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O-Zone: Counting them down

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Preston from Oakville, CT:
O-Man, aside from Dante Fowler Jr., what do you think of our second-year players? Can they make the same jump that the previous draft class made? What players specifically are you looking at to make those kinds of strides?
John: Absolutely the Jaguars' second-year players can make a jump in the coming season. Now, will they? And will the jump be as pronounced as last year's second-year players made? That's a long shot because players such as Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Blake Bortles all made enormous strides last season – and such a monumental jump by such a large group is comparatively rare. There's also the question of whether or not people will notice as much if 2016's second-year players make such a jump. One player who could do it is A.J. Cann, and it's doubtful a guard's second-year leap would be so lauded or noticed as that of a skill player. Another player is running back T.J. Yeldon. Considering the potential he showed as a rookie – and considering the expected emphasis on improving the running game – he absolutely could make the jump. And you know what? If he, Fowler and Cann make significant strides next season that would make that a couple of really good drafts in succession. That's what this franchise needs.
Keith from Summerville, SC:
What would you even call a robotic Shadrick anyway? Roboshad? Shadbot2000?
John: How about just, "That Awesome Robot?"
Kyle from Ohio:
Mike DiRocco, our E$PN rep, posted an answer to a fan question saying that we won't be able to afford to keep our young players. Haven't you always tried to say that money was "no issue" in keeping our young studs together? He basically stated that Telvin Smith will be gone when his contract expires, because A-Rob, Bortles and Linder are the highest on the priority list. Which is it? Can we keep our young studs or not?
John: Upon reading your question, I read DiRocco's answer. This is a break of form for me, albeit necessary given the circumstances. He didn't say the Jaguars won't be able to afford to keep their young players and he didn't state that Smith will be gone. He said that paying players such as Robinson, Bortles and Linder means "possibly letting Smith go." I emphasize the word "possibly," because I looked it up and was intrigued to learn that it doesn't mean "definitely." Still, I don't necessarily disagree with DiRocco on this point because if the Jaguars continue to draft well, then yes … at some point you can't re-sign every good player; over the course of time you have to identify players you want to keep. Some of this may depend on how they feel about players such as Fowler and Myles Jack after the coming season. Are they the core players defensively? If so, then those may be the guys around whom the future is planned. If the Jaguars believe Smith is a true core player they will be able to keep him. If they decide other players are the core building pieces, then they'll keep those players.
David from Jacksonville:
The O-Zone Saturday was just a bunch of Talking Heads. I thought it was going to be a once in a lifetime column that was going to burn down the house. As it started I thought, This must be the place for all the Jags news that would take me to the river at the bank. But instead it was the road to nowhere.
John: How did I get here?
Larry from Section 101 from Day 1:
I beg to differ. While I am sure Freddy T would have beat Jimmy Smith in the 40-yard dash, I am just as sure Jimmy would have won in the 100. He had another gear. I saw him track down passes I was sure Mark Brunell had overthrown. He left defensive backs in his dust. If you watch that 90-yard touchdown run of Fred's during the 2000 playoff game against the Dolphins again you will see just as Jimmy entered the picture Fred had not yet slowed but Jimmy was out-running both Fred and Brock Marion, the Dolphins' fastest player. Go back and watch him leave Ty Law in the Patriots' game. It was amazing he got to that ball. There were many others like that. I think his speed was very underrated.
John: Smith's speed indeed was underrated. Very underrated. Fred Taylor's speed was otherworldly, so I'd give him the slight edge. So, agree to disagree, I suppose. Or agree to differ. Or whatever.
Jim from Middleburg, FL:
I hear a lot about offense and defense but nothing about special teams. Special-teams play is the difference between losing and winning a couple games each season. My question is this: do you wait until you are getting closer to the 53-man roster and fill the special-teams squad with depth players? Does anyone make the team for their skills playing special teams besides kickers and long snappers?
John: NFL special-teams units are made up of a mix of offensive/defensive starters and reserves. Guards and tackles on punting and field-goal units, for example, often will be starters on the regular units whereas the long-snapper – as is the case with the Jaguars – usually is a specialist who just snaps deep. Coverage and block units are more of a mix of starters and backups. There absolutely are players who make the team mostly for their special-teams skills, but those players usually need to be at least decent backup players at another position. It's rare to keep more than a few players "just" for special teams.
Rick from Annandale, VA:
O, my question concerns free-safety depth behind Tashaun Gipson. I think we've seen Josh Evans doesn't have the skill set to be a true single-high free-safety needed in this defense, and it appears Jalen Ramsey will be a cornerback only this season. Earl Wolff and Peyton Thompson intrigue me as players who could play true single-high free safety. Has anyone stood out? If you had to pick today, who do you think will be our backup free safety?
John: My guess is it would be Josh Evans, though I'm curious to see Wolff in the preseason. The reality is the Jaguars probably aren't going to have a backup free safety who's remotely as good as Gipson. They've been looking for a player remotely as good as him for a long time and haven't found it until now, so finding another … yeah, it could take some time.
Esko from Finland:
In the most recent Jags of the Round Table, Brian Sexton mentioned that both Blake Bortles and Chad Henne have been somewhat inaccurate during OTAs. But how about the other two quarterbacks, Brandon Allen and Max Wittek, what kind of impression they have given so far? Do you believe either one of them would have potential to gain a similar cult following among the Jags' fans as Matt Scott once did? #FreeMattScott
John: Before I get into the gist of your question, let me say I tend not to get overly worked up by quarterbacks' OTA accuracy. That's particularly true of Bortles, who I'm not sure ever will be a never-have-a-ball-hit-the-ground practice quarterback; he's a "gamer" with all that implies. For the most part, Bortles and Henne have looked OK in OTAs, and I actually was very encouraged by a few drills in which Bortles has looked quite efficient throwing short. That's an area he needs to improve and he seems to be developing in his quick-read ability at the line of scrimmage. As for the other quarterbacks, keep an eye on Brandon Allen. It's not hard to see why the coaches were excited about him during the draft. I don't know that he's going to develop a #freemattscott-type of following because you need a struggling starting quarterback to popularize a reserve, but the kid's got some ability.
Benjamin from Jacksonville:
Watched Jags of the Round Table and you're looking trim there, O-man. Well done, sir. As for Sexton ... chrome, wrap-around shades and a buzz cut? What's THAT about?
John: I have no idea.
David from Jacksonville:
Given Hurns' extension and pay raise, are you able to provide what his original contact was and then the latest? (If so inclined, feel free to compare and contrast.)
John: Hurns' original three-year contract had base salaries of $420,000, $510,000 and $600,000. The new contract has a base value of $40 million with $20 million guaranteed. By way of comparison, one is worth a whole lot more than the other.
Jared from O-Town:
Just to put things into perspective: What was the ball-park salary that Allen Hurns was making prior to the big pay day? I'm guessing it was an astronomical difference.
John: As my former editor Nico Van Thyn liked to say when one team blew out another, "It was many to not many."
Graham from Dundee, Scotland:
Less than 100 days. Can you feel the excitement!? I can!! #DUVAAAAL
John: OK.

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