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O-Zone: Oh, happy day

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Josh from Kokomo, IN:
John, I was disappointed in what Toby Gerhart brought to the team this year. Maybe my expectations were too high. Do you see him on this team next season?
John: It's safe to say most people, including Gerhart and the Jaguars, expected more when Gerhart signed as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. I don't know that the preseason projections of more than 1,000 yards rushing were realistic – especially considering the inexperience on the offensive line – but he did look good in the offseason and also looked good at times in the preseason. Gerhart was injured in the regular-season opener, and that limited him. He was inactive for two games, and when he returned, Denard Robinson had earned the starting job. When he has played, his lack of raw speed has made it difficult for Gerhart to be effective behind a young line that is still searching for continuity. But really, except for three games, no Jaguars running back really has stood out this season, so it's hard to lay Gerhart's struggles all on him personally. The struggles of the line – as well as the ineffectiveness of the passing game at times – has made it difficult overall for the running game. As for Gehrart's future with the Jaguars, those are conversations team officials will have after the season. Realistically, it's probably a tossup what happens.
Biff from Jacksonville:
John, I'm not feeling well and only one thing can cure my malaise...Battle Red Beat-Down.
John: #DTWD
Tyler from Titusville, FL:
With Jeremiah George active again, do you believe it's worth the risk making yet another switch at linebacker to see him play more? He flashed in his minimal time on the field. The current lineup is playing excellent, but at this point in the year, I'd have to think it's more about evaluating talent to prepare for the long term, and whether or not they need to address the position this offseason.
John: I get your point, but this team is trying to win games – and the coaches like what J.T. Thomas in the middle, Geno Hayes at Otto and Telvin Smith are bringing them. With that unit on the field, the Jaguars' defense has turned in some of its best stretches of the season the last two weeks. George likely will be active Sunday and will play on special teams, and he may get a shot to play linebacker sometime in the final month. Either way, it's extremely likely linebacker will be addressed in a significant way this offseason. George's late-season playing time probably won't influence that.
Bill from Hammock, VA:
Why is there no discussion about Marcedes Lewis? It seems he is doing very little this year and making a lot of money. Last year missed several games as well. Is it time to move on in 2015?
John: No discussion? When questions are asked here about Lewis, I answer and I assume people discuss it in the netherworld that is the comments section below the O-Zone. Lewis missed eight games with a high-ankle sprain and has played four games this season. He has played two games since returning, so while he may not be doing well statistically this season, he hasn't exactly had ample opportunity. As is the case with Gerhart, Lewis' future will be discussed after the season. Because of his salary, there will be speculation that he is gone. I don't know if that's a done deal yet.
William from Section 423:
With the free-agency period drawing closer as the year comes to a head, which big-name free agents do you see actually see getting to the open market and which of those do you think the Jags will pursue?
John: I have no idea, and that's really what makes analyzing free agency difficult before it begins. It's especially difficult during the season. The quality of the free agent class often declines rapidly as players re-sign and get tagged with franchise or transition labels. This often happens in the days before the start of the new league year, which isn't until early March. It'd be awesome if there was a better answer, but as of December 7, there's just not.
Trae from Jacksonville:
Hey, man. Just want to make sure you #neverforget.
John: What? Forget what? Where?
Brian from Jacksonville :
If Justin Blackmon comes back, and the wide receiver corps is still playing the way it is, who is odd man out? I only see two wide receivers who wouldn't be bumped by Blackmon - Robinson and Hurns, though Lee is making a case now to be kept around in that scenario.
John: Yeah, we've probably spent too much time in recent weeks talking Blackmon here. I've written that I believe there's a good chance Blackmon plays for the Jaguars next season, and because of the many unknowns around his scenario, that expectedly has caused a lot more speculation in the inbox. You apparently think far less of Blackmon than I, but there's no reason all four of the players you mentioned can't play on the same team. It's OK to have a lot of good players; some people actually think that helps your team.
Dave from Jacksonville:
Wait a minute! So the Culligan girl is in the O-Zone mailbag? I never had any interest in that before, but for some reason I now want to hear and see your witty, intelligent remarks first hand.
John: I have no idea what you're talking about, but it has been surprising how much more intelligent and witty people have found me this week.
Thomas from Aurora, IL:
Thoughts on Telvin Smith going forward? Potential longtime starter?
John: It appears he's going to get his chance – in the last four games of this season and beyond. He has speed and play-making ability – enough to make you think he might be a big-time player if he can add a bit of weight and keep it on. At the minimum, he appears to have a chance to be an outstanding situational nickel linebacker. The guess here is he's more than that.
Justin from Jacksonville:
Addressing William from Section 423's concern on whether accuracy can be fixed … it's my belief this is the reason for so much focus on Bortles' footwork. As your feet go, so go your hips, your shoulders, your release and ultimately the football. Improved footwork = Improved accuracy. Much like a golf swing. Sound about right, O-Man?
John: Yep.
Todd from Section 437 Row B:
Tony Boselli and Jeff Lageman seem to think Luke Joeckel will be putting on a ton of muscle this offseason in an effort to develop the size and strength needed to win at his position. If this is going to be the case, can we install 24/7 cameras around the kid? We have the opportunity to create the greatest Training Montage of all time. They can play it on the World's Largest Video Boards prior to the first home game of next season, with Luke busting through a brick wall at the end to lead the Jags onto the field. Greatest idea in Jaguars history, or Greatest idea in human history? "You're the best... AROUND! No-one's-ever-gonna-keep-ya-down!"
John: Your unbridled enthusiasm and Christmas Egg Nog seems to have had a somewhat toxic mix. I'm not criticizing here; I'm actually somewhat envious.
Jaybabe 410 from Da Beach, FL:
Hey, John … I know it's hard to look at Bortles, and say he's good. But there are a lot of pros and cons. He hasn't had the best blocking. The run game has been up and down. I like Bortles a lot. I do. I just want him to prove he's a third pick in the next few games. That said, is it terrible to say that if he plays below average, the coaching staff might go for the duck?
John: After reading and rereading your email I have come to the conclusion you're asking if the Jaguars might take Marcus Mariota in the 2015 NFL Draft if Blake Bortles doesn't play like the No. 3 selection in the draft in the final month of the season. You also make a bunch of points why Bortles has struggled as a rookie. All of those reasons are why Bortles probably isn't going to "play like the No. 3 pick" in the coming weeks. Another reason is few quarterbacks play at an elite level as a rookie. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in recent years … Matt Ryan a few years back, perhaps Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger. Luck appears to be a once-in-a-generation guy and Griffin was a threat as a rookie partially because of his legs … beyond that most of the rookies who have had success have had developed rosters around them. Bortles does not have a developed roster around him. The last point I'll address involves your first point – that it's hard to look at Bortles and say he's good. Maybe it's hard for you; I don't think it's nearly as hard for David Caldwell.
Ned from Jacksonville:
Hi John, My dad, Jim, reads your column every day and it would mean a lot to him for you to wish him a Happy Birthday tomorrow. He had to watch the Jags win from a dimly lit bar in Los Angeles instead of the stadium because he's such a good Dad and visited me for Thanksgiving. That same day I did something dumb to get my car towed and he paid for that too. Happy Birthday dad! I love you and apologize for being such a schmuck.
John: I got this Friday and didn't see it until Saturday. That makes me a schmuck, too. I can live with that … Happy Belated Birthday, Jim …

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