NFL team to play 4 home games in London

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NFL team to play 4 home games in London

From Comcast SportsNet
JACKSONVILLE, Florida (AP) -- The NFL and the Jacksonville Jaguars announced Tuesday that the small-market franchise will play one home game in London for four consecutive seasons beginning in 2013 -- a step the team believes will broaden its fan base and take some pressure off locals who have mostly failed to fill the stands in recent years. "I passionately believe the big growth now is going to come from overseas," owner Shad Khan said. "We've got to go where we can leverage and take advantage of some of those things. You've got to fish in ponds where you've got fish in there. We're going to a pond where there are no fishermen." The Jaguars will play at Wembley Stadium, which has hosted one NFL game annually since 2007. "We want to create an identity, a bold, ambitious franchise that is aggressive and forward-thinking on the field and away from the field," Khan said. "We want to be the kind of franchise players want to belong to, sponsors want to be part of, and Jacksonville is proud of. ... The key point is to sell Jacksonville to the world. We are a well-kept secret, but after today, that's not going to be the case." By all accounts, the Jaguars are the NFL's least popular team. They rank at or near the bottom of the league in website hits as well as Twitter and Facebook interactions. Although Jacksonville is the largest city in the continental United States in terms of land mass, it is home to just 1.3 million people -- and that includes several surrounding areas; London alone has 8 million people. Missing the playoffs in 10 of 12 seasons has made attracting fans a problem in Jacksonville. The team used to pack the stands regularly, even though it plays in a stadium built to house large crowds for the annual Florida-Georgia college football game. But in 2005, the Jaguars decided to cover up nearly 10,000 seats with tarps to reduce capacity and limit television blackouts. Even though the Jaguars haven't blacked out a home game since 2009, they still have struggled to fill EverBank Field. Playing an annual game in London will reduce season-ticket prices by 10 percent, possibly making the remaining package a more affordable and enticing option. Reaction, though, was mixed among the fan base. Some supported the decision and others questioned the team's motives. After all, if the Jaguars become England's team and continue to have issues back home, what's to stop the NFL from moving them across the pond for good? "You can't fault them if anyone is mad about this," kicker Josh Scobee said. "We can only ask for their support in going over there and ask them to watch it on TV." The St. Louis Rams had been scheduled to play in London in 2013 and 2014, but they pulled out last week, citing a need to focus on lease negotiations and ease fan discontent. The Jaguars scooped up the available games -- plus some. "It's just good for the Jaguar brand," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "It's exciting to go over there and put ourselves on the map worldwide. When I got drafted in 2006, there were some of my family members who didn't even know who the Jaguars were." Players recognized the major pitfalls -- traveling overseas and giving up home games -- but no one knocked the decision publicly. "We know football is the greatest sport in the states, so for fans in other areas who don't get to watch it first hand, it's good for them to experience and see what we all brag about," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joined Khan for the announcement, which fittingly came on a gray, rain-soaked day in Jacksonville -- typical London weather. Goodell reaffirmed his commitment to expanding to multiple games in England and eventually establishing a franchise there. "The big issue for us was finding a community that understood that this could be great for the community, wrap their arms around it and say this is a win-win situation," Goodell said. Khan said the Jaguars are committed to playing all four years at Wembley, even if the team becomes a Super Bowl contender and a hot ticket in Jacksonville. "I think if you make a commitment, you stick with it," said Khan, who bought the team in November for 770 million. "To me, we're all in." Khan added that he would consider playing more games overseas after the deal expires in 2016. He also acknowledged that the payoff probably won't be seen immediately. He suggested that Londoners could fall in love with the Jaguars and decide to visit Jacksonville regularly. The ultimate goal, though, would be to have European companies spend millions in Jacksonville. "If somebody builds a container port, if somebody makes an investment out of Germany or England or Netherlands and they chose Jacksonville, that would be a huge return from my viewpoint," Khan said. "You could have people come here -- we've got beautiful golf, weather -- instead of vacationing in Miami or some place and they come up here and watch a game or two. That would be a huge return for me." Coach Mike Mularkey and cornerback Aaron Ross have made the trip before -- Ross with the New York Giants in 2007, and Mularkey with the Dolphins that year -- and both praised the fans and the experience they gained from making the trip. "I know Shad's been trying to have people recognize what's going on here in this town," Mularkey said. "I think this is a great opportunity to get it. Obviously going overseas, that's making a statement."

'The Kid' Arroyo continues wildly impressive first week with Giants

'The Kid' Arroyo continues wildly impressive first week with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — In a quiet moment in the dugout Friday, manager Bruce Bochy tried to figure out a nickname for his new budding star. During a week where Christian Arroyo has made the game look so easy, this has turned out to be the most difficult part. 

Bochy briefly settled on “Yo” before that was scuttled because the team’s video coordinator is Yo Miyamoto. Joe Panik said some players have tried C.A. or YoYo, but admitted that neither is all that good. The team’s Twitter account spent a few days trying to make Boss Baby a thing, but Arroyo wasn’t thrilled with that one and the experiment appears to be over. In a back room of the clubhouse, there’s a printout showing Arroyo and Buzz from “Home Alone,” but that comparison is much better made with Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman. 

Perhaps the answer is as simple as the path Arroyo’s bat takes to a fastball. As he watched Arroyo field grounders during batting practice, Dick Tidrow was asked about the 21-year-old. Tidrow, the team’s senior VP of player personnel, has seen and worked with Arroyo since he was drafted. 

“We always just called him The Kid,” Tidrow said. “He would turn around when I called him Kid.”

