Tuesday, August 26, 2014
It's goodbye Blake after Thursday night
By Michael DiRocco
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have not yet determined how much rookie quarterback Blake Bortles will play in the final preseason game against Atlanta Thursday night.
It could be a few drives, a quarter or even a half. Regardless of how long it is, it’d be advisable to postpone any bathroom breaks, concession stand runs or forays into the kitchen (for TV viewers) when he’s on the field.
That may be the last time anyone sees him in game action for a long time, maybe even a year.
Despite an impressive preseason by the No. 3 overall draft pick, the Jaguars are sticking with their plan of starting Chad Henne and putting Bortles on the bench when the regular season begins next month.
So after Thursday night’s game against the Falcons, it could be Bye Bye Blake.
"I don’t really think about it like that," Bortles said. "I think about it each and every day as an opportunity to go get better, to go improve. If it’s taking scout-team cards against our defense and going and working against our No. 1 defense, that’s just as good as going and playing in the game.
"Obviously Thursday night I want to go out there and continue to work, continue to get better, continue to improve on some things and kind of finish the preseason off on a good note."
It’d be hard to be more impressive than he already has been this month. Bortles has completed 62 percent of his passes for 435 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions in the Jaguars’ first three preseason games. He finally got to work with the first-team offense against a first-team defense last Friday in Detroit and responded by going 10-for-17 for 158 yards and a touchdown.
Bortles did throw two passes that should have been intercepted (one would have been wiped out by a penalty), and coach Gus Bradley said Bortles was late on several slant-route throws. Bortles tagged that on his footwork, which is still a work in progress. Though Bortles worked with quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Charlie Taafe during his entire Central Florida career, he has repeatedly said the footwork and fundamentals he’s learning from Jaguars OC Jedd Fisch and QB coach Frank Scelfo are things to which he has never been exposed.
"It’s hard when you’ve been doing it your whole life and now you’re trying to change it," Bortles said. "Me and Frank go every period and do kind of our own thing where I’m working on certain things and trying to change the muscle memory of how to do things and kind of re-learn how to do things correctly or more efficiently."
Those things -- plus gaining a more complete understanding of the offense, learning to read and understand coverages, and adjusting to the speed of the game -- are the main reasons why the Jaguars are putting him on the bench after Thursday.
There are no concerns among the coaches or players that Bortles won’t be able to handle not being a starter for the first time since 2011 and not even getting on the field for the first time since 2010.
"I think he’s going to be fine," receiver Cecil Shorts said. "He’s in a situation where he is the future of the franchise, so I feel like in his mind, his attitude, and how he approaches things, he’ll be just fine.
"Of course you want to play. Anybody wants to come in and play right away, but I think he’s coming into a very good situation. If you look at other situations, like an Aaron Rodgers and others that waited a little bit, they came out and turned out pretty well."
What’s making it easier for Bortles is that Bradley and GM David Caldwell have been up front with Bortles about their plan to go with Henne and have Bortles sit the bench -- ideally for the entire 2014 season.
"I think from the get-go there was kind of a plan, kind of a big-picture thing that they had in mind and were going to do," Bortles said. "That was for me to come in and learn from Chad, ask [questions], and kind of mimic, and figure out things, get acclimated to everything. That was made clear from Day 1.
"I kind of came in with no expectations and was kind of like a sponge, just wanted to learn and absorb as much as possible. ... I know a thousand times more now than I did two months ago."
After Thursday, it’ll be time to learn what it’s like to be a backup again.