JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines the week that was around the Jaguars during the minicamp week that closed the 2016 offseason program
Reps, reps and more reps
The most important part of the offseason was among the most ungradable.
That's the reality for Jaguars 2016 organized team activities/minicamp, the four weeks of on-field work that wrapped last week – because more than all the athleticism that was very obvious throughout, what mattered most was what was going on in Blake Bortles' head.
That's tough to analyze. Or grade.
As offensive coordinator Greg Olson said again as minicamp closed Thursday, "the development of Blake Bortles is still the number one priority for us." And while it's tough to draw overarching conclusions from non-contact OTAs and minicamps, Olson said the past month absolutely was valuable for the third-year quarterback.
Asked where Bortles had improved the most, Olson replied "The whole decision-making process," adding that that was the critical area of the quarterback's offseason focus.
"You've got to improve the decision-making process," Olson said. "Part of what makes decision-making easier is understanding the offense and knowing what protection checks need to be made, and I think that comes with familiarity and with reps, and so that is why I said it's critical for the quarterback and any newcomer.
"The quarterback, it's critical for his development to get every practice rep that he can and he has continued to develop in terms of his decision making."
As difficult as it is to gauge Bortles' growth from non-contact work, it won't be much easier in training camp or even preseason. The areas he needs to develop are pre-snap reads, pocket presence and quick decision-making – and because Bortles is far more of a gamer who improves when things "get real," little is gained from charting his incompletions or even his interceptions in early June.
But to hear both Olson and Bortles tell it, his knowledge of the offense – and therefore the ability to read quickly and execute – increased with repetitions over the past few weeks.
"You can only get so much out of sitting in a film room and I think the more live reps you get the more speed and better you are, the more in-tune and mentally sharp you get," Bortles said.
How much sharper will Bortles be next season? That can't yet be graded, but to hear Bortles and Olson tell it, the improvement could be substantial. There hardly could be better news for this offense than that.
Time well spent
Dante Fowler Jr. was perhaps the biggest story of the Jaguars' offseason, with the second-year defensive end appearing as recovered as possible from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that kept him out his entire rookie season.
Fowler's quickness and athleticism was noticeable to the most casual observers, with many around the Jaguars saying Fowler looked better than expected in May and June.
"It feels good to know I'm back to my normal self," Fowler said last week. "When you're hurt, especially an injury like that, a lot of things run through your head. You think about this or that … will you be the same? I'm very blessed. I feel great."
Fowler said OTAs and minicamp gave him needed confidence working in non-contact situations, confidence he said should help once training camp begins. That will represent his first contact work in more than 18 months.
"I needed that, just to get the rust off," Fowler said. "Of course when we put pads on it's going to be a little more physical. I have a lot built up for a year now and I can finally hit somebody."
Images from the Jaguars second day of mandatory minicamp.
Around the Jaguars
*It's difficult to name best players of non-contact work, but standouts offensively during OTAs/minicamps included tight end Julius Thomas and wide receivers Rashad Greene, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee. Thomas' rapport with Bortles appeared to improve, and while Hurns looking good was no surprise, the development of Lee and Greene was noticeable. The Jaguars love Greene as a slot receiver, and Lee remained healthy throughout the offseason and figures to be a big factor in the offense. "As long as he's able to stay healthy he's going to be a huge asset to the team," Bortles said of Lee. If Greene/Thomas/Lee are as improved as the offseason indicated, the added depth and weaponry at the skill positions is notable. …
*It's equally difficult to name standout defensive players, but the athleticism of Fowler was evident, as was the size and athleticism of unrestricted free agent Malik Jackson. Rookie defensive end Yannick Ngakoue's athleticism was also evident. "Yannick is very explosive and you see that we have a lot more team speed at our defensive ends position with Dante [Fowler Jr.] and him," Wash said. "We have tremendous speed off the edge. Nothing against the two [Chris Clemons and Andre Branch] that we had. We love them to death, but these two are young and fast players. We're excited." Also evident was the improvement of the back seven, with free safety Tashaun Gipson standing out, strong safety Johnathan Cyprien appearing improved and cornerback Aaron Colvin having his best offseason. …