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Has Leftwich improved?

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

Nick from Tallahassee, FL:
How about the bowl games this year? What are your thoughts?

Vic: I am a long-time college football fan, though its insistence on maintaining an outdated and prejudicial system for deciding its champions sours me a little more every year. We were flying to Oakland on New Year's Day, so, watching the bowl games was very difficult. I have a hand-held portable TV I use for such occasions, but it's a maddening appliance. I did manage to see some of the Iowa-LSU game and we got to the hotel in time to see the Texas-Michigan game. Those were the headliners. All in all, however, I didn't get into the bowl games this year as I have in past years. I don't think it was the greatest of college football seasons. Maybe that's my East Coast bias showing, but I tend to think the refusal to adopt a playoff system has embittered me to the point of having lessened my attraction to college football. The Utahs of the college football world have long been legislated against, but now the big boys are getting snubbed: Auburn this season, USC last season. That's what's going to cause, I hope, the move to a playoff system.

Wade from Winston-Salem, NC:
I know I'm supposed to keep things in perspective but my perspective can't keep me from seeing Cleveland beating Houston on Sunday?

Vic: I thought the same thing. What does that mean? Do we just ignore it? I don't think you can.

Tom from Orange Park, FL:
In the previous offseason you said Byron Leftwich had to make a huge jump in performance in his second year to be considered a great prospect. Did he pass?

Vic: I don't think I used the word huge; I think the word was significant. OK, let's examine the improvement. In 13 starts in 2003, Byron Leftwich completed 57.2 percent of his passes for 2,819 yards, 14 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 73.0 passer rating. In 14 starts in '04, Leftwich completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,941 yards, 15 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and an 82.1 passer rating. I think those numbers represent a significant improvement, but statistics don't tell the whole story. Here's the bottom line, as far as I'm concerned. In '04, Leftwich quarterbacked the Jaguars to a stunning win in Indianapolis, a near upset win over a Pittsburgh team that lost only one game the whole season, and a win in Green Bay that marked the Packers' first-ever regular-season home loss with Brett Favre at quarterback and the temperature below 34 degrees. In my opinion, those are the highlight games for Leftwich in '04. Would he have been able to perform at those high levels in those situations in his rookie season? No way. Yeah, I'm satisfied with his improvement in '04, though it bothers me that he and the Jaguars offense struggled as much as they did in the last two games of the season.

Aaron from Annapolis, MD:
Emphasis was put on the defense to stop teams on third down. How effective was the defense this year in getting off the field?

Vic: The Jaguars were 24th in the league in third-down defense. That's not good enough.

Pete from Jacksonville:
Again I heard NFL Network's Adam Schefter bad-mouthing the city of Jacksonville and its "non-existent" fan support of the Jags. I was infuriated with him saying Jack Del Rio would have taken the LSU job since it was better than "one of the worst markets" in the NFL. I hope the Super Bowl will better the image of Jacksonville. What do you think?

Vic: I hope so, too, but what you're saying is the reason for my 2005 slogan, "No More Excuses." It's not that I want to spank Jaguars fans for the team's blackout woes, it's that I want to get it across to everyone that excuses aren't going to fix the problem, and this is very definitely a problem because it goes right to the heart of this town's national image. Believe me, please, the rest of the country isn't going to allow for excuses. They hear about the blackouts and the no-shows and they immediately think this is a bad football town. There's only one way to change that image: Fill the building. Excuses won't get it done; ticket sales will.

Eric from Greenville, NC:
Coach Del Rio said Leftwich never came back strong after his knee injury. Do you think we should hold on to Garrard as a secure backup next year or do you think the free-agent market is going to gobble him up?

Vic: Eventually, it will gobble him up, but that won't happen this year because David Garrard still has a year left on his contract. You've asked a very intelligent question. It's all about risk/reward. Sure, you'd love to have Garrard as your backup quarterback for one more year. He's a quality guy and he comes at a great salary cap number. If you do that, of course, you risk losing him in free agency in 2006 without getting anything in return for him. In my opinion, the issue comes down to this: If the Jaguars are able to trade Garrard for a first-day draft choice this year, they should probably do it. If they can't get the pick they want, they should hang onto him.

Jason from Orange Park, FL:
I know you and Vito Stellino have a good relationship. However, his recent article's headline, "Pointless Win," has rubbed a lot of people negatively. What is your reaction, if anything, on his choice of words for the title to his article?

Vic: Reporters don't write headlines. That task falls specifically to headline-writers. I wish I had a dime for every time a sportswriter has had his relationship with a coach or a player damaged by a careless headline written by a headline-writer who never has to leave the office. What I should do in the offseason is a "Sportswriter 101" series that might help fans better understand the role and function of ink-stained wretches such as myself. I see and hear complaints from fans about sportswriters and all I can do is shake my head.

Brandon from Malabar, FL:
Can you tell me when they will announce the full schedules of who and when we will play next year?

Vic: The NFL schedule is usually announced in April.

Malosi from Valencia, CA:
Could you give us a regular-season recap of where the Jags finished in the team rankings defensively and offensively, as compared to where they finished in 2003?

Vic: For the 2004 season, the Jaguars were 21st in total offense (16th in rushing and 19th in passing), and 11th in total defense (11th against the run and 16th against the pass). In '03, the Jaguars were 12th in total offense (eighth in rushing and 15th in passing), and sixth in total defense (second against the run and 18th against the pass).

Dave from Saint Marys, GA:
It doesn't feel like the season is over. So this is what it feels like to almost make the playoffs. We've never had this feeling before. We've made it and we've missed by a long shot, but never just missed. It feels weird. Help!

Vic: It's called regret. You want a do-over of the fourth quarter of the Tennessee game; another chance to beat Houston. It doesn't work that way, of course, and now we have to accept the consequences. It's that way, however, for a lot of teams. In today's NFL, 90 percent of the teams that don't make the playoffs believe a play here and a play there would've changed their season. Byron Leftwich said on Monday that "we're probably about 20 plays away from being 13-3." He may be right, but there's nothing you can do about it. In time, the feeling fades. Hang in there.

James from Sierra Vista, AZ:
Even though the season is over, will you continue to do this column? As a first-year reader … I do know I enjoy reading this column; a bright point of my day.

Vic: There is no offseason for "Ask Vic," though I have vacation days and I will use them.

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