Fair Weather Fans

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Atlanta is a terrible sports town. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Atlantans simply don’t show up for their pro teams unless they are winning, and consistently.

Partially it’s because the south belongs to college football, and partially it’s because of a lack of championships and probably some other things factor in as well.  It’s the way of things here, and I doubt it will change any time soon.

So how is it that the NFC Championship, the final game at the Georgia Dome for the Atlanta Falcons, was packed full of loud, screaming southerners? Why were tickets for Suntrust Park’s debut game so hard to come by when they went on sale?

Fair weather fans.

The Falcons were good, and they were on their way to the Super Bowl. Suntrust Park is sparkly and new, and there is excitement abound for the Braves this year; but mark my words, if the Falcons can’t win football games at a high clip in their own brand new stadium, Mercedes Benz Stadium won’t be seeing sellouts in November.

If the Braves don’t stay competitive, then Suntrust Park will be just as vacant as Turner Field was in August last year; because those fair weather fans will stop caring and that’s okay.

Look, it can be frustrating for die hard fans to cope with the sudden attention their team gets from people that would otherwise fail to show up. Die harders experience the lows that fair weather fans will never know; because they don’t subject themselves to it. So, what right do they have to experience the highs?

I saw it and heard it all over Atlanta while the Falcons were in the playoffs: remarks about fans coming out of the woodwork just because the team was good. It was certainly true – but warranted. They WERE good!

As I am a die hard Braves fan, I find myself occasionally annoyed by fair weather fans too but if I take a step back I realize that not only are they not committing any egregious crimes, they are benefitting the team they’ve suddenly come out to support.

Think about it: if the Braves miraculously made it to the World Series this year, fair weather fans would show up in droves to the ballpark and sports bars to watch them play.

Irksome as they may seem (this has been MY TEAM for years!), would I truly rather they didn’t bother to pay attention? Do I want my team to take the field to a stadium half full of fans while they battle for a championship? Of course not.

A roaring crowd can tip the scales in some cases and I want my team to have that. They should take the field or court or gridiron to a packed house of supporters. It doesn’t matter if the fans have earned the right to celebrate – the team has earned the right to fans.

Plus, not every die hard fan was raised to be a die hard fan. Everyone has to start somewhere. I, for one, am a die hard Braves fanatic not because my parents were, but because I watched John Smoltz strike out three batters out in 2003 to close out a win. They were good, and they hooked me.

What if the Giants had come back and won that game? Would I have come back to the Braves? I’d like to think so, but I’m not so sure. Good teams breed new fans. Just think about how many Georgian eyes were on the Super Bowl in February. If they had held on and won, how many of those eyes would have been converted into die harders?

So, next time your beloved team, wherever they are, starts winning don’t scorn those who haven’t suffered the losses with you. Instead, embrace them. Your team deserves them.

 

SEC Tournament Preview

By: Drayton Hogarth

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

One of the most anticipated weekends of the college basketball season has arrived, and that is the conference tournament weekend.

The stakes are high for everyone as every conference’s automatic national tournament bid is on the line. So, a team can have a poor regular season, get hot for one weekend, and will be invited to the Big Dance.

Locally, most eyes will be on the Southeastern Conference tournament being played in Nashville. Let’s take a look at who are the favorites to cut down the nets, who may be a dark horse, and who has no chance to win the tourney.

SEC basketball practically starts and ends with the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky has 47 conference titles; for comparison’s sake combine the next eight teams to have won the most conference titles and the total is…are you ready? 47.

Coach Calipari appears to have this year’s crop of freshmen peaking at the right time. The Cats are led by shooting guard Malik Monk and big man Bam Adebayo. However, keep an eye on sophomore Isaiah Briscoe, Briscoe seems to be the glue that keep the team together and focused on the floor.

If there is a team that can take down the Wildcats, it very well could be the Florida Gators. The Gators have had a bit of a resurgence under second year coach Mike White.

Coach White has maximized his roster, and gotten strong seasons from KeVaughn Allen and Charleston graduate transfer Canyon Barry, son of former NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry.

What may hurt Florida will be the loss of John Egbunu to injury. The Gators have had a dozen or so games to adjust to life without the big man, and may be the only team with enough firepower to knock off the Cats.

