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O-Zone: Solid start

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Mario from West Kelowna, BC

Zone. In all your years covering football, did it ever happen that starting with the offseason you got a feeling that the upcoming season was going to be very special? Reason I am asking is because long ago I gave up on being optimistic during the offseason and playing the what if game or giving in to the hype. Now I just wait until the end of the season to get excited or disappointed.

It's tough to know before a season if it's going to be "special," though I've often had a feeling before seasons that a team has a legitimate chance to make the playoffs if healthy – and to make a run deep into the postseason. This has less to do with intuition or foresight than a team having a playoff-caliber roster and/or franchise quarterback. When covering the Jaguars during the late 1990s, you had the feeling entering the 1998 and 1999 seasons they were going to be a playoff team; that team had earned that status with postseason appearances in 1996 and 1997. The Indianapolis Colts teams I covered in the 2000s were so talented – with a Hall-of-Fame, generational quarterback in Peyton Manning – that it was hard not to feel between 2004 and 2010 or so that the team would push for the Super Bowl if healthy. This Jaguars team hasn't earned that feeling because it only has made one postseason – and because quarterback Trevor Lawrence still must show he's elite. It does feel on the cusp of being that sort of team. Stay tuned.

Brendan from Yulee, FL

Do you think Chad Muma will play well enough to overtake Devin Lloyd as the starter?

Though I don't expect this to happen, I wouldn't rule it out. The Jaguars selected Lloyd in Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft, then selected Muma in Round 3. Muma played well enough as a rookie – and Lloyd struggled enough around midseason – for Muma to move into the starting lineup briefly. Neither inside linebacker differentiated himself as the far superior player, and Lloyd started the final five regular season games and into the postseason. The Jaguars believe strongly in Lloyd and expect him to be more consistent this season – and to be a difference-making playmaker. Still, it's not ridiculous to think Muma could eventually beat out Lloyd if Lloyd struggles as he did as a rookie. Perhaps a more intriguing storyline this season will be whether the Jaguars feature some packages to have Lloyd and Muma on the field at the same time – perhaps with outside linebacker Travon Walker playing down on the line and Lloyd playing outside. That would be an intriguing lineup. We'll see.

Kevin from Orange Park, FL

Where do we go from here?

Out to eat, one would hope.

Mark from St. Augustine, FL

There has been a lot of discussion about drafting a tackle, then playing one of them at left guard for a season until the team makes a decision on left tackle Cam Robinson's last year of his contract. There was discussion early in the season that coaches felt Ben Bartch could be a solid starting left guard. What is the current perception/expectation for Bartch? I would think that evaluation might impact the team's considerations in the upcoming draft.

Bartch started the first five games of the 2022 regular season at left guard before sustaining a torn season-ending anterior cruciate ligament. General Manager Trent Baalke on Thursday said Bartch is ahead of schedule in his return, though it's unclear if he will be ready by the start of 2023 Training Camp. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Jaguars selected an offensive lineman – guard or tackle, or a player versatile enough to play multiple positions – in the first three rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft. The Jaguars like Bartch as a starter. That wouldn't keep them from selecting someone who could push for that job or play somewhere else on the line in future seasons.

Darren from Fort Worth, TX

Do you think the personnel on the defensive line are better suited for a 4-3 or 3-4 front?

Not necessarily, though playing Walker down as a big end at times could make sense in certain situations. That seems very possible.

Sean from Jacksonville

Always remember... "That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane and Lenny Bruce is not afraid."

Hurry with the beers.

Tom from Cairo

We're all pretty confident in saying we're not going to draft a quarterback at No. 24. I feel confident in adding kicker, punter and long snapper to that list. Anything else you'd feel confident saying we won't touch? Linebacker? Center?

I could see the Jaguars selecting an outside linebacker/edge rusher at No. 24 in next week's 2023 NFL Draft if the right player were available. I would be surprised to see them select wide receiver or running back there, though it wouldn't be push-me-over-with-your-pinky surprised.

George from Jacksonville Beach

What's the best draft pick for the Jaguars of the last decade?

If it's not Lawrence, then this franchise is in some trouble.

Deane from World's Most Famous Beach, FL

Hey, O-MAN! It has been said numerous times here in the Zone that the Jags are trying to build a core team then to draft and develop players. With the draft ahead it got me to thinking (which according to my wife can be dangerous). Instead of waiting until it is absolutely necessary to draft a quarterback to potentially take the torch from Lawrence, why not take one in the later rounds to do just that – groom him in the Jag's system? I believe that there are some quarterback that are being projected in the last rounds that have that same championship winning mentality (Bennett or Duggan) and results as our current QB1 has? When is an ideal time to pick up a quarterback to groom a potential heir to the QB1 throne; much like Aaron Rodgers did behind Brett Farve with Green Bay or Steve Young did behind Joe Montana with San Francisco? What do you say O-MAN? What is a good time to draft a QB to develop?

Your wife has a good point. Lawrence is 23 years old. It makes perfect sense to draft a quarterback every few seasons to develop as a backup or developmental player. But it's unrealistic and unnecessary to draft one with the idea of being Lawrence's replacement in the next few seasons.

Michael from Orange Park, FL

Is it football season yet?

The 2023 NFL Draft begins April 27. Jaguars 2023 Training Camp begins in late July.

Sean from Oakleaf, FL

Looking through the 21 seasons of the AFC South, the Jaguars have never swept the AFC South. I think this year would be a good opportunity to win those six games?

Jaguars fans are optimistic and correctly so – and there's little question the Jaguars will be favored to win the AFC South in 2023. But sweeping the division is difficult – even for teams that are clearly better than the rest of their division. Division teams know your tendencies and beating the team the second time in a season is more difficult than winning the first matchup. Sweeping the division also means winning all three division road games, and winning on the road is always difficult in the NFL. I'm not saying the Jaguars can't sweep the AFC South in 2022. It's just really difficult to do.

Eric from Jacksonville Beach

I know you have a problem with people on your lawn from time to time. With the draft coming up, it reminds me of my old 'stuck in the mud' moment. I remember when the draft was Saturday and Sunday. You'd invite all your friends over, fire up the grill, fill up a cooler with cold beverages, and talk football all day. It was glorious! I know that will never happen again, because the new format gets better rating, but I miss it each year when this time comes around. Alight, I'll go back to trying to get people off my lawn now.


Johnny from Westside, baby!

Is this what a typical - dare I say "winning" - franchise looks like in the offseason? Kind of slow, but also strangely brief, with few headlines and lots of time to focus on minutiae? Not a complaint, or trying to be funny or clever, is honest question.

Yes. Winning, consistent franchises participate prudently in first-wave NFL free agency. That can lead to February and early-to-mid-March being comparatively quiet. They also typically select in the bottom quarter of Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft. That can lead to the March and April lead-in to the NFL Draft being comparatively quiet. The Jaguars haven't established themselves as a consistent winner yet. Teams must do more than make one playoff appearance to do that. But they are trending that direction, and they behaved as winning franchises do this offseason. We'll see where it goes.