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O-Zone: Genuine appreciation

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Jimmy from Jacksonville:
If you told me last year what Denard Robinson would be doing so far this year, I would've mocked you. What is it about a player's second year that seems to transform them to such a higher performance?
John: First off, if you had mocked me over Denard Robinson, I would have been OK with it; I've been mocked pretty consistently over the years, to the point where it's many people's "default mode" when in my presence. As for second-year improvement, it doesn't happen to all players to the extreme it has happened to Robinson, but yes, players often improve dramatically in Year 2. They do so for a slew of logical reasons. They get bigger because they're still maturing physically. They get stronger because they are in NFL training regimes year-round. They become more aware, more focused and more experienced because that's what happens with experience. Mostly, they reach a point where they just sort of "get it," and things become instinctive. That's part of the reason for Robinson's development. We'll see where it takes him. So far, it has been fascinating to watch.
Ryan from Varnville:
Go Jags
John: Here we go …
Cathy from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
Why has Marqise Lee played so sparingly in your opinion? Is he still learning the offense? Is he under-performing at this point in the season?
John: Yes, he is still learning the offense. That is the case for most rookie receivers because while they may know the offense they don't yet know the intricacies of the offense well enough to play instinctively. As far as Lee "underperforming," remember: I have very low expectations for rookie wide receivers. I watched Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis catch 27 passes as a rookie, then mature into a Hall-of-Fame-level player. Whatever production you get from rookie wide receivers usually is a bonus. So, the best way to describe Lee is this: he isn't yet performing as well as Cecil Shorts III, Allen Hurns or Allen Robinson, and as a result, he's not playing as much as the aforementioned trio. That doesn't mean he won't develop into a big-time player. It just means – as is very much expected – he's not close to being there yet.
Wallace from Jacksonville:
Can't dwell on what might have been, but what if Dave Caldwell had drafted Sammy Watkins in the first round and moved up enough to get Derek Carr? Despite Oakland's record, Carr has looked pretty darned good so far. Wish we could say that about Blake Bortles. Blake has got a lot of improving to do if he's to fulfill the expectations of Dave, Gus & the Jaguar nation.
John: Thank goodness you're not dwelling on what might have been …
Jefferson from Phoenix, AZ:
When Manning was 1-7 as a rookie starter with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, he wasn't throwing to rookies. He had a Marvin Harrison-type receiver... named Marvin Harrison.
John: Yet another example of why comparisons between players, teams, eras and anything else are so tricky. The game is not played in a vacuum, and circumstances are almost always quite varied.
James from Orange Park, FL:
Do you have any idea how wrong you are when your opinion differs from mine? Signed, Average Fan.
John: I have a vague idea, yeah. Signed, O-Zone.
Ben from Section 101:
The Arizona Cardinals have seven sacks with six wins, and also are last in the league in opponent passing defense, 28th-rank rushing on offense. Why are the Jaguars struggling so bad? Could it be our head coach?
John: I'm not quite sure how the Cardinals' success and or their statistics correlate with Gus Bradley's skills as a head coach, but I'll trust you that there's a connection somewhere. The Jaguars struggled at the start of the season because they were struggling to run and throw offensively, and because the defense struggled with run fits and allowing too many big plays. They're struggling now because they're a young offense – with young skill-position players, a young offensive line and a young quarterback – that's not finishing enough drives to help a defense that is playing well enough to win.
Wallace from Jacksonville:
So what exactly can Blake Bortles do to stop throwing so many interceptions? Until he figures it out the Jags will continue to struggle to win more than a few games a season.
John: He can grow and learn from his mistakes. He can also have played more than six NFL regular-season games.
Kyle from Clearwater, FL:
Will the London game be on at 1 p.m. Eastern Time?
John: Yes.
David from Ada, OK:
Last week we had one of our best performances on defense, and arguably our best running game of the season. That would seem to be an ideal environment for a young quarterback to develop. All he has to do is not screw up. He screws up. It's fine. He's a rookie. But three times? On boneheaded mistakes (like a Pick Six backed up deep in your own end zone which even idiots like myself know are situations to avoid)? It just seems to me the sane reaction is to have some disappointment. Possibly even show concern about his development. It may not be easy, but it will not get any easier than last week. I don't want him benched. I am just overwhelmingly disappointed in losing a winnable game. Why am I in the minority of fans feeling this way? People act like this is expected and acceptable and they are happy with the outcome...
John: First off, I haven't heard from many people happy with the outcome, and I have heard from plenty of people concerned about his development. A large percentage of my emails have expressed these concerns. These things aren't OK, and they hurt the Jaguars' chance of winning last week. At the same time, these mistakes to some degree ARE expected, and there's really no such thing as an "easy" situation for an NFL rookie quarterback. Every quarterback has to go through his issues. Blaine Gabbert – remember him? – had to work through pocket-presence issues and not throwing the ball downfield enough. He never developed as the Jaguars hoped, but those were his issues. Blake Bortles is having to figure out how to reduce interceptions and perhaps understand better what he's seeing. Right now, he's also trying to do that with a lot of young, moving parts at the receiver position and an offensive line that is still young without experience playing together. There's every chance that as that group grows together, many of the players – including the quarterback – will improve. There's nothing to guarantee that. There are no guarantees in professional sports. But we also haven't seen anything to indicate that it won't happen.
Miguel from Oviedo, FL:
Hey O-Man, there were a couple of times Sunday when it looked like Bortles had tuck-and-run opportunities, but didn't take them. Also I didn't see a single read-option play. Is the staff trying to focus that much on his ability as a pocket passer?
John: The Jaguars know Bortles has ability to run. At the same time, this is not a read-option offense, and you don't want Bortles being a run-first quarterback. That's probably the most encouraging thing about Bortles thus far. The best quarterbacks in this league look to throw first, throw second, throw third and run sometime after that. That's because the best way to move the football against elite athletes is to throw it. The best quarterbacks use whatever mobility, pocket presence and ability to extend plays they have to throw downfield to receivers and run when nothing else is there. The approach prolongs careers and is the best way for a productive offense.
Lamont from Norfolk, VA:
Why isn't Denard Robinson the team's starting running back?
John: He has started the last two games and rushed for 235 yards during that time. He has gotten the vast majority of the carries during that span. How much more "starting" can he be?
Deb from Jacksonville:
What is the solution with field goals being missed? Is it a Scobee thing or is it an offensive line thing? BTW, when did fans start addressing you as "Zone?" Seems informal …
John: It's mostly an offensive line thing. Scobee did hit one field goal low, but it was a 55-yard field goal at the end of the loss to Tennessee that he had to kick low. The other blocks for the most part have been on the offensive line, which in general this season has allowed too much push this season in field-goal situations.
Peter from Maribor:
John, in your O-Zone video mailbag there were several members (including a nice girl with pom-pom) of the staff who were escorting you out of the 'Bank. Really, how much did you pay them for that charade?
John: The compensation was of the best kind: a camaraderie with – and a genuine, heartfelt appreciation from – the senior writer. This is also my method when tipping in restaurants. People fake it well, but deep down they love it.

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