Senior Bowl 2017: 'Make or break year'

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MOBILE, Ala. – The coming season is big for Blake Bortles. How big is big?

ESPN NFL front office insider Mark Dominik put it simply.

"Quite frankly, I think this is the make or break year," Dominik said this week at the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl. "I had a chance a long time ago to sit next to [Hall of Fame coach] Bill Walsh. I asked how long until you think a quarterback is what he is. He said, 'A season and a half.'''

Dominik noted that Bortles, the Jaguars' starting quarterback, was midway through a standout 2015 season at that point in his career.

"A season and a half for Blake Bortles … he was playing pretty good," Dominik said. "We've seen players who have Blake's skill set – [Baltimore Ravens quarterback] Joe Flacco in my opinion – who can get it together and put it all together."

Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, struggled much of last season with issues such as accuracy, mechanics, interceptions and decision-making. He said late in the season he likely will work extensively during the offseason on mechanics and fundamentals with California-based quarterback gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeaux.

Bortles spent two months of the 2015 offseason working with Dedeaux and House, then threw a franchise-record 35 touchdowns and 4,428 yards.

Dominik, who spent five seasons as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' general manager before joining ESPN in 2014, said while Bortles may or may not be able to dramatically improve his mechanics, he can improve in an equally critical area.

"I think the main thing with Blake is more just respecting the football," Dominik said. "Maybe not having to try to do everything on your own. I think that's an important part. The turnovers just have to decrease. It's critical for everyone on the football team. He's got this next year to sort of show he can do that.

"I like Blake from a mental aspect, I like Blake from a competitive aspect and I think [Jaguars Head] Coach [Doug] Marrone feels that way, too."

Dominik said he believed before this past season the Jaguars would improve from their 5-11 record in 2015. Instead, they finished 3-13 and Head Coach Gus Bradley was fired with two games remaining in the season.

"I saw a lot of good things coming through, but sometimes it just doesn't bounce that way," Dominik said. "For some reason, it just never got rolling. Really, it started with the Green Bay game [in Week 1]. I thought, 'If they win this first game, it would bring so much momentum and so much positive focus maybe it will be something they can really jump on and run with.'

"That game was close. It just didn't go the right way, and it was a tough start."

Can the Jaguars win immediately?

"I truly believe they can," Dominik said. "Again, it's all about the quarterback. You see it all around the league. A young quarterback has to play well and if he plays well, things can change quickly."

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"THEY WILL PLAY HARD FOR HIM"

ESPN NFL insider Adam Caplan early this week at the Senior Bowl praised Marrone.

"Doug is very organized, well-thought out," Caplan said. "He's a good planner, and has really good rapport with his players. They will play hard for him. He's very good at managing situations, and did a very good job at the end of the season when he was pressed into service being the head coach."

Marrone, the head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2013 and 2014, served as the Jaguars' assistant head coach-offense/offensive line coach in 2015 and 2016. He was the Jaguars' interim head coach in the final two games of 2016. The team went 1-1 in those two games.

"It was very well-received by the players, the way he managed the roster," Marrone said. "He also did a very good job at Buffalo under very difficult circumstances. When you talk to people around the league, he's regarded as a good coach. He absolutely is.

"He's also big on the big picture. He's big on using a lot of information. He's a proponent of analytics – using them the right way. People in Buffalo liked the way he did that. He's one of the most organized coaches that you'll see. He knows what he wants and how he wants to structure practices.

"The reports from agents I've talked to who have players with the Jaguars are very positive on Doug – very positive."

Caplan also dismissed the notion that Marrone wasn't the most high-profile head-coaching hire of the offseason.

"When you say 'sexy hire,' remember: when Andy Reid was hired as the [Philadelphia] Eagles' head coach in 1999, people made fun of the Eagles,'' Caplan said. "They said, 'Who is this guy? He's a quarterbacks coach.' He turned out to be one of the Top 5-to-7 coaches of the last 18 years.

"I'm not saying Doug's going to be, but we don't know yet. Doug was a head coach for two years in Buffalo. He wasn't fired. The fact that the Jaguars decided to retain him … obviously [General Manager] David Caldwell and [Owner] Shad Khan were around him and obviously know Doug. They see the way he works. It's good."

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