Ask Gary: Is Jacksonville the state’s best team?

by Gary Shelton on August 18, 2018 · 4 comments

in College Sports in Florida, general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

Is Bortles' team the kings of the hill./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Is Bortles' team the kings of the hill./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

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Our friend, Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi, has been writing and saying on the radio that not only are the Jacksonville Jaguars the best NFL team in Florida, they’re also going to win the Super Bowl. I like that Tom Coughlin is back in the Jags fold as the executive vice president of football operations and what he’s doing. But do you think Jacksonville is the best NFL team in the state? And what of Bianchi’s prediction that the Jaguars are going to win the Super Bowl? Any legitimacy to all of this, or is it just Bianchi being Bianchi?

Peter Kerasotis

This is the kind of question that brought us the old Danny Thomas "spit take," where someone says something outlandish and Thomas would spew his coffee towards the camera.

The Super Bowl champs? Really? Remember, the Jaguars are one year removed from a 3-13 record. Before last year, they won 17 games in five years.

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Now, I think they have a talented defensive roster, and I like Fournette. But, yeah, it's Mike being Mike. Mike was talking about his column once in a press box, and I thought he was overstating it. I said "Do you really believe that?" And he said "No, but it makes for a better column."

I always had trouble writing that way. I thought it was journalism, not show business. I believed enough wrong things at a normal volume without overstating things.

I have no problem accepting that the Jags are the best team in Florida. Heck, it's not a very high standard. They are ahead of both Miami and Tampa Bay. But you have to win more than 10 games once in nine years to be thought of as a serious Super Bowl contender. A reasonable man would probably bet on the Patriots, Steelers, Eagles, Vikings, Packers, Chiefs, Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Rams and Seahawks before Jacksonville. They're lucky to be in weak division.

At some point, quarterback Blake Bortles is going to catch up to the Jags. He didn't last year, I understand, but he's certainly not elite, and he can blow up at any point. That in itself is a reason to bet against the Jags.

Of course, maybe the plan is this. Whether they win the Super Bowl or not, maybe the Sentinel can declare them the national champions. After all, it has worked for Central Florida, Narnia's national champs.

Hey, I kid. It's Mike's space, and he can write whatever he wants to elicit the reaction he desires. I find him a very entertaining writer. But I'll say this: If someone offered to bet him his house on the Jags winning this year's Super Bowl, I doubt he would take the bet. He's writing for effect, not out of belief.

Managing the Rays pitching staff this year has to be one of the more difficult jobs in baseball. This team has employed unique strategies of openers and frequent bullpen days while dealing with a scarcity of legitimate starters and using so many rookies. On top of all that they have had to work around an abnormal amount of injuries, I don't think any club has had more challenges.

Kevin Cash gets a lot of credit for managing the staff but it seems to me that the pitching coach, Kyle Snyder has been the guy who makes it all work. In reality he seems to act as a co-manager when it comes to making decisions regarding when a pitcher needs to be pulled (witness that is was his decision to pull Blake Snell after just 47 pitches last Saturday).

What are your thoughts on the job Kyle Snyder has done this year? Do you think he or Kevin Cash is more responsible for the good work done by this pitching staff under some difficult circumstances?

Larry Beller

Larry, there is little question about the job Kevin Cash has done this year. He's replaced the bulk of the roster twice (off-season and trading deadline). He's made this "opener" work. He's masterminded a youth movement that makes you think this team could be better in the future. He's beaten the high-priced Yankees eight times out of 15.

But, yeah, I agree that Snyder has had a terrific year, and I was a doubter. I thought Jim Hickey was the smartest guy in the room, and I thought his departure as pitching coach would doom the Rays. Boy, was I wrong.

I think Snyder has been great, especially with Blake Snell, especially with no big-armed closer, especially with the mix-and-match that comes with every day's pitchers. Getting 11 wins from Ryan Yarbrough, with the exchange of established starters Chris Archer and Nathan Eovaldi for Tyler Glassnow and Jalen Beaks, with so many rookies on the roster, etc.

But assistant coaches are usually overshadowed, while managers (and head coaches in other sports) get most of the credit. Snyder has been like a talented defensive coordinator. In particular, I was happy about the way he got inside Snell's head.

So who is more responsible between him and Cash? I'd say Cash, who is the ultimate guy to blame. I think he's done well. But success spreads thin, Larry. Give Cash credit for knowing what Snyder could do for this staff, and for not blinking when Hickey left in favor of him.

The world is filled with talented assistant coaches. It isn't all the head guy. We know that. But the head guy is in charge. That's something.

