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O-Zone: Job well done

JACKSONVILLE -- Let's get to it . . . Tim from Jacksonville:
I don't know how much you can answer in this column, but I would like your outlook for last year's draft class. How do you see the various players fitting into the team's plans moving forward and what are reasonable expectations for guys like Branch and Harris entering their second year?
John: Last year's draft class has a chance to be remembered as a good one, maybe Gene Smith's best. Some of that is because the players are entering their second seasons, and therefore still have time to develop and improve, but the group as a whole showed significant potential last season. Justin Blackmon certainly is part of the core moving forward, and Mike Harris has shown he can be a contributor at corner, maybe a long-term starter. The new decision-makers appear to believe Andre Branch has a chance to play well in the new defensive scheme. And as much as we debate and continue to debate the selection of Bryan Anger in the third round, he appears destined to be one of the NFL's better punters for a long time. Jeris Pendleton and Brandon Marshall didn't distinguish themselves as rookies, but if the other four play well, it's a good draft.
Colin from Orlando, FL:
We've had a State of the Jaguars Address, a State of the Union Address. Now we need a State of the O-Zone Address!
John: That would be a sorry state of affairs, I think we can all agree.
Wallace from Jacksonville:
Why all the discussion about Laurent Robinson? He wasn't exactly performing up to expectations before the concussions. If I'm David Caldwell, he's probably the first player I release. Time to cut the losses and move on. There are other capable receivers available in free agency or the draft. Robinson is just "a guy" that Gene Smith overpaid for.
John: There's discussion about Robinson because his future is unknown. People find uncertainty interesting and topical, and therefore it is often discussd. And Robinson also is pertinent because he's a high-profile free-agency signing who – if healthy – could make a contribution next season. As for releasing him, I've never understood the intense sentiment of some fans to "move on" from players who have slow starts with teams or face injury situations. A team should be aware of such situations and plan accordingly, but there's no reason to cut ties with a player such as Robinson quickly. He's a player who could potentially make a difference. You keep players like that around until you're sure they can't help you.
John from St. Augustine, FL:
Regarding Harvin, if Tom Brady didn't get along with the coach, the coach would be the one looking for another job.
John: He and pretty much any franchise quarterback.
David from Kingsland, GA:
Is it wrong to think that with just the one year remaining on MJD's contract – and considering his holdout and his "pride" being a major factor, and wanting to "get paid" – that we could be looking at a monstrous year out of Maurice? He's playing for one final contract, right? He also may have a chip on his shoulder considering he didn't get what he held out for and he needs to prove his foot is not an issue? I realize he has always tried to do well, but this year means everything to him doesn't it?
John: It's an important year for Jones-Drew, but I think it's unfair to him to say he will be more motivated because of his circumstances now. I've never seen Jones-Drew give less than full effort on the field, and I've never had the impression he wasn't motivated to be the best running back in the NFL. Question him holding out last offseason all you want. He understood that move would be questioned, and he knew he'd have to live with the perception. But there's no reason to question what the game has meant to him and I imagine it will mean just as much to him next year as in his first seven professional seasons.
Tudor from St. Augustine, FL:
What is a "Leo"?
John: The thing after "Cancer" and before "Virgo."
Ryan from Mama's Womb:
Gabbert has all the physical tools to be a franchise quarterback. I'm more worried about his pocket presence, a trait all elite quarterbacks possess. After two years of watching him, it just doesn't look like he has that "sixth sense" to be able to feel a rush, move around the pocket and still make the throw. Do you think this is an accurate statement?
John: I agree he hasn't "looked" like he has that sixth sense. What you don't know is how much circumstance – changing coaching staffs, uncertain situations around him, etc. – had to do with what we saw in his first two seasons. No question Gabbert needs to get better in the pocket, and I believe experience will help him do that. Now, how much more time he gets to gain that experience is the critical question moving forward.
SpaceCase from Orlando, FL:
John I'm just south of Nowhere, and nowhere near Normalville. Yourself?
John: I'm a little west of being sick of myself.
Anthony from Madison, WI:
The fact that incentive-based contracts aren't far more common is bewildering to me. It's just common sense. If a player has been injured but when healthy plays at a high level, they should get a contract that reflects that giving them more money the more they play. Problem solved. If the player stays healthy and plays at an elite level, they get an elite paycheck, if not, they don't. How does it make any sense for either side to whine and moan that these logical contracts are unfair in some way? I just don't get why these sort of contracts aren't more prevalent.
John: If teams had their way, incentive-based contracts would be far more prevalent. There are two sides to all negotiations. When players have bargaining power, it's not in their best interest to sign an incentive-based deal. A guarantee is always better. You can say, "Well, players who have been hurt should sign incentive-based deals," but if there are two teams involved and one is willing to give a player guarantees, then that's the deal that's probably going to get signed.
Jeff from Fullerton, CA:
Matt Jones is one of the best athletes in NFL history. That is all.
John: Well, you may be overstating your case a touch.
John from Neptune Beach and Section 409:
So, if the running back stays in bounds and the clock runs out at the end of the Chicago game (as he should have), would people still be clamoring for you know who? How one event can change so many things? No playoff win, etc...
John: Sure, the perception would be different. At the same time, a play or two changes perception in the NFL all the time. If Joe Montana throws a pick instead of a touchdown to John Taylor at the end of the Super Bowl against the Bengals, he's remembered a touch differently. If not for a couple of improbable throws and catches, Eli Manning is seen differently. Rightly or wrongly, perception and legacy is altered by inches in the NFL. That doesn't always leave an accurate assessment of the player, but it's how it is.
Nick from Annapolis, MD:
If Todd Wash means what he says about Alualu, Babin, and Knighton fitting well into the new scheme, it seems very possible the Jaguars won't be nearly as talent-deprived as many believe. I wouldn't be surprised if last year was somewhat of a perfect storm and the Jaguars are closer to being competitive than they showed on the field.
John: The Jaguars are closer to being competitive than they showed on the field, but that's because teams at the bottom of the league are closer to getting to .500 than many believe. Getting into the playoff conversation often is a tougher step. We'll see how the trio Wash discussed works out. Babin indeed seems to be a fit at the Leo, and Alualu does appear to be a player who can contribute in this new system. As for Knighton, he's a free agent, so while Wash said he may be a fit there are more issues at play than Wash's thoughts on the matter.
Jack from Jacksonville :
Why not just say Gabbert is a quarterback "with potential" who will compete for the starting position? Why do Jags feel the need to defend Gabbert so much? Methinks thou doth protest too much. The only thing that makes sense is that they're hyping him up as possible trade bait given the lackluster quarterback draft this year.
John: People have analyzed and interpreted this ad nauseam, but at the core, the Jaguars' message regarding Gabbert has been exactly what you said – that he has potential and will compete for the job. Aside from that, they've basically been answering questions others have been asking. That's what they're supposed to do this time of year.
Chad from Tundraland:
If a tree falls on a mime in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
John: Yes, it's the satisfied laughter of a necessary job well done.

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