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View from the O-Zone: All's well for Bortles thus far


JACKSONVILLE – Five days in, and all's well.

That's true for Blake Bortles, which is good news for the third-year quarterback and could be really good news for the Jaguars this season and beyond.

He has looked good in five practices thus far. He has looked crisp. He has looked efficient.

Mostly, there's an overarching thought that Bortles has looked strikingly better in Jaguars 2016 Training Camp than he did in the 2014 and 2015 versions. That's not a shock, to be sure. In fact, that's to be expected for a quarterback with 29 NFL starts.

"If I wasn't [practicing better], it would be pretty disappointing," Bortles said Tuesday following Day Five of '16 camp at the practice fields adjacent to EverBank Field.

Still, expecting something and having it actually happen are different things. For the Jaguars, having it happen now is a good thing – a really, really good thing.

Indeed, the consensus on Bortles is this is a different-looking, more-efficient quarterback early in camp. That was true last week as camp began, and Head Coach Gus Bradley Sunday acknowledged as much Sunday.

"You're seeing first-hand the importance of continuity and being in the same system," Bradley said. "He definitely is owning more of it. He understands the protection and where the issues are and what he wants to attack. I'm feeling a guy who's more poised and more confident."

Bradley continued that thought when asked about Bortles Tuesday.

"I've been very, very pleased with him – very excited about him," Bradley said. "It comes back to his command of the offense. Seeing him going up to receivers, tight ends – and talk to them. He has a stronger command. He's playing with good poise. I think that if there's a mistake made he reacts quicker to it, recovers quicker from it. So, very pleased with the way he's going through training camp."

And that, folks, just may be the biggest, most-important story of training camp.

Forget Tuesday's sluggish first day in pads. Forget the talking-to Bradley gave the team afterward. Forget the one-on-one pass rush drills, and even forget the ballyhooed trio of Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler Jr. and Myles Jack …

If what we're seeing in this first week indeed are more signs of Bortles' growth …

If he's truly becoming a veteran NFL quarterback before our eyes …

If he's truly ready to take a Year Three jump in efficiency, poise, accuracy and leadership that matches the Year Two jump he showed in explosiveness and statistics …

Well, if that's the case that's The Jaguars 2016 Training Camp Storyline – and if that happens, the franchise's future indeed may be as bright as all of the experts and analysts are predicting. Because if that happens, Bortles may indeed be the elite quarterback he showed signs of becoming in his explosive fantasy-friendly sophomore season.

While it's risky to draw conclusions from five practices, Bortles' improvement passes the eye test. He has said in the past he doesn't consider himself a great practice player, and indeed there have been times in three offseasons and two camps when he appeared to struggle. That hasn't been the case this camp. His accuracy appears better, as does his consistency. His decision-making appears quicker. The offense appears more efficient.

That's all as it should be, of course. As Bradley and Bortles both noted, Bortles is in his second season in offensive coordinator Greg Olson's system. The key skill players in the passing game have worked together the past two offseasons, and the benefits of that work and experience should take hold in a smoother-looking offense.

Bortles on Tuesday said he can feel that in the early days of training camp.

"Going into the second year in the system, personally I think the decisions have been better," Bortles said. "As a whole, there are some bad decisions and bad throws – and there probably always will be. But we've tried to minimize those as much as possible and tried to find ways to be efficient."

Let's keep that quote in perspective. This wasn't Bortles bragging about a great camp. This wasn't a bold prediction. This was just him talking about a few practices, and Bradley's praise of Bortles over the first few days was the same. Both quarterback and coach know there are still steps to be taken, and that the regular season is the only true gauge of the progress Bortles must make.

But five days into camp, the signs are as positive as they could be, and Bortles indeed is looking as he and the Jaguars hoped he would look in early August.

Even if that's to be expected, it bodes well for the immediate future and beyond.

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