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O-Zone: A lot of truth

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Bruce from Green Cove Springs, FL:
I pity the odds-makers right now. How do you predict the Jaguars' season? If Blake Bortles shows no significant improvement, if the offensive line isn't effective enough to allow Leonard Fournette to showcase his talent, if the defense fails to generate an effective pass rush… it could be another three- or four-win season. With improved quarterback, offensive line and running-back play, with an upgraded pressuring defense, with a reduction in penalties and turnovers, an 8-8 season seems a reasonable expectation. But with so many remaining questions, how can one even guess at the ceiling? On paper, the talent seems sufficient for 10-to-11 wins and a playoff spot. John, you are notoriously conservative on this, but tell us: if this team makes all the desired improvements, what is the ceiling?
John: I'm notoriously conservative in projecting the Jaguars' record because while I do think the roster is improved, I also know a team's record often is more reflective of a few positions than the entire roster. Those positions are often quarterback and pass rush, and those are key areas when it comes to projecting the Jaguars' record in 2017. I right now see 8-8 or 9-7 as the realistic ceiling because it's hard for me to project a dramatic improvement from Bortles in terms of decision-making, key plays and awareness until he shows it – and it's hard to project this team having a "close-the-door, end-the-game" pass rush until it shows it. Those are often the difference in close games, and it stands to reason the Jaguars will play a lot of close games; they sure played a lot of them last season. As for your question – "if the team makes all of the desired improvements, what is the ceiling?" … well, if the Jaguars improve in all of the areas you mention, they'll be really good. It's hard to improve drastically in all those areas; if it was easy, all teams would do it. I absolutely don't see a three- or four-victory season for the Jaguars this season. I think the defensive improvements and the addition of Fournette will get them beyond that. But above 8-8 or 9-7? I'll need to see significant improvement from the aforementioned areas before I project that.
Billy from Jacksonville:
O-feel-ya, have you recovered from all the negativity of last week yet? You OK, O-dawg? Making sure my main O-dude is cool! OK?
John: Was last week negative? I hadn't noticed.
Bill from Jacksonville:
John, here's the problem with going off the last two games Blake played last season: that's not "franchise-quarterback" play. "Managing" the game for two touchdowns over two games isn't going to win you a Super Bowl, not in today's NFL. Thanks. Go Jags!
John: No one has said Bortles played like a franchise quarterback at any point last season. We're talking about finding a starting point, Bill.
Andy from St. Augustine, FL:
Brandon Linder is working at guard and the rumor is we may end up starting Luke Bowanko or Tyler Shatley at center. If only we had an opportunity to sign a Pro Bowl center last year, our offensive line would be so much better right now. Alex Mack at center and Linder at guard would have been SO much better than Linder/Joeckel last year or any combination we might have this year. Before you answer hindsight is 20/20, it seemed like everyone thought signing Mack last year was a no brainer - except our front office.
John: OK.
Jared from O-Town:
Hey, John: I was wondering just how much one-on-one time would a player like Dante Fowler Jr. get from coaches to work on his technique? Are coaches able to show him different pass rush moves or is this something he must do on his own?
John: Coaches certainly work with Fowler one-on-one. There are periods of individual work early in many practices. Fowler also worked on his own shortly after the regular season before reporting for the Jaguars' offseason program.
William from Yulee, FL:
Mr. O, which running back not named Fournette will get more carries next season, Yeldon or Ivory?
John: Ivory.
Mike from Atlanta, GA:
Do you feel like people are changing the meaning of words to make them mean what they want them to mean? First it was Branden Albert, and now it's the secondary. I think for some people the definition of the word "voluntary" has shifted to mean what United Airlines thinks it means.
John: Here's what I think should lend perspective on the ongoing angst over offseason participation: Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said last week he doesn't consider what the Jaguars are doing during organized team activities and minicamp "practice." Yes, it's important. Yes, players need to know what's going on. Yes, they need to be ready to practice come July. Yes, they need to understand the assignments and the scheme. Yes, it is better for players to attend than to not attend. But the fact that a few players are running on the side as opposed to being on the field during OTA practices is not going to make a mammoth difference next season.
Scott from Fernandina Beach, FL:
Hi John, I think an improved offensive line will not only help Blake and the running game, but will also help the defense. We had far too many three-and-outs last year that put our defense back on the field too quickly. I think the wear and tear on the defense showed up late in games last year.
John: Hi, Scott. I think you're right.
Joy from Jacksonville:
Someone should get a shot of Novak Djokovic's coach at the French Open. Jags jacket every day. It seems he is a local. Kinda cool.
John: I assume you're referring to David Witt, who actually is Venus Williams' coach. Witt played tennis at Fletcher High School in the early 1990s, and while I never have seen him cite an interview with yours truly as a career highlight, I assume it ranks as such. Witt currently lives in Ponte Vedra and is a big Jaguars supporter. And, yes … he often can be seen at the Grand Slams in Williams' box sporting Jaguars garb. And yes … it's very cool.
Jim from Glass:
Sir, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. You have written that certain players are not good edge rushers but provide an interior rush to the passer disrupting the offense interior line causing the pocket to collapse around the quarterback. I guess those guard/center combinations covering the eight/nine-holes areas are as important as pulling for sweeps, traps, screens, stunts, backside linebacker/defensive end stunts and downfield blocking. John, comments in statements seem a little well … unappreciative of the skill set and contributions of players like Conrad Dobler, Fuzzy Thurston among others. Love the O-Zone.
John: Guards are important in the modern NFL. Centers are, too. But in an age in which protecting the quarterback is paramount, the tackle positions are generally considered more important. Marrone on Friday, in fact, talked of left and right tackle being the most important positions – in that order – with the interior positions being closer to interchangeable. I put center a little higher than that, but hey … I'm just a senior writer. I'll defer on this one.
Pedal Bin from Farnborough, Hampshire, UK:
Oh Mighty O, Bortles is clearly going to be the captain of the offense and no one is going to mess with Carson Tinker as captain of the Special Teams. So you have Myles Jack directing the defense, Telvin Smith firing up the defense and Poz still keeping a firm hand on the tiller (and an arm round Jack). So who do you think will be the captain of the defense?
John: I wouldn't rule out Smith. I also wouldn't rule out Calais Campbell.
Geoff from Orlando, FL:
I for one am really looking to see what Bowanko can do after a few years as a jar on the shelf. When he played as a rookie, I seem to remember Jeff Lageman lauding his feet and athletic ability. We even ran run plays were he pulled from the center spot. He was just a bit undersized and got pushed around a bit, couldn't hold up physically against bigger tackles. I bet three years in an NFL strength-and-conditioning program has gotten him big enough to compete and with his feet. I could see him being the Day One center.
John: I'm not ruling out the possibility of Bowanko playing a role at center this season. But I'm even less not ruling out Tyler Shatley playing a role at center this season.
J.B. from Jacksonville:
Would not the NFL be just as entertaining if they waited until August 1 to begin getting ready for the season? I've thought, for a few years, all the preparations starting in May are really unnecessary for the players. Your take?
John: My take? Your closer to the truth than many in the NFL would like to admit.

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