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O-Zone: Big and strong

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Kevin from Boston, MA

John, hoping you could give a quick acknowledgement to my dad, Robert Fidrych (Robert of St. Augustine), who just recently passed away. He loved writing to the O-Zone and he definitely loved his Jaguars since he was a season-ticket holder in 1995. Thank you.

It is with pleasure and sadness that I absolutely will acknowledge this. My condolences for your loss and I am honored that he enjoyed this column on some level. Here's hoping his life was full and that your memories are rich. May he rest in peace and may you find comfort.

Payton from Boise, ID

With the current roster, are the Jaguars set up to be a playoff team?

Maybe, but I can't call it likely. The Jaguars' current roster can improve significantly from last season, particularly if quarterback Trevor Lawrence takes a Year 2 step forward. I believe he can. That, and the players believing in the direction of the franchise under Head Coach Doug Pederson, should make this team much better. I also believe the defensive front seven will be much better, particularly against the run. That should help the pass-rush, too – though I still don't know if the front seven is ready to be a dominant, game-turning pass rush. I don't know if Lawrence will be quite ready in Year 2 to be a franchise-lifting player. Both of those last elements will be improved, but both areas likely will take time to develop. If those elements are present, the Jaguars might be good enough to push for the postseason. If not, they may be a year away.

Richard from Duval

So, I went back and watched the coaches' tape of that 1996 playoff game between the Jaguars and Buffalo Bills and I didn't see a single instance where Bills defensive end Bruce Smith was chipped or where Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli had help. I don't know what the heck Smith's deal is, because from what I saw then and even today, Bruce got straight up owned one on one. During most plays, Tony was the first and only person to touch and shut him down. I think Bruce just needs a little cheese to go with that whine.

That's not nice.

Sprinkle from DUUUVAAAL

Zone, I must say I was particularly impressed with the O-Zone podcasts this year. Will there be more come August? It's a luxury in the sports world to root for a team with such high character athletes. Some of these guys are legit role models. For the sake of the Dead Zone, and tomorrow's lunch break, what was your last binge-watch?

O-Zone Podcasts likely will return in August or early September. I enjoy them, too. They're a chance to get to know players on a deeper level than a locker-room interview, and my sense generally is that even players who understandably don't love speaking to the media or doing interviews find them enjoyable on some level. Last binge watch: "Breaking Bad" and I'm working through "Better Call Saul." I found them difficult to get into for many years. I finally broke through. They're top notch.

Tom from Nocatee

Bruce Smith certainly didn't question Boselli's HOF credentials when he was being paid to introduce Tony on that TV show.

No, he did not.

Don from Marshall, NC

Travon Walker is going to be great at whatever he does with his attitude. He is one of those guys who would play for free because the juice is the game. You get a collection of players who think like him and you're going places. Cannot wait to watch the team play and Go Jaguars!

This may be inspired by Walker's O-Zone Podcast appearance this week. Or perhaps it was inspired by something else. Either way, the spirit of your email is spot on: the more you learn about Jaguars rookie outside linebacker Travon Walker – the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft – the clearer it indeed is that he has the right attitude, mindset and work ethic to fulfill his potential. If he's not elite, it won't be because he didn't do the work necessary. That's encouraging.

Mike from Cortland, NY

To change the subject from the Bruce Smith drama, I feel like many fans and players and others in the league had a big issue with how Pederson handled the last game of his Philadelphia tenure. Many viewed it as tanking for a draft pick when he pulled Jalen Hurts to "see what he had in Sudfield." It does seem obvious that he wasn't considering he was let go and didn't get the opportunity to coach the slightly higher draft pick. And I don't believe tanking really exists in the NFL. But that move did invoke a ton of criticism. How did you feel about it at the time?

The Philadelphia Eagles lost Pederson's last game as head coach in 2020 to Washington, a game in which Pederson played then-Eagles reserve quarterback Nate Sudfeld over then-starter Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter. The Eagles lost, and the move to play Sudfeld indeed drew some controversy. Some did accuse Pederson "tanking" for draft positioning. The loss was the difference in the No. 9 and No. 6 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Pederson said at the time he thought Sudfeld deserved to play. How did I feel about? Well, the Jaguars at the time were about to part ways with then-Head Coach Doug Marrone and rumors of Urban Meyer becoming the head coach were already strong enough to be believable. So, what Pederson was doing in what for the Eagles was a meaningless game weren't a huge concern. But the Eagles weren't going to the playoffs that season and their season was over in the regular-season finale. When that's the case, it's hardly uncommon to play reserves of backup – particularly young and unproven ones.

Ponte Vedra, FL

Regarding the great profile of Secretariat by William Nack of Sports Illustrated … the horse still owns the record for the Belmont, 49 years later. As for long-form sports writing, the Athletic offers some today.

Yes. So I've heard.

William the Contemplator from Jax

Mr. O, do you happen to know Kevin Austin plans between now and training camp? I would really like to see him further enhance his skills and become a valuable member of the receivers' room.

While I understand and appreciate fans wanting to know about All Things Jaguars, my diligence in this area stops short of asking all rookie undrafted free agents what they plan to do all summer. Austin, a wide receiver from Notre Dame, signed with the Jaguars as a collegiate free agent shortly after the 2022 NFL Draft. I expect he will spend some time in the next six weeks remaining in shape and running routes to prepare for the season. I also expect he and other rookies to take a bit of time away from football. Austin will have time in training camp to try to make the roster, and I expect him to be on the practice squad with a chance to earn his way onto the roster. The Jaguars certainly hope he can do that.

Jason from North Pole, AK

You recently answered that if Doug Pederson got us to a Super Bowl, win or lose, you'd consider his tenure a success. Do you consider Doug Marrone's time with the Jaguars a success? He didn't get there but was about as close as you can get.

His first season was unquestionably a success. Then, things got weird. So, yes. And no. Weirdly.

Marty from Jacksonville

Speaking of sports writing, do you consider Grantland Rice a great sportswriter?

Rice during his day was a great among greats. His style is now dated. Because of course it is. One can't control changing times, changing tastes and changing styles. One can only be judged against one's peers. So, yes … he undoubtedly was a great sportswriter.

Richard from Jacksonville

O'Man, regarding the recent question regarding revisiting the three-year requirement from high school before entering the NFL, I will say I will be surprised if the rule is revisited. I remember working for the NFL (subcontracted directly by the Jacksonville Jaguars for Telex work), when I first walked on the field and saw Baltimore Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden sitting on the bench. It wasn't until I reached midfield that I realized he was sitting on the top back of the bench. The part you and I lean our backs against, and his legs fit normally on the ground. The NFL is made up of some of the most large, athletic men on the planet. The expectation each year that mid twenty-something men are supposed to compete, no less dominate, these men in their thirties is laughable. To expect a 20- or 21-year-old to do so is laughable. Let the rule stand as it is. This isn't the NBA.

This is correct.

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