The Pulling Linemen will be at all media events this week for the Jaguars-49ers International Series game, and are delighted to work together with Big Cat Country and NinersNation to bring you reports from the teams' media events, practices and press conferences all week long. All photos courtesy of SBMedia.
For a team that had crossed the Atlantic twenty four hours earlier, getting ready to play a 'home' game on a different continent in front of an audience that will in the main be fans of other NFL teams, and travelling without its head coach, it's perhaps not surprising that a key theme among many of the Jaguars players who spoke to the media yesterday was attempting to establish normalcy.
"We always set our clock for that time to try to get ourselves on that week’s schedule by the time we make it into [a] city and the same thing happened for this trip," defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks explained about the team's usual preparation for away games in other time zones, "I think we’ll be pretty good and we’ll flow right into it. I don’t think it should be that big of a difference." Chad Henne, who Gus Bradley announced later in the day would be the starting quarterback for Sunday's game despite Blaine Gabbert being fully cleared for practice, also tried to sell the 'business as usual' message, stating "it's just football really. Once we get out on the playing field, it's still the same field out there that we've been playing on, just go do our jobs", though he admitted "I don't know if everybody is accustomed to the time change yet".
Normalcy; just another week, nothing special. Even linebacker Paul Posluszny said that the trip to London felt more like a road game to the west coast, something that those in favour of a London franchise have long argued to be the case.
There's no distractions from being on the outskirts of one of the most famous cities on the face of the planet: "we're an hour and a half from downtown so... we don't have to worry about the hoopla", said Henne.
There's no concerns about playing in the famed Wembley atmosphere: "we play in front of hostile environments eight weeks out of the year in the NFL so it's something that we are prepare for.... it's not something we won't be ready to play in," claimed guard Uche Nwaneri.
There's no worry about the notoriously unpredictable British weather, currently slated to be "heavy rain" for Sunday's game in the open-air Wembley stadium: "our job is to catch the ball, rain, sleet, snow, hot, cold... it's just something we've got to work through", receiver Justin Blackmon told the media.
Of course the players acknowledged that they were playing in unusual circumstances this week, but for the most part, the message came down to the team's priority being establishing that one word: 'normalcy'.
In 2013, normalcy has resulted in an 0-7 record for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Normalcy, with the logistical and environmental differences of making the trip combined with Coach Bradley's tragic circumstances, is simply not an option this week - and some of the team instead see the opportunity to embrace the change.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis, for one, seems to think that removal of normalcy provides some definite benefits, particularly the fact that the team are staying together for the week in one hotel: "we woke up this morning to go lift weights and we're walking down the trail [together]... it kind of felt like a college environment. More like 'this is my brother, we're all together and we're all going down there to lift weights together'... hopefully we can carry that over into the game."
"It gives us an opportunity to do what we do in a different environment, and anytime you have a situation like that I think guys come a little bit closer together," said Posluszny, "...we're going to be around each other a little bit more, we have time to spend together which is always a good thing."
Henne hoped that the change in scenery can be an opportunity for a fresh start for the Jags: "hopefully we can come in there and act like we're not even 0-7 and start it of as a one-game season". Perhaps referencing Gus Bradley's comments about the team's defensive effort (a term Bradley admitted on Wednesday he wished he hadn't used, saying that 'spirit' would have been the more fitting term), Henne said "I think the excitement of the fans and just the different atmosphere is going to boost us and boost a little bit more energy and enthusiasm".
While Bradley did revise his choice of words at his Wednesday press conference, the original message certainly seemed to resonate with his players. Marks admitted that when the team reviewed the game film, "you kind of saw it on the field... it didn't seem like guys were flying around like usual. It was kind of disappointing as we watched the film". Marks seemed less sure than his quarterback that there would be much of a boost to be gained from the Wembley crowd: "it depends on who they cheer for... I guess at a neutral site like this, I don't know exactly which way the fans will sway".
If the Jacksonville community should take something away from the Jags players' comments on Wednesday, it's that even when trying to establish normalcy, the team are treating this strictly as an away game - not a home game. While this may seem obvious, the team must have heard the chatter that the team are a prime candidate to be relocated to London - and that's something that has unsettled some of the fans back home. TPL spoke with Chris Porter, anchor and reporter for Jacksonville's ABC-NBC affiliate First Coast News, who admitted that when the team announced they'd be playing four games in London, an initial sense of optimism was quickly replaced with pessimism among some of the Jacksonville community: "they believe this is the first step in Shad Khan moving the team. Everyone's so afraid that Khan might eventually move the club".
