MOBILE, Ala. – Greg Olson knows what's important, and what's important is the quarterback.
Olson said that has been true throughout a decade and a half working with NFL offenses, and he said it's true of Blake Bortles, too.
Olson throughout his first season as the Jaguars' offensive coordinator emphasized the development of the second-year quarterback. When he sat down this week at the 2016 Reese's Senior Bowl to speak with jaguars.com, he said that absolutely remains a focus.
"You need to make sure [the offense] is tailored to fit the quarterback if you believe it's your guy, if it's not a turnstile," Olson said early this week. "We don't have a turnstile thing going on at quarterback right now.
"We're comfortable with Blake Bortles. We're going to accelerate his development."
The Jaguars' offense improved in 2015, and Bortles' improvement – along with the development of wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns – was key. Olson said while it absolutely will remain that way, the accelerating must be done the right way.
"One of the things you want to be careful of is saying, 'It's Year Three and it's his second year in the system … let's do more,''' Olson said. "Well, let's get better in some of the things we're doing. Let's make sure we're not clouding the situation for him. Let's make sure he's functioning at a faster, clearer level."
Olson this week sat down with jaguars.com and discussed Bortles, the progression of the offense this season and what must be done to improve next season:
Q: Overall, how would you assess the 2015 season?
A: I think we were all disappointed in the result in terms of the win-loss record. There were some strides made on our side of the ball and expectations were raised and that's a good thing. There was progress made, but unfortunately, it didn't show as big as we wanted in the win-loss column. We met the day before we cut everybody loose [after the season] as an offense and talked about where we were at and where we came from. We talked about the chance to come back in March and hit the ground running. We left it on a positive note that way.
Q: What are some of the objectives next season?
A: There are some things we've got to get cleaned up. We've got to get better taking care of the football. Third downs have to get to get better. But it's going to be nice to have the core of our side of the ball back: wide receivers, quarterback, running back, most of the offensive line, tight ends. Let's make sure that when we get back we've been accountable to one another in terms of doing our diligence and studying and staying into it so we can hit the ground running when we get back in March.
Q: How much of a factor is the fact that this time last year the players didn't have any clue about the offense …
A: Nor did the coaches. We were trying to teach the offense to the coaching staff. I think there should be great progress made in terms of what we're doing.
Q: In terms of coaching, what's the offseason task?
A: We need to look schematically at what we did. Did it fit our players? Was this the right scheme for our football team and the players who are returning? Did we do the best we could in terms of putting our players in a position to be successful – in particular Blake Bortles? Did we do enough for the growth of our quarterback?' Because we all know how important that is. Are we doing our job as coaches to put the players in a position to have success – and how are we teaching that scheme? How can we better teach the scheme? Then, lastly we look at what changes do we have to make in terms of personnel to make sure we continue to improve and get better.
Q: So, after one year with the guy, what's your assessment of Blake?
A: It's positive. Very positive. With his work ethic, his intelligence ... he hasn't hit his ceiling, and that should be encouraging. You've got to eliminate those turnovers and eliminate the sacks for him and get better in the run game. I think all of those things will help him – along with his commitment to getting better at the position and understanding it's a year-long commitment. If you look at the great ones, it's a year-long commitment. You can bet [New England Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady is thinking about what went wrong and what went right in that game this weekend and he'll continue to think that. There's some time away, but you have to be a gym rat.
Q: Does Blake have that?
A: Blake has shown that. We picked out four quarterbacks – I'm not going to let you know who they are – and we said, 'We want you to reach out to these guys and talk to them about what they do in their offseason.' We structure every hour of his day during the season seven days a week, but what about the offseason? What are those guys doing in the offseason? We said, 'Ask these guys if they could do it all over again when they were 23 and they were going into their third season? What advice would they give you as far as your preparation?' That's the key.
Q:And because he has a year in the offense there's more he can do this offseason, correct?
A:He's had some success in this system and he's had some success with this team now. He feels good about it, and he can't wait to get back and throw with these guys.
Q: What did you leave him with after the season?
A: I was disappointed in the number of sacks, because a lot of them were preventable. Some of them were on him, and those disappointed me because he knew better. But did I think he was going to go out and throw 35 touchdowns? No. Some guys never do that and he may not do it again his whole career. There are some pluses there. Some of the turnovers were disappointing, but his decision-making will get better, too. He wasn't thrown into a great situation – having to be a second-year player learning a second system in a second year with a whole bunch of other young guys around him.
Q: You really think this second year in the system has a chance to help him …
A: There should be more clarity. I don't know if he'll throw for 4,000-plus yards and 35 touchdowns, but I'd like to believe his touchdown-interception ratio will be better. I'd like to believe we'll be running the football better because he'll be able to get us out of bad looks, so some of those things I think we'll be better at. I think he's well-suited for play-action. I think to run the ball would help him.
Q: We've talked a lot about Bortles. Overall, do you like this bunch? He's not the only young, ascending player …
A: I love going to work with them. They have a great mindset as a group. You hear so much talk about the Carolina Panthers and how they all seem to get along with one another, how they're unselfish – all those things that [Panthers Head Coach] Ron Rivera teaches. I think our guys kind of feel the same way. They all seem to genuinely appreciate one another. We've had no jealousy incidents or any ego-type incidents and I believe they genuinely enjoy each other's company. That makes it easy to go into work each day. They seem to be self-motivated, most of them – and that's real refreshing, too, as a coach. You have a bunch of self-starters and self-motivated guys and our staff is looking forward to working with them.
Q: You clearly like what this offense did last season, but you're not as glowing about it as some outsiders.
A: It's good to have higher expectations. Let's keep it realistic. We made some jumps. We're better, but really, we're somewhere in the middle there. We want to be higher than that, obviously. There is growth, though. We may have gone from one of the worst offenses in the history of the Jaguars to one of the better ones in a one-year span. It's good the expectations are changing and that's a positive, especially for this group because it's a young group and we can kind of hammer down a little bit: 'Don't be satisfied.' The good thing is they're not satisfied and I'm not satisfied, either. The coaching staff – they're not satisfied, either.
Q: How good can this group be?
A: They're still so young, so it's hard to say right now. There's potential there, but a lot of times potential doesn't win football games. I do believe there are some starting blocks with this crew, and they're extremely coachable and hard-working. It won't be because of a lack of effort or lack of trying or lack of intelligence, I can tell you that.