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O-Zone: A very lengthy leash

Posted Aug 24, 2014

JACKSONVILLE – I made a real effort to not have this O-Zone dominated by Blake Bortles talk. I failed. Then again, I often do.

Let’s get to it …

Hugh from Orlando, FL:
Give me one good reason Chad Henne should start over Blake Bortles. I mean, after three preseason games, it’s obvious …
John: A primary reason Jaguars coaches are staying with Henne over Bortles for now comes down to what Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley talked about after Friday’s loss to Detroit as Henne “playing fast.” The Jaguars believe Henne is still seeing things faster than Bortles and that it leads to better decisions. That’s why their confidence level in Henne is high. Also, don’t forget the near-interceptions by Bortles Friday. Those sorts of plays are signs Bortles perhaps isn’t *quite* ready, public perception and growing demand notwithstanding, and for now the Jaguars want to make absolutely sure he’s ready before he starts. This isn’t about the Jaguars being stubborn, and it’s not about not wanting to play the best player. There’s no question Bortles is the franchise quarterback of the future. But for right now, they still believe Henne is the better option. Right now, they don’t believe Bortles is ready. I absolutely believe Bortles will play sometime this season, and it might even be before the bye. But it won’t be for the regular-season opener.
John from Atlantic Beach, FL:
Hey John, With all the cuts coming up from other teams as well as the Jaguars, do you foresee any offensive linemen being brought in to help our o-line? Thanks.
John: Sure, if some team cuts a player that can help the Jaguars, the Jaguars would sign that player. That could happen on the offensive line, but it probably wouldn’t be a player who would start.
Seth from Jacksonville:
Do you think if we had a one-week moratorium on the Blake Bortles-vs-Chad Henne questions/declarations you would still have enough emails to post each day? That quiet buzz has turned into a deafening drone. The coaches and management have been great, but now all of a sudden they are being second-guessed. #LetThemDoTheirJobs
John: I would have enough emails to post, but let’s just say we’d have some short O-Zones. There’s no question the drove is deafening, and you know what? That’s OK. It’s good. Or as Tony The Tiger might say, “It’s G-r-r-r-r-eeeaaattt!!” People are excited about Bortles. The team is excited about Bortles. Shoot, people in Jacksonville who barely follow football are excited about Bortles. And why not? Fans watch him play and they see the future. They see that future and they see one that seems bright, exciting, hopeful. That’s good. That’s what the Jaguars envisioned when they drafted him – and he has played better more quickly than many believed possible when they drafted him. You know what the Jaguars also envisioned when they drafted Bortles? That he would be second-team for a while and be in an environment without expectations in which he could develop, compete, improve and learn how to be an NFL quarterback. So far, you know what Bortles has done in that environment? He has gotten better. He has improved dramatically from the offseason. In a few games he has given Jaguars followers a lot of confidence that he can be good for the long-term. He has given a lot of people within the organization the same feeling. The smiles on the faces of the Jaguars’ decision-makers Friday night were real. They like what they have. Those people have worked in football a long time. They’re used to being second-guessed. That second-guessing won’t force them to stray from their plan. Nor should it.
Tom from St. Augustine, FL:
When the quarterback clocks the ball to stop the clock does that count as an incompletion?
John: Yes.
Jerry from Fernandina Beach, FL:
I hear some players talk about an "outside-zone" blocking scheme for running plays. Can you explain what that is?
John: Yes. The Jaguars use zone-blocking techniques for much of their running offense. It’s a scheme that calls for linemen to block areas or “zones” while run-blocking with the idea of creating favorable blocking matchups. In an outside zone, the idea is for the line to move as a unit one way or the other to the “outside” area of the field to get the blocking flowing in one direction. Ideally, the running back would then be able to use his cutback ability to find holes created by matchup advantages or double teams.
Mike from Jacksonville:
John, with the continued growing pains on the offensive line, how long do you see it taking for our run blocking to come together?
John: I honestly think it will take a while longer yet, probably at least weeks into the regular season. I say that while at the same time saying there were positives in this area on Friday. The Jaguars weren’t blasting holes on every play, but there were multiple plays where there was enough push for Toby Gerhart to get behind the blocking and get productive yards. That’s a start. In the NFL, it’s difficult to reel off play after play of four-yard rushes. That’s the goal, but it’s not often attained. Usually, it’s one-yard run, no gain, one-yard run and eight-to-10 yard pop. There were a couple of pops on Friday. As for when you’ll start to see marked improvement, realistically it’s going to be a work in progress. The Jaguars are down one starter (right tackle Austin Pasztor), still looking for a starter at center, starting a rookie at right guard (Brandon Linder) and starting a left tackle with five regular-season starts (Luke Joeckel). That’s yoooooooooooooooooooooung by NFL offensive line standards and young lines occasionally have plays that look messy. When I wrote all offseason that the Jaguars’ offensive line could struggle early because it was a group with a lot of new faces in new places, I wasn’t doing it just to fill server space. Attaining continuity is a process and the process isn’t easy.
Brian from Run Rock:
It's tough to watch Coach Bradley lose all the credibility he earned last year. Ironic that it's happening over what could be the greatest thing to happen to the franchise in a long time. We should be able to enjoy this!
John: I’ve gotten a few emails and tweets along these lines, and laughed out loud. Really. I went, “Heh, heh.” Out loud. You say Bradley is losing credibility by not starting Blake Bortles. I assume you mean credibility with fans, but maybe you mean with players. Either way, whatever … Bradley is making a decision he believes in. You don’t lose credibility doing that. At least not with anyone reasonable.
Paul from Lohrville, IA:
After all of the problems the Jaguars have had with first-round picks it would sure be bittersweet if Allen Hurns turns out to be a highly productive receiver for ten-plus years. He appears to have a special ability to get open when needed and he makes the contested catches. It is obvious the quarterbacks have trust in him. Are we seeing the start of something special or will Allen Hurns get buried on the depth chart and fade away in a few years?
John: If Allen Hurns is a highly productive receiver for 10-plus years it would not be bittersweet for the Jaguars. It would make him one of the great acquisitions in franchise history. I can’t say yet whether we are seeing the start of something special. The preseason is not the regular season, and Hurns still must prove he can do what he’s doing against more complex defenses and the increased speed of the regular season. But so far he has shown no signs of being a player who disappears on the depth chart. At this point, I would be surprised if he’s not in the Jaguars’ top four receivers.
Nathan from St. Augustine, FL:
OK, let's say you’re right and nothing Blake Bortles does changes the fact he's on the bench Week 1. Don’t you at least have to concede that he's played so well and poised that it's a short leash for Henne? An opening-day loss and poor game by Henne, Bortles Week 2?
John: The tone of this and many emails like it amuses me, implying as it does that I somehow am on a soapbox and making passionate arguments about the Jaguars quarterbacking position. Bortles won’t start Week 1. That has been the case since the draft, and it’s not as much about me being right or wrong as just realizing that that’s the team’s plan. And yes, I’ve written before that Bortles playing well has to make it at least somewhat more likely that the Jaguars play him more quickly than perhaps was anticipated. I don’t see the leash as short as you do, though. If the Jaguars and Henne struggle against the Eagles will Bradley name Bortles the starter the next day? No, I don’t see the leash being that short.

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