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Let's do it again

Let's get to it . . . Dave from Mt. Joy, PA:
Great job this year; look forward to the O-Zone every day. When you said the defensive front needs more work than the offensive line, why? Our quarterbacks struggled all year with the lack of protection, and were better when they got time. The run game was weak. I see a defensive line that needs help, but all four starters are under contract and somewhat reliable. Is Will Rackley really that good? Is Meester going to retire? Does Monroe get the franchise tag or re-signed? I'm not saying I am happy with our defensive pass rush or run defense, but I am more worried about our o-line.
John: First, Monroe is under contract for another year and Meester has said he wants to return if the new general manager is in agreement. We don't know yet how good Rackley is, but it stands to reason his return next season should help. I also still believe Cameron Bradfield can play better than he did much of this season. And that really leads to the reason for my answer. The entire offensive line underperformed this season. It can improve. Not to say the offensive line won't be addressed, but if you assume they won't draft a left tackle in the first round, then anything else you draft on the offensive line would probably be in the later rounds. That would leave defense as the most logical area to focus on early, but hey, this is January 2 and the team doesn't have a general manager. All of this could change in a hurry.
Jordan from Jacksonville:
I'm sure a lot of Jaguars fans are excited about the firing of Gene Smith. I wasn't. I understand why it happened, but still found it unfortunate and saddening. Gene was the heartbeat of this team for so long. I learned much of what I know about football from him and a lot of those principles have carried into my everyday life. I wish him the best of luck and I feel the Jags were blessed to have him here for so long. The new general manager is inheriting a much better roster than Gene did in 2009.
John: Well said. It struck me Monday when writing about Smith, and preparing my thoughts for Jaguars All-Access, that when you let someone like Gene Smith out of your organization, it's a lesser place in many ways. Now, I won't argue it was time for a change. At 2-14, there really was no other decision, but the way Smith led the Jaguars for four years – with integrity, honesty, work and dedication to doing things right – will be missed. He had been with the team since 1994 and as you said, had been the heartbeat of the team for so long. People who worked with him daily respected him and were made better being around him. The time has come to move on from Smith – for the organization and here in the Ozone – but it's good to see people appreciate what he meant.
David from Charleston, SC:
I think a lot of people are overlooking a very dangerous Bengals team in the postseason. Their front seven dare I say might be the best in the league, definitely Top 3. You think they can upset the Texans in the first round?
John: Yes.
John from Gainesville, FL:
O, I have been reading tons of comments and articles about how many draft picks Gene Smith missed on, which has been exaggerated a little bit, but what is with all the negativity about Alualu? The dude has 9.5 sacks in his first three years and often is a force in the run game. He has never missed a game for the team even with numerous injuries, which have likely slowed his production down too. I understand with that he was drafted 10th overall but I don't see him as a miss. You?
John: I don't. First, the negativity is because he hasn't been as productive as you want from a Top 10 selection. There's no arguing that. But as you said, considering the knee situation, for Alualu to have started every game is remarkable. I'm not ready to say Alualu has peaked yet, either. He had microfracture surgery last January, and spent last offseason rehabbing the knee rather than participating in organized team activities and preparing physically for the season. If he can participate in football work this offseason and be closer to 100 percent, it could make a difference.
Cody from Jacksonville:
If only we had gone 2-14 last year, the Jaguars would have Luck or RGIII right now and Gene Smith would be hailed as a hero. I, for one, will miss the guy. In Gene we trust!
John: You don't know if the Jaguars would have taken Luck or RGIII. At the time, they were invested in Blaine Gabbert. We'll never know, but yes, circumstance and timing do matter when building an NFL franchise – and yes, it's all about the quarterback.
John from Section 411 and Jacksonville:
Thanks for the honesty all year John, and Happy New Year. I'll be in my seats like every year, but is there concern that many fans won't be as patient?
John: Sure, that's always a concern. But although many fans criticized Shad Khan for retaining Gene Smith last offseason, and for not firing him at midseason, Khan's not impatient, either. Not making knee-jerk reactions doesn't mean being overly patient; it means making measured, rational decisions, and that's what you want from an owner. Khan wants to win – for the Jaguars' fans, and for himself. He didn't, after all, buy an NFL team to see it play like it did this past season. So, while Khan knows fans won't be patient, it's safe to say they won't feel any more urgency than he does to starting winning.
Ernest from Rockville, MD:
O-dude, Happy New Year! The search for a new GM has begun so I wanted to follow up on your response to Nick from Annapolis, MD. What are the criteria do you think Shad will consider when searching for a new general manager? If selecting players in the draft is deemed a crystal ball business, I can imagine how much more difficult it can be with finding the right general manager candidate with the "best" crystal ball. I believe Shad will be diligent in his search but I feel as fans we are moving into unchartered territory. Any guidance will be greatly appreciated.
John: You look for someone first who has the basics. What that means is an inherent understanding of what's important – a sound scouting philosophy; a functional, productive grading system; the ability to establish communication between scouts and personnel officials and coaches. If that structure isn't sound, nothing else works. After that, you look for someone who can communicate, who can listen and can interpret information in a productive way so that it adheres to the philosophy of the organization. You also, of course, want a guy who has a feel for people and for how people will fit into a situation. That comes down to gut feel, and that may be the most difficult part to find. There's more, but if you hit on those things, you're probably off to a good start.
Scott from Jacksonville:
Would you please stop blaming everyone else for Henne's woes? He hit defensive players right in the hands almost as often as he hit his receivers. Terrible!!!
John: People often interpret me citing a reason for one thing as blaming this person or that. That's fine. Henne certainly didn't play as well as he wanted or as well as the Jaguars hoped during his six games as the starter. But to say the offensive line's struggles didn't contribute wouldn't be fair, either.
Jeremy from Wise, VA:
When you look back at the last two seasons, I think the biggest reason for struggles is all the injuries. I'm not sure I've seen as many injuries on one team as the Jags have had the last couple of years. It's really hard to maintain any depth when players keep getting hurt.
John: The injuries certainly contributed to the poor records. I doubt the Jaguars would have been 5-11 and 2-14 had they been healthy. The question is, "Were they good enough before the injuries to be significantly better?" The answer to that is probably not.
Kim from Orange Park, FL and Section 203:
Hi, John! I don't have a question. Just wanted to thank you and the people you work with for producing such an awesome website with great content. I want to thank you personally for your non-stop O-zone columns and hilarious video segments. There are no words to describe the pain and disappointment of this season, but I appreciate your dedication and insight. Thanks again for your sharp wit and biting sense of humor. It's lifted my spirits on more than one occasion. Here's to a brighter future. Happy New Year! Go Jags!!!
John: I should have run this Tuesday, New Year's Day, but for something this insightful, better late than never. On a serious note, I'll begin 2013 by saying what I should have said Monday and/or Tuesday – that we at appreciate the fans reading and watching throughout a difficult season. The fans are the reason we're here, and if what we do here on a daily basis can provide information, some sort of insight, some humor and a perspective, then that's a pretty good thing. Let's do it again this year.

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