- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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.