Surprisingly, the Vanderbilt Commodores are in the category of favorites heading into conference tournament play. The ‘Dores’ record is not stellar, but it is the strength of schedule that is virtually assuring them of a national tournament invite.

Vandy, under first year head coach, Bryce Drew, has really hit their stride, winning five of their last six. Led by sharp shooting big man, Luke Kornet, look for Vanderbilt to have the second most fan support given that they are playing in their home city of Nashville, but no school will be represented more than Kentucky.

Looking to play spoiler this weekend will be the Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia coach Mark Fox had multiple reports that Georgia was inquiring with other coaches about their interest in the basketball job in Athens.

Apparently, the reports were erroneous or at least premature, as the UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity quickly dispelled any rumors.

On the court, the Bulldogs will be getting one of the best big men in the conference back from injury in Yante Maten. If JJ Frazier can continue his hot play, and Maten can provide scoring down low, the Dawgs may be able to play their way back into the national tournament.

 

Teams that don’t have much of a chance this weekend, despite solid records, Arkansas and South Carolina.

First, Arkansas, the Razorbacks have a shiny record of 23-8, but it is fool’s gold. The Hogs best win is over Mount Saint Marys; a really good team but not elite.

South Carolina, under Frank Martin are following an eerily similar pattern to last season. The Gamecocks have started out looking like a lock, but just completely fall apart down the stretch.

The Cocks are a really scrappy bunch, play tough defense, and even have likely conference player of the year in Sindarius Thornwell, but it won’t be enough to bring home the SEC title.

When it is all said and done, look for the Kentucky Wildcats to bring yet another trophy home to the Blue Grass state. It’s just what they do.

ACC Awards

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Now that the college basketball regular season has come to an end it’s time for some of those in the media to start handing out individual awards, and for those of us who don’t have a vote, to second guess them. With that in mind, the ACC is off to a terrific start.

During the first half of the Duke/Carolina game the other night one of my closest friends, whom I’ve known since I was two and is a huge UNC fan, sent me a text that said if Luke Kennard or John Collins didn’t win Player of the Year in the ACC it’d be a travesty.

Throw in a few well placed expletives that Samuel L. Jackson would be proud of and you’ll understand the manner in which the text was sent. Too bad my buddy doesn’t have a vote, since neither of them won.

I like Justin Jackson a lot as a player and believe he is more than deserving of being on the All ACC 1st team. I can even understand the argument as to why he is the Player of the Year, I just don’t agree with it.

To me, nobody deserved it more than John Collins. Besides the “eye test” which he obviously passed, Collins finished the conference schedule 3rd in scoring, 2nd in rebounds, 4th in blocks, and 1st in field goal percentage- beating out Jackson in every single category.

Wake finished at 9-9 and looks to be headed to the NCAA tournament, so the whole argument about not giving the award to a player on an awful team, ala TJ Warren from a few years back, isn’t necessarily valid.

When all is said and done, I don’t agree with Jackson winning, but I understand it. I can’t say the same when it comes to the Coach of the Year.

Josh Pastner has done a terrific job with Georgia Tech, but there’s no way he should have won Coach Of the Year over Roy Williams. And this is coming from a someone who despises UNC so much that had my wife not stopped me I would’ve named my daughter Matt Doherty Lanier just so I would never have to forget his tenure at Carolina. As much as I hate to say it, and believe me I do, Roy should’ve won this award going away.

Carolina just won the regular season by two games over Florida State, in what a majority of people have said is the most competitive season in ACC history. They not only accomplished this with lesser NBA talent than a lot of the teams below them, but they also had a rash of injuries they’ve been dealing with. This may actually be one of Roy’s better coaching jobs.

Instead, the award is given to Pastner because, and let’s just be honest here, he stated that when he initially took the job the Athletic Director told him they wouldn’t win a conference game the entire year.

Except, just the other day Georgia Tech’s A.D. went on record that he never said it. In a world where #fakenews has become a part of our everyday vernacular, Pastner has been doing his best Sean Spicer.

Did the Yellow Jackets exceed expectations? Yes. Did they still finish 8-10? Sure. Did Pastner win because the media misjudged how much talent was actually on that team? Absolutely.

