NFL Nation: AFC South

INDIANAPOLIS -- A torn ACL and just months away from being 36 years old has caused Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne to drop 20 spots as the 56th best offensive player in ESPN’s #NFLRank project.

Wayne went into the 2013 season 36th in the rankings. His season came to an end when he tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of the Colts' victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 7. He finished with 38 catches for 503 yards and two touchdowns in seven games.

Wayne says he's healthy and hopes to play in Saturday's preseason game (8 p.m. ET) against the New Orleans Saints at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Wayne is 1,015 yards from braking Marvin Harrison's franchise record in receiving yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Wayne may not surpass Harrison's record this season because the Colts have two other legitimate receivers in T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks. QB Andrew Luck can also use tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen in the passing game.

Hilton is the No. 70th-ranked offensive player in the league.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Reggie Wayne is done trying to lobby with coach Chuck Pagano. The Indianapolis Colts receiver did it with his coach at the start of training camp. He did it when it came to his practice time. He did it before the first two preseason games.

Wayne knows lobbying won’t do any good. His status for the Saturday’s game against the New Orleans Saints will be determined by Pagano.

Bush
Wayne
So what do you say, coach, will Wayne play in his first game since Week 7 of the 2013 season when he tore his ACL?

“It’ll be a game-time decision,” Pagano said Thursday afternoon.

Ugh, the infamous game-time decision used by coaches.

Wayne said at the start of training camp that he wanted his first tackle in a game to come in the preseason, not on Sept. 7 against the Denver Broncos.

But that will likely be the case if Wayne doesn’t play Saturday because starters don’t routinely play in the preseason finale.

“I’ll just watch the Denver film from last year, watch the last time I got tackled,” Wayne said if he doesn’t play in the preseason. “I have to some kind of way. I have some kids. Sit in the middle of the living room and let them tee off on me. He says no go, I’ll be fine. I’ll be alright. There are not too many guys in this world who want to be tackled. I’ll be fine. I’ll be able to adjust. It’ll be Week 1, I guess.”

Wayne made sure to point out that he hasn’t had any kind of setback with his knee.

“I feel good, I feel like the Reggie of old. I really do,” he said. “Nothing has stopped me from doing what I have wanted to do. There’s no routes I can’t run. I feel fine. I guess it’s more that Coach Pagano and the Colts organization want to see me healthy for Week 1.”

Wayne wanting to play Saturday is about more than just getting that first tackle out of the way. He wants to be out there playing with fellow receivers T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks and the rest of the offense so they can get a feel for each other in a game that doesn’t count in the standings.

“Preseason, a lot of people think it’s nothing, but it’s very meaningful,” Wayne said. “You get a lot of stuff accomplished. You get a lot of stuff that you probably wouldn’t normally do in the regular season. You have an opportunity to try it out in the preseason. I just want to go out there and experience it.

“I want to be out there with my teammates. I want to be out there with T.Y. Hilton with Hakeem Nicks just to give people a glimpse of what they’re going to see. I want to be a part of that. I don’t want that to be the first time in Week 1.”

T.Y. Hilton No. 70 in player ranking

August, 21, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- About the only good thing to come out of Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne having his 2013 season cut short because of a torn ACL was that it allowed fellow receiver T.Y. Hilton to speed up his development.

And that’s why Hilton was voted as the 70th best offensive player in the NFL in ESPN.com’s player rankings. He’s the first Colts offensive player to crack the top-100 ranking.

Hilton finished 2013 with 82 receptions for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns.

Hilton became quarterback Andrew Luck’s go-to receiver after Wayne’s season ended in Week 7. He had 55 receptions for 671 yards in the games after Wayne went down. Hilton also had 224 yards receiving against Kansas City in the playoffs.

Some think Hilton's numbers could go down some because of Wayne's return and the addition of Hakeem Nicks to go with tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

I disagree. I think Hilton will lead the Colts in receiving yards and yards per catch because those players will allow him to use his speed for big plays down field against single coverage.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts' starters will have the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for their season opener against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 7 when they likely play into the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.

