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View from the Ozone: Praise for Bortles starting to feel expected


JACKSONVILLE – It's becoming familiar now. Almost expected.

That's how it's starting to feel when you discuss Blake Bortles, isn't it? The good things we're seeing? The quotes praising him?

You're hearing those things more often as we move forward in the 2015 Jaguars preseason/training camp, a preseason/training camp that has been and will continue to be mostly about Bortles.

Yes, Bortles talked to the media again on Wednesday …

Because he's the quarterback and because his development is so critical to the franchise, that means this Wednesday View from the O-Zone is indeed about Bortles. Again.

And because he has looked consistently improved in camp – and because he backed that up with an impressive performance against Pittsburgh Friday in the preseason opener – I asked Bortles if things were coming "easier" to him.

Not that "easy" is ever exactly the right word when discussing NFL quarterbacking.

"I think the word would probably be 'slower,''' Bortles said Wednesday. "It's slowed down more. I feel more comfortable, feel more 'at home,' and that'll just continue to come with repetitions and continuing to own the offense and feel more comfortable within that."

Slower …

That's a big word when it comes from an NFL quarterback.

It means, as Bortles said, that a quarterback is becoming comfortable. And confident. It means he's seeing the field better, and it may even mean he's anticipating things before they happen.

All are key to quarterbacking.

If "slower" never happens, it's difficult for a quarterback to be really, really good.

So, when Bortles said that Wednesday, it mattered. It's not everything, and it must be taken in context. He's saying it after a preseason game against a team that wasn't game-planning, and anything that happens in that situation doesn't mean as much as what happens in the regular season.

But here's why it's significant:

Because Bortles is saying those things against the backdrop of others saying similar things. To watch Bortles' performance against the Steelers Friday was to watch a player who looked improved on many levels. Accuracy. Footwork. Pocket presence. Field vision. All seemed more natural. If you were watching on television or in the stands, you felt it.

Greg Cosell, NFL analyst and senior producer for NFL Films, saw it, too – and talked about it while appearing on The Midday 180 in Nashville with former ESPN AFC South and current ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky.

"Blake Bortles very impressive vs. #Steelers," Kuharsky tweeted Cosell saying. "Calm, composed, totally different. Delivery more compact."

That sort of tweeted "quote" doesn't mean Bortles is done developing. Far from it. But it does indicate that the progress he has discussed and that we have analyzed, reanalyzed and perhaps overanalyzed locally is evident to fresh eyes as well.

It also jibes with what teammates are seeing in practice.

I asked six-year veteran running back Toby Gerhart during live Wednesday about the difference between Year 1 Bortles and the Year 2 version.

"I've seen tremendous growth since last year," Gerhart said. "In practice, there were a couple of times last year where he'd be laughing and shaking his head and saying, 'I'm a gamer, I'm a gamer,' because some of the balls he was throwing might not have been so pretty. This year, he's on point all of the time. I think he's comfortable in this system and likes this system.

"I've been in the backfield with him in 7-on-7 drills and in mid-cadence he'll say, 'Watch me hit this post.' Sure enough, he'll drop back and hit (tight end) Marcedes (Lewis) over the middle for a touchdown. Before the ball is even snapped, he knew what he was looking for.

"He just has that confidence and leadership this year. He's really throwing the ball well."

Throughout the Jaguars' locker room, that's what you hear about Bortles. Teammates have respected and liked Bortles since he arrived. It wasn't as if that didn't exist last season, but it seems to grow more solid by the day. Bortles was a rookie last season, and while a second-year player can't accurately be called a grizzled veteran, there's little question this is now Bortles' team and that he has the respect that goes with that.

None of that means Bortles is elite yet. Even if he plays well Saturday, he will have put together back-to-back preseason games. Until he does what he did last Friday consistently in the regular season, there will always be questions and skeptics. Correctly so.

But as each day goes on, the good about this young quarterback continues to overshadow the concerns. The optimism around Bortles' development feels more real by the day.

If it really is real, if all of this leads where it seems to be leading … well, there's no better, more-important story for this franchise than that.

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