August 30, 2015 - Greg Gabriel
Will Blake Bortles have a Big Year in 2016?
As most of you who have read my work here know, I was critical of the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting Blake Bortles with the third overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. It’s not that I felt Bortles wasn’t worthy of being a first round pick, I felt that neither he nor any other quarterback in the 2014 class was worthy of being drafted in the top 10. The better strategy would have been trading down and then selecting Bortles. Based on how Bortles played as a rookie last year I felt justified. His stats were average and his play regressed as the season wore on. For the season, Bortles completed 280 of 475 passes for 2,908 yards, 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. In the stat that counts the most, the Jags won only three games. Bortles did not look like a quick-reacting, instinctive quarterback. During the offseason, the Jags did everything they could to revamp the offense. Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch was replaced by Greg Olson, who I feel is one of the most underappreciated offensive minds in the NFL. Olson did a remarkable job last year working with rookie Derek Carr in Oakland. Kelly Skipper was also hired as the new running backs coach, Doug Marrone as the offensive line coach, and Nathaniel Hackett as the quarterbacks coach. General Manager David Caldwell also brought in some new veteran players to help out Bortles. The biggest new name was tight end Julius Thomas from Denver whose presence will help young wide receivers Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. I have been able to watch the Jaguars twice so far this preseason and the improvement in Bortles play is remarkable. Friday night, in his most extensive action in the preseason, Bortles completed 20 of 29 throws for 245 yards, and a touchdown. For the preseason he is 39 of 60 for 461 yards and a touchdown. Bortles is playing with more confidence, reacting quicker, making better decisions and getting the ball out of his hand quickly. He is doing a very good job going through his progressions and finding the open man. Most importantly, is he is not forcing throws into coverage and throwing interceptions. He does not have a turnover so far in the preseason. Not only has Bortles completed a high percentage of his throws (65%), but his ball placement has been very good. Ball placement is what it’s all about. If a quarterback has good ball placement skills, the receivers have a chance to make plays after the catch and it greatly reduces the amount of turnovers a team has. While I attribute much of Bortles improvement to Olson, a lot of credit has to go to Bortles also. He has done the work necessary to improve his game and that work should pay off in the success of the Jags. While it may be too early to say that Jacksonville will challenge for a playoff spot, I will say that the Jaguars will find their way out of the AFC South cellar and could finish as high as second in the division. Bortles just may be a little better than I gave him credit for when he was coming out. If that turns out to be the case, give the credit to Greg Olson. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe