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O-Zone: Channeling greatness

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Bruce from Green Cove Springs, FL

The Jaguars' free-agency signings, to this point, seem as much about depth as adding skill positions. One advantage to depth, of course, is that in the event of injury to a starter, a strong backup can step up without too much of a drop off. But isn't the bigger advantage the ability to rotate players in and out (especially on defense) and keep the starters a bit fresher?

I have gotten a version of this question a lot, and this seems a common perception. I guess I just see the Jaguars' free-agency approach this offseason as more straightforward than many people are seeing it. The "first wave" featured 11 players, including 10 free-agent signees and a trade: Cornerback Shaquill Griffin, safety Rayshawn Jenkins, defensive tackle Malcom Brown, wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., running back Carlos Hyde, tight end Chris Manhertz, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett II, wide receiver returner Jamal Agnew, safety Rudy Ford (special teams ace), defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris and defensive end Jihad Ward. They have since signed quarterback C.J. Beathard, linebacker Damien Wilson and defensive tackle Daniel Ross as free agents. While the latter three certainly qualify as depth, there are few players among the aforementioned 14 who shouldn't play a significant role next season – whether as a starter, a key part of a position rotation or a front-line special-teams player. I'm not saying the Jaguars didn't improve their depth in free agency, and I'm not saying depth isn't important. But the Jaguars' free-agency approach was about improving the talent level of a team that finished 1-15 last season. Keeping players fresh and getting guys to rotate mattered, but not nearly as much as simply trying to build a better roster.

Richard from Jacksonville

Did you have any conversations with former punter Pat McAfee when you were covering the Colts? If so, are you surprised that he has been able to have a successful post-playing career in the media?

I covered McAfee my last two seasons covering the Indianapolis Colts, 2009-2010 – his first two seasons with the team. He was a dynamic, entertaining guy with a big personality. He was candid and helpful with the media – and if memory serves, he was up front about wanting to do something high-profile and comparatively outlandish either during or after football. So, no … I'm not surprised he has had a successful media career after retiring. Credit to him: He's good at what he does.

The Number Seven from Sesame Street

I love the idea of a dynamic defensive front. Why stop at 4-3 or 3-4? I'm thinking a 2-2-3 or A-B-C might revolutionize the game. Let's do a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1. Better yet, we should run a 3(6-(4/2)squared+9-2cubed over 11-(2x5). By the time the offense works from the inside numerator out, they'll never know what hit them! (Here's my question: what's a comment section?)

Shad Khan … hire this man!! (I have no idea).

Darren from Las Vegas, NV

Someone recently mentioned Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow as a reason for throttling their excitement for Trevor Lawrence. Am I wrong for thinking Burrow played spectacular for 10 games given how atrocious his offensive line was? If Lawrence gives us that kind of grit and character, I'm all in.

If I recall correctly, a recent questioner indeed mentioned Burrow's 2020 rookie season as throttling his Lawrence excitement. I got the idea the reader wasn't so much insulting Burrow as making the point that he hadn't reinvented the position as a rookie – or perhaps just that hadn't quite lived up to his pre-draft hype. I am guilty, perhaps, of not digging deep enough on that answer. Because you're right that the question probably wasn't fair to Burrow. While he didn't reinvent the position as a rookie, he darned sure gave every indication that he's going to be really good for a long time. There's little question that Lawrence will enter the NFL with bigger expectations than Burrow. There's little question, for that matter, that Lawrence will enter the NFL with bigger expectations than any quarterback since Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. And yeah … if he plays as well as Burrow did as a rookie, that will be cause for real optimism.

Josh from Atlanta, GA

Taking away quarterback (especially one widely expected to go first overall), who is the most intriguing player in the draft to you, sir? Also, if you had to choose between the "Big 3" receivers, who would you take? I think I would have to take Ja'Marr Chase, but man is that tough.

Regarding your first question, I'll go with the obvious: University of Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. This is in part because two months of O-Zone questions have forced me to think about him more than pretty much any player save Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but also because he's incredibly intriguing. Pitts is considered by many the second or third best prospect in the draft and a Top 5 selection, which is highly unusual for a tight end. He also plays a position that is difficult to project, and many Top 10 tight ends never quite live up to their draft positional. Can Pitts be a franchise-defining player? If so, he could prompt teams to reconsider the position in future drafts and select it in the Top 5 and 10 more often. That's intriguing stuff. As far as the big three receivers, I also would go with Louisiana State wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase over Jaylen Waddle and Davonta Smith of Alabama. He's intriguing, too, having been dominant as a sophomore in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19. He looks pretty flawless at the position – and looks like the best receiver to enter the draft in a while. It's unreal year for offensive skill players at the top of the draft. I don't know that Chase will ultimately be the best non-quarterback selected, but he's as good a choice as any.

Bruce from NoTitansHereville

Hey O - when it comes to responsibilities on Draft Night: "You make sure they remember FOREVER the night they picked Trevor Lawrence!"

I don't scratch my head unless it itches, and I don't dance unless I hear some music. I will not be intimidated. That's just the way it is.

Roger from Houston, TX

Over the past several years, the term "back-shoulder pass" has often been used. Can you explain what it means? I'd never heard it until just a few years ago, but apparently it is a useful skill for a quarterback to have.

The term back-shoulder pass indeed is used often these days – enough that it's a standard part of the NFL vocabulary. Opinions vary on just when the term – and the type of pass – originated. But I seem to first remember it being thrown – and discussed – a lot in the 1990s and more in the 2000s. As for what it means, it's essentially when the wide receiver runs a deep pattern straight down the sideline with the defender playing man-to-man coverage. The quarterback then throws the pass to the receiver's back shoulder, enabling the receiver to turn and make the reception away from the defender, whose momentum and position makes it all-but impossible to turn and make the play on a pass that – when thrown correctly – is shielded from the defender by the receiver. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Reggie Wayne were very good at this pass/reception when I covered them in the 2000s. Manning liked to say there was no defense for a perfect pass, and it seems to me he was often referring to this play when he said it. It indeed has become more popular leaguewide because of the difficulty of defending it.

David from Chuluota, FL

Zone - I see a lot of these players that sat out last year due to Covid are getting released. Could a year away from football actually devalue a player and subsequently cost him his job?

Without question.          

Ed from Jax

If another well-rated quarterback fell to the later rounds, should/would the Jags draft him (in addition to our first selection)? Washington did this with Robert Griffin and Kirk Cousins in 2012, and I sometimes fantasize about what would have happened if the Colts drafted Manning and Tom Brady.

I perhaps don't spend quite as much time fantasizing about the things you fantasize about, but hey … to each his own. I wondered early in the offseason if the Jaguars might take this approach in the draft, selecting a quarterback No. 1 and a presumed backup later in the draft. I don't get the idea the Jaguars are absolutely planning to do this. The signing of Beathard means they don't have to select a quarterback. But with 10 selections and six in the final five rounds … sure, if the right quarterback was there later in the draft it would make sense.

Daywane from Jacksonville, FL

"It's doing it with flair and panache while staying this damned good-looking that makes me special." Still quoting Vito Stellino, are you?