It’s almost as if these awards are given, not based on anyone’s actual performance, but rather how badly the media misjudged them before the season even starts. “Congratulations for not sucking as bad as we thought you would…..now here’s an award.”

 

 

Jacksonville Jaguars Draft

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Yes, I’m the guy that picked the Jacksonville Jaguars to in the AFC South last year.

I bought into the hype surrounding the Jags as they dove deep into the 2016 Free Agent pool and spend a lot of money but did not get a lot of return.

I don’t think defense is the problem in Jacksonville, as you read rumors that the Jags may go after some high profile Free Safeties in this year’s free agent pool to sure up the back of that defense. Myles Jack has Pro Bowl written all over him and I read where Jacksonville will make him an every down LB.

When you look at what is holding Jacksonville down; then look no further than the offense. Critics put the blame on the shoulders of Blake Bortles, but for Bortles to develop into a next level QB he needs OL help. The Jags OL needs some major upgrades.

Bortles is always one of the most sacked QB’s in the NFL and a QB cannot continue to take those kind of shots weekly.

We are going to focus on a major problem for Jacksonville and that is running back. The Jaguar running game is pathetic ranking 22nd or higher in the NFL for the last five years. You cannot win in the NFL consistently without a running game, and this is where the culture shift must start in Jacksonville.

Look no further than the transformation of the Dallas Cowboys in 2016 and that started when the Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick and Elliott was the best RB who led the league with 1,631 rushing yards.

Jacksonville holds the #4 pick and they need to select one of the top two backs on the board. The two best backs in the draft are Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook.

Fournette was a 235 pound monster at LSU and has a blend of power and speed that many in the SEC have not seen since Herschel and Bo. Fournette only played 3 years at LSU and rushed for 3800 yards and had his last season cut short by injuries.

The SEC is the major talent pipeline to the NFL right now and Fournette would be ready immediately to step in day one and be the Jags number one back. He can catch the ball out the backfield as well.

TJ Yeldon could then be converted to a third down option which he is best suited for. Fournette is a work horse and needs 20-25 carries a game. A good running game will take a huge load off of Bortles.

Dalvin Cook is the best RB to ever play at FSU. Cook has better numbers in college than Fournette and was more durable. Cook has 4500 rushing yards at FSU in 3 seasons and 46 TD’s and he carried the ball almost 700 times in Tallahassee and seemed to get better deeper in games.

Cook plays at 210 pounds and is an excellent receiving option out of the back field. The ACC was the best conference in college football last year. Cook did not get the press he deserved, but this guy is a beast and has home run speed.

The Jags must take one of these studs with the 4th pick. Jacksonville has to get better fast in the running game and you have to have the horses to accomplish this.

If the Jaguars pass on either Fournette or Cook then how do you get better on offense in 2017?

Freddie Freeman To Become Atlanta Brave Great

By: Drayton Hogarth

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

With Spring Training underway, and Opening Day just a few short weeks away, the Braves will yet again be led by Freddie Freeman.

Freeman will be entering his seventh season for the Atlanta club, when he began his rookie year he was supposed to be the complementary piece to “can’t miss franchise” player Jason Heyward.

Funny how things work out, Heyward was shipped out of Atlanta four seasons later, while Freeman has continued to blossom into a perennial all-star for the Braves. My question, is this the year that Freeman elevates his status into the upper echelon of Braves greats?

When one talks about Atlanta Braves history, the George Washington of the Braves Mount Rushmore is Hank Aaron. The true home run king of Major League Baseball will likely always maintain the top spot in the minds of Atlanta fans.

To many in the baseball world, 755 is still the magic number for home runs, and unless Freeman gets on a massive tear that will not be his avenue to being remembered as one of the greatest Braves of all time.

However, don’t let that fool you; Freeman is one of the best hitter’s currently in the game. As well, Freeman has a vast knowledge of the strike zone, which allows him to be selective at the plate so he is not the proverbial hit or miss batter.

Dale Murphy practically was the Atlanta Braves in the 1980’s. Murphy would lead a post season run in Atlanta roughly a decade before the string of division titles in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

The rest of the baseball world took notice as Murphy would win back to back MVP trophy’s in 1982 and 1983. After those seasons, overreactions by the Atlanta front office would stymie the Braves on field success, but Murphy never wavered from his commitment to Atlanta, his teammates, and more so from his faith.

