Blake Bortles could make the Jacksonville Jaguars significant to pigskin lovers in the Cayman Islands.
After a good career at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Bortles went upstate after being selected by the Jaguars with the third pick in last week’s NFL Draft. His journey to being a star Floridian quarterback, with the celebrity to match Tim Tebow, will be a long one as the Jaguars intend to use the Oviedo native as a backup to incumbent veteran Chad Henne. To his credit, Bortles is ready to develop at Jacksonville’s pace.
“Obviously I have things I need to work on,” Bortles said. “I’ve never looked at an NFL playbook, so there’s going to be challenges that I’m going to have to overcome, but I can’t wait to get there and work to be the best I can be and start competing.”
Cayman has a deep-rooted love for American football and its Floridian teams, namely the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bortles represents a chance for the Jaguars to be a relevant name among fans here. Indeed, showcasing a prominent athlete from the Sunshine State might be the impetus needed to expand Jacksonville’s fan base outside of Florida.
On the field, Bortles can intrigue fans with the physical tools – such as more conventional throwing mechanics – to surpass Tebow. Bortles, listed at 6-foot, 5-inches, has the size and mobility to match Tebow, along with respectable numbers during his three-year college career with the Knights. The highlight was his junior year when he completed 68 percent of his passes last season for 3,581 yards, with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 272 yards and six scores.
An interesting difference, though, is that Tebow came into the pro ranks as a legend in Florida with a pair of collegiate national championships to his name and followed that up with a stretch of success with the Denver Broncos that translated into a playoff victory. After a regrettable tenure with the New York Jets and a forgettable stint with the New England Patriots, Tebow’s long-term NFL prospects are bleak at best. Bortles only commanded national attention last year by winning a bowl game, albeit in dramatic circumstances, and comes to a 4-12 Jaguars team that has not made the playoffs since 2007.
Off the field, it remains to be seen if Bortles will become the magnetic personality that invites heavy media coverage and a phenomenon like Tebowmania. Then again, an athlete like Tebow – with his polarizing Christian values and controversial level of celebrity – may never come around again.
From the Jaguars’s point of view, Bortles offers a chance to get it right in terms of drafting a quarterback. Jacksonville threw first-round picks Byron Leftwich (2003) and Blaine Gabbert (2011) onto the field in the first month of their rookie seasons. The result was both players were largely unimpressive and eventually cut before their rookie contracts expired.
Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell says the mindset is to allow Bortles to grow into his position.
“There are no major hurdles,” Caldwell said. “Everyone says he has such a high ceiling. He does, but we feel like he’s got a low floor, too. He’s a down-to-earth guy, a self-made guy, a blue collar guy and he wants to be the best he can be. He just needs a little bit of time. This is not a quick journey. It’s a marathon. We want to build for the long term.
“It’s such an important position in this league, and you want to do it right. We can’t just throw him out there. We’ve seen what happens when that happens. We’re going to work to make this work, and I know he’s going to work to make it work. The kid’s got an incredible work ethic.”
Bortles also represents a second chance for Jacksonville to feature a relatively homegrown talent at the star position. The Jaguars passed on drafting Tebow, who actually grew up in Jacksonville, in 2010 and missed opportunities to acquire him after his time in Denver.
In grabbing Bortles, the Jaguars defied conventional thinking by passing on celebrated hurler Johnny Manziel – who ended up with the Cleveland Browns, receiver Sammy Watkins – who went to the Buffalo Bills and linebacker Khalil Mack, who was picked by the Oakland Raiders. Interestingly, the first pick in this year’s draft was defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was chosen by the Houston Texans.
Caldwell says while Manziel’s talent is unquestionable, he was not the best fit for North Florida.
“Johnny’s a heck of a football player. Johnny’s game isn’t going to change a lot from Year 1 to Year 2. We felt Blake has some development from Year 1 to Year 2. This first year is going to be critical for him to develop. With Johnny, he’s always going to be Johnny. He’s going to be electric, he’s going to be dynamic, he’s a great player. But for our system and what we want to do offensively, we felt like Blake was the best fit.”