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O-Zone: Dance the night away

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Robert from Orange Park, FL:
With two drafts under his belt, Dave Caldwell has sold me on his scouting. The players he drafted are making plays!
John: This has been a significant development in the last few weeks – and it's something I'll write about more on later this week. (Teaser!!!) The 2014 class is showing potential and the rookies are starting to make plays to show they belong in the NFL. As the season has continued, you have gradually seen more and more. If you imagine them making a significant jump from Year 1 to Year 2 – and the Jaguars certainly do – then it's easy to imagine a group that could be the core of the team moving forward. Will the players mature? Will they develop? Will they make the necessary strides? Those things aren't guaranteed, and don't always happen. If they do …
Dave from Jacksonville:
O-Zone, when 'Sweet Home Alabama' plays, you don't "turn it up;" you "crank it up!"
John: Ronnie asks you to turn it up, but you can't go wrong either way.
Mike from West Des Moines, IA:
I agree with you about Cecil Shorts III. His best play came when Justin Blackmon was on the field. Shorts can win one-on-one matchups, but probably won't be the player who can win against consistent attention and double teams. With Justin Blackmon coming back, and the Jags sure do need him, that squeezes Shorts off the depth chart with Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns all playing on rookie contracts. I think Shorts will go somewhere and be a very productive slot or second receiver. This receiving corps with Blackmon could turn out to be a very good and deep one.
John: Wow, a ton of agreement in the O-Zone these days; the Jaguars must have won lately. And yes, I agree with a lot of what you say. Shorts right now isn't a receiver that you can just throw the ball in his general direction and expect a game-changing play. That's what you want from a No. 1 guy; and Blackmon showed signs of doing that in his brief time on the field here. Some of Shorts' troubles this season were injury-related, then he perhaps he pressed a bit upon returning. I don't know Blackmon's future for sure, but I do believe there's a good chance he plays for the Jaguars next season. If so, you're right: the receiver corps looks deep and very talented.
Jeff from Decatur, IN:
The Bears are desperate to get rid of Jay Cutler. He is certainly not the future but if they proposed Cutler, a 1st and a 2nd for Bortles do you entertain that offer?
John: Do I entertain it? Sure. And I maybe even consider taking it before opting against it, because while I like draft picks and believe Cutler can be successful given the right circumstances, I think Bortles has a chance to be good for a long time. This is all pointless, though. The Bears wouldn't offer that, because if they want to get rid of Cutler they can just release him without giving up draft selections. And the Jaguars wouldn't take it because Blake Bortles is their quarterback of the future.
John from Jacksonville:
"Why can't Blake maintain his mechanics through the year …" Obviously, Billy doesn't play golf.
John: I don't play golf, either, but both skills – the golf swing and throwing a football at a high level – involve fundamentals, balance, footwork, body positioning. The more ingrained the correct things are in your muscle memory the better, but things go awry from time to time. As time goes on and the techniques that Bortles is working to get into his mechanics become more ingrained you would expect them to be more consistent throughout the season. But it's not unusual that it's an issue right now, and it's certainly fixable.
Jordan from Denver, CO:
John, what are the odds our current punter is on the roster next season?
John: Pretty good.
Jack from Albuquerque, NM:
I made the mistake of watching a video on the Jaguars ESPN blog, where Adam Schefter argues that the Jaguars would have been better off losing to the Titans so they could get a higher draft pick. How does someone who is typically very good not realize how important a win is to the Jags' future? Is this just what I should expect from the national media?
John: It indeed is pretty much what you should expect from the national media. Remember, Adam Schefter and many other national media types cover the entire league – and do a good job for the most part. But when you cover 32 teams it's hard to be dialed in to the real mood and thinking of teams on the local level. So, don't be too irritated with Schefter or other national guys. It's not that they don't know their stuff; it's that they may not know the details of the Jaguars' stuff as well as the informed media who cover them locally.
Joseph from Jacksonville:
As I was watching A Football Life with Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell it brought an interesting perspective to me because I kept comparing this year's team to that second-year team and wondering why we're not progressing as fast; I realized that those two were already in the league (including Brunell and much of the offense). So to suggest we blew up the team in 2013, not only did we do that but we truly went with youth as the core. I see 2014 as a great step up for the defense. Now, if next year the offense takes the same step as this year's defense … now "that" I am excited about; protect Blake Bortles well with receivers having had this year's experience – and all will fall into place.
John: Now, that's an informed opinion.
Keath from Tampa, FL:
Why is this year so different with the "injury bug?" For the last three-to-four seasons, every year we would lose valuable players to injuries, both big and small. These seemed to be very pesky to the team and the fans, as if we couldn't catch a break (especially in relation to other teams). What is the difference this year?
John: Injuries happen in the NFL. Some years they happen more than other. But it's not as if the Jaguars have been immune to injuries this season. They have lost Alan Ball, Paul Posluszny, Austin Pasztor, Allen Robinson and Denard Robinson for the season and also lost Andre Branch and Marcedes Lewis for essentially half the season. There also was that stretch early when seemingly every receiver had hamstring "tightness." It probably just depends on what players you consider important, but the Jaguars have had their share of injury issues this season.
Jerell from Columbia, SC:
John … I lost respect for Ken Whisenhunt with his whining. You lost. Say you were beaten by the better team. Gus didn't say if not for that lucky block we would have swept the series. Memo to Ken: Learn to own all those losses.
John: Yeah, I can't say I disagree.
Kent from Jacksonville:
I like Sen'Derrick Marks. I think he plays the game the right way; Roy Miller, too. They talk during the game. They have that nasty streak, but they stay out of trouble after the game. Who says class can't prosper in the NFL?
John: You know what? You're right, and it's a neat dynamic that has taken place with those two. Miller and Marks indeed play nasty and appear to approach things the right way on and off the field. Interestingly enough, they're very different personalities off the field. Miller is a bit quieter and reserved, while Marks could never be described as either. But as different as they are, they have become the core of the defense and two of the leaders on not only the defense but the team. The Jaguars signed several players in that first Dave Caldwell/Gus Bradley free agent class hoping that one or two would emerge as leadership figures during the build – and moving forward. In that sense, Marks and Miller are successes on a remarkable level.
Cliff from St. Augustine, FL:
Titans don't win the Super Bowl even if they score on that play. Tie maybe, but no win. You do realize that, right? Right? Right, right, right, right???????
John: Yeah, I realize that. Is this a thing?
Scott from Aurora, IL:
O-Zone, it's not just that they won. It's that once they got going, they didn't stop. The game was theirs. It might have been a battle of 2-12 teams, but they were obviously the better 2-12 team, and that couldn't have been said last year.
John: I'm not going to do too many cartwheels over a Week 16 victory over a 2-13 team. The Jaguars are still 3-12 and there are still many steps to be taken. But I've been saying all season that this team is improved over last year's team. That has been evident whatever the record. They have been in more games, they have been competitive against better teams and there have been stretches when the defense has been very, very good. All of those are signs of growth and those are all marked improvements from last season. More victories must come. Those victories must come next season. But within the scope of this season … yes, progress has been made.
Justin from Jacksonville:
I tried to start the "We believe in victory" dance in my office. It didn't catch on.
John: Sounds like an "others" problem; not a "you" problem.

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