Luck
The starters played one series against the New York Jets on Aug. 7. They played a little bit longer against the New York Giants last week. The starters aren't expected to play much if they even play at all in the preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals on Aug. 28.

“There’s a lot of, obviously, important things in the game,” quarterback Andrew Luck said. “But yeah, if we do it like we have the past couple years, when you get to come out and do a drive in the second half, it’s good to get back in that mode, that rhythm at halftime of sitting down for 12 minutes, 20 minutes, whatever it is and coming back out then hopefully putting a drive together.”

Depending on if coach Chuck Pagano decides to play receiver Reggie Wayne, Luck could be working with his entire offensive unit outside of starting center Khaled Holmes (ankle) against the Saints.

“It’ll be exciting,” Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “I think we’ll be faced with some new challenges from week to week. The more evidence that you put on film that you’re going to do certain things, teams tend to scheme you up and have better answers in a sense. Our guys are working hard. It will be a tremendous challenge for us as an offensive unit, but I think we’re up to the challenge.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Marcedes Lewis has said numerous times that he has had his best offseason and is in the best shape of his career.

That has been evident with the way he has performed in training camp and the first two preseason games. He’s catching nearly everything thrown his way and his role in the offense has been as prominent as it was at the end of the 2013 season.

Lewis
But as reliable and valuable as Lewis has been, there are that many questions about the players behind him.

Clay Harbor, who caught 24 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns last season, has been out with a calf injury since July 28, and when he will return to practice is unclear. There is hope that he will return for the Sept. 7 season opener.

"It’s doing a lot better," said Harbor, who suffered a partial tear of his calf muscle. "I’m working toward hopefully Philadelphia game Week 1. That’s what the plan is, and if everything keeps going well then that’s what I’m going to try to do, get ready for that week and try my best to play."

Harbor is the only other tight end on the roster that has caught a pass in an NFL game, leaving the Jaguars with undrafted rookies Marcel Jensen and D.J. Tialavea and second-year player Branden Barden, who played in three games with Tennessee in 2010.

Barden and Jensen are essentially fighting to be the third tight end because the Jaguars will only keep three on the 53-man roster. The one that doesn’t make it is likely headed for the practice squad, and right now that looks to be Jensen. Tialavea appears to be the odd man out.

"I think Barden is having a real nice camp," offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. "It’s fun to see him compete. He’s smart, has good experience and is catching the ball actually really well this camp."

Barden signed with Tennessee as an undrafted free agent in 2012 after a five-year career at Vanderbilt, ended up on the Titans’ practice squad, and then was signed to the active roster and played in three games that season. The Titans waived him after another stint on the practice squad and the Jaguars signed him to their practice squad last November.

Jensen is an undrafted free agent from Fresno State. He caught the staff’s eye during organized team activities and minicamp after making a few catches. He is intriguing because of his size (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) and length, but he is a raw talent and has been relatively anonymous in training camp.

"I thought that was another great acquisition there to get a guy like him," Fisch said. "I think there’s some good upside there with him."

Potential is nice, but the Jaguars need production behind Lewis, especially if Harbor can’t return for the season opener.

Trent Richardson off to slow start

August, 20, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Look at Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson's preseason rushing statistics and you probably want to climb to the top of the nearest mountain and scream, “Here we go again!” at the top of your lungs.

Richardson has rushed for 34 yards on 14 attempts in two preseason games. That’s 2.4 yards a carry, which is even less than the 2.9 yards he averaged last season when he lost his starting job after being acquired from the Cleveland Browns.

Coach Chuck Pagano isn’t ready to join you at the top of the mountain, but he’s not kidding himself, either. He knows they need to run the ball better. It's a necessity that the Colts provide something on the ground to help open things up on the outside for quarterback Andrew Luck.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsTrent Richardson's numbers so far in the preseason are reminiscent of last season's struggles.
“I think everybody wants this guy to get going and that guy to get going, but there’s some tough sledding right now and we’re working at it,” Pagano said. “I think having the capability to do the other thing is going to open things up in the run game for us.”

