We’ve experienced some awful offense from the Jacksonville Jaguars in recent years. As much as locals kvetched about the Byron Leftwich and David Garrard eras, their reasonably average quarterbacking (which seemed somehow so inexcusable in the wake of Mark Brunell’s glory years) was poor preparation indeed for the Gabbert era.
The one moment that defined the Gabbert era for me? A nondescript play in a game against the Texans. Down 14-7, Gabbert took the snap, made a read or two, tucked, ran, got hit out of bounds, and then the immortal “Whoa There [Expletive Deleted.]”
That moment pretty much said it all. The man was out of his depth as an NFL quarterback. He looked worse on many other plays. But it had never been summed up so well.
I thought about Blaine last week when watching Cleveland take on Buffalo in another preseason game. The offenses were beyond bad. There were moments in that game when it looked like both offensive coordinators were drunk kids playing Madden. Either the routes weren’t being run, or the quarterbacks weren’t making reads, because instead of blocking, two or three linemen thought they were waiting for the quarterback to count to Five Mississippi.
The Jaguars will never be that bad again. Not during the Bortles era. This was a welcome realization after Saturday night’s Jags/Giants preseason matchup. Blake Bortles may not be a “superstar” yet, to borrow a quote from Blake Bortles. But he isn’t bad.
Bortles’ final stat line looks more or less like that of many other quarterbacks: 8 for 16, 98 yards. He didn’t get it into the end zone. Yet he didn’t throw an interception.
“Pedestrian” stat line. However, unlike at many points last year, when his stats were boosted by statistical fourth-quarter padding during Garbage Time, Bortles actually earned those numbers against a competitive defense.
There was a lot to like, and two of those plays involved AR-15 (Allen Robinson), who is quickly becoming the kind of smart, well-rounded receiver that made Brunell look so good during the glory days.
A good barometer of how an offense is working is the play-action pass. In the first quarter, Bortles faked a handoff, which the Giants’ defensive front bit on, and hit Robinson for 21 yards.
A crisp, beautiful pass. A “chunk play.” The kind of thing that seemed absent from the station-to-station offense both last year (until the game was out of reach) and last week.
Bortles found Robinson for 36 yards off a wheel route in the second quarter, and I don’t want to sound unduly optimistic (like I got into the Charlotte’s Web or something), but the reality is this: If you have a receiver who’s good for one or two of those plays every quarter or so, you have an elite receiver.
An Antonio Brown-type difference-maker, who forces defenses to account for him. Robinson can create opportunities for Allen Hurns and, when applicable, Marquise Lee.
So far this preseason, we’re seeing Bortles working with a lot of last year’s cast. Julius Thomas was discussed in excruciating detail last week, and we hope he’ll be back and on point in Game 1 of the regular season. Rookie RB TJ Yeldon, meanwhile, still isn’t on the field.
During Bortles’ one-and-a-half quarters of play, the Jags came out with three or even four wideouts. This allowed Bortles to stretch the field and keep the defense on its heels. This had salutary effects, such as not overexposing the perpetually overmatched Luke Joeckel.
In a game when the starting quarterback on the other side of the field couldn’t seem to complete a pass to save his life, it was encouraging to see the Jags’ signal-caller look like the one with the most upside.
We’ve had a few rough years in Jacksonville, which have led to many locals souring against the franchise. People are still talking about Shad Khan’s scoreboard hustle, in part because his team hasn’t shown much on the field. This looks to be the year, perhaps, when Bortles shows real progress, carrying the rest of the offense with him. While the AFC South may not be theirs for the taking, the Jags might be able to at least put the Colts on notice.
Or am I too optimistic?