Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: The Jaguars Are Learning the Value of Culture

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 15, 2018

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 12:  Jacksonville Jaguars executive VP of football operations, Tom Coughlin walks to the field prior to the start of their game against the Los Angeles Chargers at EverBank Field on November 12, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images)
Logan Bowles/Getty Images

Tom Coughlin delivers a lesson to his Jaguars, Justin Tucker talks about, well, a lot of things. And why Ezekiel Elliott probably should be the first pick in any fantasy football draft this season. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

          

1. Don't believe your hype

Recently, I was chatting with one longtime AFC assistant coach, and you'll never believe who he thinks has the most promise of almost any franchise in the NFL:

The Jaguars.

OK, maybe that isn't all that surprising considering they came within three minutes of reaching the Super Bowl last January, but the coach didn't foresee just another winning season; he felt the Jaguars could win multiple Super Bowls.

That is, if they can overcome one significant threat: themselves.

"The greatest threat the Jaguars face is believing their own hype," the AFC assistant told B/R.

If the suspensions this week of cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. are any indication of the culture the Jaguars are trying to build, then it appears they got the message.

Teams suspend players for infractions all the time. And, truth be told, most players don't mind sitting out a week of camp. It's like a minivacation. Yet in disciplining Ramsey (for yelling at the media while they taped a fight at practice) and Fowler (for getting into that fight), Jacksonville is trying to impart a message that winning teams send to their players all the time.

That message: You won't be perfect. You will make mistakes. But there are certain ways we expect you to behave, and if you don't meet those expectations, we will punish you until you do.

Yes, there are winning teams that tolerate domestic abusers, drunk drivers and others who have been convicted of crimes. And yes, teams can be total hypocrites about the behavior they say they will not allow and what they actually do.

But mostly, within the strict confines of the football culture and a locker room, teams fail when rules aren't followed. This isn't an old-man-yelling-from-the-lawn argument. In general, it's just how football works.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 9: Cornerback Jalen Ramsey #20 of the Jacksonville Jaguars talks with Field Judge Terry Brown about a play during a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at TIAA Bank Field on August 9, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. The
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

And the Jaguars, in this instance, are self-policing while simultaneously reminding their players that one of the only things that can stop the Jaguars...is the Jaguars.

Teams have been waiting to see how Jacksonville handles the success it found last season, and many see the suspensions as a positive, as proof that the team isn't letting success chip away at its culture. There's also little surprise to these moves considering the disciplinarian sitting in the team's GM chair is the unflinching Tom Coughlin.

There's no way in hell a Coughlin team would ever tolerate Ramsey's or Fowler's breach of team rules without the players suffering direct consequences.

Look around the league and most successful teams live within the confines of the rules set by the team. The Patriots tend to not have a rash of disciplinary issues. The Eagles won the Super Bowl last year because of cohesion between the players and the coaches. There are respected chains of command. Boundaries are established. And goals are set for the group more than just an individual.

And now the Jaguars know it too.

                      

2. To boldly go where no kicker has gone before

Gail Burton/Associated Press

This week, I had a conversation with Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, who ended the chat by revealing he may be the greatest athlete who ever lived. But before we get to that, Tucker spoke a bit about his primary occupation: kicking for the Ravens.

One thing I wanted to ask Tucker was how it seems kickers are constantly pushing the boundaries of accuracy and distance. Tucker routinely kicks 50-yarders or longer in games with apparent ease. And in practices, hits 70-yarders. Just a decade ago, 50-yard kicks were considered the extreme. I wanted to know about the mindset kickers need to continually push the boundaries of distance and accuracy and if he felt he could push his limits and hit an 80-yard kick. He didn't bite on that specific target, but he did make one important point:

"The goal is always being as consistent as possible from anywhere on the field," said Tucker, who was made available to B/R after appearing in a new advertisement from Duracell. "I'd argue that Baltimore is the toughest place to kick in football. It's a grass surface. The wind swirls. It gets cold. So consistency is key."

That can only help a team that doesn't quite know itself how good it is yet.

"Only time will tell," Tucker said. "We're still finding out. That being said, Ravens fans have a lot to be excited about. What we are all building upon hopefully will be special."

But to be as special as Tucker himself will take some doing after he ended our conversation by telling me to "live long and prosper."

Thanks for making a nerd's day.

                

3. A standoff in Oakland

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 03: Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders leaves the field after a win against the New York Giants at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 3, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

League sources keep telling me that star defensive end Khalil Mack and the Raiders still aren't close on a new deal. They added that the contract standoff between the two won't be resolved anytime soon.

So Mack continues to sit out, and the Raiders continue to wait and likely will for weeks to come.

   

4. A standoff in the United States

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

There are a few certainties surrounding the debate over whether players should protest social injustices during the playing of the national anthem.

First: President Donald Trump will keep attacking players who choose to do so.

Second: Players will keep doing it.

The union and the NFL are still discussing strategies to handle this issue, but in some ways, their meetings are irrelevant. Players are going to protest because they feel bringing attention to societal injustices is important, and they don't care what the league or union says. 

And as long as the president keeps making his displeasure known, the players can point to the idea that one of the country's loudest voices doesn't understand their issue, so why not keep kneeling until he gets it?

