Join jaguars.com senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.
Gary from Jacksonville:
I was hoping you could share one of your favorite stories from the strike year.
Vic: I have lots of stories to share from the 1987 strike. I remember covering replacement-player camp, a one-week thing, I think, at an out-of-town location so as to avoid picketers, protesters, etc. We were in a hotel room interviewing Chuck Noll and there was a guy in there none of us knew. We just assumed he was an out-of-town writer. When the PR guy asked him who he was, he said he was just a fan who saw Noll and wanted to hear what he had to say. Noll loved it. The first replacement game was in Atlanta and I'll never forget looking out the window as the plane descended on Atlanta and, all of a sudden, a fighter jet comes out of nowhere and pulls up alongside, and the same thing happened on the other side of the plane. Clearly, we were being escorted to the runway. After we landed, I asked the travel guy what that was all about and he told me somebody threatened to shoot our plane out of the air. Hey, the guy said, you're comin' out of a union town and you're riding on a plane full of scabs. So we had that going for us, which was nice. My favorite story, however, involved a defensive lineman who had been signed from a job working for the phone company. After a couple of weeks of missing work, the phone company told him he had to choose between them and the NFL. He chose the phone company and the Steelers had a retirement press conference for him. They were fun times.
E.J. from Islip, NY:
As far as rules changes go, I always wondered about this one. Why is it that when an offense is backed up at their own, let's say, four-yard line, and they commit a penalty, they only go back half the distance without losing a down, as opposed to changing the first-down markers forward based on the penalty? Isn't that unfair to the defense?
Vic: You're right, it is unfair, and I like the idea of moving the sticks forward the full length of a penalty when half the distance to the goal isn't the full length of the penalty, but what about when the defense is on its four-yard line and it commits a penalty for which the full yardage can't be assessed and the sticks are down? In that case, it's unfair to the offense, so one injustice balances the other. Vic from Jacksonville:
I think re-signing Ray Lewis was just plain smart. Lewis is the face and definition of the Ravens. It is going to take time for their definition to become Joe Flacco. The money spent on Ray Lewis isn't all overspending when you consider he should also be on payroll as a motivator.
Vic: Ah, yes, the old face and definition thing, and let's not forget the motivational skills, smoke and dance, too. Let's do this: Write back after next season and tell me if you think it was a good deal.
Tyler from Jacksonville:
So we signed Tra Thomas, a solid left tackle. His age concerns me, though. I understand free agency is to patch holes. Do you think the Jags did a good job of patching with this signing?
Vic: Yeah, I think they did because the contract is risk-free. That's the main thing. Secondly, they get a guy who gives them security at left tackle. Thomas is a guy the Jaguars believe can play at an acceptable level at this stage of his career and allow time for the development of a younger player. The big effect of that is that the Jaguars can go into this year's draft without being burdened by a feeling of desperation at tackle. This removes any chance of reaching for a tackle. Drafting the best available player is the philosophy and this signing, in my opinion, assures that it will be executed.
Ryan from West Chester, OH:
Tra Thomas? I thought there weren't going to be anymore days of big free-agent signings in Jacksonville. What's changed, Vic?
Vic: Nothing's changed, you're just not looking at this the right way. Thomas is a big name but his contract isn't big. It's low in guaranteed money and it's guaranteed money that defines the magnitude of a free-agent signing.
Ron from Bryant, AR:
"The Ravens knew the Jaguars wanted to pick Leftwich." Numerous times you've mentioned one team knew what player another team wanted. How is this communicated?
Vic: It's communicated by the interest a team shows in a player. If a player agrees to a personal workout, are they one of the teams at that workout? If they are, how many scouts did they send? What's their body language? The player's agent knows what a team's interest level is, too, and he'll make sure he advances that information.
Pauly from Jacksonville:
From what I've read over the past couple of years in your column, building a successful NFL program is more of an endurance test than a sprint. I understand it is your opinion, but assuming a team makes above average personnel decisions, how much time would it take for the investments to pay dividends?
Vic: As I said, you'll see progress along the way. You'll know it when you see it. You don't need to impose deadlines. Everybody's tolerance level is different. If it's a total rebuilding job, as the Lions are facing, patience should be greater. On average, however, I would say that if it takes longer than three years, somebody else is going to be doing it. That's a line I stole from Bum Phillips.
