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Winning wins fans

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

Fergal from Kingston, Ontario:
If we fail to get a LB in the first round, is this draft a failure?

Vic: This draft will only be a failure if the Jaguars fail to draft a good player in the first round. That's how I see it. More than anything, you need to draft good players, in all drafts. In time, you'll have collected enough good players to be the team you want to be. Take care of your cap, draft good players, develop the players you've drafted and be patient. That's what I consider to be the main formula for success. Patching in free agency is also important, but the first four ingredients are primary.

Charlie from New Smyrna Beach, FL:
Can you think of any guys in this year's draft that seem to be falling for no good reason, as Khalif Barnes did last year?

Vic: I'm starting to wonder about DeAngelo Williams. I have a feeling he's falling. The rap on him is he's not especially fast or explosive and I think that's beginning to knock him down because another short running back, UCLA's Maurice Drew, played at a higher level of competition and offers top potential as a return man. One draftnik publication I just got really ripped Williams; said he couldn't run inside and made particular mention of his injury history as it relates to his smallish size. Maybe those are good reasons, maybe not, but I think the Jaguars would love to have the chance to consider taking him with the 28th pick.

Amit from Atlanta, GA:
It doesn't really matter if someone's stock falls in the draft. Every single player in the draft is attempting to play the same game. It's all a gamble. There are busts as well as diamonds in the rough. The draft is a crapshoot. Your thoughts?

Vic: It's a crapshoot but it's a crapshoot you gotta win because teams that draft well win and teams that don't draft well lose. It's that simple. Personnel guys can't use "it's a crapshoot" as an excuse for a bad draft class. It's a crystal ball business and personnel people are paid to see into the future. They're supposed to know what's going to happen.

Vincent from Jacksonville:
A few days ago you had a good idea. You said the Jags could draft Cromartie and move newly-signed free agent Williams to safety and plug Cro in at the RCB. If you were in charge, would that be feasible, asking a guy who's been in the league as long as Williams has to switch to safety? And whose safety spot will he take?

Vic: As coach Del Rio would say, you're way ahead of the story. One of the reasons I usually don't get into these speculative kinds of things is because somebody right away takes it literally and wants to do it now. Let's start with this: Antonio Cromartie is probably going to spend his rookie year as a "nickel" or "dime" back. He won't even have a year of recovery on his ACL surgery when training camp begins. I would imagine expectations are for next season to be his full recovery year. What I was saying is that if he blossomed in year two and it was clear to see he belonged in the lineup at cornerback, there are enough positions in the defensive backfield to move people around to accommodate a guy such as Cromartie, and all it would do is make your defense better. Now, tell me, who doesn't need their defense to get better? Sixty percent of the Jaguars defensive snaps last season were against three wide receivers. That means the Jaguars can expect to have a 60 percent need for a third cornerback this season. Don't think in terms of a starting lineup. Think in terms of creativity and utilization of talent. No good coach says I don't want that guy; we already have enough good players. Good coaches never stop accumulating talent. They always find ways to use good players. The only place at which that's difficult is at quarterback because it's one position for one guy and the intent is for him to play all of the time. All of the other positions are multiple. For example, the Jaguars sure don't need another defensive tackle, but if a killer DT they couldn't pass up was available to them and they took him, Del Rio would have no problem finding a way to use him. He'd go to a scheme called a "reduction," in which the extra tackle would line up at end but move down inside and allow the linebacker to move over the tight end. There are always ways to use good players. Don't worry about fitting them. Just get them.

Paul from Jacksonville:
Do the Jags fly commercial? I thought most teams own their own plane.

Vic: Do you know how much those things cost? All NFL teams charter flights. It's best that way because it would really look stupid having a 767 sitting in the stadium parking lot all offseason.

Cliff from Patuxent River, MD:
We've read since the end of last season that Byron was to be working on quickening his release. Has it been determined this is no longer an option based on the perception that he is too far into his career to change simple mechanics?

Vic: I want you to please read this carefully. Ready? OK, coach Del Rio didn't say he wanted Byron Leftwich to develop a quicker release. He said he wants Leftwich to get rid of the ball quicker. That means he wants him to begin his passing motion sooner; to decide to throw the ball earlier instead of looking downfield too long and allowing the rush to get to him.

Todd from Summerville, SC:
How close to selling out the stadium? I come down for games every year and would gladly miss that if the fans would buy all the season tickets.

