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O-Zone: Priorities in order

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Keith from Palatka, FL:
Greg Cosell was on target this week with his analysis that we need a running game to help Blake Bortles. I am concerned Dave Caldwell doesn't get it by his statement that "running back is one of the last pieces of the puzzle." I do not buy the argument that all we need to do with the offensive line is "just coach 'em up" and all will be well. I do not believe Luke Bowanko is the long-term solution at center. We need to go after Stefen Wisniewski at center in free agency. We also have to get a right tackle in free agency and/or the draft. We need to draft the best available running back in Round 2. Do you think we will truly develop a running game by the aforementioned or do you think Dave and Gus hope that a running game will magically materialize with the players we currently have on the roster?
John: This is an intriguing time of year, one fraught with fans assuming awful or wondrous things that the Jaguars will or won't do – and often getting terribly upset over things before they do or don't happen. That said, a couple of thoughts on your email. One, there is no reason to think the Jaguars are hoping for the running game to magically materialize; it's pretty much a given, in fact, that the team will pursue right tackle and an interior position. The reason it's pretty much a given is Caldwell all but said as much in his end-of-season press conference. I'm thinking it's right tackle in free agency and perhaps a draft selection on the interior, but we'll see. Two, as far as your concern over Caldwell's statement, as is the case with many O-Zone emails, your concern/question is based on an incomplete version of Caldwell's approach on this subject. When he says running back is one of the last pieces of the puzzle, he's not saying he consider the position unimportant. He has said several times that with so many positions to fill in the early stages of the building process there wasn't much point in drafting or signing a front-line running back only to have him endure two years of pounding when the overall roster wasn't ready to contend or win consistently. My gut is he believes the roster will be a lot more ready this season, and I suspect the Jaguars may address running back a lot more aggressively in free agency or the draft.
Cory from Frankfort, NY:
Losing Will Blackmon hurts not because it wasn't the right move because it probably was ...but at the same time, he was a playmaker who bought into the philosophy and because he obviously respects and loved this team. I just hope we find young players with the same passion his on the way out. Your thoughts on the Blackmon move and on his time here?
John: I think he was a good veteran who gave the Jaguars a good year and a half before missing the last half of last season. I think you're right that he respected the fans of this franchise and the people running it. That said, I don't think his absence will be all that noticeable on the field because I expect the Jaguars to sign a veteran at the position and I expect Aaron Colvin, Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz to continue improving at the corner position.
Quinn from Tampa, FL:
Say the jags manage to sign Ndamukong Suh or Julius Thomas. Does that make Jacksonville a more attractive destination for other free agents so the Jags don't have to grossly overpay?
John: This offseason? Probably not. That's because it takes some time to change perception, even if high-profile players are signing with a team. So, yeah – this offseason the Jaguars almost certainly will have to overpay for whoever they pursue in free agency. There are other teams with a lot of cap space and the Jaguars' on-field performance in recent years is something they'll have to overcome in free agency. Once they begin to succeed, that will make the franchise far more attractive to free-agent players. And not having a state tax won't hurt, either.
Andy from Roswell, GA:
I finally caught up on the Cosell interview and wanted to get your take on his comments regarding Storm Johnson being the best back on the roster. What did the coaches see differently during practice and me during the games? I guess I didn't see someone who was clearly better than the other three backs - but maybe I misunderstood what Cosell was saying.
John: Cosell was saying Johnson's the most complete back on the roster, and in terms of physical ability – size, speed, etc. – he may have been right. Coaches liked Johnson, too. He, like a lot of rookies, needs to learn how to approach the game more consistently to get the most out of his ability. With a year of experience in the system, he may be more ready on game days to prove everyone right.
Greg from Section 233 and Jacksonville:
Do you see Andre Branch coming back next season?
John: Yes. Without question.
Tudor from St. Augustine, FL:
Just want to throw this out there, but if Ray Rice has already been reinstated and eligible to sign with a team, then the NFL MUST reinstate Blackmon before the season starts. It would be absolutely unacceptable to not do so. In no universe is it worse to use a controlled substance than it is to punch a woman in the face. If the NFL does not reinstate him, then we have a SERIOUS problem in this league.
John: There's a lot of logic in your email, but I doubt it works that simply. One reason is there are a lot of unknowns in the Blackmon equation. Information by design is kept very, very scarce when an NFL player is suspended for violation of the substance abuse policy, which is why there's so much mystery around his status. I continue to believe that there's a good chance Blackmon will play for the Jaguars next season. That's because the public reports have for the most part been positive. What that means as far as Blackmon's status remains to be seen.
Mike from Des Moines, IA:
Randall Cobb is a good player, north of $10 million a year good. I don't argue that he wouldn't make the receiving corps and offense better. If Justin Blackmon is on the field, he is the X receiver. Allen Robinson would likely start opposite. Throw in Randall Cobb at slot, you push Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns down the chart and they don't develop. I am just not quite there on this. This only makes sense to me if they aren't going to have Justin Blackmon. I say we roll with who we have at receiver, see what the kids have.
John: A few things here. One is that there are enough snaps, repetitions and receptions on an NFL team for four receivers. Another is that while Hurns, Robinson and Lee showed potential it wasn't as if they were fully, developed elite receivers. They have developing to do and there's no guarantee all develops. Another, of course, is that it's OK to have a bunch of good players on your team. That usually doesn't hurt your chances of winning. Finally, David Caldwell repeatedly has said the Jaguars' plans won't depend on Blackmon's status. That's the only rational way to approach this situation. While I think Blackmon has a good chance to play for the Jaguars next season – and while I believe he can be productive – to approach the future relying on Blackmon would be foolish based on his history.
Chuck from Summerville, SC:
Most believe Winston will go first overall. If the Bucs surprise everybody and take Mariota, does that increase, decrease or keep the chances of the Jags trading the same? And keep up the good work. (I figured if I flattered you it would increase the chance of you posting my question)
John: First off, I'd be shocked if Mariota goes before Winston. Mariota's skill set is that much of a question mark and Winston's skill set is that good for an NFL quarterback. But if Winston would slip … yes, that would increase the chances of a trade for the Jaguars, because more teams would be significantly more interested. (And flattery didn't get your email included; I just didn't feel like being as diligent as usual in deciding which ones to use.)
Arnie from Fernandina Beach, FL:
"If" it happens, does Caldwell call out to give up the No. 3 spot or does he receive that call from a team hot on someone? Guess I'm just asking what the natural tendency is for that to happen.
John: You're talking about the possibility of a draft-day trade. If it's in the first round, which it is in this case, The conversations would have taken place well before the draft, and the calls would go either way.
Andrew from Toledo, OH:
I have been working so much that I don't have time to ask you a question. I still read every day, though. What say you?
John: I say you should work less and read more.

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