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O-Zone: Something missing

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Dave from Jacksonville

Zone, from your highly-trained eyes have you noticed any first-year player coming back to camp noticeably improved from last year? Also, have any rookies stood out as far as possibly pushing a veteran for a roster spot unexpectedly? I know rookies make the team in preseason games. Denver Broncos Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis always comes to mind, when he made the team with one special teams tackle in his first preseason game and the rest was history. Anyone standing up yet? Any previews to follow leading up to the preseason games?

While interest in this topic is understandable, it's about a week early to answer this question close to accurately. We're four days into Jaguars 2023 Training Camp, and those four days have been non-padded – with padded practices scheduled to begin Monday at 8:40 a.m. For that reason, it's difficult to gauge much about a player such as rookie right tackle Anton Harrison – the No. 27 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. It's also tough to gauge improvement from second-year linebackers Travon Walker, Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma. Their development is one of this camp's key storylines. You can judge skill players a bit better in non-padded work than linemen, though. On that front, first-year tight end Gerrit Prince – a practice-squad player last season and a player to watch entering camp – has looked good thus far. I also have liked what I have seen from rookie tight end Brenton Strange and running back Tank Bigsby, second- and third-round selections. But it's still very early. It won't be as early in a few weeks.

Steve from Nashville, TN

Last year the Jaguars claimed five players off waivers after roster cutdown day (two are still with the team in wide receiver Kendrick Pryor and running back JaMycal Hasty). I believe the Jaguars had the No. 1 waiver position last year. They are much lower in the waiver order this year. Is it possible the players for all 53 roster spots for opening day are all currently with this team?

The Jaguars' post-cutdown-day period figures to be quieter this season than last. One reason is they will be 25th in the waiver order in early September as opposed to first last season. Another is that these coaches know the roster better than they did this time last season, which could mean less tendency to churn the last position in various roster groups. Also: The roster is improved from a year ago. Still, I would guess there would be a few "surprise" additions in early September. But injuries and leaguewide roster movement during that period make it rare for teams not to make a "low-roster" move or two.

David from Oviedo, FL

O. According to Pro Football Focus, the best quarterbacks against the blitz are Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson. How do you see Trevor Lawrence performing in blitz situations?

I take out my binoculars and watch.

Bradley from Sparks, NV

When after years of constantly telling us how important the quarterback position is, you said Jerry Rice is the GOAT, I was suspicious. When the column started posting at 3 or 4 am (PST) I became concerned. Now that you have referred to Frenette simply as "Gene" in a response, I have become convinced that A.I. has taken over this column.

When I say that longtime San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice was the greatest NFL player of all- time, I mean he dominated his position more than perhaps any other player. Former New York Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor might belong in that conversation along with a few others. That doesn't make wide receiver more important than quarterback – and considering the importance of quarterback, there probably would be quarterbacks selected ahead of Rice if you were trying to draft a team for some sort of weird all-time league. As for longtime Florida Times-Union sports columnist and Northeast Florida cultural icon Eugene P. "Gene" Frenette as "Gene" being a sign that artificial intelligence is writing the Ozone … artificial intelligence is unquestionably superior to O-Zone intelligence. I think that's a given.

Johnny B from Howey in the Hills

Mr. O: I'm elated at the composition of the Jags this year. The whole Travon Walker story really was uplifting and he will be such a great locker room guy along with Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne Jr., tight end Evan Engram, wide receiver Tim Jones, wide receiver Zay Jones, linebacker Chad Muma, linebacker Foye Oluokun, outside linebacker Josh Allen and now wide receiver Calvin Ridley and others –just solid citizens. This intangible is the glue that sticks the great teams together and the Jaguars seem to have it. Many kudos go to General Manager Trent Baalke and to Head Coach Doug Peterson and the staff for their selections the past couple of years and their leadership as real professionals. This group seems extremely tight and I'm so glad that the front office didn't consider bringing Jalen Ramsey back as some reports that he did hint he would come back to Jacksonville. He is a tremendous athlete as others in the O-Zone have stated but he was an "all about me" guy and my impression was a cancer in the locker room. I wish him well but not with the Jags. Goooooo Jags '24 ... all the way.


Troy from Dover, PA

Is Jordan Smith fully participating in practice in his return from the ACL injury last year?

Smith, a third-year outside linebacker for the Jaguars, missed last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained in organized team activities last June. He is practicing full in Jaguars 2023 Training Camp.

Marc from Oceanway

Sir, Zone. This question may seem trivial, but I am seriously curious. Why do they change the orientation of the practice fields?

I don't know what "change the orientation of the practice fields" means. The Jaguars, like most teams, rotate use of practice fields throughout the year to enable the grounds crews to keep the fields in the best possible conditions.

Brian from Gainesville, FL

Big O, I keep seeing O-Zone questions that oversimplify the impact of an NFL team on a city. They speak of using the money that would be spent on a new stadium on other things they consider more worthy. Do they not understand the economic impact of an NFL team on the local community? Just on game days, there are small businesses that make exponentially more money to say nothing of the thousands of people earning a wage on those days to provide security, concessions, cleaning services, etc. Those folks then spend the money they make in the community too. Even the executives and players use their money to patronize car dealerships, clothing stores, home repair services and so on. To diminish it to watching 21 hours of football is silly and ignorant. We have not even gotten to the sense of connection and camaraderie that comes with a city rallying around a central focal point, a phenomenon that is ever more important in today's world.

One fer the Stadium of the Future.

Steve from Charlevoix

When safety Antonio Johnson was drafted, there was talk of him being a slot cornerback. Sounds like he has the physical characteristics. My question is whether it would be a good idea to put a rookie in that position. I feel that a lot of experience is required to read the offense from that position. What do you think?

Johnson has looked impressive early in Jaguars 2023 Training Camp. He appears to have the physicality and skill to be good – and possibly to play nickel cornerback. If he keeps showing those traits throughout training camp and preseason, perhaps he can be an option at the position this season. I expect veteran Tre Herndon to be the nickel corner to start the season. If Johnson is the better option, there's nothing wrong with him playing so soon. There's nothing magical about having a veteran there.

Sean from Oakleaf, FL

Does having a veteran big leg kicker in Brandon McManus change any fourth-and-go-for-it scenarios for Head Coach Doug Pederson this season?

Absolutely. Having a stronger-legged kicker makes it more likely that any head coach would kick a field goal facing fourth down from the opponents' 33-to-40-yard-lines-ish.

Charles from Savannah, GA

Hi John, How is it that Justin Fields ranks above Trevor Lawrence?

I haven't the foggiest.

Daniel from Jersey City, NJ

O-man, are fights at practice common? I'm trying to have the proper perspective on Travis Kelce throwing punches in Kansas City. It's not a pro look that's for sure.

Practice fights aren't common and most NFL head coaches aren't fans of fights. They're usually sort of silly and waste valuable practice time. They're also not a particularly big deal.

Reese from loyal Jaguar fan in VA

... is that the feeling we all been missing? Go Jags!!

Maybe. Probably. I honestly have no idea.