The pass Richardson and the Colts got last year because the running back was acquired during the season is gone. He had the entire offseason to learn the offense, he’s comfortable with Luck, and he said he’s in exceptional health.

Now it’s time for the No. 3 overall pick in 2012 to produce on the field.

“Trent, he needs to answer the bell and do his job to the best of his ability,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. “We’re all accountable here. I will say this, there are a lot of backs last year that wouldn’t have got [2.4] considering the amount of people he had in that box and the amount of bodies that were hitting him before he even seemed to get the ball sometimes. He’s such a hard runner, we know how tough he is, but he’s got to produce just like all these guys do on this final 53.”

Richardson’s first run of the preseason was for 8 yards, giving the indication that good things were to come with him. But he gained only 26 yards since then. The New York Giants, according to Pagano, loaded up the box on more than 20 of the first 30 plays of their preseason game last weekend. Richardson’s two longest runs -- 8 yards each -- came with Luck in the shotgun. Richardson's running with better instincts. It's just not showing up in the results, which is the determining factor.

“I think any time for any back, not only Trent, I think any time you spread people out and you’re in one-back situations, you’re in the gun,” Pagano said. “Everything’s dictated on what the defense presents. If they give you a light box, it doesn’t matter who’s in there, you’re going to have an opportunity to gain some yards. … It kind of depends on how the defense decides to defend you. If they go light box and they spread things out, I think for any runner he’s going to have an opportunity to gain more yards. First and second down, you can do the same thing. If they want to drop a safety down like this team likes to do, you’re still going to be, get a hat on a hat, you’re still going to have to get things blocked up and make a guy miss probably on his own.”

The verdict still can’t be determined with Richardson because he has played limited snaps in the preseason and the Colts haven’t had their full arsenal of weapons on offense. Receiver Reggie Wayne and running back Ahmad Bradshaw have yet to play in the preseason. The Colts are also dealing with injuries at guard and center.

“When Reggie’s out there, and T.Y. and Hakeem, you can’t double all of them,” Richardson said. “To have them with us, especially when Ahmad comes back, it’s going to be dangerous, and I like the direction we’re going in. I’m just proud to be able to be where we’re at right now. I know there’s still a lot to come and still a lot to work on. When it comes down to it, we’re just a work in progress right now.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars coaches and players have talked about rookie quarterback Blake Bortles' development for weeks.

They’ve mentioned his knowledge of the offense, his ability to make the correct read, and how accurate he has been during the first two preseason games. That’s been proven by the fact that he has completed 64 percent of his passes for 277 yards, numbers that could be even higher considering three of his 10 incompletions have been drops.

Bortles’ rate of progress goes beyond stats, though, and one play in the Jaguars’ 20-19 loss to Chicago last Thursday captured it perfectly: His 29-yard hookup with receiver Kerry Taylor down the left sideline.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/Andrew NellesBlake Bortles has passed for 277 yards in the Jaguars' first two preseason games combined.
The throw was perfect, right in front of Taylor and over the shoulder of Bears cornerback Demontre Hurst. It was thrown where only Taylor could catch it.

"Kerry did a great job of getting off the line and beating his guy and getting downfield," Bortles said. "There was good protection. I was able to get him the ball."

It was a little more intricate than that. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch had a run play called, but when Bortles got the line of scrimmage he saw the Bears were expecting run and had loaded the box. He audibled to a pass play, saw Taylor was in one-on-one coverage, and signaled the route Taylor should run.

When he took the shotgun snap, Bortles’ first option was receiver Mike Brown on the right side of the field. The second option was tight end Brandon Barden. Both were covered, so Bortles came back to the left side, saw Taylor had a step on the corner, and let it fly.

"He was able to see the coverage ahead of time, not during the snap but pre-snap," Fisch said. "He was able to get the indicators that he was looking for and then get the check and signal it properly and get those mechanics. That was a big play.

"… I think that shows a guy with great confidence. So, that part of it is fun, but he just has to continue to build and learn."

