JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After Thursday night, there are no guarantees that either Blake Bortles or Ricky Stanzi will take a snap at center for the Jacksonville Jaguars in a regular-season game this fall.
Beyond that, the two quarterbacks couldn’t be in more opposite situations heading into the visit by the Atlanta Falcons to conclude the preseason.
Bortles has played so well the past three weeks, mostly against defenses comprised of second-stringers, to renew speculation among those outside the Jaguars about how soon the third pick in this year’s NFL Draft might replace Chad Henne in the starting lineup. But ever since they signed Henne to a two-year contract in March, the Jaguars have projected him as their starter for 2014, with Bortles admitting "that was made clear from day one."
Stanzi’s status is considerably more muddled. While Bortles was preparing for UCF’s opener against Akron at this time a year ago, Stanzi was in the camp of the Kansas City Chiefs uncertain about his future. The Jaguars claimed him two days after the Chiefs placed him on waivers, but he wound up being inactive for their final nine games and never got on the field for them.
Both Stanzi and undrafted rookie Stephen Morris could use the game against the Falcons as a chance to prove they can stick around when the Jaguars reduce their roster from 75 players to the league-mandated 53 by Saturday afternoon.
"As much as you can, you just focus on the most important part," said Stanzi, who was intercepted twice last week at Detroit after replacing Bortles late in the third quarter. "And what’s the most important part is just going out there and playing, and playing well, playing loose. If you can just focus on those things and not really worry about the other stuff that is really out of your control anyway, then I think you should be fine."
It’s unlikely Henne will come anywhere close to taking the same number of snaps he did against the Lions (26). While Jaguars fans are bound to pay rapt attention to Bortles for however long coach Gus Bradley decides to keep him in the game, a second half with Stanzi and Morris taking turns running the offense should be expected.
The two have combined to complete 13 of 20 passes for 98 yards, with Morris accounting for the only touchdown drive during the fourth quarter of the preseason opener against Tampa Bay. Stanzi said he and Morris haven’t spoken about their situation, which he claims is no different from what is taking place with players at other positions.
"It’s a conversation that doesn’t need to be had," he said. "So it’s a thing that’s kind of understood. And you go out there, and you just perform and you root your teammates on. You have to be a good teammate first. That’s the most important thing."
Bortles has attempted and completed more passes for more yards than Henne as the Jaguars have gone 1-2. Each has thrown for a score and has yet to be picked off.
"I kind of came in with no expectations and was kind of like a sponge," Bortles said. "I just wanted to learn and absorb as much as possible. Being able to do that and being able to learn and ask questions and try and retain as much as possible is what I’ve tried to do and is what I’ve done. I know a thousand times more now than I did two months ago."
As for what lies ahead for Bortles, Bradley said: "I haven’t talked to him about it. I just say, ‘Hey, you continue to prepare. You’re a play away. You’ve got to have a mindset like that. Just keep working and sitting in those meeting and take good notes.’ "
"I don’t really think about it like that," Bortles said of him possibly not getting into a game for the next 17 weeks. "I think about each and every day as an opportunity to go get better, to go improve. If it’s taking scout-team (reps) against our defense, going to work against our number one defense, it’s just as good as playing in a game. I’ve been thinking about it like that."
Three undrafted rookies made the Jaguars a year ago — outside linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, defensive tackle Abry Jones and long snapper Carson Tinker. Wide receiver Allen Hurns seems a cinch to survive this week’s cuts, while cornerback Rashaad Reynolds and tight end D.J. Tialavea stand a decent chance of beating the odds.
Mike Brewster made the team in 2012 after being bypassed in the draft but is now one of three players splitting time between center and right guard. One of them, Jacques McClendon, will likely start at left guard against the Falcons because Zane Beadles won’t play because of a calf contusion.
Brewster said his confidence was unshaken by two bad snaps to Henne against the Bucs and is not concerned about the next 48 hours or so.
"In this day and age, when you have Twitter and newspapers and everything on line … I’m not going to lie: I don’t read it," he said. "And that’s the best thing you can do, especially the young guys. They want to see their name in the paper, and then they want to read it. Then they’re going to read it and they’re not going to like what it says and they’re going to use it as fuel. But really it’s going to be in their subconscious. So just don’t read it at all. Just block all that other stuff out. Just go out and play. That’s it."