The question was about turnovers. About what the Jacksonville Jaguars defense would need to do to nab their first one of the year. About flipping that all important margin around and what it could do for a defense since turnovers are notoriously contagious.
But it was the latter part that intrigued Head Coach Urban Meyer; the contagious part. How one play could cause a spark and incite a flame that’s been dormant for far too long, but still simmering none the less. At 0-2 to start the season, the club owns a 17-game losing streak. Meyer has technically only been a part of the latest two, but he has been around the game long enough to know what a locker room accepting of a loss can look like.
So he’s asking for a spark. But to have a spark, one must first have a fire capable of being lit. It begins with the people.
“The number one thing that I’ve always, always worry about is making sure we have a really good locker room,” Meyer began, explaining why turnovers were a microcosm of the Jaguars larger issues to local media on Wednesday.
“That’s always been number one at the point of emphasis. First of all, quality of people and good unity and guys sticking together, and they are. I know the first two games haven’t gone [the way we wanted them to]—and some of these guys have been part of this for a couple years now. I love our locker room. I just had a good talk with our team about it and I see it on the sidelines. I see it and I talk to the guys nonstop.”
Half of this Jaguars locker room has been here for some time, or at least suffering through a 1-15 season, before the arrival of Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, among others.
If we may be allowed to continue with this metaphor, a fire won’t stay lit if the kindling isn’t strong. So the second facet of Meyer’s turnaround is to make sure each player in that locker room is capable of being on the field when needed.
“Number two is health of players and I can see the sports performance model being a positive so far. I know we get little dings here and there, but for the most part, our guys are utilizing it.”
Then comes the most important part; the actual spark. It can come on a single play or a series of events or sometimes—according to Meyer—simply from one guy lighting it for a teammate. He’s seen the beginnings of these sparks, giving him faith that soon one will have staying power.
“Michael Jordan said it in that documentary is that the Chicago Bulls struggled for years and years and all they needed was a spark…a spark is what? A spark is a great player making a great play. And how do you do that? It’s called competitive excellence. You do it in practice, you work it and you work to put the players in those positions.
“You evaluate the game last week, we could’ve been up 21-3. We missed a couple protections, DJ [Chark] was running 10 yards behind a guy, we got pressured and we didn’t get it out. So, just a spark by someone and we all witnessed it. Some sparks are relatively hard to have happen.
“And those 103-yard kick returns—how many times does that happen a year? I don’t know. I’m trying to think of the last time I had one on a team. 103 yards and that was DT, Daniel Thomas and so did Chapelle [Russell]. Obviously Ags [Jamal Agnew], that’s why we brought him here because he has the talent to do that. But here’s Chapelle running 100 yards down the field, leading them into the end zone.
“That’s a spark. A sack-fumble, interception, a third-down reception. And so, when that happens, that’s when the rock breaks.”
Meyer had four stops at the college level as a head coach. Three out of the four times, he was brought in to take over a team with a losing record the previous year. All four times, he manufactured winning and vastly improved records in his first year. Bowling Green went from 2-9 to 8-3 in Meyer’s first year. Utah improved from 5-6 to 10-2. The Florida Gators were 7-5 before Urban, then 9-3 in his first year (and won a National Championship his second year).
At Ohio State, Meyer took a team that had been 6-7 in 2011, and in his first year, led them to an undefeated 12-0 record. They were ineligible for postseason play due to previous NCAA infractions. So it was two more years before Meyer was able to take the team to a 14-1 record with a National Championship. Suffice to say, he’s seen what it takes to set a model for a rebuild and see it come to fruition.
"We’re all working through it. Of course it’s different in college, I get that, I’m not trying to equate the two, but you take over a team that was 1-10, you take over a team that was 6-7, you take over a team that was 5-7, or you take over whatever it is. Yeah, it’s hard, it’s really, really hard. And I knew it was going to be hard, but like I said, my focus is on what—I’m not worried about what happened last year or the year before. I’m worried about the locker room, how’s our locker room going? Our locker room is fantastic. How’s the chemistry on the team? Fantastic. How’s our relationship amongst the coaching staff? Fantastic—working your you-know-whats off and that’s all I’m concerned about.”
While the NFL is a different animal the foundation remains the same. The secret ingredient? A spark. And if it comes from a defensive turnover, even better.