JACKSONVILLE – The first real day of the first real week of the 2015 season arrived. At last.
Fittingly, one of the first public things that happened around the Jaguars on that day – Week One Wednesday – was quarterback Blake Bortles speaking to the media.
Bortles, the Jaguars' second-year quarterback and the franchise's biggest story entering 2015, said a lot of relatively expected things when speaking to reporters at EverBank Field shortly after noon Wednesday. Mostly – and equally expected – he said it's really good that the regular-season opener at last is at hand.
And yes, he's excited.
"Definitely," Bortles said Wednesday as the Jaguars prepared to play the Carolina Panthers in the 2015 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
"You have to check yourself every now and then to kind of stay within yourself and trust the preparation and everything you go through, but you get juiced up: it's the season opener of an NFL season. We're fortunate to be here. We're happy to be here. We've prepared for this moment.
"I think it will be a ton of fun."
Bortles' thoughts were echoed around the EverBank locker room Wednesday. After an offseason of high-profile acquisitions and focus on the improvement of Bortles – not to mention the improvement of the offense/offensive line and team overall – the chance to play a meaningful game Sunday was welcome. At last.
"Everybody's excited," running back Toby Gerhart said. "It's the first time. This one's for real."
Asked to describe the Week One vibe, linebacker Telvin Smith smiled.
"Confidence," he said. "I feel like we finished preseason strong and got lot of things answered. I feel like we've got a team that can make a run for it, and that's what we're going to do. We're going to go out and try to win games."
As the opener approaches, Bortles remains the focus for many observers. How he develops and how a solid preseason translates to the regular season likely will be a major factor in determining how much the team can improve from 3-13 and 4-12 finishes the last two seasons.
Bortles completed 39 of 60 passes for 461 yards and a touchdown in the preseason with no interceptions, throwing behind an offensive line that allowed him to be sacked just twice after the team allowed a franchise-record 71 sacks last season.
The first-team offense in preseason scored on eight of 11 possessions.
"He (Bortles) has been getting better every day – I think there's no question about that," said veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis, entering his 10th NFL season. "We like to take it one day at a time and focus on getting better. I think that's what's helped this whole offense continue to grow.
"We're preparing for our opponent, but we're playing against our standard. This offense has a different mindset this year. We want to be on the attack and not on the defensive."
"He has taken command of the offense," Gerhart said of Bortles. "He's making all of the calls, directing everybody. I think he's seeing things and knowing what he wants to do with the ball. He's really grown as a leader. He's throwing accurate passes and I'm excited about his growth, excited about what he's going to do for us this year."
Bortles this time last year was a rookie entering his first regular-season opener. He spent that week as a backup, not starting until Week 4. After that, he had a tough rookie season, throwing 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions.
He spent offseason working on fundamentals, mechanics and new offensive coordinator Greg Olson's system. He said on Wednesday that for him, the difference between this season and last season is pretty simple.
"I would say 'More prepared this year,''' Bortles said Wednesday. "I would say last year at times a little out of whack, but I think this year I feel more prepared and more ready to go, to do what I can to help us move the ball and be successful."