JACKSONVILLE – So we begin.
And although pads won't pop for another week, this indeed was very much the beginning.
This was Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles on Monday … talking to the media, outlining goals, smiling that Blake Bortles smile and carrying himself very much like the face of this franchise. Which, of course, he is.
So, yeah …
Jaguars 2016 Training Camp is here. The first practice is Thursday, but quarterbacks, first-year players and rookies reported Monday. It's time to begin.
And what better place to start than Bortles? That's where everything for this franchise begins – Storyline No. 1 among many big, important storylines.
And what did the face of the franchise have to say Monday?
First, that he feels very much like a third-year quarterback – and all that that implies.
"It feels good to be able to come in and have a little of the foundation – physical and mental," Bortles said. "I think it allows me to feel more comfortable about things."
That came about an hour after Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell addressed the media. Caldwell first discussed last week's Greg Hardy Tryout, and after confirming that there are no immediate plans to sign the troubled pass rusher, he addressed his thoughts on the team.
"If we can stay healthy, and go into the season with a full squad, I think we have a chance at this," Caldwell said.
That's a prevailing thought. Not just for the GM, but for fans. And players. Those players include Bortles, who clearly is excited about the coming season, and about the talent the team has added. But Bortles' first press conference of the 2016 season wasn't just giddy, optimistic quotes.
No, there was some meat to this one – and the meatiest stuff came when Bortles discussed his objectives for the coming season.
He talked of consistency first. He then talked of the need to start fast.
"Last year we did some things with the numbers we were able to put up, but I don't think we did it consistently," Bortles said. "We need to be able to do that."
Bortles said there were too many slow starts last season. Too often he would start games 1-for-10 or 2-for-7. Too often the Jaguars would be too far behind too early.
"Whatever mindset you have to take, we have to start games faster than we did last year," Bortles said, adding, "Starting fast and consistency would be my two things going into this camp that I think I want to work on specifically – and I think our offense as well."
Yes, those are real issues – perhaps the two most overlooked issues facing this team. It's significant that Bortles not only discussed the issues multiple times Monday, but that he brought them up on his own. Bortles' two-year career has been marked by a striking willingness to self-assess – and to do so publicly. It also has been marked by an ability to improve on areas of weakness.
If Bortles improves on the areas on which he's focusing this season, the offense – and the team as a whole – has a very real chance to be as good in fact this season as it was statistically last season.
If that's the case, a lot of expectations have a chance at being met.
One reason Bortles believes that improvement can come? His comfort with the offense. With Greg Olson in his second season as offensive coordinator, Bortles said his knowledge of the offense – and his experience within it – should benefit many areas.
"That 1/100th of a second that a decision gets made quicker helps out a lot," Bortles said, adding of the offense overall: "We expect it to be better after going through it for a year. There are always tweaks and adjustments, but the more time you put into it, the quicker you get past that curve."
Bortles expects and even pushes his progress forward. Call it accelerating the curve if you will but that's what's clear anytime you speak to him, and it was crystal clear on Monday. He spent the weekend golfing in Lake Tahoe, Nev., at the American Century Classic, arriving back in Jacksonville around 12:30. But he spent six days before that working with quarterback guru Tom House in California. This wasn't the intense fundamental overhaul of the 2015 offseason as much as it was a review of details, a checkpoint to maintain what he has gained.
Bortles also on Monday talked of playing golf this offseason with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Bortles said he asked Rodgers, among other things, what and when he studies during the season – and what he would do differently in terms of preparation if he was 23 or 24 years old again.
That was the kind of offseason it was for Bortles: fun – with a lot of work, too. A prototype offseason for a quarterback/face of the franchise and rising NFL star – and if you're a Jaguars fan, there was a lot to like in what you heard listening to Bortles.
So, yeah … Monday was a good beginning. Training camp is here, it's time to get started.
So we begin.