NFL starting QB released 5 days before opener

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NFL starting QB released 5 days before opener

From Comcast SportsNet Tuesday, September 6, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The Jacksonville Jaguars released veteran quarterback David Garrard on Tuesday, a stunning move that will save the franchise 9 million this season. Whether it saves coach Jack Del Rio's job remains to be seen. Team owner Wayne Weaver has said Jacksonville needs to make the playoffs for Del Rio to stick around for a 10th season. Del Rio made it clear late last season that he had grown tired of Garrard's inconsistent ways, but the coach remained steadfast through training camp and the preseason that Garrard was his starter. That changed Tuesday, when the Jaguars scheduled an afternoon news conference to discuss their decision. Del Rio will turn the starting job over to Luke McCown, who outplayed Garrard and rookie Blaine Gabbert in the preseason. But McCown played mostly with and against second- and third-teamers. McCown completed 12 of 18 passes for 133 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. Garrard missed the preseason opener because of a sore back, but started the final three games. He completed 50 percent of his passes for 216 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked three times. Del Rio's quarterback swap is similar to what he did in 2007, when he released Byron Leftwich in favor of Garrard after the preseason. Garrard played well that season, throwing 18 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. He has been average since, with 53 TDs and 38 INTs over the last three seasons. He also has been sacked 117 times in that span. His performance late last season was one of the final straws. With running back Maurice Jones-Drew sitting out against Washington, the Jaguars put the game on Garrard's shoulders and he struggled to handle the load. He struggled to read Washington's cloaked defensive schemes and nearly ended the day with five turnovers. The Jaguars responded by drafting Gabbert with the 10th pick in April's draft. Gabbert might have had a chance to win the starting job, but the NFL lockout denied him a a summer filled with meetings, film work and organized team activities. Gabbert was dropped to third on the depth chart last week. McCown moved up to second, although no one knew he was actually auditioning for the starting job. Garrard was hit repeatedly in last week's preseason finale against St. Louis and had an animated exchange with his offensive line on the sideline. That, too, had become an issue inside the facility, with Garrard pointing the finger more often than taking the blame. He blamed an interception against Atlanta on receiver Mike Thomas and then ripped the line for Thursday's problems. Del Rio called Garrard a middle-tier quarterback after the 2009 season, and Weaver challenged the quarterback to do more with teammates that offseason. Garrard did. He responded by setting the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (23), enjoyed five of the best eight games of his career, and led the Jaguars to several late wins. But he struggled down the stretch. It became clear Monday how teammates felt about Garrard. They declined to vote Garrard a team captain, instead choosing Jones-Drew and tight end Marcedes Lewis as offensive captains.

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler won't be making a surprise return to the Cubs next season.

Fowler is closing in on a deal to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

The Cubs signed outfielder Jon Jay last week to a one-year deal, pretty much sealing Fowler's future with the Cubs.

In two seasons in Chicago, Fowler batted .261/.367/.427 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI, and a World Series ring.

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Yanic Perreault came onto the ice as the Blackhawks wrapped up practice on Thursday.

It’s been a relatively common sight the last few seasons. Most of the time, Perreault has helped out when a particular player is struggling from the faceoff dot. That was true with Artem Anisimov earlier this season. But with Jonathan Toews sidelined the Blackhawks have been even more focused on improving upon and winning faceoffs. Thanks to the extra diligence, they’ve done that.

The Blackhawks’ overall faceoff performance has steadily improved. They’ll see how it goes again on Friday night when they face the New York Rangers, their eighth consecutive game without Toews.

“We’re working almost every practice and trying to get better on faceoffs,” Anisimov said on Thursday. “If we win the faceoff, we start with the puck and it’s pretty good. You can go to the offensive zone or win in the offensive zone you start with the puck and you have the opportunity to shoot the puck all day and get chances. It’s a big part of the game.”

Enter Perreault, who was a great faceoff man during his NHL career. The Blackhawks players say Perreault offers a wealth of information in each session.

“It’s different every day. The whole science behind it, he’s been great since he was brought in,” Marcus Kruger said. “He always has something new he wants us to work on, whether it’s just timing or body-positioning or something like that. It’s a lot of different stuff and we work on new stuff every day.”

Rasmussen agreed.

“It’s a lot of things you can work on,” he said. “You try to work on being in a low position so you get stronger. [There are] a lot of small things on how you can go against other guys that do it certain way, and you have to find your own way, too.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Their first game without Toews, against the Anaheim Ducks, was dismal. Part of that is the Ducks having some tremendous face-off guys. But Toews is the Blackhawks’ best at the dot – he’s won 60.3 percent of the time this season – so that first game without him was rough.

Here’s how things have progressed for the Blackhawks, with faceoffs won and lost and percentage, in Toews’ absence.

Opponent Wins-Losses Percent
Ducks 18-49 27 percent
Kings 21-37 36 percent
Panthers 39-35 53 percent
Devils 22-27 45 percent
Flyers 22-31 42 percent
Jets 31-27 53 percent
Coyotes 30-28 52 percent

So yes, there’s been improvement.

“I think we hold our own,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Yan works well with our center men, they take pride in trying to be the best they can and now they’re taking some important faceoffs and some they probably haven’t taken in the past, whether they’re defensive or special-teams faceoffs. They’ve all won some important faceoffs for us at key times, too.”

The Blackhawks have done their best filling the void left by Toews, especially on faceoffs. There’s been a lot of work put into it, especially with Perreault following practices. But the results have been there.

“We know we’d like to start with the puck, and we had a couple of tough games when Jonny went down initially,” Quenneville said. “But it’s been much better since.”