Gary from Jacksonville:
What are your thoughts on the current state of this team and its future development? Where do you think it might change the most in the near future?
John: What was impressive last season about the Jaguars – at least from my then-outsiders perspective – was they seemed to get better during much of the season. There seems to be a perception among some that a team is what it is coming out of training camp, and that's the team you have all season. The reality is teams do get better and worse, and the Jaguars – despite those big early losses – got better through much of the second half of the season. Considering the youth and the fact that a ton of inexperienced players were playing, that's not easy and could be a very, very good sign. In the division, remember, there were two teams that faded big-time down the stretch and two teams that got stronger despite injuries and adversity. You obviously want to be the latter, and it's a good sign for the Jaguars that they pushed That Team from Indiana the entire season. As for change, my early impressions on Gene Smith is he's not a Change for The Sake of Change guy, so I wouldn't expect major overhauls. He likes to build through the draft, which means having patience and a long-term plan and letting players develop. I'd expect you'll see a lot of improvement from players you might not expect next season, particularly second-year players. When second-year players start making huge jumps and developing into the core of your team, that's when your team is finding solid footing.
Gamble from Jacksonville:
I have a signed copy of Jags to Riches. If I ever have a son, I'm going to give it to him, and tell him to study up on the "good 'ole days."
John: I gave a copy of Jags to Riches to my son. He tried to put it in his X-Box.
Michael from Knoxville, TN:
Is there any downside to putting the franchise tag on Marcedes Lewis until a contract gets done?
John: No. So long as a long-term contract gets done, the franchise tag is essentially a placeholder for the team to ensure the player does not become a free agent. Once the contract is signed, the tag goes away and the player plays under the contract. Teams actually use the tag far more on a short-term basis than a long-term basis, and it is comparatively rare for a player to play a full season under the tag.
Alec from Jacksonville:
Are you excited to learn about and report on the "unknown" players on the Jags' roster and the stories that they have? This team has a history of "unknowns" making significant impacts, and undrafted free agents making the final roster (Montell Owens, Brock Bolen, Russell Allen just to name a few).
John: Absolutely. That's admittedly an area where I am weak entering the new position, but in Web writing, as in life, success is about turning weaknesses into strength.
Stephen from Jacksonville:
Vic may be the Joe Montana of sportswriters. Are you the equivalent of Steve Young?
John: I am Steve Bono.
Shane from Jacksonville:
First of all, I would like to welcome you back to Jacksonville. I was just wondering, how close do you think the Jaguars truly are to becoming a true playoff competitor? Will another good draft do it for us, or are there too many pieces missing right now?
John: Bill Parcells is often quoting as saying, "You are what your record says you are.' In the Jaguars' case, they led the AFC South in December, and the difference between making and missing the playoffs was one loss to That Team from Indiana. So, obviously, they are close. From a distance, the Jaguars appeared to be a team that has made serious strides drafting under Gene Smith. They are building the right way and they won this season with a young team. As I've said, I've talked to only a couple of players since my arrival: Maurice Jones-Drew and Aaron Kampman. Each provided some insight into where they think the Jaguars are right now. Kampman told a Team Teal function he believed a huge key for the Jaguars is the young players believing that now is the time to contend, that they don't have to wait to mature or add something anymore. He compared their situation to the Packers (he's allowed to talk about his old team :)). Green Bay was young and injured this season, but Kampman said players with whom he spoke always acted as if this was their year, their time. There's something to that. Jones-Drew was insightful, too, and said he learned a lot from the December loss to that team from up there. Said the difference was the Jaguars approached the game like it was a huge game whereas their opponent approached it more methodically and just did what they had to do to win a football game. As for your question, sure, there are some places around the roster that could be improved, but that's true of any team. The talent was there to get to 8-5 and injuries had a lot to do with not finishing stronger. Sounds like the players know what's needed to win the division. Now, it's a matter of doing it.
Justin from Jacksonville:
Welcome to Jaguars.com! Anyways, are you going to do the blog on game-days like 'Rick' did?
John: That is the plan.
Bryon from Yulee, FL:
I think the Jaguars have a situation where they can send two running backs to the HOF at the end of their careers. Fred Taylor deserves a spot one day when he retires although he does not get a lot of credit for what he has done as a running back in the league. MJD has the potential to repeat Taylor's success in Jacksonville and possibly be much better. How many teams in the league have actually sent at least two backs to the HOF and were they in succession as Fred and MJD are?
John: You won't find many bigger Fred Taylor supporters among the media than me. I was fortunate enough to cover Fred for three seasons at the beginning of his career, and one of my favorite moments while covering That Team from Indiana was when I was at the Pro Bowl the year Fred made it. We hadn't seen each other in seven years. I saw him in a restaurant and we spoke as if I'd seen him the day before. Complete class act, and perhaps the most underrated and most misunderstood NFL player of the past decade. His Fragile Fred tag was unfair and off-base, few players had the knack for breaking long runs as consistently and for as many years as he did. As for the Hall of Fame, while a strong argument can be made – and will be made here over the years – that deserves it, it will be interesting to see if and when he gets into that conversation. Jones-Drew I believe would tell you himself he needs to string several more good years together to get into the Fred Taylor discussion, much less the Hall of Fame. As for great, Hall-of-Fame level running backs in succession, it's rare. Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor played together in Green Bay in the 1960s and Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry played together in San Francisco in the 1950s, but each of those were fullback/halfback combinations.
Kyle Thibodeau from Orange Park, FL:
Call me weird, call me strange, or call me a 17-year old guy that got bored at his school library and started looking at the sports books...but I have read Jags to Riches. It's actually a really good book for a Jags addict like myself. Anyway, how much influence did you have on the book?
John: Been waiting to answer this question for nearly 14 years .I was the brains and talent behind the project. Prisco slowed things down.
Andrew from Hagerstown, MD:
I'm shipping off to Air Force Basic Training in six days. MJD has already wished me luck via Twitter. Can i get the same from you, sir?
Rod from Atlanta, GA:
John, your answers are too long and not sarcastic enough. Just sayin'.
John: No, really?
Adam Hess from Mineral Ridge:
I don't like your writing style its very short and choppy and often times hard to read. You should take notes on how vic use to write!
Matt from West Covina, CA:
What do you believe in for rookie QB's drafted for the intent of being the franchise? Do you sit them for x amount of years or do you throw them in right away to get precious gametime experience?
John: This is another one of those questions where it's hard not to reference That Quarterback We Don't Mention, but he always believed that he benefited greatly from having to play as a rookie. The reality is different situations work for different players, and it depends on the makeup of the player. Too often when debating issues like this people come down on one side or the other and forget that there are people – with different development levels, maturity levels, etc. – involved. If you have a quarterback who is mature and has enough of an understanding of the offense as a rookie that he won't play poorly enough to completely shatter his confidence, then you play him. If you have a guy who is a little less mature, or needs time to learn what's going on, then playing him and having him fail can be a detriment long term.
Matthew from Bartow, FL:
I'm sure that this is the topic that filled the mailbag today, but I've have to ask nonetheless; you know his name was Vic right?