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O-Zone: One fer fifty

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Cliff from Orange Park, FL:
All of the Bortles doubters seem to think other quarterbacks never had bad years. I looked at several years of stats and found years that quarterbacks had years similar to Bortles' third year. Philip Rivers in 2007; Matt Stafford in '12, '13, and '14; Joe Flacco in '11, '13, '15 and '16; Carson Palmer in '10 and '11; Eli Manning in '06, '07 and '13. Big Ben [Roethlisberger] in 2006 had stats almost identical to Bortles' third year. Wonder what would have happened if teams gave up on these guys after three years?
John: They would have been sorry. Here's the obvious reason Bortles' doubters seem to outweigh his supporters: as of now, he hasn't had a season complete enough to silence the doubters. He struggled mightily as a rookie in 2014. While he put up impressive statistics in 2015, he also threw too many interceptions. And while he had more impressive moments in 2016 than many people remember or recognize, he again had far too many interceptions and other moments of ineffectiveness. And through all of his first three seasons runs the unavoidable thread that the Jaguars simply have lost too many games. When you add all of those things together you have a quarterbacking career that to date is easy to criticize. What you also have are enough moments and enough circumstances that it's still possible to look at Bortles and believe he can be an effective starter. That makes for an intriguing, ongoing offseason debate – and it obviously makes Bortles the overwhelming choice for the Jaguars' No. 1 storyline of the offseason.
Bruce from Green Cove Springs, FL:
In 1998, the St. Louis Rams went 4-12. In 1999, they brought in a stud running back (Marshall Faulk) and some good draft picks, then (due to injury) started a suspect, inexperienced quarterback (Kurt Warner). They ended the '99 season at 13-3, and blazed through the playoffs to a Super Bowl victory over the Titans. There are many other examples of worst-to-first turnarounds. Maybe it's our turn. Go Jags.
John: #DTWD
Michael from Fruit Cove, FL:
Dave Caldwell has said it in years past and he said it again after this year's draft: There were no players available in the third round or beyond who could have improved the offensive line. Was he not watching last year? We had about five different players start at left guard last season. You're telling me a third- or fourth-round pick wouldn't be an upgrade over Patrick Omameh, Chris Reed, my grandma and your little sister? Nothing against those guys, but it should be pretty clear to Caldwell by now that we can't win with those guys in the lineup. So … I guess that actually is something against those guys.
John: This is understandably a difficult concept for people to accept because the Jaguars have struggled at times on the offensive line, but Caldwell realistically is correct that it would be very difficult for a late-round selection to start on the Jaguars' offensive line as a rookie. That was particularly true this year in what was universally considered a weak offensive line draft. The disconnect for some on this issue seems to be the Jaguars' approach to offensive guard in the '17 draft. There is a perception that the team didn't address it, a perception created to no small degree by Caldwell saying after the draft that the team considers Robinson a left tackle. That may be so, but it's also true that Robinson can play guard -- and that he almost certainly will play guard unless he wins the job over Branden Albert. Or unless Albert opts to not play for the Jaguars next season. Neither scenario appears particularly likely, so the Jaguars in reality did address guard for the short term in the '17 draft.
Daniel from Urbandale, NY:
I was surprised by the Dede Westbrook pick but man, that's looking like a pretty solid four-receiver group. If Blake doesn't turn the ball over, the Jags could be interesting to watch.
John: True.
Keith from Palatka, FL:
Either our roster is improved to the point where only two or three rookies (Leonard Fournette, Cam Robinson and Marquez Williams) may start or we are grossly overestimating the talent of our starters. Which do you think it is? I am honestly stumped at this point.
John: Somewhere in the middle. What I mean by that is there is a large difference between college football and the NFL – and by large, I mean "mammoth." That makes it difficult for rookies to start, especially if they are selected later in the draft. It would be concerning if players selected in Rounds 4, 5, 6 and 7 were penciled in as starters. In fact, it would feel a lot like 2013 – and while the Jaguars struggled last season, I don't think anyone but the most cynical of observers would say the talent level is the same as 2013.
Adam from St. Johns, FL:
A 7-9 team IS disappointing. The part of Doom's comment you ignored was, this team was supposed to win seven games LAST season. When are expectations going to get serious? It's time for this team to start winning. Losing seasons have to stop, but everyone keeps making excuses for them. It's a joke.
John: I didn't ignore Doom's comment, Alan. I simply made the point that a four- or five-game improvement in the NFL is a difficult, significant one no matter what expectations might or might not have been the previous season. I can't control what you consider disappointing. I can tell you that while the coaches, players and team executives absolutely aspire for a plus-.500 season, a four-game improvement to 7-9 would be a major step forward. That's particularly true considering the record the last four or five seasons.
Rob from Brunswick, GA:
If we get to, say, Week 10, and Blake Bortles is not showing improvement, do you think the team shuts him down to avoid any chance of a torn ACL or something happening that would make that $19 million extension guaranteed?
John: We're a long way from that, and it would take some struggles of pretty significant proportion to have this issue arise. And if he indeed is struggling enough to make this a topic he may be out of the lineup before that. But there's no doubt that if Bortles struggles this season the scenario you cite could become a possibility. I don't think the Jaguars would take that route, but is it conceivable that this is a topic in December? Absolutely.
Matt from Las Vegas, NV:
Now that the draft is over, what are some of the less-obvious storylines you are excited about following this offseason? Any ones other than new coach, rookie adjustments, Poz's move? I'm excited to hear about how Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye battle it out this summer.
John: The most obvious storylines are Bortles and the development of the offensive line. A bit less obvious, perhaps, is the question of whether the Jaguars' pass rush can be a reliable, front-line strength – meaning, can the Jaguars get pressure on third-down and other situations when it matters? Even less obvious than that: can the Jaguars get better play from the safety position than they have in recent seasons? I think the cornerbacks will play well, but the safeties haven't consistently produced interceptions around here in a long time. And I do absolutely think Paul Posluszny's move to the strong side will be a storyline, with an intertwining storyline being whether Myles Jack can become a reliable defensive leader the team needs on the interior of the defense. Finally, I'll be watching the Jaguars' receivers next season. While Bortles received fair criticism last season, the wide receiver corps as a whole missed a lot of opportunities. This is a group that's perceived by many as being close to elite. Can it make the step to elite? Is it indeed an elite group? That's an important question entering the 2017 season.
Ryan from Dearborn, MI:
John, we were 2-8 in games decided by one score or less last season. Even if we just achieve a .500 record in those games that bumps us up to six wins last season. If this team is AT ALL improved, then eight wins should be very attainable.
John: There's a lot of truth to what you say – that the Jaguars weren't all that far from winning four or five more games last season. That is cause for optimism for some – and it indeed should provide hope that the team will be competitive this season. But you don't snap your fingers and win the close games you've lost in the past. If the Jaguars improve, then they can win more games, but to improve enough to win part is a huge step – and it's still tough to predict a four- or five-game turnaround in the NFL. It doesn't make such a turnover impossible, but it's disingenuous to imply that it's anything close to easily achieved.
Chris from Mandarin:
Can you just go ahead and book Telvin Smith for O-Zone Live every week? He makes me want to run through a wall.
John: Telvin Smith indeed was the guest on O-Zone Live on Facebook Thursday, and while we won't have him every week, he obviously is welcome anytime. Smith is the sort of player who makes this job enjoyable. He entered the NFL as a confident, raw, talented player and it's cool to see him continue to develop and mature into a leader and front-line player. One fer Telvin.

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