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O-Zone: Admiration Society

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Dana from Jacksonville:
You're going to have to give in or the badgering won't stop. Try this response the next time you get a question about Blake Bortles starting … "Hmmm, you may be onto something."
John: I see your point, but I don't see the Bortles questions as badgering – and I certainly don't feel I'm fighting, or that I must give in. People understandably wonder why Bortles isn't starting at quarterback for the Jaguars. I would ask the same question if I didn't listen to Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley and others explain why he's not yet starting. I would ask that because I, too, see a quarterback with better statistics who is playing very well in the preseason. I, too, see a quarterback who appears to be outplaying the starter. What isn't seen as well at first glance is what coaches see. They see that Chad Henne is ahead of Bortles in terms of knowledge of the offense, and in terms of handling more complex defensive fronts, and in terms of getting the offense in and out of plays. Coaches value those things because those things make an offense run smoothly. Coaches value those things because they know quarterbacking is sometimes more than meets the eye. It stands to reason those things coaches value must be important, because think about it: a coach's job is to win games. Would the staff really play one quarterback over the other if they believed he was the worse option?
James from Woodbridge, VA:
How many ways can you say Henne is the starter? I am not pro-Henne or pro-Bortles, but I am for the Jaguars making decisions that are good for the team. Do you think that the decision that is made for Henne to be the starter is good for the team?
John: I can think of a few more ways to say Henne is the starter, and I'm sure I'll use them all in the coming days and weeks. And yes, for the short term, I do believe that Henne starting is good for the team. I don't know how long that will be true, and I don't know that that will be true all season. But people who know more about football than me believe Bortles isn't ready yet. If that's true, then it's best not to start him.
Tudor from St. Augustine, FL:
I don't know why everyone is so worked up about the quarterbacks. It will play itself out anyway, so who cares? Henne will throw a bunch of picks in the first one-to-three games, and Bradley's hand will be forced. You read it here first, folks.
John: Yeah, I'm not quite so confident as you that it will play out exactly that way. Henne's not overly interception-prone, and he's generally not given to horrendous performances. Now, is it possible Bortles continues to develop in practice to the point that the coaches feel confident enough in his knowledge of the offense and opposing defenses that they play him? That's more likely than the coaching getting a feeling of, "Oh, my goodness – things are so bad with this guy that we have to play the other …"
John from Jacksonville:
I recall under previous general manager/coach combinations that the Jags seemed to be victim of quite a few free-agent acquisition "busts." I'm not seeing that conversation or trend being discussed with respect to the David Caldwell/Gus Bradley era. Is there truth in this or is it too early yet to make the comparison?
John: It's too early to make a final judgment, but early results in this area are positive. The Jaguars under Caldwell for the most part have taken a measured approach to free agency, meaning they haven't paid absolute top-dollar and they've tried hard to make sure players were the right fit. They also have tried to structure contracts so that they weren't cap-crippling as time moved forward. So far, they indeed seem to have avoided busts. I doubt they will be bust-free, because that's a near-impossible status to maintain, but so far, so good.
Andy from Pittsburgh, PA:
What're the odds we take a shot at Richie Incognito? I think it's a high-risk high-reward situation.
John: I think the odds are low. First, I don't see the Jaguars trying to replace either of their guards. They just signed Zane Beadles and the signs are that Brandon Linder is going to be really, really good. And … well, that's probably reason enough.
Brandon from Section 122:
Is the offensive line allowed to spend more time practicing on off days if the players want to? I only ask because they need time to get communication and continuity down and they are the biggest question mark going into the season. Do you know if there are league rules preventing them from putting in that extra work? Or are they already doing all they possibly can to get better?
John: The league can't keep players from working out on their own, but I'm trying to imagine the line heading out to a high school field in full pads on a Tuesday afternoon and working against … who, high school kids? Guys on the street? O-Zone Junior and his tennis-playing pals? Plus, the Jaguars wouldn't be nuts about their offensive line risking injury off-site working on their own. So, yeah they can, but they won't. And the answer to your final question is, yes, they're doing all they can. And this line will get better. It just may take some time.
Amata from Marshall Islands:
Allen Hurns may be a rookie in the NFL, but he is a veteran in the offensive scheme. That shows in his route running and he just might be the answer to Justin Blackmon's absence. That being said, if Hurns becomes the Keenan Allen of this year would it make parting ways with Blackmon a lot easier? Or is it a better situation to have him back?
John: It's odd how weird this question seems. That's not a knock on the question, because I'm sure there are people somewhat removed from the Jaguars who still see the team as "dealing with the Justin Blackmon situation." The reason the question seems weird is that's just not a vibe you get around the team anymore. The Jaguars don't look at their receiving corps and think, "How will it look with Justin Blackmon? What if we don't have him?" They look at it and see players such as Cecil Shorts III, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns and they see a bright future. Maybe Blackmon will be a part of it someday, but it's not part of the daily conversation.
Blues Man from St. Augustine, FL:
You reference (constantly I might add) that Bortles "nearly" threw two interceptions in the game against Detroit...yet, in your obvious man-crush on Henne, you conveniently fail to mention these numbers: 55-62...those are Henne's career TD's (55) & interceptions (62)...when everything is equal, start the younger, "franchise" player.
John: #mancrush
Brad from Section 115:
It kinda irritates me when you say Year Two of the rebuild … can you at least say Year Two of the third phase of the rebuild? Thanks …
John: I'm sorry you're irritated. Irritation can be … well, irritating. No, I won't refer to "phases," because when I'm talking about this building process it's pretty clear it began when General Manager David Caldwell took over in January 2013. I understand for Jaguars fans the frustration began long before that, but to refer to it any other way would mean writing in a more confusing manner than I do already.
Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville:
The reply about Gus and Dave having all the power to choose if Henne or Bortles start is true. They do have that power, but remember O-man: the fans also have power. If the team goes out and stinks it up under Henne for eight games without any changes being made I believe you will see the fans begin to exercise that power.
John: Never let it be said or thought that the Jaguars don't respect the power and the opinions and the feelings of the fans. They do – as much as any franchise I can imagine. That said, football decisions will not and cannot be made based on the feelings and opinions of the fans. There can be no fan vote on such things. There are many reasons for this, with many being obvious, but the biggest reason is how would it be determined? Vote? Internet poll? The guy with the coolest sign who drives by the stadium? Owners hire people to do the jobs of running the franchise and coaching the team. If those guys do a bad job, they lose and we all know what happens then. But they can't make their decisions on the immediate whim of the fans.
Myles from Newcastle, England:
With all this Start Bortles noise it got me wondering … how much does the staff actually hear it? The most effective coaching staff surely tune out the fans opinions, but how insulated are they from them, especially considering the unparalleled access the Jaguars give?
John: The staff hears questions, but remember: even with this unparalleled access, the time coaches spend answering questions is a very small part of their day. And it's not as if Jedd Fisch walks away from a gathering of media and says to himself, "Wait a minute … O-Zone's asking about Bortles … maybe we should go ahead and start him …" Fisch admires me a lot for many reasons, primarily because of my cool clothes, but he doesn't listen to me on football matters.

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