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O-Zone: Two days away


JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Brad from The Avenues


We're still celebrating the Jaguars re-signing defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot this past Friday, a popular transaction among fans and a story that will be intriguing to watch this season. Smoot, a third-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2017 NFL Draft, has been one of the team's most productive – and consistently disruptive – defensive linemen the past four seasons. He also has been versatile, able to move around the defensive front seven and be effective. But the reason the Jaguars didn't re-sign Smoot until less than a week before 2023 Training Camp was he sustained a torn Achilles last December. That's often a career-altering injury and returning to full effectiveness can be difficult. Stay tuned.

Tom from Cairo, Egypt

I hope this email is one of many. Congratulations to Kevin Maxen for having the confidence to live openly as a gay man and congratulations to Jaguars Owner Shad Khan and the Jaguars for building an environment to allow him the confidence to do this. Being able to be yourself is the most basic human right and the fact in that out of over 4,000 people employed by the NFL he is one of just two openly gay men suggests we've not quite got there yet.

Jaguars assistant strength and conditioning coach Kevin Maxen last Thursday became the first NFL coach to come out as gay. This is far from the only email I received along these lines. I'm not surprised by that nor am I surprised the Jaguars and Khan have created an environment in which Maxen was comfortable coming out. That's as it should be.

Al from Orange Park

Do we (i.e. you) have any hopes for Chassion to do much of anything this year?

I'm intrigued. Outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson, the No. 20 overall selection by the Jaguars in the 2020 NFL Draft, has made comparatively little impact in three seasons outside special teams. He also is entering his fourth NFL season – and final season of his rookie contract – so it's obviously a critical season. A few reasons to still hope Chaisson can make a significant contribution. One: He missed eight games last season with a knee injury, and it's difficult for a player who has yet to prove himself to earn a chance to do so in a season cut so short by injury. Two: He looked good at times playing as a reserve last season. Third: He had perhaps his best offseason this year, looking quick and aware during 2023 Organized Team Activities. None of those things mean Chaisson is a lock to make an impact. But perhaps he has a chance.

Dave from Jacksonville

Zone, Wizard of O, King of All Funk do you think this year's defense can be the best in the NFL? Can it be that good? Is it that good?

I don't expect the Jaguars' defense to be the best in the NFL in 2023. And while team officials and coaches certainly want the defense to be as good as possible, I think the hope for the defense is that the unit continues to make big plays in big situations – and continues to be effective creating turnovers. As for the offense … I don't know if the unit will be the best in the NFL. But it darned sure has a chance to be in the discussion.

Brendan from Yulee

Kids will remember that moment when one of their favorite players turns them down for an autograph. I certainly remember when MJD No. 32 refused an autograph for me at training camp after I waited patiently at the end of the line headed back into the stadium. Thirty seconds and a smile are all it takes to make some kid's day. Just sign the autograph, Patrick!

This is tricky. I was young once (long ago) and I had a son (not so long ago, but still a while back), so I certainly can relate to the disappointment young autograph seekers experience when their favorite athlete turns down a request. I also have been around the NFL long enough to understand professional athletes have bad days. They make mistakes. They sometimes have bad practices. Or are just tired. Most athletes try to accommodate requests for autographs and pictures within reason, but it's difficult to be accommodating all the time.

Greg from Section 122, The BANK, Jacksonville, FL

Not so much a question as a statement. You commented the other day about a reader telling running backs to get another job if they didn't like theirs. You reminded him about being nice. Something came to that while being blunt and crass, the comment wasn't wrong. These guys get paid an emperor's fortune to play this game, so it is hard to feel sympathy for them complaining about being devalued. I have learned two things in my vast experience (I am really long in the tooth). First: Life rarely is fair or nice; you catch a break sometimes, the dice don't usually go your way. Second: The only thing permanent in this world, is nothing. Change is inevitable and the sooner these running backs understand that the economics have shifted to not in their favor, the better their situation will be. Simple truth: There is a larger surplus of material (running backs) than there is need (teams). And there is AMPLE evidence that second-or third-tier running backs don't impact the teams' production much – not as much as, say, second- or third-tier quarterbacks. Sorry guys: That's the cold, hard truth. Get what you can, while you can. If that fails, there is always the arena league.

There's more than a little truth here, though you're correct that there's not much nice.

P Funk from Murray Hill

Did the Engram signing and contract create a domino effect resulting in re-signing Smoot? Or just a coincidence? Will there be more signings?

Though the Jaguars signing tight end Evan Engram to a three-year contract last Monday cleared about $5 million from the Jaguars' 2023 salary cap, that didn't impact the timing of Smoot signing as much as the Jaguars getting a feel for Smoot's health.

Keith from Duval

Aside from outside linebacker Travon Walker, what other defensive players need to make a big jump to help take this defense to the next level?

I'd put inside linebacker Devin Lloyd next in the discussion. Lloyd, the No. 27 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, made impact plays at times last season. He also struggled with reaction and recognition at times. The good news for Lloyd and the Jaguars is that's something that should improve in Year 2 because of experience and comfort in the defense. It's also good news that Lloyd clearly has the athleticism to make plays when he's in position. All the potential is there. He just needs to perform.           

Dwayne from Jacksonville

Squeezing in the last Dead Zone stuff. Have you noticed that lately it has been fan-ish to disparage the senior writer's qualifications? That's OK: Fans should demand full value for what they are paying for this forum, but you have been lax in not pointing out they have not been "nice." Are there occasionally sports journalists at press conferences that ask questions that get answered with essentially just an eye roll – i.e., the nicest answer possible.) Might I point out to the detractors: The Ozone never gets an eye roll. Maybe one day you will reach the level of Eugene P. "Gene" Frenette, unless the answer to his question is "Yes" or "Yes, exactly." The coach gets the eye roll.

You had the "s" and "w" in senior writer capitalized. I lowered them because I didn't figure I was qualified enough for the honor. Seriously, it bothers me not a bit what readers think of my "qualifications." I can put words together in relatively understandable fashion. I observe. I ask questions when I feel I don't understand something. I try to apply what I have learned in nearly three decades close to the NFL to provide some level of daily to what's going on around the Jaguars. The people for whom I work seem to think I'm qualified, or at least believe I'm not unqualified enough to be embarrassing. Maybe someday the detractors will get their wish and the people for whom I work will change their minds. Until then, as long as the code works …          

Daniel from Jersey City, NJ

O-man, do you look forward to camp or is it just "another day at the office"?

I don't look forward to it or not look forward to training camp. I know from experience it will be here soon enough whatever I do. When it comes, I will do the job to the best of my unqualified abilities. I will then go home and come back the next day and do it again. As long as the code works.

Gary from St. Augustine, FL

When training camp opens, you'll still suck.