PHOENIX – The optimism around Blake Bortles continues.
That was true around the Jaguars at the end of this past season, and Head Coach Gus Bradley on Tuesday said it's even truer now.
It's not just about Bortles recently gathering teammates in California, either.
Bradley, speaking at the annual AFC Coaches Breakfast at the NFL Annual Meeting on Tuesday, said Bortles – the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft – has impressed since late last season in his approach on and off the field. His approach in the offseason has been equally encouraging.
"He's everything we hoped for as far as mentality and competitiveness," Bradley said of Bortles early Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore. "I thought he was really internally driven and that is so true.
"He has no fear. I felt like that going through the process where we were picking the quarterback, and he plays with no fear. Those aspects were really exciting for us."
Bradley, entering his third season as the Jaguars' head coach, discussed a variety of topics while speaking with media for nearly an hour Tuesday morning. Included in those topics was what he learned about Bortles as a rookie.
"I think his toughness," Bradley said. "I knew he was tough, but just how tough … And how fast he would take over the team. The team really gravitates toward him offensively, defensively and special teams-wise, and I didn't know it would happen that fast."
Bortles has been in California since late February, working with former Jaguars backup quarterback Jordan Palmer. Bortles worked with Palmer as he prepared for the NFL Draft last offseason, and early this offseason Bortles said he was focusing during his work with Palmer on footwork and fundamentals – areas he wanted to improve following last season.
Bortles this past weekend worked in California with current Jaguars wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns as well as newly-signed free-agent tight end Julius Thomas, tight end Clay Harbor and tight end Marcel Jensen.
"This offseason what I'm hearing from players is he's doing a great job, really competing and throwing every day," Bradley said. "He's meeting with players around the league and a couple of quarterbacks from other teams and getting their offseason routine down."
Bortles started the final 13 games last season, and did so in some difficult circumstances. Playing with three rookie receivers – Lee, Hurns and Allen Robinson – and behind a young offensive line, he was sacked 55 times.
Bradley said while the original plan entering last season was to sit Bortles behind Chad Henne, it was in retrospect a positive that the rookie started 13 games.
"Now, looking back at it I'm glad he did get that experience," Bradley said.
After being intercepted 12 times in his first six games, Bortles threw just five more interceptions in the final eight games of the season.
"He started off really strong the first couple of games he played," Bradley said. "Then, he dipped. Teams started to watch a lot of film on him and started to figure (him) out. He struggled there for a while, but we struggled as a team.
"Then, in the second half of the season – the last five or six games – he picked it up again. I think that's what's feeding his offseason. He's had a taste of it. He knows what it should look like now, and I think it's our job to get even more talent around him. That's what we felt like we did with free agency.
"The first thing was to protect the quarterback; we had to find ways to do that with the addition on the offensive line (of right tackle Jermey Parnell) and then a receiving threat for him (tight end Julius Thomas)."
Bradley said Bortles absolutely has many of the strengths needed in a young, franchise quarterback. He said he has size, and good instincts about when to leave the pocket. That size can help him be able to play through an entire season and Bortles also has shown that he can make every throw necessary in the NFL.
"Can he do it consistently?" Bradley said. "That's what he's working on."
Bradley said the early indicators this offseason are the same as last season, and those indicators are good signs for the franchise and the player.
"I think he's trying to put together a really good offseason for him, and what will work for him in a routine," Bradley said. "All accounts show he's really doing well."