So, to recap: He recognized the offense was in a bad play for the defensive alignment, audibled to a pass play, and hit his third read for a big gain. That’s something with which some veteran quarterbacks struggle, but Bortles, in just his second professional game, nailed it.

"He’s definitely advanced," said Taylor, who caught three passes against the Bears. "He studies and he gets the reps in practice and does what he’s supposed to do. When we get out to the game we have trust in him that he can go out there and make those things happen.

"For him to see that and see the reads and see what’s there and what’s not there, it’s great for him, it’s great for our offense. It just shows that we have multiple quarterbacks that can get the job done."

This doesn’t mean Bortles is ready to become the Jaguars’ starting quarterback. He still hasn’t played with the first-team offense or faced a first-team defense -- that comes Friday when he gets about a quarter of work against Detroit -- and he is continuing to improve footwork and fundamental issues that were never addressed when he was at Central Florida.

But Bortles is clearly ahead of where most rookie quarterbacks would be at this point in their development. He certainly is ahead of Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.

"I don’t think I really went in with any preconceived notions on where he was going to be," Fisch said. "Obviously, we were excited when we drafted him, so we thought he was going to be a very good player. We’re still excited on how he has progressed. I think it’s a situation now where each day we are just looking for improvement, and he has challenged himself to get better every day. So, really I’m not exactly sure where I expect him to be, so he is doing well for where he is at."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson decided against looking outside the organization for a replacement for safety Antoine Bethea during the heart of the free-agency period in March. Grigson didn’t address the position through the draft, either.

The Colts felt like they had their replacement on the roster in Delano Howell. Then they signed veteran Mike Adams in June, which indicated they weren't convinced Howell was ready to be the starter.

Adams
A neck injury has put Howell’s season, and possibly career, in question. The pressure is on Adams to step in and help a defense that’s shown vast improvements in the preseason.

“Pressure, what’s that? As far as I know, pressure busts pipes,” Adams said. “I’m not worried about any pressure or anything. I wasn’t given the job. I was here to compete for a job.”

Grigson said Howell is seeing a specialist for his neck. His 2013 season was cut short due to a neck problem.

Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano say the competition to start alongside LaRon Landry at safety is up in the air still because Sergio Brown and Colt Anderson are also in the mix.

“All those guys have the traits that you’re looking for to play in our system and in our scheme,” Pagano said. “They can all play down in the box, they can all get guys on the ground. They’re athletic enough to cover and they’ve got good range in the back end when they have to play in the deep part of the secondary. I think we’ve got guys that are more than capable. The better off your front is, the easier the job is back there.”

The reality is the job is Adams’ to lose.

He’s the most experienced of the group, having started 73 games in his 10-year career. Adams joked the day after signing with the Colts in June that he may be 33 years old mentally, but he feels 26 years old physically.

The Colts hope that is true because they like their safeties to have cover skills and the ability to play in the box.

“Watch me, that’s all I have to say,” Adams said Tuesday. “Sometimes I run better than most second- and third-year players. I’m in great shape. I’m good.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Blake Bortles finally took his long-awaited reps with the Jaguars’ first-team offense on Monday.

It didn’t last long.

Bortles took three snaps during an 11-on-11 red zone period and coach Gus Bradley said he was pleased with the way the rookie quarterback handled himself. That was just as important as the result of the plays.

Bortles
"I think the speed of the game, it was good for him to see that," Bradley said. "I was sitting back there and I thought it was really good for him to go against the ones like that to get a feel for the speed, to get a feel for the rush.

"Sitting back there and watching it, I just felt like that was good for him."

Bradley said Bortles got several reps with the first-team receivers during 7-on-7 and he anticipates Bortles getting the same amount of work with the first-team offense on Tuesday. Bortles, who was not available to the media on Monday but is scheduled to have an interview session on Tuesday morning, is supposed to play about a quarter with the first-team offense during Friday’s preseason game at Detroit.

Quarterback Chad Henne said he had no problem with Bortles taking first-team reps in practice or against the Lions because it at least gives Bortles an idea of what to expect for when he eventually gets on the field.

