Which Blake Bortles will the Jacksonville Jaguars get this season?
Will it be the quarterback who threw for over 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2015? Will it be the signal caller who looked lost at times last season? The one who threw for just over 3,900 yards and 23 touchdowns this past season.
The Jaguars are starting over once again. I know it sounds like a broken record. There have been coaching changes and changes in management style. The Jags are rethinking just about everything you can think of over the past five years. But this time, things might be a little different. The only thing that will remain constant is the fact that people are going to question whether or not the team’s first round pick in the 2014 NFL draft is the person to lead this organization to the playoffs.
Eight days ago, Doug Marrone, the new head coach of the team, through his support behind his player. It was a bold move. With a new executive vice president in Tom Coughlin – a man who demands perfection – calling the shots. Blake Bortles knows he has to play better. This organization must decide whether they are fully invested in him, or will they seek someone to challenge him for his job. The list of free agent passers is bleak and the incoming quarterback class doesn’t have the star power (with the exception of Deshaun Watson) to take Bortles’ job from him.
“Obviously he’s our starting quarterback and you want to see those players go out there and perform to a winning level,” Marrone said at the NFL combine at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. “I think it’s not as complicated as how sometimes people want to make things out. We’re looking for the same thing out of our center, out of our receiver, out of our nose tackle, out of our linebackers.”
This isn’t an uncommon theme amongst NFL teams this year. Many veterans are changing organizations, rookies are being touted to return teams to the promised land, and fans are hoping the change will be for the better. Anyway, you look at it, this is a make or break season for Blake Bortles.
Coughlin was adamant about the fact this is a team that needs to play better – not just in terms of quarterback play, but in terms of overall production. There needs to be a reduction in turnovers. There needs to be better game management. And there needs to be a sense of urgency. None of that was felt during the Gus Bradley era. The toughness of the organization’s new leader must shine through and could light a fire under Bortles, which could mean this team finally sees a winning season.
Also playing into this equation, is the fact that the team must decide whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. There has not been any word yet as to which direction the team is leaning. Many have been some outspoken members of the media who think this is a no-brainer. The again there are others who would rather sit and wait and see what happens.
As a fan, as well as a writer, I have seen too much waiting and not enough success. The fan base has gotten restless. Years of promise, years of free-agent signings and years of pre-season hope have all failed. And when that happens, the head coach in the quarterback have been the ones to blame. This season, with a new head coach, and a potential refocused quarterback, Jacksonville might be one of the better offensive teams in the NFL. Two years ago, a much-improved Bortles, coupled with a potent group of wide receivers, finish tenth in the league in scoring. That kind of production this year would certainly put them in the race for a playoff berth.
Again, if this is going to happen, it all rests on the signal caller’s shoulders. And before the team heads to training camp and begins preseason football games, Jacksonville must decide whether it’s going to pick up Bortles’ option and let the kids play, or will it be this cloud of uncertainty that could become a distraction this season.
The ball is in Jacksonville’s court. Either they do or they don’t. There is nothing in between. The changes within the organization appear to be for the better. If they can get better quarterback play out of their starter, this becomes a non-issue. But until there is change the questions will continue to arise. Either the Jaguars or in completely on Blake Bortles, or they’re out.