Freeman seems to have some of that Dale Murphy personality in him. Teammates always talk about how Freeman is a leader, on and off the field, as well as being great in the clubhouse.

Freeman also has the kind of game, that will allow him to challenge for an MVP or two before his career is complete. A high batting average, good power, and coming up big in the clutch are all traits that lead to MVP consideration.

In fact, Freeman seemed to have been overlooked last year when you take a look at his .300 average, 32 home runs, and 91 RBI’s. Maybe if the team had started out with a better record, the media wouldn’t have immediately written him off.

When Chipper Jones finally arrived in Atlanta, he brought as much fan anticipation with him as any player ever. Chipper was kind of the Bryce Harper of his generation, minus the attitude and without being quite as cocky.

Chipper actually backed up his cockiness with 186 home runs over his first six years in the league, which is the same time frame as Freeman. One has to remember, Chipper had a lot more talent around him when he arrived in Atlanta than Freeman.

What has to excite Braves fans, last season once the Braves brought in Matt Kemp and others, that is when Freeman really elevated his game. Chipper was able to win an MVP, plus brought home that elusive World Series trophy.

Freeman, should he continue on his current path, will have an opportunity to put up similar numbers to Chipper Jones, both on the stat sheet and in the win column. If that is the case, then Freddie Freeman will be a lifetime Brave, and etch his name into the short list of all time greats in the hearts and minds of Braves Nation.

So there are many characteristics and similarities that indicate Freddie Freeman can become an all-time great Atlanta Brave.

It will take consistency, but most importantly it will take winning. Freeman has the most talented lineup around him coming into this season, if Freddie can lead the way, he already has many of the other traits needed to find himself on the short list of most popular Braves ever.

ACC March Madness

jjBy: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

With the regular season winding down and various conference tournaments beginning across the country, the NCAA Tournament is just on the horizon.

Originally, I was going to comment on what it would take for all the possibly eligible SEC teams to make it to Phoenix this year, but I would’ve finished almost as quickly as I started. So, since it seems the ACC will likely have a much larger number of participants, I’ll go with them.

These are all the ACC teams that are currently thought to be in the field of 68, or one of the first four out, according to SI.com.

Wake Forest: Hope they don’t play anyone ranked in the Top 50. The Demon Deacons are something like 1-348,962 against Top 50 opponents since the invention of the telephone. That request is probably a realistic expectation if they were to make the tournament, right?

Georgia Tech: Make sure they score over 65 points. Their winning percentage is .866 when they hit this benchmark. It’s .30 when they don’t.

Syracuse: Have John Gillon dedicate ‘Cuses entire tournament run to Rasheed Sulaimon. I have the upmost respect for Gillon trying to have his buddy’s back after hitting the game winning shot against Duke. The only problem is the ‘15 team that dismissed ‘Sheed won the title. When comparing anything Sulaimon accomplishes in his basketball life to that Duke team, he loses. End of story.

Virginia Tech: Ummm…..Huh??? I figured the Hokies just stopped playing basketball once they got rid of Seth Greenberg.

Miami: Show Bruce Brown tapes of Doug McDermott, similar to that of A Clockwork Orange. Brown has scored more than 20 points in only two games this season, against UNC and Duke. Those just happen to be the ‘Canes two most impressive wins of the year.

Virginia: Hold their opponents to under 40 points. I know I sound facetious, but Virginia has scored 55 or less in three of the last five games. In the two games they eclipsed that number, one was in double overtime and the other was against NC State, where they’re allergic to defense.

Notre Dame: Avoid teams that play any semblance of defense. Mike Brey’s team always seem to be near the top in offensive efficiency which helps negate other teams that like to get out and push the ball. Play someone where that efficiency takes a dip and they will struggle.

Florida State: Convince the NCAA committee to play the tournament in Tallahassee. FSU hasn’t lost on their home court since November, but has really struggled on the road. Next to North Carolina, Florida State is the second most complete team in the ACC.

Louisville: Hit outside shots. If they do this they have a chance. If not, they don’t. Pretty simple.

