The Jaguars are expecting quarterback Blake Bortles to make a significant jump in his second year, Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports.
For all the focus on fixing the deteriorating mechanics that plagued the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback, who threw 17 interceptions and took 55 sacks in his trying rookie season, the shoulder problems that increasingly threw things out of whack down the stretch in 2014 shouldn’t be overlooked.
But the way Bortles came through it all mentally seems to have only strengthened the team’s resolve that their surprise decision to draft him third overall was the right one.
“People don’t realize that as you look later in the season, he was on injury report,” general manager Dave Caldwell said after the team wrapped up its offseason program last month.
“You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do to survive. It wasn’t anything that was ingrained in him (mechanically). He knew he was doing it. But in order to drive the ball 15 yards, there were some things that he needed to do to get the velocity on the ball.”
Bortles’ shoulder didn’t require surgery, said Caldwell, who referred to it as a “dead arm” suffering from inflammation, forcing a reduction in practice reps after roughly 17 months straight of throwing through the quarterback’s last year at Central Florida, the pre-draft process and his first NFL season.
A toe injury suffered in a December loss to the Baltimore Ravens exacerbated things by disrupting Bortles’ footwork but didn’t stop him from making a start four days later against the Tennessee Titans (one of the Jaguars’ three wins).
“We wanted a guy that played with no fear, was very aggressive in his mindset and (had a) very strong mindset,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “To go through a season like that … that would affect quite a few people. But he took on all those challenges, and he didn’t flinch.”
Bortles’ health wasn’t solely to blame for his struggles. He even downplays the injuries’ impact, saying he “wouldn’t blame anything on it. I was fine to play” — not that the Jaguars would expect the laid back 23-year-old from nearby Oviedo, Fla., to say anything else. It hasn’t done much to slow Bortles’ work this offseason, either.
After giving the arm some rest, he traveled to California for a week that turned into two months of rebuilding his mechanics with noted quarterback whisperer Tom House. Bortles also put in time with free agent Jordan Palmer, who trained him for his pro day last year.
Caldwell said those sessions made a tangible impact on how Bortles is throwing the ball. Bortles hopes tightening his motion and learning how to better use his whole body can help him keep his arm healthy, too.
“We know, come game day, he can do the stuff — the off-schedule things, the out-of-the-pocket stuff — that’s part of the reason we drafted him,” Caldwell said. “But now that this is looking the way it’s supposed to, it’s encouraging.”
In 14 games (13 starts), Bortles threw for just 11 touchdowns. His 69.5 passer rating was the worst among QBs with at least 150 attempts. He cracked 200 yards passing just twice in his last six starts — a stretch that coincided with the loss of his favorite target, Robinson, to a broken foot.
Asked if it was a good thing he played at all, Bortles answered, “Yeah. I learned a ton. … For me, it was good to get out there and kind of take live bullets and learn on the go and figure things out as they came.”
Of course, attacking NFL defenses late in the season should be far easier with a live arm.
“A lot of it was good until some of those (injuries) happen,” said Caldwell. “Now he’s gotten healthy, and he’s gotten back to really taking care of his body. I just asked him today, ‘How’s your body feel compared to this time last year?’
“He said it’s night and day, man.”