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O-Zone: Too Kool

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Dave from Jacksonville:
Well, here we are at another halfway point of the season and what do we have to show for it? Well, I'm waiting …
John: Your question seems to imply some hesitation on my part in answering. It also seems to imply you've stumped me with some sort of unanswerable question. Alas … not so. While the Jaguars are 1-7, there is plenty to show for it. An improved defense. An improved running game. An idea about a handful of core players offensively going forward. A team that appears closer to where it's going than it was this time last year. Is that good enough? Probably not. Does it mean the process is complete? Of course not. Are the Jaguars going to the playoffs? Likely not. Are they continuing to improve with the ability to keep improving? Absolutely.
Cole from Orlando, FL:
I think Brandon Linder has been the most impressive rookie so far. Do you agree?
John: Yes.
Mark from Middletown, NJ:
Any future left for Toby Gerhart with the Jaguars?
John: Time will tell. Gerhart has struggled in the first eight games of the season. Some of the reason certainly is injury, but he has looked OK at times as a third-down back. I wouldn't necessarily write him off yet, but there probably needs to be more production – and a clearer role – as the season progresses.
Hunter from Jacksonville:
Ten and six for 2015. Book it. Wildcard. No. 5 is the Wild Card. #5ISTHEWILDCARD
John: #DTWD
Mark from Middleton, NJ:
Telvin Smith is having a really good season so far for the Jags. Any chance at some point they start to work him in the Otto position?
John: Not likely. Smith is a weak-side linebacker and it would be surprising if he doesn't start getting more repetitions there. That seems to be the trend, and his play has merited an increased role. The Otto position replaced the strong-side linebacker in the Jaguars' defense, and attributes such as size, strength and stoutness against the run are important at the position. Smith's strengths are speed, quickness and playmaking ability, not stoutness.
Herbert from MidState Office Supply Accountz Receevablez:
Ace Sanders has struggled as a punt returner so far since his return. He doesn't appear to have the elusiveness required to be a home-run threat. He also can't crack the wide-receiver rotation due to the depth we now have at that position. Any chance the Jags bring in competition at that punt-returner spot?
John: The Jaguars won't likely bring in punt-return competition this season, at least not in the form of a big-name, high-profile acquisition. Now, could that position be addressed in the offseason? Without question. First off, the Jaguars have Tandon Doss, who led the league in punt-return average for Baltimore last season and who is now in injured reserve. He would be a factor if healthy. Or the Jaguars could sign or draft the spot. Either way … yeah, if Sanders doesn't improve as a punt returner, I'd expect the Jaguars to address the situation.
Friedrich from Hamburg, Germany:
How much time in practice is actually attributed to improving Bortles' mechanics? Before the season, that was a big point of emphasis. How big a part of the interception problem is the ball coming out rather wobbly?
John: There is far less time available to focus on mechanics during the regular season. That's because practice during the NFL regular season is about game-planning and preparing for the opponents, making mechanics a fairly common issue for quarterbacks. Peyton Manning when he was in Indianapolis often worked on mechanics and fundamentals after practice during the season, and was diligent about it through the offseason. Mechanics can affect accuracy, velocity, etc. They are an issue for any quarterback, and at this early stage of his career they remain a focus for Bortles. When I asked about time available for mechanics this week, he said there certainly isn't as much time for this area as there is in the offseason. But while he said a couple of the interceptions he has thrown have been about footwork, the larger issue has been decision-making. That should improve with time and really doesn't have that much to do with mechanics.
Duran from Rapid City, SD:
On the comments from Blake Bortles about his footwork/fundamentals not being a concern during the season … It seems to me that you have to crawl before you can walk. Even if he makes a good read and correct decision and then the ball comes out flat because you don't set your feet properly, what progress have you really made? It just seems a little backwards to me, but I'm no coach, so what do I know?
John: I was standing a few feet away when Bortles made those comments this week, and I didn't get the sense of a lack of concern as much as an acknowledgment of the reality of the position. The nature of the NFL is that fewer hours are spent on footwork and fundamentals in the regular season than the offseason. Would Bortles spend more time on footwork in the regular season in an ideal world? Probably. Is it realistic? Well, it's certainly much more difficult.
Quinn from Tampa, FL:
Alan Ball is an unrestricted free agent after this season, correct? It would seem the only reason to not release him after the season-ending injury is because the team is interested in re-signing him. Do you foresee the team trying to re-sign him before the end of the season? His play has warranted a respectable contract.
John: Alan Ball has played well. That's one side of the issue. The other side is the Jaguars have young players at the position – Dwayne Gratz, Demetrius McCray, Jeremy Harris and Aaron Colvin – who will be playing extensively now. There's little question that ideally the Jaguars would like those four players to play well enough to be the future core of the position. That's no knock on Ball, but you prefer young, growing players to veterans. With that in mind, I'd expect the Jaguars to know a lot more about their future approach to Ball's situation near the end of the season.
Nathan from St. Augustine, FL:
It has been overshadowed by the failures of the passing game Sunday, but Denard Robinson had a very good day against a very good defense. That's two impressive weeks in a row. Have the Jags found their feature running back in Denard? If so, that must be considered a draft steal, am I correct?
John: I don't know that it has been that overshadowed, but yes, Denard Robinson has had two good games – and Sunday's was indeed against a very good defense. I think the Jaguars have certainly found a player in Denard Robinson who can be productive and who is a whole lot better than many anticipated. I think ideally you would have a runner who could share the carries and complement what Robinson's doing. I don't think you want him logging 350 carries a season. But yeah, if Robinson plays consistently as he has played the last two weeks, call him a "steal." Why not?
Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville :
Our next stretch of schedule is perhaps the hardest of the year. The Bengals, Cowboys, Colts, and Ravens are all playoff-caliber teams with very talented rosters. How does having such an "unsuccessful" first season impact a rookie quarterback? Eventually, I would believe the confidence has to start to sway. With such a gruesome schedule how does Bortles come out of this season believing he can be successful?
John: First off, Bortles has eight more games in his rookie season, so it's sort of early to term his season either successful or unsuccessful. But even if he continues to throw interceptions and struggle in the areas in which he has struggled it's still pretty easy for him to believe he can be successful. He's a confident guy with every tool necessary to be good. He's also on a team that believes in him, and a team that's going to continue to try to get better around him. Those are good things.
Dave from Section 235 and Jacksonville:
So, I had not jumped on the O-Zone in a while, simply because I got tired of both the negativity from the crowd AND the Kool-Aid swilling senior writer … Sorry, but I love the Jags' and just could not take it anymore. Even going to the games has been painful, but we have been hanging in there. I asked your cranky predecessor the same question about five years ago and I am hoping you have a real answer... how long is this rebuild going to take? I am thinking it will be 2016 before we break .500 and I am not being pessimistic, just realistic based on my knowledge of football. You know more about it than I do so, what is your opinion?
John: Yours is a curious email, one dipped in irony. It begins with a not-well-veiled accusation that you don't actually expect an honest answer. You added to that a less-well-veiled accusation that my predecessor somehow was less than honest as well. Then, you asked for my honest opinion, which naturally, fittingly and deliciously is that the Jaguars won't again lose a game – maybe ever and at least not until this current regime, coaching staff and ownership group has long since been enshrined in those hallowed halls in Canton, Ohio.

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