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O-Zone: Worn down

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Michael from Orange Park, FL

Not a lot of talk in these parts these days about the running backs. How do you see this position playing out? Can we expect anything from T-Big?

I expect the Jaguars' running backs position to look and feel at least a biiit different this season than last season, though that admittedly may be me relying on one of my "hot takes" from last offseason finally coming to fruition. I thought running back Tank Bigsby, then a rookie, would have a very good season in 2023 and push running back Travis Etienne Jr. for playing time. That never came close to happening, with Etienne essentially playing the entire season as the "RB1" and neither Bigsby nor D'Ernest Jackson contributing consistently. It seemed Jaguars coaches lost a bit of confidence early in Bigsby, which – combined with their faith in Etienne – conspired to minimize Bigsby's opportunities. The Jaguars would like that to change in 2024. So, how do I see the position playing out? 'Tis the season for predictions, so I suppose I'll move forward one more time with a prediction that Bigsby will matter to the Jaguars' offense. I won't say he'll push for equal playing time as Etienne, but I do expect he will be more productive than last season – enough to at least somewhat ease Etienne's workload. As for Etienne … I expect him to have his best NFL season to date if he's healthy. I expect the Jaguars' offensive line to be improved, particularly in the area of interior run-blocking. If that's the case, you'll have an explosive running back in his NFL physical prime with the right combination of experience. This could be special. Stay tuned.

Deane from Daytona Beach, FL

Yo, O-Zone! I am really loving the new DC in town! One thing he highlighted was getting back to basics: Proper stance, proper alignment, proper eye placement and proper reads. This approach will allow the defense as a whole to have a solid foundation, which is key to building anything that is worthwhile. I think of the preseason and/or during-the-season workouts of players that I was able to watch through the years like Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Watt and Dwight Freeney just to name a few. What they all had in common was they emphasized fundamentals! I believe that as a person moves up the ranks and has more notoriety, they forget the small things that made them good in the first place. I believe that the great ones, the one-percenters, continue to hone those small, forgotten fundamentals no matter what year they are in. That's why I feel like our defense is going to have a new and improved identity! What says you, O-Zone???

I says Jaguars defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen is impressive, and that his approach in this first offseason indeed emphasizes fundamentals and teaching. I can't honestly say this makes him dramatically different than a lot of NFL coordinators and coaches, so I can't honestly say the approach guarantees success. But I can honestly say the approach will give the Jaguars' defense a chance for success. I also can honestly say Nielsen is the guest on this week's O-Zone Podcast (self-promotion alert). It was my first chance to talk extensively with Nielsen since his January hiring. As noted, he's impressive. It's easy to see why players connect with him. It's easy to see why he's considered a rising star. I have no question this defense will be a confident, prepared group that believes in its direction when the 2024 regular season opens. That's a good place for a new defense to start.

Al from Orange Park, FL

Jackassery! It's quotes like that that keep me coming back. Love it!!

I am the king of all funk.

Marcus from Jacksonville

We're two weeks into OTAs. How dare you not give us a definitive answer as to whether or not the Jags will win the Super Bowl? And you call yourself a journalist?

… or perchance not.

Steve from Nashville, TN

You are on record as showing disdain for either 2027 option of Orlando or Gainesville for Jaguar home games while the stadium is renovated. So, when Mr. Khan asked what your solution was, what did you tell him?

Neither Jaguars owner Shad Khan nor anyone else has requested my opinion on this. This is neither surprising nor unwise. My disdain is not meant as commentary on either Gainesville or Orlando. I have vivid, fond memories of Gainesville, having drank my way to a degree there in the mid-to-late 1980s. I have fuzzy, less-fond memories of Orlando, having lived there for six lonely months immediately after college graduation in an ill-advised foray into a moving-and-storage career with Suddath Van Lines. The reason for my disdain for both options is that having games somewhere other than EverBank Stadium inconveniences me. I do not like inconvenience. I find it inconvenient. I understand I will be inconvenienced in this scenario. This understanding doesn't mean I have a solution. I have no solution. There is no solution that would make me happy. I don't have to be happy. My happiness isn't part of the discussion. Like, ever.

Eric from Jacksonville Beach, FL

Mark me in the group that would love to see us extend Lawrence this offseason. My question is, with all the cap room we have, wouldn't it make sense to frontload the contract? I know Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke likes to keep cap room available for trades or signings but seems like a real opportunity for us to avoid the contract escalating over the coming years and putting us in a bind. What do you think?

I think one reason we have seen reports about serious progress being made between the Jaguars and Lawrence regarding a new contract but no official contract news is there are many, many – MANY – details still to be finalized. Second quarterback contracts on the scale of Lawrence's usually aren't just a huge signing bonus with simple salary breakdowns over a four- or five-year period. They're numbers that dominate a team's salary cap cap and therefore set the cap – and on-field – foundation for your franchise for the foreseeable future. My guess is Baalke and the Jaguars would love to assign as much cap hit as possible into the early years of the contract, and I expect they will be able to at least partially "frontload" it while leaving enough room for a midseason trade. Whatever the structure, I expect the Jaguars and Lawrence to have done everything reasonably possible to allow at least a measure of annual flexibility to manage the roster.

Don from Marshall, NC

Some people just want to be part of the team and enjoy the whole experience. That's the juice. There is only one person who stirs the drinks in the O-Zone and that person knows who that person is. Go Jaguars!

When it comes to cryptic messages and perspective, Don remains "all in."

Sean from Oakleaf, FL

I notice there are three 1 p.m. home games on the schedule to be shown on FOX with no FOX doubleheader that weekend. This allows the possibility of the Kevin Burkhardt, Tom Brady, Erin Andrews and Tom Rinaldi No. 1 FOX broadcast team being in town to call one of those games. Does this interest you at all? Or hopefully we get "No. 2" Greg Olsen to call all our FOX games?

It doesn't interest me. Remember: I am working before, during and after Jaguars games. The identity of the broadcast crew has little-to-no bearing on my (in)ability to my job. I absolutely understand why fans care about this, though. As a fan of the Washington Football Team growing up, I vastly enjoyed games with John Madden and Pat Summerall on the call. Those games and the duo's commentary are etched in my football memory, and Madden's ability to explain the game helped me understand it better and increased my feelings for the sport. Perhaps Burkhardt/Brady will have that effect on future viewers. One can dream.

Jeff from Melbourne, FL

How has Brenton Strange performing in OTAs? He had a relatively quiet rookie season dealing with injuries. I would expect a larger role for him this season.

I think Strange, a second-round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft, has a chance to contribute much more in 2024. He showed promise as a blocker and the thought here is he has skills as a receiver that can complement Evan Engram and be a factor in the passing game. He caught a couple of passes in the two OTA practices that have been open for viewing. He caught a pass this past Tuesday wearing a baseball cap, so take that for what it's worth.

Brian from Carlisle, PA

O, I quote "perfect my blend of incompetence, laziness and jackassery" and this is exactly why I read O-ZONE.

These traits are perhaps endearing in small, readable doses. My wife might suggest they can wear on you over time.