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O-Zone: High stakes

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Jason from North Pole, AK:
I know it doesn't matter to us who wins the left-tackle job, but I bet it matters to Luke Joeckel and Kelvin Beachum. My understanding is they are both essentially up for new contracts next year and only one of them is going to get paid like a starting left tackle here. Do you think whoever starts at guard will have difficulty working cohesively next to the guy they potentially lost millions of dollars to? Do you think the loser of the competition will leave after this season to find left tackle money elsewhere? Just seems like there will be an elephant in the room between them this season.
John: Well, of course it matters to Joeckel and Beachum who wins the left-tackle job. It's a premium position and there are only 32 NFL starting left tackles – and these guys are professional athletes who take pride in that profession. Both indeed are essentially playing for contracts, and the starter obviously has a real chance of being the Jaguars' starting left tackle next season. I don't anticipate a problem for the player who moves to guard. He'll certainly be disappointed, but he'll have every motivation to play well and get that good play on tape for all 32 teams – Jaguars included. And I don't think chemistry and cohesion will be a problem. As stated before, these players have every motivation to play well and they're professionals. There's no indication they won't behave professionally. As for whether the "loser" of the left-tackle competition will move on after the season, I'd have to say that's likely. Neither Joeckel nor Beachum seems remotely ready to see themselves as anything but an NFL left tackle.
Tony from Morrilton, AR:
I will be shocked if come midseason – or sooner, for that matter – our defense isn't turning heads. Just the idea of the talent we have acquired … that thought alone is scary. I believe it's going to be capable of being really good sooner than later.
John: I believe the Jaguars' defense will be better – perhaps a lot better – than last season. I also believe that will happen pretty quickly. Then again, it's quite possible to be better than the Jaguars were defensively last season and still not quite be great because at times last year's defense was not very good at all. I think the unit has a chance to be dominant in 2017. We'll see if you're right and it's dominant sooner. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
Dan from Ormond Beach, FL:
We know trades are pretty rare in the NFL. I would think there is a win/win possibility with Dallas. If the coaches believe Brandon Allen will have to be on the 53-man roster lets trade him and some defensive line depth (presumably our strength) to Dallas for some offensive line depth like Ronald Leary (their strength). What say you?
John: I say I rarely predict trades in the NFL because they're so rare that such speculation is usually just that. I doubt Allen will draw much interest on the trade market as a rookie, and I don't think the Jaguars will be interested in trading Chad Henne … so basically I'd be really surprised if any quarterbacks on the Jaguars' roster are traded before the season. As for trading defensive-line depth, you rarely get good value trading veteran players and besides: the Jaguars are planning to have at least eight defensive linemen active on game days; that depth is going to be on the field.
Andrew from Sampson:
O, wise sage, do you think Yannick Ngakoue could be the Jags' Dwight Freeney? Both are light in the pants size-wise and both have quickness, athleticism and high motor. This 'D' has potential, for sure. Go Jags.
John: Freeney's power and speed as a rusher came from his legs, and if you watched him closely, you know he wasn't remotely "light in the pants" size-wise. While he was short for a defensive end, he was in no way small. I also hesitate to compare a third-round rookie with no NFL experience to Freeney, who was one of the two or three best pass rushers of the last decade and a half. But yes … Yannick Ngakoue has a chance to be good. If he's half as good as Freeney, he will have been a really good selection.
Duval from Jacksonville:
So there is a lot being said about A-Rob but very little about A-Hurns. Is the symbiotic relationship broken? Is it no longer "1A" and "1B" but clearly "1" and "2?" And to that point, is it that A-Rob has taken a giant step forward or that A-Hurns stagnated? It was great to see the Allen bros feed of each others last year.
John: No, nothing has changed. Robinson last season was the pretty clear No. 1, and I think it's fair to describe Hurns as a 1B or a really, really good No. 2 receiver. Robinson has been a story in this training camp because he looks really good – potentially monstrously good. Hurns has been good, too, but the way he plays he's not going to look monstrous in training camp. What he's going to do is catch a lot of passes for a lot of yards in a lot of important situations and that makes him a really important player for this offense.
Tom from London, UK:
Whoa there, John. You can't call Tyson Alualu great and in the same O-Zone claim to be conservative with your use of the word 'great'.
John: You're correct and this is a grammatical misunderstanding. When I wrote recently that Alualu was good if not great I meant to make the point that while he is not great he is very good. Some readers thought I meant he was great. This one's on me.
Deshawn from Jacksonville:
Will the Jags win the AFC South division?
John: I'm not picking them yet, but they have a better chance than they have in a long time.
Mike from Tallahassee, FL:
Okay, John. Regarding yesterday's response ("At least you admit it."), please clarify whether that was an implication of my previous submissions, or of the questions you get from other readers.
John: Nah, I'd rather let you think on it a while.
Steve from Nashville, TN:
Whenever someone mentions "Dante" in front of coach Wash his face lights up and his grin expands quite a bit wider. What's up with that?
John: When you coach defensive line you get to watch up close your defensive linemen go through pass-rush drills and you see the difficulty of playing the position at a high level. Then, once in a great while, you get to coach a player who makes difficult things look easy, memorable and spectacular and you think of what that player might become … yeah, in that scenario, you smile.
David from Chicago via Jacksonville:
It is great to hear about how good some of our D-linemen look so far but to what degree is this a product of our O-line's performance?
John: We shall see. It's hard to tell how good or bad an offensive line is playing during training camp, primarily because one-on-one pass rush drills favor the defense. What's not hard to see is the increased size, speed and athleticism of the Jaguars' defensive line. The group is improved. There's no doubt about that. The question is, "How much?"
Scott from Fernandina Beach, FL:
Hi John, an earlier question mentioned the edge rush making our inside defensive line better. I think it's the other way. Malik Jackson getting double-teamed or breaking down the pocket is going to make our edge rushing better/more effective and therefore our secondary that much better. I'm really looking forward to seeing how our defense comes together. Hopefully sooner than later!
John: There is no right or wrong answer on this one. A good edge rush helps the interior pass rush and a good interior pass rush helps the edge rush. It sounds as if Jackson is going to play almost exclusively inside, including rushing from the interior on passing situations. That's a key area to watch because with offenses increasingly emphasizing quick drops and quick quarterback releases, interior rush – getting someone in the quarterback's face as he throws and forcing him off his spot – gets more important by the year.
Herb from Jacksonville:
John, I notice you frequently include a fan's comment that the Jaguars are going to have a specific record for the upcoming season. Usually this is more losses than wins, or at best an 8-8 season. Well, not only am I a fan and season-ticket holder from Day One, but I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. A family member visited Las Vegas recently and I had him place a wager (50-1) that our Jags will not only make it to the Super Bowl game but even win it. So be on notice that a devotee of your column has put the rest of the league on notice that our Jags have come … will have won and conquered its NFL opposition this season.
John: #DTWD

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