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O-Zone: It is so

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Justin from Jacksonville:
Sigh … John, it's not fair. Have we not been down long enough? With the way our seasons have played out over the last several years, the draft and offseason have been the most hopeful time of the year for Jag fans. But this? This really puts a damper on even this part of our season. Need some words of encouragement, Mr.O. Do you think Dante Fowler Jr. can get back to his prime for next season? Can he still be every bit the player we hoped he'd be?
John: I'll apologize in advance today, because no way can I answer every version of this question I received on Friday and early Saturday. As might be expected, in the wake of what appears to be a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear for Dante Fowler Jr., I received seemingly every possible question on the topic. Those questions came packaged in an array of emotions, mainly frustration and anger. And yes, Jaguars fans had every right to feel both upon hearing the news Friday. The No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft almost certainly out for the season on the first day of rookie minicamp? An hour into the first practice? I must admit this gut-punched a lot of people around EverBank Field. As General Manager David Caldwell said in a text to Michael Silver of, the situation was "brutal." Let's emphasize here that that's an expected, initial, emotional reaction from Caldwell. The guy had just seen the No. 3 pick in the draft helped from the field and he would soon learn that he was likely out for his rookie season. What word other than "brutal" would anyone use at that point? Let's emphasize just as much what Caldwell also most assuredly knows – that this isn't the end of the Jaguars' 2015 season nor is it even close to the end of Fowler's career. It's a temporary morale blow that goes against the Jaguars' positive, productive, hope-building offseason, that's for sure, but it doesn't mean a disastrous season in 2015. It just doesn't. So, there's your encouragement, though it may or may not help. I will add this: as objective and detached as I try to remain in situations such as this, it was a sickening, sinking feeling to see Fowler helped from the field Friday. Can he get to his prime by next season? If next season is 2016, yes. And he certainly can be every bit the player the Jaguars hope he'll be. Fowler's future still lies ahead after a long rehabilitation, and that future can still be bright. But for the immediate and for the short-term, yeah, this was brutal.
Rabbit from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
Hey O-mantooth, last year during OTAs and practice, I remember several key players facing injuries before the season started. With Dante Fowler Jr. going down early what can Jags brass do to keep these injuries to a minimum? I mean I want these guys to push themselves but please let's begin this season with our team healthy.
John: If you want to prevent offseason injuries, then don't have offseason training or practice. Pads or no pads, contact or no contact, players get hurt in football. They just do.
Nick from Jacksonville:
How far off base am I, O-Man? The Jags not carrying a true fullback will allow us to keep an extra running back or tight end. I see us keeping an extra tight end since it was stated earlier in the offseason that Toby Gerhart can play fullback if need be. Since he's not really a "make-a-hole-for the-other-runner" fullback like a true fullback would be, and Julius Thomas isn't a great blocker, we need that extra tight end to give BB5 time to throw. Am I anywhere close?
John: Yes.
CBass from Jacksonville:
It's the first day of rookie training camp, so better luck next year Jaguar fans! #sigh
John: We got a lot of this sentiment in the O-Zone Friday, as expected. It was a tough day. No question. It's not what anyone expected or wanted. No question about that, either. But it doesn't end the season.
Brad from Section 115:
I broke my nose in the pit at the Antenna Club in Memphis, TN when the Circle Jerks opened for Suicidal Tendencies in 1986. Do I get a laminated irrevocable gold-plated man card?
John: All I want is a Pepsi.
Jerell from Columbia, SC:
What a waste of a draft pick. All because coaches want to see out-of-shape players go against each other in shorts. The season is lost; 2-14 here we come. John, where do you see the Jags going next year? I was thinking Leo. What say you?
John: I say losing your rookie edge rusher doesn't doom you to a 2-14 season. I've said for some time that it's best to have a limit on your expectations when it comes to rookie productivity. I think that's very true when it comes to rookie pass rushers, so I don't know that I was looking at Fowler as a double-digit sack guy in Year One. Also remember, the Jaguars had a solid pass rush last season. They have quality there for the short term, though Fowler certainly would have helped. No doubt about that.
Kinzie from Asheville, NC:
So, what's your first impression of the rookies since they've been in the building so far? Any of them stand out for you physically and/or personality wise?
John: Fowler's speed and agility was impressive, but I'll tell you who else stood out: running back T.J. Yeldon. His feet, quickness and agility were impressive. Yes, it was only the first day of minicamp, but there are signs of special ability.
Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
As kids we played football in every condition: rainy, muddy, blizzards, frozen fields – you name it. We played with every kind of ball ever made. Leather, rubber, vinyl, synthetic – you name it. A soft ball is not going to help a quarterback when he gets twisted like a pretzel by a defender. The whole game of football is some form of getting an edge. Brady is not the only quarterback who has done this. They can solve the problem by making both teams play with the same ball. The NFL has handed them the footballs for the purpose of letting the teams alter them. Because Brady is the poster boy for this offense he should do a four-game suspension.
John: I'm not typically big on going to the rooftops and shouting, "Punish them all! Punish them all!" As a rule, I sort of think we're overly quick these days to want snap judgements, assignments of blame and punishment. But in this case, whatever your feelings about the field conditions or ball type when you were young, you must punish and I think you must punish pretty severely.
Brian from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
The La'el Collins signing by the Cowboys is very interesting. Does this set some sort of precedent for future draftees? Is it possible we will now see others purposely hold out of the draft so they can select where they want to sign?
John: Collins didn't "hold out of the draft." He had an incident that appears to have been out of his control occur at possibly the worst possible time in terms of his draft status. That caused teams to decline to draft him. A front-line player would have to go to great lengths to create a phenomenally awful perfect storm to make that happen intentionally. So, I doubt this becomes a trend.
Dan from Jacksonville:
Any chance the company redesigning the shipyards can also redesign the Jags helmet?
John: Not for another three years.
Steven from Fernandina Beach, FL:
Toby Gerhart a year later: Not the right guy to sign? Or a victim of injury and bad offensive line?
John: I'd call Gerhart a reasonable purchase/risk at $4.5 million guaranteed. I'd also call him a player with whom you're pleased if he works out and who hasn't set you back significantly if he doesn't. That's what he was when he signed and it's what he remains now.
Tom from Ponte Vedra Beach and Section 106:
I've learned two things about DC: he has a poker face during the draft but he's also generally forthcoming about his plans. On Wednesday he said, "...a big, big [with two bigs] free agent class" next year. I see J.J. Green, Von Miller, Jason Pierre Paul, Julio Jones. I know several likely won't make it to availability, but those are some big, big names. I'm just sayin.
John: Yes, they are, and you're right that Caldwell is quiet when it's appropriate and forthcoming when there is no harm in sharing information. He's strikingly forward-thinking on that front. As for your main point – that there are big names and significant talent scheduled to be in next year's free-agent class … you're right. And it's also right that there was a reason the Jaguars didn't wildly spend to the cap this offseason.
Scott from Aurora, IL:
Say it ain't so, John!
John: I'm afraid it's very much so.

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