After listening to Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback after OTAs this week, you get the sense this is a team on the verge of something big.
The third-year signal caller made a huge leap from his rookie season to have one of the best years of any Jaguars player in the history of the franchise. His 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns will be hard to top.
But if this team finds itself in the playoff hunt come December, it means this offense and defense have taken off.
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Everything stops and starts with Bortles. If he moves, so does this team. If he falters, so does this team.
“He’s more ready to do everything,” quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett, in his second season as the Jaguars’ quarterbacks coach, said following OTA Day Eight practice Tuesday. “You’re going from Year One to Two; it’s night and day.
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“I think everything is, ‘How many ways can you stimulate him and how many ways can you push him every day?’ ’’
But there is a catch. There always is.
Progression won’t come easy and it won’t happen from the opening whistle of the 2016 season. For those who think this is a team ready to compete regularly with New England, Pittsburgh and Denver in the AFC, maybe they should slow their roll a bit.
This is still a franchise in progress. The coaches on this team are still wearing hard hats becomes this is a roster and organization still under construction. You don’t just build a winner in four months.
The walls of this building process are taking shape. New faces mean new possibilities. Adding solid players to the young offense and solid defensive players to a unit that was a disappointment last season shows this franchise is committed to getting better.
The Jaguars have talked about making changes to the offense to make it more productive. John Oehser’s story adds there is the idea of more no-huddle schemes that will allow Bortles to be Bortles. That means the team will play to his strengths as a passer and a leader.
“Anytime that you use the hurry-up, it’s always fun,” Hackett said.
“It’s always exciting. It puts pressure on the defense and it’s always good for a young quarterback to have to do that kind of stuff – to have to react to changes, react to situations and think faster. So anytime you can simulate that, it’s always good.”
Once again, there is a catch. Like I said, there always is.
It just won’t happen as quickly as everyone thinks. The fan base is ready for a winner, and much like the local pundits here in town, I think they will get an improved team. If the NFL is a league of teams based on their records, then Jacksonville is still a 5-11 franchise with plenty of room for improvement.
How much this team improves is based on plenty of variables, one of which is Bortles cutting down on costly interceptions and a ground game that has to be more productive.
The offensive line cannot allow the former UCF star to get sacked another 51 times like last season and force him to scramble out of the pocket, running for his life.
Jacksonville’s offense might have been a top 10 unit in 2015, but like everything else, it can still get better.