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O-Zone: Excitement Sunday

BALTIMORE – Week 15. Ravens and Jaguars. Here we go.

Let's get to it … Brian from Charlottesville, VA:
I think the thing most fans are struggling with is our rookies from last year don't seem to be improving. Dwayne Gratz, Ace Sanders and Josh Evans definitely don't seem to be getting better. Luke Joeckel, Johnathan Cyprien and Jeremy Harris seem to be treading water at best. Denard Robinson and Demetrius McCray seem to be the only players that took sizeable jumps this year. McCray seems like the only gem from last year's draft at this point. Granted, fans aren't scouts and maybe we aren't seeing the improvement. Which way is the arrow pointing on these eight players in your opinion?
John: First, the vast majority of draft classes have multiple players who don't contribute at a high level long-term, so you're just not going to bat 1.000 in the draft. But overall, your assessment isn't bad. The two who are most notable are Joeckel and Cyprien, of course, and I see them differently than most. I think they're playing well enough to be considered assets, though they are making mistakes at some critical times and need to improve. Other people see them as playing poorly and being players the Jaguars need to replace. The latter isn't going to happen this offseason, and it shouldn't. If those two players are going to be core players moving forward there's no question they need to take a jump. I don't think it's too late for either player. In fact, it would be unusual if they weren't making some of the errors you're seeing. They need to develop further, and that needs to start happening at a more rapid pace next season. So, overall, on the 2013 draft class? I'd say the arrow is still sideways and it's fluttering a bit. We'll have a lot better idea the permanent direction next season.
John from Canton, VA:
Knowing how to build a good team and actually building a good team are two very different things. Who have we drafted in the last two years that you believe will be playing at a Pro Bowl level in the next two years? I'm not sure we have any.
John: Brandon Linder, for one. Time will tell who else.
Tommy from Jacksonville:
I'm excited to see Toby Gerhart get another shot at the starter role Sunday. I may be in the minority, but I thought he ran well in his limited role. His runs were the type of pound-it-out-three-to-six-yard carries with a hope of breaking off something more that they brought him in to do. I'd love to see him and Denard split duties more equally next year. But like I said, I know I'm in the minority.
John: You are indeed in the minority, certainly among fans. As I've written before, Gerhart and the Jaguars obviously wanted more when he signed as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason, and in the offseason/training camp it appeared he would be more productive than he has been this season. Looking back, I think his foot/ankle injury in the regular-season opener clearly hampered him, especially early. There's no way an ankle/foot injury helps a running back. It also didn't help that the Jaguars' passing offense struggled and that the offensive line has been young and struggling at times, too. Most backs need an effective offensive line and effective passing offense to succeed. Think about it: Rashad Jennings and Justin Forsett struggled in Jacksonville and have had success elsewhere. Did they magically improve? Possibly, but not likely. While Denard Robinson had a four-game burst of effectiveness, except for those four games his production wasn't significantly better than that of Gerhart. So is Gerhart alone in struggling as a running back for the Jaguars lately? Hardly, but, ah … I digress. Yes, I, too, am curious to see what Gerhart can do with a second chance. He has had a few runs in recent weeks that suggest he is closer to 100 percent. If the Jaguars' offense can build off a decent first half last week, perhaps Gerhart can get into the rhythm he has been unable to attain so far this season.
Sam from Fruit Cove, FL:
… "as good as he believes he was"...come on John, was there ever a player, much less a tackle, that was THAT good?
John: Point taken.
George from Savannah, GA:
Big John, you have really dug yourself a big hole for next year if the offensive line plays as badly as it has this year. The continued excuse of young, inexperienced players will no longer hold water.
John: Where you see excuse I see reality, but whatever … it's not much of a hole. If they continue to struggle as they gain experience, then that won't be the reason they're struggling anymore. But it can't be ignored as a factor now.
Kevin from Jacksonville:
How do you get two personalities the size of Telvin Smith's and Marqise Lee's into one locker room?
John: I see your point and they are indeed both enjoyable people to be around. But you know what? In seeing them on a day-to-day basis, they don't overwhelm the locker room, and they're certainly not egos in anything close to a negative way. They're likeable, enthusiastic guys who seem to love playing football. That's cool to watch.
Gamble from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
I am tired of listening to these "fans" who are already calling for the heads of Gus and Dave! We finally have something actually brewing here that is going in a positive direction. The only thing missing at this point are the wins. I know they are important but this thing takes time. The wins will come next year or the year after and then they will continue for many years to come because this franchise is now being built the right way. Please stop allowing the O-Zone to be monopolized by narrow-minded fans that refuse to see what we have: An amazing owner, a young and intelligent general managers and a coach that fires up NFL players in such a positive way that they show no quit even after only winning two games all season. If we let either of these two guys go (and I am sure that Khan will not) then they will be scooped up by another franchise faster than we could start yet another rebuild. Boom goes the DYNAMITE!!!
John: #DTWD
John from Savannah, GA:
I hope when you watch the Ravens' offensive line Sunday you pay special attention to their left tackle. I hear he's a decent player.
John: I will watch him. I'll also watch him knowing I watched him for two years, so I'm pretty comfortable that while he indeed is a good play having him here wouldn't make a significant difference in the performance of this team.
Charles from Midlothian, VA:
I would like to point out to everyone that wants us to go free agency to fix all the holes in the offense, etc... Right now if we needed a wide receiver to fill a spot, CS3 would be one of the top WRs in Free Agency to look at.
John: I actually laughed out loud when I read this because you couldn't be more right.
Paul from Lohrville, IA:
Cyprien has played well given the circumstances. People seem so down on how he has played this year – probably because there were high expectations for him before the season. He has fared well being something he is not. When this team finds a true free safety that can play center field, that will free up Cyprien to do what he was drafted to do, which is to be around the line of scrimmage creating havoc. If this team can find that free safety, then this defense will become elite. And Cyprien will be a huge part of that.
John: It has become pretty apparent in recent weeks free safety almost certainly will be an offseason priority. And yes, there's no question that should improve the defense in the back end. And while Cyprien certainly has made his share of mistakes … yes, he would benefit in your scenario.
Kent from Jacksonville:
I know I've read here it wouldn't shock you to see the team go pass rusher in the first round, but wouldn't Amari Cooper look good in teal? Especially if Cecil decides to take his talents elsewhere.
John: I don't rule out Cooper yet, partly because we're more than four months away from the draft, so there's no point ruling out anyone yet. Another reason is I'm more and more of the belief that more than filling glaring specific needs the Jaguars need big-time players regardless of position. Now, that doesn't mean you take a tight end or a guard No. 3 overall. But if there's a player you believe can't miss at an impact position, then take him. I haven't studied Cooper enough to know if he's that kind of player, but if he is I wouldn't rule him out on December 14.
John from Jacksonville:
The reason owners can't make decisions based on what the fans want is because the fans want different things. Some fans wanted Tebow, but others did not. Some fans want the coaches gone because we are losing, but other fans don't want this because they believe in the process. Some fans are already looking beyond Bortles while others see a good QB in the making. I can go on and on.
John: And you'd continue being righter and righter.
DUVAL DOOM from section 217:
CAPITAL LETTERS & EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!
John: NO DOUBT!!

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