Future should be now for Blake Bortles and the Jaguars
Gus Bradley wasted no time after the Jaguars' 13-12 preseason loss to Detroit Friday in declaring Chad Henne his starting quarterback for Week 1. Such has been Bradley's plan all along, with Henne ahead of rookie Blake Bortles on the depth chart.
Is it still the right course of action?
Maybe. But it sure doesn't feel that way.
Even in upping Bortles' reps with the first-team offense this week, the Jaguars proceeded with caution, careful not to give the impression that their rookie QB had ascended the depth chart.
Henne played nearly the entire first half of Friday night's 13-12 loss in Detroit, finally stepping aside for Bortles with 1:43 left in the first half. Bortles promptly marched the Jaguars 79 yards, from their own 5 to the Lions' 16, with enough time still on the clock for Kasey Redfern to boot a field goal. By the end of the drive, after Bortles had moved the sticks with a pretty 28-yard toss to Allen Hurns and later a 30-yard dart to Marcedes Lewis (on 2nd-and-25 no less), the third-overall pick in this year's draft was projecting so much confidence that he attempted the old Dan Marino fake-spike/throw-to-the-end zone play.
He executed it so convincingly that the officials blew the play dead when Bortles pump faked the ball toward the turf.
It was not all perfect. Bortles should have been picked by Rashean Mathis once on the second-quarter drive, then narrowly avoided a safety via intentional grounding early in the third. All in all, though, Bortles continued to look the part of a quarterback for a rebuilding team that might be awfully competitive in 2014.
Most of the Jaguars' current first-team offense was on the field for both Henne and Bortles Friday night -- Cecil Shorts exited the contest before Bortles took the field, as did Marqise Lee, but the likes of RB Toby Gerhart and Lewis stuck around. More importantly, Bortles had multiple shots against Detroit's starting defense, following two preseason outings against Tampa Bay and Chicago's backup units.
Bortles closed his evening in the third quarter by rifling a touchdown pass to Allen Hurns (an undrafted rookie and arguably the most impressive Jacksonville player this entire preseason). All told, Bortles finished 10-of-16 for 156 yards and that TD; Henne was 9-of-14 for 71 yards, with one horrid incompletion on a third-and-short swing pass.
We'll have to wait and see if either Henne or Bortles take the field next Thursday against Atlanta, in Jacksonville's preseason finale, though it seems a safe bet at least Bortles will see some action. Apparently, nothing that happens vs. the Falcons will alter the Week 1 game plan.
While there may be some validity to the argument for easing a rookie QB into the lineup, enough first-year signal-callers have done the job in recent seasons to support a gamble here. Let's not forget that Jacksonville has a very young offensive nucleus in place, with Hurns looking ready to join fellow rookies Lee and Allen Robinson, 2013 No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel and 27-year-old RB Toby Gerhart in anchoring the future plans.
The earlier Bortles can develop a rapport with those players, the better for Jacksonville's hopes for 2014 and beyond.
A brief mea culpa here, too: Headed into the draft, I was of the belief that Bortles would need ample time to adjust his game to the NFL level. Instead, he has worked on an accelerated learning curve.
Henne is a known commodity at this point in his career. If the Jaguars want to stick with him into the regular season and let Bortles inch forward, Henne at least should be able to keep the train from flying off the tracks. Bortles offers the potential for more, however. Much more. There is no question he already has proven his worth as the Jaguars' franchise quarterback of the future. Through three preseason games he also has looked like their quarterback of the present.
When will Bradley and his coaching staff give him that chance?