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O-Zone: Holiday cheer

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Brian from Atlanta, GA:
I think my mantra for the Jags next year will be "At Least Eight."
John: You're certainly not alone; in fact, I think it's likely a lot of observers will predict seven or eight victories for the Jaguars next year. And while we're a long way from next season, and while one game remains in this season, I would say that's a lot more realistic than some of the projections national media had for this team this season. While some predicted a playoff push for the Jaguars this season, I said often last offseason that eight victories would be a lofty goal for this year's version of this team. When I said "lofty," I meant that it would be a phenomenally good season to push for that total. Next year? I think eight wins would be a significant jump, but I don't see the goal as being quite so lofty.
Wallace from Jacksonville:
The ghost of Gene Smith drafts will haunt Jaguars fans for many years...at least those who understand what a monumental mistake Gene made when he drafted Bryan Anger. Watching Seattle versus Arizona Sunday, it was just so painful to watch Russell Wilson knowing that the Jaguars passed on him to draft a punter!!!!!! UGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!
John: Yeah, Wallace, pretty much everyone knows the Jaguars took Bryan Anger before the Seahawks' took Russell Wilson. But while I fully grasp fans' angst over this, this honestly just isn't one that I worry about too, too much. The Jaguars were never – repeat: NEVER – going to take any quarterback early in that draft. They had taken Blaine Gabbert the year before, and however his career here turned out, they weren't going to take a quarterback in the first three rounds a year after taking one in the Top 10. And while there will be a chorus of, "BUUUUUTTTTs!!!!, very, very few teams would have acted differently, if any. The Jaguars also were far from the only team that passed on Wilson. He was far from a sure thing. Remember this, too: Wilson is a very good player in the Seahawks' scheme with the Seahawks' defense and doing what the Seahawks ask him to do. The Seahawks are a very talented team that doesn't require him to carry it at all times. Could he have been as effective with the Jaguars? Would the Jaguars be significantly better had they drafted Wilson? Perhaps, but perhaps not.
Jerell from Columbia, SC:
The Colts suck. The Jags have a real chance to take the division over or really compete for it.
John: The Colts had a tough game Sunday. They also still have an elite-level quarterback. I don't doubt that the Jaguars have a real chance to start competing for the AFC South soon, but I think the Colts are a bit better and more stable for the long term than you do.
Bryce from Algona, IA:
Zone, with one regular-season game left, who ya got for your Super Bowl pick?
John: Broncos-Seahawks.
Sam from Orlando, FL:
This looks like a draft where after the first four or five picks anything else in the Top 10 would be considered a reach in any other year. Do the Jags trade down and take a running back or receiver in the bottom of the Top 10? Or do they just pick the guy they like because everything beyond the Top 5 or 6 is considered a reach?
John: I haven't looked at the draft at anything beyond a skimming-the-surface level. I'll start digging deeper next week – or maybe the week after – then really get into it as the Senior Bowl approaches. I do think the Jaguars would like to trade down if the scenario was right, but I don't think they'll be taking a running back in the first round.
Daniel from Johnston, IA:
I've heard and read many comments about this or that player being a good "route runner." Can you break that down a little bit more as to what makes someone good at this? I mean, just running five or 10 yards, etc., and breaking left or right doesn't sound all that complex. What makes someone especially good at it?
John: A variety of things, but there are a few major ones. One is crispness of routes. NFL defensive backs are so good and so much quicker than most college defensive backs that speed usually isn't enough for a receiver to get open. The ability to sharply break one way or the other or come back to the ball is critical. A player who is slow in and out of breaks, or who rounds off routes rather than breaking sharply, is going to struggle to get open against starting NFL corners. Also critical is the ability to have every route look the same. When receivers and coaches talk about this, what they mean is a receiver being able to make any route – fade, corner, post, comeback, curl, flat, slant, etc., -- look the same until making the initial move establishing the route. The less a defender can read what's about to happen the greater the chance the receiver will get open. In college, many receivers are talented enough to get open based on that talent. When NFL defenders talk about receivers being tough to cover it's often the receiver who they can't read that they're discussing.
Jordan from Joplin, MO:
I really like Demetrius McCray and love that he is a seventh-round guy getting a chance. He appears to be playing well to my eye, but what do the coaches say? Do you think he'll be the long-term answer at cornerback?
John: I think he's an answer. I also think Aaron Colvin could be an answer. That means a couple of answers at cornerback, and because teams start two cornerbacks that's a good thing for the Jaguars.
Aaron from Fairfax, VA:
While Bortles did not turn in a good performance throwing the football, making quick decisions, his grit and his running supplemented. I think I am changing my view of drafting a quarterback "next year." I'm excited to see if he can improve as a passer/decision maker next year. Cheers!
John: Cheers! The Jaguars are looking forward to seeing that, too.
John from Cape May, NJ:
Jags Nation, can we please pump the brakes on Justin Blackmon? Last I heard the man isn't even out of rehab, and we are already pegging him on the roster next year? IF he is on the team next year, it would be almost TWO years since he has played professional football, and it would be foolish of us to expect him to be a game-changing No. 1 receiver right away after being away from football for so long. If Dez or Demaryius somehow become free agents next spring, THROW EVERYTHING at them to get them here.
John: A couple of thoughts here. One, while reports are that Blackmon is out of rehab – and while I have said that I believe there's a good chance Blackmon plays here next year – I agree that a little brake-pumping would be fine, too. I believe Blackmon can still be a very good – even an impact – player, but it's just as true that he would be an unknown and that the Jaguars aren't counting on him to be a focal point of the offense. If he turned into an elite receiver would they be pleased? Sure, but he's not a foundation piece in the grand blueprint. That said, it's extremely unlikely that Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas become free agents. Teams typically don't let franchise-defining players sign elsewhere – which may be why fans get so excited about the possibility of Blackmon's return. He may not be franchise-defining, but he's really good and really good players are hard to find.
Dane from Jacksonville:
Regarding this year's more minor injury bug, we're also a lot younger.
John: That sure doesn't hurt.
Shawn from the Wild Side of the Westside:
JO, can you explain the transition to the offseason? What I mean is, does the offseason begin right after the Sunday game or do players return and work a couple days following week before starting their offseason? Also, what are the coaching staff's schedule like that first week or two afterwards?
John: The offseason essentially begins at the end of the day after the season. That day is Getaway Day with players meeting with coaches, undergoing season-ending physical examinations and cleaning out their lockers. After that, players are basically on their own until mid-April when the voluntary offseason conditioning program begins. The caveat is that players who live in town can and typically do workout at the team facility. That means you usually start seeing players around EverBank within a few days/weeks after the season. They can't talk football with coaches at this point, but strength-and-conditioning coaches can make sure they're working out properly – i.e., not injuring themselves. Coaches typically work a few days after the season, then have at least part of the next few weeks off until the Senior Bowl in late January.
Mike from St. Mary's, GA:
The year may not be over yet, but I wanted to launch a preemptive strike by saying I've enjoyed reading your articles and the O-Zone. Best wishes over the holidays!
John: Bah. Humbug.

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