"He definitely needs that opportunity," Henne said before Monday’s practice. "You never know what’s going to happen in the season, whether I go down or I’m not playing well and he needs to step in. It’s a good test. It’s a good defensive front and getting some work with the ones is definitely beneficial.

"Gus talked to me about it and he wanted to make sure I was fine with it and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ Blake needs to see what it’s like with the ones and feel that tempo and just get some good time with the offensive line and where he’s going to set up and where he’s going to throw the football."
INDIANAPOLIS – The first time Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis plays in a game this season might not be until he returns from his four-game suspension against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 5.

Mathis hasn’t played in the preseason, and Chuck Pagano doesn't sound like a coach who plans to play his star linebacker in either of the final two preseason games. Mathis is suspended for violating the league's drug policy.

Mathis
“We understand that we’re going to be without Rob, and we’ve got to make sure that from a preparation standpoint, staying in it mentally throughout the course of practice, those types of things, you get him enough,” Pagano said. “There’s a fine line because we know we’re not going to have him for four weeks. You’ve got to get the other guys ready to go, get them playing time and get them the snaps that they need. It’s tough.

“I’m not going to say we’ve totally ruled out the idea of him playing in the preseason. We’ll just take it day by day. I know we’ve got two opportunities left and we’ll just see where we’re at. If there’s an opportunity and it makes sense for us to get him out there then we will.”

The third preseason game is when teams tend to play their starters through at least halftime. That game for the Colts will be against the New Orleans Saints at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday. The final preseason game is the opposite. The starters routinely sit out that game.

Bjoern Werner will start in Mathis’ absence.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts thought they had gotten the ball back from the Giants on back-to-back plays in the first quarter on Saturday.

One was an interception by cornerback Darius Butler. The other was safety Mike Adams recovering a fumble after cornerback Greg Toler had stripped the ball from Giants receiver Victor Cruz.

Both plays did not count because a flag was thrown. Both penalties were because of illegal contact by the Colts.

The Colts found out the tough way just how serious the NFL is about the illegal contact penalty. Defensive players are not allowed to touch the offensive player after he gets outside of the 5-yard contact zone.

The Colts were called for illegal contact five times Saturday.

“It’s a point of emphasis coming into the season,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We have officials in practice. We have the NFL officials in so we’ve been harping on it in the whole offseason program, OTAs, minicamp and all through training camp. You can kind of see where the weekend’s going, including our game, as far as the emphasis on illegal contact, offensive P.I., D.P.I., holding, all those things in the back end. Guys are going to have to do a great job. You’re allowed five yards, and then after five yards, you’ve got to get off guys and you can’t have contact. We’ve got to do a better job coaching it.”

Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard was called for illegal contact twice. The first time was when Butler intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning. When he was called for it a second time, it took away an exceptional play by linebacker Bjoern Werner, who caught Giants running back Rashad Jennings from behind for no gain.

“It’s tough, especially now days with these tight ends,” Sheppard said. “Most of them can run. They’re 6-6, 260 pounds running a 4.5. It’s tough for linebackers now days to put ourselves in a position of success. It is what it was. They called me for it. They’re right, I’m wrong. You have to learn from it.”

Observation Deck: Indianapolis Colts

August, 16, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts were without four offensive starters against the New York Giants Saturday. That didn’t matter because quarterback Andrew Luck was still on the field for the Colts.

Luck led the Colts on scoring drives on three of the four series the first unit was on the field in their 27-26 loss to the Giants. New York trailed 26-0 in the fourth quarter before coming back to win. Punter Pat McAfee missed a 64-yard field goal that would have won the game for the Colts in the final seconds.

Receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, guard Jack Mewhort and center Khaled Holmes all sat out. All Luck did was go 12-of-18 for 89 yards and a touchdown.

