JACKSONVILLE – A word before we begin:
This O-Zone was written late Thursday night, to be posted Friday morning. It was written with the knowledge that many who usually read it will not do so Friday.
They'll be preparing for Hurricane Irma, their minds understandably far from football.
The minds of many here at the Jaguars also are understandably in a similar place: with family, friends, co-workers, etc., as the city prepares for what lies ahead.
We at jaguars.com will continue covering the team, obviously – just as the Jaguars will play a game Sunday in Houston. Duty calls in these times, and we do our duty … well, dutifully. I therefore will continue writing the O-Zone every day – as has been the case for the last six years, and as was the case during and after Hurricane Matthew a year ago.
How good will the O-Zone be? How dedicated to football? As good as it can be, as dedicated as seems appropriate. We'll see how it goes.
We continue on not out of disrespect or callousness to the events around us; rather, we continue because it's what we do. It won't likely be all football all the time in the coming days – even with the regular-season opener at hand. It will be what the readers dictate, as always.
Judging by the inbox, the readers are concerned. And thinking about a lot of things at once. And dealing with a lot. And not just thinking about football. Understandably so.
So, for now … stay safe, everyone. And keep staying safe through the weekend.
Let's get to it … Mandy from Section 414:
My friend, O. No questions. No complaints. Just a Jags Teal girl wishing you and yours along with everyone else a safe journey through the upcoming days dealing with the weather. Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes something like this to give everyone a swift kick on our bottoms to remind us the important things in life. Be safe, my friend -- and I will see everyone on the other side of Irma. I look forward to sitting in our seats to watch our city's team play their first home game…
John: This is the best way to start this O-Zone. Well said, Mandy. Well said.
Kenny from Seaside Heights, Seaside Heights:
Why is so much stock put into how the Jaguars play during the preseason? I mean, the last few years they looked good in the preseason only to get a Top 5 pick in April's draft.
John: People put stock in the Jaguars' 2017 preseason because it's the only thing this version of the Jaguars has done that can remotely be judged. And looking at things objectively, it's hard to feel great about the Jaguars' preseason. The offensive line struggled to run block, and quarterback Blake Bortles was inconsistent enough to have had to re-earn his starting position. The first-team defense also struggled. All of those issues are concerns. That doesn't mean those struggles have to continue, but is it fair for people to be concerned? Absolutely.
Joel from Boston, MA:
Johnny-O: Given the questions with the offensive line and Bortles seemingly more comfortable on the move, would you tailor the game plan to exploit his mobility? Would the risk of injury and the associated $18 million loss shape your decision?
John: Absolutely not. First, the Jaguars assessed their risk when they made the decision to exercise Bortles' fifth-year option. Second, you risk injury when you play him – no matter if you play him in the pocket or on the run. Third and most importantly: you don't game plan with off-field issues in mind – even really expensive off-field issues. Once you make the choice to play Bortles, you play him. Period.
Paul from Jacksonville:
I'm as skeptical as the next guy about this season, but since we've yet to play a regular-season game, I choose to hope. Aye, hope and we may lose. Give up, and ye may not care, at least for a while. But sitting on yer couch, covered in Doritos dust all those weeks from now, would trade all the games from this one to that, for one chance – just one chance – to come back and tell the Texans that they may wear their "Battle Red," but they'll never take our FREEDOM! What were we talking about again?
John: Easy there, big fella … the Jaguars' 2017 regular-season opener is Sunday in Houston at 1 p.m.
Sunil from Jacksonville:
O-Zone! The Cardinals signed Alex Boone, guard. The Jaguars ... did not sign an experienced offensive lineman after cut day, even though it is a glaring weakness. Win Now? Really? How long do they (including Shad Khan) think the fans are going to just show up to the games for this nonsense? I have never been so freaking apathetic toward a season. And I'm not alone. This is something Khan should be very worried about. Once the fans leave, they may never come back. I mean why would they? I know you will "belittle" this, but I'm not sure you understand the suffering. #NoHomePlayoffGameIn18Years. #DTWD? I'm not sure any more. I'm just not sure.
John: I understand how much fans have endured. I also understand their frustration. The Jaguars understand these things, too – and while they haven't won much lately, they well understand the importance of winning. No one is dim to this, perception of fans notwithstanding. At the same time, if the Jaguars don't believe players will help them they can't – and won't – sign them just to prove something to fans. I understand fans' desire for teams to do "something/anything" when things seem dire, but teams can't and won't operate that way. It may make fans feel good in the short term, but it's no way to run a franchise.
Damian from Appleton, WI:
I asked earlier if you thought Ngakoue, Jack or Robinson would have the largest impact this season. You said Jack. Do you still feel the same way now?
John: I'll assume you mean Cam Robinson and not Allen Robinson. If that's the case, then I'll change gears from my previous answer and say Yannick Ngakoue will make the biggest impact of three players. I think he'll be a double-digit sack guy on a team that sorely needs pass rush.
Bruce from Green Cove Springs, FL:
Our biggest concern is Blake Bortles, for all the reasons you've laid out so clearly. But let's keep a bit of perspective, shall we? There have been 16 Jaguar quarterbacks that have thrown passes (in the regular season). Only two – Mark Brunell and David Garrard – have more completions, yards, and touchdowns than Bortles. It ain't ALL gloom and doom.
John: The concern with Bortles isn't his ability to complete passes for yards and touchdowns; it's his ability to do those things without making key, game-turning mistakes. No, it ain't all doom and gloom, but if he doesn't improve those areas it will be awfully gloomy (and doomy).
Al from Memphis, FL:
I think Dede will be pretty good this year, and with a quarterback who slings the rock like Blake Bortles, Dede's speed just may be the difference maker.
John: I agree that Dede Westbrook could be a difference-maker this season. Both Westbrook and Keelan Cole are intriguing. They have clearly shown the traits to play in the NFL, but both are outside receivers and unlikely to play significantly over Marqise Lee and/or Allen Robinson at those positions. Neither has played extensively in the slot, and Allen Hurns figures to get the majority of reps inside in three-receiver sets early. Where does that leave Westbrook and Cole? They seem almost certain to have roles, but it could be a while before either is playing extensively on offense.
David from Orlando, FL:
Zone, I'd be willing to bet that a majority of Bortles interceptions comes when he's force-feeding Allen Robinson. Therefore, why wouldn't our opponents double-team Allen Robinson and dare Bortles to throw elsewhere? Westbrook and Cole had excellent preseasons, but it was with our No. 2 and 3 quarterbacks. I think it's a major story line … can Blake Bortles establish chemistry with a talented receiving core or will he continue to force-feed A-Rob?
John: I went back and looked at as many of Bortles' interceptions as I could. While I wouldn't swear on the exact number, I counted roughly 13 of his interceptions as throws to Robinson. Considering Robinson has been the team's top receiver throughout Bortles' career, that number doesn't indicate that he's forcing the ball to Robinson unnecessarily. And while a few of the interceptions to Robinson appeared to have been forced, they frankly didn't look nearly as forced as a lot of Bortles' throws to either Lee or Hurns.
Jeremy from Wise, VA:
I hope everybody in Florida and all areas that may be impacted by Hurricane Irma is safe. This looks like this could be a nightmare and I hope you guys come out OK.
John: True that.
Luca from Breman, Germany:
Just wanted to wish all the best to those being affected by Irma; you're in the thoughts of all German Jaguars Fans! Stay safe and hopefully I'll see many of you in London and at my first game in Jacksonville against the Rams! Alles Gute!