Jacksonville Jaguars: Can work on mechanics save Blake Bortles’ career?

Nov 13, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) looks on after a game against the Houston Texans at EverBank Field. Houston Texans won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 13, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) looks on after a game against the Houston Texans at EverBank Field. Houston Texans won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

Blake Bortles is returning to California to work on his throwing mechanics. Will that be enough for him to finally become the Jacksonville Jaguars’ franchise quarterback?

In a pivotal year for Blake Bortles, the fourth-year quarterback has decided to take the time between the three-day mini-camp that closed on June 15 and training camp in late July to return to California to work with his personal throwing coaches. The former third overall pick of the 2014 draft believes he needs coaches Tom House and Adam Dedeaux to become and remain a succesful passer. He last worked with them extensively in 2015. Bortles threw 35 touchdowns that year.

2016 was a different beast. On the advice of then offensive coordinator Greg Olson, Bortles spent only five days California leading up to last season. The on-field results were evident. The Jaguars passer dampened the hopes that the long-suffering franchise found a solution at quarterback. He threw 16 interceptions to just 23 touchdowns.

The numbers told a grim story. The game tape offered no relief. If anything, Bortles looked even worse than his numbers indicated. (Despite an apparent proficiency for slant routes)

He struggled on easy completions. His windup frequently took the ball below his hip. His footwork was a disaster. He threw an interception off his running back’s foot. Through it all, Bortles lost the one thing Jacksonville fans easily pointed to as his best quality, his composure.

At no point in the Jaguars’ close losses did the quarterback give observers confidence he could drive the team down the field for a winning score. In fact, he seemed even more likely to throw a game breaking interception. Through it all, his throwing motion degraded to something barely recognizable as a forward pass as the year went on. His deficient performance led to a midseason firing of Greg Olson and, shortly thereafter, former head coach Gus Bradley.

Unsurprisingly, Jaguars fans happily welcome the news that Bortles will return to California. The quarterback’s mechanical breakdown is blamed for many of his passing struggles among fan communities.

However, blaming all, or even most of his wretched play on mechanics is a mistake.

The mechanics are certainly a problem. Bortles is sure to return to Jacksonville a more compact and accurate passer. To improve not only on 2016, but his career year in 2015 he will need to take the field against Houston in week one as a better decision maker.

Bortles was fun to watch in 2015 largely due to his gunslinger mentality. Fans never want to see him lose that, but it needs to come out in more measured doses. 50/50 balls to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are not, will not, nor will they ever be the building block for an offense. The proof there is in the pudding. Not only did that offense lose the Jaguars 11 games in 2015, in 2016, when opposing defenses saw on tape that was the only thing they needed to take away, the results for the team were catastrophic.

For Tom Coughlin and company to use that fifth-year option they picked up on their quarterback, Bortles must prove he’s a smarter player. We need to see a passer who checks down on first or second down. Occasionally, he’ll settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. Most of all, he’ll take care of the football.  Still, that killer instinct can’t disappear completely. An organization doesn’t use their first-round draft pick on a player to watch them turn into David Garrard, the quintessential game manager.

It’s a tough tight-rope to walk. That’s why franchise quarterbacks are so valuable.

Can Bortles do it? It’s hard to say.

The issues he struggled with not only in 2016 but since hitting the field in 2014 have less to do with stats and mechanics and more with what former Giants quarterback and current CBS broadcaster Phil Simms calls “the Art of Quarterbacking.”

The fourth-year passer’s young career offers no hard evidence that he can blossom into a franchise quarterback. In fairness to him, that’s not how these things work.

No degree or combination of draft pedigree, physical tools, mental prowess or leadership ability provides a failsafe formula for growing a passer. For every Peyton Manning who was a sure hit in the draft there is a Ryan Leaf who failed to meet the basest of expectations. For every Tony Romo or Tom Brady every NFL scout whiffed on as an elite talent, there is a JaMarcus Russell who squandered their talent away.

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Fans can take solace that Bortles’ character works in his favor. From the first time the young player took the podium after his initial appearance in a loss to Indianapolis, it was clear he knew what to say. He’s never been afraid to shoulder blame after a loss. He’s quick to deflect praise in the rare instances the team performance warrants it. His most likable quality may be a willingness to self-diagnose with accuracy.

Many Jacksonville Jaguars fans are rooting for Bortles to reverse the narrative on his career. Not only would they relish in boasting a coveted asset on the field, but that honesty and character encourage genuine emotional investment. Time will tell if this is enough to turn the tide.

Working on his throwing motion in California may not provide Bortles with all the tools he needs to become an NFL starting quarterback. Still, it’s good to see him acting on that keen sense of self-evaluation. In June, it’s all the news we’re going to get – and Jaguars fans should be excited not for the corrected mechanics, but that they at least have a quarterback who’s willing to put in the work to correct them.