Here are some other thoughts on the Colts’ second preseason game:
  • Receiver Hakeem Nicks made it no secret that was he was looking forward to facing the Giants, who he spent his first five seasons with. He didn’t disappoint, even though it was only a preseason game. Nicks, who was in the role as the Colts’ lead receiver without Wayne and Hilton, caught five passes for 53 yards. Four of Nicks’ five receptions were for first downs, including two on third down. Nicks gives the Colts what they didn’t have last season -- a reliable third receiver to go with Hilton and Wayne. Not everything Nicks did was good, though. He hauled in a pass from Luck and turned it into what looked like a 36-yard gain. But right before going out of bounds along the Giants’ sideline, Nicks started waving at cornerback Trumaine McBride. Nicks was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play. Coach Chuck Pagano had a talk with Nicks the next time he went off the field.
  • Nicks wasn’t the only receiver to play well for the Colts. Rookie Donte Moncrief started opposite Nicks and had a catch for nine yards. The real battle at receiver is between Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen for the fifth and sixth spots. The Colts could end up keeping only five receivers. Both players made their case against the Giants. Whalen, lined up in the slot, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Luck and finished with five receptions for 32 yards. Rogers, who has been outplayed by Whalen and Moncrief so far in training camp, made up for getting called for offensive pass interference by catching a 14-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the corner of the end zone.
  • The NFL wasn’t kidding when it said it was going to call illegal contact a lot closer. Colts linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, starting in place of the injured Jerrell Freeman, was called for illegal contact not once but twice in the game. The first one took away an interception by cornerback Darius Butler. The second illegal contact call on Sheppard erased a play where linebacker Bjoern Werner chased Giants running back Rashad Jennings down from behind and held him to no gain. The enforced illegal contact rule, which doesn’t allow defenders to touch the offensive player after five yards, is tough on linebackers because they like to bump tight ends off their route when they go downfield.
  • So much is rightfully talked about the expectations the Colts have on offense this season. But their defense continues to show it should be an improved unit this season. The unit is faster and pursues the ball aggressively. The Colts’ starting defense held New York’s starting offense to only 53 yards on 20 plays in four series. The Giants didn’t pick up a first down until their third series. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson got the starting unit’s only sack. There was also Butler’s interception and Greg Toler's strip of Victor Cruz that were negated because of penalties.
  • Safety Delano Howell, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, linebacker Josh McNary and defensive lineman Montori Hughes also didn’t did not play for the Colts.
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Stubbornness is usually a bad quality in a football coach. Whether it’s refusing to alter a scheme to fit what players do best or insisting on certain play calls in certain situations, the results usually don’t match the desired outcome.

For Gus Bradley and the Jacksonville Jaguars, however, it appears that being stubborn now could be one of the best decisions in franchise history.

Bradley’s insistence on sticking with veteran Chad Henne as the team’s starting quarterback might be one of the big reasons rookie Blake Bortles has progressed as quickly as he has over the past month. Bradley, along with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and general manager David Caldwell, believes that not having the pressure of trying to win the starting job has helped Bortles get ahead of schedule in his development.

"I think the environment has allowed him to do some good things," Bradley said Friday afternoon. "And I think he’s in an environment, in a place, where his full attention is just truly working on some of his weaknesses, and we’re seeing progress being made with that."

The Jaguars signed Henne to a two-year, $4 million extension in March and -- two months before the draft -- declared him the starter regardless of which quarterback they drafted. They were NOT going to play a rookie. Bradley and Caldwell stuck with that even after they drafted Bortles with the third overall pick. Bortles is the franchise’s quarterback of the future, but Henne is the franchise’s quarterback in 2014.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastBlake Bortles has been impressive in his first two preseason games.
Bradley and Caldwell said it over and over and over again. Not many, however, believed them. Fans, media, draft analysts, football analysts (some of whom are former players and coaches) had similar reactions: You’re going with a journeyman QB, who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his NFL career, over the No. 3 overall pick? That doesn’t make sense.

Not everyone believed it, but it clearly was the majority opinion.

That has only intensified because Bortles has torn it up in the first two preseason games. He has completed 18 of 28 passes for 277 yards, and three of the 10 incompletions were drops. He has exhibited poise in the pocket, made crisp throws and good reads, and found second and third options. He hasn’t turned the ball over, either.

All because he’s not the starter.

