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EDITORIAL: Bortles, defense define thrilling night at the 'Bank


JACKSONVILLE – It's back. At long, glorious last.

That's the first takeaway from the Jaguars' 2014 preseason opener Friday – that this hyped-up fan base, this loyal following that has waited for this day for a little more than seven months …

Well, those guys and gals were ready.

Jaguarstwitter exploded Friday morning, and crackled all day. The energy around EverBank Field was festive and frenetic hours before the preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game won by the Jaguars, 16-10, in front of an announced crowd of 59,100. And it all exploded again early Friday evening in a spruced-up 'Bank with a couple of really big, really cool video boards overlooking some equally cool cabanas and pools.

And to say those hyped-up fans got what they wanted …

Yeah, you can say that.

That's because while the Jaguars didn't look perfect, and while there is a lot that must improve, they did look good. And they looked really good in two really important areas.

They looked good defensively. Maybe even dominant.

The second area that looked good mattered a little more. That's because the second area was really just one guy, and that guy was rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.

Bortles, as expected, didn't start and he didn't play with the first team. Instead, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft played with the second team, as has been the case throughout training camp and as is expected to be the case for a while longer.

And no, Bortles didn't lead the Jaguars to a touchdown. But who cared, really?

He was poised. He was accurate. His passes had zip. He made the right decisions. His passes had little of the wobble that made headlines during offseason activities. He threw downfield, and the offense had a bounce when he played.

It was a strikingly good debut.

And for a franchise that has been searching for a franchise quarterback for a very long time, it was a very good sign. Bortles isn't the guy yet. He's not going to start next week, though fans and media without question will clamor for that to happen.

But if you entered Friday looking for signs that Bortles has what it takes to be very good …

Well, you darned sure saw that.

"As a rookie, he did an outstanding job," wide receiver Kerry Taylor said. "I don't think he made many mistakes out there. He played really well."

He completed 7 of 11 passes for 117 yards, and that would have been better if not for two uncharacteristic drops by wide receiver Mike Brown.

Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley was asked if perhaps the performance had earned Bortles some repetitions with the first team, something he hasn't gotten in the offseason or training camp. Bradley said that could perhaps happen sometime in the preseason, maybe in Week 4 or maybe before, but Bradley was strikingly conscious to say that many rookies might get such a look.

Bradley's approach isn't surprising. The Jaguars have been intent on not putting pressure on Bortles, on allowing him to learn, develop and compete with starter Chad Henne. There was no indication listening to Bradley Friday that the Jaguars' approach of starting Henne this season had changed.

We'll have plenty of time to discuss and debate that, and the debate will surely start immediately. But as for Friday night, there was more to the Jaguars' performance than just Henne/Bortles.

There was an impressive early showing for a deeper, more-active defensive line, with Leo pass rusher Ryan Davis – who has played his way not only into a roster spot but a key role – twice drawing penalties. That three-and-out was the start that group wanted.

And there was the impressive follow-up for the defensive line to that start, with defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks dominant throughout the first quarter and end Chris Clemons getting his first sack midway through the first quarter.

There was safety Winston Guy, Jr., returning an interception 68 yards and putting an exclamation point touchdown on the first-team defense's performance.

And there was the second-team defense playing nearly as well, with end Tyson Alualu's registering an impressive sack/fumble early in the second quarter. There was also reserve running back Denard Robinson capping the night with a 26-yard touchdown that eventually clinched a feel-good preseason opening victory.

The performance wasn't without flaws. The center position, where Mike Brewster struggled with shotgun snaps to Henne early, is a concern. The running offense is, too. The first-team offense struggled, and the offense as a whole didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter.

Now in for your Jacksonville #Jaguars, @BBortles5. Updates: #TBvsJAX — Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) August 9, 2014

But offensively, don't forget: wide receivers Cecil Shorts III and Allen Robinson didn't play. Starting running back Toby Gerhart didn't, either. If those guys aren't productive parts of the offense this season, something's amiss and with those three amissin' Friday, the Jaguars' first-team offense didn't feel quite so first-team.

But while those are important details, they are details nonetheless, and – like the quarterback debate that is sure to dominate Jaguars talk this week – they are details that can be discussed later.

Part of the big picture Friday night was it appears the Jaguars have a good defense, and the bigger part of the big picture is they appear to have a guy who sooner rather than later have a chance to develop into a franchise quarterback.

Those were two really cool things to see Friday if you were one of those people who had waited seven months for football to come back to 'the Bank.

And come back it did Friday night. At long, glorious last.

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