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O-Zone: Always

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Big O, what does it take to make special teams play better? A team's top-grade talent plays on offense and defense with rare crossover. You cannot load your special teams up with starting-level players. So what does it take? Better coaching? Better evaluation of undrafted talent?
John: There's no perfect path to big-time special teams. One path to having solid special teams is to have four-to-five players other than kicker/long snapper/punter who are special-teams specialists more than they are position players. These players are often referred to as "four-core" players because they play punt coverage, punt return, kickoff coverage and kick return – the four "core" special-teams units. It takes a high commitment level to special teams to carry four-to-five such players, and it also means finding players who are able to play special teams at a high level while also being good enough to contribute on a worthwhile level as backups on offense or defense. Coaching can and does play a role, though special teams coordinator may be the toughest job on the staff. You're usually working with players at the bottom third/fourth of the roster – and those players are often removed from special teams to either move into starting roles or to be released when roster moves are made. The Jaguars for the most part during the past four seasons haven't emphasized special teams with "four-core" guys. An argument can be made that that doesn't help special teams. As good an argument can be made that the Jaguars' special teams haven't been good enough this season regardless of who is playing on the unit.
Scott from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Please explain to me how Blake Bortles can improve when for three years he stares down receivers, is horribly inaccurate and can't throw timing routes even though he occasionally has a mediocre game and the receivers make plays. What basis do you have that he is improving? His performance in 2015 was mostly garbage time and the receivers were making difficult catches – not accurate throws. Where is your basis that he is improving or can improve? I hope you answer this question honestly.
John: I never said Bortles is improving this season. I actually have written quite often that he clearly did not make the necessary improvements from last season to this season to take the Jaguars' offense to the level it needed to reach. Why can he improve? I don't know that he can or will, but he did take steps between Year 1 and 2. His mechanics improved, and he had a better season in 2015 than 2014. Can he do it again? I have no idea. But that's the basis for believing it's possible.
Gabe from Washington, DC:
Is Myles Jack completely healthy? How can a player who the team considered to have first-round talent be getting half as many snaps as Dan Skuta? Does Dan Skuta give us a better chance to win than Myles Jack does and – if so – what does that say about Bradley's ability to develop players? I just don't understand why he's still not on the field for more than half the snaps.
John: The Jaguars are splitting snaps between Skuta and Jack because they're trying to play Skuta against "heavy" run-oriented personnel as much as possible and Jack against other personnel packages. That's when the Jaguars are in base personnel packages. When they go to nickel looks, the Otto position that Jack and Skuta play typically comes off the field. As a result, Jack and Skuta are essentially splitting reps at a position that plays about half the time. Whatever the coaching situation next season the team must get Jack on the field more next season, but that's why Jack is playing about half the snaps this season.
Jesse from Layton:
The Rams are not getting a head start on the Jags by kicking Jeff Fisher to the curb. The coaches a team wants to interview are still coaching somewhere, and likely will be coaching into the playoffs. The only thing the Rams gained was sending a message. Good or bad message is debatable. However, a side effect is to add a great deal of turbulence and chaos to their players on a short week. Maybe Fisher was a cancer they wanted to get out of their organization, who was sowing seeds of discontent. Whatever someone's opinion on Gus as a coach, I don't see him as that type of guy. Get this team to the offseason and take your time making the right decision for who leads this team in the future.
John: I don't cover the Rams and can't speak with any insight into why they opted to fire Fisher. I can tell you that Jaguars Owner Shad Khan's philosophy to date is to not make a midseason coaching change in the NFL. As for the effect of such midseason changes, history suggests it's minimal. Does it send a message? I suppose, but the only message that matters is that a team is trying to do what's best to win for the long term. The Jaguars are doing that. They're not succeeding at it yet, but that remains the objective – and that will be the objective when Khan makes his decisions in the offseason.
Logan from Wichita, KS:
So tell me what we have to look forward to? Another loss to a division rival that makes the loss hurt even worse? I really wish we could just cancel the game or forfeit. It's already a loss because our offense is worthless and our defense – just like every defense to ever exist – can't stay on the field for 45-to-50 minutes and expect to be fresh and dominate the last 10 of those minutes while being out of energy. This is where we are: Broken down, giving up, saying to hell with it because what have the Jags done lately to make us fans think or feel any different? Oh, yeah: that's right ... won two whole games... whoop-dee-do.
John: OK.
Jaginator from Section 124:
Can you please tell us when you have ever believed a team was poorly coached? Has it ever happened in the history of the NFL? Apparently, you don't believe that 14-47 is enough to define a coach as subpar. We repeatedly get the snarky retort of, "It's always coaching in the NFL." So I really wonder how many games does a coach have to lose before you would admit that maybe, possibly, this one time, it really does have something to do with the coaching?
John: I have repeatedly said coaching matters in the NFL. What I also say – and firmly believe – is that coaching is far, far, far too often blamed for things because people understandably want an easy answer when things go wrong. Tom Coughlin was fired in Jacksonville and the masses wanted this. Jack Del Rio was fired in Jacksonville and the masses wanted this. Mike Mularkey was fired in Jacksonville and the masses wanted this. In the cases of Del Rio and Mularkey, the masses were sure that they were awful head coaches and that they were the problem. They were lampooned and ridiculed. The same was true, as I recall, of then-offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. All three of those coaches left Jacksonville amid the glee and celebration of the masses. All could well be coaching playoff teams this season – and this is a common tale throughout the league and throughout the decades. Did those men make mistakes here? Sure. Were they perfect coaches? No. But they were clearly capable people and capable coaches. Is Gus Bradley a perfect coach? No. Has he made mistakes? Sure. After four years of losing he certainly has had a longer tenure than most coaches with his record. Bradley certainly has contributed to the 14-47 record, but I would say an argument could be made that the Jaguars overachieved despite winning just seven games in 2013 and 2014. The 5-11 record in 2015 probably was about right for that team. This season is a disaster and Bradley is under mammoth criticism for it – and considering the discipline/penalties at times, he does deserve some of the criticism. But is he the absolute sole reason – or even the primary reason – the team has lost so much and won so little in recent seasons? Is he the sole reason they're 2-11 this season? Not even close. So, while it's clear that people believe otherwise and desperately want to read otherwise in this space, I do not believe that Bradley is a horrendous coach solely responsible for 2-11 or 14-47 – despite the fact that it's always coaching in the NFL.

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