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View from the O-Zone: Belief remains strong


JACKSONVILLE – It's loud outside, louder than it has been in three years.

But when it comes to Blake Bortles and his teammates' belief in him, Allen Hurns said outside means nothing. Noise means nothing. Criticism, analysis, Twitter? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

What means something is what happens inside. Actually, as Hurns sees it, what happens inside means everything, which is why the third-year receiver made sure the Jaguars' starting quarterback – his starting quarterback – knew what was going inside the Jaguars' locker room this week.

"We're all in this together," Hurns said as the Jaguars (0-3) prepared to play the Indianapolis Colts (1-2) at Wembley Stadium in London, England, Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

Yes, outside there is noise surrounding Bortles. He is enduring more outside criticism than at any other time in his 32 games as an NFL starter. That's the nature of the NFL quarterback position, particularly when the player playing that position has committed six turnovers in two games.

That noise is real.

But Hurns and other Jaguars players said what's going in inside is realer – and that the belief in Bortles remains strong. Hurns said he has told Bortles as much this week in the wake of a 19-17 loss to the Ravens in which two of Bortles' three interceptions came in the fourth quarter.

"That's the guy," Hurns said of Bortles. "We can relate. It's unique because we all came in at the same time. No matter what happens throughout our career, we're always going to relate to each other. I know he was disappointed [after Baltimore] and you should be disappointed. We were all disappointed after that loss. It was very frustrating. But I was just letting him know that we're here with him.

"No matter what happens and what people talk about, we are what matters. We're all we've got."

Hurns said in no way is Bortles' solely responsible for the Jaguars' early offensive struggles.

"Fans are frustrated, but sometimes people don't understand things that are going on on the field," Hurns said. "There are tipped passes, or it could be an interception where people say it's a silly throw, but maybe I didn't get my depth on the route. There are situations like that.

"He already knows that no matter what I have his back. I'm going to ride for him."

Hurns was far from alone this week. Throughout the locker room, teammates expressed support for Bortles.

"We all have total trust in him," left guard Luke Joeckel said.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson said there's a reason teammates believe so strongly in their quarterback – and that reason goes beyond the common bond he, Hurns, receiver Marqise Lee and Bortles share from entering the league in the same year, 2014.

Robinson said Bortles has earned the belief not only on the field but in the locker room, in meeting rooms, in his daily approach.

"He doesn't focus on the outside noise too much," Robinson said. "He knows he has a job that he has to go out there and do. He has to go out there and lead and at the end of the day that's what he's trying to do. He's not about what people say. That's why he's so good mentally. He knows his task at hand."

And the criticism? How does Bortles respond to that?

"He doesn't too flustered or let it influence what he does," Robinson said. "He doesn't let it impact things he does. You see guys across the league start to point blame on other people. He takes responsibility for his action and actions of others."

Robinson said that's how Bortles has been since arriving with the Jaguars, and since Day One Bortles indeed has handled the quarterback profession with a maturity that believes years and experience.

That remained true this week. With the preseason storyline of "Bortles as Rising Star" suddenly – and prematurely – transformed into "What's Wrong with Blake," Bortles handled his Wednesday media availability as he always does. With candidness, class and ease. He said indeed he and the offense have been in a funk. He answered questions about body language and mechanics for the umpteenth and umpteenth-plus-one time, respectively, and said the issues that have plagued him and the offense so far this season are absolutely correctable.

What matters, of course, isn't what Bortles says. It's whether or not Bortles plays better on Sunday than in the first three games of the season. The Jaguars can't win if Bortles plays as he has the last two weeks, and if he continues in this vein, all sorts of questions will continue about whether or not he's the franchise quarterback the Jaguars oh-so-need him to be.

That's a legitimate question right now, one that only will be answered in time. But there's no question within the Jaguars' locker room.

Because whatever the outside noise, inside Jaguars players are riding with the guy who has earned that trust on the field and off.

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