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2018 OTAs: New face at backup QB

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler (6) practices during organized team activities, Tuesday, May. 22, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles / AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler (6) practices during organized team activities, Tuesday, May. 22, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles / AP)

JACKSONVILLE – This isn't easy. Not that Cody Kessler dwells on the "trickiness" of his new situation.

Or his quick turnaround.

Or his repetitions – actually, the lack thereof.

"That's part of it, 100 percent," Kessler said this week during Jaguars 2018 Organized Team Activities, which continued Friday at the Dream Finders Home Practice Fields.

Challenges indeed are part of the deal in Kessler's situation. He's a new face in a new place – and in a new twist for the Jaguars, he's a young face behind starting quarterback Blake Bortles.

When the Jaguars opted not to re-sign longtime backup Chad Henne as an unrestricted free agent in mid-March, it ensured the dynamic of the quarterback room would change. The 32-year-old Henne, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, was the only NFL backup Bortles ever had known, having held the role since Bortles took over as starter in Week 3 of 2014.

The two were friends, and Henne was a trusted ear for Bortles.

Bortles this week said the first meeting without Henne this offseason was odd, having been "sitting next to him for four years every single day since I have been here."

"I got over that," Bortles said. "I texted with him and told him good luck with Kansas City. It is all right. Cody [Kessler] and [rookie] Tanner [Lee] have been awesome."

Bortles was asked if he still hears Henne in his head.

"Yes, when I do stupid things," Bortles said with a smile. "He would be the first one. He would yell at me before [offensive coordinator] Nate [Hackett] would. Certain things I do, I know exactly what he would say. It is constant reminders to not do some of the dumb stuff I have done."

The 25-year-old Kessler, of course, has no such knowledge of Bortles. Or the offense. What he has is the task of learning the offense – fast.

Kessler, a third-round selection by Cleveland in the 2016 NFL Draft, was acquired by the Jaguars in a trade on March 28. That's less than two months ago. With quarterbacks reporting to 2018 Training Camp in less than two months, Kessler's time to mentally prepare is limited.

"Luckily, I got to come in at the beginning of Phase 1 [of the offseason program]," he said. "It's been easier because I've been in the league for two years, so it's been easier to stick to a process. Having those two years behind me made it a little easier."

Easing the transition, too, has been Bortles.

"He's awesome," Kessler said. "I've known Blake for a couple of years, so it has been good. He was one of the first people who texted me when the trade broke. He said, 'Welcome to Jacksonville. I'm so excited we'll be in the same room together.'

"I told him, 'I'm excited. I get to go somewhere where I know someone.' It's nice going into a quarterback room and seeing a friendly face, someone you know. He's been great."

Kessler said he believes his time in Cleveland will help in Jacksonville. After starting eight games as a rookie and throwing six touchdowns, he was active three games last season. When Cleveland changed direction under General Manager John Dorsey this offseason, they traded him to Jacksonville for a conditional draft selection.

"The time in Cleveland was ups and down, frustrating, but being able to start eight or nine games my rookie year really prepared me," he said. "Last year didn't go the way I wanted it to or I had planned, but it's part of it. You take it and run with it. I took that time to work on myself saying, 'What do I want to work today?' It really did help me.

"It's the same thing here. Obviously, Blake is the starter and a great guy to learn from. But you always prepare as the starter and prepare as if you're playing on Sunday. That's helped me and made my life easier as a backup."

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone this week called Kessler's early progress "fine."

"He's still trying to learn the footwork and where we want to go with the ball," Marrone said. "You're going to see players that right now are going to make mistakes for not being in this type of environment before – as long as you see what you see, which is players learning from those mistakes and getting better as you go."

And while trying to learn an offense in a backup role is difficult – "If you miss something," he said, "they're not going to run it back" – Kessler said he believes mental reps and focus will allow him time to be ready when/if needed.

"My idea is by the end of OTAS and minicamp to have everything in and be very comfortable," he said. "Everything's not going to be perfect. It's going to take some time."

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