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O-Zone: Evading the trap

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Will from Jacksonville:
Does Telvin Smith have a realistic chance of being a starting linebacker or is he destined to be a role player because of his size?
John: Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said this week Smith is working toward an expanded role. This was before Smith was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Cleveland on Sunday. So far, Smith – a rookie fourth-round selection from Florida State – has been playing mostly as a nickel linebacker. It sounds as if you'll start seeing him play more weakside linebacker in base packages, and I would guess that role eventually expands to him being a starter. I don't know that it will be this week or this month, but he has enough play-making ability and speed that he likely eventually will be on the field in a starting role. He could stand to add weight in the offseason, and I suspect he will, but you can play weak side full time at Smith's size. You just have to have special speed and play-making ability. Smith certainly has that.
Kenneth from Jacksonville:
I guess no 'We need Tebow' this week eh?
John: You're living in the past, man.
Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville:
First, you never print any of my questions anymore. Where's the love O-man? Second, I have to disagree with you about the improvement/win theory. If our record is worse than last year, we are not a better team. As the saying goes, you are what your record says you are. Improvement means squat if it doesn't produce wins.
John: Everyone's entitled to their opinion, even an incorrect one. When you talk about improvement, you seem to be worried about short term, and that's OK. That's one way to see it. I'm looking at the long term, and from a long-term perspective you can improve and grow closer to your ultimate goal without necessarily having a better record.
Nick from Jacksonville:
I really mourn the loss of Poz. But I have a greater concern. For as much criticism as Andre Branch has received from fans, it will sting worse now that his injury will keep him out of games. Outside of Ryan Davis, who do we have that can fill Branch's role in our defense? I feel like the pass rush will start to wane in the next few weeks until we adjust to his absence.
John: We'll see. Branch's loss does hurt. When you lose Leo pass rushers in this scheme, you have to shift guys around to fill roles. I'd expect Ryan Davis to fill in and do a lot of the things Branch has been doing. He will have an adjustment moving outside as opposed to rushing from the interior as he has been doing in the team's lightning package, but he has shown enough to make you think he can handle the move. Perhaps as important is what happens after that. I'd expect Otto linebacker Dekoda Watson to have more of a pass-rushing role than he has had so far this season, and you also could see rookie defensive end Chris Smith get repetitions in the three-Leo lightning package. Branch might be missed as much against the run. He has been very good there, and run defense will be a challenge with week facing the NFL's No. 4 rushing offense without Branch and Posluszny.
Austin from Athens, GA:
Do we take another step forward this week? Without Poz and Branch? What is your gut telling you?
John: That I had better get down the hall in a hurry.
Mark from Middleton, NJ:
Do the Jaguars and this defense even have a chance now with Poz out? Because no offense to a defense that had a stellar performance this past week but Poz seems to be the glue of that defense … I mean, remember what happened in Week One with Sproles?
John: I do remember. I also remember that the Jaguars' defense played OK after Posluszny left the game in the fourth quarter Sunday. He is the unquestioned leader of the Jaguars' defense and the team will miss him. At the same time, J.T. Thomas has played well at the Otto spot and the Jaguars feel confident in his ability to communicate the plays from the sideline. Just because Posluszny is out doesn't mean every game will be Darren Sproles up the middle for touchdown after touchdown. Let's see what happens before we judge.
Sherrick from Jacksonville:
Are the Jags going to be ready this Sunday for Miami?
John: Sure.
Kevin from Jacksonville:
Let's not forget the unspoken heroes of last week's game. The offensive linemen opened running lanes and pass blocked fairly well. Hopefully they can keep improving.
John: That is the hope. The Dolphins will be a different challenge. They have a better defensive front than the Browns, and they likely won't commit quite as much to stopping the pass, which in turn would make it tougher to run.
Jerry from Jacksonville:
Besides the obvious growing pains, do you think Blake's "regressing" is attributed to opposing teams having more game film to dissect his tendencies? Can't wait to see how he'll grow and adapt. He sure does give our city a lot of hope!
John: Bortles has started four NFL games. He has played well at times and he has made some rookie mistakes at times. He is in no way, shape or form "regressing," although he will have to through the same process that all quarterbacks go through. A huge part of that process is having teams take away your strengths, then showing you can adjust to what they're taking away. How well quarterbacks do this, and how they improve over time, dictates how successful they will be over the long haul.
Stephanie from Richmond, VA:
Testing. Is this thing on?
John: What?
Adam from Jacksonville:
Let me say first that I'm a huge believer in Dave, Gus, and Shad. Having said that, let's say the Jags win five games this season. Can you remember any coaches that have won less than 10 games combined in their first two seasons and went on to turn things around with the same team? Seems to me that most successful coaches are either good out of the gates, or get it right the second time around. Let's hope Gus can get it done!
John: This is a different build than a lot of past builds. The Jaguars' talent base was pretty low when this regime took over. The regime then parted ways with a lot of veterans and went very young – like pretty close to "expansion-team" young. I get the desire to compare with what has gone before at other franchises, but it's sort of apples and oranges in a lot of ways.
Quinn from Tampa, FL:
If the Jags pull out a win this week it's going to be because an impressive showing by Bortles. There are way too many question marks on defense to expect win on a repeat performance.
John: Not necessarily. Though it's difficult to honestly say that the Jaguars won't be hurt by the absence of Posluszny and Branch, you also can't assume that that the entire defense will fall apart without them. I'd be surprised if the Jaguars hold the Dolphins to six points as they did the Browns, but I wouldn't be surprised if the defense plays well enough to keep the Jaguars in the game.
Tommie from Jacksonville:
Blake's play on Sunday may help lower expectations that all you need is No. 5 on the field to win. We must remember he is still a rookie and you have to take the good and the bad with equal amounts of sugar. Thoughts?
John: I think you're right.
Levi from Bloomington, IN:
How close is Aaron Colvin to being fully recovered? Is that what they're going to find out or has he been running and cutting for a bit now? Thanks O!
John: Aaron Colvin returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. He has been running and cutting – and he is fully recovered enough to play – or he wouldn't be cleared. Now, the process is to have him practice limited at first, then full until he is ready to play. That will be a process the Jaguars approach carefully. Colvin is a guy they think can eventually be a starter and he's also coming off a serious knee injury. Having him fully recover is more important than having him play immediately. Indications this week are that Colvin won't play Sunday, but I wouldn't rule him out for Cincinnati next week.
Brian from Atlanta, GA:
Can we get some love for Abry Jones going here? He's made more than a couple splash plays and has been really solid against the run. I could see the former UDFA sticking with the Jags for a long time.
John: I think Jones could stick for a long time, too. Let the love shine in.
Bryant from White Plains, NY:
Is Ace Sanders just finding his way back into game shape and the team? Or, is this his role going forward?
John: I'd say this is probably his role going forward. If Allen Robinson, Cecil Shorts III, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns are healthy, Sanders is probably the fifth receiver.
Bobby from Newcastle, UK:
How long before the "let's-not-win-anymore-games-in-order-to-get-a-better-draft-position" comments start?
John: Oh, I think we're a long way from that. In fact, I'm kind of proud O-Zone readers for not falling victim to this trap this season.
Sage from Orlando, FL:
Is there anyone in the 2015 draft worth tanking for? Jaguars might as well shoot for the No. 1 pick.
John: :/

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