When Blake Bortles enrolled at Central Florida, head football coach George O’Leary didn’t know that he had an NFL-quarterback-in-the-making. In fact, he wasn’t sure that he even had a quarterback to begin with.
As a high school junior, Bortles, who attended nearby Oviedo High, went to a UCF camp, and he was not the drop-back passer he is today. Actually, he ran the wing-T at Oviedo.
“The quarterbacks don’t get a lot of exposure in that,” O’Leary explained on The Damon Amendolara Show. “We saw a lot of talent in him. I’ll tell you how talented the coaches are. I remember saying, ‘Hey, if he can’t play quarterback, he can play tight end.’ So we offered him a scholarship. When he showed up, he never left the quarterback position.”
That was fine with O’Leary. Last year, Bortles led the Knights to a 13-1 record – their only loss coming by three points to Jadeveon Clowney and No. 12 South Carolina – and a 52-42 win over No. 6 Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
“Some guys have that ‘it’ factor,” O’Leary said. “(Bortles) has that. He’s sort of a gym rat. He’s always watching film. He’s a good kid. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with him in the draft.”
What happens could be anywhere from the first overall pick to somewhere in the top 10. Bortles – at 6-5, 232 – has been compared favorably to Ben Roethlisberger, who is 6-5, 241.
“I think they’re about the same size coming out, and they do basically a lot of the same things,” O’Leary said. “But I think the biggest thing with Blake, we did it the right way. We tested the waters with the advisory committee with the NFL, and having been in the NFL myself, I had an opportunity to get a hold of some GMs and coaches and what they think because they had seen film on him. He made the right decision in coming out. A lot of these juniors don’t, but he did.”
Bortles completed 67.8 percent of his passes last season for 3,581 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 272 yards and six scores.
“He has size, he has the arm strength and I think he had a great pro day,” O’Leary said. “Pretty much all 32 teams were here with him. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but Ben is probably the best comparison looking at size and what he can accomplish with the ball. They can avoid the rush, they can hold a play, delay a play and let some guys get open and make a play in bad situations. It’ll be interesting.”
“The NFL’s a different ball of wax, though,” O’Leary continued. “It really is. As far as the timing, the window you have to throw – it’s the reason that most guys go in there as understudies and it takes a year or two to learn a system. Very few franchise guys come out right away.”
O’Leary feels Bortles’ size will be a valuable asset at the next level.
“If you look at the guys who have really made a living in the NFL at quarterback, they all have some stature to them, some size to them,” O’Leary said. “If they don’t have it, then you go to play-action and get them on the move a little bit more and stuff of that sort. But for the pure drop-back game, you want some range that you can see downfield when the windows open up and then deliver on time. I think Blake has all those. I think wherever he goes and whoever gets him will have a great talent to work with in the future in the NFL.”