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Quarterback buzz gets louder and louder


CHICAGO, Ill. – The Quarterback Story got a bit more intense Thursday.

The Interior Offensive Line Story got more interesting, too – enough that the latter received brief consideration as the biggest topic from the Jaguars' second preseason game.

We emphasize "brief" because whatever else happens in the Jaguars' four 2014 preseason games, the topic around this team is, was and will continue to be quarterback.

And that was true on a near-perfect Midwest night on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The Jaguars lost 20-19 to the Chicago Bears Thursday. There was a lot of good early for the Jaguars and a whole lot of penalties on both teams throughout, and along the way there was some really good news for the Jaguars.

The good news was that both quarterbacks for the most part played pretty well.

"Both quarterbacks did a really good job," Jaguars Head Coach Guy Bradley said.

Chad Henne? The starter?

A good start. A real good start – a lot better than last week.

Blake Bortles? Well, the much-discussed, rapidly-improving rookie for a second consecutive week showed more than enough potential and production to excite fans and keep alive the rumbling radio/Twitter buzz over who will start at quarterback. Translation:

BortleMania is real.

Very real.

Bortles ensured that will remain the case this week by playing very, very well Thursday, and not only doing so for a second time in six days but by doing it in a nationally-televised ESPN game. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 160 yards, stacking another good performance on last week's 7-of-11, 117-yarder in the preseason opener against Tampa.

"I missed a couple of throws tonight I'd like to have back," Bortles said. "I think they were both good outings, and both have a lot of things to work on."

But while radio/Twitter buzz will keep Bortlemania buzzing around EverBank Field, it might buzz a quieter in the coming days. At least a little.

That's because Henne was a whole lot better than he was last week.

Henne wasn't spectacular. He didn't lift the offense on his shoulders and dazzle a Soldier Field crowd that started sparse and filled out by the end. The veteran was what the Jaguars hoped/expected he would be when they committed to him as the starter entering the regular season and beyond, a commitment they have maintained ever since drafting Bortles No. 3 overall last May.

What Henne did was play steady. Very steady.

He led the Jaguars to a pair of field goals on their first two drives. He peppered short passes to Marqise Lee, getting the rookie wide receiver involved early after he had been held without a catch last week. He worked the ball to veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis. The Jaguars running game got a bit more footing than it had last week, and though the first two drives stalled, 49- and 25-yard field goals gave the Jaguars a 6-0 lead.

Henne then threw six yards to Lee for the first-team offense's first touchdown of the preseason and a 13-0 lead.

Bortles replaced Henne with 3:55 remaining in the second quarter, the Jaguars altering their original plan of having Henne play the entire first half. The reason was simple – that the Jaguars' first-team offense had had 30 repetitions, and on this night, that was plenty.

Henne left having completed 12 of 17 passes for 130 yards, a number Bortles nearly matched in the next four minutes. The rookie finished the half 7-of-10 for 114 yards, and finished the night again very impressive and very much looking like a future Franchise Guy.

"He saw more looks tonight than he did last week," Bradley said. "I thought he responded. He's starting to grow confidence as well."

The tricky news for the Jaguars is there will continue to be buzz about Bortles and there will continue to be Henne/Bortles debate. Yes, BortlesMania will get louder, but the good news for the Jaguars is both players looked strong – and a first-team offense looked a whole lot better than a week ago.

As for that second storyline we mentioned at the top – the offensive line – well that continues to be a work in progress, and the Jaguars made a concerted effort to do that work Friday.

The Jaguars started Mike Brewster for a second consecutive week, and for a second consecutive week he struggled at times. After two errant snaps in the opener, he had a holding penalty on a play on which he allowed a sack early Thursday. Rookie Luke Bowanko – who later left with an ankle sprain – replaced Brewster, then rookie Brandon Linder replaced Bowanko. Bradley afterward expressed confidence in Brewster, but this continues to feel like a storyline yet to play put.

Another storyline from a game televised nationally on ESPN has to be the rapidly improving look of the Jaguars. The defense was impressive in the preseason opener, and while the Bears' offense moved better than the Buccaneers, overall this was a second consecutive preseason performance with a lot to like. The running game showed the first signs of life, rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns and Lee showed plenty of life, too, and the Jaguars' special teams were solid for a second consecutive week. That's a lot of "life" and a lot of "solid" – certainly a lot more of both than at this time a year ago.

The Jaguars' quarterback situation has more of both than at this time a year ago, too. That, of course, is the main storyline.

And as long as that's true, the Jaguars can handle all the Bortlemania buzz that will undoubtedly keep buzzing around the 'Bank this week.

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