It’s a story about a guy named “Dick”. Dick got a head coaching gig, right around here actually, and inherited the previous guy’s quarterback: a first round pick. We’ll call him “JP”. Dick liked what he saw of JP in camp and in the preseason, and couldn’t believe what they were hearing about him from the year before.

Oh, just things like, “He’s a bust”, and “We should draft another quarterback”, and “We benched him for Kelly Holcomb”.

Yeah, THAT Kelly Holcomb.

Well, if you really want to know, they were 7-9, Rex.

SEVEN and NINE. Oh, no, he wasn’t benched after that year. Oh no! You see, he had played JUST well enough to start again the NEXT year, even over the guy they drafted. He got injured shortly into the season, and they switched to another in a long line of sub-par QB’s…

But that’s nothing like this situation, no, not at all…except…

Well, except, you didn’t draft EJ, right?

Yeah, you didn’t draft him, and, oh wait, this is weird…but, he did get benched last year, pretty quickly for Kyle Orton, right? Kinda like JP did, right?

And they were both first round picks weren’t they?

At least their names aren’t similar or anything. JP. EJ. Losman. Manual. Man. J. J. Man.

Yeah, not similar at all…

Oh, Dick’s second year? 7-9.

Third was 7-9, too.

Fourth was 3-6 and they fired him.

Yeah, I’m not sure how he lasted that long either. But you know, new owners now. Team with playoff potential. Shorter leash, if you know what I mean.

What do you mean what do I mean? I just mean that maybe you should go with your gut back before this game. Let’s pretend this game didn’t happen. Wipe it out. I mean, it wasn’t exactly Revis and Cromartie out there. So, go back. And what was your gut saying?

Yeah? Mine too. Mine too, Rex.

Why should we forget how that felt just because we feel another way now? And why should we start JP, I MEAN EJ, when we’ve got someone you “hand-picked“, that you knew back when you were with the Jets was something special.

Do the right thing, Rex. We’re ready for something exciting in Buffalo. Someone who takes off forward when the pocket collapses, not someone who runs for their life. We want someone with a non-acronym first name, even if it makes people who don’t follow football think you’re talking about a car repair at first. We want someone with a visor, dammit.

That’s right Rex. It’s Tyrod time.

Follow me on Twitter @erikoehler

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Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


 

There has been much discussion in the last few weeks as to whether or not Notre Dame should be forced to join a conference in football. As we all know, they have been an independent in football since they began playing football. They are one of the few truly national universities and as such they would like nothing better than to remain an independent.

Last year in the first year of the college football playoff era, the four teams that made it into the playoffs all won a conference championship game in order to earn their way into the playoffs. The four schools were: Florida State, Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State.

These schools all played a 12 game regular season schedule, plus a conference championship game. The Big 12 had a worthy champion last year in TCU but they were left out of the dance mainly because they didn’t play that 13th conference championships game. In my opinion, TCU got shafted last year and deserved to be in the playoffs.

This year Notre Dame has a very strong team with 21 starters returning plus two players who were starters in 2013 but missed 2014. Their overall depth is as strong as any team in college football this year.

Granted they don’t play in a conference, but they play 12 solid regular season games and have no FCS level cupcakes on their schedule. Looking at the playoff teams for last year, Alabama this year plays Middle Tennessee and Charleston Southern. Oregon plays Eastern Washington and Georgia State. Ohio State doesn’t play an FCS school but has games against Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Hawaii. Florida State plays Texas State and Tennessee – Chattanooga. Every practice these schools go through is tougher than those opponents. They should be penalized just for scheduling them.

While Notre Dame doesn’t play a conference championship game, they do have a schedule that includes: Texas, Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, USC, Stanford, Pitt and Boston College. I agree that if they don’t go 12-0 or at worst 11-1 they shouldn’t be in the playoff conversation, but if they do have an unblemished record they have to be in the discussion!

Looking at their team, they are strong at every position. The quarterback will be Malik Zaire who only has one start under his belt, but that was in their bowl game victory over LSU. In that game, Zaire completed 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 96 yards. While he isn’t the passer that Everett Golson was, he is more dangerous because of his elite running skills.

Last year’s leading rusher returns in Tarean Folson who ran for 889 yards in 2014. Six of the top seven receivers from a year ago return including their leading receiver William Fuller who had 76 receptions and 15 touchdowns in 2014.

