America’s favorite pastime has returned to distract us from the financial and political burdens that flood our televisions and phones. As a Floridian, we are blessed to have options in how we spend our leisure. Some might look to the Super Bowl Champions to try to catch a last-minute trip on that bullet train. The loyal are riding on the left arm and beautiful beaches of Miami for eventual success. It’s a big year for Tua Tagovailoa, so Sunscreen and good weather are an absolute necessity for South Florida. And then there’s South Georgia, or north Florida, where the sun still shines, but you have to look for bright spots.
Jacksonville hasn’t had much success in the AFC South since its fire sale more than two years ago. There’s next to no remnants that remain from the former AFC powerhouse who came within minutes of defeating New England in the AFC Championship game. Disassembled, incarcerated, and traded away for a flavored bag of chips, the rebuild that Jacksonville envisioned is now upon us. A bright light has invigorated the Jaguar fan base. Duvall County has something to celebrate as hopes and ambitions have been rejuvenated by the #1 selection of former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Of course, one man does not make a team, but there’s never been a more highly touted recruit since Peyton Manning — that meant so much to a franchise and city. An instant Superstar, with a complete City behind him, the rookie will step into the starting role without contention since the two-year veteran Gardner Minshew was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. The mustache was quite popular in Sacksonville, but some feel as if he was never given a real chance to succeed — due to the general manager moves and decision-making from former coaches.
Doug Morrone is still loved in Jacksonville, but a new era has emerged. Urban Meyer, the former Utah/Florida/Ohio State football coach, has now stepped into the big leagues of the NFL and is constructing a new image of offense for the casual fan to divulge. A very successful college coach, some NCAA coaches were unable to make the transition to be successful in the NFL realm. But if anyone knows Urban Meyer, his drive to be respected and acknowledged is second to only Nick Saban at Alabama. Alabama is a well-oiled machine in the NCAA; Jacksonville is a foreclosed home in a beautiful neighborhood with some pretty features. The same age as a Carolina Panther, the franchise is legally young but hasn’t yet tasted the serenity of a Super Bowl. Their brethren inside the state has; the older brother can only reminisce but can still brag about being the only undefeated team to do so. The middle child is still celebrating its most recent achievement and currently prowls the NFL jungle with pride: parrying the best shots thrown from other fraternity members.
A rebuilder for franchise is very similar to re-establishing one’s self-esteem: you have to build from the ground up. The 1-15 record in 2020 is easy to scarf at if viewed from outside Duvall. For the fan base and neighbors of the TIAA Bank Representatives, the team is and was much better than what that record reflected. Just look at the running back position and the diamond that went through the rough of 2020 known as James Robinson. He was within the grasp of breaking Fred Taylor’s rushing record, and he has embraced the hearts of the Jaguar faithful. The draft selection of Travis Etienne turned a lot of heads in regards to where his position with the team stood. Unfortunately, an injury is never the way to submit your standing as the leader of the backfield. However, now, without any actual competition to his starting role, Robinson can provide the same passion and fury he displayed his rookie season: when he accumulated 1070 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. Robinson could look to improve on his pass-catching abilities as well. The blue-collar Illinois State back garnered a respectable 345 yards receiving and one touchdown. As a rookie, he finished seventh amongst all running backs in total scrimmage yards.
The best thing that can happen to a parent is seeing their child grow and be successful. Proud fathers will always give their sons their name to allow the legacy to grow and lineage to expand. The receiving core is surrounded by Jr.s who can get the job done. D.J. Chark Jr. took a slight step back from his breakout 2019 campaign but is the unquestioned leading receiver with moves like Jagger on the field. A true #1 skilled talent is treated more like Oates or Garfunkel due to his location. With a durable offensive line; and a more than capable quarterback, those misconceptions are about to be put to rest. Marvin Jones Jr is a warrior and a veteran in the NFL. Similar to Matthew Stafford, he managed to escape the mediocrity known as Detroit this past offseason. His pass-catching radius and savvy will be an asset to a rookie quarterback looking to build his resume. Jones Jr. was 22 yards short of being a thousand-yard receiver again in 2020, but he caught 66% of his targets (76/115).
Laviska Shenault Jr. Is the wildcard of the trio. To those in the know, Shenault Jr. oozes with breakout potential. Conditions outside of his control limited his play-making ability as a rookie, but his yards after the catch demands attention (5.2 RAC). Catching more than 70% of his opportunities (58 of 79), his size and deceptive speed make him a mismatch to any secondary. He’s also a successful runner, tallying 91 yards on 18 carries. Six touchdowns were merely his floor as a rookie. The Colorado product has a nose for the end zone, but only those, who reside in Duval, are aware of this.
The story of Trevor Lawrence will begin week 1 in Houston, Texas, where they will face a rival who has currently fallen on black days. The Fall from grace has been sharp like porcelain chips for the Texans. Bill O’Brien can only be blamed for so much of the franchise’s faults, considering that the wound O’Brien created was not only neglected but was bludgeoned by the organization after his dismissal. PR nightmares, in regards to staff firings, unhappy and disgruntled players, questionable trades, and archaic mentalities passed from an owner to his predecessors, have made Houston an unwelcomed resting stop to play football. The once former face of the franchise is now stricken with the occupation of the fourth-string quarterback. Past decisions have led to this bogle, which went unsolved during the off-season. However, there is plenty of blame to go around, as accusations, civil dispositions, and federal authorities have been brought in to attempt to clean up this fiasco. On the field: A team now lacking star power and star talent deflate the air of confidence from the roster. Whether it is claims of Duane Brown fighting for a new contract currently in Seattle, JJ Watt playing with the quarter tank of gas he has left with a former teammate in Arizona, a humbled honey badger who is a champion and an instigator who saw the writings on the wall ahead of time, or a defensive lineman who left to what was once considered worst pastures, for less money, to escape the forest fire that now currently engulfs Houston. The 4-12 record should have been the first sign of panic, but the high draft pick that was earned by the lack of success is currently residing in Miami in literally and figuratively much greener pastures.
There’s a saying that goes: “that what was once in the dark will be revealed to the light.” The hourglass of success must be tipped from time to time to reinstate balance. As Darwin as that may be, a franchise that has persevered through many dark times now has a lot of things to look forward to. A light that now shimmers in an NFL tunnel is only going to get brighter for the spotted cats. While at the opposite spectrum, the oil well of success has run dry for the Houston Texans. The lack of talent, the mismanagement of leadership, and the eventual departure of the franchise’s meal ticket are only going to hamper the franchise for years to come, as sure as night turns into day. Someone must feel in order for others to succeed, but the dark cloud that hovers over Houston sports is more than just alarming: It could inevitably be emotionally, physically, and financially backbreaking. Hopefully, the sun shines in Houston Sunday.