Bortles Watch: Is There A QB Controversy in Jacksonville?
Quarterback Blake Bortles stole the show during Week 2 of the preseason in a Thursday night match-up against the Chicago Bears. The Jacksonville Jaguars rookie threw for 160 yards while connecting on 11 of 17 passes in a losing effort. In front of a national TV audience, Bortles looked the part of a franchise-caliber passer at the NFL level. The six-foot-four inch Bortles displayed good athletic ability, a live arm, threw accurately on the run, and showed a nice command of the offense. Being that Bortles was the third player chosen in the 2014 NFL Draft, he is currently being groomed as the Jags' quarterback of the future. But due to a hot start in the preseason, could Bortles also be the Jags' quarterback of the present as well?
The knee-jerk reaction would be yes; abandon the plan to bring Bortles along slowly and start him right away. But when balancing the pros and cons of inserting Bortles into the starting lineup right now, I come away with more cons than pros. For one, incumbent starter Chad Henne has done nothing to lose the starting job thus far. Like Bortles, Henne has played well in the preseason, connecting on 12 of 17 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in the aforementioned contest against the Bears. While not spectacular by any stretch, Henne has proven to be a steady and capable quarterback in the NFL. Barring injury, it would take a colossal struggle on Henne's part for the Jaguars to consider making a change at QB.
Another thing to consider is the state of the team. How much of a difference could Bortles possibly make on a team that is coming off of a 4-12 season? With or without Bortles, the Jaguars will struggle to avoid a last place finish in the AFC South this year. The risk of injury to a possible franchise quarterback far exceeds the reward of participating in a 2014 campaign that is destined for mediocrity at best.
Lastly, I question the overall talent level of Blake Bortles to begin with. Other quarterbacks who were recent high draft picks (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton) had accomplished much more at the collegiate level than Bortles did. In my opinion, those three aforementioned quarterbacks were all "can't miss" prospects that possessed more overall talent as rookies than Bortles. Being that Bortles is clearly a cut below those players, I think it is unrealistic to expect Bortles to step in immediately and mirror the initial success of Luck, Griffin III, or Newton. Not to say that Bortles can't eventually become a great NFL quarterback, but developing him slowly and treating this season essentially as a redshirt year won't be the worst thing in the world for him.
According to reports, Bortles will remain as a backup, but will receive more practice time with the first unit and will also get extended preseason game action. I view this decision by the Jaguars coaching staff as an acknowledgment of Bortles' hard work and steady progress thus far. For my money, Jags head coach Gus Bradley deserves an awful lot of credit for fending off popular opinion and sticking to his original plan.