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O-Zone: Better to be ahead

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Preston from Oakville, CT:
O-Man, I'll give you three hypothetical scenarios: One, Blake Bortles wins Offensive MVP; two, Dante Fowler Jr. wins Defensive MVP; three, Myles Jack or Jalen Ramsey win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Which of these scenarios do you think would signify the best result for the team and which one do you think is the most likely?
John: Ah, many scenarios … many possibilities. The best result for the team clearly would be for Bortles to win the offensive Most Valuable Player – by which I assume you mean NFL Most Valuable Player. That would be the best result because a quarterback winning MVP almost certainly means his team not only is winning games but is one of the best teams in the NFL. That means that quarterback is playing at an elite, career-defining level – and that by definition means the team is succeeding. That's an unlikely scenario this season not because the Jaguars can't win or because Bortles can't play at a high level, but because MVP seasons for any quarterback are rarefied air – as such, they have to be considered unlikely until the player proves otherwise. They're also unlikely for a quarterback as young as Bortles. Remember, Peyton Manning didn't win the first of his five MVP awards until his sixth season and Cam Newton just won his first MVP award in Year 5. It typically takes time to get that level. The far more likely scenario of the ones you mentioned is either Jack or Ramsey being named Rookie of the Year. That's not a far-fetched scenario at all.
Jon from Ocala, FL:
Hi O, I was thinking … why don't all offensive and defensive linemen where knee braces as a precaution?
John: Most players don't like them.
Cathy from Jacksonville Beach:
John, is there real competition at the kicker position? I'm asking because at the scrimmage Friday, Sam Ficken seemed very consistent in kicking extra points and long field goals. On the other hand, Jason Myers almost missed another extra point and missed a long but makeable field goal by quite a bit.
John: I said during the scrimmage on live Myers needed to be consistent for there not to be a kicking competition. In light of that … well, if the competition isn't "real" yet it's sure worth watching closely for "realness."
HJT from Jacksonville:
Every year I predict 16-0 and we end up with a Top 5 pick. This year I'm going to try something different and predict 0-16. My mother told me to fix this or she's going to kick me out of the basement.
John: Sounds like a plan.
Scott from Fernandina Beach, FL:
Hi, John. Prince Amukamara has been getting some good reviews and to my untrained eye he appeared to have a good night at the scrimmage. Where do you see him on the depth chart after a week of camp and the scrimmage?
John: Amukamara absolutely had a good scrimmage, and he has deserved the positive reviews he has received during training camp. If there has been a standout in the secondary aside from cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Amukamara has been it – and Amukamara actually has made as many plays if not more than Ramsey. I expect Ramsey/Davon House to start at outside cornerback in the regular-season opener with Ramsey moving inside to the nickel and Amukamara playing outside opposite House in passing situations. That's what I'd predict for the first four weeks of the regular season if everyone is healthy. As for what happens when Aaron Colvin returns from suspension, that's trickier. I thought entering camp Colvin likely would be the nickel defensive back. With Amukamara and Ramsey playing so well – and with Ramsey so gifted in the slot – it may be tough to take Ramsey/Amukamara out of their roles when Colvin returns.
Marc from US Assure East:
Mystical Mr. O, go with me here. Fast forward to December, it's late in a game and our defense needs a crucial stop on a long-yardage situation. [Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd] Wash throws out the rotation for this play and decides to put in his best front-four combo to get after the passer. What four linemen do you foresee?
John: Dante Fowler Jr., Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson and Jared Odrick – with Sen'Derrick Marks possibly taking Odrick's place if he continues to progress in his return.
Richard from Northampton, UK:
OK, mighty O: Talk me back off the ledge here. Wasn't the focus of the offense trying to start well early in games? You know … the thing they struggled with last season. So how come they started so slow on Friday night? Is this destined to be a team that always takes its time to get into games? Help me, O man!
John: First off, it was a scrimmage. There's no reason to even be on the ledge. As for the slow starts, they will be an issue until the offense starts faster and makes them not an issue. Friday's start was not something that will make it not an issue, but a fast start in a scrimmage probably wasn't going to make it not an issue, either.
Mike from Jacksonville:
O, I'm hearing great things about Allen Robinson as well, but it seems he's been matched up against Jalen Ramsey a lot. Is it fair to call him as much of a beast as he's been going up against a rookie? I mean, it seems we're kind of making it easy for him so far.
John: Robinson has looked good – really, really good – no matter who has covered him thus far in training camp, and while I haven't charted one-on-one matchups in practice, I'd say Robinson has been covered more by veteran Amukamara than any other cornerback. As for what I sense is the gist of your question: is Robinson really that much better than last season? Yes, from this vantage point – absolutely.
Tony from Morrilton, AR:
John, could Sen'Derrick and Malik be on the line at the same time?
John: Yes. That scenario would probably have Malik Jackson at three-technique tackle; the Jaguars signed him to play there and I get no indication they plan to line him up anywhere else very often. In situations when Marks and Jackson are on the field together it's likely Marks would move outside and play the big end or line up next to Jackson.
Ethan from Jacksonville:
Zone, do you think that then D-line will show a dramatic change from last year?
John: I certainly hope not. I don't always pay attention to drumlines, but the D-Line has been entertaining fans around the 'Bank for a long time and I like those guys. A lot. Here's hoping those cats never change.
Herve from Jacksonville:
Johnny O, the Oracle of Jacksonville, what is in the cards for Allen Hurns for the 2016 campaign? Although A-Rob got much of the love locally and nationally, Hurns had an unbelievable year when you consider playing full speed on groin hernias. Has the offseason surgery slowed him down or is it just that A-Rob is that dominant and has gotten this much in front?
John: This has been a common theme in the inbox in recent days, and I suppose that's because anyone covering the team – myself included – has written extensively about Allen Robinson in recent days. But nothing anyone is writing or saying about Robinson is a negative reflection on Hurns. Hurns is playing fine. He looks improved from last season. Mostly, he looks like he has looked since he arrived with the Jaguars as a rookie free agent – like a fundamentally sound, remarkable hard-working, disciplined wide receiver who probably is going to be really productive for a long time. I expect Hurns to be crucial to the offense this season. It's difficult to predict his statistics because I don't know if the Jaguars will throw as much as last season, but I see no reason Hurns can't push to again be around 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. I don't think Hurns will be the dominant, game-changing, No. 1 receiver that Robinson appears on the verge of becoming because Hurns isn't a physically dominant receiver. Robinson very much is a physically dominant receiver and appears to be capable of being a Top 5 receiver in this league who can be effective even when defenses try to take him away. That's special stuff and it's why people have been writing about and discussing Robinson a lot during training camp. But that doesn't mean Hurns isn't good.
Brian from Round Rock, TX:
I don't agree with the big emphasis on starting fast. I think winning teams have a penchant for finishing games and seasons. I don't think that a fast start is that critical. Especially if we want to run the ball. Run-the-ball teams tend to start slow and finish strong. Why the focus on starting fast?
John: As my great, great, great, great grandfather Guillaume "O-Zone" Oehser wrote when covering the long-since-erased-from-history-but-still-remembered-at-Oehser-family-barbeques Glorious Fights to the Death in 1860s Belgium, "'Tis better to be ahead than 'tis to be behind."

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