In his fourth year in the league, Quarterback Blake Bortles knows this is his last chance with the Jaguars. A typical rookie year was followed by great improvement but last year he, and the team fell apart. The Jaguars picked up the fifth year of his rookie deal, meaning if he proves he’s the right guy in 2017, they have a bargain the next year. If not, they can move on without penalty.
Perhaps that’s given Bortles more focus in this off-season, or maybe it’s just the change in his coaching staff. Either way, the Jaguars quarterback has spent the offseason working with quarterback experts on the west coast, trying to give himself the best chance at success.
“Two years ago, I went out there and last year, I stayed here the whole time,” Blake said without mentioning that after 2016 the Jaguars asked him to stay in town and throw with the receiving group.
“It just shows that guys are sick and tired of being below average and not being successful when we feel as though we have the ability to be a good team. We haven’t been. It’s time to make a change. It’s not going to happen overnight. You have to go do something about it.”
Between the mini-camp and the beginning training camp, Bortles will be back on the west coast, continuing to work on things he thinks he needs after four weeks of work in Jacksonville.
“I think it will definitely be more specific” he said, explaining what he’ll do out there in his second visit. “In the offseason one, or whatever you want to call it — February, March April — it was mechanic-based. ‘Let’s fix this, let’s make sure this is sustainable and can remain consistent.’ Now, I’ll go out there with some more descriptive things. ‘Here’s what I felt like I struggled with footwork-wise and throwing this route. Here’s what I’d like to get better at. Here’s something that was new, I’d like to just rep it.’ I think it’ll be a bit more dialed-in.”
Drafting Leonard Fournette is supposed to signal a culture change for the Jaguars offense. More run-oriented, less reliant on Bortles being able to keep drives going with the pass. He’s on board with all of that.
“You’d like to think that if you throw the ball less, you commit less turnovers, have a higher completion percentage, all that. That’s all stuff that comes along with it. You still have to, from a quarterback perspective, still continue to make decisions and deliver the ball where it needs to be.”
And in the mini-camp, the focus was on “situational football” trying to simulate the things the team will face when the season starts. None of it is a mystery.
“We’re notorious for going three-and-out on the first possession in the past couple years that I’ve been here,” Blake said with a wry smile. “We have to stop doing that. We have to come out and find a way, from the beginning, and no matter what the situation or scenario is, to find a way to be successful and efficient.”
In order to play at the level they want, the Jaguars coaching staff believes a new level of conditioning and toughness is where to start. Head Coach Doug Marrone said it’s no secret that the Jaguars were getting beat in the 4th quarter of games last year and he wants that to stop. That’s why his version of the OTA’s and the mini-camp were particularly grueling. Bortles thought the Jaguars receivers ran more in the four weeks than they ran in the last four years. “Yeah, I think so,” he said. “Definitely. I think doing all that, getting in shape. I think it’s not necessarily something you like right now. There are some guys that aren’t happy about it. I think that’s how you create a culture and establish the way that the Jacksonville Jaguars practice.”
Almost every sports adage applies to the Jaguars at this point. They’ve been losing games and it hasn’t been fun for anybody. The Jaguars have one playoff win in the last 17 years, so a change, any kind of change would be welcome. Bortles and his teammates in this generation of Jaguars would like to change that.
“I think my goal is for us and this team and this organization is to be very successful. We haven’t for three years since I’ve been here. I think even after that happens, I don’t think anything will change. It’s what I do. It’s our job. It’s my job and my passion. I’m going to do and exhaust every resource I have to be able to make this thing work and get it rolling.”