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View from the O-Zone: "Always the quarterback"

against the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett coaches during organized team activities, Friday, May. 25, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles / AP)
against the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett coaches during organized team activities, Friday, May. 25, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles / AP)

JACKSONVILLE – He likes what he sees, which is true of more than just the quarterback.

Nathaniel Hackett made that clear Monday, but the Jaguars' offensive coordinator made equally clear something that is as tried and true in NFL circles – and very pertinent to this team.

"It's primarily always the quarterback," Hackett said Monday.

Indeed it is, and that's a big reason Hackett is excited as he approaches his second full season as the Jaguars' coordinator – and a big reason he likes a lot about this offense.

Starting quarterback Blake Bortles is growing rapidly. The growth began last season, continued in the postseason and has continued this offseason into training camp.

"It's definitely improving," Hackett said of Bortles. "He's got a lot a long way to go, but I think the accuracy, the technique, everything that he's worked so hard on … you see every day. And it's consistent. I think that's the exciting thing."

Bortles isn't alone in his growth. Bortles made clear recently that the Jaguars' young receivers are growing rapidly, and Hackett on Monday discussed the impact those players' development will have this season.

But the highlights of Hackett's first media availability of Jaguars 2018 Training Camp Monday were his comments on Bortles. He made clear that Bortles' knowledge of the offense continues to increase, and he made equally clear you can't overvalue that as a factor in the team's offense.

"The fun thing about Year Two, and even as you progress going on, is that you're going to do a lot of the same stuff [you did previously], but you can take what that play is and advance it even more," Hackett said Monday following the team's practice at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex. "Some things you might not have gotten out of a play, you're now going to be able to go to the next level and see more and understand there's another thing I can get to."

Hackett said an example of this came early in training camp.

"[Bortles] hit a play he hadn't hit at all – not in OTAs (offseason organized team activities) … nothing," Hackett said. "All of a sudden he saw it, understood the play and understood what was available to him."

You know those clichés about the light coming on for a quarterback? About the game slowing down?

Those are clichés because they're real. They matter. They're why quarterbacks typically are better in the middle of their careers than early. That play early in camp doesn't make Bortles a Pro Bowl selection, but it is an example of a quarterback in Year 5 seeing a slower game in a brighter light than he did previously.

"That, I think, is what we're going to see – those big opportunities," Hackett said. "Where we [previously] might have just worked the basic foundation of the play, now we can advance that play and understand – once you see a different defense – how you can attack within the same play.

"I think that's something we're excited to see."

Hackett has reason to be excited. He saw glimpses of what Bortles could be last season, when the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft had his best NFL season. Bortles made particular strides late, first with a three-game stretch in December when he was the NFL's highest-rated quarterback – then with a turnover-free playoff run that ended with games against Pittsburgh and New England that ranked among two of his best career performances.

Hackett said what was particularly impressive about Bortles during that stretch is he often was playing with an exceedingly young group of skill players. Bortles earlier this offseason when discussing areas the offense could improve spoke of times last season when he would receive a blank look from young wide receivers when calling plays. Hackett discussed that Monday.

"At one point last year, Blake had three guys that were rookies and guys who were just rolling in there – and he was throwing for 300 yards there at the end," Hackett said. "It was his leadership, his ability to understand the play, then be able to communicate.

"Now, all of these guys have had this system before. Now, everybody's working together and understanding the play, which will make us all better."

Indeed, there is much about the Jaguars' offense that's encouraging. Those young players to which Hackett referred, players such as wide receivers Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole, are now a year older and performing like it in camp. The receiving corps in general has looked strong in camp, and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins appears likely to add another dimension to an offense that at times has lacked a downfield threat at the position.

But as Hackett said Monday, it's primarily always the quarterback.

And as the Jaguars' quarterback continues to grow in this scheme, that gives Hackett more and more reason to like what he sees.

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