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Give me the arrow pointing up

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

Roger from Lithia, FL:
I found the current Jag poll interesting. Ten percent think the Jags will make the playoffs and 14 percent expect the Jags to go to the Super Bowl. If you add the numbers, 24 percent of hardcore Jag fans (that's what they are if they are on the website in June) believe they are a championship contender. Why? Based on last season? I will be happy with a solid football team that competes for 60 minutes, with the proper attitude and work ethic. How about you?

Vic: I'll know it when I see it. I won't need the scoreboard or the stats to tell me to be satisfied. Young talent on the rise is unmistakable. I've seen it before and I haven't forgotten what it looks like. It screams out at you. That's what I want this year's team to do. I want it to scream out at me that the Jaguars are a team on the rise.

Julio from Riverside, CA:
Trade Northcutt? The most dependable receiver of the last two years? So far I like Gene Smith's work but this one I have to question. Would you please shed some light on this?

Vic: It's a youth movement. Gene Smith and Jack Del Rio said it – came right out and told everyone – when the team announced that it was cutting Fred Taylor. In 2009, youth will be served. This is rebuilding. This is the way it should be done.

James from Jacksonville:
If you had to guess which wide receiver has the best chance to have a breakout year other than Holt, who would it be?

Vic: There's no way Torry Holt can have a breakout year. You don't break out in the 11th year of a Hall of Fame-caliber career. The guy on this team who is at the breakout point in his career is Mike Walker. I think that's the expectation for him this season, but that doesn't mean that any of the Jaguars' other young receivers can't have a breakout year. It's wide open. Go ahead, somebody, break out.

Chadwin from Oak Ridge, TN:
With Dennis Northcutt being sent to Detroit for a safety, what does this tell us?

Vic: Aside from the obvious message that the Jaguars are in a youth movement, the trade also tells us that based on what they saw in OTAs, the Jaguars are comfortable with the talent they have at wide receiver but they remain concerned about safety. I would agree with that assessment.

Greg from Ft. Huachuca, AZ:
I just read an article arguing that middle linebackers are a dying breed in the NFL. What are your thoughts?

Vic: A dying breed? How about a dead breed? The days of Sam Huff, Dick Butkus and Jack Lambert, which is to say middle linebackers who stayed on the field for every down, have long since passed. The modern-day middle linebacker is a run-stuffer who generally comes off the field in obvious passing situations. He's fallen victim to "nickel" and "dime" substitution defenses. Huff had 30 interceptions in his career, Butkus 22 and Lambert 28. Brian Urlacher has 17 and he's an every-downs guy who's a converted safety but, for the most part, 4-3 middle linebackers don't stay on the field on third down. That's why the classic 4-3 middle linebacker, as defined by Huff and company, has faded away. Once, he was the star of the defense. Now, he's a part-time player.

Dave from St. Augustine Beach, FL:
Which team do you think is actually better, this team right now or this team at this time last year?

Vic: Last year's team was better heading into training camp than this year's team is, but last year's team's arrow was pointing down and we didn't see it. I genuinely believe that this year's team's arrow is pointing up, and I'll always take a team with an arrow pointing up over a team with an arrow pointing down.

Dustin from Tampa, FL:
There was a debate on arguing the topic of who the better back is, Maurice Jones-Drew or Chris Johnson. You are generally pretty objective so I ask, who would you rather have on your team and why?

Vic: I can't get it out of my head what happened to Tennessee in that playoff game against the Ravens after Johnson got hurt. That was the play that changed the game. Anybody who saw that game can't deny Johnson's star-power impact. He has game-changing speed and my guess is that most personnel people would probably pick Johnson over Jones-Drew because of the speed factor. My hesitation is that Johnson was unable to return to the game after twisting his ankle, whereas I saw Jones-Drew limp off the field with a nagging ankle injury several times last season and, in every case, he returned. Durability and dependability are big deals. Does Johnson have Jones-Drew's durability? That's the question. Is he just a speed guy? If he is, then Jones-Drew is my pick because the speed will fade quickly. By the same token, Jones-Drew has to prove to me that he can carry the load for 16 games and be a thousand-yard back. I'll take Jones-Drew based on his versatility, durability and overall value to the Jaguars, but Johnson's upside is undeniable.

Dominic from Tallahassee, FL:
I am 100 percent positive that not every offensive play is designed to score a touchdown. Do people really think slant routes and pounding your fullback up the gut really are intended for touchdowns all the time?

Vic: The point is that every play's design accounts for every player on defense. It's not realistic that a simple dive play is going to go for a touchdown, but the design would allow for it.

Charles from Richmond Hill, GA:
I was shocked to read in "USA Today's" article, "Life after the NFL: Typically a struggle" that 78 percent of all NFL players are divorced, bankrupt or unemployed two years after leaving the game. Have you witnessed this trend over time?

Vic: Yes, I have and that's why I say professional football is about the money. This is an opportunity for young men to get a great start on life. That's how it should be viewed. Playing a game for which they were blessed for having a specific talent, these players can accumulate money they can invest and secure their long-term financial futures. That, in my opinion, should be the mindset, that this is a unique opportunity before they move on to their life's work. Instead, I too often see players who see the money as an opportunity to live the high life, without any regard for the likelihood that they won't have long careers and that their career could end suddenly and with what they've earned already having been spent. The NFL attempts to guide these young men toward sound financial decisions, but youth is reckless and the outcome is often irreparable.

Connor from Jacksonville:
If RB coach Kennedy Pola had Rashad Jennings ranked as the fifth-best running back in the draft, then why did they wait until the seventh round to draft him?

Vic: Because they didn't draft according to Pola's draft board, they drafted according to Gene Smith's, and Smith's board included all the players in the draft, not just running backs.

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