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O-Zone: Pressure packed

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

John from Jacksonville

Hi, KOAGF. Keeping things in perspective, there are 32 NFL teams, each with fan bases that feel their team is going to the playoffs. Don't think that's possible. We won't know which teams have what it takes until we see which coaches gameplan better, which team best escapes the injury bug, which players produce on the field at crunch time, which coaches have the best halftime adjustments, which teams have the most luck and so on. We have a long way to go, and we haven't started yet. A good start would be some forced turnovers by our improved D, baby, and our improved O having us singing the "Moodachay" until it hurts, baby.

This is good perspective, which is odd here in the O-Zone and likely not all that welcome by many. We are eight days from the start of the 2022 season as of this writing, and I do sense optimism from many O-Zone readers. I have little sense of whether it's more or less optimism than past seasons, probably because some recent disappointing seasons tend to run together. It's perhaps a bit more optimism than normal, I suppose – and if so, it's likely based a new head coach and the hope around quarterback Trevor Lawrence. There's also hope because of how the first-team defense – particularly the defensive front – looked during a couple of extended preseason appearances. From this view, those feel like legitimate reasons for hope, and I absolutely feel better about the direction of this franchise than I did the past few seasons. That feeling stems from Head Coach Doug Pederson's ability to professionally lead, and from what seems like an increasingly talented young core – and from Lawrence looking like he's developing nicely. I think that will mean a more competitive Jaguars team in 2022, one that finds a way to win at least six or seven games. I would see that as a very good step in the right direction considering the team's recent past.

Mark from Jacksonville

It's crazy to me to think that some pros would think that special teams are beneath them. Those can be some of the most impactful, momentum-turning plays of the game. As a neurotic fan, I get even more anxious about special teams plays than ones from the line of scrimmage.

Many, many NFL players embrace special teams and make long careers in this area. Most players who don't embrace it don't walk around saying, "I don't embrace this" or "I won't play if I don't start." Many who don't embrace it don't necessarily want to not embrace it. It's just difficult for some players after years of starting offensively or defensively – and starring in those areas – to embrace special teams. It's also difficult for some players to adjust to those roles. In the case of a wide receiver or running back, for example, it can be difficult to learn to tackle effectively on coverage units. It's not always about "want to." It can be as tricky a transition physically as mentally.

Lane from Winter Garden, FL

O man, after the release of defensive lineman Adam Gotsis, I count five defensive linemen on the team. I realize the roster is always fluid, but it seems the Jags are rather thin up front. Do you agree?

The Jaguars as of this writing indeed have five defensive linemen – DaVon Hamilton, Foley Fatukasi, Roy Robertson-Harris, Arden Key and Dawuane Smoot. Remember: They also have Israel Antwine on the practice squad, and I expect he could figure prominently in the line rotation this season; practice-squad spots can often be used for roster maneuvering early in the season with players the team very much likes. Also: A week remains before the regular-season opener. I doubt the Jaguars are done here.

Brian from Round Rock, Texas

Will we be able to run and stop the run?

I believe the Jaguars will run at least as well as they have the past two seasons when running back James Robinson has been healthy. That's very passable by NFL standards. If packaged with a more effective passing offense, that would mean a functional offense – something the Jaguars haven't had often enough the last four seasons. I absolutely believe the Jaguars will be more consistent stopping the run this season. They were improved in this area last season from being awful the season before. I expect the offseason addition of linebackers Foye Oluokun, Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd and Fatukasi to help this area dramatically. If those additions don't help this area, something has gone terribly wrong.

David from Oviedo, FL

Zone – Do you think, we can count punt returner/kickoff reurner Jamal Agnew as a Top 5 player at his position?

He's in the conversation.

Sascha from Cologne, Germany

Hey, John. How do teams decide which player they sign to the practice squad from other teams? Is it because one of the coaches knows the player from college or a former team or is it work from the scouts to watch training camp from?

Teams target and sign practice squad players the same way the sign players to the active roster. They scout the players coming out of college, retain that information, continue to monitor the players in the NFL and discuss the players with coaches at all levels if the player should become available.

Nicholas from Fort Hood, TX

KOAF: Let's put the long snapper wasting a roster spot to bed. New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick once gave a ten-minute response on the evolution and importance of the job (can be found on YouTube). Can I get a "good ear" for this?

One fer good ear(s).

Josh from Atlanta, GA

Is there a player or coach that you personally covered who stands out as disliking having to speak to the media more than anyone else?

Few players really love talking to the media. Most see it as a necessary evil, which makes sense considering many don't do it very often – and also considering the "mob" setup in locker-room media scrums doesn't exactly make for cozy conversation. But most players participate in interviews at least semi-graciously. Former Jaguars players who really seemed to dislike it were tackle Jermey Parnell and defensive end Chris Clemons, and defensive end Tony Brackens didn't love it "back in the day." But the player I've covered who disliked it the most by far was former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison. I covered Harrison for eight seasons and spoke to him on the record a handful of times. I got along with him well otherwise, but he never liked talking on camera or on the record.

Dave from Orlando, FL

O. It pisses me off that the Jags have released so many quality contributors – including linebacker Myles Jack, defensive tackle Jay Tufele, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, safety Rudy Ford and now Gotsis for players with nothing on their resume. Hey, wide receiver Josh Gordon was released. It was less than two years ago, he had a 261-yard record breaking game against the Jags, did we get him? No! Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and a No. 1 pick last year, he gets waived, that's a no-brainer … really, you didn't want to roll the dice on this one?! What about Sony Michel? Nevermind, let's claim old undrafted what-his-face. Sad!

You almost had me. Perhaps I'm losing my edge. That's to be expected. I'm 56. How long can you expect to have an "edge?" Anyway, I had a line about Sanka teed up. I even googled to make sure Gordon's record-setting game against the Jaguars indeed was in 2013 and not 2020. Then I realized you were kidding. You were kidding, right? Tell me you were kidding.

Brad from The Avenues

Ok, this is how I see it, John. Finding a good, just good, kicker in the NFL is nearly as difficult as landing a franchise quarterback. There just aren't that many of them out there. Hell, the majority of these guys were walk-ons in college. So, when a team looses "The Guy", the powers that be usually look like they are all over the place looking for a new one. Actually, they are. They kind of have to be.

You're still in your lane, Brad. That's good, but this is an odd "take." Finding a good NFL kicker isn't close to as difficult as finding a franchise quarterback – and it sure hasn't been as close for this franchise. The Jaguars have had two or three really good kickers – Mike Hollis, Josh Scobee and Josh Lambo for a time – and never have had a franchise quarterback. What can make finding a good kicker frustrating is you don't find out if he's great until he's under pressure, and when he's under pressure he's winning or losing games. That makes the process very high-profile, but I can't put the search's level of difficulty nearly at the level of quarterback.