Vic: I'm going to do a story on where the Jaguars stand with season tickets sales. I expect the story to be posted next Tuesday, after all this seat relocation stuff is concluded. Don't pay too much attention to that stadium schematic on the site. The relocation event is this weekend and the schematic is not a true indicator of where the situation stands, as the best seats are still being held for season ticket holders.

Jeff from Jacksonville:
Are you saying we should not put a lot of stock in the three-cone drills and combine times? Then why did we take Matt Jones last year based on his times.

Vic: The combine is just one of the measuring tools. It gives teams an up-close look at a kid's athletic ability. The Jaguars didn't pick Matt Jones because of what he did at the combine. They first got excited about Jones when they saw him at the Senior Bowl, where he dominated the best cornerbacks in last year's draft. The thing that really put Jones over the top with the Jaguars was a highlight tape of his open-field runs as Arkansas' quarterback. The Jaguars' eyes lit up when they saw Jones' big-play ability.

Mike from Jacksonville:
What are your thoughts on Manny Lawson? Some scouts project him as an OLB.

Vic: He's a "tweener," and that makes him a bit of a risk, but he's a very tempting "tweener" because he can really get after the quarterback. He's what Jack Del Rio referred to as a DPR (designated pass-rusher), when the Jaguars drafted Jorge Cordova. If you're going to pick Lawson, you have to have a specific plan to use him. I think you'll have to move him around; hand on the ground at end, standing as a linebacker. You'll wanna use him in odd fronts and feature him on all passing downs. Here's the problem: What if you can't predict pass or run. He's not a guy you want on the field on run downs.

Michael from Orlando, FL:
If you are comparing Marcedes Lewis to Shannon Sharpe, what's wrong with having Shannon Sharpe for the next 8-10 years?

Vic: Sharpe was a great receiver and it's thought Lewis has Sharpe-like qualities, but if a tight end doesn't or can't block, is he really a tight end? In my opinion, he isn't, he's just another wide receiver. I think the Jaguars believe Lewis can develop into a quality blocker. In my opinion, that's what would have to happen to justify that kind of pick because, otherwise, he's Matt Jones or Reggie Williams or Ernest Wilford, which is to say just another tall wide receiver.

Tom from Custer, WA:
I was watching "Sportscenter" and they showed an interesting stat. The Steelers' last six first-round picks were all major contributors in that team's success last year. When asked about it, the Steelers' response was that we pick guys we like, guys we think are natural Steelers. Do you think that's BAP or is it something different?

Vic: It's actually the last five first-round picks because Plaxico Burress, 2000, played for the Giants last season. The Steelers have a mold. It's a unique mold because they are so tilted toward the running game. Everything they do is based on their ability to run the ball. They've always been able to draft against the grain because they are able to use players in unconventional ways to accommodate their unique playing style. They've always liked squat, powerful offensive linemen who can pull and trap, whereas most teams these days are walling up, zone-blocking, stretch blocking, road-grading, etc. The Steelers like to get their feature blocker out in space ahead of the ball-carrier. That's when they start grinding the meat. It's old-school stuff. Most teams look at an offensive lineman and wanna know if he can pass-block; the Steelers wanna know if he can run-block. They do different things on defense, too, as we all know, and they demand that their wide receivers be able to block, which means their wide receivers usually have running back body types. That's what they mean by guys they like; guys they think are natural Steelers. They grade prospects accordingly and I think you're seeing some of that with the Jaguars. The Jaguars clearly like tall wide receivers. The Jags clearly like defensive players who fit into a gap scheme and linebackers who can play all three positions, and I have no doubt they grade their prospects accordingly.

Patrick from Billings, MT:
I noticed that Leonard Pope was not on your value board. If the Jags were to draft a TE, which one would you prefer to have, Pope or Lewis and why?

Vic: First of all, I don't look at the draft according to positions. I have Lewis rated higher than Pope, right? Figure it out. The thing that bothers me about Pope is that he's almost too tall. I fear that he's going to have difficulty protecting his knees in the seam. He's gonna get cut a lot by smaller safeties.

Travis from Jacksonville:
I don't have a problem with Byron's speed or mobility. It's safe to say he's not going to run away from a lot of people. Your thoughts?

Vic: I would like to see him improve on winning in the playoffs. If he does that, that'll be just fine.

Dan from Ormond Beach, FL:
Suppose we do select Lewis in the first round. Since I am sure the Jags brass knows the support for Byron is wavering, do you suppose they are trying to give him as many weapons as possible to allow him to win the fans over?