Mark from Jacksonville:
How is it that tackle is a position that allows older players to hang on? It seems like a position that is very hard on the body, especially the knees.
Vic: It's also the most technical of positions. Once a veteran learns all the tricks of the trade, if he can keep himself in reasonable condition, he can hang on at tackle for a long time. It's about foot quickness in a short area, using proper technique and knowing your opponents' moves and how to defeat them. Pass-blocking, which defines a tackle's worth, is as much or more about mental preparation as it is about physical ability. That's why guys hang on longer at that position.
Frank from Fernandina Beach, FL:
Build through the draft, but (then) sign a 34-year-old tackle considered to be over the hill. What gives? I understand veteran presence, but with the talent being so deep at tackle in the draft this year, why not address the position with a young stud?
Vic: It's just a patch. It gives you security heading into the draft. If a young stud tackle is there, take him. Thomas would then become the bridge to that player's transition from college to pro football. The Jaguars have a minimum of guaranteed money invested in Thomas. This really isn't that difficult to understand. The philosophy has not been compromised.
Alex from Jacksonville:
I love the move the Jaguars made by acquiring Tra Thomas. Now Gene Smith can really focus on picking the best player available, instead of being forced to pick a tackle in the first two rounds.
Vic: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is intelligent life on the planet Earth.
Tony from Perry, AR:
I agree about what you said earlier about drafting a QB for the future. I love Garrard, but you're right, he isn't getting any younger. My question is, though, shouldn't the Jags grab one of these good-looking WRs during the first round of the draft, since obviously Crabtree will go pretty quick? I mean, don't we still need the deep threat? That still seems to be an area they're lacking in, right?
Vic: The Jaguars need every kind of receiver. This receiving corps is like none I have ever covered. If a wide receiver is the BAP in the first round, pick him, but that wouldn't please me because I would prefer that a wide receiver not be BAP in the first round. They're a dime a dozen. You can get 'em in the late rounds. I think the Jaguars have spent enough first-round picks on receivers for this decade.
Jeff from Westminster, CO:
If you had Gene Smith's ear on draft day and when the Jags' turn to pick at number eight came up and Stafford or Sanchez was available at the top of your value board, would you rather pick him, or if possible, trade the pick and move down?
Vic: If Matt Stafford was available at number eight? I would hold Gene to the ground and scream at him, "Roethlisberger, Roethlisberger," if he even considered picking someone else. I can't imagine another player would be higher on the Jaguars' board, given that circumstance.
Jai from Liverpool, England:
Is there a limit as to when the Jaguars wouldn't get consideration for compensatory picks? For instance, if Reggie Williams sat out this coming year, then signed with someone next offseason, would he count in the formula for the 2011 draft?
Vic: No; he would have to sign with a team in the year in which his contract expired with the Jaguars, which means this year.
Sean from Philadelphia, PA:
I frequently listen to Philadelphia sports talk radio, where Hugh Douglas is on at least three mornings a week. I have heard him say several times that he knew he had nothing left in the tank when he signed with the Jaguars, and he went there because they gave him the money. Tra Thomas sounds very confident in his ability to still play at a high level, but I don't know if I'm buying it. Please convince me Thomas is not Hugh Douglas.
Vic: As I said recently, these guys know when they're out of gas, but they're not going to admit it, for the obvious reason. It's professional football, it's about the money. That's why personnel departments have to be very cynical when they judge older players. They have to look hard for signs of age and even when they don't see it, they better protect themselves and the team by keeping the guaranteed money low. I like what I saw and heard in Tra Thomas yesterday. This is a really well-conditioned and intelligent guy. I think there's a reasonable expectation that Thomas will really help this team, but even if he is over the hill, the Jaguars protected themselves with the contract.
David from Jacksonville:
Why don't we talk about the Jags' huge need at receiver? Why is everybody so anxious to get rid of Reggie Williams?
Vic: You gotta be kidding.
Chad from Middletown, RI:
With Matt Jones being arrested again and the Jags going for high character guys, do you think his days are numbered in Jacksonville?
Vic: Let the information-gathering happen. Give him a chance. Passing judgment now isn't fair nor would it likely be accurate. I have no doubt the Jaguars will issue some kind of statement on this soon.