The initial sessions in California with personal coaches Tom House and Adam Dedeaux didn’t produce an over-night result for Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.
“The first week, it wasn’t pretty,” Bortles said before his charity golf tournament Sunday at the King & Bear. “It didn’t look good. Part of trying to change things is it won’t be great [right away]. But we were able to hash it out.”
Like he did before the 2015 season, Bortles has spent a large chunk of the off-season trying to equal parts hash out and improve his game under the tutelage of House and Dedeaux.
In 2015, Bortles threw a franchise-record 35 touchdowns. Last year, after Bortles’ workouts were mostly headquartered in Florida, his touchdown total dropped to 23.
As owner Shad Khan plotted the franchise’s new path in January – hiring Tom Coughlin to run the football operations, promoting coach Doug Marrone to coach and retaining offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett – Bortles headed west to the proverbial drawing board.
“I really enjoyed the time I’ve spent out there,” he said. “It’s really been beneficial. I feel really good about where I’m at mechanically and how the ball is spinning.”
Bortles said “probably everybody would guess,” the objective of his training.
“Tightening up the release. … Make it as quick as possible. … Never letting the wrist get below the elbow. … Keeping that parallel and not dropping down,” Bortles said.
A chief criticism of Bortles’ mechanics is dropping the ball well below the parallel plane – close to the hip – which delayed his release time. It put him at a huge disadvantage.
Because of those struggles, Bortles acknowledged 2017 is “huge,” for his career.
When the Jaguars re-convene next month, it will be Bortles’ second head coach and third playbook, coordinator/play-caller (Hackett) and quarterback coach (Scott Milanovich) apiece. And this is likely Bortles’ last opportunity to prove his worth. The Jaguars have until early May to decide on his fifth-year option; if they don’t pick it up and Bortles struggles this year, they’ll move on.
“I’m confident with what I’ve done this off-season and that I’ll be able to help this team be as good as we can possibly be,” he said. “Everything about the contract, that’s up to them. I look forward to playing football.”
It might sound crazy, but Bortles believes the way he ended last year served as a spring-board to his off-season work.
“I felt toward the end of the season, I was able to really find a good rhythm with [Hackett] and the way he was calling plays and what we were doing,” Bortles said. “There were some bone-headed plays, but I think they were significantly reduced and it will only continue to [go down this year].”
Bortles’ point is well taken. He threw only one interception in the last four games (132 attempts) and three times completed at least 60 percent of his passes.
But the big improvement came in the Bad Throw Dept. According to the Times-Union’s game charting, Bortles had only seven bad throws in the final four games (1.8 average) compared to 30 in the previous seven games (4.3 average).
Although Hackett has moved into the permanent coordinator seat, Bortles believes their relationship will help the transition to Hackett’s playbook.
“I had a relationship with him for two years and we spent a lot of time together and formed that chemistry,” Bortles said.
In addition to his own game, Bortles covered other topics:
*Bortles broke a little news during his media availability: The Jaguars will begin their off-season program April 10, which a team spokesperson confirmed.
Teams with new coaches are allowed to begin April 3, but the Jaguars were prohibited from the two-week head start because it promoted an interim coach (Marrone). The Jaguars appealed the rule and the league office met them in the middle and gave them an extra week of work.
* Bortles will travel to Arizona working with receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns and make a final trip to California to work with House and Dedeaux. Receiver Marqise Lee has been a part of Bortles’ California training sessions.
Among the quarterbacks training alongside Bortles are Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, the Rams’ Jared Goff, Chicago’s Mike Glennon and San Francisco’s Matt Barkley.
*Bortles’ foundation held a live auction Saturday night that raised nearly $100,000 and Sunday’s golf tournament attracted 150 participants. Bortles will also hold free football camps in Orlando (Saturday) and Jacksonville (June 10).
“The first year was one of these things, we didn’t really have a lot of an idea of what was going on – we just threw an event and have fun and enjoy it and raise as much money as possible,” Bortles said. “This year, we’ve had a lot of help and people doing a lot of different things to have it run smoother, be better and be more efficient. It continues to get better.”