O-zone: under pressure

JACKSONVILLE – Let’s get to it…

Hi, KOAGF. Keeping things in perspective, there are 32 NFL teams, each with fan bases that feel their team is going to the playoffs. Don’t think this is possible. We won’t know which teams have what it takes until we see which coaches plan the best, which team escapes the injury bug the best, which players produce on the field in crunch time, which coaches have the best halftime adjustments, which teams have the most luck and so on. We still have a long way to go, and we haven’t started yet. A good start would be some forced turnovers by our improved D, baby, and our improved O that would have us singing the “Moodachay” until it hurts, baby.

This is a good perspective, which is strange here in Zone O and probably not all that welcome by many. We are eight days from the start of the 2022 season as I write this, and I sense optimism from many Zone O readers. I have little sense of whether it is more or less optimism than past seasons, probably because some disappointing seasons recent tend to run together. It’s maybe a bit more optimism than normal, I suppose – and if so, it’s probably based on a new head coach and hope around quarterback Trevor Lawrence. There is also hope given how the first-team defense – particularly the defensive front – has looked during a few extended pre-season appearances. From this point of view, those feel like legitimate reasons for hope, and I absolutely feel better about the direction of this franchise than I did the last few seasons. That feeling comes from Head Coach Doug Pederson’s ability to lead professionally, and from what appears to be an increasingly talented young core – and Lawrence looks like he’s developing well. I think that will mean a more competitive Jaguars team in 2022, one that finds a way to win at least six or seven games. I see this as a very good step in the right direction considering the team’s recent past.

It’s crazy to me to think that some pros think special teams is beneath them. Those can be some of the most impactful, momentum-changing plays of the game. As a neurotic fan, I get even more anxious about special teams plays than the ones from the line of scrimmage.

Many, many NFL players embrace special teams and make long careers in this area. Most players who don’t embrace it don’t go around saying, “I don’t embrace this” or “I won’t play if I don’t start.” Many who do not embrace it do not necessarily want to not embrace it. It is difficult for some players after years of starting offensively or defensively – and protagonists in those areas – to embrace special teams. It is also difficult for some players to adjust to those roles. In the case of a wide receiver or running back, for example, it can be difficult to learn to tackle effectively on coverage units. It’s not always about “wanting.” It can be a tricky transition physically as well as mentally.

Oh man, after the release of defensive lineman Adam Gotsis, I count five defensive linemen on the team. I realize the roster is always fluid, but it looks like the Jags are pretty thin up front. Do you agree?

The Jaguars as of this writing indeed have five defensive linemen – DaVon Hamilton, Foley Fatukasi, Roy Robertson-Harris, Arden Key and Dawuane Smoot. Remember: They also have Israel Antwine on the practice squad, and I expect he could figure prominently in the line rotation this season; practice squad spots can often be used for early-season roster maneuvering with players the team likes a lot. Also: One week left before the regular season opener. I doubt the Jaguars are done here.

Will we be able to run and stop the run?

I believe that the Jaguars will lead at least as they have the last two seasons when defender James Robinson was healthy. That’s very passable by NFL standards. If packaged with a more effective passing offense, it would mean a functional offense – something the Jaguars haven’t had often enough over the past four seasons. I absolutely believe the Jaguars will be more consistent at stopping the run this season. They were improved in this area last season from being awful the season before. I expect the offseason addition of linebackers Foye Oluokun, Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd and Fatukasi to help this area dramatically. If those additions do not help in this area, something has gone very wrong.

Zone – Do you think we can count punt returner/kickoff returner Jamal Agnew as a Top 5 player at his position?

Hey, John. How do teams decide which player to sign to the practice squad from other teams? Is it because one of the coaches knows the player from college or from a former team or is it a job for the scouts to watch him train?

Teams target and sign practice squad players the same way they sign players on the active roster. They scout players coming out of college, maintain that information, continue to monitor players in the NFL and discuss players with coaches at all levels if the player should be made available.

KOAF: Let’s put the long snapper who wastes a roster spot to bed. New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick once gave a ten minute answer about the evolution and importance of work (you can find it on YouTube). Can I get a “good ear” for this?

Is there a player or coach that you’ve personally covered that stands out that doesn’t like talking to the media more than anyone else?

Few players really like to talk to the media. Many see it as a necessary evil, which makes sense considering most don’t do it very often — and also considering the “mob” setup in locker-room media scrums doesn’t exactly make for cozy conversation. But most players participate in interviews at least semi-gracefully. Former Jaguars players who seemed to dislike them were tackle Jermey Parnell and defensive end Chris Clemons, and defensive end Tony Brackens didn’t like it “back in the day.” But the player I’ve covered who didn’t like it much was former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison. I covered Harrison for eight seasons and talked to him on the record a few times. I got on well with him otherwise, but he never liked talking on camera or on the record.

O. I’m sorry the Jags let go of so many quality contributors — including linebacker Myles Jack, defensive tackle Jay Tufele, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, safety Rudy Ford and now Gotsis for players with nothing on the – their continuation. Hey, wide receiver Josh Gordon has been released. It was less than two years ago, he had a record breaking 261 yard game against the Jags, did we get it? No! Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood was a five-star recruit out of high school and last year’s No. 1 overall pick. What about Sony Michel? Nevermind, let’s claim old undrafted that his face. Sad!

You almost had me. Maybe I’m losing my edge. That is to be expected. I’m 56. How long can you expect to have an “edge?” Anyway, I had a line about Sanka teed up. I even googled to make sure Gordon’s record game against the Jaguars was indeed in 2013 and not 2020. Then I realized you were joking. You were kidding, right? Tell me you were kidding.

Ok, that’s how I see it, John. Finding a good kicker, just a good one, in the NFL is almost as difficult as landing a franchise quarterback. There aren’t that many of them out there. Hell, the majority of these guys were walk-ons in college. So, when a team loses “The Guy”, the powers that be usually seem like they are all over the place looking for a new one. Actually, they are. They still should be.

You’re still in your lane, Brad. That’s fine, but this is an odd “take”. Finding a good NFL kicker is nowhere near as difficult as finding a franchise quarterback — and it certainly hasn’t been that close for this franchise. The Jaguars had two or three really good kickers – Mike Hollis, Josh Scobee and Josh Lambo for a time – and they never had a franchise quarterback. What can make finding a good kicker frustrating is that you don’t find out if he’s great until he’s under pressure, and when he’s under pressure he’s winning or losing games. This makes the process very high profile, but I can’t put the level of difficulty of the search nearly at the level of a quarterback.

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