The Jacksonville Jaguars have plenty of reasons to believe they will be better in 2017, but it all still falls on the shoulders of quarterback Blake Bortles.
For what seems like the third straight year, the Jacksonville Jaguars have come out of the free agency period looking like a contender. Generally “winning” the offseason doesn’t directly lead to actual wins on the field, and the Jaguars have done their best to cement that notion.
Still, it’s hard not to get excited about what the Jaguars might be capable of given their free agency additions. Barry Church, A.J. Bouye, and Calais Campbell all represent significant upgrades for a defense that was already showing plenty of promise. The Jacksonville Jaguars could legitimately have a top 5 defense in 2017 if they manage to find another decent pass rusher in the draft.
All that excitement about the defense has been tempered by the reminder of how important the quarterback position is, and how questionable that spot is for the Jaguars.
While some think the Jaguars need to move on from Bortles and find a new signal caller early in the draft, others argue that it’s ridiculous to reach for quarterback in the first round when Bortles still has a chance to bounce back and become a productive player.
All indications from the front office are that Bortles will be back as the starter next year, but not with unquestioned support. The team has implicitly stated they are in “wait and see” mode with Blake by not picking up his fifth-year option. Bortles has responded in kind by spending the offseason so far working with his mechanics coaches in California.
"That’s why he headed to California as soon as the 2016 season ended to work with Adam Dedeaux.“The first thing we focused on was probably what everybody would guess, just trying to tighten up the release, make that as quick as possible,” Bortles said. “So never letting really the wrist get below the elbow, trying to keep that parallel and not dropping down. So that was probably the main focus and then just a couple tweaks here and there in different things.“It didn’t take a long time to fix it, but the first week it wasn’t pretty. It didn’t look good and that’s a part of it. When you’re trying to change things it’s not going to be great but we were able to kind of hash that out and now it’s going well.”"
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It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what led to Bortles horrific regression in 2016, but by far the most visually noticeable component was his mechanical breakdown. Fixing that is a good start, but Bortles also needs to work on the mental aspect of the game as well, specifically decision making.
In theory, nailing down his mechanics should free him up mentally to play a little looser and make better decisions, but Bortles is entering his 4th season with a reputation of turning the ball over at an unsustainable rate.
There’s also the question of retention, a topic Bortles answered head on recently when asked if the work this offseason will actually stick:
"“That’s the true test of, ‘Did it stick?'” Bortles said. “There’s only one way to figure that out and that’s go and play.”"
There’s going to be a lot of talk this offseason about Bortles and his mechanics, but as he says it won’t matter until he goes out onto the field and shows real progress.