ORLANDO – If this was a test, Blake Bortles passed.
And make no mistake:
This absolutely was a test, and to hear those observing the University of Central Florida Pro Day Wednesday tell it, Bortles– a quarterback projected by many to be at least a Top 5 selection in the 2014 NFL Draft – actually did more than pass. A lot more.
“He aced it,” ESPN Draft Analyst Todd McShay said.
*Ace.* If the buzzword at University of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s Pro Day Monday was “average,” the vibe after Bortles’ Pro Day was decidedly different.
As ESPN NFL analyst and quarterback guru Ron Jaworski put it, Bortles perhaps sensed blood in the water after Bridgewater did not dazzle in Louisville Monday.
Whatever Bortles sensed, he turned in a significantly different performance two days later.
“It went well,” Bortles said. “I thought I showed the things I wanted.”
That may have been the day’s understatement.
“I think we can all take deep breath and say, ‘Yeah, we can move forward with this guy,’’’ former UCF and Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall said.
Marshall was among the more high-profile observers at Nicholson Fieldhouse on the UCF campus Wednesday, but he was far from alone. Officials from 27 teams were represented, including four head coaches – Gus Bradley of the Jaguars, Lovie Smith of the Buccaneers, Bill O’Brien of the Texans and Mike Zimmer of the Vikings.
That made it a huge day at UCF, maybe the biggest in the football program’s history, with ESPN broadcasting from early in the morning as Twitter featured news that Bortles the night before had met with officials from the Texans, Browns, Raiders, Vikings and Jaguars.
A quarterback-hungry group. That’s the perception, anyway. And Bortles of course was why Bradley, Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and Senior Vice President of Football Technology & Analytics Tony Khan were in attendance Wednesday as they had been at Louisville Monday.
Bradley and Caldwell each commented briefly on Bortles’ workout.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Bradley said. “It was exactly what you’d hoped to see.”
Said Caldwell, “On a day like today, you expect quarterbacks to have a good day and it was a solid day.”
No clues there; only brief post-workout comments. Don’t expect clues from the Jaguars about draft plans, certainly not about quarterback and certainly not 50 days from May 8. The Jaguars were among the teams that spoke to Bortles and they were among the teams that spoke to Bridgewater, so don’t expect hints there, either.
What you can expect in the coming days is the same thing you heard during Bortles’ workout and in the immediate aftermath, and that’s some very high praise for a player who has done pretty much all the right things in recent months to solidify his status in the draft’s Top 5.
Bortles, at 6-feet-5, 232 pounds, looks the part of a Top 10 quarterback. And if he wasn’t well-known to many fans, he changed that with clutch performances late in games last season. He then threw at the NFL Scouting Combine, which always impresses NFL types.
It’s one thing to throw; it’s another to throw well, which is just what Bortles did Wednesday.
Bortles this offseason began working with Jordan Palmer, a former Jaguars backup quarterback now with the Chicago Bears. Bortles said the two worked on mechanics that Bortles considered weaknesses – particularly transferring weight from his back foot to front foot during the throw – and with Palmer running his workout Wednesday, Bortles showed improvement in that area.
“I saw a guy who clearly has been working on his balance in his throws,” McShay said. “The difference on tape to today, I thought was noticeable. He was driving the ball. When he missed throws vertically, he was overshooting them. I thought he answered any questions he wanted in terms of how he’s handling the process. Is he coachable? Is he improving the areas he needs to improve?”
That was when McShay uttered the, “he aced it,” phrase, but he wasn’t the only one with that sentiment. NFL Network Draft Analyst Mike Mayock, who on Monday said Bridgewater’s Pro Day was average, was decidedly more enthusiastic about Bortles.
“It was more than solid,” Mayock said. “It highlighted who he is. I liked his movement skills.”
Mayock said Bortles was particularly impressive on NFL-needed throws such as the deep out and throws to the intermediate middle of the field.
“I thought he had a very good day,” he said. “No red flags. He checked every box.”
Bortles on Wednesday went out of his way to downplay Bridgewater’s performance Monday, going so far as to say he knew little of Monday’s performance.
“All I can do is worry about what went on today,” Bortles said.
If it stretches belief to say Bridgewater wasn’t on Bortles’ mind at all, it doesn’t stretch it to say that in the mind of analysts, Wednesday was as big for Bortles as Monday was shaky for Bridgewater.
“I was really impressed,” Jaworski said. “Coming off the field, he asked me, ‘What did you think, 1-to-10?’ I said, ‘Ten.’ I thought he was very sharp.”
Jaworski said Bortles also improved his release, and that he got the ball out of his hand quicker than he had on college tape.
“It came out quick,” Jaworski said. “It came out accurately and it came out with velocity. No mechanical flaws whatsoever. He was well-prepared for this opportunity. There was an opportunity here, I think, for him to be the No. 1 pick in the draft and I think he took advantage of it.”
Jaworski said more, but that was the gist, just as it was pretty much every analyst’s gist Wednesday. Pro Days aren’t everything, and just as Bridgewater’s rough performance may well be rendered less important when scouts get back into the film room to review college tape, the giddiness over Bortles’ day Wednesday likely will ease in time. The weeks leading to the draft are about building up and tearing down and all three quarterbacks – Bridgewater, Bortles and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M – will get built and knocked ad nauseam in the coming weeks.
But that’s the story for the next few weeks.
The story at UCF Wednesday was the last high-profile, publicly-consumed test before the draft for a kid who had done everything necessary to improve his stock. Whatever happens in the coming weeks, there’s little question he did a whole lot more than pass.
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