JACKSONVILLE – New year, new circumstance.
As true as that may be for many Jaguars players, it’s particularly true for the quarterback who finds himself in a dramatically different situation he was in this time a year ago.
Blake Bortles on Wednesday smiled at the memory.
“It feels good to not get benched this week,” Bortles said following a two-and-a-half-hour practice on Day 19 of Jaguars 2018 Training Camp at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex.
That indeed is where Bortles was this time last season.
The player who eventually quarterbacked the Jaguars to the AFC South title and the AFC Championship Game didn’t start the Jaguars’ Week 3 preseason game against the Carolina Panthers last August. Instead, backup Chad Henne got the start with Bortles playing the second half.
Bortles was named the starter the following week, starting all 16 regular-season games and all three postseason games, growing into the player around whom teammates rallied on their way to the team’s first division title in nearly two decades.
Bortles, entering his fifth season as the Jaguars’ starter, will start Saturday’s Preseason Week 3 game against the Atlanta Falcons at TIAA Bank Field. He talked during his media availability Wednesday about his approach this time last season – an approach that he has maintained in the year since.
“If you don’t play good, they’re going to find somebody who can play,” Bortles said, adding that his focus now is on “just continuing to try to do whatever I can to help us as an offense move the ball, pick up yards, pick up first downs, score touchdowns, put up points and most importantly, take care of it and not turn it over.
“I think as long as I’m able to continue to do that in our offense, we’ll be in good shape.”
Bortles on Wednesday also discussed his performance in the Jaguars’ 14-10 Preseason Week 2 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Saturday.
Bortles, who completed six of nine passes for 53 yards on one drive – a game-opening touchdown drive – in a preseason-opening victory over New Orleans, followed that by completing 12 of 20 passes for 159 yards with an interception and no touchdowns against Minnesota. Bortles, who rushed for a two-yard touchdown to cap the drive against New Orleans, set up a touchdown with a 14-yard run on third-and-goal from the 15 against the Vikings.
“I think we did some good stuff,” Bortles said of the Vikings game. “The first series was slow. The second series we obviously threw the pick, but then we bounced back. Playing a good defense, we went down the field and scored. I thought that was good, being able to bounce back from that as a team and overcame that adversity.”
Bortles this season is working with a young receiving corps that includes fifth-year veterans Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief, second-year veterans Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook and rookie D.J. Chark. With Moncrief signing as an unrestricted free agent from the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason, Lee is the only player of that group with whom Bortles has played more than 16 games.
The group’s experience level is a reason the Jaguars enter the season without a prototypical No. 1 receiver, a subject that is of-discussed by Jaguars observers and one that Bortles discussed on Wednesday.
“If you get a Julio Jones [of Atlanta] or an Antonio Brown [of the Pittsburgh Steelers] … there’s nothing bad about having a guy like that on your team,” Bortles said. “But I’m more than happy with the group of guys we have. Marqise and Dede, Keelan, Rashad [Greene Sr.], Donte, D.J. … they have been incredible.
“It’s kind of receiver-by-committee. We’ve run guys out there – different groups – at all times. They’re all really good football players and they know where they’re supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be there. If you give them a chance, they’re going to make a play.
“I love those guys and I would take them over any other group in the league.”