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O-Zone: Optimistic outlook

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Rob from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

Just saw the Gunter statement. Wow. Do you think it's possible that we try to make a trade for a proven defensive tackle? I know, I know … trade machine! But what about future draft picks? It would seem like such a major hole at this point that drastic measures need to be taken. Thoughts?

Jaguars defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason, announced Sunday night he is walking away from football because of an enlarged aorta. He said in the statement that football currently puts him at risk of sudden death or stroke – and he also said he is not currently eligible for a surgery that has a 50-50 chance of success. The situation is obviously brutally difficult for Gunter, and that's the most important part of the story. It also is yet another blow to the Jaguars' defensive interior, a position where unrestricted free agent signee Al Woods opted out of the 2020 season early in training camp because of COVID-19. But while Gunter's announcement Sunday surprised fans and observers, the Jaguars clearly had an idea last week his situation could be serious. And they have taken steps to address the position. That's why they reportedly are likely to sign unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. The team likely will pursue further options, but I doubt they will spend draft capital for a mega-trade at the position. Premier defensive tackles are expensive trade targets, and they're often unavailable at any cost. Stay tuned on this one in the coming days, though. The position is clearly the primary issue of Jaguars 2020 Training Camp.

Greg from Section 122, Jacksonville, FL

Starting watching "Hard Knocks" this week and it was interesting the common message for both the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers – that whatever team adheres to and adapts to the safety protocols for COVID-19 best will be the most successful on the field. Is the COVID-19 situation really that impacting on the game and teams you think?

COVID-19 without a doubt is the top issue in Jaguars 2020 Training Camp, and I imagine that's the case in every other NFL training camp. How could that not be the case? Teams must focus on negotiating the obvious obstacles and finding a way to achieve a complete season because if they can't do that nothing else matters. I disagree somewhat on the idea that how teams handle COVID-19 will determine everything about the season, though. I just have a feeling – perhaps unwarranted optimism – that there will be more than a few teams that get through the season comparatively unaffected by the virus. Because of that, I still tend to think that quarterback play and overall health will still end up deciding a whole lot by season's end. As always.

Mike from Navarre, OH

I have noticed you using the term "readers" a lot as opposed to "reader" lately when referring to the audience of your column. Do you actually have more than one reader now or are you just erring in saying that? Attempting to keep you honest.

That's on me. Chalk this one to a brief, unearned and clearly misplaced moment of arrogance. Stand down, Zone. Stand down.

Tony from St. Louis, MO

You know we had PFF highest rated run defender and a player who won PFF run defender of the year, but we traded him to the Ravens and replaced him with players no longer on the team. Make it make sense.

You're referencing former Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell, who indeed was a very good run defender – though who, with apologies to Pro Football Focus, was not the same player last season as he had been the previous two. Also: The Jaguars' issue last season was more about interior run defense than edge. Either way, the Jaguars traded Campbell because they were trying to get the salary cap in order moving forward and because the thought was he wasn't as good last season as the past two. As far as replacing him with players no longer on the team … yes, Tony, you're right: The Jaguars should have anticipated that Woods would opt out and that Gunter would have a heart condition. Now, that obviously makes sense.

Sean from Jacksonville

So ... fullback Bruce Miller hasn't played since 2015 and has a dubious arrest record, so the team really thinks he would be a good enough player to replace (temporarily?) a rookie? I'm guessing this pick has a heavy Trent Baalke influence. I'm looking for positives, but don't see any. I'm not accepting the, "Well, the team thinks he can be better than...." line of thinking or the "They signed him on a cheap deal, so it's OK" thought. On a secondary note, is the team signing players who want to play and not sit out the year? Can they put that in a contract?

Miller, who signed with the Jaguars Saturday, indeed has a "dubious" arrest record. While I understand some people will have a problem with that, I lean more toward believing a person has a right to earn a living if the law allows them to do so, and I don't mind teams signing players with tricky backgrounds. Considering Baalke – hired in January as the Jaguars' director of pro personnel – indeed selected Miller while with the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, I have little doubt that he spoke for Miller on some level. I look at the signing like this: This is a very odd year where teams are going to need many players; if the Jaguars believe Miller can be an asset, then there's little wrong from a football standpoint signing him and seeing if he can contribute. As far as your "secondary note," yes … the Jaguars are signing players who want to play this year and not sit out the year. Players can no longer opt out for COVID-19 reasons. The window to do that has closed.

David from Fleming Island, FL

#moodachaysoonerthanlater

Yes.

Jimmy from Johnstown

Speaking of not liking your Q&As ... remember when that guy wrote a nasty letter about Gene Frenette to the TU's Letters to the Editors ... I heard that was quite a day when no one really spoke around the TU's offices on that occasion (I'm a little afraid to bring it up now). And, isn't it true nobody has seen Bill from the Southside since that day in 1997?

This is false. No one ever wrote anything to anyone criticizing longtime Florida Times-Union sports columnist and Northeast Florida cultural icon Eugene P. "Gene" Frenette. His work ethic, talent and wit are unassailable.

Daniel from Jersey City, NJ

O-man, where you as impressed as I was when Conley managed to answer all those superhero questions without once mentioning Gene himself who also asked one of them?

Gene indeed asked Jaguars wide receiver Chris Conley about Superman on a videoconference Sunday. It was a weird moment. Most media types don't ask questions about themselves in these forums.

Wade from Thighland

I just watched wide receiver Chris Conley answer questions for reporters and he was so impressive and complete with his answers. Probably the best I have seen from any player ever on this team. Are there particular players you look forward to interviewing or that make you job easier?

There are few. Defensive end Josh Allen is certainly among them, as is cornerback D.J. Hayden. Campbell was among the best in this area I've ever covered. It may be a while before he is replaced in that sense.

Jason from North Pole, AK

Am I remembering wrong, or did the Jaguars' offense have a lot to do with the collapse of the run defense in that five-game stretch last year? I always thought the defense simply wore down from multiple three-and-outs in the first quarter by the offense. Our defense used to be talented enough to weather that storm. A lot of the offseason has been spent talking about the defensive line and linebackers improving. I'd argue the fastest way to improve the run defense is the improve the offense.

I wouldn't argue with you incredibly passionately on this one. The Jaguars' offense indeed gave the defense little help in the games when the run defense really broke down. At the same time, there were too many times – Carolina early in the season comes to mind – when the defense struggled in the area enough that it's tough to blame the offense. Football is perhaps the most complementary of sports, and it's always hard to analyze one area without factoring in many others. Either way, the Jaguars must be better against the run than they were last season.

Owain from Sheffield, England

Michael from Fruit Cove must've been living through a different 2020 to me if he doesn't think things can get worse.

Fair.

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