JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …
Dane from Pooler, GA:
With the injury to Branch, we are now critically thin at Leo. What do you think we do to address this situation – stick with what we've got, perhaps seeing a guy like Cap Capi making the roster; dive into the waiver wire; or make a move for a Bruce Irvin or Aldon Smith?
John: The injury to Andre Branch indeed is the major news in the aftermath of Friday's preseason loss to the Lions, and it's indeed a concern. But while losing Branch for an extended time is a blow, it's probably not fair to call the Jaguars "critically thin" at Leo. Thin? Yes. But considering the loss of Branch is the first loss to the position since training camp began, I'll stop short of "critically." Still, the group has been relatively ineffective during the preseason, particularly in base – or first- and second-down – situations. That is cause for concern. As for now, the plan appears to be to start Chris Smith on first and second down and use Chris Clemons and Ryan Davis mostly in passing situations. I imagine in time Clemons could move into the every-down role he played last season, but that doesn't appear to be the immediate plan. I'm not counting on Cap Capi being more than a practice-squad guy yet, and history says waiver-wire pass rushers typically don't have game-changing impact. Now, that leaves the matter of Bruce Irvin and/or Aldon Smith. Those guys are intriguing. As of Saturday, Head Coach Gus Bradley said the team hadn't discussed looking outside. Is a trade for Irvin possible? Are the off-field concerns for Smith too much? I'd be surprised if either happens, but we'll see.
Steve from Denver, CO:
O- not so fast on an improving offensive line: 78 yards against Detroit no longer with Suh or Fairley or Mosley, the Lions' three leaders from last year. Your excuse in the past mentioned Lewis being hurt. He played a bunch Saturday night. Finally, don't expect any blocking from Julius Thomas when he returns. He didn't like to block playing for the Broncos, which is one of the reasons he's now in J-Ville.
John: Sorry, Steve … I stopped reading when you said the offensive line hadn't improved.
David from Sweden:
Watching the Lions game: Storm Johnson is not getting anything done, Bryan Walters looks like a lock to make the roster and Blake Bortles looks extremely matured from last year.
John: I didn't watch Johnson closely enough Friday to know what sort of holes he had; trying to get stories on the website in a timely manner sometimes means having your head buried in the laptop in the second half of preseason games. On the other two points, though … yeah, yeah.
Brian from Kingsland, GA:
Shout out to the offense on third downs against the Lions for giving ample opportunities so that I could teach my nephew how to #moodachay AND he was able to perfect it. All in one half. What a time to be alive.
John: Come to think of it, the Jaguars were sorta moodachaying Friday, weren't they? How about that?
Tom from Section 141 and the Mean Streets of Nocatee:
If this is the offense that we're going to see all year I'm probably going to need Tommy John surgery from all the MooDeChaying!
Otto from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
John, excuse my ignorance. I just don't get the Leo position. Seems to me that it is a pass-rushing defensive end that falls into coverage. I don't know many ends in the NFL that can cover a back or tight end coming out. I don't think hardly anybody else uses it. I would rather have a 100 percent committed defensive end to the rush and not have him kinda wandering around in coverage.
John: The Leo is a pass-rushing defensive end/linebacker. While the player can and does at times cover tight ends or backs out of the backfield, the major responsibility unquestionably is rushing the passer. As a general rule, I'm with you; I prefer pass rushers do just that: rush the passer. Generally speaking, if you take the guy away from that, you weaken yourself. At the same time, the Leo position has worked kinda, sorta OK in Seattle and the Jaguars have gotten a lot of pressure out of the position, particularly last season. And to be fair: watching the Leos here in Jacksonville, I haven't gotten an overwhelming impression that they're spending a lot of time wandering around. They're rushing the passer far more often than not.
Joseph from Jacksonville:
Do you feel it was wise to just run T.J. Yeldon straight up the middle most of the time he played? I would like to see him run more outside than inside because I feel it's his strength and easier for him to glide through the field and make people miss. I know it's only been one game of Yeldon, but is it really wrong to believe he can do so much more running on the outside?
John: The key phrase in your question is "it's only been one game of Yeldon …" This was a rookie playing his first game in the NFL. I got the idea he missed a hole or two, but for the most part there wasn't a lot of room for him to run. Remember, too, that the running game in the NFL often takes more than a half to perfect. And the game Friday for Yeldon was about getting used to the pace. He said afterward it surprised him a bit, but that he adjusted. We also saw his ability to make people miss on his pass reception. Yeldon will work into the offense and there's no reason to think he won't be productive. It's probably OK to give it a few weeks before we starting writing him off.
Matt from Pueblo, CO:
T.J. Yeldon looked very timid out there. But he also didn't have a lot of help. Is it a concern that nobody besides Blake Bortles was able to gain anything on the ground? We're supposed to be a run-heavy team. The passing game, not the running game, looks like the strength.
John: One game, Matt … one preseason game.
Frank from Knoxville, TN:
Hey Zone: No. 5 looks really good, doesn't he? Defense? Not so much. I know there's not much pressure, but the secondary and Davon House in particular have not impressed thus far. More often than not his guy is open even on quick hitters. That's concerning to me. Also: safeties struggling big-time. Sergio Brown on the bomb picked up the crossing wide receiver instead of staying deep and Craig Loston missed a lot of tackles. Looks like this team is gonna have to win a lot of shoot-outs this year to push for .500.
John: I'm a big believer that pass rush trumps most things on defense, so when you say "I know there's not much pressure, but" I tend to minimize what comes after the "but." At the same time … no, the secondary hasn't been perfect this preseason. Johnathan Cyprien starts for this team for a reason, and while fans often criticize him, the unit is usually better with him in the lineup than without. In terms of House and all of the corners, let's see how things go once the regular season begins and the Jaguars show how they are going to pressure the passer. Those things are co-dependent.
Joe from San Antonio, TX:
Fans can criticize the lack of pressure and missed tackles on defense, but the key takeaway of this game is Bortles and the offense were able to move the chains at will against what was one of the top defenses in the league last year and likely will be again this year. GO JAGS!
Paul from Middleburg, FL:
One of the most notable improvements I've seen is getting first downs. I don't remember any three-and-outs from the first team. Being able to at least get one first down will help keep the defense rested that much longer. Last year the defense was on the field way too much.
John: There's no doubt the ability to pick up first downs is key. That's obvious, but you saw clearly the benefit Friday when the Jaguars' first-team offense converted 10-of-12 third downs. There were several situations – the early scramble by Bortles on the first series comes to mind – when the offense as a whole had a couple of so-so plays before converting a long third downs. The conversions kept the drive alive and made it easier to forget the so-so plays. A third-down conversion or two allows you to maintain possession and makes everything rosier. Such is the value of a quarterback performing at a high level. That position can override many other things and hides flaws. So far in the preseason, Blake Bortles has shown the ability to do that. The preseason isn't the regular season, but if he's that kind of quarterback a lot of other things look a lot better.
O-Zone: Bottom line...
JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …
Dane from Pooler, GA: