What a difference 12 months had made in the NFL life of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.
Twelve months ago, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was at a crossroads in NFL career. A subpar training camp, highlighted by a five-interception performance and a lack of accuracy throwing the football forced head coach Doug Marrone to make a decision.
Chad Henne would quarterback the team as the starter in Week 3 of the preseason. It may have been the lowest point Bortles had fallen to as the Jaguars signal caller.
But from the depths of poor play, Bortles won the starting job for Week 1 of the regular season against the Houston Texans and went on to have one of his best seasons under center in Jacksonville.
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"“It feels good to not get benched this week,” Bortles said when he met the media on Wednesday via jaguars.com."
The hard work he put in last season, the constant jabs he took from the national media, and the determination he showed in having arguably his two best games of the 2017 campaign in the team’s last two playoff games.
This is where Bortles needs to be. Even with talk by national pundits about a trade involving Teddy Bridgewater, No. 5 continues to talk about the excitement he has for this coming season and playing with a locker room of guys who have unfinished business to take care of.
He knows exactly where he is now and where he was at this time last season.
"“If you don’t play good, they’re going to find somebody who can play,” Bortles said, adding that his focus now is on “just continuing to try to do whatever I can to help us as an offense move the ball, pick up yards, pick up first downs, score touchdowns, put up points and most importantly, take care of it and not turn it over.”"
The chemistry Bortles has developed not only with the offense and the new teammates but with the defense, a unit that constantly stood up for their leader, is more valuable than strength and skill at times. The cohesion of 53 players is what helped the Jaguars shock everyone last season and win the AFC South.
This year, it’s a different scenario. This is a team that on paper is better, which means they are expected to win and make another playoff run.
Bortles knows he must take what he did last season – only 13 interceptions, a career-low 24 sacks – and build on the winning formula. That formula also includes wrist surgery that has allowed him to throw a better football so far this offseason.
"“I think as long as I’m able to continue to do that in our offense, we’ll be in good shape,” he said."
Bortles did not look as sharp against the Minnesota Vikings as he did in Week 1 of the preseason with against the New Orleans Saints. This weekend at home against Atlanta is another opportunity to take a step forward, not fall back like he has done in past seasons.
This is considered the “dress rehearsal” for both teams where the starters will play as much as possible. Bortles hopes the first series against the Saints at home two weeks ago is the norm for this season, not the exception.
He completed 12 of 20 passes for 159 yards with an interception and no touchdowns against Minnesota, something he knows he must improve on this week and the weeks that follow if Jacksonville is to remain an elite team in the AFC.
"“I think we did some good stuff,” Bortles said of the Vikings game. “The first series was slow. The second series we obviously threw the pick, but then we bounced back. Playing a good defense, we went down the field and scored. I thought that was good, being able to bounce back from that as a team and overcame that adversity.”"