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O-Zone: Credit where it's due

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Richard from Lincoln, RI:
I ran into a Patriots fan Saturday and he told me he thinks the Jags are going to take over the AFC once the Pats fade away. He said he likes everything the Jags are doing in the draft and free agency. Is he right?
John: Maybe. It's obviously impossible to predict a run of success such as the Patriots have had in the last decade and a half – and it's awfully hard to replicate as well. That's long-term consistency on a once-a-generation, historical level and a lot of things have to be withstood to pull it off. Still, if you're looking for signs of long-term sustainability, the Jaguars are showing some. Their last three drafts are taking on a remarkably successful feel and they appear to have made bigger strides in free agency than you normally expect. A lot of this remains to be seen. The Jaguars, after all, are still a franchise that hasn't won more than five games in a season in a half decade. But the more you look at this team the more you see players who could form the core of a very good team for a long time.
Edward from Jacksonville:
If Bortles' ceiling is Jay Cutler, would you consider that a disappointment?
John: No, but I don't think that's the ceiling.
Bob from Fernandina Beach, FL:
John, looks like we still have offensive-line problems. Kelvin Beachum may be good, but like Marqise Lee … he's got to be available and consistent to help. So far, he isn't. It doesn't help that Brandon Linder is hurting again. Tyler Shatley looks like a decent backup, but we need some decent offensive tackles. Otherwise, Blake Bortles will be running for his life again.
John: Bob, I understand the concern. And to some degree, I share it. But let's not compare Beachum to Lee quite yet. The team hasn't played a preseason game and there's nothing to indicate that Beachum's not on schedule with every chance to be ready for the regular-season opener. If the regular season began today, I would be a lot more all-in on your concern. But the season doesn't open for 34 more days. There's time.
Aaron from White Hall, AR:
After so many weeks of fans freaking out about him, how is Brandon Allen looking? Also, do you think another former Hog, Chris Smith, has a chance to make the roster?
John: Brandon Allen has looked good in training-camp practice so far, particularly for a rookie. It appears he is playing well enough to be worth keeping on the active roster if the Jaguars believe that's necessary. Either way, there seems little question he will be around either on the practice squad or the roster. As for Smith, he's probably a long shot to make the team. The Jaguars' defensive line is very deep, and Dante Fowler Jr./Yannick Ngakoue may be the only "pure Leos" kept. It's tough to find where Smith fits.
Tom from Charleston, SC:
After two weeks of practice and an intra-squad scrimmage, I have to say I am not as impressed with the run game as you seem to be. Granted, it is hard to tell when you can't put bodies on the ground, but the offensive line still seems to have difficulty opening holes and that is the same problem as last year. Hopefully, the line jells by opening day, but at this point I see no cause to expect big improvement in the run game over last year.
John: I'm trying to remember when I did cartwheels over the run game – or even when I said very much about it. That's because it's still very much an unknown. I have said I think it will be improved, but I've also said repeatedly we have no idea if it will be improved or not until the preseason – and perhaps even the regular season. I've seen some good things in practice along these lines, and I'm a lot more impressed with Chris Ivory than I anticipated. I don't believe the Jaguars will be a Top 10 running offense this season, but I believe they will do a better job running when necessary than past seasons.
Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
The Jags had two problems last year. They had a problem with 3rd-and-short on offense and they had a problem with defending 3rd-and-long. Other than that I thought they played well. They should be able to fix those things with the players they have now. The coaches on this team know where they are. This is going to be a great year for the Jags!
John: I had a few more problem areas identified than you, particularly with offensive consistency on early downs and early in games. Those areas must improve or a lot of the other optimism around this team will go for naught. But yes … I agree that the Jaguars will be better defensively on 3rd-and-long. Third-and-short has a chance to improve, too … even if Tom remains skeptical.
Tariq from Jacksonville:
A.J. Cann do it! He looked really good in the scrimmage to me.
John: Agreed.
Bill from Jacksonville :
John, yes I know it was a scrimmage … trust me, I know. That being said, Bortles started 1-of-5 and was 11-of-25 overall. Slow start and poor completion percentage. These are the same issues that have plagued him in his first two years. Scrimmage or no scrimmage, this has to change and soon, no? Thanks! Go Jags!
John: Bortles wasn't great in parts of the scrimmage and there's little question that offensive efficiency and slow/quick starts are going to be a story around this team. I have said throughout the offseason I believe they have the opportunity to be the main storyline around this team. But to say, "scrimmage or no scrimmage" isn't correct. Bortles isn't a great practice player and that may always be the case. He always has been better when things really count. Still, the slow starts and efficiency will be an issue until they're not. I've seen things I like in that area during practice thus far, but it has to happen during games – real games. Stay tuned.
Stephen from Jacksonville:
Is there ever a time or circumstance where a team would want to play in a fifth preseason game (i.e. the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game)? With the NFL's growing concern for injuries, do you foresee the Hall of Fame game lasting much longer into the future?
John: Teams typically don't want a fifth preseason game, but I don't see the Hall of Fame Game going away – particularly as long as the league keeps its current four-game preseason schedule. Besides, teams can reduce injury risk during the preseason game by limiting playing time for starters and front-line players. It's not a tough issue to tackle.
David from Oviedo, FL:
Johnny O, do you know if Greg Olson has aspirations to be a head coach? I think he did an amazing job turning this offense around and I'm afraid we're going to lose him because money always seems to win the argument.
John: Sure, Olson aspires to be a head coach; most NFL assistants have at least some intentions in that direction. And there's obviously a chance the Jaguars could lose Olson if the offense continues to improve. But that's OK. Losing top assistants is something a team can withstand – and while it's a difficult byproduct of success, it's also a sign that the franchise is moving in the right direction. It's a lot better than the alternative.
Sean from Fleming Island, FL:
How does Coach Wash's defense differ from last year's scheme under Coach Babich?
John: It's basically the same scheme as the past, with a Leo pass-rushing end, an Otto linebacker and a strong-side end opposite the Leo. It also emphasizes press coverage with a single-high safety and at its core it would prefer to rush four down linemen in passing situations. Look for Wash to be more aggressive with varies blitzes than blitzes – and oh, yeah … the players appear to be better. That doesn't hurt.
Rob from Brunswick, GA:
O-Man, do you believe in "Moral Victories?" Do you think Green Bay winning by three in double overtime is actually a win for a young team? Or do you subscribe to the late Denny Green's assertion that, "You are what your record says you are?"
John: I would be shocked if the Packers win in double overtime next month, mainly because it would take a major rules change to prevent the game from ending in a tie after the first overtime. Even so, I'm not a huge "moral-victory" guy. While fans may take solace from coming close against a perennial power, players don't buy into teams being better than other teams nearly as much as fans. As for the phrase, "You are what your record says you are," I think it's more accurately attributed to Bill Parcells than Green, but who knows? Maybe Green said it at some point, too.

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