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View from the O-Zone: New year, new feeling for Bortles


JACKSONVILLE – He spoke casually, and smiled easily. And of course, he was cool. Confident.

This was Blake Bortles Monday as quarterbacks and rookies reported to EverBank Field three days in advance of 2015 Jaguars Training Camp – and if you're looking for some sign in that first paragraph of how Bortles is different than last season, good luck.

That's not where you'll find the difference in Bortles.

No, the second-year quarterback on the surface looked on Monday as he did all last year when he was a rookie quarterback.

He looked calm. He looked poised. He looked cool and relaxed.

He looked the part of a starting NFL quarterback, and that's not surprising because what we have seen from Bortles in 15 months around the Jaguars is he absolutely has all of the intangibles – all of the "quarterback things" – needed to be the face of the franchise.

He showed those things throughout a difficult rookie season. He showed them this offseason, and he showed them Monday, too. So, what's different?

To hear Bortles tell it, what's different is inside – more specifically, how he feels entering the season. The work he has done? The growing he has done? Those 15 months he has put in learning, experiencing? They all count for something, and Bortles said the difference is significant.

"Last year, I'm pulling in trying to figure out where to park," Bortles said with a laugh Monday shortly after he spoke with the media at EverBank Field. "This year, you come in and it's different. You know the ropes and you know how everything goes. Now, you have to worry about taking care of your body and learning the offense."

That's the difference in Bortles between this year and last year, and how big is it? How important?

It's potentially all the difference in the world.

Bortles on Monday said he essentially spent last offseason following Chad Henne's every move. Henne was the veteran and knew the NFL, knew the schedule, knew how to prepare. So, Bortles followed. Which is all he could do and exactly what he should have done.

Now, he is the leader. Now, instead of just looking the part, he feels ready for the role.

Now, too, of course, he will deal with the pressure of immediate expectations. Those weren't there last offseason, when he Bortles spent the preseason as Henne's backup and when he expected to spend the season in that role.

That changed in Week 3, and less than a year later, how you perceive Bortles depends on perspective.

If your perspective is a quarterback should succeed whatever the circumstance, then you are skeptical. Because from a statistical point of view, Bortles struggled last season with 11 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a 69.5 passer rating.

If your perspective is it is difficult for a quarterback to succeed in a rocky environment, then it's likely you feel good about Bortles' prospects. Because while he struggled at times, he also showed significant flashes, doing so behind a young, struggling offensive line and doing so with a remarkably young, inexperienced receiving corps learning along with their young  quarterback.

The Jaguars' perspective is the latter, and that perspective has been bolstered significantly since the end of last season. Bortles' diligent, work-oriented offseason has been well-documented. He spent two months just after the season working with a team led by quarterback guru Tom House, and the results were notable during offseason of on-field work. He appeared more accurate. His release appeared quicker. And Bortles said after minicamp in June and again on Monday that the work was productive; his aim, accomplished.

Bortles' offseason since the end of the on-field program has been more of the same. While he opted not to return to California to see House as originally planned, he spent time in Lake Tahoe throwing with Titans backup Jordan Palmer, with whom Bortles often works on mechanics and fundamentals. He spent much of the last five weeks in Jacksonville, working with Jaguars receivers at Bishop Kenny High School. He said he will maintain contact with House and his team throughout the season.

As for the coming weeks, Bortles said the goal is to exit training camp with a "clear ownership of the offense." That's a significant task. The Jaguars are in their first season under new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and there is a learning process with any quarterback and a new coordinator.

There will be stops and starts in that process, just as there will be stops and starts in Bortles' progress. Part of his process with House was getting enough repetitions that the changes in technique become muscle memory, and Bortles said that is ongoing.

The process – just like his maturation and development – will play out before our eyes, and if it won't be completed in the coming weeks, we'll see evidence of just how much progress he has made.

The guess here is Bortles is a better quarterback in Year Two than Year One. Perhaps significantly. One thing we know after Monday is he certainly feels a lot different. That difference is inside, even if on the surface he seems the same.

Now, it's time for that feeling along with the work to start translating to the field. Stay tuned.

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