For the Jacksonville Jaguars to have success -- over the next three seasons and beyond -- Blake Bortles has to develop into the quarterback general manager David Caldwell envisioned during the pre-draft process.
Caldwell took Bortles with the third overall pick because he and coach Gus Bradley believed Bortles was the best quarterback in the draft and could become the cornerstone of the franchise the way Matt Ryan did in Atlanta during Caldwell’s five seasons with the Falcons. But unlike Ryan, who started 16 games as a rookie, the Jaguars want Bortles to stay off the field in 2014 and instead learn and develop behind Chad Henne.
Bortles will need to adjust to the speed of the NFL game and learn a new offense, but that’s not what is holding him back. He has some mechanical issues, specifically with his lower body, which he must improve. Bortles said the biggest issue is his footwork, particularly when he throws to his right. He’s not stepping in the direction of the throw with his left (front) foot, which leaves his upper body parallel to the line of scrimmage on his release. That’s costing him velocity and accuracy, he said.
There also are other minor technique tweaks and issues that offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo are working on with Bortles. The plan is to use this season to fix these issues so Bortles can take the field in 2015 as a fundamentally sound quarterback who knows the offense completely.
That’s when the Jaguars will find out if Bortles has some of the other qualities needed to be a great quarterback. Can he feel and elude the rush in the pocket? When he’s under pressure, will he step up into the pocket to make the throw or bail out? Is he capable of putting a team on his back? Does he come through in big situations or does he wilt? Is he a consistent player? Do his teammates believe in him?
Those aren’t questions that can be answered now, and they might not all be answered in 2015, either. But the franchise’s future success depends on Caldwell and Bradley being able to answer “yes” to most of those questions.