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Focus on defensive line

Join Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Eric from Sugar Notch, PA:
Judging from your evaluation of the position battles you're most looking forward to in training camp, and previous opinions voiced, it's safe to say the defensive side of the ball is the area of most concern for this team. As long as the offensive line stays somewhat intact through the preseason, is this the year the heavy burden of keeping the Jaguars in games will fall on the offensive side of the ball?

Vic: A heavy burden on an offense that's likely to have a rookie at left tackle and a completely-rebuilt receiving corps? I won't go that far. It's rebuilding. The burden is on young players to develop and on the coaching staff to hasten that development. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Mike from St. Augustine, FL:
You didn't mention left tackle as a featured battle position. Has Monroe already shown that he is a cut above Thomas at this stage of his career, or is this just based upon the presumption that he better win it and we're going to force the young guys in there no matter what?

Vic: He's good and he's a top 10 pick who's likely to get a big contract. Wadda ya think? I think the only way Eugene Monroe is not this team's starting left tackle is if signing him becomes a problem and he misses a lot of training camp.

Kevin from Orlando, FL:
It seems the Jaguars have more camp competition this year than in year's past? Will most NFL teams have this much competition in camp?

Vic: The good ones will. Good training camps are the direct result of heightened competition. I can't think of a coach who wouldn't agree with that statement.

Billy from East Northport, NY:
In regards to Gerald Alexander, I had read an interview with him where he was asked, "Are you more of a free safety or a strong safety?" to which he replied that he was both and that in the Lions' defensive scheme you had to be able to play both and switch sides of the field on a whim in certain defensive schemes and that versatility as a safety was critical to that defense. Because of that I believe he has the ability to play both the strong safety and free safety spots.

Vic: In his rookie season with the Lions, Alexander was exclusively a free safety. Last year, the Lions abandoned the free and strong safeties system and switched to a right and left safeties system, which does require its safeties to have a hybrid quality. Let's just let it all settle itself on the field, OK? I feel no need to clear the way in this column for one guy to be named the starter and the other guy, who was sensational in OTAs, to be sent to the bench. What's wrong with may the best man win?

Mike from Jacksonville:
I thought OTAs were underwear practices. How has Pashos shown you in OTAs that Britton has a significant gap to close?

Vic: It's not all physical. Football is about knowing what to do, too, and Pashos is a veteran tackle who definitely knows what to do. Britton is a rookie facing a learning curve, which represents the gap that separates the two. Britton has to close that gap.

Chris from Crestview, FL:
When is going young not good? Kansas City was a young team last year and they did not do well. Sometimes, when you replace a guy who's older, you do not get better. Bottom line, when do you know when to let them go?

Vic: First of all, I don't think you should expect a team's record to improve because it's in a youth movement. I think it's understood that a youth movement is about the future. As far as knowing when a player is over the hill, there are the usual tell-tale signs. If he's starting to miss more practices due to injury, it's probably because his body is getting old. If he's a receiver or running back and he doesn't run away from the young players as he once did, he's probably lost a step. If he's a quarterback and he's having trouble getting the ball into the "Honey Hole," his arm is probably losing its zip. If he's a tackle and he has to cheat to the outside or anticipate the snap to cut off the young pass-rushers, he's probably losing his quickness. If he's a cornerback and he's showing signs of guessing, he may be losing his hips and reactions. Get it? You know it when you see it. Age slaps us all across the face.

Bruce from St. Simons Island, GA:
Who do you believe will be the starters on the defensive line? More importantly, do you see improvement on the defensive line from last year? In my opinion, the rest of the Jaguars team appears stronger, but without a defensive line that can stop the run and rush the quarterback, the team will not be able to show much improvement.

Vic: The defensive line is the area of the team of greatest concern heading into training camp. I think most media people who cover the team would tell you that and I think Jack Del Rio would fail a lie-detector test if he said it wasn't. Any improvement on the defensive line I can forecast for this year would include these circumstances: John Henderson is, in fact, all "in" and plays like it, Derrick Harvey becomes a player worthy of the trade, pick and contract that brought him to the Jaguars, and Terrance Knighton is the wide-body run-stuffer the Jags expected him to be when they picked him in the third round of the draft. There are other circumstances that would aid the cause, too, but those three are musts. Defensive line coach Ted Monachino has a big job on his hands. He has to reclaim Henderson, develop Harvey and Knighton, and find ways to get the most out of Reggie Hayward, Rob Meier and Derek Landri. I mean no offense to this group, but it will clearly be under the microscope in August and beyond.

G.J. from Gainesville, FL:
I know it's early, but if you had to guess a 53-man roster today, how many spots do you think you'd get right come final cut-down day?

Vic: I'd get a lot of them right. It's just not that tough to predict the final roster these days. There are only 80 guys in camp competing for 53 spots. Counting the practice squad and guys who are placed on injured reserve, a team could end up cutting only 15-20 guys they don't bring back in some capacity. It's not like the old days when I started covering the NFL, when training camp rosters were unlimited and rosters were in the 40-45 range. Teams would routinely bring 150 guys to camp and they'd start cutting after a couple of days. There were no OTAs back then. Teams were getting their first look at guys. It was a wild scene. Training camps, of course, lasted nine weeks back then and there were six preseason games. Those days are long gone. The situation is much more structured these days. It's still ultra-competitive, but if you're on a team's training camp roster, you're likely to kick around the league for a couple of years. In other words, players who've made it to this point have already made it through a lot of filters.

Andrew from Cleveland, OH:
The NFL is getting softer as each year passes. I don't like it, but it is what it is and I'll never stop watching. When did this soft trend start? What do you see this trend doing in the next 5-10 years? If you had been in a position to prevent the trend from ever starting, what would you have done and why?

Vic: I think it started with the "in the grass" rule. I always thought that, instead of all those silly rules changes in 1978, the NFL should've simply allowed offense to have 13 players, meaning two extra offensive linemen to pass-block for the quarterback. If the defense could get through seven linemen, they deserved a good shot at the quarterback's head or knees, or maybe a hold-him-up-and-spear-him kind of thing. But they never listen to me. I don't know why.

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