O-Zone: Innocence lost

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

William from Gainesville, FL

I have a sneaky suspicion this might be the year the Jaguars' tight ends are good.

The group has a chance. The Jaguars signed Tyler Eifert as an unrestricted free agent from the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason; he has Pro Bowl credentials and potential to be the Jaguars' most complete tight end in a long time – if healthy. Second-year tight end Josh Oliver has big-time receiving skills and the team thinks he can be a better blocker than analysts believed when he was coming out in the draft; he has potential to be the Jaguars' most complete tight end in a long time – if healthy. James O'Shaughnessy was on his way to the most productive season of his career last season until sustaining a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in Week 5; he has potential to be very productive as a move tight end – if healthy. The team also likes the potential of second-year veteran Charles Jones and rookie sixth-round selection Tyler Davis. There's potential in the group – if healthy.

Logan from Wichita, KS

At this point the front office needs to just trade defensive end Yannick Ngakoue for whatever they can get. Thanks to the antics, that may be as miserable as a seventh-round pick and a bag of peanuts, but the front office once again screwed up royally and an elite talent is gone. Let our hope finally die until winning happens again. Do what is needed for the locker room and a player that earned way more than he was given by a front office too stupid to handle good players.

Ngakoue is a very good – though perhaps not quite elite – player who deserves to be well-paid. The Jaguars tried to make him well-paid but opted to not pay him what he demanded. No other NFL team has deemed him worth a draft selection AND what he reportedly is demanding to be paid. Somewhere in there is proof that the Jaguars' front office "again screwed up royally," I suppose. Either way, I would be surprised if the Jaguars traded Ngakoue before the 2020 season. There are reports in recent days that he may be willing to sit out the season rather than earn about $17 million on the franchise tag. That would surprise me. And I would still be surprised if the Jaguars traded Ngakoue before the season.

Ray from Jacksonville

John: I enjoyed reading Tank's comment in your column recently. However, Tank got the speaker incorrect when wondering how the team would tank. It is not the coach. It is the owner. Shad Khan would say, "We're going to let [General Manager] Dave Caldwell select the players for another year." To be accurate, no one seriously should think an NFL team would "tank" for a player. With Dave picking the players, the team will not tank – but merely "stank."

OK.

Don from Marshall, NC

Another reason the Jaguars are not the worst team in the league is Leonard Fournette. Say what you will about him, but he is still a very good and dangerous running back. A 1,000-yard back. Power and speed. With a pass-first offense he is going to see some room. How many passes did he catch last year? Not something you see from a last-place team. Lots of reasons for success are there if you're looking. Go Jaguars!

Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette had his best season last season and the Jaguars still finished last in the AFC South – though I get your point that Fournette should improve in 2020 if the passing offense improves.

Doug from Jacksonville

Deion Sanders brought the showmanship we all enjoy today? I love personality in the game, but the over-the-top showmanship is what I dislike most about the game. Celebrating every tackle like it was a stop on fourth-and-goal with :01 remaining in the Super Bowl is a change in the game I dislike.

Celebrations don't bother me. I'm fine without them, but if players want to celebrate big plays or even so-so ones – I'm fine with that, too. Celebrating when you're trailing and clearly out of a game can be a bit much, but it's whatever.

AJ from Jacksonville

When discussing the best cornerbacks ever, shouldn't Mel Blount be in the discussion? The man was a beast and a new rule was created because of his bump-and-run style of play. He along with the rest of his 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers teammates were the epitome of what a defense can do. I thought that kind of defense was going to be part of the Jags for many years after our great '17 season. Man was I wrong! Stay safe, "O."

Yes, when discussing the best cornerbacks of all-time, Blount should be in the discussion. And he usually is.

Raymond from Orange Park, FL

John: Regarding the recent question about Deion Sanders, I always thought Darrell Green was just as good a corner – probably better against the run. Can a Hall of Fame player be underrated? If so, I think Green is in that category.

I was a huge Washington Redskins fans during the first decade of Green's career. As such, I was a huge fan of Green. He was a Hall-of-Fame cornerback. He was better against the run than Sanders, but most corners fit that category. I don't know that I would put Green with Sanders, Blount, Rod Woodson and the like – but is he underrated? Yeah. That's fair.

Jess from Glen Carbon, IL

In a recent post, Greg from Section 122 stated, "It can't just be the quarterback" while referencing the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. Part of your response stated that those teams have "Hall of Fame" quarterbacks. However, those teams, and others who have been successful consistently, have more than just the quarterback in common. They have also had elite-level players in at least two of three skill positions: running back, tight end and wide receiver. But the most important commonality among teams that have made the playoffs? The offensive line. When New England, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New Orleans, Green Bay, etc., have made the playoffs, their offensive lines have been at or near the top of the league. Even with Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, New England and Pittsburgh did not have playoff success if their offensive lines did not play well. This is not conjecture, it's fact. I researched a decade of NFL offensive line statistics. There is only one quarterback who has performed well with an average-or-less-than-average offensive line: Russell Wilson. The Jaguars have had just an average offensive line (15th) only once during that time, 2017. The Jaguars woes for fifteen-plus years can be tied directly to the offensive line, which has been in the bottom half or worse every year but one. So, every time someone questions why the offensive line isn't a concern you may want to give a little more credence to their concern.

OK, but it still starts with the quarterback. Pull up all the statistics you like and that's still true.

Damian from Outer Space

Did we all overlook the possible reason that we drafted "self-made" or "self-motivated" players who would likely withstand the challenges of the pandemic-filled offseason?

Your question implies the Jaguars drafted such players with the idea that they would be prepared for the 2020 season even with the unusual, COVID-19 offseason. I would consider that a side benefit of drafting quality players/people more than the specific reason the Jaguars went that direction. You don't draft players for one season; you draft them for a three-to-four-year period that you hope will turn into a longer one.

Paulie from Duval

"NFL decision-makers err on the side of caution." I disagree. NFL decision makers err on the side of money. There will be games until it is impossible.

Pretty much.

Chris from Outer Space, TX

Hey, John. Was just watching the Jags handle the New York Giants in Week 1 of 2018. We were all so innocent back then, coming off an AFC title game (that we should have won, but I digress.). The defense was frightening, we lost No. 27 in that game, but it looked like we could ride the Blaine Train to challenge for the division and the title. Heady days, indeed! My question: with defensive coordinator Todd Wash's scheme and our personnel, will the front be able to apply pressure the way 2017-18 defensive front was able to? Those squads were able to elevate the level of play for the secondary that already had elite talent. If, this year we can find a good rotation of defensive linemen, I think they can shock some folks.

I wasn't innocent in 2018. The Jaguars' pass rush is fine. This team rushed the passer well in 2017, and it also rushed the passer well the past two seasons. The key for the pass rush is the run defense. If the Jaguars get back to stopping the run well – and therefore getting into passing situations on third down – the sack numbers and the effectiveness of the pass rush will return. If not …

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