JACKSONVILLE – Its wide open now, up for grabs.
It became that way in the second quarter on national television Thursday night at Everbank Field, and Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone made it official a while later. It will stay that way until something definitive is announced.
Who will be the Jaguars' starting quarterback Week 1 of the 2017 season?
Blake Bortles? Or Chad Henne? It's wide open.
Up for grabs.
It became that way around 9:17 p.m. Thursday. That's when Henne – previously known around these parts as the Jaguars' backup quarterback – took repetitions with the first team in place of heretofore starter Bortles in the second quarter of the Jaguars' 12-8 nationally-televised preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Marrone met with both quarterbacks after the game.
"I told them what I'm looking for is I'm looking for someone who's going to lead … this … offense," Marrone said, emphasizing the last three words.
Marrone added a thought on a game the Buccaneers controlled through much of the first half, saying "I'm not happy with the performance today. I'm not going to sit here and B.S. anyone. Everyone saw it out there."
Marrone added the same best-person approach he is taking with the quarterback position "is very easy to do" at all other positions.
"When I talk about earning the right to play, that's what we're doing – trying to earn the right to play," Marrone said. "We're going to figure this thing out."
Bortles completed eight of 13 passes for 65 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions while playing four series. Henne completed six of 10 passes for 44 yards in two series.
Marrone also said afterward he wouldn't rule out any quarterback – including third-teamer Brandon Allen – but most of his quarterback-oriented comments Thursday focused on Henne and Bortles.
He discounted the notion that the starter in Week 3 against Carolina would necessarily be the Week 1 starter – "I'm not going to put myself in that hole," he said – but he was specific multiple times that the job that once belonged to Bortles is now open.
"It's right up there for grabs, and either person can take it," he said. "We'll make the best decision—again, who is the best person? It's very simple. Who is the best person to put in that position to lead the offense?"
Both quarterbacks spoke, with Bortles saying he understood the move.
"You have to go earn the right to start at your position at any level," Bortles said. "Nothing changes. My mindset doesn't change."
Henne, too, was asked if he felt like the competition was open.
"That's up to Coach Marrone," he said. "All I can do is worry about what I can control and try to be the best leader I can and get the guys going if my opportunity arises."
There's a lot to discuss, and it will be discussed, debated and analyzed until such time as Marrone definitively says there is no more reason to see multiple quarterbacks with the first team. It will dominate all else – and it will distract – because that's what quarterback uncertainty does.
Marrone surely knows this, as do all Jaguars decision-makers.
And you get the idea Marrone is OK with that. Marrone, in his first training camp/preseason as the Jaguars' head coach, always has given a strong vibe that he's completely serious with his "best-player-will-play-no-matter-what" mantra. And you get the idea that to Marrone, a couple of weeks uncertainty at quarterback is a reasonable price for making the right choice.
Bortles had been inconsistent through training camp – not bad all the time, but just as certainly not good enough to quiet the noise in the system. Uncertainty was percolating. Now, it's a boil.
One thing important to note here: Bortles was not benched Thursday.
"It's not like he's not the quarterback," Marrone said. "He's got to go earn it."
Still, when you want a look at your backup quarterback with the starters, it only means a major decision must get made, and make no mistake:
Henne can handle the starter's role. There are worse options with less experience and un-wiser football heads to have behind center.
The end game? Anyone's guess. Bortles even with his inconsistencies has had moments in training camp, and he has thrown accurately at times. Henne looked very good running the first team last Sunday in practice, and he had moments – including a 97-yard touchdown pass to rookie Keelan Cole – in Preseason Week 1 against New England.
Bortles struggled much of Thursday, twice missing wide receiver Allen Robinson in the first half. Henne's statistics weren't better, but his first two throws – the ones dropped in the end zone by Robinson and wide receiver Keelan Cole – they were good, accurate, aggressive throws. He looked better, at least briefly.
So, yeah – as of 9:17 Thursday, one question will overwhelm all others. Who will be the Jaguars' starting quarterback Week 1 of the 2017 season? It will be a boil now until it's not.
And it's absolutely up for grabs.