January, 2018

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Big Weekend For Many Texas A&M Sports

I’ve seen an improvement in this cornerback group since the team cut veteran Perrish Cox, who played in 24 games for the Titans in two seasons. Cox recorded three interceptions this year, but he had issues in coverage far too often. McCourty, Blake and McCain are the team’s primary cornerbacks, with McCourty facing the majority of the targets. He’s given up a 53 receptions on 96 targets (55 completion percentage) for 668 yards (12.6 yards per catch) and a 78.8 passer rating, while posting a 3:2 TD-to-INT ratio. The eighth-year pro is a technician and plays well on and off the line of scrimmage. He’s having one of the better seasons in his career, but one thing that can help him make the leap to the next level is better tackling.

I got a chance to play with Blake and McCain in Pittsburgh, and I’m not surprised they’ve continued to play under coach Dick LeBeau. Blake (or “Zilla,” as we called him in Pittsburgh) hasn’t made a start this season but has played in 13 games, giving up catches on 48 percent the targets thrown his way (at 11.2 yards a pop). He always seems to be around the ball and positions himself well, but he just needs to finish and make more plays. McCain runs like a deer and has great feet. He reminds me of a younger Terence Newman and is another guy who puts himself in good position to make plays. For Blake, who’s somewhat struggled and given up six touchdowns this season, the key is tackling and finishing plays when he has the opportunity.

Both the Jags and Titans boast former first-round picks with alliterative initials and high, if not overestimated, upsides in Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota; they both boast defenses on the rise with star young players in Jalen Ramsey and Avery Williamson; and thanks to their weak division, both Jacksonville (2-4) and Tennessee (3-4) still have a chance to conquer the AFC South and live up to their pundits’ expectations.

For these rivals, the future is now, or at least it should be. An impressive showing on Thursday Night Football can introduce to the world the talent and potential of the Jags and Titans’ anonymous rosters and change the trajectory of both teams’ underwhelming 2016 campaigns. A division lead is at most two games away; why not win one this week?

Blake Bortles made his case to the next coaching staff to keep the Jaguars’ quarterback gig. The enigmatic signal-caller played his best game of the season, hitting quick strikes over the middle and finally finding the mark on several downfield tosses. Bortles finished 26-of-38 passing for 325 yards, one TD throw, and zero interceptions. It was his first time throwing for 300-plus yards in a Jags victory (had been 0-10 when throwing for more than 300 yards). Facing a bad Titans secondary that was missing top corner Jason McCourty certainly helped. Bortles’ wonky delivery still causes problems (see the first-half fumble), especially on sideline throws, but he was able to move the chains on third down and allowed his receivers to make plays. The quarterback even caught his first NFL pass, a 20-yard touchdown from Marqise Lee to ice the game.

Getting Allen Robinson involved early was key for Bortles. In his previous five games, Robinson compiled 105 total yards. Saturday, A-Rob went for 147 yards on nine receptions (12 targets). Robinson corralled receptions of 37, 28, 21, 18 and 16 yards. When Robinson is making plays for Bortles, the Jags can be a potent offense. Games like Saturday leave you shaking your head, wondering how the duo could post so many woeful afternoons this season.

I met Master Sgt. Woodward, who is in charge of one of the tanks that we toured. He was telling me about how he prepares the soldiers on his team and I realized how similar it was to football. Older, more experienced guys coaching younger ones. He was a leader and was taking the younger guys under his wing.

After he showed us the tank, he asked us if we wanted to participate in a re-enlistment ceremony. This is when a serviceman or woman decides to volunteer for more years of service. The unit lines up and each person repeats an oath. After this, they shake the Master Sgt.’s hand and then we were able to go down each line and shake their hands as well. We thanked them for their service and presented them with NFL Military Challenge coins.

“He caught a lot of balls today. This is the most reps he’s had since he’s been here, and he was very productive today, in a variety of routes. It was a good day for Corey Davis.”

Davis has the size, speed, and run-after-the-catch ability to become Marcus Mariota’s go-to weapon as a rookie. With the wideout’s injury seemingly in the past, the duo should ramp up their connection in training camp.

The 21st overall pick in this year’s draft was so far ahead of any defenders that he slowed down Usain Bolt-style near the 5-yard line and trotted into the end zone.

It was Houston’s first punt return for a touchdown since 2013 and he became the first player in franchise history to have a TD reception and a punt return for a score in the same game. Fuller’s 5-yard touchdown reception made it 14-0 in the first.

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