JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …
David from Oviedo, FL
KOAF - With the departure of defensive end Calais Campbell, there is a big void in player leadership. I'm not talking about lead-by-example guys, but vocal leaders that when they talk teammates will listen. Who's going to fill the void?
I don't put as much value on vocal leaders – or even good "locker-room guys" – as players who lead by playing at a high level and making plays in clutch situations. That's the biggest reason Campbell was so valuable to the Jaguars in recent seasons, particularly early in his time here; he made key plays at critical times and made a difference in games. But you're right that teammates would listen to him – and there are players on this roster who have a similar level of respect from teammates. Wide receiver Chris Conley comes to mind. And center Brandon Linder. And defensive tackle Abry Jones. Don't overlook defensive end Josh Allen here, either. He's young, but he takes such a professional and exemplary approach to football and life that teammates likely will naturally follow his lead.
Damian from Outer Space
There has been a lot of attention with people being in and out for the defensive line. During all the conversations of this I rarely even hear Smoot's name mentioned. I feel this is a big year for him and it seems likely he has been gradually been getting better. What are your thoughts on Smoot and the potential for more play time this year?
Jaguars defensive end Dawuane Smoot indeed has improved in three NFL seasons, with the most dramatic and obvious improvement last season – when he had six sacks and was somewhat quietly a very effective part of the defensive-line rotation. I expect him to play that role again this season. He won't be the most high-profile of the Jaguars' defensive ends. He likely won't lead the team in sacks. But I expect he will be very good against the run and get his share of sacks and pressures when opportunities present themselves. Good defensive fronts need deep rotations, and Smoot helps give the Jaguars depth in that area.
Nicholas from Fort Hood, TX
KOAF: It appears my older brother "Jeremy from Jacksonville" has taken to social media to make fun of me for not getting my question answered. What he didn't say was that I was on a five-question answer streak with one of the questions closing out the column, so I think his reaction is more jealousy than anything else. Did you ever have a sibling that would try to tear you down when you were successful and if so, how did you deal with it? I am laying on the couch crying my eyes out.
I don't need siblings to tear me down. I have readers.
David from Orlando, FL
Zone – is the offense run by offensive coordinator Jay Gruden considered complex or easy to learn? Due to the lack of on-field practice time, if it's a complex system, fans may need to prepare ourselves for a ugly/slow start.
Gruden's offense isn't considered either easy or difficult to any extreme compared to most NFL offenses – and players in recent weeks have praised the offense and seem excited about Gruden's reputation for creating favorable matchups for receivers, tight ends and running backs. Gruden said something interesting regarding this during the offseason – that he wasn't worried about players not being able to learn the offense despite no on-field offseason work, but that he was anxious that at the time he hadn't been able to see the players in his scheme. He said the latter part was more important because he needed to see which players were comfortable doing specific things, and he said that was a difficult thing to learn from watching film of players playing in other schemes. Gruden won't get a chance to see these players in the offense in preseason games, so practice will be unusually important on that front.
Josh from Atlanta, GA
Journalistic question to a pro's pro. I have noticed, specifically in college football, that many who cover the sport actively reported the notion that there would be no football season. I have also noticed that those who reported so strongly are the staunchest advocates of cancelling the season. Have you ever seen professional sports reporters/"journalists" advocate something just because they need it to be true to prove they were right? It's unethical and it is wrong. I appreciate you keeping it real and transparent, and not throwing absolutes or opinion pieces in the hundreds of COVID-19 O-Zone questions. I hate to say it, but we need more like you. (I know you don't cover college football, but this is happening)
I indeed don't cover college football, but I know very well many people who do. This includes some of the nation's most prominent college football writers – and I do follow many college football writers on Twitter. When I follow their coverage, I don't see writers who want college football canceled – though there are many who believe it should be canceled for health and safety reasons. As far as it being unethical for media people to advocate one way or the other … I agree that media sometimes get close to – and cross – ethical lines these days. I see this as a side effect of the Twitter age. Not only are media types encouraged to "have a take" on social media, they are encouraged to express that take in short bursts that don't always allow explanation or subtlety. Real life is less often black and white; it's usually shades of gray. Twitter isn't a place for gray. Media also often find themselves engaging with fans on Twitter. This engagement often devolves into an ugly back and forth, and I have seen journalists get lost in the murky muck trying to argue a point with folks on Twitter. My experience is such ugly back-and-forths rarely accomplish much, and they certainly don't come across as professional. As far as your last point, that we need more people like me … Yes. Absolutely. More me and less others. I think we can all get on board with that.
Nick from Palm Coast, FL
How is it that the NFL doesn't start practices until next week when all we see is Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady practicing with his team and wide outs?? Are there two rules in the NFL? One for tommy boy and one for all the others?
The Jaguars and all NFL teams were able to practice this past week without pads. Padded practices for most teams will begin Monday. The rules in this case were the same for Brady and all other teams.
Marc from Oceanway
Have you ever known a quarterback who was able to measurably increase his arm strength through exercise, technique training, practice, etc., or is that something you simply have or you don't?
It can be improved. It typically can't be improved from being inadequate to a strength.
Tom from Charlottesville, VA
Highlights from Friday included several long runs by various running backs. I know it is first practice, but were there "missed tackles," or good blocking. Is this a symptom that last year's problem with stopping the run has not been corrected?
Run highlights in practice should be taken for what they are – runs against a defense that isn't tackling and that sometimes is playing less than full speed. When I report that a player had a long run it's usually to make the point that the running back looked strong or quick on the play, or that he made a good decision. A long run of 20 yards in practice might be a four-or-five-yard gain in a game. I wouldn't say it's a reflection of the defense playing poorly. An argument could be made that a long run in contactless training-camp practice isn't indicative of all that much. I wouldn't dispute that argument very passionately.
Michael from Fruit Cove, FL
One reason the run defense will be "better than last year" that I haven't seen mentioned could be described as "regression to the mean." The run defense was almost historically bad last season, especially during that one terrible stretch. You could have an extremely low talent level, really bad coaching, etc., and it would still be almost impossible to be that bad again. We can talk about the linebackers and defensive tackle additions all day but the main reason the run defense will be better is because there's only way to go...
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever say something can't get worse. Things can always get worse.
Sam from Winter Park, FL
I was there in Madison Square Garden when Gene slammed Andre the Giant. I was in Moscow when he knocked out Ivan Drago and I was right here in Orlando, Florida when Eugene "Quincy" Frenette beat and ended The Undertaker's streak at Wrestlemania. I hate the man. But, damnit. I respect him.
You are not alone, Sam. You are not alone.