                                 

5. You haven't seen anything yet

OXNARD, CA - AUGUST 02:  Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball during training camp at River Ridge Playing Fields on August 2, 2018 in Oxnard, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott recently told David Moore of the Dallas Morning News that he's been studying how Marshall Faulk worked in the passing game. If Elliott develops even a fraction of the receiving skills the Hall of Famer Faulk did, he'll be scary.

Few players—not just running backs but any positionhad better receiving hands than Faulk, who finished his career with 767 catches for 6,875 yards and 36 touchdowns.

Through his first two seasons, Elliott has 58 catches for 632 yards in 25 games. Those numbers should skyrocket this season as the Cowboys utilize him as a bigger part of the passing game. With no significant threats at wide receiver, Dallas hopes to create pressure on defenses by deploying Elliott in the running and passing attacks. If it works out, Elliott could end up with a historic number of touches on a team with few other reliable offensive weapons.

                                   

6. Bettors' delight

Wayne Parry/Associated Press

This is approximately my 25th year of covering the NFL (give or take a few Star Trek conventions), and I have never, ever received as many phone calls, emails, texts and letters about gambling odds as now.

The volume the past few months alone surpasses what I've heard about gambling odds over the past few years combined.

The reason is obvious—the legalization of betting on sports across the country. And while it was easy to predict there'd be a dramatic increase in the gambling blood flow following the Supreme Court's ruling, there's almost a frenzy as the season gets closer.

This whole endeavor may be a lot wilder and more prevalent than we all thought.

                                

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 09: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns in action against the New York Giants during their preseason game on August 9,2018 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
Al Pereira/Getty Images

7. Did the Browns finally do something right?

Would the Browns really start rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield in the team's season opener against the Steelers?

Hell to the naw.

Publicly, and privately, the team says it is more than comfortable starting Tyrod Taylor. And it should be; Taylor is one of the most underrated players in the sport.

But the fact that this question is even being asked is remarkable in some ways for a franchise that hasn't had a reliable quarterback in a long, long, long time.

Yes, we all know that in the preseason most defensive coordinators don't aggressively scheme, and certainly, Mayfield is benefitting from that. But he has been good in practice and in preseason games. He's shown great poise and something else that's hard to teach: touch and anticipation on his throws.

It looks increasingly like the Browns got this pick right.

I can't believe I wrote that last sentence.

                   

8. A curious development

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

I suspect I'm not the only one who hadn't heard of the extortion lawsuit filed by star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. against a man (as well as the man's attorney) who claims the Giants receiver is legally responsible for a physical attack on a Hollywood event promoter.

But Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann lays out the various accusations, and some of it's scary stuff, involving threats of gun violence, a beating and a supposed attempt to profit off Beckham's fame. While McCann notes the two sides are trying to reach a settlement, it hasn't happened yet. And if the cases go to court, they'll surely bring the kind of attention neither Beckham nor the Giants would want.

              

9. Manziel head shot raises questions north of the border

Johnny Manziel's first start for Montreal in the Canadian Football League was putrid. He threw four first-half interceptions.

His second start was better, but a brutal head shot shows how the Canadians are as poor at managing head trauma as their American football counterparts.

After taking a brutal hit to the head, Manziel walked off the field but didn't miss a play. Still, he didn't look the same after that tackle, and it left anyone who watched it wondering if that was the right decision. It's a brutal sport, we all know, but it is also one that has yet to figure out how to reliably deal with this head trauma issue.

                      

10. A smart man on a thinking man's game

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, quite simply, is a joy to listen to when it comes to football. Recently, he spoke with reporters after practice about some of his coaching techniques and preparation. There was a lot to learn on both topics.

First, Schwartz addressed the approach the team takes in helping its defensive backs track the football in the air, a skill the Eagles do better than most in the league.

"There's a lot of drills we do, just techniques of when to look and how to play," Schwartz said, according to a team transcript. "Some guys are better at it than others. … Charles Barkley was the best rebounder in the league at, what, 6'4"? Something like that. … He just had great anticipation and great timing, great awareness to go for it. So, I think there's some of that, but there's other things as far as drill work and when to look and different defenses that you put them in that are more visual than others where their backs are turned. It's layered so many different ways it's hard to put it in one category."

Barkley, for the record, is 6'6", but the point stands.

Then Schwartz was asked how the Eagles are dealing with the new helmet rule, which seemingly has defensive players on edge as to what is a legal and illegal hit.

"Yeah, I think what we've done is we've cataloged all the calls that were made, not just us, but across the league," Schwartz said. "And we're trying to learn … and get some feedback from the league of calls that they liked. Maybe some calls that they thought shouldn't have been thrown, and maybe some that weren't thrown that they thought should have been.

"It's going to be an adjustment period. ... There's a lot of teaching that goes into it. There's nothing better than live-rep teaching and also feedback from other teams, and when I say feedback, from the film from other teams. We do a good job of evaluating those."

Schwartz will get another head coaching job, and don't be surprised when his career is over if he goes down as one of the best tacticians of his generation.

Oh, and he's also a great guy, as his election into the Mount Saint Joseph Hall of Fame attests. 

Go Gaels.

            

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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