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O-Zone: Standard of excellence

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it . . . James from New York:
I've been a diehard Jaguars fan my whole life. If they don't select Johnny Manziel, I may completely lose faith in the organization. I can't believe you would even consider picking Bridgewater, Broyles, Carr, or Boyd when they put up worse numbers against inferior competition. It's time to wake up! Johnny Manziel is the spark and relevance this team needs. He has the instincts, leadership skills and the "it" factor you can't teach. It's an obvious pick. What are your thoughts?
John: I think with a quarterback such as Manziel there's no such thing as an "obvious" selection. Let me say again: by instinct, I lean toward a very prototype passer. I thought Andrew Luck was the best quarterback prospect I had seen because he absolutely looked the part in terms of build, mobility and ability to see the field. Manziel is not that, and for part of his freshman season I dismissed him because of size and style. Those things are still concerning, because it's easy to foresee him taking a lot of hits in the NFL that he was able to avoid in college. That factor matters very much in the NFL and can't be overlooked before the draft. All of that said, I am faaaar more intrigued by Manziel after seeing him this season. He may be special enough to overcome those perceived shortcomings. It's intriguing.
Matt from Bloomington, IN:
We know Teddy Bridgewater and Jadeveon Clowney have declared for the draft and most people believe Johnny Manziel will as well. Even if we choose not to draft one of them, I have a sense of security knowing that players of their level will be available to the Jaguars at the third pick. We know there are no guarantees, but I know I will be excited for whoever we pick.
John: You are not alone.
Mike from Jagsonville:
Dave said Gabbert had made great strides this year. Could you enumerate the areas he improved in?
John: I can't tell you much first-hand because he didn't play. From speaking with people who saw him more in practice than I did, Gabbert benefitted from a chance to play the role of a backup. That meant performing certain preparation tasks during the week and being able to listen in meetings and observe without the week-to-week pressure of being a starter. That helped him grasp and be comfortable with things he never had before. It was also said that he benefitted from observing games – in other words, all of the things that he probably should have done as a rookie. At the same time, he didn't play in games, and games are absolutely different. Again, this is not to overstate this or to say that the plan is to start Gabbert next season. I don't see that happening. These are just people making the point that Gabbert benefitted from the time he spent as a backup.
Tony from Palm Coast, FL:
I saw Conner Shaw from South Carolina play Wednesday. He's quick on his feet but the ESPN ticker showed him low on the draft board for quarterbacks. What do you think of Conner? Do think the Jags are even considering him?
John: Shaw is impressive as a college player. He doesn't appear to be an early-round guy. It's early in the pre-draft process so teams are really more at the studying phase rather than the rank-and-elimination phase, but it's safe to say the Jaguars are looking at Shaw and a lot of other college quarterbacks extensively.
Richard from Woonsocket, RI:
Gus stressed "acceptability" in the press conference. If Justin Blackmon stumbles again next season, how many more chances do you give him? These issues are clearly "unacceptable" even with someone that talented.
John: I didn't get an idea in the press conference that Gus Bradley was speaking about Blackmon when discussing acceptability. David Caldwell made the team's approach to Blackmon clear when he said Blackmon would be a "luxury for us." The Jaguars will gladly have Blackmon play for them, but they won't assume that he will be available. If Blackmon is reinstated, he wouldn't have much of a leash from the NFL, and any further off-field incidents would probably mean the situation resolves itself.
James from Socorro, NM:
Looking at the season grades at Pro Football Focus, the top-rated grades for first-round rookies were drafted 13th, 14th, 31st, and 22nd (respectively), while the lowest-graded players were chosen 16th and 1st overall. It seems you can find quality players outside of the top picks.
John: Sure, you can. I wouldn't tie a player's success or failure completely to PFF's grades, and I wouldn't write a guy off for grading low as a rookie. PFF's grades are best use as a tool rather than an end-all assessment, and whatever their rookie grades, players can and do improve dramatically from their first seasons.
Jay from Jacksonville:
I know there is a lot of talk about picking up a quarterback in the draft but my question is how has Matt Scott developed this season? Does he have a chance next year?
John: He has a chance to be the third quarterback. At this stage, he's still developing and while plans change, I'd be surprised if he can push to be more than the backup next season.
Kevin from Jacksonville:
You mentioned in your What We Learned column interior of the offensive line needs to improve and could be a focus. Rackley hasn't been good, nor has Brewster. Obviously we must replace Meester. What about Uche? Has he played well this year? I know he was a key cog when MoJo won the rushing title, but has seemed inconsistent since then.
John: Uche Nwaneri will be a decision for the Jaguars in the offseason. It's probably accurate that he didn't have the season this season as he had in 2011. He also has a high salary next season: $3.7 million with another million or so as a workout bonus. At some point soon, the Jaguars likely will address that. Do they do it this offseason? It's difficult to address every area on the roster, and it would seem there are more pressing needs, so I'd guess Nwaneri is back next season. But it's not certain.
Will from Jacksonville:
This is a response to the question posted about Clowney not being a fit in the Bradley/Babich defense. I couldn't disagree more. You saw multiple times this year where the Jaguars would use a lot of stunts to generate pressure, especially with Branch. When you look at the Clowney cutups, he's almost unblockableon stunts (or any inside move for that matter). I think he would be an ideal fit and his scouting report reads like that of a prototypical LEO.
John: If Clowney is playing at a high level, he indeed is fit for pretty much any scheme. He's special. I happened to go to the Capitol One Bowl Wednesday, and didn't think he played particularly well on a lot of plays. Perhaps this was caution to avoid getting hurt, and if it was, I get it. But yeah, if he's playing well, he's a fit.
Arthur from Orlando, FL:
Can we agree that Clowney is no sure bet? Offensive linemen in the NFL are skilled and big, and this guy can't consistently beat collegiate talent. So let me ask you, have you seen anything from Clowney that talent-wise puts him on the level of Mathis, Freeney, Allen or Peppers?
John: Yes. In terms of talent, he looks to be on the level of those players. My concern with Clowney in the bowl game was he seemed to be a liability against the run. But again, that's me watching a few plays from the stands. That won't matter when Clowney is rushing the passer in the NFL. What will matter is if he can learn techniques and use them full-out play-in, play-out. That's how you get to the level of the players you mentioned.
Dwayne from Jacksonville:
" I think if no one drafts one of those players in the first two selections the Jaguars absolutely will be in great position to take one of them." Never overlooking the obvious, are we? Way to save further draft insights for the off season.
John: Way to keep up, Dwayne.
Scott from Chelsea, NY:
What are the general terms of a reserve/future contract? We signed our entire practice squad to one plus a few players off of other team's squad. Also why would someone leave another teams practice squad for a reserve contract versus staying with their current team?
John: The reserve/future contract is a way of signing a player with potential that you want in camp the following season. They're players who weren't on active rosters at the end of the previous season. They're often from the practice squads of the team with which they sign, but a team can sign a player from another practice squad. A player would leave one practice squad for another if he thought the opportunity was better at the new team.
Rudy from Baldwin, FL:
Gus talked about raising the bar and setting that higher standard. That's what you've done with these videos! Looking forward to the next level!
John: I'll try. I'm not sure I can get down much further.

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