It seems not a day goes by without somebody asking about Blake Bortles.
Is he the guy? Will the Jaguars address the QB position right away? Wait ‘till the draft? Eli Manning? Teddy Bridgewater? Buehler? Anyone?
But here’s the truth: Blake is the right guy for this team.
Built to play defense and run the ball, the Jaguars need a quarterback who can play all kinds of different ways, running and throwing and most importantly earning the trust of his teammates. He won a playoff game last year 10-3 with a restricted game plan. He won a playoff game the next week, on the road, 45-42 with a wide-open playbook.
“Because I’ve seen it before,” said Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone when asked why he has confidence in Bortles. “Sure, we need better play. But the bigger picture is that we all need to play better. It’s a better story when it’s the quarterback stuff. I get it. I don’t have any issues with that.”
Two years in a row, Blake’s job as the starting quarterback on this team has been called into question by his head coach. Once in the preseason and once when he was benched at halftime. Marrone said he did that to “shake things up” but Bortles knows he’s always under the microscope.
“Playing quarterback in the NFL, it seems if you haven’t won a Super Bowl you are fighting every day to keep your job,” Blake said. “I view it like that. I have to show up and earn my keep every day and winning football games is the only way to do it.”
Plain spoken and matter of fact, it’s just the nature of the business if you listen to Blake talk. But despite his blasé’ approach in front of the media, Bortles brings a fierce competitiveness to playing that a casual observer wouldn’t see. He hides it from us. His teammates know better. He wants to be great and has matured in the last couple of years to put the work in to be great.
Is he great? No. He’s not Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. He’s somewhere else on the list of QB’s in the NFL. Not at the top, nor is he at the bottom.
When the pieces to the Jaguars puzzle are put together, like they were last year, Bortles can operate the offense like Lewis Hamilton drives his F1 machine. When the Jaguars puzzle is apart as it is now, maybe Brady, Rodgers or Brees would keep the Jaguars competitive. Nobody else.
But consider: No tight ends, third-string left tackle, star wide receiver hurt in preseason and not replaced and a star running back that has played 24 snaps all year. So no running game, fewer options throwing the ball, and honestly, wide receivers that aren’t getting open. Add to that play calling that doesn’t seem to match the talent on the field, and you get the offensive struggles the Jaguars are experiencing.
Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota are the other three starting quarterbacks in the AFC South. They all run very different offenses and do good things. Insert any of them in the Jaguars lineup right now, and the results would be the same. Osweiler, Winston, Fitzpatrick, Prescott, Ryan, Smith, Cousins, same story.
Never one to point finger elsewhere, Bortles did give a glimpse into how things are different than expected, and currently dysfunctional while discussing the tight end situation this week.
“Obviously it is different because you bring ASJ [Austin Seferian-Jenkins] and he comes in and it is him, [James] O’Shaughnessy and Niles [Paul] who were our three guys. You work all offseason and OTAs and camp with them and feel comfortable and felt like we had some really good stuff for those guys. Then all three of them were hurt within a couple weeks of each other.”
It’s become the easy story that Blake can’t play. The Jaguars can’t win with him. You’ve heard that enough on game broadcasts and national networks to know that it’s the narrative that won’t change. Broadcast producers start with “Blake can’t play” as the overriding theme and the announcers follow the story. Kind of like when they kept reporting that Tom Coughlin wouldn’t allow sunglasses on the practice field. A year after he revised that rule.
Will Blake be the catalyst to turn the second half of the season around? Marrone explained how he’d look at the quarterback.
“It’s a tough position to evaluate,” the head coach said. “Sometimes there is a lot of stuff going around that has got to get a whole lot better. I think it’s a lot easier to evaluate a situation when everything around it is going well. Then you can see it. Quarterback position? That is really any position.”