JACKSONVILLE – Nathaniel Hackett’s belief continues to grow.
“The sky’s the limit,” Hackett said.
This was shortly after the fourth practice of Jaguars 2018 Organized Team Activities on Tuesday, and the subject was fifth-year quarterback Blake Bortles.
Hackett, entering his second full season as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator, long has believed in Bortles’ ability, potential and future. He made it clear Tuesday that hasn’t remotely changed.
“The one thing that was consistent throughout the whole [2017 season] was Blake, and Blake getting better and better,” Hackett said Tuesday after OTA Practice No. 4 at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex. “If he keeps progressing on that upward hill, good things are going to happen.”
Hackett, speaking to the media for the first time during the 2018 offseason program, said his hope is that Bortles builds on the ’17 season in the sense of playing more free and instinctive.
“I want Blake to play football,” Hackett said. “There have been so many times he’s gone out there and he hasn’t been able to just go out there and play, and really think about beating a defense. As the  season went on, I think that’s where he went.
“Whatever was clicking, he knew that’s what he had to do more of – whether it was run the ball, whether it was throw the ball, whether it was to get it to this guy or that guy. That’s playing. That’s understanding what the defense is going to do, audibling to things, getting into a better play.
“That’s where you always want a guy to get. It takes time.”
Hackett emphasized that he believes Bortles improved last season and will continue to do so.
“It’s such a difficult position to play,” Hackett said. “Right now, Blake’s on that path. I still think he’s far away, but I think he’s making great strides. Now, it’s about playing football.”
Hackett also discussed the improved level of Bortles’ knowledge of the position, of the Jaguars’ offensive scheme and of schemes in general.
“Our conversations are so different than the first day here, when we were just trying to figure out defense and what different fronts were – to the new system we were implementing,” Hackett said. “Now, we don’t talk about that as much. It’s, ‘Why are we calling this play? What are we trying to get to? Where are you going to go in the progression?’ His advancement is just so much more.”
Hackett said he saw real growth in Bortles beginning early last season: a 27-0 victory over the Colts in Indianapolis in Week 7.
“He was starting to really trust some things,” Hackett said. “If you look at it from that point on, he really started to grow. Even when games weren’t great, he knew how to fix it. He didn’t get down. In the past when he had a bad game or did some bad things it was, ‘I’m done,’ or, ‘I can’t do it.’ Now, he can fix it and move on.’ …”
Bortles in the final 12 games of the ’17 season including postseason had six games with a passer rating of more than 90. The Jaguars won eight of the 12 games, with two of the losses – at San Francisco and at Tennessee – coming after they had clinched their playoff seeding.
Bortles had two of the highest rated passing games of his career in the postseason – a Divisional Playoff victory over Pittsburgh and a loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game – and he did not commit a postseason turnover.
“Going into the playoffs, he treated it like just another game, which was awesome,” Hackett said. “The playoffs are where it matters most in our profession. How you handle that from play-calling to executing those plays? The whole offense really stepped up and rallied around each other.”
Hackett said much of Bortles’ development has been about maturity and the growth that comes with NFL experience.
“It’s about patience,” he said. “The longer a quarterback can wait, the more time he can have, the better he’s going to be. You look across the league: all the quarterbacks, the ones who are most successful, are the ones who have played a lot of football and have had time to develop and learn and had success. That’s where he’s at.”