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O-Zone: Band of elves

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Brandon from Duval:
John, after some reflection on last season, the bitter taste has started to dissipate. We were soooo close late in the fourth quarter in so many games last year. With even a slightly improved Blake Bortles and running game, we could've easily been 8-8. Add some maturity to our young guys, a couple of free-agent signings, and another solid draft, and I think we can easily make the playoffs. I have high hopes, but I guess this is the time of year I always do. Tell me it is not in vain this year … once again.
John: I never in the past six seasons have written that I believed the Jaguars could "easily" make the postseason, and I won't write that this offseason for a couple of reasons. One is that making the postseason is hard for any NFL team. Another is that the Jaguars haven't made the postseason for a long time, and getting back to the postseason after a long drought also is hard. And remember: the Jaguars went 3-13 last season, so getting to the postseason probably would mean a six- or seven-game improvement. That's a big leap. So, what to expect from the Jaguars next season? Well, considering free agency is a few weeks away and the draft is a couple of months away, there's a long way to go. But I look at the Jaguars entering 2017 in much the same way as I looked at them entering last season. I believe the defense will at least be pretty good, and I think it can be really good if it can generate pass rush in key situations. As was the case last offseason, I still believe the key for the Jaguars will be the offense and quarterback Blake Bortles' ability to function in key situations. The unit for much of the past two seasons has not been able to generate points early in games, and it has not been good enough converting third downs. The unit this past season also struggled woefully in the fourth quarter with games on the line. If the offense and in particular Bortles can find a way to improve in those areas, then your optimism perhaps won't be in vain. If not …
Jags Fan 818 from Jacksonville:
OK Zone, I'm seriously confused. How is Bortles going to have serious competition by re-signing Chad Henne??? Henne didn't play well when he was with the Dolphins. His poor play caused Bortles to come in sooner than the coaches wanted. So, tell me, Zone: what can Henne teach Bortles that will help him since Henne's own days were miserable??? Are the Jags going to let Brandon Allen go and then get another quarterback for competition? It'll be interesting to see what the Big 3 (Coughlin, Marrone and Caldwell) do now.
John: Don't let Henne's presence add to your confusion. He won't provide competition for Bortles, and the Jaguars didn't re-sign him thinking he will push for a starting role. He will be a reserve if he makes the team. And his re-signing doesn't mean the Jaguars are done addressing quarterback this offseason. There remains the possibility of drafting or signing a free agent to provide some level of competition for Bortles. I have said since the offseason began that I believe Bortles will start next season because finding a quarterback clearly better than Bortles in this offseason's market will be difficult. Either way, Henne's presence on the roster has no bearing on the situation.
Job from Trinidad and Tobago:
I wasn't a fan of not picking up the option on Beachum before I read the deal and saw it included $18 million guaranteed. That's a lot for someone that is coming off injury. It makes sense they would decline and look into cheaper options. … thoughts?
John: My thoughts are that the Jaguars believe they need to upgrade the offensive line and they're trying to figure the best way to do that. Exercising Beachum's option essentially would have locked him in as the starting left tackle for 2017 and 2018, and that obviously wasn't something the Jaguars wanted to do at a guaranteed cost of $18 million.
Michael from Tucker, GA:
Before the new league year officially starts, a reflection on the 2016 season. Did you see the breakout year for Johnathan Cyprien coming? What happened to Dante Fowler Jr. not being blockable in the preseason? If A.J. Cann is a natural left guard and Bradon Linder was a dominant right guard and Luke Bowanko was our starting center before injury, why did all of them play out of position last year with Luke not even playing even when healthy?
John: Wow … many questions. I'll attempt to wow you with some succinct answers. I don't know if Cyprien had a breakout season in 2016 as much as he played well in a role for which he was suited, but yeah … I figured he would play OK if he mainly stayed in the box and focused on the run. That's where his strengths lie. As far as what happened to Fowler being unblockable, that was during organized team activities and early in training camp. Once things went live, Fowler struggled; he needs to develop more technique to be an effective NFL pass rusher. Finally, the reason the Jaguars took the approach they did on the offensive line was they wanted the center position to be as strong as possible because it's the most important interior-line position, so they put the player they consider their best interior lineman there. That's Brandon Linder.
Cody from Stedman, NC:
With the Jaguars cutting Kelvin Beachum and the Branden Albert trade being rumors, what is the likelihood of Luke Joeckel getting re-signed? And did Joeckel show enough growth in 2016 to get his shot at the starting left tackle job again?
John: I sense a dismissiveness in your first sentence toward the idea of either Beachum or Albert playing for the Jaguars that may be premature, and it's certainly too early to dismiss the idea of Albert. The Jaguars didn't release Beachum; they opted not to pick up his option and the Jaguars technically could still negotiate with him and re-sign him. As for Albert, this one feels a lot more like a "report" than a "rumor," with the difference being a report is something that has a real chance to happen whereas a trade rumor often is more about people speculating, wishing and hoping than a real possibility. I'd definitely give the Albert trade a chance of happening. Finally, Joeckel's future very much remains to be seen. Because of his injury last season he seems unlikely to get a big deal on the open market. Could he return to the Jaguars with the idea of staying healthy for a season and getting a chance to hit the open market again next offseason? Yeah, I could see that scenario. I doubt he returns as the starting left tackle, though. It's not inconceivable that he could start at left tackle again someday, but I can't see it being for the Jaguars next season.
Jason from St. Augustine, FL:
Hi John, could the Jags keep Beachum and Albert? It may be a lot of money but with substituting and Beachum's injury and Albert's age, wouldn't it make sense? The Jags always keep too few offensive line guys and usually get injuries. Also the trade seems rather unbalanced in value. Am I missing something?
John: Both Beachum and Albert are left tackles. I know Beachum considers himself a starting left tackle, and I'm pretty certain Albert feels just as strongly. For that reason, they're not going to be playing on the same team. As for the trade's value, I have no earthly idea about the balance because I have no idea about who the Jaguars might trade – if they indeed trade. The only thing that's been reported about a possible trade between the Dolphins and the Jaguars are that the Jaguars are interested in acquiring Albert from the Dolphins. Any compensation that I've seen has been speculation.
Ed from Winston-Salem, NC:
What four potential free agents would you sign to the Jags and who would you release?
John: I'll assume you're referring to safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Prince Amukamara, defensive end/tackle Tyson Alualu and Luke Joeckel. A lot of the answer depends on what the players will be commanding on the open market, and what the Jaguars plan to do in terms of other players. I like Cyprien and Amukamara in their roles last season, but I expect them to command more on the market than the Jaguars believe they're worth. For that reason, I don't expect the Jaguars to retain them and I can see the Jaguars drafting a strong safety and signing a free-agent cornerback. There's a decent chance they retain Alualu. As for Joeckel, I'd call it a coin flip.
Abe from Mobile, AL:
About how many questions do y'all get a day?
John: Is there some mysterious band of elves answering questions I don't know about around here?

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