JACKSONVILLE – Another day, another step.
That's how it is for Blake Bortles in these first days, weeks and months as an NFL quarterback. Each day, a new experience. Each day, the next step.
Bortles took another not entirely insignificant step early on Wednesday.
That was the well-publicized, much-tweeted signing of his rookie contract, an event that occurred with the rookie No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft officially signing shortly after 7:30 a.m. in the Jaguars' football administrative offices.
The signing came several hours before the second of three 2014 minicamp practices, and while minicamp was a story around the Jaguars Wednesday, Bortles' signing – though expected and hardly the hold-your-breath moment it might have been five years ago – was The Story.
Jaguars Twitter blew up with the news, and the signing – involving as it did the only Top 5-drafted player in this year's class still unsigned – made national news throughout the morning.
There were tweets, of course, of Bortles signing. He was smiling, also of course, because this was the culmination of a process, the realization of a dream. He was smiling, too, because he is suddenly a very rich and financially secure young man.
"A cool feeling," Bortles called it. Darn right it was.
There were reports about the size and structure of Bortles' contract. As is the case now with most rookie contracts, the terms were unsurprising, with 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement's rookie wage scale making holdouts and rookie-contract mystery a relic of the past. Bortles' deal reportedly is in line with those selected around him: a four-year deal with all $20,654,796 guaranteed and with the Jaguars having an option to pick up a fifth season.
It's that last part, the fifth season part, on which Bortles already was focusing Wednesday.
That's because the Jaguars will only pick up that fifth season if Bortles develops as they hope, as they need – as he hopes and he appears to very much want on a level that will allow it to happen.
Bortles signed his contract around 7:30 a.m., and immediately went to work out, then joined team meetings to prepare for the second of three minicamp practices.
"I'll be going back in the weight room after I sign this," he said with a laugh.
And that, of course, symbolizes the biggest part, the most important part: the work that Bortles must do to become the franchise quarterback Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell envisioned when selecting him early last month.
The Jaguars have said since drafting Bortles he would not start in the 2014 season – certainly not at the beginning of the season. The team re-signed veteran Chad Henne last March with the idea that Henne will start the season, and Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley are in lockstep with the idea of allowing Bortles to emerge as the starter when ready, not when forced.
The onus, then, falls to Bortles to take advantage of that opportunity, to use this time to be ready when … well, if we don't know exactly "when," then to be ready when the time is right, and to keep getting better.
That's a lot to expect, but the quarterback position demands a lot be done – and done well.
The early reports on Bortles couldn't be more favorable. Then word is he has the right approach, the sort of football-junkie, self-motivated guy a team needs and wants at quarterback. The Jaguars like his work ethic, and they like how he's concerned enough after a rough practice early in organized team activities to approach Bradley, to meet with Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch and quarterback Frank Scelfo immediately afterward, to figure out what happened, to try to improve.
And the eye test says he has done just. Bortles struggled at times early, particularly in the aforementioned OTA practice. He has struggled at times since, too, but by any measure he has been better in the last few days of minicamp and OTA than in the first few days after his arrival, and in his situation – as in any young players' situation – that's what you want.
Wednesday was another step in the process. Bortles was OK in practice, but just OK. He is going through the process of learning NFL footwork, learning details. Some of his deep balls were inaccurate. Some of his shorter passes wobbled.
Bortles said afterward he was throwing the ball "average" right now, that he is working on lot of things, a lot of footwork stuff. He said there are things he's not doing well right now, and that he's not worrying about that because it's a work in process. A long process, he called it, and not one that will be done in three-to-four weeks.
Bortles said that process is ongoing, and that signing his contract Wednesday really had nothing do with it. The contract stuff? That was separate, but he admitted, too, it's not a bad thing with which to be done.
"This is the last piece of this whole pre-NFL process, the draft process," Bortles said early Wednesday shortly after signing. "I guess you could say this is the last piece of the puzzle for that, and it can all be in the past."
That, of course, leaves the future, and the future is now, one day at a time.