The Jacksonville Jaguars seem intent on bringing rookie quarterback Blake Bortles along slowly, but they are doing themselves a disservice if he doesn't start Week 1.
Ever since Mark Brunell left the team after the 2003 season, the Jags have struggled to find a franchise guy. David Garrard had a decent run, and he even led them to a playoff win, but he was never anything more than a middle-of-the-road starter.
Generally speaking, it takes greatness from the quarterback position in order to be a top team in the NFL. Bortles has that type of potential, but he is inexplicably blocked by Chad Henne currently.
Henne has been Jacksonville's on-and-off starter for the past two seasons, and he has compiled a record of 5-14. Keeping Henne in the starting role would be an acceptance of mediocrity, and that is something Jaguars fans have dealt with far too much in recent years.
While one preseason game doesn't tell the entire story, Bortles was head and shoulders above Henne against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The No. 3 overall selection completed seven of his 11 attempts for 117 yards and added in a nice seven-yard scramble as well.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah was among many who were thoroughly impressed with Bortles in his first professional game:
Bortles was excellent in his debut. Everything on time, in rhythm and accurate. Very smooth on boots/throws on the move.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) August 10, 2014
Although it was only a single contest, it convinced Ben Volin of The Boston Globe that Bortles is the obvious choice to start immediately:
Bortles has made some big throws and taken huge hits tonight. Forget Henne, Bortles should start Week 1 #Jaguars— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) August 9, 2014
Even if Bortles isn't totally developed and has plenty of growing left to do, there isn't much sense in sitting him. Quarterbacks used to wait and learn before ascending to the starting job quite commonly, but this is a different era of NFL football.
Teams that draft quarterbacks in the first round generally need them right away, which necessitates them being thrust into a starting role. The Jaguars desperately need an answer under center right now, but they are pretending like they don't for whatever reason.
It is an approach that has many puzzled, including Pete Prisco of CBS Sports:
Is there any doubt at all that Bortles should start from the get-go? At all?— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) August 9, 2014
Even after Bortles' excellent debut against the Bucs, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley insisted that Henne was still in the driver's seat in terms of the starting gig, per Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com:
It's still Chad Henne. Chad has done a nice job. I know that Chad has a body of work that he can really rely on. We've seen really good progress as far as his mentality and mindset from OTAs. We think that coupled with his experience and the way he's performed to this point really puts him in that position. Blake has done some good things, but he's missing kind of that body of work. We're in the process of building that.
With Bradley seemingly dead set against giving Bortles a fair opportunity to start from Week 1 onward, NFL Network's Albert Breer believes it is quite likely that the Central Florida product will begin the season as a backup:
Bortles is a fair bet to become the first real redshirt of the group since Jake Locker. History says Manziel and Bridgewater will play.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 5, 2014
Perhaps the Jaguars will be bad regardless of who starts at quarterback this year, but at least Bortles would provide some excitement. He has a big arm, he has great mobility and he looks very much like a younger version of Pittsburgh Steelers signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger on the field.
Also, the Jags have some decent weapons on offense. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III nearly broke 1,000 yards just two seasons ago. Rookie pass-catcher Marqise Lee looks like a potential breakout star. Running back Toby Gerhart could be special now that he is being given a starting opportunity.
Who should start for the Jaguars in Week 1?
The Jags also happen to be in a fairly weak division. The Indianapolis Colts were handed the AFC South last year, with the Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans all having poor seasons. Jacksonville could very well leap to the No. 2 spot and even give Indy a run for its money considering the Colts' suspect defense and running game.
Bortles would at least potentially put the Jags in the mix, but starting Henne would seal their disappointing fate. Bortles is going to be the starter in 2015 anyway, so why not give him a chance to gain some experience?
Henne is nothing more than a bridge to the franchise guy, but the Jaguars have to come to the realization that the franchise guy has already arrived.
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