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O-Zone: Sealing the deal

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Ken from Rabun Gap, GA

Hey, Zone. Have not heard very much about Viska during camp, know that he was held out recently with some sort of injury. What has your "good eye" seen from him during camp? I see him as quality depth right now, but some are talking he might be on the trade block still. And if your "good eye" hasn't noticed anything, how 'bout the eye with the patch on it?

Jaguars wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is clearly No. 4 in the wide receiver rotation with Christian Kirk, Marvin Jones Jr. and Zay Jones currently the clear top three. When coaches have discussed Shenault during Jaguars 2022 Training Camp, it has been in the vein of needing to find ways to take advantage of a unique skill set – which the third-year veteran clearly possesses. And he certainly qualifies as quality depth. I don't get the idea the Jaguars are looking for ways to deal Shenault, but could he be traded for the right offer? Sure, as could most players.

Michael from Orange Park, FL

The Jaguars released Malcom Brown. We had been told he was valuable depth. This hurts the front seven. Please explain.

The Jaguars on Wednesday indeed released defensive lineman Malcom Brown. While on paper Brown was valuable depth along the defensive front seven, on paper doesn't always equate to on field. Brown, a seven-year veteran acquired last offseason in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, started all 17 games in 2021 but was second on the depth chart and had done comparatively little in camp. If the Jaguars believe this hurt the front seven, they wouldn't have made the move. Sometimes it's time to move on.

Marcus from Jacksonville

It's been a running joke in the O-Zone that "It's always coaching in the NFL." It's always a joy to poke fun at us fans when we overreact and call for a coach to be fired after a rough patch, but I've noticed something in recent comments on this forum as well as by other analysts and media types … last year's failure is put squarely on the shoulders of former Head Coach Urban Meyer, and this year's hope is rooted firmly in current head coach Doug Pederson. So, in this case, is it coaching? Has it always been about coaching? I don't know what to believe anymore.

When I write in the O-Zone that "It's always coaching in the NFL," it's usually in response to a reader – usually after a loss – sending an irate email that a particular failed play call is the reason for a loss or that a particular coordinator or head coach is singularly responsible for the struggles of a particular side of the ball. In that sense, coaching often is dramatically overanalyzed and overvalued in the NFL. A coordinator usually can't make up for a lack of talent and is too often blamed for mistakes/shortcomings of players. There are, of course, remarkably good or bad playcallers who can make a difference – but for the most part, NFL coordinators know how to call plays well enough for good players to execute. But where coaching can make a difference is at the head coaching position, where the tone and organizational structure is set. How much players believe in the direction of an organization, and how much a head coach influences the daily focus and approach of players, can matter very much. It's no secret that this area wasn't ideal in 2021. Head Coach Doug Pederson appears to be very good in this area, so … yes, this should be a positive for the Jaguars this season. Even if it is always coaching in the NFL.

David from Ada, OK

Anyone who says "It's not okay" to be excited (about the season) has never heard me play "I'm So Excited" by the Pointer Sisters on my mellophone like I did in high school band way back in 1985. It was life changing.

Careful. It sounds as if you might be about to lose control. Maybe you'll like it. Maybe you won't. That's on you.

KC from Orlando, FL

That was a rather quick competition for the kicker competition with Fry's release. Did Ryan Santoso clearly pull away, or was it an injury issue to Fry? Is it a done deal, or do you foresee another kicker coming to camp? Keep it funky!

The Jaguars waived/injured Elliott Fry early this week with a groin injury. Santoso for the most part has been good in camp; his powerful leg makes him difficult to release and he had a good practice Wednesday. Two preseason games remain. Santoso must continue to make himself difficult to release.

Garrett from Jesup, GA

Is Rashean Mathis in the Pride of the Jaguars? If not, why not? Among the best players we've ever had AND a hometown guy who played the majority of his career here. Why are there so few players in the pride?

Mathis, a cornerback for the Jaguars from 2003-2012, is not in the Pride of the Jaguars. I believe he is deserving, but I wouldn't put him in before running back Maurice Jones-Drew, wide receiver Keenan McCardell and Head Coach Tom Coughlin – and players such as defensive end Tony Brackens and defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud are perhaps equally deserving. Four players are in the Pride: left tackle Tony Boselli, quarterback Mark Brunell, wide receiver Jimmy Smith and running back Fred Taylor. Original owners Wayne and Delores Weaver also are in the Pride. Why are so few in the Pride? Because it's supposed to be hard.

Marc from Oceanway

Wow! They released Malcom Brown! Were you as surprised as I was?

Because of the high-profile name, it's understandable some people were surprised by the release. Once training camp began, it was less surprising.

Rob from Ponte Vedra, FL

Remember the last time we had the great problem of having sooo much young talent and not knowing if we could re-sign them all? It was after the 2017 season and we lost literally every talented young player from that roster and paid Blake Bortles. The funny thing is if all goes well, we should probably have to do the same, the only difference is this time the quarterback will be worth losing some great players at other positions.


Johnny from Westside

I was unaware the league was point-of-emphasizing (emphasizing?) the illegal contact. Put me in the "uh-oh" camp. More rules skewing the game to the offense, and placing the referees squarely in front of the game again (it will be more "bang bang" penalty-plays keeping drives alive).

The league re-emphasizes this rule and many others now and again when the competition committee sees reason to think officials are allowing a little too much leeway in a certain area. If officials don't focus on illegal contact on receivers now and again, history shows that defensive backs will take the approach of grabbing/contacting the receiver on every play and assuming officials simply will tire of calling it so often. I anticipate this reemphasis will be a thing for a while, and draw the ire of announcers and fans. Such emphasizing typically get deemphasized after a time as players adapt and officials emphasize other areas.

David from Oviedo, FL

O-man – I have a friend who's a Tampa Bay Bucs fan. Last year, every time Leonard Fournette had a good game, he'd text me and thanked the Jags for letting him go. I told him I liked Fournette, but thought that he wasn't good enough to carry a bad team, but definitely good enough to contribute to a great team. Besides, as a team, our running game was the least of our worries. Maybe players like Shenault and wide receiver K'Lavon Chaisson shouldn't be shipped off because they didn't dominate as starters, but shift gears and find ways for them to contribute as rotational players. They're on rookie contracts, so they're at least an inexpensive gamble. Thoughts?

This more often than not is how teams approach early-round draft selections who don't quite fulfill their draft status. Just because a player doesn't perform at a starter's level doesn't mean they should be released. If they can help the team in some capacity, the smart move is to keep the player. This is what the Jaguars did with defensive tackle Taven Bryan from 2018-2021. It's too early with Chaisson and Shenault to say they can't be big-time contributors, but it's certainly likely that they are good enough to be on the roster and contribute considering their respective salaries.

Fred from Naples, FL

If I was the one showing the Hall of Fame voters video of former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, I would start with the 230-yard, four-touchdown game against the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium and would end it with his 90-yard run against the Miami Dolphins in the 1999 playoffs. That should pretty much seal the deal.