Any sports discussion in North Florida and South Georgia includes two questions:
Are the Jaguars going to be better? (You hope so)
Is Blake Bortles the guy? (We’ll find out this year)
Just looking at the facts and the stats, Bortles was a typical rookie quarterback, made great progress in his second year and just didn’t play well and never looked right in 2016.
“I get that,” Blake explained after the Jaguars first day of Organized Team Activities outside the stadium on Tuesday. “I didn’t play well, we didn’t play well. It doesn’t really bother me that you have something negative to say about me. I earned that. It’s okay. It doesn’t offend me or bother me at all.”
And while that might all be true, you have to develop a thick skin as a quarterback since you get most of the credit and most of the blame no matter what happens. *Bortles went to California to work on “quarterback things” mostly mechanics and footwork but getting out of town and not having to hear from fans how terrible he was every day was an added bonus.
“I think going to California did help to get away, go out there and not have to deal with any of that stuff and not be around it. That’s part of the job and that’s something that you have to be able to handle, both good and bad. It’s kind of the same thing.”
Returning to the stadium for the off-season conditioning program and now for the first of the on field workouts, Bortles saw an immediate change in the culture surrounding the football team. With Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone now setting the tone, the expectations are pretty clear. They want everybody to know what they need to do and what the consequences would be if that doesn’t happen. That’s all fine with Blake.
“It holds everybody accountable,” he explained. “It’s white and black. There’s not maybe or maybe you were wrong. It’s either you did it right or you did it wrong. I think having that, having that accountability that Coach Marrone and Coach Coughlin are going to hold guys to, I think it’s good.”
With a pretty clear-cut edit to get it right, Bortles said it also carries over to his decision-making on the field. Make the read and execute the play. Marrone agrees that the quarterback has to have some real guidelines so he can make decisions fast.
“Hey, if this comes out and they’re in this formation, hey this is the check,'” Marrone added. “So we’re trying to get all that stuff down and we’re trying to train the players mentally to think quickly because what happens is in this period of time, you tend to be more relaxed because you’re not in full pads.”
For all of the predictions of a new start and better results for the Jaguars, Bortles is a realist when it comes to what really effects a change on the scoreboard.
“You can’t just say, well, you got a new coaching staff with some new guys in the locker room, it’s all going to change. There’s a lot of work that needs to go into it. It kind of started a couple of weeks ago when everybody got here. It’s a long road, it’s a process. I’m excited for it and I think today was a good start.” Is Bortles the “guy?” He’ll play with a much shorter leash this year and without a player on the roster that will push him as the starter; he’ll get a chance to prove that he’s the long-term solution at that position. Coughlin has said “We think he’s the player,” and proved that in this year’s draft.
“Any time they take a tackle, a running back and a receiver, as a quarterback that’s always exciting,” Blake said, showing he paid attention in April. “All three of those guys are extremely good football players in college and it’s been fun the little time that we’ve got to be with them out there to watch those guys run around and integrate into the locker room.”
He’s noticeably leaner at 233 pounds coming into the OTA’s and that’s on purpose. Bortles says the practices are much more up-tempo and being in better shape is an important part of his ability to compete in the off-season.
“As of now, we’re remembered off of what we did last year and what I did last year,” he said, facing up to the big, obvious question. “I can’t wait to change that narrative. It’s more of a personal thing for me as far as what I’m thought of as a quarterback and definitely in this locker room and in this organization, to make sure to prove those guys right.”
And here’s the thing with Blake: He wants to be better. He wants to be great. Believe it or not, there are a lot of players in the league who are just fine with coasting along, making a paycheck. Plenty of quarterbacks who are more comfortable holding a clipboard and wearing a baseball hat on the sidelines. That’s not Bortles. And it’s one of the reasons he’s so popular among his teammates.
He was bad last year and maybe it was a shoulder injury. Maybe it was coaching. Maybe it was the sacks and the losing. But he hasn’t shied away from it, he knows he wasn’t good and is out to fix it. He’s an easy guy to root for and knowing, and wanting to be better is the first step to getting there.