Blake Bortles is clearly a better quarterback in 2015. We've seen it from him since the OTA's and in mini-camp but wondered how it would look against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Pre-season Opener. How's 11-15 for 118 yards and a 96.0 passer rating sound? Bortles also showed his penchant for making plays on the run outside the pocket when he ducked under a defender and reached for the pylon while falling out of bounds to score the Jaguars 1st touchdown in the 2nd quarter.* *He sounded like a veteran as he passed the credit around in the locker room after the game. "I think it was a tribute to the guys up front and to the guys running routes," said Bortles. "We had a ton of guys get catches and guys worked their tail off to get open. I think we had great protection up front, so I think it was a good first quarter." Perhaps as impressive as his numbers was his poise in the pocket. The Steelers bring pressure, it's what they do and he was patient with the receivers and the protections and only took a single sack. It's been written in this space many times already but Bortles is clearly in command of this offense even though it's his first season working with offensive coordinator Greg Olson. The expectations were raised for Bortles coming into this season and in his first test he appears to have passed. "He did a good job," offered Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley. "We're really looking at the management of the offense, and getting his right reads and the checks, and giving us the proper calls. I thought he did a real nice job for the first game."
The Jaguars are going to run the football.You thought this was going to be a pass happy team now that they appear to have their franchise quarterback didn't you? Olson said to anyone who would listen that this team would run the ball and run they did. The numbers were pedestrian, only 84 yards and just 3.1 per carry, but it was the way they kept running and the situations in which they put it in Denard Robinson's hands or those of Toby Gerhardt. The Jaguars wanted to establish the line, to establish the attitude that comes with running the ball when you want to. "Running the football is absolutely an attitude," said center Stefen Wisniewski. "We want to be a tough, physical team and the only way you do that in this league is to line up and run the ball. It felt like we got that done tonight." Robinson averaged 5.5 yards per carry, Toby Gerhart flashed power on 3rd and short running behind Brandon Linder and Jeremy Parnell and caught a few screen passes including a 19 yarder on 3rd and long. "That's what we want to do," explained Robinson. "We want to run the ball well. We're going to take it to teams…We're going to run the ball and we're going to be a physical team." Credit the offensive line again with moving Pittsburgh off the line of scrimmage and finishing blocks on the second level to create opportunities for added yards. "I was really impressed with our offensive line," added Bradley. I thought they really set the tone. We extended their play time a little bit, and they came out and gave those guys a chance to run the ball."
You can breathe now. Folks were holding their breath when news began circulating that tight end Julius Thomas was questionable to return with a hand injury. Thomas landed awkwardly on the Jags second offensive play when Bortles found him for a short pass in the flat. He was immediately cut down at the knees and put his left hand down to cushion the fall. He suffered what Bradley called a "stable fracture" in the back of his left hand. "The good news is its quick healing," Bradley said. "The tough thing is he's going to be out probably the rest of the preseason. Hopefully, if everything works out right, he'll be back ready for the first game." Thomas signed in the off-season to give Bortles a go-to guy in the middle of the field. Since his first appearance during OTA's in May it was obvious Dave Caldwell made a smart play signing him to a 5-year, $46 million dollar contract. Now Bortles will have to rely on whatever chemistry he and Thomas have already established and hope there is no drop-off as the tight end will miss the remainder of the pre-season. Thomas is expected to undergo more testing on Saturday in Jacksonville.
The pass rush would be better if Chris Clemons and Dante Fowler Jr.were on the field. But they're not. Fowler is of course done for the season already with torn knee ligaments and Clemons is expected to return to the field sooner rather than later but the Jaguars got no pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or Landry Jones. Chris Smith and Ryan Davis have shined on the practice field but at least on this night it didn't translate. Last season the Jaguars most effective pass rush came from Sen'Derrick Marks who is still working his way back from torn knee ligaments and the aforementioned Clemons. The Jaguars 2 sacks came from undrafted rookie free agent Cap Capi who pulled Jones to the ground to end the Steelers come from behind attempt with less than a minute to play. Suffice to say the Jaguars expect to have more pressure when Clemons, Marks, Roy Miller and Jared Odrick, their projected starting defensive line, is together on the field.
Rashad Greene takes the lead in the punt return battle. The rookie from Florida State threaded his first ever punt return through the Pittsburgh coverage teams for 37 yards. Greene showed the poise the Jaguars coaches have raved about and the burst that made him a quality return man in Tallahassee. "Really nice on his return. I think he had two returns, the one he broke but you saw his speed now," said Bradley. "You saw him accelerate and one of the things we're looking for in that position is the ability to hit it north and south, and that's what he did on that play. I think you felt it on the sideline and everybody was pretty excited on the sideline." The Jaguars coaches and players were already complimentary of Greene's performance as a receiver and he's likely to be the 4th wide-out this year. But his return ability could allow General Manager Dave Caldwell to be creative when filling out his roster knowing that Greene can fill two roles. Tandon Doss, Green's primary competition in the return game got just one chance and managed only a 5 yard return. In the kickoff return game Robinson was just a shoestring away from more, much more than the 34 yards he managed on the Jaguars first kickoff return of the evening. Rookie defensive back Nick Marshall could say the same thing as his 35 yard kickoff return was also close to being much, much more. Either way the Jaguars had 3 returns of longer than 34 yards against Pittsburgh and saw the potential for big plays from a phase of the game that didn't provide them in 2014.