Don't forget this: Most of the quotes come from Cash, a self-effacing, humble guy who dumps lots of praise on his assistants. When he says he just "stayed out of Snyder's way" when Snell got pulled after 47 pitches, well, I don't believe that for a second. Cash gave his input, even if he deferred to Snyder (as he should have).<

I'd give the edge to Cash, but not by a lot.

Do you think that the Lightning might still land Erik Karlsson before the season starts. Do you think they should?

Jim Willson

It seems to be out there, but the longer it takes, the more the odds seem to be against it. Right?

I'd love it if the team was creative enough to squeeze him in under the cap. The Lightning, as they established a year ago, is a very talented team, but they seem to be going with a pat hand. That could be good enough with youngsters like Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli getting experience. But being in the Final Four doesn't mean the team will get better (it didn't in 2014-15 or 2015-16). Toronto looks tough next year, for instance. Nothing is guaranteed.

I'd feel a lot more comfortable if the team had a significant addition. Karlsson would be perfect. Put him and Victor Hedman in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy, and teams should struggle to score.

I'll say this. No one else has signed him either, and I trust Steve Yzerman and Jeff Vinik to close deals. If Yzerman can pull this off, we'll start doodling with defensive pairings. And executive of the year nominations.

Is the defensive shift good or bad for MLB?

Scott Myers

Personally, I'd outlaw it if I was a fan, but I'd be its biggest proponent if I were a manager. Simply put, it lowers baseball averages and run production.

I think the shift violates the basic idea behind baseball. That eight fielders (not counting the catcher) spread out and try to take away a hit. By bunching up the infielders, and turning hits into outs, it makes the game less exciting.

Yeah, yeah. A lot of people respond to questions about the shift by saying "batters should bunt or hit to the opposite field to beat it." But if you're a power hitter, you've already surrendered by doing that. Think teams wouldn't prefer for, say, David Ortiz to take a single to left instead of hitting one over the right-field fence.

Former Ray Carlos Pena and I were talking about the shift one day. He blamed a disappointing average on it. I asked "How many points do you think it takes off your average, Ten to 12." "No," Pena said. "Forty or fifty."

I'm not sure I'm ready to say that, but a lot of left-handed hitters are struggling, and a lot of people blame the shifting. I read where teams now shift 17 percent of the time (after doing it 10 percent of the time two years ago). Agent Scott Boras has labeled shifts "discriminatory'' to left-handed hitters.

Do you realize that teams have been using the shift since the days of Ted Williams? He managed okay.

I know this. Baseball's rules say only one guy can play in foul territory...the catcher. So why not say two infielders have to be on each side of the diamond at all times?

I don't think it would be that hard to enforce.

Would the way the Bucs came from behind to win last week's preseason game, be a sign of a change of culture at One  Buc toward a winning one? As in even the backups are getting it?

Nick Houllis

Nick, I think everything counts, and I think everything can contribute toward success or against it. So, maybe. In a small way.

But the Bucs have come from behind before, and they've had losing seasons around it. I think any true turnaround is going to come in a game that means something by players who are playing for something.

Put it this way: I've been around a lot of great teams, and a lot of bad ones. I've never heard of a team who pointed to the preseason and saying "that's where it started."

Look, winning is better than losing, and coming from behind is better than falling from ahead. I get that. But preseason games are forgotten quickly. I'd have to look up how the Bucs did in last preseason. But I know they were 5-11 when it counted.

When is the last great meal you had? Do you remember the salad? Probably not. Well, the salad is preseason. The players who matter don't play much, and it's forgotten by most of us. Remember, most of the guys who pulled off that comeback will be selling cars (or on the developmental squad) when the games really count.

Still, you're right. If the Bucs are going to change their culture, well, today is better than tomorrow. The Bucs have some things they still need to work on. But winning makes everything better. The sun isn't as hot. The practices aren't as long. The knees don't hurt as much.

So, yeah, maybe it was a step in the right direction.

And any small step would help.

Is it much harder to be a sportswriter these days?  I notice that a lot of local breaking sports news comes from national writers. Is it harder now for local guys to get the scoop from the teams?

Jim Willson

I think it's harder to be a reporter and a writer than it's ever been. I feel for the guys I know who are still grinding.

For one thing, teams restrict access more than they ever have. I used to be able to get the stars of the team (Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, etc) alone in a room for an hour. I could ask any question I wanted. You had to be careful not to ask for more than a guy a week, but it was gold when you did.

I remember Sapp talking about Jerome Brown, Brooks talking about him vs. Ray Lewis, Ronde taking about the perceptions of him as a zone corner rather than a guy who could cover man.  Warrick Dunn told me about visiting the prisoner who was convicted of murdering his mother. I had a great session once with Kellen Winslow, of all people. With Cadillac Williams. With Chris Simms. With Josh Freeman. Not all of them were great players, but it was a lot better than having them at the podium before a crowded room.

