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Changing the culture

Let's get to it . . . Charles from Midlothian, VA:
Thanks for the detailed answer. Is it fair to say lazy, old veterans wanted those CBA rules? I can't see any young rookie, or driven veteran, not WANTING to improve their game and that would include talking with and working with their coaches. Seems like a really stupid rule. That said, if Gabbert walked into the coaches' room, talked to the coaches, etc., under his OWN initiative, who would penalize him?
John: He wouldn't be penalized, but it would be made clear very quickly that he needed to come back when the rules allowed. Believe it or not, the rules are taken seriously if only because the penalties are such that to break or bend them isn't worth the risk. I can see how the rules would at first glance seem unfair for someone who wanted to improve in the off-season, but the rule really is in place to ensure players get at least some time off. As it stands now, players are typically at their team's facility from the end of July through at least the end of December, and because most participate in the off-season program, they are there from at least mid-April through early June. If the rules weren't in place, you undoubtedly would get some head coach Strongly Implying That It Might Be a Good Idea To Be Here Year-Round (Wink, Wink). Eventually, because this is a league of obsessive people worried about falling behind the competition, other teams would follow to a point where there would be no time off at all. Players essentially get three months off from January through March if their teams aren't in the playoffs and another month in late June and early July. That's more than most people get, but it's a different profession and considering the daily grind of an NFL season, I don't think it's too much. Regarding Gabbert, as I said previously, if he approaches the time he is allowed at the facility in the focused manner I expect he will, he'll have ample time to improve.
Brooks from Ponte Vedra, FL:
How is spiking the ball to stop the clock not intentional grounding?
John: Because the rules say it's not.
Dustin from Jacksonville:
On the Super Bowl being a crapshoot, I was reminded of something Shad said in one of his first interviews. Luck is when opportunity and preparation meet. There is luck in winning a Super Bowl. If you prepare well and do the right things, you'll take advantage of those opportunities more often than not. In the long run, you create your own luck.
John: The best franchises build for the long-term, draft well and try to build in such a way to get into the playoffs as many years as possible over a long stretch. This is as opposed to the so-called "all-in" approach of signing free agents with familiar names with the idea of winning a Super Bowl during a mythical one- or two-year "Window of Opportunity." The prudent approach is to try to get into the playoffs as often as possible, and if you are in the tournament often enough there will be years when you are healthy enough and the circumstances will fall your way to win the whole thing.
Tim from Jacksonville Section 214:
I'm sure Belichick would love to have a great running game and a Top 10 defense, but he doesn't. Coaches "setting the tone" is a bunch of baloney. If your running back and linemen rise, then you're a good running team. If your quarterback and receivers rise, then you're a passing team. Just like a business, the management loves to think it has a lot of influence over the results, but they don't. Actually it's more about the people you hire and their performance on the field.
John: When I say "coaches set a tone," I mean in terms of establishing a level of expectation and a daily, disciplined approach conducive to winning – i.e., the structure of the organization. Within that structure, I agree with you – the best coaches adapt to their own strengths and weaknesses and figure out a method with which to succeed.
Dave from Atlantic Beach, FL:
We were throwing around some hypotheticals at work concerning the playoff OT rules and came up with a stumper. Suppose Team A receives the OT kickoff, drives down the field and kicks a field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Team A executes a perfect onside kick and recovers the ball (Team B never possesses or even touches the ball). Does play continue or does the fact that Team B had the opportunity to possess the ball mean that the game is over?
John: The "opportunity to possess" is the key phrase in your question. Here's the wording of the rule: "The system guarantees each team a possession or the opportunity to possess, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession." Under the rule, the kickoff following the opening-possession field goal is an opportunity to possess. Therefore, if a team recovers the onside kick under your scenario, the game is over. Oh, and get back to work.
Luis from Fruit Cove and Section 412:
On ESPN's First Take today Rob Parker referred to Jacksonville as "NFL Siberia." I think we should adopt that label as a motto. You have to be tough and persistent to succeed in Siberia.
John: Whatever motto motivates you is fine with me. I do feel compelled to give you the old, "Well, if Rob Parker said it . . ."
James from Bossier City, LA:
If the Giants happen to win the Super Bowl this year, do you think people will finally start thinking of Eli as on the same level as Peyton? One Super Bowl win didn't seem to get him the "elite" status that people have put on his brother, despite beating a previously unbeaten team.
John: I was thinking the same thing watching Sunday's game. When the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl following the 2007 season, I didn't think of Eli that way and most others didn't – because the reality was he wasn't yet at that level. But sometime this season I was watching the Giants and it occurred to me that somewhere along the line Eli had gone from pretty good to really, really good. He sees the field as well as any quarterback I've seen this season and he has a knack for making the right play at the right time. I don't know that's he's at the level of Peyton, but I know he's a lot closer than I or a lot of people imagined he'd be.
Eric from Foster City, CA:
I'm not saying he would or should, but you mentioned something yesterday that piqued my curiosity. Could Blaine Gabbert, on his own volition, call up the quarterbacks coach (for example) next week and ask him to go to the practice field for some, well, practice? Is that sort of activity banned by the CBA?
John: Under the CBA, he cannot do that.
Jonathon from Lawrence, KS:
Let's get off this working-with-each-other-in-the-offseason business. I am sure any boss would let his employees get together unofficially on a day or week off and work with their co-workers without any pay. No one is going to do that, football players included.
John: With a nod to my boss, Dan Edwards, who read and edited three O-Zones over this holiday weekend, I say, "Right You Are, Jonathan."
Jeff from Atlantic Beach, FL:
You think the 49ers are happy they didn't listen to the fans and cut that "bust" Alex Smith?
John: Yes, and Smith is yet another example of how fans and outsiders often don't realize that there are many elements that must come together to decide success and failure in the NFL. That's true whether it's players, coaches or teams as a whole. I still don't know that Smith is destined for superstardom, but clearly the general perception of him and the reality of what he could be were different. More often than not, the perception of a player is far different than what football people see on tape. That's not to say that fans couldn't see it if they knew what to look for, but it is to say that the consensus on a player built by fans and media often isn't a correct one.
Joe from Jacksonville:
While I was watching the playoffs this weekend, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the 2010 49ers and the 2011 Jaguars. Both teams have a sound defense, but have a quarterback that many have called a bust. The 49ers proved everyone wrong and they are now a home game away from the Super Bowl. I could be way off base here, but a lot of the things the 49ers had to do and did are the same thing the Jaguars need to do. I am by no means saying we are going to have the success they had this year in 2012, but it seems we are following in their footsteps, which is obviously a positive thing.
John: There are some similarities, and from a distance it seems the biggest lesson that can be drawn from the 49ers is what a difference a coach can make in changing the culture of a building. Jim Harbaugh took over the 49ers last off-season and it seemed from watching them this season they were a disciplined, focused team that knew well its identity and knew how it wanted to play. It seemed to be a team that didn't get distracted, and no matter how many people talked and wrote about what the 49ers weren't, they always seemed to play smart and play within themselves. I don't look at the 49ers and think, 'Wow, what a playcaller Jim Harbaugh is.' I look at them and think, 'Wow, this guy has this team believing in itself, playing smart and playing hard.' I'd rather have the latter, and it seems that's the biggest thing Mularkey can bring in his first season here, too.

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