The Jaguars believe that committing to Henne as the starter has put Bortles in a situation that has allowed him to learn the offense faster, begin to fix some fundamental and footwork issues, and make quicker-than-anticipated strides. They may be correct. It’s much easier to make progress when you’re not under pressure to reach a certain level by a certain date. Relaxed learning generally produces better results than someone standing over your shoulder pushing you ahead.

That’s why Bradley isn’t budging. Henne will be the starter when the Jaguars open the season at Philadelphia on Sept. 7. Bortles will be the backup. He’ll have to know the game plan and be ready to go into the game if needed, but his No. 1 priority is to continue to progress.

The Jaguars will eventually make the change, though. Bortles’ development will hit the point where he gives the team a better chance to win games than Henne. Maybe it will be next season. Maybe it will be after the bye. Maybe it will be Week 4. No one knows when the rookie will reach that point, but the Jaguars believe not pushing him to get there will make it arrive sooner.

And they’re being stubborn about it.

W2W4: Indianapolis Colts

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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The Indianapolis Colts (0-1) and New York Giants (2-0) play a preseason game Saturday night Lucas Oil Stadium.

1. Landry and Davis debut: Safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Vontae Davis will play in their first preseason game after missing all of minicamp and almost the first two weeks of training with groin injuries. Outside of possibly the other safety position, the Colts could have their Week 1 starting defense as long as coach Chuck Pagano doesn't decide to rest any players. Delano Howell, who is in the running for the safety position, didn't practice earlier this week because of a neck injury. Landry playing is the first step in him starting his rebound from what was an underachieving first season in Indianapolis. Davis is making his debut after signing a four-year, $39 million contract during the offseason.

2. Jonotthan Harrison at center: The undrafted rookie out of Florida will make his first start in place of the Khaled Holmes (ankle). Harrison had early jitters after replacing Holmes late on the Colts' first drive against the New York Jets on Aug. 7. He had two bad snaps, but settled down after that. Holmes is expected to be back in time for the season opener against Denver, so Harrison needs to use the extra playing time to show the coaching staff that he'll be ready if called upon should Holmes get injured again. Holmes has dealt with injuries to both ankles since being drafted by the Colts in 2013.

3. Race for fourth receiver: Da'Rick Rogers showed he planned to stick around in the race for the fourth receiver spot when he hauled in a 45-yard pass along the sideline against the New York Jets. That was the best play of training camp for Rogers. Donte Moncrief has been leading the race for that spot behind T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks. You can say the rookie out of Ole Miss has exceeded expectations so far. He's the frontrunner to return kicks for the Colts.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said this past week that rookie quarterback Blake Bortles was eventually going to get reps with the first-team offense, both in practice and in a preseason game.

It needs to be done this week.

After back-to-back impressive performances against Tampa Bay and Chicago, Bortles could be on the verge of changing the franchise's mind about going with veteran Chad Henne as the starter. The only way to know for sure whether it would be a good idea to reverse course and plug Bortles in right away is by seeing how he handles himself with the first-team offense while playing against a first-team defense.

Bortles completed 11 of 17 passes for 160 yards in the Jaguars' 20-19 loss to Chicago on Thursday night and is 18-for-28 for 277 yards in two preseason games. Bortles has looked poised and confident, has made some tough throws and has not locked onto his primary receiver. However, all of that work has come with the second-team offense against second-team defenses, and that doesn't give a true picture of just how ready Bortles is to play.

Why not?

Blaine Gabbert went 35-for-70 for 365 yards and one touchdown with one interception in his four preseason games as a rookie in 2011. Solid but not great numbers, but it was enough to convince the coaching staff that it could get by with Luke McCown and Gabbert as the two quarterbacks. Then Gabbert went out and threw 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions and guided the Jaguars to a 5-11 record. They scored more than 20 points in a game just once.

That's not to imply a comparison between Bortles and Gabbert. Bortles has looked far better than Gabbert did as a rookie in the preseason, but it's clear the game is played at a different speed in the regular season, when the first-teamers are on the field for the entire game. That's why Bortles needs first-team reps.

This week.

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