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Buzz won’t change story at QB

Posted Aug 22, 2014

Editorial: Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles’ impressive play in preseason won’t change that Chad Henne will start regular season at quarterback


DETROIT, Mich. – This sure won’t quiet the buzz.

And the results of the Jaguars’ third game of the 2014 preseason – the Dress Rehearsal Game, if you will – just as certainly will do nothing to quell the roar of BortlesMania, which is building to a crescendo.

But make no mistake:

What happened late in the second quarter and much of the third at Ford Field Friday night doesn’t change the Jaguars’ quarterbacking storyline. Not in the short-term, anyway.

Yes, Blake Bortles – the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft—was impressive in some significant spots for a third consecutive preseason game. And yes, a few other things at first glance didn’t go exactly as the Jaguars wanted early in 13-12 loss to the Detroit Lions Friday.

But no, that doesn’t mean Bortles will start the regular-season opener. Absolutely, positively not.

So Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley has said time and again in the last three and a half months. And so he said again Friday.

Does this open the door at all for Bortles? That was the question posed to Bradley afterward.

“No,” was the reply.

A definitive, absolute no.

The Jaguars’ plan has been to start veteran Chad Henne in the regular season. That has been the plan since Henne re-signed as a free agent in early March, and just as it didn’t change on Draft Day or after two preseason games, it didn’t change Friday night.

“From Day 1, they said I was the guy,” Henne said. “Until they tell me I’m not the guy, I’m going to keep going out there and working and doing the best I can. When they pull the trigger, that’s when it will happen, but right now they have confidence in me and I have confidence in them.”

The biggest reason Henne remains the guy, Bradley said Friday, is simple. It also has nothing to do with Bortles and everything to do with Henne.

“For our team, Chad’s playing well,” Bradley said. “We’re really excited about him.”

Henne is playing fast. He’s practicing well and the Jaguars see it translating to games and Bradley won’t be swayed by fans who want to see the Kid Play. That was evident when Bradley spoke after the game Friday.

Just as evident was this:

Bradley is really impressed with Bortles. While the rookie had a couple of mental errors Friday, Bradley also mentioned that Bortles at one point had checked to a play the team wasn’t anticipating and the play still had big results.

“I like that he takes risks and I like that he’s aggressive, that he’ll attack the situation he’s in,” Bradley said. “It’s not too big for him. All of those things are really good signs.”

Bortles from the start Friday showed the traits that have people rightfully excited. His first drive began on his own five. After an eight-yard gain, he threw a 28-yard dart to rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns to get the Jaguars out of trouble, and he kept directing the Jaguars impressively to a field goal that pulled them to within one, 7-6.

It was exciting stuff, and stuff that bodes incredibly well for the Jaguars’ future. The rookie was making big-time throws and showing good pocket presence, and making Jaguars followers just, feel darned rosy about what’s to come.

And they should feel rosy.

They should feel even rosier after the second half, when Bortles actually may have played more solidly than in the first. That’s when he threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Hurns, who in his own rookie free-agent way is making the Jaguars feel pretty rosy these days, too.

That was Bortles’ first touchdown pass of the preseason, which makes it the first touchdown pass of his career, and from the looks of the things there will be more.

At the same time, there are reasons for Bortles not starting yet. On the final drive of the first half, Bortles’ first, he twice threw passes that easily could have been intercepted. They’re the sorts of passes that won’t come as often with experience, which means they’re the sorts of passes that rookies make. Those are the edges that will smooth in time.

The burning question – and the question that will rage on Jaguars twitter and among everyone who follows this team – will be, “How much time? When will Bortles start?”

The answer remains, “when Bradley and General Manager David Caldwell believe the time is right.” Right now is not that time.

Bradley has been consistent. That means there’s no reason to expect a change in the coming days, or even in the coming weeks. If that troubles fans, that’s understandable, because fans want to see the kid now. But, really, the timing is sort of secondary right now to the bigger story.

The bigger picture is while Bortles hasn’t been perfect through three preseason appearances, he has done nothing – absolutely nothing – to make you think he won’t eventually be good, maybe even very good. Maybe even better than that.

Bortles made NFL throws on Friday. He did Things You Can’t Coach, and he appeared to do them naturally. Here he was in the first half throwing the Jaguars out of the shadow of their own end zone. There he was a few plays later brushing off a near-sack and completing a pass for a first down.

There he was later throwing off his back foot for the touchdown to Hurns.

When he left the game, he was 10-for-16 for 158 yards with a touchdown. And while he is no nearer in the short-term to being the regular-season starter, he had showed again that he may be the player to make the Jaguars’ future bright.

No, the storyline didn’t change Friday, but the buzz without question got louder, and you know what? That’s OK.

Because for the Jaguars in the long term, that buzz could be a sweet, sweet sound indeed.

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