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View from the O-Zone: Bortles' improvement beyond debate


JACKSONVILLE – You want to know the weirdest "Jaguars thing" right now?

They're debating this week on Twitter whether or not Blake Bortles is good. Think of that for a minute, and if you're a Jaguars fan, smile as you think.

Now, in one sense the debate makes some sense. This is the Twitter era, after all, an era in which anyone with access to social media – which is to say, anyone – can hang a virtual sign on a virtual door and … voila! A virtual analyst! Varying virtual opinions, even odd ones, are going to happen.

But in another sense, it's just, plain silly. And weird.

Bortles may or may not be heading toward elite quarterback status.

He may or may not be bound for multiple Pro Bowl appearances.

He may or may not have Super Bowls in his future.

But is he good? Yeah, he's at least that – and there's little reason Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson wasn't right this week when he said that's only a sliver of Bortles' story.

"We like where he's at right now in terms of his improvement and where his game is right now," Olson said this week. "There's room for improvement, but he's shown steady progress and that's what we're most encouraged about.

"We don't think he's hit a ceiling and we think there's still plenty of growth ahead."

Now, maybe Olson is a touch biased, but he has seen the Jaguars' future developing up close this season. And he understandably likes what he's sees. We've seen it, too, anyone watching, observing and analyzing this team.

We've all seen a quarterback who has taken a significant step.

Remember? Last offseason? When the talk was about whether Bortles could get mechanically sound enough to be a legitimate starting quarterback?

Bortles' mechanics may not be perfect yet, but they're far from the weekly topic they were last season. Another piece of good news on that front for Bortles and Jaguars followers? Those mechanics appear to be holding – again, not perfect, but enough that he's not backsliding.

In the last two games, he has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions. In the last two games, the Jaguars' offense is 10 of 10 in the red zone.

To those who say nay, Bortles isn't yet accurate enough, and there are plenty who question Bortles' high-risk throws. There are imperfections, and those who wonder about Bortles see 50-50 balls to Allen Robinson and the risky throw to Allen Hurns Sunday that turned into an 80-yard game-changing touchdown. They wonder if it's luck, and wonder if it will sustain.

Some of those points are well-founded. You know why?

Because Bortles isn't an elite quarterback yet. He doesn't belong in the upper echelon.

No one around the Jaguars expected him to be there yet. The people putting this franchise together didn't need him to be there yet. They needed him to be good, and they needed to see it this year.

So do we do know what the Jaguars need to know?

C'mon, is there any question?

Here's what we know about Bortles through 13 games. We know he has guts. We know he's willing to self-assess, and to turn that into self-improvement. We know the numbers add up, and that those numbers show he threw 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last season – and that he has turned that number into 30/13 this season.

We also know that beyond the numbers, teammates believe in the guy innately. Teammates drafted in his draft class believe in him. Rookies believe in him. Perhaps most significantly, veterans believe in him, and have pretty much since he walked into the building 20 months back.

Belief matters at the quarterback position.

"He just has resolve, a swagger you can't teach," 10-year veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "He's a competitor and he's tough as nails. He doesn't care about messing up on a play, or throwing an interception, because he looks at it like, 'OK, I may have thrown a pick but I'm going to come back and hit you in the mouth with two touchdowns.' "

And you know what? Maybe that's why all the weirdness this week. Maybe that's why those who analyze can't see what others see in Bortles. That thing that teammates see – the swagger, the competitor …

That's hard to put into a formula, hard to express in 140 characters.

Here's what's not hard to see, that Bortles is worlds better – big, big worlds – than he was this time last season. He wanted to make offseason improvement, and he did, and thirteen games into Year Two, the Jaguars are seeing what they had to see.

Are they seeing a guy who will be great? Are they seeing a future All-Pro?

Time will tell, but to get to great you have to get to good first.

No question we're seeing that, and there's no debate that that's the best news the Jaguars could have gotten this season.

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