Though Henne did say that playing multiple games in London "I definitely think will help... it will definitely be beneficial for our team being out here this year and continuing the next four years", he went to bat for his owner's commitment to the city of Jacksonville: "he's installed a new locker room, gave us state of the art facilities, really has been supportive and just a great future for Jacksonville", adding that he believed the NFL's plan is not to put a team in Europe, but rather that the league hope to be "creating fans that will come back over to the states and watch more of the games [in the US]". Porter likewise added that while he wouldn't be surprised if Khan were to move the team, or sell the team in favour of a new London franchise, or any other such London-based developments - purely because he described the team owner as a businessman above all other aspects of his personality - the Jacksonville newscaster said that "although he is a billionaire, thirty million dollars (between the new team facility and stadium renovations) is a lot of money to throw away if you're not planning to keep the franchise in Jacksonville", adding that though moving to London is a definite possibility, "I truly believe that Shad Khan really wants to build a Super Bowl-contending team in the city of Jacksonville".
The business owners of Jacksonville certainly hope that's the case - though he couldn't give a specific figure, Porter told TPL that the team generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the local economy every year. The players seemed to hope that they wouldn't be playing for a team in London on a permanent basis here either: "it would be a brutal schedule for a team that has to be playing on the other wide of the world all year, because the travel is definitely going to tax the players and the staff on any team that has to go from London to the US, from the US to London" said Nwaneri. Blackmon echoed similar sentiments: "I wouldn't want to be somebody that moved out here unless you could move my whole family out", though he did say in general terms "I wouldn't be mad at [the NFL] if they put one here... I'm excited to come out, and will be excited to
come out for the next three years."
For all of Khan's investment in the team's facilities and stadium in Jacksonville, these questions will continue to follow him and his team over the next four years, especially in light of his purchase of London-based Premier League team Fulham. Don't be surprised if that speculation only grows as there's every chance that future years may see the Jaguars training at Fulham's facilities (similar to how last season, the Rams trained at Arsenal's training ground, both teams being respectively fully and partially owned by Stan Kroenke). That's not a statement made from pure speculation, either - the Pennyhill Park and Spa, which also hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011, made sense as a base for NFL teams because of the large rugby pitch on-site which has been adapted for use as an American football training field. That might not be an option for much longer - a senior member of Pennyhill's staff told TPL that the rugby pitch was about to be rebuilt as a training facility for England's national rugby union side who had recently come to a ten-year agreement with Pennyhill, making it seem unlikely that future NFL teams will be able to train at the hotel. With Khan owning Fulham, it seems only logical the team will train there in future years once the RFU's new facilities have been built at Pennyhill - which in turn will only lead to more people making conclusions about the Jaguars' future home.
At least there'll be two Jaguars who won't mind being moved over to London permanently: D.J. Williams, whose admission on Tuesday that he wanted a British wife led him to personally ask TPL if we could ensure Emma Watson would be at the game on Sunday (we'll try our best, DJ, but we can't promise anything...) - and defensive tackle Roy Miller, who together with teammate Geno Hayes will become the first players in NFL history to have played three home games at Wembley Stadium. TPL were lucky enough to be granted an one-on-one time with Miller, and we'll be publishing our exclusive interview with him later in the week.
Stick with TPL as we'll be livetweeting both the Jaguars and 49ers press conferences today - which may just include the possible announcement of the Jaguars' 2014 London opponent.
Other notes from Wednesday:
- Posluszny said he enjoyed meeting the fans at Tuesday's promotional event at the Oxford Circus Niketown: "It was fun for us to be around that, to be around people who are excited about having an American football game coming here"
- 'The Poz' had a different vision of what the NFL could do in Europe, though it's an idea TPL have floated in the past: "when you look at it from the league's perspective it would obviously be great to have teams play in Europe, to expand the NFL brand to make it not just an American thing but almost a global brand... it would be interesting to have teams play in Europe, and almost have a division in Europe."
- Marcedes Lewis didn't come over to London on his own - he brought "12 or 13" family members with him, and seemed envious of the free time they had to explore the city: "they talked about going to Buckingham Palace and things like that to see the Changing of the Guard... I know I wanted to actually see that, I'm kind of bummed out that I missed it!"
- After Tuesday's disappointing effort with the Play60 event, for which we criticised the Jaguars - and which Chris Porter said would definitely "raise some eyebrows" given that the 49ers, Vikings and Rams all brought their full roster to their respective Play60 events - the team had a more high-profile turnout at the Niketown event mentioned above, which TPL will be bringing you an account of later in the week. Still, there was one notable absence at both events: Maurice Jones-Drew. Porter said "it is surprising when he's the face of the franchise. The purpose of this trip beyond winning the game is really to sell and build and expand the Jaguar brand... With this being the first time that they play in London, it's shocking to know that the face of the franchise did not participate in the event. I know that he does a lot of charitable work back home, so I am surprised he did not participate in either of the events."
More from Big Cat Country:
Jaguars news roundup 10/24
Justin Blackmon trade rumors: Jaguars WR unlikely to be dealt
Chad Henne Jaguars starter, Blaine Gabbert a healthy backup
49ers vs. Jaguars: Under the radar players to watch
Shad Khan regrets not making changes to Jaguars earlier