O-Zone: Harder than it looks

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Bob from St. Augustine, FL:
Wait a minute, Oh Willy Namath … are you actually guaranteeing a victory or is this simply a warranty?
John: I guaranteed that the Jaguars will not lose to the Titans Sunday. And I stand by that. No way, no how.
John from Browns Mills, NJ:
What happened? Blake looked great last year. I really thought we would get .500 ball this year.
John: What happened is sort of complicated, but not incredibly so. What happened was Blake Bortles was good enough last season to look really good at times – but not good enough for the Jaguars to win very often. What also happened was he didn't make some necessary strides in decision-making and accuracy in the offseason. What happened along with that is defenses this season schemed to take away his best receiver's best play – i.e., Allen Robinson's deep, 50-50 ball. What happened is that a combination of those things and a bit of digression has meant that Bortles really has struggled this season, particularly with games in the balance. And yeah, you weren't alone: a lot of people thought the Jaguars would improve, but when you have a minus-17 turnover ratio and don't play well in the fourth quarter it's difficult to win in the NFL.
Logan from Wichita, KS:
So for Christmas all of us Jags fans just get another year of the middle finger. All our old coaches are succeeding. A lot of our former players are Pro-Bowl bound. And we have our ninth straight losing season and sixth straight top ten pick. Why do we never get anything nice? I'm sick of this constant hopelessness.
John: Merry Christmas, Logan.
Jordan from Jacksonville:
What is the culture like inside the building during the Doug Marrone era?
John: The culture during the Doug Marrone era is the culture of a team with an interim coach. That means it's a culture of players trying to adjust quickly while playing the final two games of a season long since lost. Marrone is a very capable coach and I think he has handled a difficult situation as well as can be expected. But to expect a major culture change in three days is expecting a lot.
Dan from Jacksonville:
Am I the only one who believes Gus should not have been fired? I honestly believe the Jags let a very talented (albeit imperfect) coach go – and in doing so, decreased their chances of long-term success. Gus turned the Jags into a competitive team that could potentially beat any team in the NFL. As a fan who has followed the Jags closely since 1999, I truly believe Gus was building something special here and was on the verge of breaking through a barrier that would make the Jags a playoff contender. The barrier perhaps was a strong, consistent quarterback. To me, the Jags no longer seem like the Jags without Gus. Something special died last Sunday. Am I alone in these sentiments! John or are others feeling the same way?
John: You're not alone, though you're obviously in the minority. I said often I didn't believe Gus Bradley was the predominant reason the Jaguars were 14-48 during his tenure. I also thought a lot of the 2-12 record this season was out of his control. At the same time, it's close to impossible to maintain even the most positive of cultures forever in professional sports when you're not winning. I'm all for continuity, but as I also said many times in recent weeks: continuity was going to be a tough, tough sell after four years with so few victories.
Matt from DC:
You indicate that "Bortles has some attributes that still give him a chance to be a franchise quarterback." Other than size, what are the attributes that you believe he has that are indicative of franchise quarterback potential?
John: Size. Leadership ability. The proven production from 2015. The moments – and there have been moments – when he makes special plays and special throws that not every quarterback can make. These things I've listed aren't enough, and he has to add a lot, but those are the attributes that at least give him a chance.
Carol from Jacksonville:
I watched Blake's press conference Wednesday and I am extremely sad that he continually said "we" should have done more, etc. about Gus getting fired. If you are the quarterback you should just say you should have done more ... the "we" part really shook me - this man has not been taught to take the blame for what he has caused – two offensive coordinator firings and one head coach.
John: I was at the press conference, Carol – and I heard Bortles say "I." I also have listened to most of Bortles' public press statements during his NFL career. I can tell you that of all of Bortles' shortcomings as an NFL quarterback, an unwillingness to take the blame for his play is not among them.
Pamela from Atlantic Beach, FL:
John, I know we're looking ahead, but Tom Savage was yet another example of a backup ready to play; so I'm hoping we can see someone other than Bortles under center this week. If he truly gives us the best chance to win then there can be no debate as to whether we have the worst quarterback room in the league, and if Billy O can pull his $70 Million dollar man we can certainly sit Blake.
John: I have received many, many emails along these lines this week. I get it. I understand the sentiment. I wouldn't be against seeing Brandon Allen play. At this point, there's probably not much harm – and at this point, I don't even know that it would shake up the dynamic of Bortles potentially being the franchise guy moving forward. What I can tell you is I would be very surprised if Bortles doesn't start and play all of the games the next two weeks.
Ken from Ontario, CA:
For Bortles to be our "Franchise Quarterback" we need to address the offensive line this coming offseason. Plain and simple. Give him another second every play to be protected, a line that can be better at the running game and a line that's healthy. Plain and simple. Oh... and a head coach with a "run-first-to-get-a-second-and-short" mentality. Blake's got potential, just need to surround him with some big healthy offensive linemen.
John: OK.
Morgan from Jacksonville:
I know it is very unlikely, but what would you think about bringing Gus back to be the defensive coordinator under a new head coach? The defense is on the rise for the most part and we brought him here after his defensive success. Is it just too much going on after his release for him to have a chance at coming back in a lesser role?
John: Gus Bradley won't be the Jaguars' defensive coordinator next season.
Dan from Orange Park, FL:
Zone, I'm counting seven Raiders Pro Bowl selections that all could have just as easily been Jags either via draft or free agency over the past four years – as compared to our zero. So, if Reggie McKenzie is the standard by which all other general managers shall be measured since 2013, what grade would you give Caldwell?
John: Not as good as McKenzie's yet, obviously.
Ryan from Dearborn, MI:
John, I just read the best quote of the week regarding the firing of Gus Bradley, and it comes from Malik Jackson. This is why some of us wanted Gus fired earlier in the season. Jackson: "It is what it is. The train doesn't stop for anybody. Gus got fired. We've got to keep rolling and go out here and win some games, or Khan's going to fire one of us, too." That's what this team needs. A real fire lit under them and a belief that their jobs really are on the line if they don't turn it around.
John: Jackson's quote pretty much sums it up. As for whether a substantial "fire" would have been lit with a coaching change – it usually doesn't work that way. A coaching change usually results in a one- or two-game impact – and then the team settles back to its normal level. Alas, we'll never know.
Steve from Crystal River:
It may be obvious to some but I am really struggling with this. There are hundreds of college football programs in this country. That means there are hundreds of quarterbacks in this country playing college. I realize that the level of competition is different. However, why is it so hard to find 32 competent quarterbacks in the NFL with so many that play the position? I get it ... not everyone can be Tom Brady. But shouldn't it be easy to find the Andy Dalton-like or Dak Prescott-like kids out of all the colleges? It just seems like it should be easier than what it has been for teams than it is. What is the problem?
John: One problem is that college and professional football are different enough to practically be different sports. The difference in the speed of the game makes it so. Why is it hard to find a quarterback who can play at a high level in the NFL? The simplest answer is it's a hard position. Like, really hard.

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