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View from the O-Zone: "The floor has risen…"

Jacksonville Jaguars during a training camp practice session Wednesday, August 1, 2018 at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex in Jacksonville, Fl.  (Rick Wilson/Jacksonville Jaguars)
Jacksonville Jaguars during a training camp practice session Wednesday, August 1, 2018 at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex in Jacksonville, Fl. (Rick Wilson/Jacksonville Jaguars)

JACKSONVILLE – Blake Bortles nailed it Wednesday.

Not in practice, though the fifth-year quarterback had yet another solid day.

And not when he was asked yet again about critics and naysayers who say nay about Bortles whatever the circumstance.

No, where Bortles nailed it Wednesday – midway through the longest week of Jaguars 2018 Training Camp – was when he was asked if he liked his consistency a week into his fifth NFL camp.

"I think the positive is the lows aren't near as low as they were," Bortles said following a two-and-half-hour practice at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex.

See? Nailed it. Absolutely.

If you're looking for the reason you're hearing all those good things about Bortles out of camp, that's it. If you're wondering why people who have watched Bortles for four-plus NFL seasons like what they see, that's it. If you're wondering why anyone around Bortles feels there's no way he won't have at least a good season in 2018, that's it.

He's consistent. The lows aren't as low as they once were.

Remember? In years past?

Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, long had considered himself not a great practice player. He famously/infamously said publicly as much, and he backed that statement up with his play in his first four NFL camps. Quite often, actually.

Last July, before turning in by far his best NFL regular season with a subsequent run to the AFC Championship Game, Bortles threw five interceptions in the first padded practice of '17 camp. That was the public low point of that camp – and one of the public low points of Bortles' career – but Bortles struggled in other camp practices last year, too.

Bortles is the first one to tell you that his '18 camp isn't perfect.

He's also the first to tell you that he's continuing to sand down his rough edges – and with that sanding, the valleys that shaped his NFL narrative don't dip nearly so low as before.

"There are still ups and downs, which there are going to be – especially when you play our defense every day," Bortles said. "But the floor has risen; the lows aren't as bad. It's one, two, three bad plays where there were times last year I'd go a whole day having a bad practice. As long as you continue to make the lows not quite as bad as they've been in the past, I think you have a chance."

Bortles is right that the bad hasn't happened much in '18 camp, and it really didn't happen during the '18 offseason program. That's not to say that the Jaguars' offense is firing passes all over the field a la Air Coryell. No, it's clear that this offense knows what it is: a ball-control, take-what-the-defense-allows scheme. It's going to run first. It's going to emphasize not turning the ball over. It's going to emphasize Bortles running when it makes sense to run. But within the context of that approach, make no mistake:

Bortles has looked good. Yes, he has had a few bad plays – such as a pick-six by All-Pro cornerback A.J. Bouye Wednesday. That has happened, and the plays have been there for all the world – or at least the media and fans attending '18 camp practices – to see.

What's also there is the calmer quarterback we saw late last season during the Jaguars' playoff run. What's also there is the more confident quarterback we saw during OTAs. What's also there is the quarterback this franchise believes in, the one players rally around, the one who is as resilient and impervious to criticism as any quarterback in the NFL.

That ability to handle criticism undoubtedly is a reason this team believes in Bortles, and it was on display again Wednesday when asked about people who think the quarterback position remains this team's one questionable area.

"It's all in the same category of people saying whatever they want; I don't care," Bortles said. "I come to work every day and try to get better. Once the season starts, I try to win football games any way I can."

Such things sound false from some quarterbacks. The truth with which it rings coming from Bortles is a huge reason for this franchise's belief in him.

But a bigger reason is that Bortles is growing as a player. He grew late last season, and grew more in the postseason. He appeared to grow more in the offseason, and nothing we've seen in camp thus far indicates that the growth is stopping.

Yes, Bortles nailed it Wednesday.

And if he continues to play as he has for the past week, his floor is only going to get higher.

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