When asked to think of a quarterback bust, it doesn’t take long. Like the Google algorithm that returns thousands of results instantaneously, the mind blurts out “JaMarcus Russell!” “Akili Smith!” “Tim Couch!” and on we go.
But there’s also “Blaine Gabbert!” which is why the Jacksonville Jaguars are understandably being cautious with Blake Bortles, their surprise third overall pick this past May. Repeatedly they’ve said that once meaningful football starts next month, Bortles will only sit, watch, and learn, soaking it all in for an entire season while Chad Henne acts as a bridge to the future.
It’s a plan that was reiterated this week after the Jaguars’ first preseason game, a win over Tampa when Bortles shined. He completed seven of his 11 pass attempts for 117 yards, a whooping per attempt rate of 10.6.
He was able to place the ball wherever he pleased in the intermediate-to-deep areas of the field, resulting in completions for 24 and 31 yards. Meanwhile, in the same game Chad Henne was still who he’s always been. Over four series he accumulated only 20 passing yards, and he fumbled twice.
It was a single preseason game and Bortles played against second teamers, a standard disclaimer for all August football. But eventually the caliber of the opposing defense will matter little if such a wide performance gap between Bortles and Henne continues for the rest of the month.
But those who make important decisions for the Jaguars say nope, it won’t. Like head coach Gus Bradley:
“Chad has done a nice job. I know that Chad has a body of work that he can really rely on. We’ve seen really good progress as far as his mentality and mindset from OTAs. We think that coupled with his experience and the way he’s performed to this point really puts him in that position. Blake has done some good things, but he’s missing kind of that body of work. We’re in the process of building that.”
That’s some quality side-stepping, coach.
The true test of both Bortles’ ability to start right away (or at least sometime in the near future, and not a year from now) and Bradley’s patience will be when the rookie gets first-team reps, which is coming soon. If he performs well then and continues to do so in preseason games too, the thought of sitting Henne down has to at least be entertained.
The Jaguars know they’re still rebuilding under general manager David Caldwell, and they have little desire to shatter the confidence of another rookie quarterback who’s still developing, and still learning a pro-style offense.
But again and again, those well-intentioned motivations are pitted against the need to, you know, win football games. That’s something the Jaguars have done only six times over the past two years. Though the slow play is ideal for some, coaches who keep losing usually don’t stick around to see the eventually polished franchise quarterback.
Smartly managed teams take the players who give them the best opportunity to win, and put them on the field each week. If Bortles clearly fits that description by the end of August (or the end of September, or October), he should start.
Sometimes the most obvious solution is still the best one.