The difference in the play of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles from last season is like night and day.
On Thursday night, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles looked like a different quarterback as he calmly marched his team downfield on a 15-play opening drive that ended with the signal caller scoring on a 2-yard run.
It may have been the only series of downs for the fifth-year starter, but it was enough of a sample size for the more than 62,000 fans in TIAA Bank Field to see that Bortles is a different player than he was at this time last season.
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It also means the signal caller who helped lead Jacksonville to the playoffs and played his best football in the postseason hopes to continue on their upward path to becoming a franchise player.
Not only did the fans and the media in attendance see the difference, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone noticed it as well.
"“It is better [this year]. Last year at this time, I don’t know what it was. It was some type of, ‘Who is the quarterback? What is going on?’ I think he is playing well. It is the same thing,” Marrone told the media at his press conference prior to training camp practice on Saturday morning.“I think Blake would be the first one to tell you. There are a lot of things that he can improve upon and I think he is in a good place, but he still has a ways to go and that is why I think you have the preseason.”"
If last season’s Bortles could overcome adversity, wrestle away the starting job from Chad Henne and defy criticism from the national media, local fans, and even NFL players, this year’s quarterback could silence everyone with a berth in Super Bowl 53.
"“Bortles completed 6 of 9 passes for 53 yards and scored on a short bootleg in Jacksonville’s 24-20 loss to New Orleans in the exhibition opener for both teams,” wrote Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com."
Once again, Bortles looked more mature as he took command of the huddle and played the first series against the Saints’ first-team defense. Mixing up the passing game with the legs of Leonard Fournette is something opponents will have to get used to this season once again.
It’s a formula that worked quite well in 2017.
Bortles has said on multiple occasions this offseason the Jaguars won’t sneak up on anyone this season. Winning the AFC South title and then advancing to the AFC Championship game puts a bullseye on their backs with 13 other teams taking aim at them on the 2018 schedule.
While Jacksonville held 10 players out of the game for various reasons, Bortles took the opportunity to show he is an improved player, one that teams should be aware of this season.
Now, as Marrone explained, the team moves forward and gets ready for its first road test of the preseason against the Minnesota Vikings – a team with one of the best defenses in the NFL from last season.
"“We are playing against the number one defense in the NFL, practicing against them and then playing against them. I think that is going to be a great test for us,” said Marrone.“I think [Vikings Head] Coach [Mike] Zimmer and the defensive staff up there do an outstanding job. We will have a whole lot of challenges coming up this week. Good challenges.”"