Blake Bortles makes debut with Jaguars during spring training
Former University of Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles has officially suited up as a Jacksonville Jaguar and FOX 35 was there for the first day of a two-day rookie minicamp held on Friday, May 16 and Saturday, May 17 at the Florida Blue Health & Wellness Practice Fields adjacent to EverBank Field.
Jacksonville surprisingly chose the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Bortles with the third overall pick during the NFL Draft, pointing to his competitiveness and toughness as what stood out during the draft process. Bortles did anything and everything asked of him at the NFL combine in February and was equally impressive on tape and in meetings.
"Just his stature," coach Gus Bradley said. "It gives him a chance to take some hits."
Bortles grew up playing tight end, fullback and linebacker in nearby Orlando because he "enjoyed contact." He reluctantly switched to quarterback in high school, but carried "a little edge" with him to his new position. He flourished at UCF, throwing 50 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions as a two-year starter. He also ran for 557 yards and 14 scores.
"It gives you a little edge," said Bortles, who never missed time because of injury despite being sacked 51 times in three years at UCF. "It's not (just) being physical and running into people. It's having an attitude and competitiveness to you. When it's third-and-whatever and you're at the sticks, instead of running out of bounds, run into somebody and get a first down or a touchdown."
The Jaguars gave up 100 sacks the last two years, and although Bortles won't be thrown in as a starter, they felt it was important to have someone who could take a hit if needed.
Former Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert failed to stay healthy in three seasons. He missed time with a shoulder injury, a forearm injury, a broken thumb, a sliced-open hand, a strained hamstring and a sprained ankle.
The Jaguars traded Gabbert to San Francisco in March in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick. They also re-signed Chad Henne and named him the starter.
Caldwell and Bradley insist Henne will remain the starter while Bortles makes the transition from a spread offense to a pro-style system. It could take months or even a year.
"If you have the right mindset about it, I think you'll be all right," Bortles said. "You're going to practice and prepare and study like you're the starter whether you're the second, third or fourth. That is the mindset I'll have."
Jacksonville also realizes its offensive line is a work in progress. Caldwell and Bradley want the line to be in better shape when Bortles does take over.
"The great thing about Blake is his athleticism and his ability to keep plays alive," said Caldwell, who also worked with big quarterbacks in Peyton Manning (Indianapolis) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta). "Everyone's like, 'We want an athletic quarterback like Russell Wilson or whoever it might be.'
"Well, he can do a lot of those things, too. Maybe not to that level, but he has really good pocket presence and can keep plays alive with his feet and still be able to throw."
Saturday's practice is free and will be open to the public, subject to possible schedule changes due to weather conditions. Fans must register for a ticket at www.jaguars.com/register.