Now, you almost never get a guy where a public relations assistant isn't hanging around. (I once interviewed Greg Olson when he was offensive coordinator, and the entire p.r. staff was in a circle listening. Hell, I wasn't going to waterboard him and make him tell me why the team couldn't buy a first down).

There is less space available now, which limits takeouts. There are more websites, which are concerned with who-had-it-first. There is more reporting without sources than there has ever been. And the league doesn't care. The more space there is, the worse the news, and they can't have that.

These days, athletes are available in short bursts for sound bites. They can dodge questions from a podium (like Jameis Winston). They can hide.

It's a frustrating deal for someone who cares about producing something different.

You know what else is frustrating. The teams seem to like it when a national source breaks a story. In my day, it was just the opposite. Teams wanted to reward guys who were there every day. Now, they want something to go on the NFL network or Sports Illustrated.

A story. Once, when the Bucs were talking about trading for Keyshawn Johnson, I had Rich McKay on the phone. Finally, as almost a follow-up question, I asked what was new with Keyshawn. Rich paused for a second, then said "What the hell? I owe you one. We just completed a trade for him. But don't quote me."

I was pumped. I had the story, and I had it from one of the two sources in the world (Bill Parcells of the Jets was the other one) who was unimpeachable.

Well, in those days (and these, I suspect), the Times had a no-unnamed source policy. So I couldn't get it in the newspaper. Eventually, we had to call one of the New York papers, feed them our information. Then we could attribute our source to that newspaper. And it was all our information. I argued, but I lost.

It's odd. Because of those long sessions with athletes, I felt I knew this team as much as anyone. No, you never fully know a guy. You aren't hanging out at dinner. But you know him.

Now, newspapers have lost that. There are so many internet sources, some who cover the games from their living rooms, that teams have put us all at an arm's length. I think the newspapers have lost something, and I think the fans have, too. It's very short-sighted on the part of the teams.

How do you see the college football season playing out for the teams in Florida?

Paul Walker

I love college football, and working in Florida just underlined that. There for a while, it was a rarity to see a season when FSU, Florida or Miami wasn't in the top 10. Together, they won nine national titles and eight Heismans

But compared to those teams, I don't think the Florida bunch is going to be good. No one seems to expect FSU to catch Clemson, or Florida to catch Georgia (or Alabama). Right now, I think only UCF knows for sure who its quarterback is going to be.

Oh, the teams should all make bowls, and with Dan Mullen and Willie Taggart in charge, I think Florida and FSU fans will find encouraging things about their programs.

For instance, Sports Illustrated did its top 25. Miami was No. 13. FSU was No. 19. Florida was unranked. ESPN has Miami ninth and FSU 18th.

Here's a question: How many games does UCF have to lose before Orlando fans admit they aren't the national champions?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller August 19, 2018 at 8:15 am

I don’t know why I’m reluctant to give Cash a lot of credit. Part of it stems from the control the front office has on the strategies this team employs. We know Cash’s job is to follow whatever unique ideas the front office will come up with and try to make it work. They control the show.

When Hickey was terminated they decided Snyder would be the perfect guy to bring in to work with the pitchers in order for their strategies about using openers, frequent bullpen days, etc be successful. Snyder was familiar with all the pitchers in the minor leagues that that the management intended to promote.

It seems like Snyder’s knowledge of the pitchers abilities, the working relationship he developed with those young players and being able to coach them up has been key. The guys who have been brought over in trades have done better since joining the Rays due in a large part to his coaching.

Traditionally the manager gets the credit or the blame for the team’s performance and that will always hold true. But in the case of the Rays there are a lot of contributing factors that make the manager’s roll less important.

Kevin Cash is a good guy who is doing a good job but he’s getting a lot of help.

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Gary Shelton August 19, 2018 at 11:20 am

All managers do these days. But Cash runs the day-to-day implementation of the blueprint. Granted, the front office helps to construct that, but when to put in Yarbrough, whether to start Castillo, when to play Bauers instead of Cron, remains in the charge of Cash.

I grant you. He isn’t Earl Weaver, pushing every button. But he’s done well given what he’s in control of.

If anything, Cash is a victim. He still has the lowest payroll in the league, and his players keep getting trading from under him.

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Jim Willson August 18, 2018 at 12:47 pm

Thanks for sharing the Rich McKay/Keyshawn story.

Reply

Gary Shelton August 18, 2018 at 10:20 pm

We old guys have stories lol

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