The Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Tampa Bay Bucanneers Friday night in the first preseason game of 2014, and the most important takeaway, aside from the dominant play of the defense, was the debut of 3rd overall pick Blake Bortles. While the front office and coaching staff have been consistent in their approach of starting Chad Henne in 2014, it’s going to be awfully difficult to justify keeping Bortles on the bench if Friday night was an indication of how well he can play.
We have to be careful in trying to project too much from the preseason, but we can ascertain bits and pieces of information. Primarily, Chad Henne didn’t show anything to indicate he’s going to be any different from what he’s been so far in his a career – he is a decent, but not good, option at quarterback who isn’t going to carry an offense. He was inaccurate and erratic in the pocket. He didn’t get good play from his center, he didn’t have all of his receiving targets at his disposal, and he didn’t have his starting running back. Those are all valid excuses, but Chad Henne did nothing with his 7 pass attempts and his quarter of playing time.
Blake Bortles came in and showed so many things we haven’t seen out of a Jaguars quarterback since Mark Brunell – poise in the pocket, a willingness to throw into tight windows, velocity down the field, and the ability to throw accurately on the run. Bortles had 2 or 3 “wow” throws to guys who likely won’t be starting come week 1. He officially went 7 for 11 with 117 yards, but 2 of those passes were drops on very catchable balls by Mike Brown.
It wasn’t just about what Bortles did on the field, it’s what Chad Henne couldn’t do. Henne had to deal with 2 bad snaps that ended up completely derailing drives, since he just fell on the ball for a huge loss. All I could think during those plays, was what would Bortles have done? It might seem ridiculous to ponder if Bortles could have made a play on those bad snaps, but he’s made similar plays before.
In the video above, Bortles recovers from a self-induced error on a bobble of the ball, and throws an outstanding pass for a touchdown. It’s not the same as a bad snap, but it shows Bortles’ ability to remain calm under pressure and focus on making a play when things go wrong. I don’t even want to think about how disastrous the play would have been if it were Blaine Gabbert instead of Bortles.
The best course of action for the Jaguars is to let Bortles start against the Bears on Thursday night. They need to see what he can do with the first team offense against an opposing first team defense. They still reserve the right to start Henne in week 3 of the preseason and week 1 of the regular season, but this is the best opportunity to give Bortles some much needed reps against high-caliber competition.
One thing became fairly clear Friday night – Bortles will start at some point in 2014.
– Daniel Lago