Blake Bortles has a couple of new toys to play with in 2015.
Bernard Pierce is the latest addition to the offensive arsenal, the Jacksonville Jaguars claimed him on Thursday. With the further, big-time addition of Julius Thomas, Blake Bortles has got to be grinning from ear to ear.
The Jaguars are giving Bortles the weapons he needs to be successful (and the supporting cast, like right tackle Jermey Parnell) so in year two of his NFL career, it will be up to Bortles to take the next step. He’ll have to prove that his passes are accurate, on time, and that he is not a liability in the pocket. We don’t want him suddenly developing Blaine Gabbert’s phantom sack problem.
After a rough first year that saw Bortles leave the bench to relieve an ineffective Chad Henne, he’s got to prove that using the third overall pick on him in the 2014 NFL Draft was worth it. General Manager Dave Caldwell isn’t stupid and we all saw the potential in some plays that Bortles made, he just needs to put it all together.
Having a more reliable running game (does Bernard Pierce really help here?) will be critical. Toby Gerhart either couldn’t get going in 2014 due to injury or he isn’t capable going forward, Denard Robinson showed that he has something to put on the football field, but any way you slice it the Jaguars just didn’t produce on the ground attack last season. With a struggling young quarterback, the best thing you can do is give him balance. Bortles showed in 2014 that he isn’t capable (at least not yet) of shouldering the entire offense and carrying the team to victory on his arm. Somebody has to prove he can bring balance, whether it’s Pierce, Gerhart, or Robinson somebody has to step up.
The 2015 NFL Draft will be a good indicator if the Jaguars are satisfied with their stable of running backs or not, as there are plenty of options available.
Still, Pierce does bolster a rushing attack that was less than inspiring last year, hinting toward a more balanced offense in 2015.
The other toy for Bortles is receiving tight end Julius Thomas. Bringing in Thomas instantly gives Bortles a big red zone target (for whenever the Jags end up there) and he is an instant safety blanket for the quarterback. He now has a target who isn’t in the backfield and should be an easy completion. He’s big, he’s reliable, and he has proven he can dominate the short-middle of the field.
Julius Thomas will also command attention, opening things up for other Jaguars play makers. If Bortles can progress through his reads, he should be able to find one of his talented, young receivers for a connection. Whether Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, or Marqise Lee, Bortles will have options that are open more frequently because of the attention Thomas demands. Who knows, maybe Marcedes Lewis will re-emerge as a high caliber receiving tight end?
Following the first waves of free agency, Blake Bortles is in a much better situation to progress in year two. He’s nearly guaranteed to get better (you can only go up after being the last ranked quarterback the year before) and the new additions to the Jaguars’ offense should help even more. It may be too early to call, but it’s looking like Bortles will be able to make a leap in 2015.
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