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All signs point to improvement

Let's get to it . . . Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Take the top-rated available coaches, stick them up on a dart board and let Shahid Khan make a great throw and then go out and make it work with the pick. That plan has just as much chance as any for success. The thing that has been missing in Jacksonville is some luck. For the coming year, here is hoping that a little sunshine will come the team's way! Great first year, John. You really went above and beyond the call of duty to serve the fans. Happy New Year! Let's Rock!
John: Thank you, and thanks to all who have filled the inbox in recent days with such sentiments about the O-Zone. It has been a memorable first year. As far as the "dart-board" theory, I agree that it takes some luck, but I also would tell you it's obvious from speaking to Shad Khan that he understands the value of hiring the right coach for the position. The thing I liked best about what he said about the coaching search was the part about hiring someone you like and trust and a person who can win. On the surface, that might seem very basic, but sometimes people miss the most important basics. If Shad sticks to that, the chances of finding the right coach increase substantially.
Adam from Bridgewater, NJ:
In the wake of the Lions' playoff berth, I'd just like to have Jaguars fans look at their quarterback, Matthew Stafford. Believe it or not, Stafford is only 23 years old and is already a Top 10 NFL quarterback. In Gabbert's third year, he, too, will be 23. Look back at Stafford's rookie year: He had a worse QB rating than Gabbert AND he had Calvin Johnson to throw to. Patience folks, patience . . .
John: Good points. What's being overlooked by some is Gabbert has played better overall the last month than he did at the beginning of the season. Commentators continue to throw criticism his way, but in recent weeks, it has been lazy stuff that the game tape contradicts. The Stafford comparison is a valid one and Gabbert is doing his job right now, which is to continue getting better.
David from Duval, FL:
Everyone knows how disastrous the Colts' season has been. But if the Jags lose on the first, they will only have one more win than the Colts. Puts things in perspective a bit. The Jags can only improve right?
John: It puts things in perspective a bit, perhaps, but let's not lose total perspective on the big picture with this Jaguars team. The Jaguars were very, very competitive until about the start of December, which not coincidentally is when injuries really started taking their toll on the roster. And truthfully, they've remained remarkably competitive in the last five games considering the number of injuries to really, really hit certain positions. This is not to say being competitive is enough. It's not. But it's also not fair to portray the Jaguars as a team that was just a mess all season. That's just not true. But what you said at the end of your question is absolutely true: the Jaguars have a very real chance to improve next season. The defense should be healthy again, and Gabbert and the wide receivers should certainly improve. There's a formula here for a pretty dramatic improvement.
James from Bradenton, FL:
My first O-Zone submission. Hopefully, I make it a good one. Among the many reasons discussed for playing starters versus playing for draft picks, I feel a major one has been somewhat neglected: the integrity of the system that made the NFL successful. If some teams start tanking games at the end of seasons, there is no way to ensure that the worst teams get the best draft choices. To do so would be an insult to the tradition of the league. Teams need to play their best, give the fans a show, and the draft order will fall where it falls, which is exactly as it should be.
John: Good first submission. First off, any such discussion on "tanking" is going on among the fans and media, certainly not within the organization. The players and coaches are thinking of winning, and it's striking to note the disconnect between fans and organizations on this one. If you saw the Colts beat Houston last week, that point should have been driven home. And there's really not much need for fans to worry about a lack of integrity on this front: players play hard because their reputations and their futures are at stake, and because they have absolutely no interest in losing to either get a player for their team or to keep another team from getting one. It's just not on their radar.
Bo from Dresden, NC:
Are all the players on IR and the practice squad still considered Jaguars after the season is over?
John: Their future with the team depends on the status of their contracts. If they are in the last year of their contracts, then they will become free agents unless they are re-signed. Otherwise, they are considered Jaguars unless they are released.
Derek from Cincinnati, OH:
More of an observation than a question John: For all the malaise that the Jaguars receive for ticket sales, I live here in Cincinnati where the Bengals have a surging rookie quarterback and are one win away from a playoff seed . . . and yet can't muster even 42,000 fans. In a market almost three times the size of Jacksonville, it puts things in perspective.
John: It's not the mission of the O-Zone to criticize other markets on these sorts of issues, and there are surely issues in Cincinnati that from afar I don't fully grasp. But your overriding point is a good one: while Jacksonville often is criticized, this is far from the only team that faces challenges filling a stadium. It gets singled out for criticism far too often, with the primary reason – as we have long said here – that Jacksonville long has been and remains a popular target for criticism. It isn't fair, but it's certainly the way it is.
Bryce from Algona, IA:
When Britton returned briefly this year, it was at offensive guard. Do you see him there or back at right tackle, where he was drafted to play?
John: My guess is it will be at right tackle. Britton played left guard when Will Rackley was learning the ins and outs of the guard position early in his rookie season. Ideally, you'd probably like to have Eugene Monroe, Rackley, Brad Meester, Uche Nwaneri and Britton as your starting line.
Jodi from Orange Park, FL:
For the second year in a row we have had a division championship game on the last day of the season (Rams-Seahawks 2010), you have to like the new end of season divisional scheduling.
John: There's not much not to like, and in retrospect, there seems little reason to not have had division teams playing one another in the final game in past seasons. I'm looking forward to the Giants-Cowboys game Sunday, as I'm sure is the case for most NFL fans. The current scheduling system is no guarantee such a match-up will occur every season, but it certainly increases the chances.
CT from Jacksonville:
I'd like to believe everyone who says coaches and GMs know so much more about football than fans, but we have been screaming for Bradfield to replace Whimper for months now. How can these football "geniuses" not see it when fans can?
John: The fans also wanted Rashean Mathis cut, were pretty close to wanting the same thing to happen to Eugene Monroe and often can be heard whispering mean things about Tyson Alualu. In each case, listening to fans would have dramatically weakened the team. General managers and coaches must take consistency and week-to-week performance into account, and also must take into account whether a young player is ready to start long-term. They also must take into account what they're seeing in practice and on tape. That's not to say they're always right, but it's also not always right to make quick-trigger lineup changes based on a game or two.
Jeff from Jacksonville:
Where would you place importance on finding a good backup quarterback for Gabbert in the off season? Is this something that Gene will even look into? Gabbert may not be where he should be but we have no one to turn to if he were to go down or god forbid not improve.
John: I don't think you have to worry about Gabbert not improving. All signs in recent weeks are that he absolutely will. As for backup, I think it's safe to say every spot on the offense – indeed, every spot on the roster – will be evaluated. If the Jaguars feel they can get better at any position, without question they'll make that move. That answer is a little general, but that's the Jaguars' reality as the off-season approaches.

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