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O-Zone: Making his case

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Bob from Fernandina Beach, FL:
John, it's disturbing that when your greatest need is pass rusher, DAVE can't get a deal done for one ... especially sitting on that trove of money! Mark me as one who thinks Dave failed.
John: That's a fair opinion, and there are many fans disappointed with Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell for not signing a pass rusher in free agency this past week. At the same time, when you're pursuing something, there comes a point that you realize you're not going to get it no matter what you offer or how diligently you pursue. Olivier Vernon evidently wanted to be in New York, and the Jaguars weren't going to able to offer enough money to sway him. Robert Ayers apparently wanted to be assured of a starting role; that wasn't going to be the case here with Dante Fowler Jr. on the roster. As for the "trove of money," Caldwell used it to sign the player many considered the best-available player in free agency – defensive lineman Malik Jackson – and one of the best young free safeties in Tashaun Gipson. He also used it to add a needed third corner in Prince Amukamara. I would have liked to have seen Caldwell sign a pass rusher, too; it darned sure would have made the inbox a significantly more pleasant place. Still, to call free agency overall a failure … nah.
Michael from Jacksonville:
Mr. O … If I say "Greg Hardy," will you say "no @!$%#$;& way?"
John: Yeah, pretty much.
Bill from Jacksonville:
John, it wasn't long ago Dave Caldwell said to expect "an influx of pass rushers" this offseason. It's clear now they're not coming from free agency. Was he talking about the draft? Thanks! Go Jags!
John: First, Caldwell believes Malik Jackson will help the pass rush, but overall your point is accurate – that if there is to be an influx of "edge" pass rushers this offseason a good portion of that influxing is going to need to happen in the draft.
Gary from Wesley Chapel:
Is Andre Branch a free agent or was he cut? If he hasn't signed with another team, what is the likelihood of signing him to an incentive contract and expecting a certain level of improvement with the addition of the impact players signed and to be drafted?
John: Branch is an unrestricted free agent, and I'd say the likelihood of him returning is not very likely.
Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Now listen, Big O: I won't be standing for anyone bad-mouthing Tashaun Gipson in the Zone. Yes, last season was not as statistically good as his others, but, first of all, he didn't have a full offseason following his MCL injury. Second, the Cleveland Browns were even more of a poisoned franchise last year than they usually are. He now has a full offseason to blend into the Jaguars' system, he is with a healthier, quality organization now, and he is still a young athlete with lots of good years yet to play. So everyone calm down and enjoy the show.
John: Well, your arbitrary line in the sand aside, I'm sure there will be people in the O-Zone badmouthing Gipson – and a lot of other things. People tend to badmouth things 'round these parts, and that's OK. This is a place for that. Look, all of this will play out in the fall. I don't know whether Gipson will return to a Pro Bowl level, though there's no reason to believe that he can't do so if he is healthy. There's little question that he can upgrade the Jaguars at the free-safety position whether or not he reaches a Pro-Bowl level or not. Upgrading positions was the goal in free agency, and free safety appears to be upgraded.
Dave from Orange Park, FL:
O-Man, can you see Sen'Derrick Marks/Malik Jackson becoming the new Marcus Stroud/John Henderson combo?
John: Not exactly. Stroud and Henderson were without question a dominant tackle combination – one that may or may not ever be matched in franchise history. But they played side by side at the same time and clogged the middle with strength, power and athleticism to a point that teams had to account for them. Marks and Jackson likely won't play side-by-side on early downs and won't be a run-stuffing combination. But can their athleticism, quickness and disruption be huge factors in the defense – and can that make them perhaps as disruptive? Yes, that's possible – and it needs to happen.
Mike from Jacksonville:
Shouldn't Olivier Vernon have waited to see the FanDuel advertisement on the outside of the North End Zone before deciding whether or not Jacksonville is sexy?
John: I have no idea what you're talking about.
Les from Jacksonville:
With your football knowledge who do you feel we're gonna pick fifth overall since we have a safety now? THANK U.
John: I'd guess either Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner or Myles Jack. I don't expect all three to be available when the Jaguars select, but I expect at least one to be there.
Greg from Fort Wayne, IN:
David Caldwell said there's only one Leo on the field at a time; Caldwell says Fowler is an LEO; Ayers reportedly went to Tampa Bay because he wouldn't get the snaps behind Fowler. Say Vernon did select J'ville... at $50 million guaranteed, he's gotta play, right? So which one was to be relegated to non-LEO status, and where would they both play on three out of four downs?
John: Caldwell did say there was only one Leo on the field at any one time, but he clarified it to say "in base packages." The reason for that is there are often actually multiple Leos on the field in lightning packages in pass-rushing situations. It appears the three-Leo lightning package might not be as necessary moving forward because you're going to have Malik Jackson, Jared Odrick, Sen'Derrick Marks, etc., Dan Skuta capable of generating pressure. As for where Vernon would have played, I expect he would have played the Leo with Fowler moving around – and I expect the Jaguars would have found ways to get Vernon and Fowler on the field at the same time quite a bit.
Bob from Sumter, SC:
A lot of angst on some blog sites about not signing a top-tier Leo free agent. Couldn't part of the pass rush plan be to draft some linebacker with better pass-rush skills than is currently on the roster now that several other needs have been addressed through free agent? Thanks.
John: There indeed is a lot of angst around Jaguar Land about the pass rush; it's hardly confined to blog sites, and the angst isn't unreasonable. There has been so much talk of pass rush since last season, and so much focus on the Leo position, that it has overwhelmed all else. To a point this is reasonable because third-down defense undoubtedly was the team's major shortcoming last season – and pass rush was a major reason for the failure on third down. At the same time, a dominant Leo edge rusher is not the only way to pressure the passer. The Jaguars did not have a dominant edge rusher two years ago and they put adequate-to-above-average pressure on the quarterback. Adding Dante Fowler Jr., Malik Jackson and Sen'Derrick Marks to next year's equation with Dan Skuta and Jared Odrick and more creative packages … and a rookie front seven player … that may not get the Jaguars to a Denver Broncs 2015 or Chicago Bears 1985 level of pass rush, but it could allow it to improve enough to play better defense.
Royce from Jacksonville:
Mr. O, is it more likely that an upgrade at linebacker will come in the draft with a young fast guy?
John: Yes.
Quinn from Tampa, FL:
With the addition of Prince Amukamara, does Aaron Colvin move back to nickel corner? It appears the Jags will be drafting a lot of edge rushers and maybe sprinkling in an interior lineman or two.
John: Yes, I'd expect Colvin to play mostly nickel. As far as edge rusher, it's less important for the Jaguars to draft "a lot" of them than it is for them to draft at least one really good one. Edge rusher at the top of the first – and make sure he can play – and then draft fast, defensive playmakers regardless of position … that's what I'd like to see if I'm the Jaguars.
Michael from Tupelo, MS:
As of the signing of Prince Amukamara how much cap space do the Jaguars have remaining? I like the way they are structuring the deals, it feels like it is being done to re-sign our own players when the time comes. Jaguar love from Mississippi!
John: It's still fluid until the numbers for Amukamara are known, but the best answer is plenty – and yes, there will be room to re-sign their own players.
Carter from St. Augustine, FL:
I feel like Myles Jack is much more dominant at his position and as an athlete than Joey Bosa. I'm all for Jack at No. 5. Either he or Telvin could blitz slightly more often because there are finally athletes who can cover on the back end and avoid any Marcus Mariota 87-yard rushes. JACK JACK JACK
John: So, you're saying, "Jack?"

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