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Whatever it takes

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Andy from Jacksonville:
I know players report to camp on Friday, but I'm looking forward to real practice. When do the players first practice with full pads?

Vic: The first full-pads practice is set for Monday evening, July 31, at 7:15 p.m.

David from Jacksonville:
You've mentioned that "teams are having to lower the first-year cap numbers of their high picks to make room for the low picks. It's requiring a degree of cap creativity." Could this have a possible negative effect on future salary caps for teams that aren't careful?

Vic: They'll have to push some money into future caps, but this isn't a major thing because we're only talking about a portion of the difference between last year's rookie minimum salary and this year's new rookie minimum salary. That difference will, in some cases, have to be housed by the bonus portion of the player's contract. It's nothing that should hold a team hostage or cause it to mortgage its future. It's not a big deal.

David from Marietta, GA:
In regards to Tiger's performance, ESPN had a poll in which they listed Tiger, Mariano Rivera, Michael Jordan and Adam Vinatieri as the most clutch players of all time. Which do you think is the most clutch and is there anyone you would add to this list?

Vic: Would I add anyone? Are you kidding? Any poll on clutch players that doesn't include Tom Brady has no credibility. How about Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman? Those three quarterbacks and Brady combined are 14-0 in Super Bowls. Didn't Mariano Rivera blow a big save opportunity in a recent postseason?

Tim from Jacksonville:
Do you like the way the NFL schedule is determined every year? Or would you prefer something where we were guaranteed a game between the Jags and Steelers once a year?

Vic: When the new scheduling format was announced, I gave it two thumbs up. The problem is that it didn't work last year. There was just too great a disparity in the strength of schedules across the league. The Seahawks had a .430 and the Chargers had a .559. Maybe that's just a fluke. Maybe it'll level out this year. I'm going to keep a watch on it. As far as guaranteeing games against teams outside the division, that can't be done and still have an equitable system.

Patrick from Orange Park, FL:
Which draft pick will have the toughest time negotiating a contract?

Vic: Negotiations with the first-round pick are always the most difficult. He's the guy whose contract is going to have the most major impact on the team's salary cap for the next several years. His contract is the most sensitive. You don't dare get careless or rush the negotiations with your first-round pick.

Kevin from Hillsborough, NJ:
If you were Jack Del Rio, would you start Thomas or Ingram at outside linebacker?

Vic: I'd start the guy who wins the job in training camp. It's all about competition. You want the guy in the lineup who competes the best. If he can't win in August, how can you expect to win with him in January? Forget about 40 times and all of that workout crap now. Who gets it done? That's all that matters now.

Nishant from Jacksonville:
I just checked and I see a variety of dates for the camps around the league. Some have basically the same time frame as the Jaguars, but many others go until near the end of August. How are training camp dates set? What are some of the factors weighed in the process? Also, your personal take on length and time period?

Vic: The date of a team's first preseason game determines when training camp may begin. Veterans are not required to report to training camp more than 15 days prior to the team's preseason opener. As far as the length of training camp, that's up to each individual head coach. The way Jack Del Rio runs his camp is par for the league. It's a long season and you don't want to beat up your players before they even play a game that counts. I will tell you, however, that if I was a head coach, the first full week of training camp would have some contact in it. I would always want my players to know that football is first and foremost a game of physical confrontation.

Tim from Jacksonville:
What happens to the salary cap when a player retires?

Vic: The team is responsible for running the retiring player's remaining amortization through its salary cap. If the player retires prior to June 2, the team may elect to immediately report the player's retirement to the league and take the full amortization hit on that year's salary cap. If the player retires on June 2 or after, his remaining amortization must be divided over the next two years' salary caps. In that case, the rule is: "What's in the year stays in the year. Everything else goes into the next year." If the player retires prior to June 2 and the team doesn't want to take the full amortization hit on the current year's cap, it can wait until June 2 or after to report the player's retirement to the league, which would then cause the remaining amortization to be divided over the next two caps.

John from Newport News, VA:
When are the roster cut dates this year?

