View from the O-Zone: Belief in Blake

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JACKSONVILLE – Blake Bortles is starting again.

Players reacted to that for the first time publicly Wednesday. The reaction was a familiar one. Jaguars players long have supported Bortles.

And even after this past Sunday, that hasn't changed.

"I believe in him; I always have," defensive end Calais Campbell said as the Jaguars (3-4) prepared to play the Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) at Wembley Stadium in London Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Linebacker Telvin Smith also was asked where players stood when it comes to their oft-criticized captain and quarterback.

"Where we've always been: in his corner," Smith with a smile.

Such was the tone around TIAA Bank Field Wednesday, three days after Bortles was replaced by backup Cody Kessler after a two-fumble performance in a loss to Houston – and two days after Head Coach Doug Marrone announced that Bortles will remain the starter.

Marrone established that tone early Wednesday, reiterating during his morning media availability that Bortles indeed is the starter – and also reiterating that contrary to reports, Bortles will get all first-team repetitions in practice this week.

"Yes, Blake will take all the starter reps," Marrone said.

Bortles, the Jaguars' starter in the last 68 games, has completed 60.6 percent of his passes this season for 1,735 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions with three lost fumbles. He has eight giveaways in the last three games, including two lost fumbles against Houston.

Marrone, who said he met with both Bortles and Kessler before announcing the decision Monday, said he opted to start Bortles because of factors such as "leadership" and "a lot of things that he can do." Marrone called his conversation with Bortles "a good conversation."

Another factor to consider:

This isn't the first time Bortles has faced adversity. He lost his starting position during the 2017 preseason before returning to help the Jaguars to the AFC South title and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. Bortles late that season was playing as well as any quarterback in the AFC, throwing seven touchdowns with no interceptions in a three-game home winning streak that helped the Jaguars clinch the division – and following that with a turnover-free postseason.

Marrone on Wednesday was asked specifically what gives him confidence Bortles will succeed.

"I've seen it before," Marrone said.

Marrone also stressed repeatedly that he in no way sees the team's current three-game losing streak as a quarterback-only problem and emphasized – as he did Sunday – that he made the change "because it's really the only move you can get to grab attention and add focus."

He added that he understands when a quarterback change is made that observers will focus on that decision above all else.

"Is that a part of it? Sure, we need better [quarterback] play," Marrone said. "But the bigger picture is we all need to play better. That's what I always try to communicate to the team. It's hard to do publicly because it's a better story when it's the quarterback stuff. That's the nature of the business. I get it. I don't have any issue with that."

As for Bortles, he didn't speak to the media Wednesday.

In a decision made before this past Sunday's game, Bortles instead will speak to the media in London Friday afternoon. As is the case with most starting NFL quarterbacks, Bortles typically speaks to the media once during the week and again following games.

Players rallying around Bortles amid criticism is hardly new. It was a prominent theme late last season in the Jaguars' run to the AFC South title, and the Jaguars' locker room on Wednesday took on a familiar tone.

"He's earned the right," Campbell said of Bortles remaining the starter. "I know as of late he hasn't been playing as good as he could, but earlier this year, he was playing some good ball. I see it in him all the time. He's hot and cold like anybody else, so hopefully we'll get a hot streak here and turn the corner. When he's doing well, he sparks the whole team."

Defensive tackle Malik Jackson, among Bortles' most-vocal supporters last season, said he was glad Bortles will continue starting – particularly considering injuries at tight end, wide receiver, running back and offensive line.

"He's earned it," Jackson said. "We can look and say his past whatever games have been this or that, but you have to look at the big picture. His O-line is beat up. His tight ends are damned near all out. His receivers are a little messed up. He's trying to do his best."

Smith said the Bortles' story is a bigger story in the media than among players.

"He lined up," Smith said. "He plays with us. He believes in us. We're going to go."

Yes, Jaguars players long have supported Bortles.

And even after Sunday, that hasn't changed.

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