ORLANDO, Fla. — With a line of NFL scouts and coaches watching his every move and reports swirling that Blake Bortles could be the No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, the UCF quarterback just did what he’s done all year.
He focused on completing the next pass.
And Bortles hit enough of them at UCF’s Pro Day on Wednesday to keep the discussion going on whether he should be the No. 1 pick — though he says he’s not worried about that.
“I don’t worry about any of the stuff I can’t control,” said Bortles, who worked out with a handful of his senior teammates at the team’s practice facility. “I knew this was something on the list of things that I can control, and the last thing before this was the (NFL) combine. Those were the two things that I could control, and that’s what I focused on.”
Bortles, 22, threw a heavily scripted 65 passes Wednesday under the guidance of Chicago Bears quarterback Jordan Palmer, with a handful of overthrows on deep passes and a few more drops.
The response, at least from the many analysts in the room, was very positive, especially coming two days after a mildly received workout from fellow top quarterback prospect Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville.
“I don’t care how many catches or drops or anything like that, I see a guy that clearly has raw physical tools present and is progressing towards a more finished product than what I saw from Bridgewater earlier this week,” said ESPN analyst Todd McShay. “If I’m absolutely taking a quarterback, I’m taking Blake Bortles.”
It remains to be seen whether the 27 NFL teams represented were as impressed, a crowd which included Texans coach Bill O’Brien, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith.
It’s been a rapid ascent for the 6-foot-5, 229-pound Bortles, a native of nearby Oviedo, Fla., who wasn’t on many radars entering the year.
“I didn’t know much about him coming into September,” said McShay, who didn’t even have Bortles listed among the 40-plus players on his to-watch list entering the season. “As late in the process as this is, was the first time I’ve seen it that late for a potential No. 1 overall pick.”
Also working out Wednesday were seven UCF seniors, including running back Storm Johnson, who pulled a hamstring on his first 40-yard dash attempt. But the main attraction was obviously Bortles, who followed a private measurement session with his passing display.
Bortles’ goal there was to show off the work he has put in the last two months with Palmer on his mechanics, a frequently mentioned sore spot in his game.
Even Bortles’ deep misses of teammate Jeff Godfrey and workout partner Brett Swain seemed to raise few eyebrows, which was by design.
“I threw a couple balls short during the year on deep balls, trying to aim it, trying to be perfect,” Bortles said. “I had the mindset of, if I’m going to miss a deep ball, I’m going to throw it behind them.”
It was another big step forward during a junior season in which Bortles threw 25 touchdowns on the way to leading the Knights to a dream season that climaxed with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor. He followed that performance on the field with a strong offseason, including a solid showing at the combine.
Through it all, Bortles has shown little signs of the ego that might accompany a speedy rise to top NFL quarterback prospect.
“I thought he handled it very well,” said UCF coach George O’Leary. “It’s a lot of pressure on a kid when everybody’s there to look at you and see how you perform, and some of the top coaches in the country are here, and some of the top GMs. He did a great job, and kept his composure, just like he plays. That’s the way he plays. He keeps great composure, and never gets too high or too low.”
That composure was in full effect Wednesday, at least outwardly. Not to say the attention made no impression on the quarterback who seems to be drawing more closely to his NFL dream with each day — and each pass.
“It’s all very surreal,” Bortles said. “In my mind, it hasn’t really hit me. I’m still in my mind just a UCF football player walking around, not involved with football practice anymore. That’s who I am in my mindset, and I’m trying to capture my NFL dream now. It’s awesome.”