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View from the O-Zone: Bortles, offense progressing


JACKSONVILLE – Blake Bortles wasn't making dramatic proclamations.

That's no surprise. Proclamations, dramatic or otherwise, aren't the young quarterback's way. Preseason isn't the time for them anyway.

The topic: the Jaguars' offense.

The specific topic: the progress said unit has made in training camp and the 2015 preseason.

"Everything 'Oley' (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) has installed I think we've executed, maybe not always on the first time repping it, but eventually we've gotten it," Bortles said during his weekly media availability Tuesday as the Jaguars prepared for Friday's preseason game against the Detroit Lions.

"So, I think continuing to challenge ourselves (and) continuing to make it uncomfortable and make things difficult is how we grow."

Bortles was pitch-perfect here, and his reserved approach makes sense. While the offense appears improved through two preseason games, more improvement – much more – is needed. Still, if it's not a reach to call Bortles low-key Tuesday when discussing the offense's progress, this isn't a reach, either:

The offensive progress may not be remarkable, but it's real.

This offense is starting to show good signs.

Really good signs, actually.

Remember, this is an offense that struggled in recent seasons: Not just last year, but the year before and the year before. The Jaguars went 3-13 last season, but you got the idea in three, four, maybe five games that if the offense could just take advantage of a few opportunities, if it could just give the defense something, then maybe …

Fast forward to the offseason: Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley made a slew of changes, hiring Olson as coordinator, Doug Marrone as assistant head coach in charge of the offensive line, Nathaniel Hackett as quarterbacks coach, Kelly Skipper as running backs coach.

There were personnel moves, too. Tight end Julius Thomas as a free agent. Running back T.J. Yeldon as a second-round draft selection. Center Stefen Wisniewski and right tackle Jermey Parnell as free agents.

It wasn't a total offseason personnel overhaul, but it was a major infusion of veteran talent to go along with what the Jaguars believed was a good, young offensive core. Bortles was key to that core, but so was left tackle Luke Joeckel, and wide receiver Allen Robinson, and so on …

Those were offseason storylines, but a major offseason storyline – perhaps behind only Bortles' development and Marrone's work with the offensive line – was how this offense would respond under a new coordinator.

Bortles was part of that story. A new coordinator can be tricky for a young quarterback. Recent NFL history is littered with young quarterbacks who changed offenses often early in their careers and never seemed to reach their potential.

But the offense's overall ability to adjust to and learn Olson's scheme was a story, too.

So far, so good – and while two preseason games is wa-a-a-a-a-aa-a-a-y too early to write a definitive story on a season, an offense or a transition there's little question the offense in the first two preseason games has a cohesive feel. It also has a productive feel, with five of six possessions by Bortles with the first-team offense ending in scores.

"It's my third offense in three years and every offense I've been a part of I've liked stuff and I haven't liked stuff," Bortles said. "I think this one's definitely been the best.  I've enjoyed learning it, I've enjoyed trying to master it, and that's what I'll continue to do."

As he talked Tuesday, as was the case throughout camp and preseason, Bortles sounded like a quarterback growing more at ease with the job. That can be for any number of reasons. Maturity. The realization that the work he has put in in the offseason is having results.

Bradley recently talked about the importance of Bortles finding and feeling comfortable in his routine – offseason, training camp, preseason regular season – and no doubt that is important. As Bortles said early in camp, this time last year he was figuring out where to park and trying to figure out what being in the NFL was all about. That's life as a rookie.

For Bortles, life as a second-year quarterback looks significantly more comfortable – and it looks better on the field. It looks better for the Jaguars' offense as a whole, too.

Not that it's perfect. Dropped passes have been an issue, and while the first-team offense has five scores, four have been field goals. Red-zone success can be hard-learned for a young offense, and the Jaguars' offense may still be in the early stages of that learning curve.

That's normal and the imperfections are to be expected. This, after all, remains a young offense with a young quarterback and young playmakers. That's a recipe for imperfection.

But perfection isn't what this offense is seeking. It's seeking improvement, and it's seeking the ability to keep the team competitive this season and move toward elite status in future seasons.

The elite goal seems a ways way off, but the competitiveness doesn't. And no doubt that's a sign of preseason progress.

Even if the young quarterback isn't proclaiming it dramatically.

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