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Drops have to stop

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Tom from Nashville, TN:
In practice, can a strong defense make an offense look bad and vice versa?

Vic: That's exactly what's happening in Jaguars practice. The Jaguars have a defense of players who are talented and accomplished and they've been together for some years under the same defensive coordinator. As a result, the Jaguars defense is ascribing to a higher plane, which means they are doing some rather sexy things schematically in practice. In contrast, the Jaguars offense is learning a new system under a new coordinator and is attempting to establish its grasp of the basics of Carl Smith's design.

Allen from Jacksonville:
What are the restrictions for the practice squad with regards to regular-season games played or activated? With the introduction of Hybl into the mix, can one of our quarterbacks be placed on the practice squad?

Vic: A player may be on the practice squad for two seasons; three weeks on the practice squad count as a season. If you were on a team's 45-man roster for nine or more games, you are not eligible to be on the practice squad. Quinn Gray and Nate Hybl are each eligible for the practice squad.

Neil from Plantation, FL:
You said we were free to ask questions about position battles, so here's one. Who do you think has the upper hand on the third wide receiver spot at this point?

Vic: I have to believe the official order is still Jimmy Smith, Reggie Williams and Troy Edwards, but it's awfully difficult for me to believe Matt Jones won't become this team's number three wide receiver, at the least. He's a first-round pick for whom the team went out on a limb to draft. If he turns out to be a number four, even in his rookie year, it would be a disappointment. We need to keep an eye on the wide receiver situation. I don't know what the answers are or will be, but I don't think it's a simple matter of one, two, three, four. This is a position, in my opinion, that needs to be massaged.

Rob from Regina, Canada:
Who is considered to be the quarterback of the defense, the middle linebacker or strong safety? Does that player have a radio piece in his helmet like quarterbacks do?

Vic: There are two "quarterbacks" in most defenses. The middle linebacker or a designated inside linebacker in a 3-4 relays the defensive alignment call from the sideline and gets the front seven in position. The free safety is generally responsible for making the coverage calls for the secondary. Only the real quarterback has a communication device in his helmet.

Charlie from Neptune Beach, FL:
Based on what you know about current tickets sales, how many games would you estimate are going to be blacked out?

Vic: When the Jaguars announced last fall their plan for covering 10,000 seats, I wrote that TV blackouts in Jacksonville would become a thing of the past, and I truly believed that. They were reducing the capacity of Alltel Stadium to 67,000, which would put it in the middle of the NFL pack. More importantly, the Jaguars were reducing their blackout number to just under 50,000, which would make it the fourth-smallest blackout number in the league. All of that caused me to believe the Jaguars might never have another TV blackout, and I think that's still a possibility. That's why I was so bitterly disappointed earlier this summer when there were so many tickets unsold for this season. Since then, and since the flap with the mayor and concerns about the Jaguars' future in Jacksonville, ticket sales have been brisk. It appears we may have a little "save the whale" thing going on. We still have a month before the regular season begins. It's still possible the "whale" may be saved.

Chris from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
It seems to me Ernest Wilford has been a better receiver than Reggie Williams from day one. Does Reggie get the starting spot because he was a first-round pick, or does he actually out-perform Wilford in practice?

Vic: I agree with you that Wilford out-performed Williams last season. That is not the case this summer.

Jim from Broomall, PA:
I am a Jaguars fan living a long way from home. I would like to take my son to see them play in Pittsburgh. Does the team have any tickets in reserve for away games? Do they sell any away-game tickets and where could I purchase them?

Vic: The Jaguars will get a small allotment of tickets from the Steelers, but the Jaguars will use those tickets internally. There will be no public sale of tickets by the Jaguars for the game in Pittsburgh. You could call the Steelers, but I think you know what answer you'll get.

Daniel from Orlando, FL:
Coaches always seem to have a very positive outlook in the preseason about what's to come once the real games begin. For example, Fred Taylor is coming along well and the passing game is improving, etc. In other words, the glass is always half full. Has there ever been a coach that seemed to just tell it like it is, even if the outlook was not positive?

Vic: You have to know how to read a coach. No coach is going to say "he stinks." You have to be able to identify the signs. Tom Coughlin was very easy to read. He would drum his fingers and look away and all but dance as he answered the question. Frankly, I thought Coughlin was one of the best interviews I've ever known because he could be so much fun to write; he was very animated. I never felt like he pulled the "lamp black" over my eyes. In fact, I think he made it obvious on purpose that he was lying. That's very important; reporters judge a coach's integrity on his inability to disguise his lies. Chuck Noll was my all-time favorite at it. Chuck had code language for "he stinks." He would say, "fine, well, having a good camp." That was code for "he's a stiff." If it was really sensitive subject matter, Chuck would purse his lips, wrinkle his brow and gesture with his hands in a way that could be interpreted to mean anything from "don't ask me" to "we'll see." I remember being a very young reporter and asking almost weekly about the progress of a first-round draft pick named Dave Brown. I got the "fine, well" answer every time I asked. At the end of the year, Brown was left unprotected in the Seattle-Tampa expansion draft. I figured it out and never had a problem reading Chuck from that point on. I'm learning how to read Jack Del Rio. I think it bothers him if he knows he was avoiding a question. He'll usually stop by later and provide better information. That's why it's so important, in my opinion, for reporters to establish relationships with coaches. They're good guys. They'll make sure you get the right information, but they don't want to be quoted on everything. And that's also why I think it's important for readers to have a bond of trust with reporters. Not everything can be explained in fine detail. The Travis Henry trade fits into that category. Why should you believe what I've written is the truth? Because my name is on it.

Andy from Jacksonville:
How has Jimmy Smith been in camp so far? I've been reading camp reports and they said Jimmy has been dropping balls and been inconsistent. What have you seen?

Vic: Jimmy Smith had a drop in Friday night's scrimmage. He's had some drops in practice. So have a lot of the Jaguars receivers. Chad Owens had a big drop on Friday night. Matt Jones dropped a pass in practice last week and dropped one on Monday morning. Drops can be contagious. It's something that, in my opinion, has plagued this training camp. They need to stop. The time for dismissing them as "just a drop" are over.

Mark from Jacksonville:
When Byron throws a short pass he puts a lot of heat on the ball. Is it the job of the quarterback to throw a pass that's easy for the receiver to catch, or should the receiver catch whatever is thrown at him?

Vic: There's a time to fire it and there's a time to feather it, but it's always time to catch it.

John from Fort Smith, AR:
Do you think route-running is something Matt Jones can learn to be good at or do you think he has spent too much time throughout his football career at different positions to run routes like a natural receiver?

Vic: Route-running is an acquired skill. You acquire it from years of practice and Matt Jones is just beginning to practice the art of route-running. He's a long-strider who has to learn when to be a short-strider. He has to stop raising up as he's going into his breaks. Defenders are reading it and they're able to mirror him through his cuts. He's a great athlete and a smart kid. He'll learn how to do it and my guess is he'll learn quickly.

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