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O-Zone: Big, big step

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

EJ from Jacksonville

Assume that there will still be penalties for offsides and out-of-bounds kicks. What about touchbacks? Can you give a rundown of the results of penalties on kickoffs?

You're asking about new rules around the NFL's recent changes to kickoffs, rules designed to increase kickoff returns – and excitement – while emphasizing player safety. Kicks now will be from the kicking team's 35-yard-line, with the 10 players other than the kicker on the kicking team lining up on the receiving team's 40-yard line. Nine players from the receiving team must line up in a "set up area" between the receiving team's 35- and 30-yard lines. There also now will be a "landing zone" for kicks between the 20-yard line and goal line. Any kick short of the landing zone is blown dead with the receiving team receiving possession ball at its 40-yard line. Any kick in the landing zone must be returned. A kick bouncing into the end zone can be returned or downed by the receiving team with the receiving team receiving possession at its 20. A kick into the end zone downed by the receiving team will result in the receiving team receiving possession at its 30 with a kick out of the back of the end zone – in the air or after a bounce – also resulting in the receiving team receiving possession at its 30. Offsides figures to be all-but eliminated because players on the kicking team – other than the kicker – can't move until the ball hits the ground in the landing zone or until a player on the return team touches the ball. There will still be penalties for kicks out of bounds, with the ball being placed at the receiving team's 40 and possession given to the receiving team.

Rob from St Augustine, FL

Was able to read through Friday's O-Zone pretty quick, skipping anything mentioning the word "Houston" or "Diggs." I don't understand fans' idea that Jags have to draft certain positions because of what another team does. Get real.

Recent O-Zones indeed have been dominated by fans concerned over the Houston Texans acquiring wide receiver Stefon Diggs in a trade from the Buffalo Bills. Diggs is a good player and fans indeed now expect the Jaguars to select a cornerback No. 17 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft. I expect the Jaguars will do that – less because of Diggs and more because it appears to be a need – and because there likely will be good cornerbacks available at No. 17. My thought is always that you build your team to be really good and make other teams beat you. If you build your team to beat a team in your division, what happens when you win your division and play another team in the postseason? If you build your team to beat a team from another division, what happens when that team loses and you have to play a different team? The Kansas City Chiefs have won three of the past five Super Bowls. I don't get the idea they got to that point worrying about other specific teams. They got really good and made other teams worry about how to beat them. Do that.

Jeremy from Gilbert, AZ

Why isn't it a possibility for the Jags to draft a defensive tackle in the first round? A cornerback helps one position in the secondary. A better D Line could help every position in the secondary.

I agree. I'm not sure there's defensive tackle at No. 17 that merits the selection and the Jaguars just signed defensive tackle Arik Armstead as an unrestricted free agent from the San Francisco 49ers. There's also a pretty clear need at corner. Those factors make me think the selection is cornerback in Round 1. But philosophically … yes, you're correct.

Deane from Daytona Beach, FL

Yo O-Zone! After reading the "What's Next for Jaguars Safeties?" article; it made me speculate that safety could be a Round 2 or 3 pick. What do you think O-Zone? I think if the right cornerback is there at 17 that would be our pick, then take a safety in Round 2 to shore up our defensive backfield, especially after safety Rayshawn Jenkins was let go and that the safety position is not that deep. This would allow Darnell Savage and Andre Cisco to mentor the rookie. On the other hand, a stout defensive tackle could help put pressure in the middle, thus helping our ends and backfield make the necessary "big plays." What says you, O-Zone. If we take the cornerback in Round 1, could you see us taking a safety in Round 2?

I would be a liiiiiitle surprised if the Jaguars selected safety on Day 1-2 of the 2024 NFL Draft, but not shocked. Once you get past the second round, nothing's all that surprising in the draft.

Brian from Gainesville, FL

Big O, every time I see you write about the group of pass catchers that is Christian Kirk/Zay Jones/Gabe Davis/Evan Engram, you seem mildly unconvinced that there is anything special to be had there. Even if these guys all get a middling 750 yards and seven touchdowns, this team would still be missing that element that draws double teams or pass interference flags in key situations. Seems like this experiment is set up for failure.

If those four receivers all get those "middling" numbers, the foursome would finish with more touchdowns than any foursome on any team in the NFL in 2023. The foursome would easily be somewhere in the top four-to-six in terms of receiving yards for a foursome. If that foursome plays to that level, the Jaguars will be very good offensively.

Tom from Sanford, FL

Other than because of injury, I can't think of any running back drafted in the first three rounds who had as poor a rookie year as Jaguars running back Tank Bigsby and then became a solid starter. Maybe you can enlighten us with some names.

Los Angeles Rams running back Kyren Williams (139 yards/no touchdowns in 10 games as a rookie in 2022, 1,144/12 in 2023), Miami Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert (0 yards/no touchdowns in 11 games as a rookie in 2015, 1,12/18 in 2023), Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner (144 yards/no touchdowns as a rookie in 2017, 1040/seven in 2023) … and that's without going deep into the last decade. It's common.

Thomas from Jacksonville

Ah, the last two years we beat Stefon Diggs' teams when he was playing with a good quarterback. He had receptions but didn't beat us. Why so much fear of him now?

Fans fan. It's what they do.

Kevin from Jacksonville

You were asked to rank the Jags "needs" and you didn't even mention wide receiver. Have you looked at the receiving weapons other young quarterbacks have and compared them to what Trevor has been working with? What is wrong with you?

You've stumbled upon a free website. As part of this free website, there is a box where people can ask me questions – very often about the Jaguars, a member of the National Football League – and I answer them. Perhaps there is another such service with answers you would prefer.

Bradley from Sparks, NV

How many of those folks calling the NFL a sissy league would survive one handoff?

Survive? Perhaps. Thrive. I say nay.

Steve from Nashville, TN

Recently an offensive player on the Carolina Panthers said they could have played the final two games of last season and had been "fully cleared" from a concussion earlier in the year. The two games were against Teams vying for a playoff spot. The Panthers elected to sit that player as there was "no point" in playing since the Panthers had been eliminated long ago from playoff contention. The Panthers scored zero points in those final two games. Is "no point" a legitimate reason to not field the most competitive team possible when playoff implications are involved for that team's opponents?

Teams can sit their players if they like. It's the same premise as a team that has clinched a playoff spot opting to rest players late in the season in games against teams playing for the postseason. That scenario often irritates fans and observers. My thought is all teams play 17 games. Any team missing the postseason had plenty of chances to qualify without "help" from a team resting players for whatever reason. Quit whining and take care of your own business.

John from Ponte Vedra Beach

Assuming a healthy roster at all positions, is the quality of the overall roster heading into the draft better than, the same as, or below, the quality of the roster that ended the season? The offensive and defensive lines appear to be better, but I do not see much improvement in wide receivers, defensive backs, and place kicker. Your thoughts?

If the offensive and defensive lines are better, that's a lot to be better.