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O-Zone: No cure-all

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Big O, do you think it's better for the overall health of the Jaguars to not make the playoffs? It would be fun to see the Jags in the playoffs. And fans could fantasize about things falling just right so the team can go on a fantastical run befitting a Hollywood football triumph tale. And there are certainly financial and prestige benefits. But not making the playoffs means a better draft position. That could help with another year in the rebuilding/maturing process. Then, when we make the playoffs next season (and I feel very strongly that Bortles will have achieved near-elite-level skill by then) there might be an actual chance of success. Thoughts?
John: I never would say it's better to miss the playoffs than to make them. To say so would run counter to every goal every team has every season. But let's consider the scenario: A team that loses in the wild-card round of the postseason will select between No. 21 and No. 24 overall in the following NFL Draft. A team that misses the playoffs and finishes, say, 6-10, probably will select around Nos. 9-11 or so. Are those 10 or so draft selections really worth not making the playoffs? It's not a no-brainer debate, but the idea always is to make the playoffs, so it's better to go for it. The draft offers no guarantees; it is a guarantee that you can't win the Super Bowl if you don't make the playoffs.
Wally from Rush, AL:
Zone, the lack of pass rush this year is putting a ton of pressure on a kid who has never played a down in the NFL. Every day someone is writing about or referencing Dante Fowler. I am worried (I worry about a lot of things) if Dante doesn't have five sacks in the first game next year, many fans will be disappointed and want to cut him. The pressure seems a bit unfair ... and dare I say, worrisome!
John: You're right that there's a lot of talk about Fowler, and it probably is creating some pressure. One thing that might ease your concern is the Jaguars almost certainly won't take the approach of assuming Fowler alone will solve the pass-rush issue. Sen'Derrick Marks' return next season should help, and I imagine at least one pass rusher will be added in free agency or the draft. But will there be pressure on Fowler? Yeah, that comes with the territory when you're the No. 3 overall selection in a draft and drafted by a team that needs pass-rush help.
Jarred from Banning, CA:
I understand Fowler got hurt and we haven't been able to see what he can do, but we don't even know if he'll be worth the No. 3 or another Derrick Harvey. Looking at how we got zero pressure on Rivers – and for that matter pretty much every opposing quarterback this season – do we go defensive lineman first round again? Joey Bosa type?
John: I'll get a lot more familiar with the draft and the possibilities once the season ends – and once we get to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, in late January. Looking ahead at this early stage, I'd be a little surprised if the Jaguars went defensive end in the first round. But would it shock me to see them sometime early select a player who can affect the quarterback? No.
Keith from Virginia:
John, how 'bout them Jaguars?
John: Them Jaguars are in good shape in the long term. In the short term, some of their rah-rah went out of the sails Sunday.
Taylor from Germantown, MD:
Where do you see Gus Bradley coaching after he gets fired at the end of the season? I can see him filling one of the openings at the college level. His rah-rah attitude and "let's-just-continue to-try-to-get-better" optimism failed here, but it would work great with college players in my opinion.
John: I agree that Bradley would make a very good college coach. But while your email is filled with admirable and enviable confidence, I don't get a sense with five games remaining in the regular season that your assumptions are correct.
Steve from Hudson, FL:
Do you go over game tape of the next opponent or watch previous game tape before you write your articles? Do you have any researchers that assist you?
John: I only have one assistant. He's busy getting me coffee, shopping online for Christmas hats and eating lunch with Shadrick from 11 a.m. to noon, so he somehow never gets around to the research.
Carter from Duval:
Come on, Zone. It's time for Chris Smith to move into the starting Leo role for the remainder of the season. Andre Branch generates no pressure and had an offsides penalty, while Chris Clemons generates no pressure and had TWO offsides. Smith didn't consistently generate pressure, but he did force an incompletion that was nearly a sack-fumble. It's time.
John: I'm all for lineup changes that give you a chance to get better. I'm not all in on this one.
J. Heywood from Pittsburgh, PA:
So if Hurnsy doesn't play on Sunday … who lines up where? Is it Walters or Rashad on the outside? Does the coaching staff dislike Marqise Lee enough to keep him at fourth wide receiver and not give him any chances to show why we drafted him?
John: I don't think we'll necessarily know exactly where Lee, Walters and Greene will line up Sunday until Sunday. If Hurns indeed is out, I'd like to see the Jaguars line Lee up on the outside with Greene in the slot extensively. They need to find out what they have in Lee, and if Hurns doesn't play, this is an opportunity to do that.
Wallace from Jacksonville:
Given the performance of Branch and Clemons this season, do you believe either will be on the Jaguars' roster after this season?
John: No. Branch is a free agent after this season and Clemons can be released without a cap hit. Never say never, but projecting now, I'd be surprised if either is on the roster.
Charlie from Jacksonville:
Hey John, thanks for all that you do. I have always been a little unclear about the duties of the quarterbacks coach. We rarely hear a peep about Nathaniel Hackett. I suppose there is some overlapping of responsibilities, but perhaps you could put a finer point on what Hackett does that isn't accomplished by Greg Olson or Frank Scelfo or even Tom House.
John: A quarterbacks coach works individually in meetings in the sense that a tight ends coach or wide receivers coach works with those positions whereas the coordinator – Olson, in this case – deals primarily with the game plan and the big picture of the offense. The quarterbacks coach does have a role in fundamentals of the position as well as helping the quarterback grasp the offense on a day-to-day basis. The main difference between he and the others you mentioned is he is working exclusively with the Jaguars' three quarterbacks as opposed to other positions and other quarterbacks on other teams.
Charles from Midlothian, VA:
The elephant in the room was Blake's big miscues: TWO times in the red zone he threw a forward pass AFTER he crossed the line of scrimmage. Once is an overzealous mistake; twice is just, plain sloppy. Those two mistakes set up a lot of bad things and probably cost us the game. These are more than rookie mistakes; they are stupid mistakes.
John: We'll look back for this one question today because the over-the-line throws were so unusual. I agree they were stupid mistakes, and Bortles said as much after the game. But while I have said and written several times that Bortles' play in the red zone hurt the Jaguars Sunday, I don't know that I agree about the magnitude of the above-mentioned penalties. Not getting touchdowns on those plays hurt. There's no doubt about that. But both penalties came on third-down plays that already had pretty much failed. There was a chance Bortles could have run for a touchdown on one of the plays, but it would have been close. That's not in any way excusing Bortles or the play-calling/decision-making in the red zone. It was without a doubt the difference in the game. But the throws beyond the line of scrimmage in this case were more embarrassing and indicative of confusion than they were game-changing.
Mike from Jacksonville:
There seems to be a widely-held opinion that the return of Fowler will cure our defensive ills. How do you balance that against the also widely-held opinion that rookies don't have a lot of impact?
John: I can't control the widely-held opinion. I can tell you that I believe Fowler will help, and I can also tell you that just adding Fowler won't "cure" the Jaguars' "defensive ills." I don't know that there is a cure-all, but I do believe the draft will be heavy on that side of the ball, and I do believe that the return of Fowler and Marks and addition of a front-line rookie or two can improve things.

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