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The ratings game

Let's get to it . . . Alan from Jacksonville:
For some historical perspective, how would you compare Andre Branch to Tony Brackens as far as skill and potential? Brackens didn't hit double-digit sacks until his fourth season, with 7-7-3.5 in his first three years. Do you envision Branch having a similar impact?
John: It's difficult to compare players selected 16 years apart in somewhat different eras, but you hear some of the same things about Branch you heard about Brackens – natural ability, strength, speed, potential, etc. Brackens was incredibly strong from the time he arrived with the Jaguars, and you started hearing early on that the team was pleased with the selection. Then, about midway through his rookie season of 1996 he began to make an impact. When I think of Brackens, I don't think as much about his numbers as the impact he had in certain situations – he had a knack for big plays at big moments. That's as important at that position as sack totals. What you're hearing after about three weeks is that Branch has the ability to help the pass rush as a rookie, and that he may be a better run player than many analysts originally projected. Whether he has the knack Brackens had for big plays and whether he can show it as quickly only time will tell.
Patrick from Fountain Valley, CA:
I am over the constant bashing of Gabbert by those who are unwilling to review and accept the facts surrounding his play last year. There is one thing many defenders of Gabbert don't point out that I constantly refer to as a major reason Gabbert was left out to dry. Review the tapes last year and find one instance where Gabbert comes off the field after a poor play or drive and find him being approached by a coach and sat down on the bench to be coached up. IT DID NOT HAPPEN!!! You will find many instances where Gabbert comes off the field, puts on a hat, sits by himself on the end of the bench, and waits for the next drive without any coaching taking place. You see every other coaching staff around the league, at least the competent ones, pulling their quarterbacks aside and reviewing the looks that the defense just gave them and going over adjustments. The new staff that was brought in was brought in for that reason.
John: Gabbert will be coached better next season. I'll go out on a limb and say that.
Charles from Orange Park, FL:
When MJD starts getting fined maybe he'll get his butt in camp and honor his contract he SIGNED.
John: Yes, and if he doesn't, then it becomes a big issue because that will mean Jones-Drew missed a mandatory mini-camp or training camp. Right now, it's a small issue because although Jones-Drew probably should have been here once or twice for appearances' sake he in no way was required to be here. Let's keep this in perspective. These are voluntary workouts and he's not breaking any contract and he's not doing anything wrong.
Sean from Fleming Island, FL:
What is it going to take (number of victories) to win the AFC South division this year?
John: More than the other teams.
Ben from Slime City:
Do you think Mel Tucker will ever replace Mel Tucker as defensive coordinator? He's a hell of a D-line coach.
John: I can't imagine that would happen. The rift it would cause within the Tucker family would be pretty serious, and could cause awkwardness and bitterness at family reunions for years.
Strnbiker from Dothan, AL:
Is this not a breath of fresh air? When members of the sixth-ranked defense last year are impressed with the offense this year? This is the first time I have ever heard of the defense saying anything about the offense and it is positive. Like the "Black Eyed Peas" song-- I gotta feeling !
John: So do the Jaguars. While the comments of defensive players this week were made after OTAs without pads – and in May – it also is not insignificant that these are the same things the players are saying privately. There is a feeling around the Jaguars that the offense is improved, and that it is doing things in the passing game that will translate to the field next season. I'll caution that with any offense there often is an adjustment period early, but I expect the offense to be improved overall next season fairly significantly.
Alex from St. Petersburg, FL:
I was wondering how coaches and front office people judge the ceiling or potential of a young player? How can one tell if a player will get better with age and by how much?
John: They scout and project players' futures largely based on measurables. That involves comparing players to players who have come before, then projecting how the player being scouted might improve over time. It's calculated guesswork and because you're dealing with human beings, it's by its nature an unscientific system.
Steve from Nashville, TN:
What is the full meaning of "mandatory" in mandatory veteran mini-camp?
John: Players get fined for not being there. During the other off-season activities, teams cannot fine players for their absence.
Bo from Dresden, NC:
There are a lot of experts out there. Everyone is really on Gabbert. I don't get it. I saw a young quarterback with promise. Yeah, he ducked here and there but so would a lot of other QB's under the pressure he was under. I wish these so-called fans would just sit back and enjoy watching a young player develop, give the guy a chance or we risk running him into the ground with criticism.
John: There are indeed a lot of "experts," and they're the same experts who believe Gabbert is struggling in OTAs, which he is not. This will be a discussion through the coming months, and that's OK. You know how Gabbert can silence this talk? By playing well. That's the great thing about the NFL. There are games, and the games are what matters and the results of those games can change perception.
Paul from Jacksonville:
Those calling for Henne to start seem to pretty much point to his potential as opposed to actual on-field performance. They blame his previous coaching staffs, receivers, line, etc. In other words, they want to make some of the same arguments for Henne that exist for Gabbert. The difference is, with Henne you're getting a player that's probably pretty close to having maximized his potential. Gabbert faced a far worse situation than Henne has played through and we really don't have any idea where the ceiling is with him yet.
John: Those calling for Henne to start can call all they want. The situation will play out on the field. This is not complex and there is no hidden scenario. Henne is here to compete, and if he outplays Gabbert he will start. Gabbert is the starter and was a Top 10 selection and is a player of enormous talent, so if he plays to his potential it stands to reason the quarterback "competition" would be clear cut. That's not a knock on Henne, but the reality is if Gabbert plays as well as he is capable of playing – something the Jaguars absolutely expect to happen – Gabbert will absolutely start. He's the franchise quarterback unless something unexpected happens.
Jack from Jacksonville:
We keep hearing reports about other teams turning down Hard Knocks. Mike Shanahan was quoted as saying, "I just didn't feel comfortable with being in that situation. You know, I can't be myself. I don't think coaches can be their self and I'd like players to concentrate on their job. I don't know if it's old school or what. You know, for me I just didn't feel comfortable with that atmosphere." How much truth is there to the statement that the coaches would need to change how they are coaching and be more careful? Would this make the team not as prepared to start the season?
John: Every time I hear coaches talking about distractions such as that in the preseason I think about 2005, when I covered the Colts. The Colts traveled to Tokyo that year to play the Falcons, and during the lead-up to the game, story after story was written about how teams that played a preseason game in Tokyo struggled during the regular season and how it took so much out of teams they started slow and a million other reasons why it would hurt the teams. The Colts that season started 13-0 and won all 13 games by at least seven points. Good teams stay focused and win games, and franchises can deal with preseason distractions if they're organized and prepared.
Troy from Section 216:
Which will be the bigger embarrassment for Jacksonville, the Jaguars Hard Knocks being the lowest rated television program of all time, or HBO saying if it's the Jaguars or nothing, we'll take nothing?
John: Lowest-rated television program of all time? Are they not televising regular-season baseball anymore?

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