Preseason action is now over and one of the biggest positional battles in the league has been decided. Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has named veteran Chad Henne as the team’s starting quarterback over rookie Blake Bortles.
Now, going with the experienced player is not always a bad move. In fact, it is one of the smarter decisions a coach can make when reviewing a tightly contested battle at such a pivotal position. However, this is one such case where the rookie has earned the starting gig over the veteran and, for whatever reason, was not awarded for his efforts.
Not to say that Henne hasn’t played well and was awarded the job simply by default, that is not what I am getting at. This is also not to say that Gus Bradley is making a terrible mistake by siding with Henne either.
My point here is simply that Bortles has exceeded expectations up to this point and should get the chance to play now, being that he was the third overall draft pick this year and is Jacksonville’s future. It is hard to sit any player who is taken in the first round, let alone a Top five pick, then throw in the fact that everything the Jaguars are trying to achieve hinges on the development of Bortles and it just makes sense to let him get the experience now.
Let’s take a look at what Blake Bortles has done to deserve the starting quarterback job:
As far as what Bortles has been expected of doing, there was not a whole lot of doubt that he couldn’t earn the chance to start the season. Gus Bradley may have said Chad Henne was their guy for this season, but that was before he had had a chance to see Bortles practice with the team in person.
Once the Jaguars had selected him, both Bradley and Bortles knew there was going to need to be a lot of work done between then and the start of the season if he was going to have any chance of playing.
Over the course of the offseason and the months leading up to the NFL Draft, Blake Bortles had been working on his mechanics with recently released Chicago Bears quarterback, Jordan Palmer, so he had been putting in the time and effort to really improve on the areas of his game that needed work.
Jacksonville’s first preseason game was a home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and it was our first chance to see Bortles get on the field.
He didn’t let us down.
When on the field and in the huddle, you could tell that Bortles had clear control of his squad, showing off his leadership attributes. When running plays and dropping back in the pocket, we got to see an improved Blake Bortles, one that looked slightly different than the one we saw on film who played at UCF. Of the 11 pass attempts, seven were completed which goes for a 64 completion percentage and totaled 117 yards.
Now, why are these stats important? Simply because they are the products of Bortles improved mechanics and footwork, both of which were areas that needed improvement before he could effectively play the position. Throughout his first ever NFL contest, Bortles showed much better lower body mechanics, stepping into his throws and really minimizing any extra and wasted steps. For Gus Bradley, this was a very optimistic sign to start off the preseason with.
However, the Jags rookie quarterback didn’t stop there.
In his second outing of his very first preseason, the Jaguars went up to Chicago to face the Bears. In that game, Bortles went for 11 of 17 with 160 yards passing and a completion percentage of 65. Those numbers are impressive and, again, help shine the light on the work that he has put in to improve his game.
Here, we see Bortles at the beginning of his throwing motion as he is looking to hit the slant route receiver coming across the middle from the right side of the field. Notice that he has set his feet with a solid base set up for him to throw. Both his lead shoulder and foot are pointing at his target, who now has space to catch the ball cleanly. This is exactly how you would want your quarterback to throw the ball, balanced and fundamentally sound.
It is always difficult to fix natural reflexes for any player, but this rookie quarterback has been able to keep himself from reverting to his bad habits in the pocket and instead has refined them to where they need to be in order for him to accurately distribute the football.
For his third preseason game, Bortles would finally get his first touchdown pass as an NFL quarterback. Going 10 of 17 for 158 yards and the first score of his career, we were again able to see the potential that the Jaguars first round pick brings to the table.
With under two minutes left in the 1st half, the rookie quarterback was able to march his team down the field and convert a field goal before time ran out. Playing through nearly all of the third quarter, Bortles was then able to connect with undrafted free agent wide receiver, Allen Hurns, for the score. Hurns is another rookie who has also been very impressive throughout this preseason.
In yesterday’s final preseason game, he continued to show us why he has proven on the field that he should play for the Jaguars Week 1.
Though he started off a little shaky with his first several pass attempts, one of which was almost an interception, Bortles was able to regain his composure at the beginning of the second quarter and threw a strike down the field for a touchdown.
Let’s take a quick look at the touchdown throw from Bortles to fellow rookie Marqise Lee.
Here, we see Bortles at the top of his dropback and is already beginning his progression and scanning the field for any openings to throw to.
After setting his feet, Bortles gives a little pump fake to try and shake off enough of the coverage to hit his first receiver.
Once he realizes that the coverage is too tight to try and hit his first option, he then proceeds through his next options on the other side of the field. In case you haven’t already noticed, this offensive line is giving Bortles plenty of time to throw. This was a great job on their part.
He spots an open receiver and lets it rip down the middle of the field. Bortles is set up perfectly to launch this throw with accuracy.
The end result is a beautifully thrown and well placed football to a streaking Marqise Lee for the score. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks.
We all know that he is a rookie quarterback who is going to get his lumps and bruises early on in his career, but with the progress that he has made so far, why not let him start his campaign now?
Bortles isn’t completely there yet in terms of consistency, but he is making big strides and his coaching staff in Jacksonville should get a lot of credit for aiding in his efforts. If this rookie quarterback is able to become more consistent with his mechanics, he is going to be good.
Regardless of who starts out the season for the Jaguars, Blake Bortles will get his chance to play, whether it be later on in this season or sometime next year. When he does get the chance, he will be ready and the future of this franchise will be in great hands.