Make no mistake, it’s over. Blake Bortles’ time as the franchise quarterback has come to an end. Once the coaching staff decided to open up the competition to all comers, and journeyman Chad Henne was on equal footing as Bortles, the dream had been dashed.
It’s still possible Bortles plays well enough to win the job going into the opening week. You would hope a player at his physical peak (Bortles is 25) and was the third overall pick would be able to outshine an aging veteran (Henne is 32) that has enrolled in the Luke McCown School of Fading Career Backup.
But the fact that we’re here at all, where Bortles needs to be fighting for the job of quarterbacking a franchise coming off 3-13 is astounding. Two lethargic, uninspired efforts has led Doug Marrone to break glass in case of emergency. Bortles has looked like dog food, and the only chance to wake him up is to threaten his job.
There are many factors at work here, but let’s start with the obvious. Bortles hasn’t lived up to his hype. Coming off two terrific seasons at UCF, including leading the Knights to the Fiesta Bowl, Bortles looked the part of a franchise cornerstone. He had solid arm strength, a huge frame, impressive leadership, and had elevated a lower-tier program into the national consciousness. Hailing from the Orlando area, the Jaguars fell in love with what seemed a natural fit. A young team hitching its ride to a young quarterback, one that grew up just a few hours away.
But Bortles has been remarkably inaccurate since arriving in the league, and has shown putrid security with the football. Blake owns one of the craziest modern stats in football: he has thrown as many pick-sixes as he has wins (11). Bortles has plenty of talent around him to throw to, but every week seems to be the same set of problems. And now the Jags have hit their tipping point.
The boiling over of this dissolving relationship has occurred earlier than it should have heading into the third preseason game. This is the type of wakeup call that may have taken place after a rough first six weeks. But the new regime (Marrone and Tom Coughlin) inherited their flawed quarterback. And for a pair of old souls who still believe in winning football games with smarts and toughness, chucking the ball to the other team and being indifferent when you do won’t fly. Bortles appears to be the type of guy who shows up to the airport 15 minutes before his flight and just shrugs his shoulders figuring there’s a lot of planes he can get on.
Marrone has done Bortles no favor through the public lens, putting a target on his back from the earliest part of the summer. By publicly questioning his quarterback in the press, both fans and media have turned on Bortles. This has equated to teammates losing faith in him, and a negativity that has built upon itself.
The first mistake, though, wasn’t Marrone’s backing of the bus over Bortles in the media. It wasn’t even Blake’s nonchalant mediocrity. It was actually three years ago, starting him his rookie year when he wasn’t ready, which should act as a warning flare to staffs in Cleveland, Chicago, Houston and Kansas City.
Bortles was still a raw project taken out of the American Conference in need of major refinement and correct habits. But an impatient staff wanted to start building its young team, the owner wanted to shove his new golden boy out on Sundays, and no one thought of what it might do to Bortles.
He wasn’t ready. By Week 4 of his rookie season, Bortles was the starter, and the Jaguars lost and lost a lot. Gus Bradley was well-liked by his players but never held them accountable. Bortles’ early mistakes went unpunished. He had been taken third overall, the team wasn’t a contender anyway. The idea was to let him play through his callowness.
But it only led to a myriad of bad habits, including an unhealthy security that the job was his and never in doubt. Bortles didn’t fight to win the job, he was handed it. He didn’t earn the nod, he was pushed in there. He wasn’t rewarded for doing all the little things right. They just assumed he would end up learning those along the way. All of the factors a strict quarterback coach would stress (accuracy, ball security, decision-making) were an afterthought. It was accepted the team was young, Bortles was raw, mistakes would be made.
Except just throwing a quarterback to the wolves as a rookie doesn’t work for everyone. It can break lesser signal-callers. There’s an idea that if you throw someone into the deep end of the pool, they’ll either sink or swim. But what if you haven’t taught that person how to swim?
DeShone Kizer, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Mitch Trubisky have all shown flashes of success this preseason. But their coaches should heed the warning sign in Jacksonville before these young QBs are tossed into the trash compactor known as the NFL. The league can make you, or it can break you, and Blake Bortles is now broken.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.