JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Rob from Brunswick, GA:
I am excited about this season for the first time in years. I knew we'd see some improvement last season, but I did not labor under the illusion we would play more than 16 games. This year, I finally feel that is at the very least a real possibility. With the changes we've made and the players we've signed, nine wins is not at all unreasonable. However, if we are on the back end of another losing season in January, would you care to make a way-too-early prediction as to what you think the issue will have been?
John: Your perspective is pretty close to mine, so first off: congratulations on your razor-sharp grasp of reality. As for your question, the easy answer would be pass rush or defense. Those areas are among the overriding focuses of the offseason and if they don't improve the Jaguars will have trouble making the necessary strides. But I believe the defense will improve – and that the pass rush will improve along with it. Perhaps the defense won't be '85 Bears/'00 Ravens/'15 Broncos good, but I believe it will get off the field on third down a lot more and that will mean a defense capable of supporting a good offense. Therefore, I think a lot of this season still depends on the offense and Blake Bortles. This was an improved unit statistically last season and developed a knack for big plays, but it lacked efficiency at crucial times. Getting better on third down, improving in the running game and getting better on short and intermediate passes … those areas might well be the key to the Jaguars' 2016 season.
Tommy from Carrboro, NC:
Per Justin Blackmon, I believe you are incorrect about the club's right to hold his contract indefinitely. After a certain number of years from his last active date, his contract will be voided.
John: I am not incorrect. The Jaguars have Blackmon's NFL rights until he plays out his contract or until they opt to release his rights.
Chad from Yulee, FL:
I know that before the team reports for official offseason workouts Blake Bortles is working with receivers offsite right now, but when the conditioning program begins can the players use the fields at the stadium for their work or will they need to continue to use other facilities before organized team activities and minicamp?
John: Blake Bortles and the receivers can work together on the field – throwing with each other with no defenders – at the team's facilities once the offseason program begins next week. Until then, they must do so offsite.
Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville:
I am not worried about winning the AFC South. The main thing that is important this year is seeing a team that is competitive from Week 1 to Week 16. Last year's meltdown in the final two games is not OK anymore. In order to be in the upper tier you must compete in every single game and that just didn't happen last year. Hopefully, with maturity and growth this team has overcome that hurdle now.
John: I agree with your premise – to a point. What I mean is while the Jaguars' final two games last season indeed were disappointing and below the standard of the rest of the regular season, they must be viewed with some perspective. Yes, they were bad losses – and no, the team didn't come close to competing in either New Orleans or Houston. The Saints game didn't surprise me; a defense that can't pressure the passer on third downs against Drew Brees is what is known to football insiders as "kind of a tough matchup." As for the regular-season finale against Houston … yeah, yuck. But teams that find themselves suddenly and disappointingly out of the playoff chase often have "yeah-yuck" games at the end of the season. That's not an excuse, but it is reality. Your final point may be the most pertinent – that with maturity this team should have fewer uncompetitive games. The reality is that even contending, playoff teams have an occasional uncompetitive game, but those should be fewer and farther between as the team matures. The Jaguars reduced them last season from previous seasons. That needs to become a trend.
Luis from Section 412:
Sir, John … please, please, please do not subject us to questions from Herbert from Middle State, etc., in the main part of the O-Zone. Those of us who read the O-Zone daily get more than enough of his nonsense in the reader comments. For heaven's sake, he still thinks Chad Henne should be the starting quarterback.
John: So … one not fer Herbert …
Alex from Fairfax, VA:
Even if the Jags could sign Greg Hardy to a one-year deal that requires him to practice by himself and not sit with Jaguars players on the sidelines during games, I still wouldn't want him! The city of Jacksonville and Shad Khan/Mark Lamping seem to have developed a great relationship over the last couple of years. Bringing him to Jacksonville to play football is one thing, but it's another thing to bring that type of person into the community.
John: … and one very much not fer Greg Hardy.
Rob from the Duuu:
O-mighty Zone, can Aaron Colvin still practice and participate in team activities? Or is he like banned from the premises?
John: Colvin, who is suspended for the first four games of the 2016 regular season under the NFL's Performance Enhancing Substances policy, will be able to participate in the team's offseason program, training camp and the preseason. After that, he will not be permitted around the facility for the first four weeks of the regular season.
Carlos from Mexico City, Mexico:
Honestly, I'm a little worried about David Caldwell being so determined on taking defensive players in the draft. What if a top wide receiver falls to them? Leave him for your competition to draft and take the lesser player? You don't really know your needs until injuries start to happen. Just ask the Packers and how Jordy Nelson's knee derailed their season from the start. What if we lost A-Rob or Hurns? Or something happens to Linder again? Pick BAP and everything will be fine.
John: Worry not, Carlos. While there's little question Caldwell will emphasize defense in the draft, that doesn't mean he will draft defense at all costs and forego clearly better offensive players in favor of subpar offensive ones. I'd be surprised if there aren't at least two offensive players selected.
Joe from Jacksonville:
Hey O, have you ever leaned back so far in your chair you fell over?
Ron from Jacksonville:
The Jags struggling to get home when blitzing last year obviously had a lot to do with lack of coverage at the linebacker and safety positions. It's one of the reasons I'm so excited about drafting Jalen Ramsey or Myles Jack. Not only would one of those players add big-time talent to their position groups, they would help improve the pass rush by taking away opposing quarterbacks' safety valves over the middle of the field. The closer we get to the draft though, the more I wonder if the teams picking ahead of the Jags are thinking the same things about those two.
John: There's no question teams other than the Jaguars will like Ramsey and Jack – and yeah, a few of those teams may be selecting ahead of the Jaguars. But teams like multiple players – and they can only draft one at a time – so there's every chance one of those players will be available at No. 5. As far as your first point, I agree to an extent: better coverage no doubt can help a pass rush and can make a blitz more effective. Still, it was also the case that the Jaguars struggled when blitzing last season – and they struggled enough that there were a lot of instances in which even better coverage wouldn't have helped all that much.
Mikey from Tallynasty, FL:
John, what's your favorite question?
John: "Oehs … I'm buying … what are you having?"
John from Cape May, NJ:
The most memorable moment I have of Rashean Mathis is an overtime game against the Steelers. I forget the year, but I'll never forget the play. Tommy Maddox tried to throw a quick hitch to the right boundary and Rashean stepped in front of it and took it to the house. Game over. Jags win. Rashean was a key part of a very good Jaguars D in the mid-2000s. Let's try and remember that and stop bashing the best corner the franchise has ever had.
John: Good stuff – and you know what? With Rashean Mathis' retirement ceremony set for Wednesday, let's hear more. Share your Rashean Mathis memories on or off the field and I'll include them in Wednesday's O-Zone. It may not be all-Rashean-all-the-time, but it may not be far off – because you're right: Mathis was the best corner in franchise history.
O-Zone: Share the memories
JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Rob from Brunswick, GA: