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O-Zone: Ol' Woodshed

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Chad from EverBank:
Why is it so hard for people to understand and/or accept that Blake Bortles is not an elite quarterback, but he is playing at a better level than he has in the past? We're winning frequently and consistently competitive. We're currently tied for first in our division. We have a great chance of making – and are expected to make – the playoffs. Our games are exciting whereas that was really tough to say this past decade. I understand the adage of fans gonna fan. What will it take for that to change to Jags gonna Jag?
John: I doubt much changes on this front; fans always gonna fan – and if the Jaguars win the Super Bowl, some fans will keep fanning because Bortles threw an interception to go along with his four touchdowns and 450 yards passing. People have trouble accepting – and some will never accept – that Bortles is playing at a higher level than in the past because that higher level hasn't resulted in the Jaguars being dramatically improved offensively. One reason for that is Bortles' improvement hasn't been dramatic – and a lot of the improvement has come in difficult-to-see areas such pre-snap reads and pocket presence. Another reason is he has made some late-game errors that have overshadowed the improvement. A third reason is a lot of areas are struggling around him – i.e., the run offense in recent weeks and some other parts of the season, pass blocking much of the season and injuries at wide receiver much of the season – and that has caused the offense overall to struggle more often than not. Has Bortles improved to elite status? No, but he has helped the Jaguars this season more than many believe and he's a bigger reason they're contending than many people believe. That doesn't mean there aren't better quarterbacks in the NFL, and it doesn't even mean the Jaguars won't look to improve the position in the offseason. But it does mean some of the unending criticism is a bit much.
Steve from Nashville, TN:
The My Cause My Cleats page on your website is awesome … just like you.
John: Yes … and yes.
Scott from Fernandina Beach, FL:
Hi John, is it just me or are we having more than our share of dropped ball by our wide receivers? I realize losses are rarely the result of just one area of play but these drops make me wonder.
John: The Jaguars have had a bit more than their fair share of drops this season. They also have come at some pretty critical times. The Jaguars' receivers are by no means alone in making errors, but some of the late-game miscues on that front have stood out.
Steve from Upper Tract, WV:
John, a few weeks ago I asked if it was possible the Jags were winning too quickly. You said no. What I meant was it seemed possible to me that if the team over achieves, then falls back to earth and progresses more predictably, will the fans be able to grasp that and not see it as 'here we go again'!?
John: I understood the question then and I understand it now. Those close to me often tell tales of my remarkable capacity for understanding. In fact, co-workers are often heard to say admiringly as I pass, "There goes John. My … isn't he understanding?" I indeed am a man of many talents. Alas, one of those talents is not controlling how fans see things – and a team can't worry about that, either. The opportunity is there to win now, so the Jaguars obviously must go do it. If they lose, then progress at a different pace, I have no doubt many fans won't like that or understand it. Many fans don't like a lot of things. I can't control that, either, but I do understand it because of … well, you know.
Frankie from Mean Streets of Ponte Vedra:
So, no Bryan Walters. Help is not on the way.
John: I don't understand this question.
Pradeep from Bangalore, India:
Hi John, is it just a coincidence that the teams that got beat by Jaguars are turning into playoff contenders? Steelers, Ravens, Chargers, even Texans (until Deshaun Watson got injured)?
John: I don't know it's a coincidence as much as it's a sign that the Jaguars when they are playing at their highest level are a good team capable of beating a lot of good teams. They are also capable of losing to most teams they play. That's true of many NFL teams, but I do think it's accurate to say the Jaguars at their best are as good or better than most teams in the NFL this season. Can they get to their best enough to get in the postseason and win there? Stay tuned.
Jay from Salem, OR:
The Jaguars have exceeded my expectations this season, so I feel fortunate to possibly be in the postseason. That aside, would you ever be in favor of getting Eli Manning, Tyrod Taylor or Kirk Cousins on a possible trade or sign, or trade up in the draft – or, let's say give away a few draft picks to get a quarterback in the early first round? Stay with Bortles? At what price?
John: Taylor? Nah. Manning? Maybe – at what cost? Cousins? At what cost? Bortles? Maybe, if the contact can be renegotiated. As far as trading up to get a quarterback early in the first round … you better really like the guy because trading up from where the Jaguars likely will draft will be costly. Very costly.
George from Jagsonville:
Players are often referred to as "X-time Pro Bowler." If you cannot play (because of Super Bowl), but still are selected (like all the Jags this year), do you still get Pro Bowl credit?
John: Yes.
Al from Orange Park, FL:
How many locker rooms are there in EverBank? I mean, for Florida-Georgia and the Gator Bowl, do the college kids use the Jaguars' locker room? Can't imagine that....
John: There are three locker rooms at EverBank Field: the Jaguars' state-of-the-art locker room, and two other perfectly nice locker rooms that aren't quite as state-of-the-art. The visiting team uses one of these locker rooms for each Jaguars home game and both locker rooms are used for Florida-Georgia and the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Mike from Atlanta, GA:
Do you think Caldwell and Coughlin are going to make any significant additions to the receiver corps in the offseason? It seems like they will have some tough questions to answer. Do they want to keep Allen Robinson and the risk that comes with him? Do they want to keep Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee or try to go in a new direction? What do you think?
John: This will be a fascinating offseason storyline and I admit I don't have a great feel for the direction the team will take. My guess is the Jaguars will want Robinson back and the sides will agree on something along the lines of a short-term (two-year?) deal that makes sense and allows Robinson to prove he's effective following surgery for the torn anterior cruciate ligament he tore in September. I imagine this contract will be lucrative, though not quite so lucrative as it would have been if not for the injury. Robinson's absence has shown his importance to the offense and I would be surprised if the Jaguars want to go into free agency or the draft searching for player better than Robinson; they're unlikely to find one. As far as risk, I don't see that there is much with Robinson; he depends more on route-running, physicality and high-pointing the ball than he does quick-twitch athleticism, so a torn ACL shouldn't have hurt his effectiveness dramatically. As far as the rest of the receiving corps, this is trickier. Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole almost certainly will be a part of it. Finances will certainly play into Hurns and Lee. Will the Jaguars want to keep Hurns at his $7 million salary/cap figure next season? Will the team and Lee agree on a value before free agency? Those decisions could depend on how the team sees the free-agent market and the college draft, and nothing would surprise me on that front. I wish I had a better answer. I imagine I will in January or February. I don't yet.
Don from Ponte Vedra, FL:
Every now and then you find a pickle on your nothing burger. Cmon #27 time to go! Go Jaguars!
John: Wait. What?
Chris from Columbia:
Feed off of what "crowd?" It's Jacksonville. … I've seen more excitement at a wheelchair race in a retirement home!
John: My grandpappy, Hoyt "Woodshed" Oehser, liked to say, "Exclamation points don't make you clever. Nor do they make you correct. They do allow you stand out in a crowd, which when you're neither correct nor clever isn't always ideal." Ah, good ol' Grandpappy Woodshed … I loved that ol' cuss.

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