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O-Zone: So deserving

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Jonathan from Jacksonville:
How important do you think these next four-to-five games will be for the Jaguars?
John: Very. I'm not a big preseason strength-of-schedule guy because opponents/matchups typically look far different five or six games into the regular season than in June. That said, we're now five games into the season and the Minnesota-Denver back-to-back home stretch in early December looms even more brutally difficult than it looked in the offseason – and I wrote in the offseason that I thought that stretch was … well, brutally difficult. With those games looming, the next seven games will be critical. Five of the next seven are on the road, so yeah … it ain't going to be easy.
Logan from Wichita, KS:
Wait … so you are telling me we didn't play this week? Then, what was I watching? Don't tell me I was ... (gulp) ... fanning in my dreams!!! NOOOOOO!!!! What am I supposed to do without Jags football on Sundays!?!?!? Is this gonna be forever??? When will this lack of Jaguars football end???
John: The Jaguars will visit the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago Sunday. Hang in there.
Greg from Section122 and Jacksonville:
As I read your intro Saturday, it really put things into perspective. Yeah, I love football and the Jaguars – but in reality, it is just a game. When things like Matthew hit, life gets real and things like the Jags just get trivial. I was fortunate and was fairly unscathed by the storm. To those who were impacted by the storm please be safe and here's hoping you get back to a normal life soon so we can relax and just enjoy football again. And thanks to you John, personally, for providing a pleasant distraction to the seriousness of real life going on around us.
John: I can't rightly say anything I wrote this weekend put the storm in perspective, though I do appreciate your thought. My family and I were relatively fortunate to be unscathed by Matthew. It appears Duval County and the surrounding areas were relatively fortunate, though "relatively fortunate" is on a general basis. I obviously cannot speak case by case, situation by situation, hardship by hardship – and without a doubt there are many facing hardships. I can say that if what I do provides any pleasantness … then, yeah, that's the idea. And thank you.
Bruce from Gotham, NY:
Saturday's O-Zone was one of the best in a long time. It was due to the fact that it confirmed you and your family and other readers/fans in the Duval area were safe and survived with damage that could be repaired. As it is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and as it approaches in the States, something a "little" extra to be thankful for this year. All the best to you and your family and the rest of the Jag family during this time.
John: Thank you. That means a great deal.
David from Broward County, FL:
O-Man, very glad to hear you and the O-Clan are OK and you have power restored. We got very lucky down here in Broward, but we do know your pain. After Wilma we had no power for eight days. I have family in Clay County and Palm Coast and they are OK, too. On to the Jags – more specifically, Blake Bortles. Right now, he is what he is. No amount of coaching can dramatically improve things. Clearly, Bortles has not worked hard enough on his fundamentals to ensure he would not regress. Only he can be committed to his craft and put in the very hard work to improve to the next level. You covered Peyton Manning, so you know that Manning wasn't the greatest athlete at quarterback, but no one out worked him. Bortles can be much, much better – even elite – than he is, but only he can control that outcome. David Caldwell must bring in some competition to light a fire under BB5. What do you think?
John: I think it's an interesting concept in theory, but a difficult one in fact. First off, I hesitate to say Bortles "hasn't worked hard enough" on fundamentals. The work he put in between Years 1 and 2 showed real results. I thought he looked much better in the 2016 offseason and 2016 training camp than he had the previous offseason and training camp, so it's hard to harshly criticize Bortles for his 2016 offseason approach. I also don't know that it's fair to say all of his early 2016 issues have been about fundamentals. A lot of what has gone wrong early – the interceptions, decision-making and pocket awareness – are issues Bortles had last season. I wrote often in the offseason that Bortles still needed to take a step forward in Year 3 to become the quarterback the Jaguars needed him to become, and I also wrote often that the step forward likely would take time because it was a decidedly more difficult step than his Year 2 progression. The step he's trying to take now is the one that takes quarterbacks from good/functional to great, and it's a step that in turn can dramatically elevate the team around him. Bortles hasn't done that in the first few weeks of the season, but that in no way means he can't do it. It also doesn't mean he didn't work in the offseason, and it doesn't mean Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell needs to bring in competition. It means Bortles needs to keep working to develop in these critical areas. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that he will. We'll see.
Stephen from Jacksonville:
Are you still in favor of benching Telvin Smith? What is your opinion of his play through the first four regular season games?
John: I don't know that I ever banged the table for Telvin Smith to be benched. I suppose that is yet another example of the difference between what is read and what is written. I did write and say in the preseason that Smith needed to play better and reduce his mental mistakes – particularly in coverage. This was true. As for Smith's play in the first four games of the regular season, he indeed has played better and reduced his mistakes. He is playing as well as he ever has played in three NFL seasons and an argument can be made that he is playing as well as anyone on the Jaguars' defense. So, no, I am not "still" in favor of benching Smith.
Chris from London, UK:
O Man, given the Jags' record over the last few years. I would like to point out I'm two wins from two live games. If you want to fly me out to Duval and put me up I would be willing to do this even at short notice. In fact, I would happily go anywhere stateside to help the Jags win. I will await the tickets!!!
John: I'll run this up the flag pole. Hold your breath … go ahead … I dare you.
Doug from J'Ville and Section 139:
The Jags will have two past head coaches head coaching in EverBank this year. That just hit me.
John: Way to keep up, Doug.
Dwayne from Jacksonville:
You certainly get surly when called girly names. As far as the difference between 1-3 and 3-1, Bing says it can be the officiating.
John: Officiating didn't help the Jaguars during the first month of the season, though once the bye week passes it may be time for a collective shake of the head to whisk away the goings on of the first four weeks. The missed opportunities. The worries over officiating. The struggles of Bortles and his London recovery. All were real. All happened. All are in the past. The Jaguars are 1-3, which is not as good as 3-1 – but which is better than 0-4. After Sunday's results, the Jaguars are a game and a half out of first place with two games remaining against AFC South leader Houston. They're 1-0 in the division. It's all right there in front of them. Time once again to go play.
Donald from Orange Park, FL:
If the storm had caused you to miss an O-Zone posting, hence ending your streak, you could have named the next posting "Evacuation O-Zone." What is the current streak at?
John: Watch it, Donald: I'll decide the titles around here. The streak is currently at 1,891 days. As for posting during the storm, I opened the laptop, answered questions and sent the story to be posted. I did it over the hum of a generator for a while and with a few pine trees bending at impossible angles just over the back fence, but it wasn't as if I was dodging fallen street signs on I-295 and Butler in the pitch darkness of Friday night. I guess I'm just saying let's not go overboard patting O-Zone on the back and praising his absolute manliness in the face of advers … nah, never mind. Go overboard if you want. If anyone deserves it, I do.

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