No matter what Blake Bortles does this offseason, he’s not going to change perception.
He didn’t play well in 2016, and the Jacksonville Jaguars were even worse. His offensive coordinator was fired in October, his head coach let go two months later. His best receiver was grumpy most of the year, his offensive line was shaky at best and his running game was mostly nonexistent. In the end, Bortles was a primary scapegoat for one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
“You can think a lot about it,” Bortles said Tuesday as the Jaguars began organized team activities. “It’s that saying, like, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ Well, that’s our lately and that’s my lately, so until we get a chance to go play again in September and change that narrative, that’s who we are.
“We’ve got a long ways to go to fix that and change that, and it’s going to take place over the next couple months.”
It starts with Bortles, who is getting another chance to tweak his mechanics, play with a level of consistency and lead the Jaguars to, for starters, some respectability in the wide-open AFC South.
Bortles called the next month the most important of his career, probably an overstatement but certainly the right mindset to have before a make-or-break season that will determine whether he gets a $100 million contract or gets shown the door.
New coach Doug Marrone, top executive Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell have shown Bortles more support than he’s probably earned. The trio picked up the fifth-year option in Bortles’ rookie contract, a clause that could pay him nearly $20 million in 2018, and opted not to bring in any competition in free agency or the NFL draft.
“I think you could look at that as deep or as not deep as you want to and see all the subliminal messages and stuff like that,” Bortles said. “I wouldn’t have changed. If they took a kid with the first pick, I still would have been doing the same thing that I was doing today.”
Bortles spent more than two months working on his mechanics in California and hopes to carry those tweaks into training camp and the regular season. Footwork continues to be a problem area that leads to poor throwing habits and inaccuracy. Holding the ball too low became a trend for Bortles last year, too, when he completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,905 yards, with 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Fifteen of those picks came in the first 12 games of the season.
The Jaguars believe Bortles will be better with more help around him. That’s why they added running back Leonard Fournette, left tackle Cam Robinson and receiver Dede Westbrook in the NFL draft.
The new plan is to have Bortles throwing less than his average of 37 times a game.
“I just hope, obviously, consistency,” Marrone said. “I think that’s the one thing you see in everyone else and being able to get the ball out with everyone staying on rhythm, for lack of a better term.”
Bortles has lost some weight, dropping to 233 pounds, and appears to be in the best shape of his career. But what really matters is what he looks like when the season begins in September.
“Obviously, I believe I can do it,” he said. “I believe I can do it at this level and do it well, and I know that hasn’t always been the case. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost confidence in myself. It is important for those guys to have that belief in me or whoever is playing quarterback. That’s extremely important for guys to have that belief in their quarterback that everything’s going to get done properly and balls are going to be delivered in the right place and you’re going to get them in the right play and all that.
“That’s a never-ending battle of earning those guys’ trust and respect.”
And could change perception.