JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blake Bortles has proven in two preseason games that he can successfully direct a second-team offense against a second-team defense.
Now it’s time for him to take it up a notch.
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said Friday that the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL Draft will get some work in practice next week with the probable starters for the first time and play "a quarter or something" with that unit at Detroit. But he stressed that Bortles hasn’t seen many different looks from opposing defenses and that veteran Chad Henne remains firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback ahead of the rookie from UCF.
"Our whole philosophy is to get our rookies in with the (starters)," Bradley said. "We’ve got to get that done this week, where we get Blake with the (starters) this week to see just how he handles it."
The Jaguars started two rookies at wide receiver Thursday night against the Chicago Bears, including the undrafted Allen Hurns. And Bradley made it sound as if third-round pick Brandon Linder is a lock to open the regular season next month as a starter on the offensive line at either right guard or center.
But Bortles, who received a signing bonus of more than $13 million in the contract he got from the Jaguars in June, has been brought along at a much slower pace. Although he didn’t not lead the offense to a touchdown in the 20-19 loss to the Bears or the 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the week before, he has completed 18 of 28 passes for 277 yards with no interceptions.
Bortles’ 160 yards against the Bears were somewhat skewed because of a 45-yard completion to Hurns on the final play of the first half while the defense was guarding against a desperation pass to the end zone. But he guided the offense to a field goal in the second quarter on his first series and again in the third quarter when the Jaguars got the ball following an interception by free safety Josh Evans.
Henne led the offense to two field goals and a touchdown in the first quarter and will again be the starter against the Lions.
"The team is really responding to both of them really well," Bradley said. "But I just think where Chad is at right now and where our team is at, that’s the best thing for us right now. And we’re seeing great improvement by Blake because of it."
After an ineffective opening week, Henne went 12 of 17 for 130 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Marqise Lee. The second-round pick out of USC also caught a pass for a 10-yard gain on the opening drive when the Jaguars were facing the possibility of a three-and-out situation.
"It just felt like the confidence grew from that point," Bradley said.
Bortles was the first quarterback taken in the draft and the first the Jaguars have taken so early in the first round in their 20-year history. With Johnny Manziel already working with the first team with the Cleveland Browns, fans and analysts from Jacksonville and beyond have wondered why the Jaguars — whose combined record the past two years is 6-26 — don’t plan on making Bortles a starter any sooner than 2015.
"There’s going to be some time where we have to take a look at this and see the direction we’re going," Bradley said. "But right now, that’s not even a question in our mind."
Henne is in his third year with the Jaguars and second under offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, whose uptempo style met with mixed results last season because of frequent changes in personnel who were not familiar with the system.
"When we have some tempo in our game and can put it in there, I think it helps us," Bradley said. "And (Henne) managed and handled it really well. That was the Chad we’ve seen in OTAs and training camp."
Lee had four catches against the Bears. But Allen Robinson, the Jaguars’ other wide receiver taken in the second round, will miss his third preseason game in a row with a lingering hamstring injury. That could mean Hurns will start again, although veteran Cecil Shorts III is expected to practice Sunday for the first time since his hamstring flared up on the first day of training camp.
Shorts had a team-leading and career-high 66 receptions last season.
"Will (Hurns) he be a starter? Probably not," Bradley said. "But if we had an injury, we would feel confident. We understand what Allen Hurns is all about. He should be able to step in and play."