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O-Zone: When in Rome... or New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS – Game-day O-Zone.

Let's get to it … Ethan from Jacksonville:
Zone, do you think Blake Bortles will get out of the "still -growing" stage next year?
John: Let's start this game-day O-Zone with some perspective. Blake Bortles has thrown 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his second season after throwing 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions as a rookie last season. The Jaguars' offense as a whole has improved from being mostly dysfunctional last season to scoring consistently in the 20s this season. I imagine Jaguars fans and observers hope Bortles and the offense are "still growing" at that pace for a long while. And yes – I know your question refers to the costly mistakes/interceptions/turnovers he has made this season. He still will make some as his career continues because all quarterbacks make mistakes. As he grows, he should make fewer and fewer.
Daniel from Toole, UT:
Hola, John. Do you think the Jags will pursue Alex Mack since he will most likely opt out of his contract? We have Wiz and Luke Bowanko but Mack is a clear, proven frontrunner at that position. Bowanko has upside, but do we wait for development? If Mack wants to win, come over because I feel were gonna do a lot of that next year. Go JAGS!
John: Alex Mack plays center for the Cleveland Browns. He must opt out of his contract at the end of the season to become a free agent. But if he does so, the Jaguars …
Keith from Palatka, FL:
I don't know if this will help, but I hope the Jaguars give Gus Bradley at least one more year. This decision comes not from the head, but from the heart. I believe Gus is a truly good person and that given an offseason of defensive-player acquisitions, he can lead the Jaguars to the Promised Land. With a vastly improved offense all the Jaguars lack to make 2016 a special year is some playmakers on defense. Here's hoping for a Happy New Year. Here's hoping for Gus and the Jaguars.
John: With two games remaining in the regular season, I do believe Bradley will return as coach next season. His being a good guy has far less to do with me thinking that than the fact that the Jaguars appear to be improving and moving in the right direction.
Clint from Richmond Hill, GA:
Recently on Mike and Mike, the guys were discussing the lack of patience in the NFL by owners in regards to head coaches and general managers not producing immediate results, noting specifically Ken Wisenhunt with the Titans. They then pointed out and applauded Shad Khan for sticking with Gus and Dave, and went on to say it's the right thing to do with a young team – and especially a young, ascending quarterback. "Resetting" the team every few years just isn't the right way to build a team. Thoughts??
John: I've said for years most owners are way too quick to make changes, and that the result of change for the sake of change is often a repeated pattern of change for the sake of change. It's very tough for owners to be patient because the norm in the NFL these days is to tear things down quickly rather than wait for thinks to build up. I don't know for a fact that the Jaguars' approach of being patient with this ground-up rebuild will work; there are no guarantees in professional sports. But I can say that the chances of long-term success are better the more patience you show.
Andy from Wausau, WI:
With Pro Bowl voting being all a popularity contest, why not incorporate fantasy football stats to help select the most productive players for the Pro Bowl? Seems like yet another way to incorporate fans and merit playmakers and not household names.
John: The system is broken enough with more fantasy football involved. That's not a knock on those who play fantasy football, but good fantasy numbers often don't mean being the best player.
Mike from Atlanta, FL:
You can blame pass rush, but Johnathan Cyprien is not where he should be in Year 3 in this system. Inconsistent angles, missed tackles (although coming in at 600 mph), coverage meh, and playmaking. You defended the secondary with pass rush with good and truthful arguments. But, the one thing the secondary is lacking is a true consistent playmaker. The "big catch" of Gus's hire was he built/helped evaluate and put players in position to be successful in the secondary in Seattle. Gus deserves a Year 4 for recognizing Greg Olson's ability as offensive coordinator – and for Years 1 and 2 being non-winnable battles — but in these next two games leading into next year they need to show sense of urgency; HE needs to show some of that fire from the famous sideline roasting he gave his defense in Seattle. It's go time.
John: The Johnathan Cyprien Topic has been discussed a lot this season. Though he's not the Pro Bowl-playmaking safety this defense clearly needs, as a strong safety he is fine in this system – and likely would be helped a great deal by the presence of a high-level free safety. Whatever level he has reached in Year 3, his play is not nearly as big a factor in the defense struggling as the lack of pass rush. I also agree that the team needs to show urgency in the final two games, but I've rarely seen this team not show urgency under Bradley, so I'm not expecting that to be an issue in these next eight days. As far as showing the "sideline-roasting fire" … Bradley shows plenty of fire. This team never lacks for motivation and they almost always play hard. A sideline rant isn't necessary.
Rod from Atlanta, GA:
btw, House is not bad as fans think and actually does make the most plays of any player in the secondary.
John: (I know).
Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Big O, let me preface my question by saying I agree with your position that Luke Joeckel is a fine starting left tackle in the NFL. It's fair to say that while he is not destined for any postseason honors, he is serviceable. You regularly comment that the Jaguars are not looking to replace him at the position, but given the gobs of salary cap money the team will have available, do you think they would pass up the opportunity – if one presented itself – to very significantly upgrade the position and then have Joeckel as a starting-level reliever in the rotation?
John: I doubt very seriously there would be a significant upgrade at left tackle available in free agency. A significant upgrade would mean an elite player and teams rarely allow those players to sign elsewhere.
Michael from Jacksonville:
I personally think the Pro Bowl "snubs" and "small-market effect" are a big deal to players. Going to the Pro Bowl is more than getting a ribbon. It has very real financial implications for the players that miss out. Contract incentives, increased marketability when negotiating endorsement deals, etc. A broken system is limiting the access of these players to no fault of their own. Let's not forget Fred Taylor was only sent to Hawaii once, as an alternate.
John: I don't doubt that missing the Pro Bowl is a big deal to players. Recognition is cool, and it's OK for players to like it. I do think the "small-market effect" at times is overblown – and that the success of a team has far more to do with Pro Bowl recognition than market size. Carolina isn't a large market, and the Panthers had 10 Pro Bowl selections this season. When the Jaguars were winning consistently in the 1990s, they routinely had multiple players in the game. The same was true when I covered the Colts, though Indianapolis is hardly a large market. Taylor's constant omissions from the Pro Bowl are often cited as an example of the "small-market" effect, and perhaps that played a part at times. But Taylor often was the fourth- or fifth-leading rusher in the AFC at the time of Pro Bowl voting and missed out by a nose in a lot of years. I think he's a Hall of Fame talent, but there were years he didn't make it when there were strong arguments for other players. Remember, too, players such as Jimmy Smith, Mark Brunell, Tony Boselli, Marcus Stroud, John Henderson and Maurice Jones-Drew have made multiple Pro Bowls for the Jaguars. When the Jaguars win, their players will get recognition. The system still won't be perfect, but it won't completely snub the Jaguars.
Ben from Jacksonville:
John, you copy and pasted Pressure Drew Brees 10 more times, not nine. Just sayin'
John: Pressure Drew Brees.
Kevin from Jacksonville:
I guess my hope of seeing Allen Robinson and Justin Blackmon as teammates is gone with the latest DUI.
John: I was sorry to see what happened with Justin Blackmon recently. I don't think it affected your hope very much.
Steve from Nashville, TN:
If Blake achieves the same measure of year-over-year improvement in Year 3 as he did from Year 1 to Year 2 - we will have a pretty good quarterback next season.
John: The Jaguars already have a pretty good quarterback. He probably won't improve at the same rate next season as he did this season, but if keeps improving he will very, very good. At least.
Lyndsey from Jacksonville:
Zone, how many beads did you collect on Bourbon Street last night?
John: I have no idea what you're talking about.

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