North Carolina: Don’t be in a bracket with a more talented team. I know it sounds obvious, but the tournament has made its name on upsets- unless you’re Carolina. Since 2006 the lowest seed UNC has lost to was a 4 seed Kentucky team. When it comes to the tournament, the Heels win the games they’re supposed to. Unfortunately for their fans, the same logic applies for the games they should lose.

Duke: Invent a time machine to travel back to October and undo whatever voodoo took place before the season started. On paper, this is the most talented team in the nation. On the court, it has been completely different. Plenty of legitimate excuses to go around, but bottom line is this sum is not equal to all of its parts.

 

 

Braves Spring Training

tj1By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The day after the Braves were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention in 2014 they fired General Manager Frank Wren.

It was merely the first domino in the Braves’ rebuild, a process that saw big league player after big league player traded away for prospects, tearing down what had been a division winning team just one year earlier and beginning to build back up.

When John Hart and John Schuerholz started making these moves, the boilerplate comforting line was that Atlanta would be built back up into a contending team by the time they moved into their new ballpark, Suntrust Park, in 2017.

Of course, that was ridiculous. There was no way a team was going to trade away Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons and more and then in TWO YEARS field a team that was anything but hard to watch. It was a fool’s errand. How could the Braves be in a position to excite their fan base in 2017?

Now, as February winds down and the spring games begin, ramping up for the 2017 season, how do the Braves look?

Honestly?…..Exciting.

Not World Series winning exciting; not yet. But against all odds, the Braves are going to field a decent team this year. Stranger still, that excitement rests on the backs of veteran players. All those prospects the Braves traded for aren’t even here yet. Instead, the Braves are looking to Matt Kemp and Brandon Phillips, to Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey; these are the players that have elevated the Braves to being a team that is going to win its fair share of ballgames.

There were times just last season where it seemed like the Braves were never going to win another game. Yet here we are, looking to break camp with an eye on finishing above the Phillies and Marlins in the division.

It’s exciting to have these players, not because they’ll carry the team but because they have a chance to support Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran.

The Braves have had the centerpieces for years, there’s just been a void surrounding them. Now, as evidenced by the last month and a half of 2016, there’s an actual, living, breathing offense surrounding Freddie Freeman.

The pitching staff that showed its youth last season has been bolstered by stability but more importantly, by players that aren’t permanent. Bartolo Colon is going to start every fifth day, but you can be sure that he won’t be blocking anyone. If there’s a pitcher ready to come up to the bigs and stay, bet on John Coppolella moving those veterans out of the way.

Perhaps that’s part of the excitement. The Braves have had the talent in the farm system, but some, like Aaron Blair, didn’t have enough time to cook down there.

This year, the pressure is off the Braves to present those prospects to the public before they’re ready because they’ve got those veterans in place. So when we see players come up from the minors, they’ll be ready.

Some of that has already begun. Dansby Swanson will be the starting shortstop on opening day in 2017. Ozzie Albies won’t be far behind. Rio Ruiz is in camp and hungry to make his mark in Atlanta.

Look, the Braves didn’t acquire Chris Sale in the offseaon, they got Bartolo Colon. They didn’t trade for Brian Dozier, they traded for Brandon Phillips. There are obviously younger players in their primes than what the Braves have in Atlanta but look at last year’s stats for Phillips. That’s a guy who hit .291 now playing second base for the Braves.

Bartolo Colon won 15 games and was an All-Star last year. Now he’s the Braves number two pitcher.

It’s very unlikely that the Braves will make the postseason this year. But if we judge success on achieving the impossible, then Atlanta has already won; because the 2017 season starts soon and I’m excited.

 

Letter To Ole Miss Fan

kippBy: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

My oldest daughter Alexia is an avid Ole Miss fan. I dedicate this article to my loving daughter. The NCAA released a list of new allegations alleged committed by Ole Miss. Here is the bulleted list:

A prospective student-athlete went hunting near campus on private land owned by a booster during his official visit in 2013 and on two or three occasions after he enrolled, and that the access to this land was arranged by the football program.

