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Editorial: A lot to like in Bortles

Posted Jul 31, 2014

EDITORIAL: A week into Jaguars 2014 Training Camp, there appears to be a lot to like about rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.


JACKSONVILLE – Jedd Fisch likes what he sees.

That’s true of many things the Jaguars’ second-year offensive coordinator has seen from Blake Bortles thus far, but it’s particularly true of the important stuff.

That’s the off-field stuff, the mental stuff …

The offseason stuff …

All of that is key to the development of a young quarterback. Fisch on Thursday said on those fronts the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft has been particularly impressive.

“He’s been really good,” Fisch said Thursday morning before the Jaguars’ sixth practice of 2014 Training Camp. “He came back, really, ahead of where I thought he was going to be.”

That’s a tough statement to quantify, and getting an exact measure of Bortles’ early progress is a bit tricky, too. A few practices, a few coaches’ comments, a few days of media-observed statistics. If none of that provides the exact measure, what is clear a week into 2014 Training Camp is the Jaguars, generally speaking, feel very good about the player who will soon be the franchise’s starting quarterback.

Head Coach Gus Bradley has steered clear of a daily public Bortles Watch during camp, but it’s clear from Bradley’s comments he likes Bortles’ approach.

It was clear Thursday Fisch likes Bortles’ approach, too, and Bortles said he feels significantly better now  than he did even a month ago.

“I think it’s starting to slow down,” Bortles said Thursday.

That’s no fluke, and Fisch said what has most impressed him most about Bortles isn’t what the rookie has done around EverBank Field but what he did away from it between the end of the team’s final minicamp in late June and last week’s opening of training camp.

“One of the things you always worry about is how does a guy handle something he’s never done before,” Fisch said. “He had OTAs and minicamp. Now, he has four weeks (of offseason) to figure out what is he going to do. I thought he really prepared.”

Fisch said Bortles put in significant work during that time with quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi and Stephen Morris.

“They didn’t go traveling around to a bunch of places,” Fisch said. “They stayed put pretty much most of the summer.”

Fisch also talked Thursday about some of Bortles’ specifics as a player, saying he likes how Bortles looks rolling out, something that’s key for a quarterback in the Jaguars’ system.

“No. 1 he’s a big, strong target – and No. 2, he really throws the ball nicely on the move,” Fisch said.

Bortles talked specific physical stuff Thursday, too, addressing what became the hot-button issue around him in the offseason. There were times during the offseason his passes fluttered, particularly on deep balls. Those times have been fewer in camp, and Bortles smiled when addressing it Thursday.

“I think Jedd always likes to say, ‘Like a driving range, just test clubs out and do stuff like that,’” Bortles said. “I guess I was doing some of that in OTAs and it wasn’t going well. I’m trying to find the clubs I can hit well and use those all the time.”

What you’ve heard around the Jaguars about Bortles in two months since the draft is this is a guy who gets it, whose approach is exemplary and who appears willing to put in the work to be elite.

Fisch said Bortles has shown that, and when asked on Thursday where Bortles had improved the most since the end of the offseason program, Fisch replied, “Playing faster, understanding our system, understanding his reads…”

“One of the things you ask of him is to come in here and not just start from Day One again,” Fisch said. “We didn’t want Groundhog Day. We didn’t want a repeat performance and we didn’t want it to be like nothing has changed from the day before. For him, it was a matter of how much is he going to know, how much is he going to recall?”

Fisch liked the answer.

“It wasn’t just what he recalled,” Fisch said. “He actually dug deeper into the plays. It was, ‘Coach, are you saying if it’s this coverage, I’m supposed to go here?’ That’s something he was able to take from four weeks prior.”

Bortles on Thursday was talking about his offseason. In doing so, told a story that might tell a lot about his present approach and the possibilities for his future. He called his first July as an NFL quarterback “a good month,” and when he talked about what he did he didn’t mention the beach, the Keys or the Caribbean.

He mentioned instead Stanzi, the Jaguars’ third-team quarterback.

“I was able to stay here and workout some and get with Ricky on some things and trying to improve as much as I could,” Bortles said.

If an argument could be made that there are more desirable vacation destinations than hanging in town with Stanzi, Fisch wouldn’t be one of the ones making that argument, and few others around the organization would be, either.

An argument also could be made that there’s not a whole lot to not like about Bortles right now. Is he a work in progress? Yes. Does he remain the backup and therefore the starter-in-waiting?

The answer there is yes, too.

But to hear Fisch and others around the Jaguars tell it, all indications are when the work is complete, the results could be well worth the wait.

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