JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Gus Bradley harbors no illusions that Blake Bortles will take over for Chad Henne as his starting quarterback anytime this season.
But what the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars liked the most Friday about their first-round draft pick from UCF on the first day of training camp practice was that Bortles showed no fear.
To illustrate his point, Bradley mentioned how Bortles was intercepted at one point during the two-hour workout on the practice fields outside EverBank Field. But instead of becoming less inclined to take a risk throwing the ball thereafter, Bortles found a receiver who was double-covered and completed a pass to him.
"That tells me something right there," Bradley said. "He has no fear of failure. And that’s a really cool sign for a quarterback."
Bortles, who was picked off only 16 times in 781 passing attempts during his two years as a starter for the Knights, described his training camp debut as "a solid first day" but admitted he made a few mistakes.
"This is the real deal," he said. "But we’re trying to take it one day at a time, playing on a bunch of one-day contracts, and continuing to raise the bar and get better. We want to come out here and be better than we were on the last day of minicamp. That’s what we tried to do today, and I think we did that."
"I think he’s gaining confidence," Bradley said. "It’s a learning process. I know he had one pass that he wasn’t pleased with and he had some bad body language. He was frustrated with it. And when we talk about ‘everything counts,’ everything counts — how a guy walks, how he talks, how he handles himself. Our players know they’re evaluated in all those areas."
Part of the reason for the unprecedented success UCF enjoyed with Bortles at quarterback was his ability to improvise with his arm and his legs. But he has been staying in the pocket for most of the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills during rookie minicamp, organized team activities and last month’s team minicamp with the Jaguars.
Henne worked Friday with the first-team offensive line and a group of receivers which included second-round draft pick Allen Robinson. Bortles took most of his snaps with the second-team unit, with the remaining reps going to fourth-year veteran Ricky Stanzi and undrafted rookie Stephen Morris.
"My goal every day this training camp and throughout the preseason is to try and get better each and every day and learn as much as I can from Chad and Ricky as well," Bortles said. "Both of those guys have been around a while. They’ve kind of learned the ropes. They know how to be a pro, how to take care of their body, how to prepare, how to study, all those things."
Rather than return home to the Orlando area, Bortles said he spent the past month in Jacksonville taking something of a break from football while trying to adjust to his new surroundings.
"I just kind of wanted to get in a routine, stay around things that are going to be familiar," he said. "And I knew I was going to be here for the next six months, so I wanted to get acclimated with everything."
Before the Jaguars open their preseason Aug. 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bortles hopes to be more comfortable with the adjustments to his passing technique. He said most of them are "just little tweaks here and there," such as not throwing to where a receiver is breaking on his route but to where he’ll eventually be.
But in a departure from the atmosphere of open competition which permeated Bradley’s first training camp as Jaguars coach, he again left no doubt when asked who the starter will be at quarterback barring injury.
"It’s Chad," Bradley said. "We feel good about him. We feel really good about him."
"As a competitor, you obviously want to play," Bortles said. "But I think it’s important to understand your role. And right now, I know what my role is and I know my job is to learn as much as possible from Chad, watch him take his reps and then try to remember that when I get my reps."
And though the temperature is bound to be hot throughout camp, Bortles would ideally not have any heat on himself to produce as soon as possible.
"The thing Gus talks about all the time is creating stress-free environments," he said. "Pressure is what you put on yourself and things you can’t control. I’m going to put a lot of pressure on myself in the categories of things I can control. But as far as anxiety and stress, there’s none of that."
With Ace Sanders not in camp after being placed on the active/non-football illness list following a four-game suspension handed down Wednesday by the NFL, Robinson was teamed with the Jaguars’ top receiver from last season, Cecil Shorts III. But Shorts had to sit out the end of practice because of tightness in his hamstring.
Bradley expressed displeasure at the number of penalties during practice but was happy with the effort put forth in front of a crowd which included members of the Fulham FC soccer club, which was purchased a year ago by Jaguars owner Shad Khan. Fulham will face DC United in a match Saturday as part of the activities at EverBank Field that includes the unveiling of more than $60 million in enhancements, including two enormous video boards.
"We’re not where we want to be by any means," Bradley said. "But I know we’re better than we were before. That’s a good thing."