  • A former staff member impermissibly arranged lodging and transportation for a prospective student-athlete and his companions while providing impermissible transportation to another prospective student-athlete. The total value is alleged to be $2,272. The football program has also been alleged of giving $235 in free meals to a prospective student-athlete.
  • Former staff member violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct when committing violations and when providing false information to the institution and enforcement staff.
  • Former staff member initiated and facilitated two boosters that gave impermissible cash payments to a prospective student-athlete of anywhere between $13,000 to $15,600.
  • Former staff member arranged for a friend of a prospective student-athlete’s family to get impermissible merchandise, valued at approximately $2,800. The school will contest.
  • Head coach Hugh Freeze had impermissible, in-person, off-campus contact with a prospective student-athlete.
  • A booster provided money, food and drinks to a prospective student-athlete at a value between $200 and $600. The school will contest.
  • Head coach Hugh Freeze violated head coach responsibility legislation. The school will contest
  • The school lacked institutional control and failed to monitor the conduct and administration of its athletics program. The school will contest.

In response to these allegations Ole Miss imposed the following penalties on itself:

Ole Miss has self-imposed a one-year ban from the postseason and will forfeit its share of the SEC postseason football revenue for this upcoming year, which is expected to be somewhere in the range of $7-8 million.

Who did not see this dumpster fire coming in Oxford? When the dreaded lack of institutional control charge is thrown out there then usually more sanctions are coming.

Does Ole Miss really think the NCAA is going to accept these self-imposed sanctions and just turn the other cheek? I can see loss of scholarships on the horizon. And this one year bowl ban? I thought Ole Miss served that last year? My bad they went 5-7.

Flashback to September 24th, 2016. My oldest daughter and her friend Caroline take an SEC road trip to Oxford for the Georgia game. Dad is having his best day of 2016 on River Street in Savannah watching the game in a local tavern and the texts start coming from oldest daughter when Ole Miss starts blowing out my Dawgs.

Dad knew UGA was in trouble that day, and I did make the comment that sanctions were coming and you better enjoy this while you can.

I knew Ole Miss was on borrowed time back in September so what did I do, I shook it off and shopped in a store my oldest daughter loves and sat and enjoyed a lovely day in the oak filled squares in downtown Savannah and did not buy her a single thing.

The NCAA is about to rent every available office in Oxford, Mississippi to investigate the Ole Miss Football program. Welcome back to the status you have grown accustomed to since Johnny Vaught retired Rebel fans and that is the status of a bottom feeder.

Did I mention how much I love River Street and Downtown Savannah? The ride home on 95 South that day was magical. I was still getting scoreboard shot texts from first born child.

What does Hotty Toddy mean anyway? Does it mean NCAA probation?

As for you oldest Ole Miss fan daughter, I think I’ll take your baby sister shopping this weekend. She loves the Georgia Bulldogs, and you love NCAA sanctions. Have a great day!

Hotty Toddy,

Dad

What Jaguars Got For Julius Thomas

draytonBy: Drayton Hogarth

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We are still a couple of weeks away from the official start for NFL free agent signings, but the Jacksonville Jaguars have been the talk of the NFL offseason so far.

The Jaguars have wasted no time in making two separate but related trades with their in-state counterparts, the Miami Dolphins.

The deal basically works as follows: Jacksonville sends tight end, Julius Thomas to Miami for offensive lineman, Brandon Albert; along with an exchange of late round draft picks. Miami sends their pick in this year’s draft, while Jacksonville’s pick won’t switch until next season.

Two seasons ago, the Jaguars made a huge move in free agency by signing Julius Thomas, the tight end who was highly productive for the Denver Broncos; back to back seasons of 12 touchdowns lead to big time contracts.

Thomas was never able to live up to the signing and never became the touchdown target for Blake Bortles that the Jaguars envisioned. The Dolphins have a plethora of quality offensive tackles on their roster, so many in fact that they have had to move a couple of them inside to play guard. It is kind of a play your best five mentality.

Brandon Albert will be entering his ninth season in the league and could provide the Jaguars a much needed protector for Bortles, as well as a road grader to help an anemic running game. This trade is truly a win-win on paper for both teams.

I mentioned earlier that Julius Thomas was a big time touchdown magnet while in Denver. Well, his offensive coordinator was Adam Gase. Gase just so happens to be the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Thomas and Gase’s familiarity with each other should provide the spark that Thomas needs to regain that double-digit touchdown form that he achieved in the Mile High City.

