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O-Zone: Chilling stare

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Tyler from Plover, WI:
I remember from past preseasons our second and third teams getting outplayed by opponents' second and third teams – and the company line was that the Jags lacked depth. I was under the understanding that we now have depth, but still our backup players got manhandled by the Jets' subs. Do we have depth or not?
John: I don't know that the depth issue in past seasons was as much a "company line" as just pretty obvious – and pretty much expected considering where the team was in the building process. The depth is certainly improved this season, though it's fair to say the team is still building depth. Remember, though the Jaguars' roster is improved it is still young and developing with a lot of new faces. It's probably not realistic to think the Jaguars are going to be one of the NFL's deeper teams for another few seasons. A couple of other thoughts on this topic … One is that the Jets outscored the Jaguars 3-0 in the second half Thursday, so I don't know how significantly the Jaguars were handled – in a "manly" fashion or otherwise. Also, remember: the second half of the preseason opener features many, many players who won't be on either team's roster. What you're watching at that time may be intriguing, but it won't likely mean much come the regular season.
Steven from Woodbine, GA:
Sometimes, I wish they didn't keep score in the preseason. So many people get caught up in if we won or lost. All that matters is the first-team offense played rather well and the first-team defense needs some work. Kickoff coverage has to improve or all the rest will suffer!
John: Sometimes you wish they didn't keep score in the preseason!!!?!?!?? Sometimes???!!! Steven, I always wish that because – as your email implies – preseason scores are among the most misunderstood, misanalysed, unimportant thing in sports. What mattered for the Jaguars Thursday wasn't just that the offense played "rather" well; it's that it played extremely well. The unit played with the sort of tempo it wants to show during the regular season – and the improvement in that area is what you want to see from an offense in its second season under a coordinator. Not only did Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Blake Bortles seem very much on the same page, but the run offense looked far better and more imposing than anybody reasonably could have expected. If those first two drives are any indication of the potential of this offense, then that unit indeed is on the right track. People expected that to be the case, but it was good to see. As far as the defense, I understand the teeth-gnashing over what we saw Thursday. There is a lot of expectation for improvement on that side of the ball and therefore people expected the Jaguars to throw a shutout Thursday and have the look of the '85 Bears. That wasn't realistic. I believe after Thursday what I have believed about the defense since the draft – that it will be improved from last season. I expect improvement to mean better pass rush and better performance over the course of the season on third down. I don't expect it to yet be a defense that will single-handedly win games. I think that sort of defense is a possibility in 2017, but not this season. As far as kickoff coverage … the Jaguars have ranked 17th in the NFL in this area the last two seasons. That could improve, but it hardly qualifies as an ongoing weakness. Sure, it has to improve from Thursday. But there's little reason to think it won't.
Ron from Jacksonville:
You keep saying that the defensive lapses, penalties and quite a few mistakes were to be expected for the first preseason game. Was it not the Jets first preseason game, too? The Jets looked like a more disciplined, better-coached team. Just my personal observation, if I'm allowed to have one.
John: Sure, you're allowed to have a personal observation. My observation from covering the NFL for a long time is that a lot of things happen in the first week of the preseason game – particularly in the second half – that don't necessarily keep happening during the regular season. A lot of that has to do with playing with a slew of new players for the first time and a slew of players who won't make the team. The Jaguars had 12 penalties on Thursday, for example. Some people are asking if this is indicative of a poorly-coached team. Gus Bradley's teams in Jacksonville historically have not been highly penalized, so I observe that as being something that happened on Thursday that wasn't ideal but that isn't necessarily an example of poor coaching or a lack of discipline.
Charles from Orange Park, FL:
O'man, is it time to reevaluate Sen'Derrick Marks? After watching tape from Thursday, it left me disappointed. He was nothing like two years ago. Not disruptive, no explosion and he was going against second string.
John: Marks is a story to watch, though I wouldn't say it's panic time yet. He hasn't yet flashed a lot in practice nor did he flash in Thursday's game, but I think Marks will be effective this season. The reason I say that is I thought he was regaining a lot of his penetration ability and quickness toward the end of his four-game stint last season. That leads me to believe he can be as quick as he was before his anterior cruciate ligament tear in the 2014 regular-season finale. Marks is coming off two serious injuries – the ACL and the triceps tear last season. He's not in an easy situation, but neither is he in one that he can't overcome.
John from Jacksonville:
A very nice start for the preseason on Thursday. Just a couple of observations that continue from last season (with the disclaimer that it's only preseason and not an email with any panic). First, Julius Thomas had some drops last season that were dismissed as not having chemistry with Blake Bortles – but another on Thursday. Hoping that was the exception and not the new norm for Thomas. Second, the pattern of our team scoring a touchdown to build momentum and to pad a small lead only to be followed by a quick opposing team's touchdown. Again, I hope the defense corrects that pattern for this season.
John: I absolutely understand the inclination to over analyze the preseason and it makes sense. Fans do it. We in the media do it. Heck, even teams do it. We wait for months to see real football and the first time we see something resembling a real game we take every happening as a defining moment for the team. My point? I wouldn't panic over a drop by Thomas – just as I wouldn't panic over the fact that Bortles' throw could have and maybe should have been better. The two had a miscommunication and that threw off the play's timing. That cost them a touchdown, but it's exactly the sort of mistake that occurs in preseason. It's also the sort of mistake that should decrease the more Bortles and Thomas continue to play together. As far as the defense allowing a touchdown after an offensive touchdown … well, the defense allowed a lot of touchdowns last season, so I don't know that it was all that unusual for a bunch of them to follow Jaguars touchdowns.
Al from Orange Park, FL:
Do you think that we will see the 9/11 starting O-line play together at all in the preseason?
John: Yes.
Vitaly from Asheville, NC:
I been gone for a while. Did I miss anything?
John: Yes.
Brett from Canton, MS:
I think one thing that everyone who is worried about the O-Line is forgetting is that pass-blocking improvements should come as the running game gets stronger. If you make the D-Line think about the run and cause even a half-second hesitation, that could give Bortles the time he needs to get a pass off.
John: Yes.
Naim from Port Orange, FL:
All I know is ... not much. Without Blake we're not winning three games.
John: I think that victory total is a little low, but your point is correct. The starting quarterback is critical to the Jaguars' chances of success, which is true of … yeah, pretty much every NFL franchise.
Jeff from Withheld to Protect the Innocent:
Are Tinker jersey sales now skyrocketing after the unnecessary roughness penalty? Is Toger Beat magazine sponsoring a fan club called The Tinker Belles? Can the stadium shoot off pyrotechnic pixie dust after a big hit? In the words of Chris Farley, "That was awesome!"
John: I'm going to decline comment on this for now. I made a couple of humorous references to Tinker in the O-Zone recently. I honestly thought they were in good fun. On Saturday, he gave me a look in the locker room. Quite frankly, it chilled me to the bone.

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