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O-Zone: Showing good signs

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Rick from Callaway, FL:
Back down to Earth?
John: This is as good a place as any to begin this morning, I suppose. I must say I was surprised by how many emails with this tone I received late Saturday night and early Sunday morning – as if somehow the Jaguars' 22-12 loss to the New York Giants Saturday was cause for concern, or a step back. I guess I just don't see it. Not at all. Remember, the primary concerns for this team entering the preseason were the development of Blake Bortles and the development of the offensive line. The team needed to figure out if those areas could function. After two preseason games, there seems little question both areas are improved, perhaps markedly so. Yes, the defensive line needs to generate more pressure and the receivers need to eliminate the irritating drops, but the huge takeaway from the first two weeks of the preseason is that this offense appears as if it can function. That was true in the preseason opener and it was true Saturday. The first-team offense had three drives of more than 10 plays Saturday playing without Julius Thomas, Marqise Lee and T.J. Yeldon. Those are good signs and things that weren't seen last season or the season before. So while I can't say the Jaguars are "flying high" after two preseason games, I sure can't call what happened Saturday coming "back down to Earth." Not even close, actually.
Jerell from Columbia, SC:
The wide receivers are killing the Jags outside of A-Rob.
John: Good to hear from you again, Jerell.
Tommy from Jacksonville:
That was impressive that Greene made any yardage from the ball that was thrown behind him. Looks very talented.
John: This was the all-important First Email of the Game Saturday, and it made a good point. Rookie wide receiver Rashad Greene indeed had a nice reception early that turned a short pass into a first down. It was the sort of play slot receivers have to make. When he first caught the pass, he was short of the first down. He made a defender miss and got the first down. The Jaguars need Greene to produce, and he started showing signs of that Saturday.
Lance from Jacksonville:
Bortles looks good and always seems to know where to go with the ball so far in Olson's system. We need guys who can catch. Are you game?
John: Look, there's no question the Jaguars' receivers need to catch the ball better than they did on a couple of instances Saturday. But don't miss the big picture focusing on a couple of drops. Bortles looking better overrides all else, and the fact that Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson appear to be getting open consistently is a very good sign. Hurns indeed needs to clean up that area, but it's not fair to say Robinson is drop-prone. And remember: wide receivers have drops – yes, even good NFL wide receivers. They're frustrating. But they happen.
Anthony from Madison, WI:
Bortles is looking fantastic, but his stat sheet is only looking "pretty good" by comparison to how well he's actually playing so far. "Why?" a fan might want to know. Because our wide receivers are dropping balls like that's what they're getting paid for. It's going to hurt watching Amari Cooper absolutely burn defenses this year in Oakland when he could've helped Bortles out here since he actually seems to catch it when it hits him in the hands or chest where Bortles is putting it on 90 percent of his throws.
John: Are we really going to start with Amari Cooper emails already? Look, the Jaguars' wide receivers had a couple of drops Saturday, but this also was an offense playing without Julius Thomas and Marqise Lee. It's also an offense that has looked surprisingly efficient considering it's in its second game with a new offensive coordinator, new line coach and a lot of players who are still very, very young. That's not to make excuses for the wide receivers. No question they have to catch more consistently. But two weeks into the preseason is way too early to start bemoaning past draft picks.
Dave from Jacksonville:
Ummm - no pass rush, dude! Really going to miss Fowler this year. On another note, it's becoming clear why Hurns wasn't drafted - catching the ball is generally a good skill for a wide receiver to have.
John: Yeah, dude – there's no doubt the Jaguars will miss Fowler. And there's no doubt that if there is a concern early it might be that the opponents' first-team quarterback has too much time to throw. That makes some sense considering Sen'Derrick Marks and Chris Clemons haven't played yet. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said on Saturday he believes the Jaguars can create pressure on third downs, but he said a concern right now is generating a rush from base defenses. This was a strength for the Jaguars last season but hasn't happened in the preseason. As far as Hurns' drops … yes, no doubt he has to eliminate them – but you still want him on the field. He's getting open consistently; now, it's time to take advantage of that.
Dennis from Port St. Lucie, FL:
How long does this team wait for Andre Branch to start performing? I didn't like the pick out of college because he had one speed move around the outside of the tackle. It seemed whenever he is locked up with the tackle he never seems to be able to power the lineman back toward the quarterback. Some players are game players and some are practice players – a la Branch. Don't you think it is time to let another player develop at the position?
John: You're certainly entitled to your opinion on Branch. Still, I don't know that it's fair to portray him as a player who has grossly underperformed. He had six sacks in 2013 and appeared to be improving at the end of that season. He had three sacks last season, but played only nine games because of a pretty severe groin injury. Also, I've never thought of Branch as a guy who looks good in practice and disappears in games. As far as Branch's role this year, there are no thoughts of reducing his playing time for Chris Smith or Ryan Davis; the Jaguars need Branch to be a productive part of the Leo rotation.
Ryan from Las Vegas, NV:
Alualu playing fullback is cool. I like it.
John: It is cool, and so far there's a lot to like. On at least three occasions on Saturday Toby Gerhart ran for first downs on third-and-short with Alualu as the lead blocker. Bradley said afterward the plan on those occasions was to run twice and his pleasure was evident when discussing the fact that only one play was needed to get the first down. Bradley wants this offense to be able to enforce its will by running when it wants to run. On Saturday, Gerhart running behind Alualu allowed the Jaguars to be able to do that.
Blues Man from Crescent City:
I had mixed emotions about the Giants game. It seemed our ones and two played well, but I'm concerned beyond that. Our secondary in the third and fourth quarters looked suspect. I've got to tell you, John, that Marshall doesn't seem to cut it in game situations. I don't care how he wows everyone in practice; I only care about his "game" performances. Harris (No. 23) was burned most of the night. BIG kudos to Grant! The dude has some serious speed!
John: Deep breaths, Blues Man. You say "it seemed our ones and twos played well" – as if that's an afterthought. That's very, very important in the preseason. The Jaguars are a developing team and if you see progress from the first- and second-team offense and defense – that's significant progress. It stands to reason depth would remain an issue. Depth is the last part of the building process and after three offseasons you're not done with that process. You're not the only one to express concern about Nick Marshall, but remember: he's was in his second game back at cornerback. He wasn't going to be perfect immediately and I've said all along I doubt he plays cornerback this year. He's a developing player and developing means "developing," not "developed." And yes, Grant has some serious speed. Can he show enough over the course of the preseason to make the roster? Stay tuned.
Bryant from White Plains, NY:
The first string looked good and that's what's important right now. In the regular season, when the starters play the whole game, this needs to be a win. The Jags need to win against OK-to-good teams and keep it close with the better teams.
John: The Jaguars were ahead 9-3 when the starters left the game. The offense had played well, with the line and Bortles looking good. Keep remembering that. Those areas are showing what you wanted them to show in the preseason. That's what mattered Saturday.

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