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O-Zone: Better... really

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Greg from Boise, ID:
I have complained, yelled and screamed as much as anyone, yet I have come upon a revelation. This team is better than it was when Dave and Gus arrived, but some people have very lofty expectations for a team filled with mostly second- and third-year players with a handful of free agents sprinkled in – and the team plays just as any team staffed as such should be expected to play. Am I missing something?
John: Revelations are cool. I like them. Seriously, while your view is not popular with all Jaguars fans, there's truth to your revelation. The Jaguars' core players are for the most part young, developing players who are still growing into being reliable and consistent enough to win consistently. That perhaps is most notably true of second-year quarterback Blake Bortles, but it's also true of a lot of the players in key roles. The Jaguars have been in all but one game in the fourth quarter this season. That's a huge change from the last two seasons. They are still not good enough in the red zone and still don't get enough pass rush to close those games. That's not the entire Jaguars story this season, but it's a decent start. Experience should help the first; personnel additions should help the second. That should mean more winning as those things happen. And when that happens … now, that would be a revelation.
Steve from Nashville, TN:
Why is "trusting the process" that produces field-goal attempts instead of touchdowns a good thing to get behind? Possibly, the existing process is not working?
John: You're referring to Bortles and other players saying Wednesday they were going to trust the process to improve in the red zone. Of course, that's what they're going to say. Do you expect them to say, 'We're going to throw a fade on first-and-goal from the 7 and a run a Z-Trap, 47QT slam right on second-and-goal from the 3?" I expect the Jaguars to perhaps throw the fade a bit more, make sure a few more patterns get to the end zone and perhaps use T.J. Yeldon both running and passing more in the red zone. I don't expect Greg Olson to email me the game plan to post on Twitter on Wednesday.
Chris from Norfolk, VA:
I would be more than happy to see nothing but linemen taken in the draft. Pass rushers and tackles, tackles and pass rushers!
John: The Jaguars won't be taking an offensive tackle early in the draft. My advice is to not hold your breath waiting for this to happen. If you want to email me angrily the day after the draft that they didn't do it, fine – but it won't change the fact that Luke Joeckel and Jermey Parnell, barring unforeseen major injuries, almost certainly will be the starting tackles next season. The reason for that is they have played fine and should be the starting tackles. That's going spur a lot of "Yeah, buts" and people are going to scream about the stat circulating on Twitter that they have allowed a lot of pressures. The people screaming those things aren't going to grasp that Bortles has run into a lot of pressures that skew the numbers, but I can't control that. I can just tell you that Joeckel and Parnell are fine. As for drafting a pass rusher, yeah … I think that's a possibility, though I wouldn't guarantee it in the first round.
Sam from Boston, MA:
John, it seems this "rebuild" is not working as well as it should at this point. Everyone seems to want to get rid of the coaches. (I think only the defensive coordinator needs to go) But why isn't anyone talking about getting rid of Caldwell? His first draft yielded zero front-line starters: Joeckel is a bust. Cyprien is average; Gratz is a backup at best. Ace Sanders cut. His second draft is a little better but Bortles hasn't proven to be the "guy." …
John: You went on to make a lot of points. I stopped you when casually dismissed a draft that includes Bortles, Allen Robinson, Brandon Linder, Aaron Colvin, Telvin Smith and Allen Hurns as an undrafted free agent as "a little better." Plus, Joeckel isn't a bust – and Cyprien is beginning to play better than average. But I'm not going to argue this pick by pick. That's boring reading. The roster is better than it was when Caldwell took over with a very good chance to keep improving. No one's talking about getting rid of Caldwell now for the simple reason that it won't happen – nor should it.
Keith from Palatka, FL:
I hate to state the obvious with authority, but the most meaningful statistics for the Jaguars are points for 21.5 (22nd ranked) and points against 27.2 (29th ranked). Two or three points more on offense and two or three points less on defense is the difference between winning and losing for this team. Our offense will improve with experience and a better player or two on the line. Our defense will improve with better LEOs, OTTO, free safety, and cornerback. Most of this will have to happen in the offseason. We are who we are now.
John: The front-line cornerbacks are pretty good, but yes – for the most part the Jaguars are who they are.
Brian from Section 238:
I don't know where all this talk about bad secondary coverage is coming from. The coverage, for the most part, has been fine. Are people at the games actually watching the game? The pass rush, however … the "hit squad" as they want to be called aren't hitting anyone. They hit road blocks, offensive linemen, cheerleaders or their helmets after one sack, but sure can't hit a quarterback.
John: The defensive line as a whole actually is playing well. The Leo position is struggling. Big-time. That's not to say the secondary or rest of the line is perfect, but Leo is the primary issue.
Al from Carroll, TX:
With the Jaguars' struggles to run do you believe they will incorporate a fullback in the offense next season?
John: No, but I do believe they'll get Brandon Linder back into the lineup and they may address the center and tight end positions in terms of run-blocking. Improvement there will have a greater impact than a fullback, the use of which has been on a steady decline around the NFL for some time.
Kenny from Houston, TX:
Allen Hurns has seemed to cement his spot as our No. 2 receiver even though his upside isn't has high as Marqise Lee's. Could something similar be going on with Chris Smith? If not, could you explain why not?
John: Hurns has earned his way into a starting role by performing at a high level pretty much whenever given the opportunity, and he has shown remarkable consistency and improvement. Smith has not done this. That's not to say he can't do it, but it hasn't happened yet.
Jason from Orange Park, FL:
John, the red-zone problems will continue as long as Blake continues to struggle with his fade corner end-zone pass – If I labeled the pass wrong, I apologize. Still have faith he can get it, but until he does, we will continue to have problems in the end zone.
John: I don't know that it would solve everything, but yeah … it sure wouldn't hurt.
Trey from Jacksonville:
Would Dante Fowler Jr. be worth three wins this year?? Sure seems like it right now.
John: I don't know if Fowler alone would mean three more victories, but I'd sure listen to the argument. I'd really listen if you told me Sen'Derrick Marks and Fowler would make a mammoth difference in the pass rush.
Armand from Jacksonville:
Do you see the Texans, Titans and Colts getting in to a rotation for the game in England?
John: I see the Jaguars playing a home game at Wembley Stadium in London for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, I don't see there being a hard, fast rotation, pattern of formula for their opponent.
David from Broward County:
O-Man, you've told us repeatedly this season that Joeckel is playing better. I don't agree with that but let's accept it as true. He is better but he is not good enough to be the left tackle this team needs going forward. If the team is committed to him, as you've also told us, they need to properly motivate him …
John: You went and you made a lot of points about competition and what to do about the left tackle position. Luke Joeckel has played OK – not at a Pro Bowl level, but not at a level where the team is likely to be in a hurry to address the position. I expect Luke Joeckel to be the left tackle next season. That doesn't mean there won't be competition, but I don't see there being a pressing urgency or need to try to upgrade or replace that position. That doesn't mean O-Zone readers aren't allowed to keep doubting the truth of this, but it is how it's probably going to play out.

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