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O-Zone: Slot machine

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

David from The Island

This defense looks legit.

The Jaguars' defense indeed has started to look legitimate during the last three games or so. It has been a remarkable turnaround for a unit that struggled on multiple fronts early in the season – particularly rushing the passer and in coverage. The run defense overall has been solid from the start of the season; while there have been exceptions, it is a vastly improved unit after struggling mightily last season. The major difference in recent games has been the defensive front, particularly the pass rush. Defensive end/linebacker Josh Allen has emerged as a big-time player – and defensive linemen such as Dawuane Smoot, Roy Robertson-Harris, Taven Bryan and Malcom Brown have given the team a better defensive- line rotation than it has had in about three seasons. The Jaguars also have improved significantly in coverage since shifting from a man-to-man based scheme to more zone concepts. The defense at times looked like a liability in the first month of the season. It has improved enough that it may be something around which the franchise can build moving forward. It's a huge reason for hope.

Pradeep from Bangalore, India

Hi, John. Should the Jaguars have retained Keelan Cole as our deep threat?

I thought former Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with the New York Jets this past offseason, would have been worth keeping – or at least trying to keep. I don't think his presence would have solved all issues in terms of wide receivers not stretching the field.

Tristian from Crystal River, FL

I saw a comment sent to you about how "inconsistent" the Jaguars are. It struck me as a bit amusing, because based on recent history I think we'd rather be inconsistent than consistent. They were on a long track to be consistently bad, and they've bucked the trend. Some real expectations have formed. I'll take inconsistency from a young team with potential for growth.


Mike from Atlanta, GA

How's Ben Bartch playing? Is he playing well enough to keep an A.J. Cann on the sidelines?

Bartch, a second-year veteran, is playing well in his first stretch as an NFL starter. Cann, who started the season at right guard, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Eddie from Jacksonville

In regard to Trevor Lawrence regressing, I think people tend to forget that progress is not linear. A lot of times it is three steps forward and two steps back.

This is very true of young quarterbacks. Heck, the reality is it's true for a lot of older quarterbacks – including some pretty good older quarterbacks.

James from Destin, FL

John, seeing the Jaguars are hurting for playmaking wide receivers and you want to build through the draft, plus if I remember right it takes a year or two for said receivers to actually become good, how is this team even going to compete for the next couple of years?

This is a fair point and a fair concern. I expect the Jaguars to address receiver in free agency and the draft. I don't expect the Jaguars to have an elite No. 1 wide receiver next season because elite receivers are hard to find in free agency – and because even elite-to-be wide receivers often do take a season or so to develop. How will the team compete for the next couple of years? Well, this doesn't have to be an either-or thing. Receivers can be better than the Jaguars' receivers and be elite. It can happen in increments.

Chris from Mandarin

I still say there should have been more emphasis on finding a receiver. DJ Chark has trouble getting open a lot, too. This was obvious the second half of the 2019 season, when defenses started keying on him after he had a big first half of that season. Then 2020, it was said by Urban Meyer that he "played small." That means he wasn't winning his matchups. This isn't to say Chark is bad because he's not. I just think that if he was the best we had, we needed more than Marvin Jones Jr. and a bulldozer with bricks for hands (Laviska Shenault Jr.) to make it go. OK.

In retrospect, yeah …

Donny Lake Mary, FL, Section 38, Day 2

Urban Meyer made a splash when hired with comments along the lines of saying all NFL players are really good, so it's up to the coaches to prepare them to succeed. I rolled my eyes at that so hard I almost tore my retinas. Of course, then all the "it's-always-coaching" crowd jumped on those comments for affirmation in their mistaken opinions. With a record of 2-7, Meyer hasn't fired any coaches yet, or even significantly criticized his coaches publicly, while being transparent that they have starting players injured (i.e., better players than the ones playing now) and desperately need more talent such as speed at receiver. Success in the NFL, like college, is much more about having as many elite players as you can than coaching or schemes. He said what he said so do you think he's getting the gist of this NFL dynamic yet, Mr. Oehser?


Mike from Section 101

We could have really used Travis this season.

Losing running back/wide receiver Travis Etienne Jr. to a Lisfranc injury in the preseason hurt the offense. The Jaguars knew entering the draft they needed speed and playmakers, so they drafted him with that in mind. Just having Etienne likely wouldn't have been enough to make the Jaguars as fast offensively as Meyer would like, but it darned sure would have helped.

Samantha from Orange Park, FL

John, Am I mistaken, or did you also attempt to assure us at one point that Bortles' accuracy issues could be worked on?

I don't recall "assuring" anything. I typically don't attempt to assure fans of much because my experience is they are going to worry about what they want to worry about – and they're going to interpret what is written or said how they see fit. I'm sure I wrote or said that quarterback Blake Bortles' accuracy issues could be worked on because it's true. How much good that work would do I couldn't predict and probably didn't try too hard to do. I also can't predict whether Lawrence's accuracy will improve. I see no reason it shouldn't, but no … I can't guarantee it.

Cristiano from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The fans wanting Trevor benched probably thought we had a semi-god at quarterback. And also appear to not remember what kind of quarterback play we've had for a long time. But asking Jaguars fans for patience might be a bit too much, right, Johnny-O?

Asking any fans for patience is a bit much. Fans aren't supposed to be patient. They're supposed to want their teams to win and react passionately when they lose. It's the job of those running a team to take the long view.

JT from Palm Coast

I rarely try to use Pro Football Focus (PFF) as a serious guide for judgement, but I just read that James Robinson is the highest graded RB in the league per then. If that's the case, then why in the hell isn't he being used more often?

The Jaguars used Robinson much more in Games 3-6 than they did in Games 1-2 – and a strong argument could be made they didn't use him enough in those first two weeks. He had around 19-to-20 touches in Weeks 4-6. He sustained a heel injury in the seventh game, missed the eighth game and was returning from that injury against the Colts last Sunday. There was nothing wrong with the 19-to-20-touch workload and I expect around that number when Robinson is healthy.

Chris from Midland

Are the Jags hurting themselves with Laviska Shenault Jr. playing WR2 by not transitioning him back into the slot where he's most effective? Laquon Treadwell out wide, Shenault in the slot with Jamal Agnew either in the backfield alongside JROB or opposite slot? I feel this would create the mismatches everyone is anxiously waiting to see.

It sounds as if Shenault will be playing exclusively in the slot – or at least a lot more moving forward. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Meyer each indicated as much this week – and Bevell said on Thursday that while playing Shenault outside may have been a necessary move after a season-ending injury to wide receiver Chark, it might not have been the best move for Shenault individually. I imagine it will still be difficult for Shenault to be effective in the slot this season because it doesn't feel as if the Jaguars have enough speed on the outside to give Shenault room to work underneath. I expect we will find out soon enough, because it certainly sounds this week as if the Jaguars want to get Shenault significantly more opportunities than has been the case in recent weeks.