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O-Zone: Gotta play fair

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Gary from Freeport, IL:
The thing I love the most about this coming season is the chance for a WINNING season is very REAL!!!! The last three-plus seasons were a lot of wishful thinking and denial in hopes of a playoff spot. This time around, with a few good add-ons to our defense and tweaking it a little bit and the ATTITUDE of just get BETTER each and every day on offense ... I am ecstatic about how great our JAGS will be this year and I believe it's not just denial but real, legitimate facts of why/how it can happen.
John: I can tell you're serious about this topic by your employment of not only CAPITALIZATION, but exclamation!! Indeed, a more powerful, persuasive "ation" combination ye shall not easily find … but yeah, there is more real cause for optimism for 2016 than there has been around the Jaguars in a long time. Long-time O-Zone readers – and he knows who he is – know I'm not given to giddy, over-the-top predictions; I never have predicted a playoff season for this regime, though I thought the team had an outside chance to push to be above .500 last season. I do see a winning season as a possibility next season for a couple of reasons. One is while the offense improved in 2015 it has a chance to make more significant improvements next season in the form of fewer key turnovers and better efficiency on third down; those steps would be major in terms of the won-loss record. Another is that despite appearances to the contrary, an absolute overhaul defensive may not be needed. The return of Sen'Derrick Marks and Dante Fowler Jr. should add two front-line starters on the defensive front to go with Jared Odrick and Roy Miller. That's not a bad starting line, and if you add two additional pass rushers to that grouping, the pressure on the passer should improve quickly. That may not put the Jaguars into the class of the Seahawks or Broncos defensively, but can it improve them enough to greatly help an ascending offense? Absolutely.
Lauren from Kennesaw, GA:
John, why is my boyfriend more obsessed with the Jags than me?
John: What are the Jaguars wearing?
Ryan from Apopka, FL:
I believe it has been mentioned that you don't know how good a draft class is until three or four years down the road. Looking back at the 2012 draft, the Jaguars after this year might have one player left on their roster from that class (Justin Blackmon, who is suspended indefinitely). The two teams in the Super Bowl have a combined nine players from that class playing, including [Denver Broncos outside linebacker] Brandon Marshall, who we actually drafted. Here's hoping the 2014 draft class is that home- run class that puts us near the top of the NFL in a couple of years.
John: There's no question draft classes need to form your core. There's also no question a huge reason the Jaguars have struggled in recent seasons has been a lack of drafted players forming the core of the roster. I suspect that when next season begins there will be no 2012 draftees on the roster because I doubt defensive end Andre Branch or punter Bryan Anger will return, and because Blackmon's not on the roster. There are also no players on the roster from the 2011, 2009, 2008 or 2007 draft classes. It's tough to be good that way.
Ryan from Apopka, FL:
So where would you place the 2011 NFL draft in terms of the best classes in NFL history? Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Darius, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones and Aldon Smith were the first seven picks. I think it is safe to say all seven within their first five years are changing how their positions are being played; throw in what might turn out to be one of the greatest defensive ends of all-time in J.J. Watt and this class is very, very strong. What are your thoughts? No comment on who the Jaguars took that year :(
John: We probably should wait to rank the class until careers are more complete, but the 2011 class was considered phenomenally good at the time – and it has more than lived up to the billing. I'd stop short of saying all of those early selections you mentioned are changing their positions, but whatever … I'm nitpicking. The most telling thing about the '11 draft in retrospect is it shows in clear detail the impact of the quarterback position; because of its importance, teams treat it and draft it differently than any other position. The Panthers hit on Newton at No. 1, but the next three quarterbacks taken that year – Jake Locker to the Tennessee Titans, Blaine Gabbert to the Jaguars and Christian Ponder to the Vikings – were the only misses among the Top 12 selections. Yes, you have to approach quarterback differently. The position is that important. But that year showed the inherent risk of the understandable tendency to overdraft the sport's most important position.
Stephen from Lincoln, NE:
I have been looking at all the mock drafts and free-agent targets for the upcoming offseason; the big question I have is the backup running back position. I understand you wanna move on from Denard Robinson, but is going after an Alfred Morris/Lamar Miller the way to go? I would rather go after a player in the draft. What do you think?
John: I typically lean to a younger-the-better approach at running back. Hits take a toll on backs and careers end in a hurry. There also is the reality that a player such as Morris/Miller may want to go somewhere to start, and that's no guarantee with T.J. Yeldon in Jacksonville. The X-factor there for the Jaguars may be a desire to go heavy on defense during the draft. Could that desire cause them to pursue a relatively young free-agent running back? That will be a storyline in mid-March.
Mike from Des Moines, IA:
Can we start a GoFundMe account to get you guys a round table for your segment with round table in the title? I feel like $20-$30 at your nearest Ikea should accomplish this. I would be shocked if you can't find a nice round table on the Kismet.
John: I went to the Kismet once. I had identification. It was used against me.
Scott from Jacksonville and Section 409:
Let's not undersell Marqise Lee's injury history, either. Don't get me wrong: I love his potential, but he has missed the vast majority of offseason work in his first two seasons with injury, making the task of getting significant playing time much more difficult.
John: There's no question Lee's ability to stay healthy is critical, and there's no question his offseason absences have played a factor in him not starting. But there are some who portray it as if he has done absolutely nothing in his first two seasons here, and that he never has been healthy. That's not quite the case.
Dave from Jacksonville:
Oh, my … I'm already watching the highlights from last season. Can't wait until the combine and pro days. I really wish we could have NFL football all year long. Can't wait until next season when we will have some "old players" back and "new players" starting. Why does the offseason have to be so long? In December, I was saying, "I can't wait 'til next season … I know we are going to be so much better." Trying to figure out if I want to change my seats this year. Any ideas?
John: Bookmark the O-Zone.
Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville:
How do you get Lee on the field? Easy, just wait. Eventually one of the wide receivers is going to get hurt or dinged and then you are going to want him available to provide depth. All in all, a good problem to have – not enough playing time for a bounty of talent at a position.
John: Yep.
Marc from the New Club Seats:
How about one for Hurns! Playing most of the year with a hernia! What a tough kid! Talk about passion for the game and grit.
John: Yeah, one fer Hurns. No doubt.
Natrone from The Bank:
Drafting Blake Bortles now looks like a better choice over Khalil Mack in regards to importance of the position and bringing stability long-term, but it sure would be nice considering how well Mack has panned out to see him wearing Teal and Black – and I guess Gold. Did you see him being so productive early on?
John: Of course not. Mack quickly has developed into one of the NFL's most disruptive young defenders. I believe had the Jaguars not drafted Bortles they would have taken Mack. Then again, I'm sure the Panthers wouldn't have minded drafting Miller in addition to Newton in 2011 and the Bengals wouldn't mind have drafted Peterson in addition to Green that same season and so on. The thing about the draft is you can't draft all of the players you want. That wouldn't be, you know … "fair."

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