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O-Zone: Onward

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … JT from Jacksonville:
John, I can't remember a more perfect time than now for the Jags to take ownership of this division. We have figured out how to lose most of our games, but the division is in chaos. Every team has major issues and surprisingly, we are the most stable. I'm afraid if we can't take advantage of our very, very easy schedule then we are in real trouble.
John: I'm sorry you're afraid. Fear can be … well, frightening. Still, as you state, the AFC South without question is there for the taking. The question is, "Are the Jaguars ready to take it?" I honestly can't say this is going to be a team that takes this schedule by the throat and reels off a long winning streak; I just haven't seen the maturity and ability to consistently close games yet. But I do think it's a team ready to close out a few more games than it did in the first half of the season – and I absolutely think it's a team that's going to be in the vast majority of games in the second half of the season. If 7-9 wins the division, the Jaguars need to win five of their final nine games. Can they do that? If they play better in the fourth quarter of games, sure they can. And if they do that … hey, this could get interesting. Very interesting.
Jeff from Jacksonville:
Tom Brady has been a man possessed. Do you think he still has a chip on his shoulder from being a sixth-round draft pick, or is something else on his mind?
John: I don't pretend to know what motivates Tom Brady, and I don't particularly care. I would think he got past the sixth-round-pick thing and moved on to, I don't know … winning another Super Bowl or enhancing his legacy among the greatest ever to play his position. Or maybe it's DeflateGate. Who knows?
Jeremy from Jacksonville:
Especially with the lack of production from our pass rush, I mentioned getting Ryan Davis more involved. You stated things like special teams and being more of an interior rusher. Your biggest knock on him playing more was perhaps his inability to be effective against the rush – basically, his size. What was the knock on Telvin Smith again? #morespeed
John: I hesitate to re-address Ryan Davis because I don't want it to look like I don't like Ryan Davis. I do, and I believe he is a real asset to this defense and this team. He is a very good pass rusher on the interior in passing situations as part of the team's three-Leo rush packages. There's nothing wrong with that. It is a positive thing. The reason the Jaguars don't play him on more snaps is he plays extensively on special teams and because it would be difficult at his size to play the Leo defensive end role or an interior defensive tackle position a lot against the run. The Jaguars consider themselves a stop-the-run-first defense; therefore, being stout against the run on early downs is a priority. It's not a knock to say those things about Davis; it's just saying that's the reason for having him focus on his current role rather than playing on first and second downs in the Leo. As far as bringing Telvin Smith into the conversation … I believe Smith plays outside linebacker and not defensive end, but I'll double check.
Mark from Archer:
(Sighs) John, I really wish the Jags would have made some sort of trade before the deadline for a pass rusher. There had to have been someone who could have been traded for better than who we have. All reports I read stated there were many teams willing to trade. Did you hear any rumors they were trying to trade? If I at least knew they tried and maybe the price was a little too high … but if you tell me that they did not even try to make a trade I will be very annoyed and sad.
John: I don't want to annoy you and I hate to make you sad, but I never heard or got the feeling that the Jaguars were close to making a trade. That doesn't mean it wasn't considered. David Caldwell undoubtedly explored the market and considered the possibility, but decided there wasn't anyone available worth the price. You say there "had to have been someone who could have been traded for that was better than who we have," but really? And at what cost? Barkevious Mingo? Vinny Curry? Paul Kruger? There's no way to know what teams would have wanted for those players, but to give up premium draft selections … meh.
Chris from Jacksonville:
With our defense gill-breathing, I wonder if the coaching staff will let Blake take more chances down field. Do you see us being involved in more high-scoring shootouts?
John: Maybe I'm missing something, but I haven't gotten the impression this coaching staff is exactly discouraging Bortles from taking chances downfield.
Frank from St. Augustine, FL:
John, there's no doubt there are players on this team that are improving. The team as a whole is not. That falls on coaching. I believe in what Caldwell is doing but I don't believe Gus is the right guy to lead them. I think he's a great guy and all but this team as a whole is not better just because they're losing closer games.
John: You're entitled to your opinion, and there are plenty who share it. Some see the Jaguars as having improved because they're in games in the fourth quarter this year with a legitimate chance to win when that was far less often the case the last two seasons. Others see the team as underachieving because it hasn't consistently found a way to win in the fourth quarter. I see the team as improved, but I tend to look more at the big picture than the immediate. I'd say for the team to show it indeed is improving it needs to close more games in the second half of the season, which of course first means being in those games. We'll see what happens.
Bryan from Tampa, FL:
While I understand that this column is usually reserved for Jaguars questions, I was wondering what your opinion of Steve Smith Sr. is? Does he have a shot at the Hall of Fame? I've enjoyed watching his competitiveness since I started following the NFL around 10 years ago. If he follows through on his plans to retire it will be a sad end to a great career.
John: I admire Steve Smith a great deal and believe he squeezed pretty much as much as possible from his ability. I doubt he makes the Hall of Fame because I think he's one of a lot of productive receivers from his era that might have trouble getting in because of the number of quality receivers playing at the same time. As far as this being a sad end to his career … I suppose. At the same time, Smith played a long time at a high level. At some point, players often have extended injuries. This one happened to be in what may be his final season. I think he would be the first to tell you that his current circumstance is part of the game.
Christian from Titusville:
Hi John, if the single-high safety is so important in our defensive scheme, why haven't we broken the bank in procuring that position? I know we lost on Devin McCourty, but is there no one else? It's inconceivable to me that maybe the most important position in Gus' defensive scheme might be our weakest and we've had under Caldwell, what – three drafts, and three free-agency periods?
John: Is the position really that hard to find? Looking around the league the answer is … well, yeah.
James from Upper Marlboro, MD:
Why not put Denard Robinson at slot receiver on some plays? He surely can catch the ball and if used properly, he can give us the speed receiver we need to stretch the field – that is, until Marqise Lee gets back.
John: I wouldn't rule out your idea as a wrinkle in the offense, but Denard Robinson is a running back. It's a bit of a reach to think he would be more effective in the slot than, say, Bryan Walters, who incidentally has been pretty effective in the slot.
Mike from Des Moines, IA:
I have been a Cubs fan my entire life. I watched them throw top dollar contracts at aging all-star caliber players, and trade young talent for proven veterans. That strategy never produced results. They cleaned house and started over building an organization centered around developing young talent. They traded veterans for prospects. It was painful at first, but they now have a team that will compete with anyone for several years. The Jags aren't the Cubs, but the Jags sort of have that feel. They have a nucleus of young guys that are proving and showing that they can be competitive.
John: I always hesitate to compare organizations because every organization – and every building process – is different. I particularly hesitate to compare organizations and building processes during a season when a team is 2-5 because the NFL is a results-oriented league and 2-5 isn't a pleasant result. But yes … the Jaguars in the first seven games had a slew of young players show a whole lot of promise. That promise makes you think a lot of those players could help form the core for the future. That's the overview from the first half of the season. Now, onward …

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