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O-Zone: Back at last

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Elmer from Swamp City, FL

You've said the NFL and college football are essentially different games. If you were writing Football for Dummies, how would you succinctly describe this difference? Besides the obvious "bigger and faster and older" angle.

Sometime the obvious answer is the right answer. NFL players indeed are bigger and faster than college players, and that's perhaps the biggest difference in the two sports. To stand on the sideline of a college game on Saturday and stand on the sideline of an NFL game the following day is to be overwhelmed by the difference in the violence and speed of professional football compared to the college game. It just sounds and feels different. Remember, too: There are players on even the "great" college teams who won't make the NFL, which means the level of play is significantly different. The styles of games are also dramatically different. College offenses these days rarely put the quarterback under center at the snap. This means quarterbacks often enter the NFL needing to learn how to take a snap and drop back from that spot. It translates to the rest of the sport. There also is comparatively little "power" running in college football these days. Players entering the NFL must not only adapt to speed and size, but they must sometimes learn techniques they were never previously taught. But the primary difference may be that the college game has wider hashmarks than the NFL, thus creating more space for offensive plays. I'll defer here to The 33rd Team's Andy Benoit, who once described the difference thusly: "Because of the hashmarks, pro football comes down to men battling men. College football can come down to men battling men and space."

Tom from Cairo, Egypt

I don't mind the hip-drop tackle rule, just like I don't mind the rules around helmet-to-helmet contact. What I don't like is that the difference between a flag getting thrown or not usually comes down to whether or not someone gets hurt.

This may be a matter of perception. I've never noticed officials calling helmet-to-helmet more in the case of injury than otherwise, and my sense is most plays happen too fast for an official to know if a hit will cause an injury. Perhaps you're right on this. I just haven't noticed it.

Mike from Cartersville (AKA Trevortown), GA

I don't like the rules changes. I prefer the game that was played in the 1990s. But it is untenable. Back in the 90s when I played on the Westside, I got flattened by a pulling guard I never saw coming at me on a sweep. I woke up with the running back 60 yards up field and a fat guy on top of me. The coaches pulled me out of the scrimmage and said you got your bell rung. I didn't see any doctors. That can't continue, plain and simple. My coaches always told me mothers will be the end of this game. And that stuff is why. If we don't change, we will lose this game we all love to watch. Adapt or become a dinosaur.

Pretty much.

Zach from Jacksonville

Going into next season, is Trevor Lawrence already the Jaguars second-best all time quarterback? Does his comeback against the Chargers and above average play put him past David Garrard's three-interception season and playoff runs? Or does he pass Blake Bortles' run to the AFC Championship game close to a Super Bowl run? To me, it feels as though he's just right in the thick of it. He has an opportunity to surpass both those guys next year and I believe he can do it.

Lawrence is "up there" among the Jaguars' all-time quarterbacks. There's no reason to think he won't be higher "up there" – certainly someday and perhaps very soon.

Scott from Jacksonville

If the league wants to cut down lower body injuries, why not just make the players start using all those pads that they quit playing with? It won't stop twisting injuries that tear ACLs and the like, but it's much more difficult to sustain blunt trauma to knees through knee pads. Not to mention thigh, hip and tailbone pads. At some point the players need to be responsible for some of their own safety.

NFL players do wear knee and thigh pads – and can be fined for not doing so. But these pads indeed are usually small and light, particularly for offensive and defensive "skill" players such as receivers, tight ends and cornerbacks. The reason? Players place a premium on quickness, flexibility and elusiveness – and the belief among players is heavy pads would reduce their effectiveness in these areas. Remember, too: Many – and perhaps most – significant lower-body injuries indeed are more of the "twisting" variety. I'm not a scientist or a doctor – though I once almost bought a white lab coat. It doesn't seem from this view that more lower-body pads would do much to prevent career-threatening injuries.

Johnny D from Jax

Do you think the new kickoff rules might help Riley Patterson's longevity in the NFL as they will not be looking for big kickoff legs much anymore?

I don't know that the issue with a kicker's leg strength these days is as much about kickoffs as field goals. Coaches expect some level of consistency from beyond 50 yards more than was the case a decade or so ago.

Bruce from Saint Simons Island

O, Jaguars linebacker Foye Oluokun is a great player and deserves his contract. Leading the NFL in tackles more than once! However, do you agree that it would be better if his tackle numbers go down because the Jags defensive line shuts down the opposite teams' runners?

A bit, though not much. While it's good for NFL defensive linemen to get tackles, the job of defensive linemen often is to be stout at the line and prevent offensive linemen from getting to the "second level" of the defense clear to block linebackers. This is particularly true in the three-lineman, four-linebacker scheme the Jaguars have played in recent seasons. The Jaguars' four-linemen scheme moving forward may emphasize defensive linemen making a few more tackles, but the NFL inside linebacker's job generally is to make tackles. Oluokun without question has been very good at that.

Zach from Jacksonville

Looking at the free-agent market, running backs aren't really getting paid over $10-13 million a year. It's been all quiet from running back Travis Etienne Jr. heading into next year. He missed his rookie season, looked great Year 2, took a step back behind a shaky line Year 3 and the team probably isn't expected to pick up the fifth year on him. Pending his performance next year, do you think he's a piece the team will try to re-sign and keep around or will they look to potentially replace him in the future?

Etienne is entering the final season of the rookie contract he signed after the Jaguars selected him No. 25 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. I don't think it's fair to say he took a "step back" in 2023. He rushed for 11 touchdowns and managed 1,008 yards rushing behind a league that largely struggled to run block much of the season. I think there's a good chance the Jaguars will exercise the fifth-year option on Etienne this offseason, which would enable them to have him under contract through the 2025 season. That would give them time to determine a long-term approach. I doubt they will sign him to a long-term extension after that because that can be risky with a running back. A shorter extension often is the path teams try to take with running backs.

JayPee from The Vortex

With no more hip-drop tackles, Michael Thomas should be able to stay healthy for the entire season. Should we get him?

Former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas had at least 1,100 yards receiving in his first four seasons, earning NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors during a 2019 season in which he caught nine touchdown passes with 1,725 yards receiving. He has played 17 games the past four seasons. Here's hoping he eventually reaches his peak level again. It's difficult to allocate significant resources to that sort of injury history.

Jerell from Columbia, SC

Any chance Jags lock up Josh Allen before the draft?

Outside linebacker Josh Allen has received the franchise tag designation from the Jaguars, giving him the option of signing the tag and playing 2024 on a one-year contract or not playing that season. The Jaguars and Allen also still have the option of reaching a long-term extension, something that they must do by July 15. If they don't reach that extension, Allen will either play on the tag or not play. I believe there's a very good chance Allen signs an extension before July 15, and it could happen before the April 25-27 2024 NFL Draft. And Jerell's back. Thank Goodness.