Noticeably leaner and seemingly focused, Jaguars Quarterback Blake Bortles was clearly the leader on the offense as the team opened their training camp for 2017. It was Bortles leading the way in drills, hustling from one place to another and “breaking it down” in the middle of the offensive get together at the end of practice.
Knowing it’s a make or break year for him, Bortles spent most of the off-season working with well known quarterback coaches on the West Coast, refining his motion and footwork. But making that stick is the key.
“You go out there and you’re throwing there, there’s nobody around you, there’s nobody coming at you, you’re not thinking about anything, you’re just throwing.,” Blake said in front of the assembled media after a rain shortened end of the first day of practice. “So that’s the kind of stuff you work on and then you bring it out here and hope it holds up and now, when we get out here, it’s about the thought process, the decision making, the accuracy and kind of all the football-related things.”
Today’s first day of training camp was “What I’ve been waiting for all year,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said afterwards. He’s planning to put pressure on the players, ramp up the intensity and the stress level to see which players can react. That was noticeable in day one.
“You feel good, you feel like you’re in shape and no matter how much you run, there’s no preparing you football-shape and running-shape,” Bortles said about the tempo of practice. “It’s something that you just have to get out there and get acclimated so you have to go do it, you have to go practice, you have to go run for two and a half hours in order to kind of get used to it.”
Assembling the 2017 roster should “take care of itself” according to Marrone, alluding to the competition he expects over the next several weeks. While they’ve put together more talent than they’ve had in five years, it’s the quarterback play they know they need in order to be improved.
“I think what I was looking at specifically with Blake coming in here was where are we from a standpoint of footwork, a standpoint of progressions and reads and all that stuff?” Marrone said when asked about his expectations of his quarterback early in camp.
“Are we close to where we were at the end of camp where we felt things were going in the right direction?” he explained. “Or are we in the beginning like we were when we first started having to build it up? I think he’s done a good job this offseason maintaining the footwork, the mechanics and the progression of what he’s been doing. Now the challenge is going out there and doing it consistently on a daily basis.”
While having confidence in his physical game, Blake admitted he and the rest of the team probably thought too much about it all last year.
“Yeah, I think so. I think it’s just about going out there, playing football, one, and making plays, making more plays than they make, score more points than they score,” he said. “I think last year we thought probably a little too much about it. So I think to be able to free the mind and just go play football and enjoy it and have fun and make as many big plays as we possibly can, is the goal.”
Adding Leonard Fournette through the draft signaled a shift in the Jaguars offensive focus to the running game. General Manager Dave Caldwell has said he expects Fournette to be on the roster with holdovers Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon and possibly Corey Grant. All of that sounds great to Bortles when it comes to getting things done on offense.
“I think so, definitely,” Blake added. “And if we’re doing that, that means Leonard and Chris and T.J. and Corey and those guys are running for 150, 200 yards. So that makes my job way easier and I’m fine with that. I’ll throw it five times or I’ll throw it 50 times, whatever can help us win and whatever is the most efficient way for us to put up points, I’ll do it.”