Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Long pass shows Bortles' development

By Michael DiRocco

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.

Blake Bortles
Blake 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."