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O-Zone: Such is life

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Tom from Shanghai, China

Re: "Game-changers" … playing the game at a higher level than anyone has before isn't changing the game. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes may be playing quarterback at a higher level that we've ever seen before, but extending plays and scrambling to buy more time to throw isn't a new concept. He just does it better.

Mahomes indeed is already elite – and as of Monday, very rich – and he has potential to be an all-time great. He appears destined for that status, though I would stop well short of saying he's already playing quarterback at a higher level than we've ever seen before. And you're right that extending plays and scrambling to buy time isn't new. Still, it previously has been viewed at least somewhat negatively in the NFL – as something that a quarterback must grow and mature through. And it has been theorized that you couldn't win consistently long-term playing that way. That perception is changing, and that is definitely a new concept. And in that sense, quarterbacks such as Mahomes, Russell Wilson of Seattle and Deshaun Watson of Houston very definitely appear to be changing the game.

Bruce from Green Cove Springs, FL

If – and it is a big "if" – the season starts on time, do you know how the team plans to travel? Apparently, some teams will travel and return on game day to avoid hotels and minimize exposure. I could see that for away games like Cincinnati, Baltimore, or Houston, but it doesn't seem feasible for other locations like Los Angeles.

This, like so much else involving the 2020 NFL season and the logistics around COVID-19, is still to be determined. I would be very, very surprised if most teams travel the same day for most games. Traveling takes a toll on the body and mind. It's difficult enough for teams to overcome the toll flying in advance of games. It would be that much more difficult flying the same day.

Alex from Orlando, FL

Can you imagine the hype for the Jaguars and this fan base if they drafted Mahomes and gave him a 12-year $500 million contract?


Gary from St. Augustine, FL

What do you think of UDFA JR Reed? Can he make the team?

It's impossible to accurately predict if an undrafted rookie free agent will make a team until he starts practicing and playing against other NFL players in pads. But in the case of Reed, who played collegiately at the University of Georgia before signing with the Jaguars shortly after the 2020 NFL Draft, it's reasonable to think he has a chance. He attended the NFL Scouting Combine and was projected by many analysts as a Day 3 draft selection. That means he has the credentials and the Jaguars' safety position is thin enough that a "long shot" has a chance to make the roster. There's no reason Reed can't be that "long shot."

Sean from Tampa, FL

Big O, do you think the preseason games will be canceled? If so, I really can't see the season opening with fans. Nor being at full capacity with the six-foot rule this year. Should be an interesting season as we roll into July with training camp kicking off. Thank you for keeping us entertained.

The NFL reportedly has decided to at least reduce the preseason from four games to two, and it wouldn't surprise me if it eliminated the entire preseason. The NFL's plan reportedly for now is to allow teams to set attendance policies based on local conditions rather than issue leaguewide mandates – and I sense the league at least will begin the season with that approach. And like you, I would be surprised if many – or any – NFL stadiums are at full capacity in 2020.

Steve from Nashville, TN

Now that Cam Newton has signed with New England where does that leave former Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles in the pecking order of available free-agent veteran quarterbacks?

Up there.

Steve from 139 and Jacksonville

John, I think two of the riskiest positions on the roster with respect to COVID-19 are kicker and punter. There are no backups and – at best – maybe an emergency guy. I think that makes street kickers and punters a bit more valuable (at least for a week or two) position this season. So, can a team sign a player on Saturday night or Sunday morning? Does the NFL have roster rules about adding/subtracting players right before a game? Thanks.

Teams routinely during normal seasons sign and release players as late as Saturday afternoon. Given the circumstances teams could face this season because of COVID-19, I anticipate teams signing and moving players to reserve lists on game days. I also anticipate kickers and punters being on reserve lists and quarantined from other players best as possible to be available if kickers and punters are unable to play because of COVID-19.

Unhipcat from carlsbad, CA

Hi, John. It just seems weird the self-proclaimed "greatest cover corner ever" who "invented" whatever he claims he invented, wouldn't be assigned to cover the No. 1 receiver all the time.

It seems you're referencing Deion Sanders – and while Sanders may claim to be the greatest cover corner even, it's also true that many observers and analysts agree with the claim. And the reason even the best cover corners don't cover No. 1 receivers all the time is that sometimes it's more effective to double the opponent's best receiver and have the best corner cover the No. 2 corner one-on-one. Sometimes it's about what's best for the team and not the ego of the best player. Even if the best player sometimes forgets that.

Kevin from Jacksonville

Hi, John. I think we would have to agree to disagree that the NFL would "hide" that they were going to play "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as the Black National Anthem. If they do announce it, it will be right before they do it. They already have enough issues with Black Lives Matter. The last thing they want is to give other a chance to organize a counter protest to kneel during the play of that song. There are still a large number of people that do not agree that any social issue/inequality is more important than the flag or National Anthem that represents the country that gives them the freedom to protest their issue.

You're correct that division remains about this issue. I don't think you're correct about the NFL "hiding" the information if the decision is made to play "Lift Every Voice and Sing." We'll see if I'm wrong.

Keith from Miami, FL

Over the past few years, we've seen wide receivers on the team kind of have a breakout year only to follow it with a down year. A-Rob in '15-'16, Keelan Cole in '17-'18 and Dede Westbrook in '18-'19. Why do you think this is? And how can DJ Chark Jr. avoid a down year after his breakout last season?

Robinson's numbers fell off from 2015 to 2016 because the Jaguars' offense – and the play of Bortles – declined. Cole's decline from 2017 to 2018 appeared to happen because teams started taking away the deep routes on which he was so effective as a rookie; Cole appeared to hit a stretch of being a bit overwhelmed by the NFL for a while in 2018 – though he appeared to emerge from that "funk" last season. Westbrook's decline from 2018 to 2019 seemed largely due to injuries; he played through injuries much of last season. Chark can avoid a down year if quarterback Gardner Minshew II continues to develop, if the Jaguars' offense as a whole improves and if Chark avoids injuries.

zac from austin, tejas

Dead Zone Q: It's February 2021 and football wasn't cancelled (amen). Brady and Cam Newton went 10-6 for Tampa Bay and New England, respectively. Both went to the playoffs, were knocked out the first round, and both played average given their body of work. Does this say more about Brady, about the coaching, or Cam? I honestly feel bad for Cam; he is going to get roped into the middle of that. If he does great, it won't be his fault and if he does terrible, it will be only his fault.

I'll go with it saying more about Newton. He would have returned from the injuries that have debilitated him the past two seasons and led a team to the postseason that many observers believed much of this offseason would slide from contention. Making the postseason with Tampa Bay would be impressive for Brady, but there is a perception around the NFL that the Buccaneers were an improving team in recent seasons. But you're right that Newton is in something of a no-win situation. If he wins, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick will get credit for being a genius. If he loses, many will blame Newton because many won't believe anything could possibly be Belichick's fault. That's not fair to Newton. Life's that way sometimes.