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O-Zone: Setting a precedent

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Brian from Section 238:
No one wants to read these "Poor Blake Bortles" stories. He can't look anyone in the eye because it's his fault he fumbles. It's his fault he didn't prepare enough in the offseason. Marqise Lee isn't throwing interceptions. Blake is. Way too many. Shoulder was hurt. Blah, blah, blah. Stop the excuses and win. It's time to grow up. Sorry for being cold, but my goodness …
John: I'm the first to say Blake Bortles had a sub-par year. I said throughout the season his struggles were the Jaguars' No. 1 storyline of 2016 and the No. 1 reason for the team finishing so far below .500. But I can't get on board with people criticizing him for discussing his season this week. Bortles is candid and answers questions when asked. He never made excuses during the season – and when asked after the season, he outlined some issues that he believes were factors in his season. That was the appropriate time to discuss those topics. Bortles needs to play better. He knows this. He said any number of times throughout the season that what was going on with the Jaguars, the offense and certainly himself was on him. He's the quarterback. It's his responsibility. There were reasons he didn't play well. There's nothing wrong with him talking about the issues. And as far as people not wanting to read the Poor Blake Bortles stories … I don't know … I bet people read them.
Daniel from Urbandale, IA:
Of the coaching candidates mentioned, the only one I really dislike is Josh McDaniels. Not because of Tim Tebow – everyone makes mistakes – but because he's only considered because of Tom Brady. Every coordinator Brady has ever had looks good. That success doesn't translate anywhere else that Tom Brady isn't playing.
John: That indeed is the reason to be cautious when considering McDaniels. He knows this. Everyone in the NFL knows this. But just as McDaniels shouldn't get a job simply because of Brady and his association with the New England Patriots, neither should he be ignored simply because of Brady and his association with the Patriots, either. He is considered a very capable, bright young head coach and many, many people believe he will be successful at his next stop.
Ed from Ponte Vedra, FL:
I reflect on the last few years and the player I feel the worst about is Paul Poz. He came in as a free agent and gave the Jags a superstar performance. Too bad he was playing for a very mediocre team. Do you think he will be back?
John: I do. While much will depend on the scheme and the opinion of the next head coach, one of the errors made by the Jaguars in 2013 was not having enough experienced, core players on the roster. The rebuild cut too close to the bone. Releasing Posluszny would smell very similar.
Jaginator from Section 124:
"Players and coaches don't think that way – not even during meaningless games." Please stahp. Players don't tank. But coaches have done this before. In the 2014 season finale, the Bucs led New Orleans 20-7. After halftime, Lovie Smith began yanking the starters. Final score: NO 23, TB 20. And the Bucs secured the No. 1 overall draft position. If they'd kept their starters in (and won that game), they wouldn't have gotten Winston or Mariota.
John: Point taken. That's not what happened Sunday.
Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville:
It is amusing that people think we would blow a game just for draft position. I mean cause we blew a LOT of leads this year late in the season.
John: Indeed, if the Jaguars' poor fourth quarters this past season were about draft position … well, they got a very early start and pretty much mastered their craft.
Tim from Jacksonville:
If the Jaguars still aren't sure that 11-34 is a losing record, then next year will be more of the same. Caldwell's support of Bortles is the most worrisome aspect of the offseason so far. Let me just say that as long as Bortles has no true competition, I won't be renewing for my 11th consecutive season of watching losers fail at football. It's not his throwing motion insomuch as it is the organization's dogged refusal to cut ties with losers. We don't need a "good guy" in the huddle. We need someone who can play quarterback and win, no matter what their personality, race, school or background. The only question that matters is, "Does Bortles win?"
John: OK.
Keith from Palatka, FL:
At the risk of Tony Boselli becoming even more egotistical, which some believe is an impossibility, I have to say he is the best left tackle that I ever saw play. John, you've watched a lot of football; have you ever seen any left tackle better than Boselli?
John: I never covered a left tackle on a weekly basis better than Tony Boselli. The only left tackles I believe may have been better were Anthony Munoz and Walter Jones.
Dylan from Stillwater, OK:
If it came down to re-signing Johnathan Cyprien or Telvin Smith, who would be more important to the team?
John: Smith. He is a core player.
Terry from Jacksonville:
I do not know why you cannot tell what has been really going on in the locker room this year since most of the coaches will be gone. We all read your comments every day and you never tell it like it is; you are still defending Gus Bradley and coaches instead of listening to the players. Maybe they know better.
John: The players have done a pretty good job in recent days of sharing their thoughts, and that's great: it indeed has provided a lot of insight into their feelings about what went wrong with the Jaguars this past season. Perhaps those feelings are right, and perhaps they're not. Most likely there is some truth in what the players say and it's also likely that the disappointment and frustration of a 3-13 season shapes their comments as well. That's human nature. As far my every-day comments … I learned long ago that telling it like it is and telling it like readers want me to tell it are often not the same thing. I prefer to do my best to do the former. That doesn't mean people like what I write or agree with it, but that's going to happen no matter what I write.
Daniel from Jacksonville:
As burned out as I am on Bortles talk, I would be interested to hear your assessment on this. There are classic sayings about rookie struggles and sophomore slumps, but it would seem to me that difficulties in a third season are not so easily explained by cliches and are much more concerning about a player's true ability. I guess what I'm getting at is this: can you name a quarterback in NFL history that has had the kind of glaring regression Bortles has had in his third season and still gone on to be a franchise quarterback? Is there any NFL precedent for that kind of transformation at this point in a quarterback's career? If not, then I think we have our answer about needing to move on. Either that or the Jaguars are hoping that he will do something unprecedented in the history of the NFL, and that kind of hope doesn't seem like a reasonable strategy for winning.
John: I don't care all that much about precedent because what other quarterbacks have done doesn't necessarily apply to Bortles. But there absolutely have been quarterbacks who have struggled early in their careers and gone on to success: Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Alex Smith come to mind. Were their struggles as pronounced as Bortles? It depends on how you judge struggles. Bortles lost more games than those three, but those players and others have had trouble with interceptions and efficiency early in their careers before being successful later. One topic I keep considering, though, is the idea of Bortles regressing. I suppose he did to some degree, but I guess I'm not as much a believer in the idea as might be the case. He had some accuracy issues during a stretch of this season – but beyond the 50-50 ball to Allen Robinson not working as effectively this season as last, he was much the same quarterback both seasons. Bortles threw for about 500 yards less this past season than in 2015 and Robinson had about 500 yards less receiving; Robinson's long reception was 90 yards in 2015 and it was 42 this past season. The difference in Bortles and the offense from 2015 was pretty much that defenses took the deep ball to Robinson away and the Jaguars didn't have an answer. Bortles overall has struggled with mid-range accuracy, interceptions, pocket awareness and decision-making throughout his career – even in 2015. The question: Can Bortles improve? It's possible. He has a base. He has been effective at times. But it's time. It has to happen now.

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