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O-Zone: No such luck

JACKSONVILLE – This is Look Ahead Wednesday.

As is the norm in these parts on a Wednesday, we’ll look ahead from the specifics of last week’s Jaguars game – in this case a 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills – but we will spend more time navigating the murky waters of a quarterback change, a play-caller change and a star running back’s suspension.

It has been quite an early part of the week. Why move on so quickly?

Sigh. Let’s get to it …

Rob from Ponte Vedra, FL

What do you make of us firing the offensive coordinator AND benching Bortles? Does it make sense? Why fire the OC, implying he hasn't done enough, and then bench the QB? What is the coordinator supposed to do with a QB who can't keep his job? I can't explain the thought process.

These are fair points. When announcing Cody Kessler will start over Blake Bortles – and that Scott Milanovich would call plays in place of dismissed offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett – Head Coach Doug Marrone said he never considered not making both moves at once. He cited the need to improve the passing offense, indicating that he believed there was more to the recent struggles than Bortles. He also said he knew the issues weren’t confined to Hackett and Bortles, and that everyone involved was responsible. Because it’s unfeasible to fire everyone, Hackett and Bortles were the choices. I agree firing Hackett was odd, and I don’t believe it was necessary. I don’t believe Hackett became a bad coordinator in a season; he did, after all, coordinate the NFL’s sixth-ranked offense last season and was coordinating the NFL’s ninth-ranked offense until injuries dramatically altered this season. And while Bortles played adequately when working with a healthy offense that was ran effectively and gave him more time to throw last season, the last two weeks re-exposed too many problems to go forward with him. So, why make both changes at the same time? The best answer is Marrone thought something needed to be done – and that that something needed to be significant. Coaching changes aren’t always logical. Sometimes they’re just “because.” This one felt closer to the second than the first.

Ed from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

Somebody had the confidence in Bortles to pay him the money he received. I did, too. He looks bad because he has no weapons, the play-calling is terrible and no protection. All I'm saying is "It is not all his fault.”

You’re right, but he had struggled enough in recent weeks that it became increasingly hard to not make a change.

Craig from Jacksonville

Will the benching of Bortles and firing of Hackett eliminate the penalties or dropped passes?

Fair.

Fred from Naples, FL

Of the five teams we are "battling" for the No. 1 overall draft pick (Arizona, San Francisco, Oakland, Jets and Giants) the only one in need of a quarterback is the Giants, who need to replace Eli Manning. I like our chances of drafting our future franchise quarterback!

There’s also no guarantee the Jaguars can’t “win” that battle. They’re 3-8; the Raiders, Cardinals and Giants are all at 2-9. The Jaguars’ last five games are all against teams still competing for a playoff appearance. I believe the Jaguars will win at least one of those games, but they won’t likely be favored in any of them.

Marcus from Jacksonville

Assuming Bortles does not somehow reassume the starting job for 2019, what are the chances he is still on the roster as a backup? If they’re going to be paying him guaranteed money either way, doesn’t it make sense to keep him on the roster and at least get something in return for their money?

I would be surprised if Bortles is on the roster to start the 2019 season. Given his history, I can’t say I would be head-sewn-to-the-carpet surprised, but I would be surprised.

Brian from Gainesville, FL

O, I have been critical of my Jaguars this season when the optimism was all squeezed out. And I count myself as a fan looking for 3-13 for good draft position to go with all the injured but good players who will return next season. But let’s be clear: if the best team to ever play college football (this year’s Alabama, the 2008 Florida Gators, or whomever) played this Jaguars team, the Jaguars would pick the score and beat that team into the dirt even right now – and even with Bortles. This is the NFL.

Of course.

Alex from Los Angeles, CA

Hear me out, John. I think Hackett is a pretty good but not spectacular OC/play-caller. However, the last few games have been pretty terrible with the offensive game plan (even with injuries/etc.). It was clear Hackett had no desire to even attempt to use Blake in any way – arm or legs. Upon his release, Hackett was quoted as saying he thought he was being brought in to talk about a quarterback change. It is obvious Hackett isn't as bad as everyone has been saying; he just has been trying his best to convince Tom Coughlin/Marrone that a new quarterback was the only option! I feel bad for the guy; his plan succeeded, but at such a great cost to himself.

I heard you out. You’re overthinking this to the point that your email implies Hackett game-planned to get Bortles benched as opposed to game-planning to win. That didn’t happen.

Josh from Rochester, NY

How are we already at a point that we are going to have cap issues? Also, is the cap even necessary anymore? There is no parity in the NFL unless you have a stud quarterback?

The Jaguars will salary-cap issues this offseason because they planned it that way as they were putting together the roster in the 2016 and 2017 offseasons. It’s not that they wanted the cap issues, but they structured contracts for high-profile free agents such as safety Barry Church, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, defensive end Calais Campbell and others so that they could get out of those contracts with minimal cap future ramifications. The Jaguars when signing the slew of free agents during those two offseasons never believed they would retain all of those players for the duration of their contracts.

Gabe from Chapel Hill, NC

I’ve heard that this year’s draft class is pretty weak for quarterbacks. I guess it could all be rumor/the product of uninformed national media “buzz” (and predicting successful NFL careers is pretty much a crapshoot, anyway), but that sounds like quite a bummer for us.

This year’s draft indeed is considered comparatively weak for quarterbacks. That could be bad for the Jaguars if they’re seeking to draft a quarterback. At the same time, it could be very good for the Jaguars. Say, they’re selecting fifth or sixth. In a “strong” year for quarterbacks, that might mean the Jaguars not having a chance to select one of the top quarterbacks. In a “weaker” year, maybe the Jaguars get that chance. (But the point you made in your parentheses is perhaps most pertinent here; predicting the position can be close to a crapshoot. The only way to do it is to select a guy you believe in and move forward.)

JT from Fort Worth, TX

This feels like the start of ANOTHER very long rebuild.

You’re right that this has the feel of a rebuild, and I have gotten many emails in recent days and weeks fearful that the Jaguars are staring at yet another long winter of ineptitude. I can’t predict the future, but I can say that there’s no reason this team must sink to double-digit-loss territory and live in that murk for the long term. Yes, the early part of this decade left some scars that have caused Jaguars fans to fear such a slide, but this team has talent and there’s no reason a turnaround must take a half a decade.

Steve from Hilton Head, SC

I know that injuries are a big part of the season, but I wonder if the Jags “peaked” against the Patriots? I have seen teams that achieve any early goal - and then that was it.

The Jaguars’ biggest moment this season, to be sure, was beating the New England Patriots at TIAA Bank Field in Week 2, but I don’t believe this was a case of winning that game and then having no incentive left for the rest of season. I’ve said before I believe the offensive injuries reached a tipping point in a Week 5 loss to Kansas City. The Jaguars were 3-1 entering that game and ranked ninth in the NFL in offense afterward. They have had three games under 260 yards offense since that game and haven’t won since.

Jordon from Corning Air

This team’s failure this season is more than just the quarterback. Seems like last season was more of “luck” than skill.

You don’t win 10 of 14 regular season games that matter – and the AFC South title – and reach the AFC Championship Game on “luck.” Just because a team loses one season doesn’t mean it was lucky during another season. It means they didn’t sustain it, but it doesn’t diminish the other season – at least it shouldn’t.

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