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View from the O-Zone: Let him grow


JACKSONVILLE – The message was clear, and it made perfect sense.

Along those same lines, if you're waiting for the Jaguars to start teeth-gnashing or panicking about interceptions, inaccuracy, turnovers … any of the things that have ailed Blake Bortles at times during his still young career …

Well, you're going to have to wait.

How long? What's the time frame on the second-year quarterback becoming a smooth, experienced, mistake-free guy behind center? When does he go from developing to mature?

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson asked the question rhetorically this week.

His answer spoke volumes, and sent a clear message.

"In time," Olson said as the Jaguars (4-6) prepared to play the San Diego Chargers (2-8) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.

That message? That it will take time for Bortles to be what the Jaguars need him to be, but that he absolutely will become that? That was dead on.

As much as fans, observers, coaches – even Bortles himself – want to find some magical thing to speed up the maturation process, time is what it will take.

And time is exactly what Bortles will get – that and patience. The Jaguars don't like the mistakes. And in the short-term, they hurt. But panic that he's not the guy for the long-term? Concern that the issues aren't solvable?

Not even close.

That was clear this week during Olson's weekly discussion with the media. As might be expected, the focus this week was interceptions, because while there has been far more good than bad with Bortles this season, interceptions have remained an issue.

And while it's a frustrating issue, Olson said it's far from an unusual one.

"He's learning," Olson said. "I know no one wants to hear that but I'm telling you, he's developing. He's done some very good things and he'll get better. All of those are learning opportunities."

Bortles also was asked about the issue Tuesday. He had said on NFL Network Thursday following a victory over Tennessee that his interceptions and turnovers were keeping the Jaguars from reaching the next level.

Speaking Tuesday, Bortles focused on finding a balance between the obvious need to protect the ball and not overthinking to the point of being cautious.

"You don't want to overthink it and stop taking shots and stuff," Bortles said. "The way I go about it is I don't want to turn the ball over but it's going to happen. It's inevitable, it's part of the game and part of playing the position so I think more than anything it's being able to quickly recover and move past it and not do it again."

Bortles has that last part down. Bortles has plenty of strengths, and make no mistake: he's a reason this team looks improved, and why it is a game out of first place with six remaining. But perhaps his biggest strength 23 games into his career as a starter is an ability to recover from a tough play, series or quarter.

That trait inspires belief from teammates. It also has enabled him to lead the NFL in fourth-quarter comebacks this season – that despite also being tied for second in the NFL with 12 interceptions.

As for the interceptions, it's true they come at maddening times.

And Bortles was right when he said they hurt. The Jaguars right now are at the stage of development where most games will be close; interceptions kill in close games. Olson's point this week was that most of Bortles' mistakes are from either inexperience or aggression. Time will take care of the inexperience part, and as for the aggression …

Well, Olson said there are worse things.

"Some players don't try and make some the throws that he's tried to make," Olson said. "I think it's better somewhat to have that type of player that has an aggressive attitude and try to pull back the reins than the other way when you're trying to push somebody to make plays. "

Olson went on to say there's no right time for an interception, and he said, too, that Bortles will learn from it and get better.

That's the Jaguars' overall approach with Bortles, and really, it's the only approach. Yes, interceptions hurt, but overall you're talking about a young player who has made enormous strides in every other area. Touchdowns. Yardage. Game-winning drives. It stands to reason the turnover issue will improve, too.

But when you talk about Bortles, the most important thing isn't this season. For the Jaguars to be the team they believe they can become, they need Bortles to be elite – or at least very close. They do need him to smooth the rough edges, and to become more consistent, but they don't need him gun shy and they don't need a game manager.

They need him growing, but daring to be great while he does it.

Olson made clear this week the Jaguars are fine with him doing that, that they understand the process, that they trust he's on his way. Will that speed his development? Will he be smooth by season's end? Who knows?

But he'll keep growing, and more than anything else, that's what the Jaguars need him to do.

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