One of the players fans and media members have been curious about at the start of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ training camp is quarterback Blake Bortles. Last season, Bortles made a number of mistakes as a rookie. The question is, how much will Bortles improve in his second season under center?
Last year, the initial plan was to start veteran Chad Henne at quarterback and to have Bortles, the third overall overall pick of the 2013 draft, watch from the bench. But Henne’s play was so bad that the coaching staff had no choice but to play Bortles sooner than the team would have liked.
In 2014, Bortles recorded 11 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions, but in his defense Jacksonville didn't provide him with much of a supporting cast. The Jaguars’ offensive line allowed 71 sacks, the most in the NFL.
So far in Bortles’ second training camp, Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley has liked the improvements he has seen in his young signal-caller.
"He’s always had poise and I think what you’re seeing now is with that poise he’s making good decisions," said Bradley. "When he knows what he’s supposed to do with the ball it just comes out; they’re tight, they’re accurate, so it was a good session for him.”
While leading receiver Cecil Shorts now plays for the Houston Texans, the Jaguars did sign former Denver Broncos Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas in free agency. Thomas will form a tag team with Marcedes Lewis at the tight end position, which will give Bortles two huge targets in the red zone.
The selection of running back T.J. Yeldon in the second round and wide receiver Rashad Greene in the fifth round also should help Bortles. Jacksonville’s running game finished 21st last season, as free agent disappointment Toby Gerhart rushed for only 326 yards and scored just two touchdowns in 14 games.
Last year at Alabama, Yeldon rushed for 979 yards and scored 11 times. Yeldon will give the Jaguars a back that can run the ball between the tackles and make defenders miss. He also should serve as a reliable target out of the backfield when Bortles needs a hot read.
Greene is a solid route runner who can catch the ball over the middle and near the sideline. While he won't be the team's first or second option, Greene will be an excellent complement to Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee in Jacksonville’s passing attack.
Along with the new skill position players, Bortles also got some much-needed help on the offensive line. Third-round pick A.J. Cann and a pair of free-agent acquisitions — center Stefen Wisniewski and tackle Jermey Parnell — will boost the Jaguars’ line.
With an improved line, new offensive coordinator Greg Olson should be able to use more of Bortles’ strengths such as his athleticism out of the pocket. Bortles averaged 10.4 yards per completion last season. That average should improve once the quarterback gets in sync with the rest of his offense.
"Yeah, you see it with the throws," said Bradley. "He scrambled, got out of it and took a chance. You’re seeing him do that. He’ll make some mistakes, but he’ll come back. We talked to them in the team meeting about discovering your skills both offensively and defensively, and they’ve got to find those things out in these practices.”
Should Jacksonville fans expect Bortles to emerge as a top-five NFL quarterback in 2015? Of course not. But working in Olson's new offense and with better personnel, Bortles should begin to show signs that he can at least become a quality starting signal-caller. It might not translate to a lot of in wins this season, but fans should begin to see how much Bortles has progressed from his rookie season to year two in the NFL.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.