Vic: Win the fans over? Do you think this is all about the fans? This is about winning games. If winning games doesn't win fans then start packin' the moving vans. Of course the Jaguars want to give Byron Leftwich the weapons he needs to be successful. He has two years remaining on his contract and they're going to have to make a long-term decision on him soon.

Chris from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
In your conversation with Chris from Conway, AR, there was one glaring omission. Auburn has had great running backs: James Brooks, William Andrews, Bo Jackson, Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, etc.

Vic: You bet they have. That was one of the schools and traditions I was going to use and then I forgot to include it.

Weaver from Jacksonville, AR:
Based on your extensive experience with professional football, in your opinion, how much of the draft should be science and how much should be art?

Vic: If by art you mean feel, then, yes, it should be a significant part of the draft decisions teams make. This is a crystal-ball business. You've got to have feel for a guy to be able to envision what he'll become. We already know what he is. The question is, what will he become?

Jennifer from Jacksonville:
Vic, I have been a Jaguars season ticket holder for five years. I work for a hotel and I have been receiving a lot of Pittsburgh reservations for the Monday night game. The guy who called me bought 52 club seats. I thought no one could buy single-game tickets.

Vic: Selling club seats in Jacksonville has been a problem. The Jaguars are holding back all of the general bowl tickets – except for 4,500 per game that are part of group sales – so they can sell them on a season ticket basis, but they don't expect to sell out club seats as season tickets and they are being offered now on a group sales basis. That's what the guy from Pittsburgh bought; 52 club seats as part of the group sales program. Steelers fans will buy whatever is available and they'll pay anything for the ticket. The clubs are gonna be yellow that night.

Cory from Jacksonville:
What has history taught us about "damaged goods" players? Are there a lot of star players that were damaged coming into the draft?

Vic: It's a great question that would truly require a lot of research to be able to get a dependable answer. Then that result would have to be compared to the overall success/failure percentage of players that weren't damaged goods. How about if I just throw some guys out at you who come to mind? The Ravens drafted a safety a few years back, a guy named Poindexter who went into his senior season as one of the top players in the country but then suffered an ACL. The Ravens picked him late, knowing he couldn't play for a couple of years. He didn't make it back. We know about Willis McGahee, of course. He missed his rookie year then gained over 1,000 yards rushing in each of the next two seasons. How about Kenechi Udeze with the shoulder? We'll have to keep an eye on him. I can remember a linebacker named Bryan Hinkle, who had spaghetti for a knee and was a medical reject on just about everybody's board, but Hinkle was drafted late and became an outstanding and durable player in a 12-year career. There were concerns about Frank Gore, Heath Miller and even Matt Jones last year. Jones had a history of hamstring problems. You always wanna draft healthy guys, but they can become unhealthy very quickly in this game. So much of football is about overcoming injuries. In grading a player, I think it's important to ask, does he play hurt? That's one of the things I love about DeAngelo Williams. He has played hurt and has been very productive doing it. That says so much about a guy's toughness.

Bernard from Sandbox, Qatar:
Your statement about not forgetting and not forgiving got me thinking, are you making those comments based on professional observation or as a fan?

Vic: I hope it's professional but I don't deny becoming a fan. I've covered the Jaguars for 11 seasons and expect to make it 12 this year. That means that Jaguars football has been at the root of my existence for going on the last 12 years of my life. How do you cut that out of your consciousness? How do you not have feelings for what you do? Somewhere in there is the balance between emotion and the objectivity that is required by the profession. I can tell you this, there's no emotion when I'm writing my stories because all of my effort is on getting it right. I've heard it said that women can love and think but men can only love or think and I believe that. When the story is finished and I can step back and look at the game, I have emotions. They blew that game. Something happened to their heads at halftime, or maybe even before that. I'll never believe otherwise.

Stevon from Jacksonville:
What is up with Brett Favre recently and when will he just shut up? Everyone wants him to speak about his plans to retire or not and he's not ready to decide. So be it. Now he's beating on the Titans in defense of Steve McNair? The Titans don't want to risk a huge salary cap hit if McNair gets injured in offseason workouts. Makes sense to me.

Vic: One of the truly dignified things we have a chance to do in our lives is retire with grace. I've seen so many great players do it the right way and it's a wonderful thing to celebrate and remember. Favre, sadly, may have missed his chance. As far as the Titans and McNair are concerned, the Titans are absolutely doing the right thing. They shouldn't have let it come to this but once it did they had no choice but to protect their financial interests. It's about the money, right?

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