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O-Zone: Of far greater import

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Tom from Charleston, SC:
Last preseason the coaches spoke highly of Blake Bortles' improvement. This preseason Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone says that Blake has improved. My concern is that if the 2016 Blake Bortles shows up we will again be a laughing stock of the NFL. I know that Henne is a "capable" backup, but his career has also found very few wins. We are putting a lot of pressure on and dependence in Bortles. It appears to be "all or nothing." What do you think: sink or swim?
John: There indeed is a lot of pressure on Bortles – and the Jaguars' 2017 season in that respect indeed is being seen as "sink or swim" in most circles. I've written and discussed it that way as much as anyone. But I have in recent weeks started considering at least one other scenario, which is that perhaps Bortles plays closer in 2017 to how he played the last two games of the 2016 season. He went without an interception in those games, and while I wouldn't call him spectacular throughout all eight quarters, he by any measure was much better than he had been in much of the first 14 games. I don't know if that level would put him in the Pro Bowl and I don't know that it would wow fans, but it would be serviceable and would be somewhere between sink or swim. He also would be good enough to get this team in position to win a lot more games than it has in recent seasons. Would that level of play be good enough to secure his future as the team's franchise quarterback? I honestly don't know yet, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Jeremy from Bossier City, LA:
It's been so long since the Jags have fielded a good team and now fans want every player who is decent given new contracts. Our perspective is off because of the years of mediocrity and subpar performance. We've cheered for teams when way too many players shouldn't have even been in the NFL. Is the front office more level-headed than fans and managing the salary cap responsibly? Or is the front office judgment as skewed as the fans and have they been overpaying players in recent years?
John: The Jaguars have overpaid players at times in recent seasons, but the reason isn't skewed judgment as much as necessity. The overpaid players have been almost exclusively free agents signed from other teams, and when you play in unrestricted free agency you're going to overpay. The Jaguars haven't given enough of their own draft picks second contracts to determine if they view those players accurately or not.
Rob from Section 122:
May we please stop asking/answering Branden Albert questions?
John: Probably not.
Nate from Visalia, CA:
Did someone really ask if our current defense is better than the Henderson/Stroud era?! John, has it really been that long? Why do I feel like even JDR would be offended by that question?
John: People are understandably excited about the Jaguars' 2017 defense. There's a lot to like about, and it appears there are pieces in place that could make it a good unit. But the Jaguars' defense right now is a group that played at a high level at times last season while needing to force more turnovers and create more consistent pass rush. Until it does, that it's not a top-level defense – and you certainly can't yet begin comparing it to quality defenses of past eras.
Jeremy from Wise, VA:
Omar Kelly, a beat writer for the Dolphins, was asked on Twitter what was going on with Branden Albert. He tweeted the following: "The Jaguars promised him a new deal to grease the trade and it hasn't happened. He's a vet so he knows how to get himself ready for camp." But I remember [Jaguars General Manager] Dave [Caldwell] saying there was never an agreement to rework his deal. Wonder where Omar is getting his info or if both have a little truth to them?
John: I can't speak to where Omar Kelly gets his information, but he's a good beat writer and I have no reason to think he made this up – so I assume he's hearing it somewhere. Still, I'd be surprised if the Jaguars promised Albert a new deal, mainly because teams don't have to promise players anything when they trade for them; there's no "greasing" necessary. The second part of Kelly's statement rings the truest, and that's that Albert being a veteran knows how to prepare for a regular season. He's more than capable of doing so and I don't doubt that when he reports to the Jaguars he will do so ready to play.
Bo from Dresden, NC:
What financial hit does the team take if Albert decides he wants to play for a contender? Can he opt to do that?
John: Branden Albert absolutely can "want" to play for a contender. People are allowed to want pretty much anything they, well … want. But Albert cannot play for another NFL team unless the Jaguars release or trade him because he is under contact with the Jaguars.
Roger from Valdosta, GA:
Where will Tom Coughlin be on game day? Press box, sideline? Or possibly both?
John: Press box.
Daniel from Urbandale, IA:
I know this is pretty random and I've been out of the loop due to the traveling, but is Justin Blackmon still technically a Jacksonville Jaguar? What's the story there?
John: Blackmon is on the Jaguars' Reserved/Suspended by Commissioner list, so the Jaguars still control his rights. He is not a member of the 90-man offseason roster and is not in the team's plans. The Jaguars have not relinquished his rights because they would gain nothing by doing so.
Cameron from St. Johns, FL:
In 2011, the Jaguars had the league's leading rusher. They finished 5-11. How is this year going to be better if the whole plan is to run more? Fournette is not better than MJD in his prime.
John: I don't know that we know yet if Leonard Fournette is or isn't better than Maurice Jones-Drew was in his prime. I have great respect for what Jones-Drew accomplished in 2011 and in the early years of his prime, but Fournette as the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft should be something close to Jones-Drew's level to fulfill his draft status. As far as the first part of your question … obviously a team must have more than just a good running game to achieve success. That's why it's not accurate to say the Jaguars' "whole plan is to run more." It's to run a lot better and create better situations for the passing game, which in turn must take advantage of those situations, which in turn must help an improving defense and so on and so on …
Jason from North Pole, AK:
If Branden Albert had been released by the Dolphins, do you think he would have been offered more than his current salary by another team? If that's the case, I could understand his frustration with his situation. He had a lot of money and the choice of who to play for late in his career taken away from him. Most guys his age would probably want to either get a big contract or sign with a team that they consider a contender. Hate to say it, but I think he is right in asking for his contract to be restructured.
John: Albert certainly has the right to ask for his contract to be restructured, and the Jaguars have the right to opt not to do that because they traded for his contract and now have Albert's rights. Yes, I think Albert likely could have gotten a bit more on the open market – and I certainly think he would have gotten some money guaranteed as part of another signing bonus. And yes, Albert probably is a bit frustrated with his situation. At the same time, he signed a contract with the Dolphins and this situation arose as part of that contract. There was a possibility when Albert signed that contract that he would play for $8.6 million with no additional guaranteed money this season, and there was a chance that a team would trade for his contract that season. In that sense, Albert signed on for this scenario and if he plays at $8.6 million, he wouldn't be playing for substantially less than his worth.
Justin from Toledo, OH:
John, the odds-makers have the Jaguars season win total line at 6.5. Are you taking the over or under?
John: I'd take the over, though I don't know that there will be much room for error.
Mike from Middleburg, FL:
When the couch said that Blake needed to throw 1,000 passes to get better did that mean he is not really a good passing quarterback?? Thanks.
John: If we've really got a talking couch around here, that's a hell of a lot more important than how many passes the quarterback throws this offseason.

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