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Oehser: The Kid Played, so the Future is Now


JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars played the Kid.

And the fact that that sentence could be written – that the Jaguars in the second half of a blowout loss to the Indianapolis Colts played rookie quarterback Blake Bortles – made everything else that happened at EverBank Field Sunday feel more secondary than it would have otherwise.

There's no turning back.

There's no more talk, no more debating and no more waiting.

The future is now.

Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft and the Jaguars' unquestioned Quarterback of the Future, is now the quarterback of the present. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said as much in the moments after a 44-17 loss to the Colts.

At his postgame press conference he made the obvious official by naming Bortles the permanent starter, and talked about a litany of things he liked about Bortles. Toughness. Competitiveness. Willingness to attack.

He summed it up near the end.

"I think it lifted everybody up," Bradley said of Bortles' presence, adding, "When he came in there, things fell into place a little bit better and guys were making plays. Sometimes that happens with a guy that goes in there, regardless of the situation.

"Blake has done that in preseason and it was good to see that today."

Was it ever, and wasn't that true? Didn't you feel it?

The Jaguars were trailing 30-0 when Bortles entered the game at the start of the third quarter in place of veteran Chad Henne, and we won't try to make the case here that the 17-14 score in favor of the Jaguars in the second half makes up for what happened in the first two quarters. And indeed too much went wrong in the first two quarters to completely ignore it all to focus on Bortles' debut.

Bortles being the Guy now doesn't automatically fix everything else. It doesn't make a struggling defense less worrisome, or less bewildering. It doesn't completely fix the offensive line, although it doesn't hurt. It doesn't make a young offense any more experienced, although his presence sure didn't hurt the wide receivers Sunday, either.

No, Bortles doesn't cure all that ails the Jaguars, but it unmistakably gave the Jaguars a lift Sunday. That doesn't mean that lift is permanent. That doesn't mean the Jaguars' arrow is on a never-dip, skyrocket-upward graph to the sky. The maturation of young quarterbacks doesn't work that way.

But was it a lift? Darned right it was.

"He just makes plays," wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said.

Shorts, like many Jaguars offense players, downplayed somewhat Bortles' impact on the lift. That's probably a good thing, because you can't get too, too excited about the second half of a game with the score out of hand. There also is a tremendous respect in the Jaguars' locker room for Henne, and Henne as everyone expected handled losing his job in the same way he has handled everything in two plus seasons around this team. He showed the kind of class, maturity and professionalism that kept Gus in his corner, until halftime. Jaguars offensive players know they could have and maybe should have played better around Henne, so there wasn't a head-over-heels, our-savior-is-here-now tone to the Jaguars' post-game Sunday.

Bortles, too, handled the situation Sunday in pitch-perfect fashion – and that's another good sign for the future of this organization.

There is something about this kid that says, "Quarterback." There's a confidence, and an ability to handle situations that seem beyond his years. He knew he was a story after the game, and answered questions about his ascension to the job, but he did so with humility. He acknowledged that it was an important moment, and that he felt an energy from the crowd and his teammates when he entered the game.

"I think there was definitely something," Bortles said. "I mean it's my job to spark something. So I wanted to bring in some enthusiasm, some passion and try to move the ball."

But when critiquing his own performance Bortles was measured. He called his performance average, reason being two interceptions. An interception that was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Greg Toler came when Bortles threw into the middle field off his body.

"Definitely a stupid throw," Bortles said.

Bortles also called that a cardinal sin. He was right, and those are the sorts of plays Bradley meant when he said after the game that there will be learning curve with Bortles.

"Hopefully for us that learning curve means more good than bad," Bradley said.

It will. Some weeks. Other weeks, it won't. That's the price of playing a rookie quarterback, but in Bortles' case there are clear signs that that price will be worth it. He looked on Sunday as you expected him to look. Flashes of brilliance, and flashes of, "Huh?" He has everything you want in a quarterback, and appears to have something you can't define, and overall, he has the look of a kid who eventually has a chance to be good. Really, really good.

What he needs now is experience, and that's what he'll get now.

There will be those who make the argument the Jaguars waited too long. In the long run, the two-and-a-half-game wait will seem like a blip, and the point now isn't whether the Jaguars should have played Bortles before but that they are playing him now.

That means the future is now. The wait is over.  And there's no turning back.

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