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O-Zone: Building confidence

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Stu from Hemel, UK:
O-man, I'm getting tense about Bortles' lack of touchdown passes in the preseason so far. Is it having a mental 'blip' when it comes to the red zone? More than anything this Friday I want to see a touchdown pass, then I'll believe Bortles is on the up!
John: I smiled at this question, then thought, "Hey! Why not lead the Tuesday O-Zone with a smile! There are worse things, right? Like exclamation points inside quotes for no reason?" Here's why I smiled: we spent the offseason discussing Blake Bortles' mechanics and consistency. We spent it discussing footwork, field vision and command of the offense. I won't say he's playing on a Brady-Manning-Rodgers level, but through two preseason games Bortles looks improved in all of those much-discussed areas. That's the first step. That allows an offense to function and allows a team to start moving forward. Which brings us to your concern about the red zone – and it absolutely is a legitimate concern. Teams must score touchdowns in the red zone. It's also a considerably more difficult step for a young quarterback/young offense than moving between the 20s. It's often a step that takes time. The Jaguars no doubt will emphasize it. It's critical. I also believe T.J. Yeldon and Julius Thomas will help. But I wouldn't expect the Jaguars to be among the league's best in this area overnight. It's not an easy process.
Scott from Section 137 and Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Leonard Smith looks like the real deal at defensive tackle/end. He was projected to the Jaguars by most pundits. Do you think there is any second-guessing going on by the Jaguars management?
John: No.
Shane from Corpus Christi, TX:
I am on the same page as you with saying that we were without Lee and Thomas, but odds are we will be without Lee most of the year. So, we need someone to step up and catch the ball when thrown to them. And we need a backup that can come in and keep things going. Sad to say because I have always liked him, but let's face it: our backup quarterback needs help. Trade him for a pick next year and use it on an up-and-coming quarterback.
John: Marqise Lee missed three games as a rookie. I'm not saying his injuries aren't a concern, but they also aren't to the extent that it's fair to say the odds are the Jaguars will be without Lee much of the season. As far as backup quarterback, be careful what you wish for. I understand fans worry about Chad Henne, but I also understand you can look a long time and not find a functional backup quarterback. Watch a few preseason games. Then, see how many backups are an improvement over Henne.
Scott from Chelsea, NY:
Because of his number, Tyson Alualu needs to "report" as eligible when he goes into the game on offense. Any chance he changes his number so as to stop the announcement every time he's on the field?
John: No.
Jim from Jacksonville:
Cap Capi, Bryan Walters and Thurston Armbrister are three names that should be and need to be on this roster after final preseason cuts this year. All three have shown they belong and in my opinion may even get a first-team and/or starting position at some point. Your thoughts?
John: I think all three will get strong consideration for the 53-man roster and deservedly so. I think all three will have a difficult time starting this season without players in front of them getting hurt.
Chris from Jacksonville:
The more I watch, the more I think we could see something really special this season. I'm excited to see Bortles and the rest continue to progress.
John: I'm waiting until the regular season until I describe anything as special. But I absolutely will describe what we're seeing as encouraging. Blake Bortles is looking solid through two games. The offensive line is looking solid. The second part of that is oh-so critical to the first, but those two elements together could eliminate that feeling of not having any idea where the Jaguars would get enough points to compete. That feeling dominated things at times the past two or three seasons. If that feeling goes away everything else looks a lot better.
Gary from Fleming Island, FL:
It looks like all the gains and improvements the offense has made this season have been offset by a large step backward for the defense. If Eli Manning hadn't played so poorly Saturday it would have looked like the Pittsburgh opening drive the prior week all over again.
John: You're right to an extent that that's how it looks, and the Jaguars' defense undoubtedly was helped by some errant passes by Eli Manning on Saturday. Still, with the exception of one run early on which defensive end Jared Odrick appeared to get out of his gap, the run defense appeared to play OK early. The big concern appeared to be pass rush out of the base defense. Sen'Derrick Marks and Chris Clemons being out doesn't help that, but the Jaguars need to be able to get pressure in those situations. They were good at it last season. They haven't been as good in the first two games of the preseason. This is an issue to watch.
Ty from Jack town:
Poor Benn. Man I feel for that guy.
John: It's a shame. No doubt.
Marcus from Jacksonville:
Traditionally, teams stay pretty basic in their defensive approach in the preseason. Not a lot of blitzing or disguised coverages. I know the Jags want to be able to get pressure on the quarterback in their base set without blitzing, but isn't their defense somewhat dependent on the blitz to provide pass rush? Could that be the reason that they are lacking in the pass rush department so far this preseason?
John: That's a factor, without a doubt. At the same time, you want to be able to get pressure with four linemen rushing. If you can do that, you don't have to sacrifice coverage by sending extra linebackers or defensive backs.
Gary from Broken Arrow,OK:
Preseason = practice. Am I correct in looking at it this way?
John: Pretty much, although preseason games obviously have at least some added element of energy and importance because you're facing a real opponent.
Gerald from Hilliard, FL:
With Gus Bradley as coach, don't you think the defense would be better?
John: We've seen the first-team defense for about a half now, and the pass rush no doubt hasn't looked as good as the Jaguars hoped. Although the prudent side of me wonders if perhaps – just perhaps – an argument could be made that drawing a conclusion after so little time is premature.
Chris from Daytona Beach, FL:
It appears a heavy emphasis is being placed on the center battle, but what about the battles for starting running back and three-technique defensive tackle? The current depth chart lists multiple starters at those positions. How has Denard looked this preseason? And, if Marks is not healthy to start the regular season, will Ziggy start over Tyson?
John: Denard Robinson has looked good in the preseason. It wouldn't surprise me if he starts the regular season over T.J. Yeldon, but I think Yeldon will be getting the majority of carries and work with the ones very quickly – if not immediately. My guess is Tyson Alualu would start at three-technique tackle over Ziggy Hood if Sen'Derrick Marks isn't ready.
Mark from Archer, FL:
Oh great John, what do you think the chances are of the Jags putting Colvin to cover Calvin Johnson during the Lions game? In my opinion, if you think he is a special player with great skill, then let him cover the best receiver in the game see how he stacks up. What say you?
John: I would guess Colvin covers Calvin Johnson some. I also would expect the Jaguars' other corners to cover Calvin Johnson. I'd also expect all of those corners to get help covering Calvin Johnson. As far as Colvin, the Jaguars aren't really looking to use him as a follow-a-receiver-all-over-the-field-on-every-play guy yet. They like what he can bring playing inside on passing downs and outside on base downs and want to allow him to get that down first.
Candor from the Village of Duval:
What good is a talented receiver if he can't stay healthy?
John: I'll assume you're speaking of Marqise Lee, and it's true – a wide receiver who isn't on the field does a team very little good at all. Of course, the same could be said of an offensive tackle, or a running back, or a …
Nathan from St. Augustine, FL:
I remember Tony Dungy once saying that to turn a losing team around you had to get them to believe they could actually win. Being around the coaches and players do you get a sense that the Jags have that confidence going into this season?
John: Yes.

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