The offensive line has four starters back, including Ronnie Stanley, who looks like a future first-round draft pick.

On defense just about everyone returns with the main loss being nose tackle Jerron Jones who injured a knee earlier in camp. Defensive tackle Sheldon Day will be a very high NFL draft pick and may be the best 3-technique in the country.

Linebacker just maybe the strongest positon on the team as five players who started games return led by All-American Jaylon Smith, who is one of the more athletic linebackers in the country.

In the secondary three starters return, as well as KeiVarae Russell, who missed last year but started every game in 2012 and 2013. He is the most talented player in the secondary and one of the best corners in the country.

Notre Dame will be a strong contender for playoff contention once the season begins next week. Like it or not, conference or no conference, my feeling is that if they go 12-0 they are in!

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Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


In Sunday afternoon’s NFL preseason game between Green Bay and Pittsburgh, the Packers lost star receiver Jordy Nelson to an ACL tear. For most teams, this would be a difficult loss to overcome, but in the case of the Packers, it may not be as bad as it looks.

Green Bay General Manager Ted Thompson does an excellent job putting a roster together, and he always finds ways to find players to fill in when a starter goes down. The best example of this was in 2010 season when over 10 players, many of whom were starters, were placed on injured reserve. The Pack won the Super Bowl that year.

Part of the reason is the system. They have, basically, been in the same offensive system since 2006 when Mike McCarthy became the Head Coach. Thompson and the Packers personnel department find plays who are fits for that system, and the coaching staff does an excellent job developing the players.

That is the case at the wide receiver position. In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Packers drafted three wide receivers. Fresno State’s Davante Adams was selected in the second round, Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis came in the fifth round, and Saginaw Valley’s Jeff Janis was a seventh round selection.

Adams became a significant player as a rookie, especially later in the season and the playoffs. Janis was a role player as a rookie, and Abbrederis was on injured reserve with an ACL injury. Adams and Janis have had strong camps this year and are ready for bigger roles. Abbrederis has spent most of the time on the sidelines recovering from a concussion, but when and if he is ready to play, he can be a contributor.

As for the depth chart, fifth year player Randall Cobb moves up to be the primary receiver. He was second in receptions to Nelson last year with 91 catches for 1287 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is ready to become a number one receiver in the league. Adams will become the starter opposite Cobb, and he is also ready for that role. As a rookie, he had 38 receptions, and now that he is comfortable within the system, he is ready to roll. He was one of the more physically gifted receivers in the 2014 draft and is capable of putting up big numbers.

Janis is an interesting player. Coming from Saginaw Valley, he wasn’t as developed as much as players who came from BCS level schools, but he has the natural physical traits. He has great size (6’3 – 220) and speed (4.4) and is becoming a much better route runner. In the first two preseason games this year, he has five receptions, and I would bet he will get a lot of playtime this week in the dress rehearsal game.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not underplaying the significance of Nelson’s injury, I just feel that because Green Bay is Green Bay, they will be able to overcome the injury much better than most. The Green Bay offense is a finely tuned machine led by Aaron Rodgers, who, in my opinion, is the best quarterback in football. While Nelson was his most trusted target, Rodgers will adapt, and the offense will still put up huge numbers.

USC Bans Alcohol from their Football Locker Room

This report came out late Monday evening. It was reported that last year during Head Coach Steve Sarkisian’s first season at USC, there was alcohol available to the coaches in the locker not only at home games but on the road as well. It was further reported that when Lane Kiffin was the Head Coach, alcohol was also available. The ban comes after Sarkisian got in trouble with the University after reportedly being drunk at a University football function this past Saturday.

Why alcohol was available at all? Many college stadiums do not sell alcohol to the fans because the stadiums are on a college campus. If alcohol is available to the coaches in the locker room, who is to say that underage players aren’t enjoying a taste when someone isn’t looking? That can be a dangerous precedent and a liability waiting to happen.

Reading that brought back memories of a funny story from 25 years ago. At that time, I was working as a scout for the New York Giants. On Labor Day weekend of 1990, I was assigned to watch the Long Beach State at Clemson game. Long Beach State was, of course, not a power, but what made this game interesting is they had a new head coach that season. The coach was none other than NFL Hall of Famer George Allen. Allen had not coached since the USFL folded in the mid 1980’s and was 72 at the time.

That weekend I happened to be staying at the same hotel as the Long Beach State team in the Greenville-Spartanburg area. The night before the game, I was with George Allen’s son Bruce (now the president of the Redskins) and former Bills and Chargers General Manager, the late John Butler. We were in the lobby of the hotel talking football and swapping stories when Bruce told us this one…..

When George Allen was coaching in the NFL, he would always have some beer available for his players after a game. His thought was that it helped replenish the fluids the players lost during the game. That afternoon, George was having a conversation with the Long Beach State Athletic Director about the coming game. He said to the AD (Corey Johnson) that because it was going to be so hot at game time, he needed three or four cases of beer for the players to drink after the game. The AD looked at George and said, “George, this isn’t the NFL, most of these kids aren’t old enough to drink. If you want to give them something to drink, it will have to be water”. George just looked at the AD still not realizing how young his players were and said, “Oh!”

That was the last season George Allen coached football. When he was hired by Long Beach State, he promised the administration a winner. He fulfilled the promise by finishing the season with a 6-5 record. George Allen died shortly after the end of that season. He went out the winner he always was.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


After last year’s joke of a season, you wouldn’t find too many people who would bet on the Chicago Bears making a run for the playoffs in 2016. After two preseason games, I am not about to anoint them, but they are a much better team than many are thinking.

Why do I say that? Head Coach John Fox is a veteran coach who has a history of turning teams around quickly. He hired a veteran staff of assistants, all with strong resumes, and these coaches know how to get a team ready for the season. There is no question that there are still some holes in the roster, but the NFL is a coach’s league and strong coaching can make up for an overall lack of talent. As long as key players stay healthy, and they get just above average quarterback play, they could have a chance.

Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler has been the whipping boy of the media the last few years. He has gotten criticized (and rightly so) for his indifference and pouting on the sideline and for his poor play at inopportune times. This year, I have seen a different Jay Cutler. He is more relaxed, and his interaction with coaches and teammates has been excellent. The most important relationship he has to have right now is with offensive coordinator Adam Gase, and to date, the relationship seems very strong. In both practice and games, Cutler seems to be more at ease, and I haven’t seen the huge mistakes we have gotten so used to seeing.

On offense, right now, I feel the biggest need is to solidify the right tackle position. Jordan Mills started the first preseason game and struggled. Charles Leno played with the first unit on Saturday night, and he also had some problems. If that position can get straightened out, the offense will be fine. There has been talk of moving Kyle Long to tackle, but then who plays the right guard slot? I have always felt that the choice at right tackle is second year man Michael Ola, but that is for the coaching staff to decide.

First round draft choice Kevin White, the speedy wide receiver from West Virginia, will miss at least half the season with a stress fracture in his right leg, and that will hurt. Even with White out, the Bears have talent at the wide receiver position led by Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal. Third year man Marquess Wilson who, has been injury prone his first two years, needs to step up while White is out.

Unlike the last two years, the Bears offense will not be a pass happy scheme. Fox would like to be able to run the ball and control the clock. The Bears have been successful with that the first two games, rushing for over 330 yards. If the Bears can continue to run well, life will be easier for Cutler as he won’t be asked to do things he can’t do.

The defense will be much better than the unit we have seen the last two years. The Bears have gone to a base 3-4 scheme and are playing a much more physical brand of football. I don’t think they need to worry that this defense will give up 50 points in games like last year’s defense did. The pass rush is much better both from inside and outside, and there is more talent and confident play in the secondary.

One of the surprises of camp has been the play of inside linebacker Shea McClellin. The former first round pick is now playing his third position in four years but seems to have found a home. He has made a number of plays in the first two games and is also calling the defensive signals. If the strong play continues, McClellin will resurrect a career that looked close to being over. Up until now, he has been labeled a bust

The big question is: have the Bears improved enough to challenge for a playoff slot? This will most likely will be answered in the first month of the season. The schedule makers didn’t do Fox any favors. The Bears first three games are Green Bay, Arizona, and Seattle. Fortunately, both Green Bay and Arizona are home games. The Bears have to come out of those three games with a 2-1 record to have a shot. If that happens, this team will develop some confidence and could make a solid run. If they start out 1-2 or 0-3, it just might be the same old Bears.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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