JACKSONVILLE – Christmas-Eve Ozone.
Let's get to it …
Tommy from Pensacola, FL:
It's the end of Year Three. As fans, we've seen frustration and some real shimmers of hope. But when they look at the build from Day One to where the Jags are today, are Shad and Dave thinking they're behind schedule, right on pace, or maybe even slightly ahead? What's your take on it?
John: My take is there are many details to this topic, but that in terms of the big picture – i.e., where this team is headed for the long term and how the roster sets up for the future – Jaguars Owner Shad Khan and General Manager David Caldwell see this build as very much on schedule. The idea in Year 3 was to be in most games in the fourth quarter with a chance to win, and there's no question the Jaguars have done that this season. The roster also is significantly better than two years ago with a very real chance for young talent to grow into core, difference-making, foundation players. Now, would the Jaguars like for a play or two – and a kick or two – to have gone their way and to be 7-7 or 8-6 right now? I don't think there's any question that's the case. But do they believe that the build is on the right track? I don't think there's any question that's the case, either.
Jeremy from Andover, KS:
Maybe we should call the Lightning Package the Flicker Package.
John: Fair point.
Brian from New Hampshire:
I really do not understand all the negativity around the team. We are in the playoff hunt still (which honestly we shouldn't be this year), the offense shows signs of been very good, and the defense I do not think is as bad as it's portrayed. With Dante Fowler Jr. and James Sample coming back and another draft to add needed depth, this team should start contending soon and be in contention for a while.
John: I agree, but the negativity isn't hard to understand. The Jaguars are 5-9 and have lost a lot of close games this season. That's frustrating, and when it falls on the heels of 4-12 and 3-13, it's going to cause a lot of noise.
John from 409 X 32-36:
I'm perplexed. I never had high expectations of the team this year as I felt they were still a year away, but the irony is I feel somehow they underachieved. What that leaves me with is enormous optimism for next year.
John: Your feelings really aren't that odd – at least not the ones about the Jaguars. They realistically were a year away from being a winning team this season – and from being a playoff team. But their schedule featured a lot of struggling teams. Because the AFC South as a whole was struggling, it created an opportunity to contend quicker than expected. The Jaguars didn't take advantage of that opportunity, so many have a feeling that the Jaguars underachieved – for this season. But when you look at this team, and look at the future … well, it makes sense to be optimistic. A lot of sense.
Missy from St. Augustine, FL:
I know the Pro Bowl is a popularity contest, but I am so disappointed Allen Robinson didn't make it. He is having an amazing season. That one hurts.
John: Allen Robinson deserved to make the Pro Bowl. So did Roy Miller – and probably Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith. No question about it. I've pretty much covered this in a View from O-Zone that was on the site Tuesday evening, but it's worth reiterating a few points. The Pro Bowl voting is inherently flawed but there's no better system; it's probably not changing any time soon. I'm also not of the belief this is a Jacksonville issue or small-market issue or anything of the like as much as a reputation issue. In the case of Robinson, the receiver class is very deep with a lot of well-established players – and to be the first alternate is not a bad showing considering he plays for a 5-9 team and considering he is in his second season. If Robinson is as good as he appears to be, he will make multiple Pro Bowls – and as the Jaguars improve on the field, more and more of their players will receive the postseason honors they deserve.
Randy from Duval:
What happened to the Pro Bowl? I know fans vote now, but the AFC has four quarterbacks, three tight ends and only six linemen (on offense) with no running back. The NFC has 10 linemen, but only two quarterbacks, one tight end and six running backs. I haven't looked at the defense yet, but if they still play AFC versus NFC, I'd be loading up on pass rushers if I was the NFC, and run-stuffers for the AFC.
John: You spent a great deal of time counting players. If you had spent it googling "Pro Bowl," you would have seen with a few clicks that the game is no longer broken into AFC and NFC. The selection process now produces a number of players at each position, with those players placed on teams that will be headed by Hall of Fame wide receivers Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin. It's a little weird, but whatever. It's the Pro Bowl.
David from Orlando, FL:
O-Zone, you've been beating your drum that the Jags need to improve at the center and free safety positions. Last year, Geno Hayes had 51 combined tackles and was generally considered a weak link. So far this year, Dan Skuta has 33 combined tackles. Do you think Dan Skuta falls under the category of good enough or is outside linebacker an area of concern?
John: I don't beat drums. I answer questions and when people ask areas of the team that need to improve, I indeed list free safety and center. As far as a direct comparison of Hayes and Skuta, it's really not applicable because Hayes didn't play the Otto positon the entire season last season; he in fact started out on the weak side. Still, your point about Otto is valid. I think the Jaguars will look at that area. I wouldn't at all call Skuta a weakness – his presence has helped considerably against the run – but it wouldn't be unreasonable for the Jaguars to look to get faster at that position.
Alan from Jacksonville:
Now that the chance of reaching the playoffs is practically nil, shouldn't we be experimenting a little? We have two ex-quarterbacks on our team, why not have a little fun and see if we can create some nightmare situations for opposing defenses? It would be entertaining to watch and that has been the best part of this season.
John: I wouldn't find that entertaining at all.
Steve from North Haven, CT:
O, I couldn't finish your column today. I'm too upset about all these people writing in about how "easy" are schedule is. I hope everyone realizes these "easy" teams don't go three and out when there is no defense on the field. These are NFL teams. Regardless of 0-16 or 16-0, these teams are professional teams designed to win. Just like us, they will find ways to win and ways to lose. Stop acting like we should automatically win games just because our team showed up.
John: Just what I need – one more reason for people not to finish my column.
Scott from Daytona Beach, FL:
Do you think Dave takes another big run at Alex Mack this offseason?
John: There is a long way to go before free agency and Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack is not yet a free agent. He can, however, opt out of his contract after this season. If that happens …
Christian from Titusville, FL:
"There is no more room for improvement without winning." This might be my favorite response you've ever given John. That or, "The time is now" should be the 2016 slogan.
John: I didn't think of it as a slogan or terribly insightful. The answer was a reflection of the building plan under General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley. The idea was to be competitive in the fourth quarter of games this season. They have achieved that. If they're going to continue improving, then they need to start winning more of those games than they lose.
Dave from Jacksonville:
Duval, DUVAL, DDUUVVAALLLL!!!! Shout it with me John, it feels good. You know what else feels good in a sad way? My son, now 19, is very upset no Jaguars have made the Pro Bowl this year. I say that because he is finally becoming passionate about a sport I love and a team we all want to succeed. This team has brought the passion back to the youth and for that I am thankful. He asked for a Blake Bortles jersey for Christmas, his first since Jones-Drew. We have a rising arrow and it feels good. John to you, your family, and the O-Zone nation have a wonderful Christmas.
Pedal Big from Farnborough, Hampshire, UK:
Happy Christmas John to you and your family from your extended family across The Pond!
John: Happy Krimma.