The Kid is growing up quickly. Arroyo’s second homer of the week was the game-winner Friday, an eighth-inning blast that put a lead in Mark Melancon’s hands. The new closer made sure the new third baseman’s homer didn’t go to waste, clinching a 4-3 win that got the Giants out of the National League West’s cellar. 

The homer might have surprised Arroyo as much as anyone. He came here with a reputation as a mature and talented hitter, but power is not his calling card. 

“I’m not trying to hit a homer there,” he said. “Get the head out, see a pitch over the plate, barrel something, just keep the line moving. I got a good pitch, elevated it, and fortunately it went out.”

Arroyo already speaks like a hitting coach, but he is not afraid to admit that there are things he doesn’t know. It’s easy to get film on opposing starters, but there’s little a rookie can do to prepare for late-inning pitching changes. Arroyo consulted Buster Posey and Conor Gillaspie before facing Ryan Buchter, who has been in the division for two years. Gillaspie told him Buchter’s fastball has some late life and gets on a hitter. 

“I wanted to see it and the first pitch was a little low so I got a good read on them,” Arroyo said. 

The second one was right at the belt and Arroyo pulled it down the line for his second big league homer. He had just three last year in Double-A, but the Giants felt the 36 doubles showed that power was on the way. 

“He’s got pop,” Bochy said. “He’s not a guy trying to hit homers. He tries to put a good swing on it. But he drives balls and you saw it tonight. We see him more as a gap guy, but he’ll get more power as he gets older. We’re not asking him to hit homers, trust me, but it’s good to see him letting it go.”

The homer secured a win on a night when a lot went right. Jeff Samardzija was sharp, paying for one pitch to Ryan Schimpf that left the park but otherwise pitching seven strong. Panik and Brandon Belt ignited the offense early and Michael Morse came through with a game-tying sacrifice fly in the fifth. Derek Law and Mark Melancon closed it out, with Melancon getting help from Panik, who made a spectacular tumbling catch on a flare to shallow right-center. It was a big first out given that Melancon was pitching for the third straight day. 

“It was going to be in no man’s land,” Panik said. “You give it everything you’ve got. Fortunately the ball stayed in the glove.”

When it was over, the youngest Giant was in for another round of interviews to cap a hectic week. On Monday he made his debut and on Tuesday he picked up his first hit. Wednesday brought the first homer and Thursday was the first multi-hit game. What will the weekend include? Maybe a real nickname? 

For now, the Giants are fine with leaning on The Kid, because many of them didn’t even know how young the star of the week was until he was a couple of days into his big league career.

“I was thinking he was 23 or 24,” Samardzija said. “This has been really impressive.”

Vanderdoes out to 'prove people wrong,' show Raiders his very best

Vanderdoes out to 'prove people wrong,' show Raiders his very best

ALAMEDA – Eddie Vanderdoes knows his UCLA game tape is inconsistent. The powerful defensive tackle admits he wasn’t always at his best, especially after tearing his ACL in 2015. Before that, he was difficult to stop. Afterward, he wasn’t the same player. He doesn’t blame the knee.

He struggled with ankle injuries and weight issues in 2016, a lackluster campaign by his own standard. Since that season ended, Vanderdoes has returned to 100 percent. His ankles are fine. His knee is great. And he lost 40 pounds heading into the NFL scouting combine, preparing for a return to his old self.

The Raiders see great potential in the former Bruin and made him their third-round pick on Friday evening. The Auburn native was excited by the prospect, and believes the Raiders will get his absolute best. His voice was passionate, his determination clear even on a conference call with local press.

“I am going to be the player I was earlier in my career,” Vanderdoes said. “I had a bad season. That wasn’t me. That’s not the person that I am. That’s not the character that I hold. I’m definitely going to bring that to the Raiders’ defensive line. I’m going to bring that energy and I’m really happy to be an Oakland Raider.”

The Raiders will be thrilled if that’s true. They liked what he showed at the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine, where he showed traits that should translate to NFL production.

“I am definitely back 100 percent, very confident with the combine, the Senior Bowl,” Vanderdoes said. “I got my explosiveness back. I got my speed back, my athleticism back. I am definitely at the top of shape right now, so I’m ready to get back to work and show them the player that they saw on the film and the player that they wanted to draft and I’m also looking to turn even more heads and do things that some people might expect that I couldn’t do.”

That includes rushing the passer, being a consistent three-down tackle in the Raiders scheme. He might be a rotational player first, filling the void created when Stacy McGee left in free agency.

“He’s a good, active defensive lineman that we think his best football is in front of him,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He had an ACL (injury) a couple of years ago. His weight has been up and down. We expect him to come in here and be a real professional and work hard with (head strength and conditioning coach) Joe Gomes and the strength staff and get himself ready to roll. He needs to come in here and add depth to our defensive line and give us a little interior push.”

Vanderdoes believes he can do more than that if he does things right. If his weight stays down, strength stays up and he learns the system well, he wants to compete for a significant role as a rookie.

“I’m coming in expecting to contribute and play right away,” Vanderdoes said. “That’s the mindset that I’ve always had. I’ve came with that mindset that I need to be the guy to step in and do what I do and dominate. I definitely think people slept on me a little bit this past offseason.

“I love the fact that (the NFL) slept on me, I think that’s what motivated me every morning waking up, knowing that I get to prove people wrong. I think I’ve done a good job so far of that, and I’m going to keep doing as well being an Oakland Raider because I know I’m at the bottom again. I have to work my way back up.”