On the Road: Day 18 … with the Jaguars
(Editor’s note: In addition to his team reports, Jason Cole will share some off-field highlights and other observations of his preseason travel.)
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After the better part of a week at home to get caught up on all sorts of fascinating things (such as why do I have a mushroom problem in the southeast corner of the lot my house is on?), it’s back on the road for a day trip. I’m not sure this really qualifies as being on the road, but taking my convertible on the highway for a morning drive makes for a good day. The ride home under some pouring Florida rain wasn’t quite as pleasant, but such is life. Again, if this is the worst thing you have to deal with as a sports writer, life is good. Beyond that, the route from my house in Gainesville to Jacksonville has a few places where I can really let the car go, so that works pretty nice, too. All of that said, Jacksonville might be the worst town in the NFL. The beaches are cool, featuring plenty of funky places to hang out for a beer. But Jacksonville completely lacks identity. There is nothing that defines it. It’s really just a series of housing developments connected by a beltway with I-95 splitting it pretty much down the middle. Fortunately, the distinct odor from the paper mills that defined Jacksonville (and Savannah, Ga., to the north) has been cleaned up. But if you’re looking for history and culture, Jacksonville doesn’t have much aside from a couple of spots where the French, Spanish and English battled over property.
Some preseason thoughts
The Jaguars might be a little better through the air this season than some of us (yeah, yeah, I’m included) thought. While QB David Garrard(notes) is not exactly a world beater, receivers Mike Sims-Walker(notes) and Mike Thomas(notes) (who have dubbed themselves, shockingly, Mike & Mike), could be much better than most people expected. Sims-Walker isn’t the fastest guy in the world, but he runs nice routes and generally has good hands, though the preseason opener against Philadelphia was an exception. … In addition to aforementioned wideouts, coach Jack Del Rio is really impressed with the play of TE Marcedes Lewis(notes), the team’s 2006 first-round NFL draft pick. It has taken awhile, but Del Rio said Lewis is now “blossoming” into a complete player. Unlike many modern tight ends, Lewis is a pretty good in-line blocker and has been most of his career. However, his pass-receiving was supposed to be much better to this point. He took a step forward last season by averaging a career-high 16.2 yards per catch (32 receptions). That was a jump of more than 5.0 yards over his first three seasons. … RB Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) is going to be the bell-cow runner for the Jags, but expect second-year backup RB Rashad Jennings(notes) to get 100 or more carries depending on how efficient the offense is during the season. The total could be much higher if Jones-Drew and Jennings do anything close to what Jones-Drew and former Jags star Fred Taylor(notes) did in 2007 (combining to rush for 1,970 yards and 14 TDs). … There are some major concerns on the defensive line with first-round pick DT Tyson Alualu(notes) missing most of camp so far with a strained calf. Alualu was supposed to be the inside motor for the revamped Jags defense. Del Rio said Alualu has impressed him enough already that Alualu is going to get plenty of playing time as soon as he’s ready to go. On the outside, veteran DE Aaron Kampman(notes) is starting to look healthier, but has still been limited to one practice, at most, per day. In Friday’s preseason game against Philadelphia, the Jags’ first-string defense suffered from the absence of Alualu and Kampman, twice missing chances to sack Eagles QB Kevin Kolb(notes).
I went a little more mainstream with the music, flipping on the Foo Fighters for a series of songs. It was purely the hits this morning, but I had to laugh when “My Hero” came on after seeing the movie “The Other Guys” on Saturday with my 11- and 15-year-old sons. The movie is pretty awful. Funny, at times, but pretty weak from a plot standpoint. It’s as if they signed Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg to a contract and then said, “Now what?” A waste of good talent. Still, the opening series of scenes featuring The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson is funny and the timing of “My Hero” is one of the better moments of the movie. Maybe the best laugh of the whole thing.
Where to eat
For guys with picky girlfriends or wives, I can’t recommend this place in good conscience, but the food is really good. Singleton’s Seafood Shack is really, truly a shack. The place looks like it’s one good tropical storm from extinction and, like I said, the picky ladies of your life are going to think it’s a health-code violation waiting to happen. But the food is terrific and another Guy Fieri special from “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” This place defines the term “dive,” but the chowder is great, the blackening seasoning is really good for whatever fish you choose, the sides are strong and the Minorcan clam chowder gets it done. It has a really good kick on the spice without overwhelming the rest of the ingredients.
OK, what can you really do in Jacksonville?
Actually, one of the best things about this stretch of Florida (and it goes pretty far like this all the way to just north of Palm Beach) is camping on the beach. Not directly, obviously, but there are a bunch of spots just south of Jacksonville to camp and bringing a mountain bike is a great idea for the long stretches of flat sand and/or paths. In fact, you can find some spots just south of St. Augustine close enough to bike into town and avoid the hassles that go with driving into the old part of the country’s oldest city. Throw in a visit to Castillo de San Marcos when they’re firing the cannons and it’s a cool family activity.