Jaguars Must Rethink Sitting Blake Bortles in 2014 After Strong Debut

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Jaguars Must Rethink Sitting Blake Bortles in 2014 After Strong Debut
USA Today

One of the dominant storylines heading into the first full week of NFL preseason games was the professional debuts of rookie quarterbacks.

Well, those debuts ran the gamut from not-so-hot (Teddy Bridgewater) to pretty good (Johnny Manziel). However, the best of all came from a player who's being given very little chance to start in 2014.

Of course, if Blake Bortles continues to play in the preseason like he did last Friday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, head coach Gus Bradley is going to have no choice but to rethink his decision to bring the third overall pick in May's draft into the league slowly.

The story of Jacksonville's 16-10 win was Bortles, who looked very calm and poised in completing seven of 11 passes for 117 yards.

It was a showing that earned kudos from NFL.com's Marc Sessler:

Watching him work, the rookie does a nice job with his feet and sees the field, too, something he displayed on a rollout dart to fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou for a fresh set of downs on his initial drive. Bortles wasn't facing starters, but he generated buzz with two completions on his first three passes, including a pretty 24-yard shot over the middle to rookie wideout Allen Hurns.

Bortles, also did a better job than Henne of keeping plays alive and finding his wideouts in open windows. It wasn't perfect, but after too many Sundays of Gabbert flittering around in the pocket, by comparison, Bortles looked comfortable under pressure.

The NFL Network's Albert Breer, on the other hand, praised the Jaguars coaching staff for its work with the young quarterback:

That same coaching staff, on the other hand, featured the first people to throw cold water on the idea of accelerating Bortles' ascension up the depth chart.

Amid speculation that Bortles' performance could lead to more first-team reps in the next preseason contest versus the Chicago Bears, Bradley had this to say to Hays Carlyon of The Florida Times-Union: "I wouldn't count on it."

Bradley had plenty of good things to say about Bortles, but he also took the young signal-caller to task for some mental miscues:

There was [a mental error] he had. There was one down in the red zone, a slant where it was a high ball. He made a check at the line of scrimmage that we have to talk to him about. But, there was good poise. I thought he played with good poise and good command.

He had a check at the line of scrimmage. He got us into another play and he forgot a play. In the huddle, he forgot a route combination so he changed the play to another one. He had the poise to get us in another one and it was actually complete to [receiver] Mike Brown on their sideline. That was it, not too many.

So far as holding your breath waiting for Bortles to see time with the first team, Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union passes along word that will probably leave you feeling blue—literally:

On some level, it's understandable the Jaguars don't want to rush their franchise quarterback into a situation he's not prepared for. That didn't work out well with 2011 No. 10 overall pick Blaine Gabbert, although some of that may have had to do with Gabbert being terrible.

It's also certainly uniform with what Bradley has said all along. Since the moment Bortles arrived in Jacksonville, the plan has been for Bortles to watch as a rookie.

However, if Bortles continues to impress, the time is going to come when Bradley is going to have to rethink that strategy.

Bringing Bortles along slowly is all well and good, but what if young Mr. Bortles didn't get the memo? What if Bortles is a lot closer to being an NFL-ready quarterback than he was given credit for?

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After all, the number of people who thought Russell Wilson was ready to start in the National Football League two years ago numbered right about one (Wilson).

Yes, realistically the Jaguars aren't going anywhere in 2014, no matter who the quarterback is. However, while the Jags went 4-12 last year, the team did go 4-4 over the second half of the season.

The Jaguars built some momentum at the end of Bradley's first season, but the odds of maintaining it with Chad Henne as the starting quarterback?

Let's put it this way: Henne may not be the NFL's worst starting quarterback, but he's in the conversation.

Mind you, this isn't to say one preseason performance means Bortles is ready to take the reins for the Jaguars, especially when that performance came against defensive reserves.

However, it's hard to see the harm in giving Bortles a chance to build on that performance by giving him more first-team reps (both in practice and preseason games), other than it running contrary to Bradley's "plan."

That's the thing about life in the NFL.

Events very rarely go according to plan, and the coaches who are able to best adapt are the ones who usually find success.

 

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.

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