I don’t always make it a point to call out national NFL writers, but in this case, the one about Blake Bortles being the weak link of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the need for NFL.com’s Adam Schein to take every opportunity to speak his mind about it got me a bit hot under the collar.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, a team known for its defense that finished second overall last season and a running game that led the NFL finished fifth in scoring offense. That’s a product of both running the football and passing it downfield. Bortles had something to do with that.
Schein, who has had a longer career in this business than I have, had written two pieces in the past two weeks outlining how he feels about Bortles. He does give the former first-round pick in 2014 credit for a slight improvement in his work during the 2017 season. But if you read Schein’s piece, “Ranking divisions by quarterback: NFC North, NFC West top list” and “NFL’s make-or-break candidates: Guys at a crossroads in 2018,” he is less than kind when talking about Bortles as a starter in this league.
"“It’s borderline amazing that one of the most talented teams in the NFL is quarterbacked by Blake Bortles. In 2016, Bortles’ biggest problem was the forward pass — as in, he was terrible at it. Kind of tough when that’s your quarterback,” Schein writes in his assessment of make or break players. “Sure, he showed improvement last season and played quite well at Pittsburgh in the Divisional Round. But when it mattered on Championship Sunday, the Jaguars staff didn’t trust him. Understandably. Do you trust Blake Bortles?”Schein continues… “This should be a Super Bowl season for the Jags. Will Bortles allow Jacksonville to maximize the immense talent up and down the roster?”"
This is where I question Schein and all his expertise in this business. The Jaguars beat Buffalo and Pittsburgh with Bortles behind center, not in spite of him. In the AFC Title Game, he was effective, and for all three games, he played error-free football. It is was one of the reasons the Jaguars signed him to a three-year, $54-million contract extension.
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Prior to the start of training camp last season, Vice-President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin didn’t mince words regarding his signal caller. He said Bortles had to do a better job of protecting the football and reducing his mistakes on the field. He did that. The Jaguars also used a solid running game to give Bortles more options on offense and asked him to be more of a game manager than win games with his arm.
The scenario was successful. Bortles enjoyed a season where he still had issues with game management, but cut down on his interceptions (13) and was sacked only 24 times. Also, discussion of his maturity on the field and in the huddle wasn’t nearly as important as the national media and a few players around the league taking shots at him like he was a statuesque target.
Does Schein mention Bortles is one of the more durable quarterbacks in this league? Does he mention a right wrist injury appeared on the injury report every week last season? Does he talk about how Bortles is one of the better mobile quarterbacks in the NFL?
Bortles had the best completion percentage of his career last season and the second-best passer rating in the four years in the league. And in a division with Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson out with injuries and Marcus Mariota having a down year, Bortles continued to grow. It’s much better than the seventh best in the NFL.
As Schein wrote in ranking the divisions by its foursome of quarterbacks…
"“I really want to prop this division up, but there’s just way too much uncertainty. Watson was absolutely dynamic last season … before tearing his ACL. Will he be 100 percent in 2018? I believe Mariota will even out his play this year — and cut down on the picks — with a new coaching staff. But we have to see it. And we have to see Andrew Luck actually throwing an NFL football again. That’s kind of a huge deal/question mark. Blake Bortles, on the other hand, is something we have seen. And it’s not good.”"
I get this is a down time for writers. The five weeks in between minicamp and training camp seem like an eternity, with many of us shuffling through data, trying to find something to write on. I also understand Schein may not have had the luxury of seeing Bortles in person or in practice. Game film and word of mouth seem handy in some cases when discussing a player’s improvement of regression.
Schein has taken solid shots at Bortles. He’s not the first, and he certainly won’t be the last. It also seems a bit excessive. Bortles isn’t one to voice his opinions about those who throw mud on him or talk about his deficiencies. After meeting him and listening to him for over a year in press conferences and in the locker room, I can tell you he is humble, admits his mistakes on the field and works to correct what hasn’t worked. It’s made him a better quarterback in this league.
Will Bortles become Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers? Probably not. What he can become is a solid starter in this league – someone who took a step forward in 2017. Why doesn’t Schein write about that? Why doesn’t he come to Jacksonville and see the progress in his throwing motion? Why doesn’t he take a “wait and see” approach instead of taking another shot at the Jaguars quarterback?
Until then, I may have to continue to write pieces like this, asking why Schein feels the need to find what’s wrong with Bortles as a quarterback instead of praising him for the improvements he has made over the course of the past season.