Jaguars' Bortles honing mechanics, throwing tighter spirals
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) There's one noticeable difference with Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles this year: He's throwing prettier passes.
Fewer ducks. Fewer wobblers. Fewer balls that make coaches cringe.
''I've got to continue to work on it, continue improve it, but it's definitely night and day from this time last year,'' Bortles said Tuesday.
The third overall pick in the 2014 draft has spent most of the offseason working on his mechanics, first with throwing guru Tom House in California and then with new Jaguars coordinator Greg Olson during organized team activities.
It's a detailed and time-consuming process that essentially has Bortles trying to eliminate a decade of bad habits, which stem partly from his baseball playing days. In simple terms, he's trying to shorten his throwing motion and lengthen his follow-through.
No one really knows whether it will lead to more success in his second season. But it could.
It certainly has Bortles feeling better about things, even though he's learning a new offense for the second consecutive year.
''He's embraced the change,'' Olson said. ''He's been excellent, both in the classroom and his work ethic out on the field. It wasn't an ideal situation, but like I said, he's picking things up well and we're really excited about him, where he's at.''
Although the Jaguars expect the changes to result in more accurate passes, tighter spirals also tend to be easier to catch.
''You can definitely tell he went back home and sharpened up,'' tight end Marcedes Lewis said. ''That's really good to see from a guy getting drafted where he did and coming into his second year.''
Bortles completed just 59 percent of his passes last season for 2,908 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also was sacked a whopping 55 times.
His mechanics were a problem throughout the season, but there was no time to change them. The only real way to alter his throwing motion is through repetition - basically revamping muscle memory.
With Bortles, there was plenty wrong. His footwork was sloppy. He dropped his throwing arm, creating an elongated release. And his follow-through included an across-the-body finish that was better fit for a right-handed pitcher than a starting quarterback.
House helped with the footwork. Olson really clamped down on the throwing motion, insisting that Bortles get the ball up and away from his helmet, roll it off his index finger during release and then follow-through so much that his thumb nearly hit his groin.
''It's hard when you try and change stuff like that,'' Bortles said. ''It's something I've been doing since I was 12 years old, so it's definitely been developing a bad habit. It's something you've got to think about. Right now, I'm in the stage of doing as much as possible so I don't have to think about it anymore.''
Bortles still catches himself reverting to his old ways every now and then, feeling it on the field and then seeing it on tape.
''You go to team (drills) and you start thinking about other things - schemes and coverages and reads and stuff like that,'' he said. ''It's definitely something I've got to continue to work on.''
There's time. After a mandatory, three-day minicamp next week, Bortles plans to travel back to California for a week to meet with House and work more on his mechanics before training camp.
''It's not, `OK, let's change this and this,''' coach Gus Bradley said. ''They kind of let him figure it out for himself. I like it because it's been done with poise. Sometimes those coaches get out there and think they've got to fix it in a day, and it hasn't been like that.
''It's been little bits and pieces, and because of that, Blake has more ownership in it. He's not there yet, but we've just seen really good improvement.''
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