As much as Jacksonville needs an offensive tackle, as we have seen, Luke Joeckel and Kelvin Beachum have not lived up to their potential, or more so have been so injury prone that they have been salary cap nightmares for Jacksonville.

Although Albert’s career has not been without injury, the Jaguars have to hope that him missing extended time in all three of his Dolphins seasons is a thing of the past. The Dolphins should be able to handle the loss of Albert by shifting the young Laremy Tunsil, who will be entering his second season out to be their new left tackle.

This trade for Jacksonville and Miami helps set up both franchises for the rest of their offseason focus. Jacksonville will now be allowed to look to the draft to bring in playmakers and not take a chance on another possible lineman bust from the draft.

The Jaguars can bring in the proven lineman and allow rookie playmakers, possibly Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, to play behind the improved offensive line.

Miami needs a red zone target for quarterback Ryan Tanneyhill, and the history that Julius Thomas and Adam Gase have together is too much to overlook.

As well, Miami, who is likely closer to a deep playoff run, will free up about $45 million in salary cap room once Albert’s contract is off the books. Look for the Dolphins to take a run at DeSean Jackson, or possibly another interior offensive lineman, as this will be a very deep class in free agency at that position.

Often sports trades are one-sided. In this situation both franchises and players can be seen as winning with this deal. Sometimes it is just a matter of a change of scenery that can help restart productive careers.

One gets a sense that for both Julius Thomas and Brandon Albert this may be that exact case. Both players and their new teams should see immediate returns on this deal. In an offseason that is sure to be full of trades and free agent signings, keep this deal in mind for these two teams as big deals that happened early in the process.

Gators Chomping For SEC Title

jjBy: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

For the last, oh I don’t know, however many years John Calipari has been at Kentucky, the Wildcats have been far and away the best team in the SEC.

They almost always have the most talent, and as much as Calipari annoys me with most everything he says and does when searching for a microphone to put in front of that smug face of his, he is one hell of coach.

This year however, it’s a little different. To me, the best team in the conference, and certainly the team playing the best right now, are the Florida Gators.

When Florida hired Mike White to lead their basketball after Billy Donovan bolted for the NBA’s version of Hatfields vs. McCoys in Oklahoma City, most fans probably had no idea who White was. I can’t really blame them.

To be honest, when I heard the name Mike White I actually thought of this guy (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_White_(filmmaker).

When you’ve had the type of success that Donovan had in Gainesville, hiring someone that nobody has heard of isn’t always the most popular choice.

Regardless of his anonymity, White is making Jeremy Foley look like a genius. In only his second year, the Gators are not only neck and neck with Kentucky for the SEC regular season crown, but are doing so with a bunch players nobody has really heard of.

When I watched Florida play Duke earlier this season I knew of Kasey Hill, but the remaining roster might have been made up of the Lost Boys from Neverland, for all I could tell.

While I’m disappointed there still isn’t a Rufio on the team, the only name I might remember besides Hill is KeVaughn Allen.

The lack of individual attention makes sense though when you look at their statistics. Besides Hill being in the Top 5 in assists and steals, they don’t have a single player in the Top 10 in points, rebounds, or field goal percentage. They are truly the antithesis of a team like Kentucky.

You don’t have to watch them play for very long to understand they are well coached. They play tough defense, move the ball well on offense, and most importantly, they don’t seem to beat themselves.

Besides their two point loss to Vanderbilt earlier this year, which is a bit of a head scratcher, their other losses have been to teams they weren’t favored against. And even those games could’ve gone the Gators way.

The University of Florida has always been, and will probably always continue to be, a football school. They have a rich history of Hall of Fame players and coaches who have come through their program. They reside in a state that takes great pride in being a hotbed for young football talent.

Plus, they play in a conference that directly associates your manhood with what college team you root for. (Admit it, have you ever met a Vanderbilt fan that you didn’t think you could beat the crap out of?)

What Billy Donovan was able to do there was nothing short of phenomenal. The expectations aren’t for Mike White to excel in the way Donovan did, but if I’m a Gators fan I’m excited about the bright future that lies ahead.

If this year’s team is any indication of what to expect out of Gainesville over the next few year there’s one thing I know for certain; there will be mistaking which Mike White is responsible for the Gators success.