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O-Zone: In praise of mediocrity

Let's get to it . . . John from Baltimore, MD:
Hey, John: what gives? Thought the 49ers were a lock to win the Super Bowl. Go Ravens!!!
John: Congratulations to the Ravens, and yes, I was wrong in my prediction. I thought the 49ers were too deep and balanced for Baltimore, but mostly, I thought the 49ers had overcome enough difficult situations that they wouldn't be overwhelmed if they got behind early. As it turns out, they weren't overwhelmed. They just weren't as good as the Ravens.
Doug from Jacksonville:
I'm no football prognosticator, but why the excitement for Matt Flynn, a lifelong backup from playoff teams such as Green Bay and Seattle? Alex Smith was terrible for how many years and was replaced this year – he is so desirable? Don't even mention the third-string quarterback from the Jets. Blaine Gabbert is younger, has a cannon and will be in his third offense in three years. That's tough for anyone. It doesn't cost draft picks or more money to keep the talented kid. Draft a quarterback? Sure. Pay or give picks away for a second-stringer, third-stringer or "bust" until last year then benched this year? No thanks.
John: You outline the decision facing the Jaguars' higher-ups, but I don't know that there's reason to worry about the team not giving "the talented kid" a chance. Gabbert is on the roster, and there's no indication that will change in the offseason. He appears very likely to get his chance here, whoever else the Jaguars decide to have in camp. If either of the first two quarterbacks you mentioned also in camp, it wouldn't be as much because of the perception of those players, but because David Caldwell and Gus Bradley have seen something in one of them they believe would help the Jaguars. As for the third-string quarterback from the Jets? OK, no problem. We won't mention him.
Brendon from Austin, TX:
People are getting the wrong idea about the success of quarterbacks such as RG3 and Kaepernick running the read option this year. It only works because these guys have world-class arms. They are passers first. If they couldn't beat teams from the pocket with their arms, the running threat would be easily contained.
John: Yep.
Steve from Nashville, TN:
They say coaches who have only a year on their contract are "lame duck," yet players in a contract year like Flacco are flying high. What is the difference?
John: It shouldn't be significantly different, but it just is. Whereas players in their contract year are often said to be playing for a new contract, coaches are indeed known as lame ducks. The biggest difference lies in perception. When a coach is in the final year of a deal, it can lead to players not believing the coaches have the support of management. That in theory can undermine their authority, whereas players are just trying to prove they deserve the new deal – either from their team or another.
Marcus from New York City via Jacksonville:
With the pitchfork crowd clamoring for Caldwell to "blow the whole thing up," I find myself thinking that we'll still likely see a number of starters from last season starting again in 2013. With so many positions in need of upgrade - you can't realistically fix ALL of them in one offseason, right? Excluding special teams - I'm betting we see 14 or 15 of the 22 starters starting again. Am I being too conservative here?
John: That's probably pretty close to right. Not that management and coaching don't want to upgrade positions, but turnover takes time. What you hope is that you start seeing draft selections that develop into players capable of moving into starting roles if not in 2013, then by 2014. By 2015, you'll likely be seeing a dramatically different roster, but it will be a process.
Charles from Orange Park, FL:
In your answer to Freamon about being "prejudiced from a decade of covering Peyton Manning, and seeing him and Tom Brady have extended runs of success passing from the pocket." You keep forgetting that Peyton and Brady have very good pass protecting offensive lines. If Brady or Peyton had jags oline they'd be on disability pay. Remember that.
John: False. I don't keep forgetting this, because in the case of Manning, it's simply not true. He had a very good offensive line for many years, but by the final seasons of the Colts' run he was playing while consistently under pressure. He was able to negate that much of the time with pocket presence and quality decision-making, and that's my point: the elite pocket passers such as Brady, Manning and Aaron Rodgers are able to move in the pocket and create passing situations even when their lines are struggling.
Scott from Section 139:
It seems we have overreached in the draft on both of our quarterbacks, including Leftwich and perhaps Gabbert. Shouldn't a more reasonable approach to quarterback be used such as only drafting a quarterback if he truly is the best available player at that position? Many teams, including the two going to the Super Bowl, drafted quarterbacks when they were the BAP. What do you think?
John: One thing I've noticed in the O-Zone lately – or maybe it's always been like this and I just notice it more now – is this tendency to formulate everything. People want to get a quarterback "a certain way," or they want a clearly defined draft philosophy, as if there is one tried and true way to do things because some other team did it this way. The reality is there's no tried-and-true formula, and there's no one master plan that works better than any other. If there was, don't you think everyone would be using it? Put it this way. David Caldwell has been around two philosophies. One was that of Bill Polian in Indianapolis and Carolina. The other was Thomas Dimitroff and the Atlanta Falcons. I can't imagine Polian ever trading away much of the draft the way Dimitroff and Caldwell did to acquire Julio Jones, but the Falcons indeed did do that and the Falcons have a big-time player because of the move. Both of those organizations without question would be categorized as successful, yet I don't think most football people would argue that they followed the same blueprint. It's true, too, that the Steelers and the Patriots do things at least somewhat differently from the Colts and the Falcons. You win by finding a quarterback and by drafting well in the first round and by a whole lot of other things. You don't do it by sticking blindly to any particular formula.
Michael from Kentwood, MI:
I keep seeing mock drafts that have us picking up a defensive end; Moore, Werner, Jordan, etc. With a player like Star Lotulelei on the board at No. 2, who demands double teams, wouldn't taking him improve multiple positions with one selection - or does it not work like that?
John: It could. What you have to decide is if the players on the outside are good enough to benefit from a dominant player on the inside. Lotulelei from all reports is good enough to be dominant. Jason Babin is probably still good enough to benefit from his presence, but will he be in a year or two? Are Jeremy Mincey, Andre Branch and Austen Lane, for example, good enough now? None of the latter group excelled rushing the pass rusher this past season, but in a new scheme with a new approach, we'll see.
Houston from Aiken, SC:
You know that skateboard was "BOSS."
John: Me and my krew thought it was tubular.
Daniel from Johnston, IA:
Seen a lot of talk lately from Bradley and the Jags about "playing fast" and keeping schemes simple to allow players to execute to their ability. It sounds a little familiar to what Tucker said/did in the 2011 season when we had a Top 10 defense. What changed in 2012? Did we stop playing fast and keeping things simple? Is Bradley really saying anything different from what Tucker said/did?
John: Daryl Smith got hurt, and Clint Session missed the entire season and because he was returning from a knee injury, Rashean Mathis never quite played to the level he played at for a while in 2011. That's part of what changed, but no, Tucker didn't complicate things. He stayed true to keeping things simple until the end. Bradley, too, wants to play fast, though my early sense is he believes in more packages and complex schemes than Tucker did. I wouldn't expect Bradley's defense to be incredibly complex, though. He excels with young players, and to do that, you have to have schemes that are simple enough to understand quickly and play without overthinking.
Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Dude, you have put it all out there and its time you reward yourself with some time off. Refresh yourself and spend some money on the family and have a good time. Part of being in the Jaguar family is a little bittersweet right now but good times are coming and it's important to the fans and the team that we have you at your best.
John: That's appreciated, and fear not, there will be Ozone time for the Ozone upcoming. A couple of thoughts, though. Spend money? You haven't seen the senior writer's paycheck lately, and even if I'm kidding about that, as far as spending it on the family? Really? You think I'm going to spend my hard-earned money on that bunch?
Renee from Jacksonville Beach and, FL and Section 104:
John, Dude you have been on a roll. The Muses are smiling on you. Thank you for making me smile! Go Jags!
John: People love mediocrity. Thank goodness.

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