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O-Zone: Half and half

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Pradeep from Bangalore, India:
Hey John, you mentioned a few times that the Jaguars have improved this year quite significantly. Then, why is it not reflecting in your Power Rankings for Week 1?
John: Gotta earn it.
Dane from Pooler, GA:
No disrespect to any of the hard-working players who were recently cut, but the fact that some of the "preseason phenoms" haven't been scooped up by other teams gives me confidence that our front office knows what they're doing.
John: The Jaguars, like many teams, do what they can to keep good players and not release them. This is often reflected in their decision-making. Sometimes they err; that's because scouting and evaluating players isn't a scientific, exact business. But for the most part, impact players stay on rosters.
Steve from Jacksonville:
I realize this is a question fraught with peril but what the heck: How well do you think this exact roster/team would do if the 1997 version of Tom Coughlin was the coach? Not knocking Coach Bradley. Just wondering if you think a so-called taskmaster might squeeze a bit more out of this young team.
John: Your question implies that Bradley somehow won't squeeze the maximum out of this young team, and at this juncture – five days before the regular-season opener – I don't know if that's a fair assumption. Bradley has been questioned by some Jaguars fans his first two seasons, and it's fair to have questioned some of his in-game decisions. I think that's true of most coaches. I also think some of Bradley's in-game decisions – namely, times to go for it on fourth-and-short, etc. – have been based on having a young, under-talented team; I tend to think different decisions will get made as the team matures and grows. Overall, as far as Bradley's performance goes, I'll say this: judging him on the first two seasons is very, very difficult because of the talent level of those two teams; as the talent improves, we should have a better idea.
Ron from Village Hills, CA:
Who is going to be our backup mike linebacker??? If Blake Bortles and the Jags have a great year, I really think we have the chance to land a couple of top-tier free agents next year to get this team over the hump. What do you think?
John: Thurston Armbrister is going to be the backup middle and Otto linebacker until LaRoy Reynolds is healthy. At that point, Reynolds will be the backup Otto and Armbrister will be the backup middle linebacker. As far as your second question … yes, if the Jaguars have a good year that should help in free agency, though if it's all the same to you, I will probably hold off a week or two before revving up the ol' Free Agency Tracker.
Andrew from Section 203:
Book it: John Lotulelei will be the linebacker version of Troy Polamalu. There's gotta be a reason the team has kept him around for two-plus seasons.
John: The Jaguars like Lotulelei's potential and ability to impact special teams. You're right that if they didn't like him they wouldn't have retained him through two injury-filled seasons. But if it's all the same to you, I'll also probably hold off a week or two before revving up the 'ol Polamalu comparisons.
Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Big O, I am with you regarding your opinion of Luke Joeckel. He's better than the few glaring mistakes he made, but those glaring mistakes are … well, glaring. The position is one at which people glare, after all. But the fans calling for his head need to remember it's not as though there were elite left tackles available in free agency this off season. In the draft, the best left tackle available was probably D.J. Humphries, who was indeed drafted in the first round, but not nearly elite enough to consider replacing a very-good-and-getting-better Luke Joeckel. The question: if an elite left tackle came on the market next offseason or if there is a proposed elite left tackle in the draft, should Dave Caldwell pick him up?
John: That's an awful lot of ifs, and a particularly big "if" is the idea that a premier left tackle without flaws would be available in free agency. Premiere left tackles are far more often than not re-signed by their teams. It's also a pretty big "if" to think there are a whole lot of premier, lock-down-without-help, never-make-an-error left tackles out there anywhere. As is the case with assuming that Bradley won't get the most out of his team, why don't we wait five days for the regular season to start before trying to write the final story of Luke Joeckel's season? In fact, why don't we wait a few games to rev up that story, too?
Dennis from Port St. Lucie, FL:
Denard Robinson even with little time running in the preseason has shown more experience and I think is the best running back on the team at this time. I feel the rotations should be Denard, Toby and then Yeldon. What's your opinion?
John: My opinion is that people are wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-y more concerned about who starts at running back than I am, and that the rotation will be heavy enough that once the game begins people won't worry too much about who started. But I like the idea of Yeldon starting. Remember, Yeldon had just eight carries in preseason; that's a small sample size and in the larger sample size of practice he looked very good. From what I saw in the offseason and training camp, I think he's the best long-term running back on the team and most-suited to be a bell-cow running back over the long-term. For the short term … again, I think the rotation is going to be such that whoever is playing well is going to get enough carries to be productive.
Jim from Jacksonville:
A "one fer" to you sir. You finally came out and stated what we already felt. BB will be elite one day. He has it all and it's gonna be fun to watch the rest of the NFL find out … the hard way!
John: I hate to give up a much-coveted "one fer," but I didn't say Blake Bortles "will" be elite. I wrote that he has the potential to be elite and that I think he can be elite. That's true. It's also true that I, like many others, still want to see the preseason translate to the regular season. I believe it will, but I reserve the right to wait to see it before saying he will be elite.
Rob from Jacksonville:
What are the main differences between a LEO and an OTTO? Aren't they essentially just pass rushers?
John: No, they're not. A Leo is a hybrid end/linebacker whose responsibility is mostly rushing the passer. An Otto is more of a strong-side linebacker and must be stout against the run; an Otto should have some pass-rushing skill, though it's not the primary trait.
Alex from Houston, TX:
Since Gerhart is considered mainly a third-down back and we are stacked at running back, what's your thought about the coaches letting him try and play linebacker? He seems to have the attitude and I'm sure he is smart enough to learn how to read other teams offenses.
John: I'm sure Gerhart is smart enough to read defenses. I'm also sure he has a linebacker attitude. Mostly, I'm pretty sure the Jaguars will leave him at running back full-time for now.
Ivan from Hollywood:
If my memory serves, a few weeks ago you said a victory vs Carolina was "Critical" which for you is a very strong statement (even if it was not bold caps with exclamation marks). Do you still feel that way?
John: As I approach 50, my memory serves me less and less. I recall writing something about the first game of the regular season being important, and I may have said something sarcastic about it being critical until the next game or the game after that or the game after that. But fine … if I said it was critical then I said it was critical. I'll say this as Week 1 begins: yes, I do think it's important the Jaguars beat Carolina. The schedule at the beginning isn't easy and with road games at New England and Indianapolis looming, you would rather be 1-0 than 0-1. At the same time, if the Jaguars lose to Carolina then beat Miami and, say, Tampa Bay, then they're no worse than 2-3 to start the season and the opening game doesn't look quite so critical. My experience is pretty much that every game in the NFL seems critical the week it is being played, then sometimes looks different based on how a season plays out. But in the context of your question … this is Week 1 and I believe the Jaguars need to win to establish momentum. So, yes, this game is critical.
Ryan from Detroit, MI:
Jonny-O, what would you say the odds are of the Jaguars going .500 in the division this year?
John: Fifty-fifty.

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