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O-Zone: Big, big plans

JACKSONVILLE – Let’s get to it …

Kyle from Atlanta, GA

I have a hard time seeing this team getting to 11 wins this season. As optimistic as you may be, Zone, the schedule just looks too tough. What’s your “logic?”

I don’t know that I’m optimistic or pessimistic; I simply interpret what I see and answer best I can. My logic is the Jaguars are going to be good this season – better than last season, I believe – and I think they will be good enough to be a double-digit victory team. I don’t spend many offseason hours going through the schedule game-by-game to project a team’s record. I might do it once around the time of the schedule release, but projecting the difficulty of a schedule during the offseason is a foolish task because so much about every team can change once the season begins. Injuries often change things – and some teams fall off and others improve. Few observers last season would have projected the Jaguars being a difficult game for most opponents; by season’s end, that thought had changed. Still, I do believe that barring injury the Jaguars will be good in 2018. I believe that in part based on the way the defense played last season – and in part because it appears the offense and quarterback Blake Bortles will be improved. I believe that combination will get the Jaguars to the postseason with double-digit victories. We’ll starting find out if I’m right soon enough.

Michael from Jacksonville Beach

O: Some Dead Zone fun. How about one day you answer all questions or comments with just “OK?”

Nah.

Kevin from Jacksonville

Go Jags!!! One thing that concerns me about 2018: Can Calais Campbell repeat his 2017 season? He’s not getting any younger.

Fair point. Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell indeed will enter his 11th NFL season next season. He will turn 32 on September 1. That’s not old, but neither is it in NFL terms young. Still, Campbell was the runner-up for Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season and showed surprisingly few signs of decline. He not only had a career-high 14.5 sacks, he had 14 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hurries. If he only had big sack numbers last season, you might wonder if the season had been fluky; the fact that he had big pressure and tackles-for-loss numbers indicates consistent pressure and penetration. One thing to remember: While Campbell is very good, the Jaguars’ defense in no way depends on any one player. If Campbell indeed dips a bit there’s no reason to think others won’t play well enough to make up for it.

Alon from Denver

Its simple: Rocky I is the best movie of all the Rockys. But Rocky IV is the most "Rocky" movie. So many montages (an art form). Go Jags.  

“They drew first blood.”

Travis from High Springs, FL

In a recent article, you stated that the Jaguars liked Smoot's long-term potential at strong-side end. Would Taven Bryan also be considered a strongside end? Also, to stay with the recent theme, I think “Be Cool” was a pretty good sequel.

Dawuane Smoot and Taven Bryan do play very similar positions, with both having the traits necessary to play both strongside end and three-technique tackle. That’s a good thing; not a problem. A trend around the NFL is to try to be very deep at these spots and be able to rotate the plays along the line, often playing two-or-three such players simultaneously. This is a position where teams these days truly feel they can’t have enough good players.

Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

I really do not know what a trick play is, but I bet every team the Jaguars play next year is working on some. When you have a great defense they all try tricks because nothing else works. Go Jaguars!

It’s probably a stretch to say every Jaguars opponent worked on trick plays all offseason out of fear of the Jaguars’ defense, but will teams scheme some tricky and tomfoolery against this team next season? Yeah. It’s possible. Very possible.

Zain from Baltimore, MD

We often talk about how hard it is for a rookie wide receiver to make an impact - it came up on Jaguars Thursday regarding second-round selection D.J. Chark. How impressive does that make the impact of Keelan Cole and to some extent Dede Westbrook last year? What in their makeup (outside of opportunity) allowed them to be successful last year?

A large chunk of your answer indeed can be found within the parentheses (opportunity). The Jaguars ideally wouldn’t have had both Cole and Westbrook as key parts of the rotation last season simply because you don’t want rookie wide receivers having to play expanded roles so quickly; the more ideal situation would seem to be Cole’s entering training camp because it appears likely he won’t be a “have-to” contributor on a weekly basis. Still, opportunity did force Cole and Westbrook into the lineup – and while both players had their share of struggles, they also both showed a lot of potential with some impact plays in key situations. What enabled this? Talent, and the confidence to show it at a young age. The best news for the Jaguars is while both players were critical last season, both have a world of room for growth. Considering the difficulty of playing the position as a rookie, the future indeed does look bright for both players.

William from Atlanta, GA

What’s the Jaguars’ biggest weakness going into the season? Biggest camp battle?

I don’t know that the Jaguars have a glaring weakness; the idea of signing All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell and heavily addressing special teams was to upgrade spots that hurt the Jaguars at times last season. As far as concerns … I’d call backup quarterback a concern as well as depth at a few key spots; the Jaguars like pretty much every NFL team need their quarterback and many other areas to stay healthy to be as strong during the season as they appear in the offseason. The biggest camp battle likely will be strong-side linebacker. I believe A.J. Cann will win the right guard position fairly easily, but strong-side backer could be pretty wide open with second-year veteran Blair Brown and rookie Leon Jacobs the pretty clear favorites.

Jerry from Indianapolis, IN

OK, Zone: I’ve been out of pocket for a long time (OK, I just haven’t been reading). But looking back through some old O-Zones I see that you think Blake Bortles looks better. Off the offseason program. Fool me once …

Welcome back to the pocket. As a welcome gift to you upon your return, I suppose we can go over the Bortles-is-improved thread one more time. I believe Bortles will be improved next season for a couple of reasons. One is he improved last season with far fewer hiccup moments than earlier in his career; he was better late in the season and in the postseason than at any time in his career. Another is that as you mention he indeed looked better this offseason than in any of his previous offseasons. He appears to be comfortable and confident in the offense, perhaps because it’s his second full offseason in coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s scheme. As far as fooling you once, this is really the first time Bortles has looked this good in the offseason – and the second half of last season was by far his best stretch in the NFL. Could observers be getting fooled? I suppose, but it’s not like he has shown this over and over again.

Josh from Harrisburg, PA

Since the Greatest Athlete of All Time movie documentaries are being debated what do you feel is the greatest line from any of the movies? I am a little partial to this.

Win.

Chris from Mandarin, FL

"This is something I don’t think the team will need to push to have be a “thing.” It’s a thing already and it happened organically. That seems the way to go." DUUUVAL, amiright? I mean if the team can make money off it ...

It’s different, but generally speaking … yeah … fair point.

Big on Blake from Philly

I read rookie defensive tackle Taven Bryan say he will spend most of the dead zone in Jacksonville getting situated before the season starts and a little bit of time back home in Wyoming. What does the dead zone have in store for the King of ALL Funk? Anything of note or just the endless pursuit of maintaining your Ironman streak from the home office?

I can only share parts of by dead zone plans – the Ironman Streak; the daily, pathetic, flailing jog; the thrice-weekly reassessment of priorities with the nagging knowledge that I’ve wasted the first 52 years with no coherent plan to make more use of the time left. Experience has shown it’s best to keep the rest things quiet. The less they know the better.

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