JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines the week that was around the Jaguars during Week 2 of 2016 Organized Team Activities …
Better and better
Greg Olson's overall offseason assessment of Blake Bortles hardly is a shock.
When the Jaguars' offensive coordinator discussed the third-year quarterback Thursday, he said Bortles absolutely needed to continue improving, and that he wasn't "there yet."
But in terms of approach, potential and doing the work necessary to get there – in terms of all of the things a young quarterback must do to continue making the necessary improvements – Olson said that Bortles absolutely is getting there.
"He's getting better," Olson said Thursday during Week 2 of 2016 Organized Team Activities at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. "Yeah – excited right now on where he's at mentally and where he's at physically. It's been a good five days of OTAs."
Bortles last week said the difference between the offense from last offseason to this year's OTAs was "night and day," and Olson this week said Bortles had made similar progress individually. Bortles has said his goal this offseason is to have a more in-depth understanding of the offense – and to reach a point where the offense is second nature.
"He's coming," Olson said. "He'd be the first guy to say that he's not there yet, but he's certainly miles ahead of where he was at this time last year, which was to be expected. He's in there, he's working every day and he's better."
Olson said the offense's offseason focus overall is on improving on third downs and in the red zone – areas in which the offense struggled at times last season. He said, too, that the team must reduce turnovers.
"We just felt we're still too high in turning the football over," Olson said. "So, those are the things that we can control, specifically the turnovers, but also we've had a heavy emphasis in third downs and red zones."
A prevailing theme of the Jaguars' offseason continued this week.
The theme: an overall optimism about what tight end Julius Thomas can bring to the offense next season.
This began several weeks ago, when Bortles and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns talked enthusiastically of Thomas' athleticism and the role he could play in the offense next season. It has continued in the first two weeks of OTAs, with Thomas – as he did this time last offseason – consistently showing elite-level athleticism and ability to get open and make difficult catches.
"He's done a great job of wanting and accepting to work together, coming and asking what do I want and what do I like," Bortles said. "It's back and forth. I ask him the same stuff. I think that every day that we come out here, he continues to get better. He never drops a ball. He's got unbelievable hands and he's continued to work on routes and we're fine-tuning the stuff he does that he really likes and wants to continue to improve on."
Thomas said early this week that the Week 1 preseason hand injury he sustained last season made it difficult to continue gaining the chemistry he and Bortles gained last offseason. Early signs in 2016 OTAS are the pair is regaining it, and that could give the offense a red-zone dimension – and a down-field, middle-of-the-field-dimension – it hasn't had in recent memory.
*Around the Jaguars *
*One player to watch come training camp/preseason: second-year tight end Neal Sterling. The 2015 seventh-round draft selection from Monmouth played wide receiver as a rookie, but is working as a move tight end during OTAs. He absolutely looks the part for the position, and appears to have the speed and athleticism to be the match-up issue teams currently covet at tight end.
*The OTA praise continues for Dante Fowler Jr., and he indeed appears as recovered as can be expected from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him his entire rookie season. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash this week said Fowler's explosiveness during OTAs has surprised him, which is encouraging considering Fowler likely will continue to gain suddenness and quickness the further he gets from his May 2015 injury. "Now that he's doing it, you can really see his athleticism," Wash said Thursday. …
*The consensus early in OTAs is that Brandon Linder's transition to center is going well. Bortles and Head Coach Gus Bradley both said as much in Week 1, and Olson on Thursday said of Linder's move from guard, "It's been great. It's been fantastic. I know we'll find out more certainly when we get into training camp. Right now as far as Linder being able to handle it mentally, he's been great with the calls up front, his technique looks really good, looks like a natural in there technique-wise, but we will find out more once we get to training camp. We're real happy with his progress so far." …