The biggest obstacle for Blake Bortles as the Jacksonville Jaguars' quarterback of the future doesn't have as much to do with him as you might think.
The sting of the last first-round quarterback they drafted is still clearly fresh in the minds of Jaguars fans. It was only three years ago when the Jaguars selected Blaine Gabbert, the former Missouri Tigers quarterback, with the No. 10 overall pick.
Now, just three years later, the Jaguars once again chose to select a player with a top-10 pick whom they hope will solve the most important question for any franchise: Who is our quarterback of the future?
But this time around, the Jaguars have zero excuses. They had their choice of any quarterback in this year's draft, and they chose Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick, making him the first quarterback selected.
It's not that we should be comparing Bortles and Gabbert, although some have been doing that for obvious reasons, but rather we should understand the predicament Bortles finds himself in before he ever plays a down for the Jaguars.
After every incomplete pass, interception or bad decision, some faction of the Jaguars fan base is going to have the "here we go again" thought go through their head.
While it might not seem like anything that should bother or even cross the mind of Bortles, the truth is that changing the mindset of the fans and gaining their trust will be a monumental task.
Blake Bortles is already more personable and engaging that Blaine Gabbert was and he hasn’t even thrown a football yet.— /r/Alfie (@AlfieBCC) May 9, 2014
What ultimately defines most highly successful professional athletes is how they deal with failure. Nobody is immune to mistakes, as they're always going to happen. In most cases, they happen quite often early in one's career.
For example, Peyton Manning completed under 57 percent of his passes and threw 28 interceptions as a rookie in 1998 for the Indianapolis Colts. Obviously, he turned it around, but there were still struggles and doubts along the way.
So when you're talking about a rookie quarterback like Bortles, who's going to be looked upon with a magnifying glass by fans wary of another failure, there's plenty of reason to pay more attention to how Bortles reacts when he's struggling rather than succeeding, especially early on in the process.
There's the old adage that you can learn more about a person's character when things aren't going well than you can by when they are, which holds plenty of weight in this situation.
Through just the first few days of offseason training activities for the Jaguars, Bortles has already had some ups and downs, which is something you'd expect to see from a rookie quarterback in his first few practices.
According to ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco, Bortles sought out head coach Gus Bradley as well as a couple of assistant coaches after struggling one day at practice. And according to Bradley, Bortles bounced back after that rough practice and showed him exactly what he wanted to see from his young quarterback:
Now I know he had a couple incompletions here and there but it wasn’t the bad body language afterwards. He had the poise and he took control of the huddle and those things. That part’s a great accomplishment. Now he’s just got to stack it up.
Learning to take it in stride seems to be the approach Bortles is taking to these workouts, as he said, via DiRocco:
It’s a process. I’m just trying to work through it. There’s going to be some ups and there’s going to be some downs. Being able to handle it and move on, learn from the mistakes, learn from the guys that have played, learned from everything, and continue to get better [is the goal].
This is the kind of attitude you want to see from a young quarterback.
But it's more about his attitude and actions rather than what he said to a reporter; Bortles is acting like a young, developing franchise quarterback.
While Chad Henne might currently be viewed as the starter in Jacksonville, there's no timetable for when Bortles will be ready to step onto the field under center for the Jaguars. But one would assume that when he's ready to play, Bortles will be out on the field.
Bortles' intangibles were often discussed as a key reason he was viewed as such a high prospect. The Jaguars knew the kind of person they were getting and they felt comfortable with the physical abilities he possessed.
While handling failure and seeking out coaches for continued development are important, there's still the athletic development side of the equation for Bortles. Footwork and an elongated throwing motion are areas where Bortles could use some work.
Bortles had a tendency to throw off his back foot at Central Florida, which is usually frowned upon but is actually a skill used often enough to be worked on at the NFL level.
If a quarterback can accurately get rid of the ball on a blitz to a hot receiver by throwing off his back foot, the better off he'll be for having that skill.
The problem with Bortles is that he still does it even when not facing pressure. Take this play from his time at UCF, for instance:
There wasn't any pressure here, and he still faded away from his throwing target. This led to an inaccurate pass down the field, and this kind of mistake should be easily correctable with proper development and attention to detail at the next level.
When given a clean pocket and an open receiver down the field, those passes aren't just "hoped" to be completed at the NFL level, they're expected.
Bortles doesn't possess elite arm strength, and when asked to throw deeper passes he tends to elongate his throwing motion to get the strength to deliver the ball down the field.
Here's an example from last season of the elongated throwing action of Bortles:
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley says Chad Henne continues to practice well. Bradley says Blake Bortles also bounced back today.— John Oehser (@JohnOehser) June 3, 2014
Again, this is fixable, but it is going to take some work.
The defensive backs in the NFL are far too athletic and quick to be given extra time to break on a ball once a quarterback has committed to a specific receiver.
Pass-rushers barreling down on quarterbacks will also take advantage of that throwing action by swatting the ball out of his hand once he drops the ball on his arm circle.
His release needs to be shorter and quicker while still possessing the strength to get the ball down the field.
Answer is Simple
Winning cures everything. The easiest way for Bortles to erase the doubts and gain the trust of fans is simply to win football games.
That's not breaking news or in-depth analysis, but it's as true as anything you'll ever read in sports, and sometimes it's made out to be more difficult than it should be.
Bortles' biggest obstacle will be winning back the Jaguars fans who have grown weary of another top pick at the quarterback position, especially those who can't fathom watching the same miserable scenario that played out with Gabbert happen once again over the next three years.
But if the early reports from these practices mean anything moving forward, there's more to be positive about regarding Bortles than negative.
It's a step in the right direction for Bortles and hopefully for the fans that really want to buy into Bortles as the quarterback of the future in Jacksonville.