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O-Zone: Slay time

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Gary from St. Augustine, FL

In keeping with our recent theme of overlooked Jaguars players this season, what about DJ Chark Jr.? I know he made the Pro Bowl last season, but you never really see him listed with the NFL's best receivers. Why?

A few reasons. One is he played on a sub-.500 team last season during his breakout season, so few people nationally have seen Chark play in the NFL at a high level. Another is he has had just one 1,000-yard season; if Chark does what he did last season a few more times, you'll see more people recognize him. Remember, too: Chark still must develop to have a legitimate place among the NFL's best wide receivers. He was really productive for the first half of last season, then fell off a bit in the second half of the season when teams began focusing on him. The same thing happened for a stretch to Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II. When young players have success, coordinators focus on taking away their strengths. How Chark responds to that this season will go a long way to determining if he belongs among the NFL's best receivers.

David from Gainesville, FL

Zone - with the NFL reportedly going to two preseason games, how would you play it as the head coach? I'm thinking the starters play the first half of Game One and then you don't see them again until the season starts, thus giving the team the rest of the time to evaluate the rest of the roster.

There indeed were reports Wednesday that the league will cut the preseason from four games to two this season, with the reason being to allow teams to practice and get players into football shape following the loss of the offseason program to COVID-19 restrictions. I think your projection is a good one. I could see some coaches playing starters into the fourth quarter of the first preseason game to get another series or two of repetitions, but I still see a lot of coaches resting starters in the preseason finale. Health will remain paramount.

Zac from Austin, tejas

NFL decision-makers err on the side of caution. Cue in those who are sure football is over this season in three … two … one.

The NFL season is a long way from over. A loooooong way.

Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville

How come some teams like the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers always seem to be in the mix for playoffs with the up-and-down roster issues most teams seem to have? And how do the Jaguars get there? And please: It is more than just a quarterback; it does help but you need pieces around him to make a team win. I really want some of what the Patriots did even it is for a small window like five years.

You asked how some teams manage to be consistent over a long period, and then you quickly said, "It's more than just a quarterback." But your question mentioned two teams who have had Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks for more than a decade and a half. One of the teams (Pittsburgh) didn't make the postseason last season during a season when that quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) missed much of the season with an injury. The other team (New England) has missed the postseason once in the last 17 seasons – and that season was the only one during that time when the franchise quarterback (Tom Brady) missed much of the season with an injury. Sorry, Greg. You won't like the answer, but it starts with the quarterback. Are there other factors? Yes, but it starts with the quarterback.

Doug from Jacksonville

The discussion about the Jags and their losing ways ... it is legitimate. However, the Jags aren't unique. Also: the issue with the Jaguars' quarterbacks picks ... so many quarterbacks by so many teams picked so early in the draft have been bigger busts than Byron Leftwich, Blaine Gabbert and Blake Bortles. This is true even if you leave the Cleveland Browns out of the equation. You finally hit on a quarterback and it's all forgotten.

It's true that many teams have missed on quarterbacks early in the draft – like the Jaguars. What makes the Jaguars frustrating is they really never have hit on one early in the draft. But you're right: Hit on one and it changes everything.

Jarrett from Crosby, ND

So, what you're telling me, Zone, is that your NFL Mt. Rushmore would be Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas. Does that about sum it up?

I don't know that my Mount Rushmore is set in stone (see what I did there?), and I'm particularly not sure about Unitas being the dead-solid lock to be the quarterback, but would the others be on it? Well, someone would have to be damned good to knock them off.

Mike from Atlanta, GA

Deion Sanders has to be in the conversation for greatest players. He didn't only dominate from a non-quarterback position, he changed the way the game was played and nobody else has been able to repeat it. I grew up watching him take away an entire side of the field. He would deliberately give receivers space to make them appear open to bait the quarterback into throwing the ball at him. He was so dangerous with the ball in his hands he gave the defense the opportunity to score points. He is still maybe the most dangerous punt returner in history. He was so good they let him play receiver at times. He brought the showtime showmanship to football we all enjoy so much today. Prime time was so good on defense that I don't think anyone will ever be able to repeat what he did.

I agree that no one has covered or played cornerback like Sanders since Sanders, though I'm hard-pressed to say how he "changed the game." If no one emulates you, then you were great – but it doesn't mean you changed the game. As far as your question … Sanders absolutely is in the conversation for greatest cornerbacks, though plenty of people would tell you Rod Woodson was his equal at the position. So, I wouldn't quite put him in the conversation for greatest player regardless of position. But he was great. No doubt.

Unhipcat from Day 1,000 or something in Carslbad, CA

Hi John. Wouldn't any GOAT conversation HAVE to include Tom Brady?

Yeah, probably. I guess I sort of instinctively exclude quarterbacks from the conversation of greatest player of all-time. One reason, I suppose, is the position is so much different than any other that you almost need to have one conversation for that position and another discussion for everyone else. Another is that the conversation about greatest player of all time – when I think of it, anyway -- almost has to center on that player dwarfing all others at his own position. No quarterback does that; I would consider Brady one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but I don't necessarily put him on a level dramatically above Unitas, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, etc. But yes … if you're having a conversation about the greatest NFL player of all time and are including quarterbacks – which any sane person would do – you must include Brady.

Jim from Jagsonville

Welcome to the Dead Zone! How do you feel about the Pride of the Jaguars in relation to on-and-off-field issues? I say that because former Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis was great on the field and has really proven to be upstanding in our community after retirement. Do you feel this could add to his chance of being included in the Pride?

Sure – and why not? An honor such as Pride of the Jaguars – or any team's "Ring of Honor" should be based on a player's contribution to that team. And the team should dictate what it takes to be inducted. I don't think a player who was sub-par on the field should be inducted just because he was great in the community, but if a good player is superb in the community? Sure, why shouldn't that count? This honor is about honoring players who were important to fans. Off-field can be a part of that.

Zac from Austin, tejas

Deadzone Q: I understand that it's a business deal via the NFL, but it is … I don't know …. saddening is too strong and it's not depressing … but it makes me feel "a type of way" that coaches cannot wear suits. It adds elegance to every sport. And I love Marrone - visor with polarized sunglasses and all. But he would slay a suit. Do you have any thoughts on the issue? The lengthier the better.

I'm sorry. I can't get past smiling when I think about Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone's reaction if he learns someone thinks he will "slay" in a suit.