Ready to make strides

Let's get to it . . . Buddy from Jacksonville:
Hey, John. What did you think of Friday's scrimmage?
John: Overall, I think the team has to be pleased. Mike Mularkey wasn't gushing, but I don't think he's going to be a guy given to gushing and he sounded afterward like he's pleased with the direction the team is headed after a week. The defense had been ahead of the offense during the early part of training camp, and it didn't look that way Friday. Now, to be fair, the defense was playing without its starting linebackers, and cornerback Aaron Ross is in London. Still, what you wanted to see from the offense was solid play from Blaine Gabbert and signs that the receivers are going to get open and catch passes. The receivers had some drops, but overall, there were signs that this can be a functioning offense, and that's a good start.
Spike from Jacksonville:
So, Bryan Anger had a couple of monster punts. Will this silence the critics?
John: No, but Anger indeed showed he will be a weapon. He had a 56-yard punt with a 5.36-second hang time Friday and a 49-yarder with a 4.76-second hang time. That's the sort of punting that will change field position and be very difficult to return. Will people still criticize the pick? Sure, because that's what people do, but the Jaguars are pretty confident this will be a pick that helps win games, and that's their concern.
Nick from Annapolis, MD:
It seems some people don't understand what Lee Evans meant. As with anything else, it is hard to perform a task effectively when your brain is thinking about something else. Usually, receivers have run the routes in the offense so many times it is not something they have to think about. Lee Evans is saying right now receivers are focusing a lot on running the route correctly, which is taking their focus off of catching the ball. Once the routes become second nature their brain will be able to react better and their catching will improve. Certainly, if they were dropping passes while playing catch with Gabbert in the backyard he would be concerned.
John: The teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing over this topic is indicative of the media age in which we live. It's understandable that there is interest in the Jaguars' receivers and equally understandable that people should be concerned over drops. But what Evans is saying is to keep it in perspective. In this age, we report and analyze every drop and sometimes it's easy to forget that this is practice. Practice is practice for a reason and that reason is that it's a time to work on things. That's why they don't count "practice" in the standings. That said, it's time for the receivers to start getting better in this area. There were a few early drops Friday, and cutting those out is the next step.
Ross from Mechanicsville, VA:
Blaine Gabbert is wearing a knee brace. Is this precautionary or did he have an injury at some point in college?
John: It's a precautionary brace on Gabbert's left knee. Many quarterbacks wear a brace on their non-plant knee to protect it in the event a defender rolls into the leg.
John from Elizabeth City, NC:
In response to Perry from Orange Park, imagine having to be on the verge of losing your job every day, having eyes on you every day and knowing the guy across from you is fighting for that same opportunity whom you're probably good friends with and you're trying to take a job that provides for his family. If not grueling physically, it's still very mentally demanding.
John: Training camp is absolutely grueling mentally, but let's not pretend that it's not tough physically. It may not be as physically demanding as it was in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, but there are players who will tell you that cutting back on two-a-days will be a positive in terms of allowing players to play at a higher level for longer. And if you think it's not grueling to work in the Northeast Florida heat for two and a half hours in pads . . . well, I don't have a good line. You're just wrong.
John from Austin, TX:
Players often say that they are in it for the "team" or the "love of the game" and the gullible, sentimental fans just eat it up. Come on! These are grown men. This is professional football. It is always about the money.
John: Always was and always will be.
Scot from Section 240:
On the Mike Thomas contract situation, I agree it could be a bad deal. But it should be noted that it is the same sort of early, risky deal that the team made with MJD. Sometimes it works out for the team, and sometimes it works for the player.
John: You're right. When I wrote that having signed him to an extension last season would be viewed as a big mistake were he released before this season, that's all I meant – that that's how it would be viewed. Every team makes "mistakes" with contracts. The idea when signing players before their first contract is up is to secure players at an affordable price and ensure an emerging player doesn't hit free agency. Doing this is sometimes a calculated risk. It's a much different proposition doing this with a second- or third-year player who is perceived to be in ascension than doing it with an aging player who likely will be in decline by the end of the contract. But yes, your point is correct in that when you're taking such a calculated risk it could break either way.
Charles from Midlothian, VA:
You know why fans are so irked at MJD? Gene has worked so hard to NOT have selfish and narcissistic players on this team and we as fans have bought into a great team is a selfless team, not a selfish one and what you keep calling "Prideful," we see as selfish and narcissistic.
John: Judging from my inbox, you have a pretty accurate view of a pretty large percentage of the readers . . .
Chris from Delray Beach, FL:
Ok, I'll say it, though maybe others are thinking it. MJD rushed for 1,606 yards last year on his way to a rushing title. We won five games. We need better production from the WR and QB corp. Period. Even with an "average" RB we can improve on five wins. MJD is not the end-all and be-all to the Jaguars' improvement.
John: . . . as do you.
Oscar from Jacksonville:
Why you keep ducking me?
John: I'm good enough to keep seeing you first.
Bobby from Newcastle, UK:
Regarding signing players, when you hear the term 'claimed off waivers' from another team, what exactly does that mean? Are they not just effectively a free agent or do you have to give something up to sign them?
John: It's close to being a free agent, but there's an important difference. When a player is on waivers, teams put in waiver claims on the player if they want him. Based on record at the time, the team with the worst record is allowed to claim and obtain that player.
April from Cebu City, Philippines:
Can you give us an assessment of Lee Evans? I expected him to be more of a deep outside threat but reading about practices it sounds like he's catching a lot of 10-yard passes. Do you feel like he has lost a step and can't get open deep? Is it game planning, some other reason, or am I just worrying too much from afar?
John: I wouldn't say he 'can't' get open deep, but I would say that Evans at this point in his career is not the elite deep threat he was early in his career in Buffalo. Evans' role likely will be more as a reliable secondary option rather than a primary receiver in this offense.
Paul from Merced, CA:
Johnny O!! Just wanted to show so you some love as you have been doing a great job. You are a superstar. You're quirky and goofy but I like it. You have your own swagger that is unique to you. Keep up the great work!!
John: A quirky, goofy super star with swagger. I'm not sure I buy it, but at my age, it's not bad.
Ryan from Oklahoma City, OK:
Have to admit, I'm a bit concerned about Gabby after Paul Kuharsky – who I think it's safe to say is one of the more open-minded folks out there, especially with regard to his coverage of the Jaguars – seemed to think the kid hasn't come as far as he'd hoped. I realize it's early, but planting balls 10 yards short of an intended receiver seems like something an NFL quarterback wouldn't do with the consistency Kuharsky hinted at, especially in what I figure was a low-contact 7-on-7 drill. What have you seen?
John: On Friday night, I saw a guy who looks like he has come a long way. It's very, very difficult to draw accurate conclusions from the first few days of padded practice in training camp, and that's what Kuharsky had to work with when he was here. I don't know how good Gabbert will be, but on Friday, I felt like I was watching a quarterback who is ready to make some strides.

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