How Blake Bortles Can Continue Improving This Preseason

Rivers McCownNFL AnalystAugust 13, 2014

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles throws a pass during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Jacksonville, Fla., Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

The Jacksonville Jaguars don't want Blake Bortles to play this season. The rhetoric from the opening of training camp has been that this will be a developmental year for the No. 3 overall pick in last May's draft. 

However, the Jaguars engineered a controversy -- or at least what passes for one way off the NFL radar in Jacksonville -- when Bortles went 7-of-11 for 117 yards in the preseason-opening 16-10 win over Tampa Bay. Chad Henne was only 4-of-7 for 30 yards. Worse yet, Henne has a long history of being Chad Henne, which means any conceivable chance to replace him in the starting lineup is often the right one.

Bortles' debut was more a mish-mash of positives and negatives than the kind of game that gets the starting quarterback benched. Jacksonville engineered their game plan to get him in favorable situations. They ran play-action bootlegs often to get Bortles away from the offensive line, and they kept Bortles operating mostly out of a no-huddle offense. In spite of that, Bortles did throw some impressive passes. He also mis-timed a few. It was generally a positive start. Let's start with perhaps the most promising thing of all for Jaguars fans that just survived three years of Blaine Gabbert: pocket presence.

Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth wrote an article this week looking at the preseason history of quarterbacks. In it, he makes this very relevant observation: 

Two things stand out about the busts. First, their sack rates are generally higher, with Gabbert and Leinart producing sack totals that only Flacco matched among the rookie stars. It's a small sample, but I would be wary of any rookie quarterback who keeps getting dumped in the preseason. Remember that game plans on both sides of the ball are vanilla, and in all the backups-and-scrubs confusion, there is usually an open running back in the flat somewhere. No one getting drilled on 10 percent of his dropbacks is ready to start right away, unless Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are on the defense and the team commits to winning by 17-to-10 scores early in the season.

From that standpoint, Bortles had an exceptional debut. He was sacked only once, and that came on a failed Cameron Bradfield chop block that led Steven Means right to the quarterback, before Bortles could even get to his second read.

NFL Preseason Live
Blaine Gabbert versus Blake Bortles, first preseason
QuarterbackSacksCompletions - AttemptsQB Rating
Blaine Gabbert735-of-7064.3
Blake Bortles17-of-1199.4
Sports On Earth,

Bortles generally found himself with fairly simple throws in this game. Curls, slants, and zone coverage dominated the very basic schemes he saw. 

NFL Preseason Live

This is a play-action throw where Allen Hurns sits down in the middle of a zone. It took a strong throw, yes, but this is a read most NFL quarterbacks are expected to make with ease. 

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Here's a quick slant to Hurns. This one is called back on a dubious offensive pass interference call, but it was still a pretty simple read.

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Quick curl to Kerry Taylor. Great timing on the throw, but this is, again, the kind of throw every competent NFL quarterback can make.

This next throw, however, was a doozy. We don't have All-22 for preseason games so we can't completely show it off, but this was a stick throw into tight coverage in the middle of the field, and Bortles took a shot after the play.

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Much tougher to complete this zone ball when all the parties are moving, and Bortles gathers himself and throws a strike to Mike Brown. 

...and here is the shot Bortles takes after the throw for an extra 15 yards.

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This is the kind of throw that inspires confidence in Bortles for the long-term. Only the best can consistently place throws like that. 

On the other side of the ledger, Bortles often seemed like he wasn't sure what his NFL identity was yet. Not that he should know by now -- it was his first preseason game! -- but you could grasp that he still has a ways to go. Bortles seemed a little tentative when it came to cutting it loose on play-action, checking down a few times. Yet, at the same time, he trusted his arm on a few throws that he may not be able to make when the starters are playing.

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On this throw, Bortles doesn't have the angle to just rifle the ball in, so he has to place touch on the ball and drop it right in the bucket. Unseen from this TV angle is the trailing safety. The ball holds up enough to where the safety is able to put a shoulder into Mike Brown's back. This kind of throw can be made successfully in games -- Andrew Luck does it on occasion -- but it's rare. Brown drops this ball before the safety can make the hit, but he had to leap for it. This is one of those Magic Eye throws where you can see what you'd like to. It's both a good and a bad thing that he trusts his arm to cash this check, but the throw needs to be better or it will definitely end poorly against NFL starters.

NFL Preseason Live

Bortles runs boot-action and has a man right in his face. The good news is that he approaches this throw well. He stiffens up and takes his throwing motion under pressure. The bad news is that a starting-caliber cornerback probably picks this throw off. He stared down Kerry Taylor the entire way, and this was an off-balance throw that lost a little bit of life while the rusher came. 

The overall view of Bortles' debut is much as it was when Jacksonville picked him in the draft. He's got strong quarterback tools, and he's still learning to use them. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves in rushing him to the throne. Remember, there is no reason for the Jaguars to attempt to compete for a division title this season -- they are still in asset accumulation mode. 

But, yes, it was a promising start, and a good sign that Bortles could play sooner rather than later.