Vic: Rosters must be cut to 75 on Aug. 29 and to the final 53 on Sept. 2. The Jaguars will take 85 players to training camp. That figure includes five Europe League exemptions.

Richard from Jacksonville:
Lefty's and Mark's passing stats are indeed similar. The big difference is that Mark could run and make a play. Comparing passing stats alone only show a part of the equation. Given the relative mobility of these two, give me an honest appraisal of each at this stage of their careers.

Vic: We're talking about two quarterbacks going into their fourth seasons as starters. Heading into the fourth year of his career as a starter, Mark Brunell was no longer a mobile quarterback. As I said in yesterday's column, he was never the same after his knee injury in the 1997 preseason. The bottom line is that Brunell's legendary scrambling ability was the result of two seasons, 1995 and '96. After the '97 preseason injury, he was limited to being a pocket-passer only. Anyhow, heading into year four of his career as a starter (it was year six of his career), Brunell was a fully accomplished and established NFL quarterback. There were no questions about his ability to play the position. That status was the result of his playoff experience, which was four games (he was 2-2). Heading into Leftwich's fourth year, he is an established NFL quarterback but he has yet to answer all of the questions about his ability to lead a team into and through the postseason. That's the next hurdle for Leftwich. He needs a season the equivalent of what the '96 season meant to Brunell's reputation.

Chris from Hudson, FL:
The Steelers were, in my opinion, our biggest and our best rivals and still are to a degree. This division does not excite me the way our old division did. I hated the Bengals, Browns, Steelers and Ravens. It's tough to get excited about playing an expansion team (Houston) or a team that we hate because they were the better team in 1999 and Jaguars fans still can't admit it. What's your opinion? Did you like the old division better?

Vic: Sure I did, but there are very personal reasons for that. I had covered the AFC Central my whole career. It was the part of country with which I was most familiar. I loved covering games in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. I miss not going to Baltimore and Cincinnati once a year. Life goes on, however, and we all need to adapt to and embrace change. Now I find myself looking forward to a game in Indianapolis. Tennessee has become my Cleveland. Yeah, I miss the old AFC Central boys, but the AFC South is just fine with me. This is going to work. The Jaguars are developing a bond with their AFC South counterparts.

Randy from Jacksonville:
On "In Their Own Words" on NFL network last week, Jack Del Rio said, "My intent the day I got here was to build an explosive offense and a suffocating defense." Didn't you say this team is built on an aggressive defense and a conservative offense?

Vic: It is for now, but there's no doubt in my mind that when this offense is ready to fly, Del Rio will let it soar to new heights. He's a smart coach. He knows that his offense, to date, has lacked an explosive quality. He knows that, to date, defense has been his team's strength, so he's played field-position football. Brian Billick came to the Ravens as an offensive guru, but he recognized that defense was the Ravens' calling card and he played it very conservatively on offense and won a Super Bowl in the 2000 season. I covered a coach, Chuck Noll, who did it both ways. He won two Super Bowls with defense and two Super Bowls with offense. Chuck saw that the rules changes of 1978 were going to stimulate offense, so he took the governor off Terry Bradshaw and Bradshaw was the MVP of the next two Super Bowls. Good coaches do whatever it takes to win.

Josh from Callahan, FL:
Why do I always hear you say a QB is as good as his record in the postseason? So basically you are saying that Dan Marino, arguably one of the best QBs ever, is no good?

Vic: No good? I wouldn't say that. Dan Marino was a great quarterback. Unfortunately, he will always have to live with the stigma that he didn't win a Super Bowl. It is what it is. Great quarterbacks are defined by the championships they win.

Ken from Jacksonville:
Is it true that there exists a rule by which a team can, at the point of making a fair catch, attempt a field goal with no defense on the field to stop it?

Vic: It's called a "fair catch kick." We've been through this before. When a player makes a fair catch, his team has the option of attempting a field goal from where the ball was caught. That's called the "fair catch kick line." The defense is on the field but must position itself 10 yards in advance of the "fair catch kick line" to receive the kick.

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