It might be the most important position in sports and consequently, maybe the hardest. Quarterback, on any level, is different from every other position. That’s probably why Hall of Famer Troy Aikman said, “If you’ve been a quarterback, you’re a brother of mine.” Quarterback’s get too much of the credit for winning and a fair helping of the blame when their team loses. Blake Bortles, in his third year in the NFL, seems to have taken a step back from last year. But it still could be considered a “sophomore slump” if you look at his progression. He’s thinking too much, defenses are changing their coverages, and his favorite receivers are being double-teamed. Production is down, footwork is off and throwing mechanics are bad.
Sounds pretty dire? But Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, and apparently GM Dave Caldwell don’t think Bortles is far off from other quarterbacks in the league of his age and experience level.
“We went back, Dave (Caldwell) and I were just watching in his office on some throws that were made around the league,” Bradley revealed Monday after the 24-21 loss to the Texans. ” Let’s just look at the misses and see what’s taking place and you see it. A lot of quarterbacks are doing it across the league. I think it’s to try to create a picture to see where we’re at with him. I think he’s doing some really good things.”
“Some” is the operative word there, but when they see Bortles in practice his whole game comes together. On the field, it’s the consistency that he lacks to win games.
“You go back, and it’s a head scratcher,” Gus explained. “Because you do see some great throws and some great decision-making. Other ones, just got away from him.”
There are a million reasons you can come up with as to while Bortles isn’t playing well. Everybody has their own theory from different defenses, bad mechanics, a different address and what’s described as an “active” social life. Whatever the reason, there’s no question he’s struggled in 2016. Statistically, he’s just fine, but much of his yardage and most of his TD passes have come when the game is already decided. The Jaguars haven’t won a game when Bortles throws for 300 yards. In the past two games, he’s missed some long TD throws to wide open receivers. Gus broke it down, talking about whether the route was on the hash mark, did the ball drift, did you not track it, etc. but if you’ve ever thrown that kind of pass, even in the backyard, you know it’s a total feel thing. Blake isn’t playing with much feel right now, so missing those throws isn’t that surprising.
What is surprising, but probably good for Blake is Bradley’s steadfast commitment to him as the Jaguars quarterback. Despite his failing this year, Bradley says Bortles is the Jaguars quarterback for the right reasons.
“I think he’s [saying] ‘what do I need to do, is there something I’m missing, I know I’m missing plays obviously that but what else, can I work harder, I believe I’m working hard, is there another step, can I work even harder in some areas?’ So those kinds of questions he’s asking,” Gus said.
Regarding his commitment to the game and to improving, Bradley says Bortles is completely on the other side of the equation, totally committed.
“Football is extremely important to him. Extremely important. I don’t know if he’s got a lot of other things other than football right now and he seems to think about it a lot. Driven in how can he improve and what can he do to help this team.”
Which all adds up to Bortles remaining the starter.
“Well, I have great confidence in him. I think when I speak for everybody, we all have great confidence with him. I think when you say if you’re not seeing the consistency in Blake I think we just need to keep working on that and gaining confidence in it, but I don’t see anything in the future that shows Blake Bortles is not our guy.”
Overall, Bradley is coaching the team with the confidence he can get it done and no hint that he might not be here after the season. He says he’s not dwelling on the past and looking to the future.
“You try not to look back too much,” he said when asked if it’s hard to focus on the next game instead of lamenting the seven losses. I think that could be dangerous and a waste of time. I think you need every minute of every day to prepare for the next opponent. So whatever you can do, if you can keep your mind there and guiding towards that direction, that gives you the best opportunity. Everything else is just really a waste of time.”