JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With the whirring of construction equipment at EverBank Field in the background, the on-the-field building process of Blake Bortles began in earnest Friday when the Jacksonville Jaguars opened their rookie minicamp.
But in one respect, it was as if the quarterback who was the third overall pick last week in the NFL draft never left UCF. That’s because Storm Johnson, who ran for 1,139 yards and scored 14 touchdowns last season for the Knights, was lined up alongside Bortles during several drills over the course of the two-hour practice in helmets and shoulder pads.
"I look next to me and see the same face I’ve been seeing for the last three years," Bortles said. "He’s been awesome. He’s learning as much as possible, and he’s trying to get better and work on things. We’re learning a new offense, so there’s going to be challenges and difficulties. But we’re working on it."
Not surprisingly, Bortles and Johnson — the only two players drafted from a team that went 12-1 last year capped by a victory in the Fiesta Bowl — were assigned as roommates.
"It’s a great experience to have somebody that’s been through it with you, is going through it with you, and helping you along the way," said Johnson, a seventh-round pick who was the last of nine players chosen by the Jaguars.
Thanks in large part to the interest generated by drafting the two of them from a school located around a two-hour drive away, a crowd of more than 2,000 showed up on an unseasonably mild afternoon to watch a group of about 50 players consisting largely of undrafted rookies and free agents.
To say some fans were excited at times would be an understatement. When Johnson burst through a hole after taking a simple handoff from Bortles, it elicited a disproportionately enthusiastic reaction.
"The fans were unbelievable," said Bortles, who took the majority of the snaps with the rest going to Stephen Morris from the University of Miami. "I’ve never seen so many people at practice before. So it was a lot of fun. The atmosphere was great."
"It was overwhelming in some parts because this is what I’ve been wanting all my life," Johnson said. "It was just a great experience."
The loudest cheers might have come when Bortles completed a pass across the middle to Marqise Lee, one of two wide receivers taken by the Jaguars in the second round. Unofficial tabulations had Bortles finishing with 11 completions in 14 attempts in 11-on-11 drills, with one of his three incompletions being a dropped ball.
Coach Gus Bradley said Bortles will need to work on using his lower body more on throws. But even before Bortles stepped on the field, Bradley was impressed with how the rookie handled himself in meetings with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo, and incumbent starter Chad Henne.
"He’s sitting in the front row, taking meticulous meeting notes, competing, asking questions, texting Jedd and Frank," Bradley said. "All those things that you hoped, we’re seeing it."
"I enjoy sitting in the quarterback room and learning as much as possible, listening to Chad talk," said Bortles, whom the Jaguars intend to groom as Henne’s backup for the 2014 season. "I’ve learned a great amount from him in the four days that I’ve been here."
Johnson was the only running back drafted by the Jaguars, who let Maurice Jones-Drew leave as a free agent to the Oakland Raiders after signing Toby Gerhart.
"It looks like I’ll have to do more blocking than running," said Johnson, who transferred to UCF from the University of Miami after carrying the ball only nine times as a freshman. "But I’m just going to do what I have to do. I’m going to get better every day."
"He’s a pretty exciting player, pretty talented, fits right in," Bradley said. "I think the learning curve for him is quicker than most because he did have some time with Jedd at the University of Miami. So that helped."
It also doesn’t hurt to have Bortles around.
"Oh, man, that’s a great feeling," Johnson said. "Just having the same quarterback, having the same thrower, the same person guiding you — it’s a wonderful experience."