JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The term ”million-dollar arm,” if it applied before to Blake Bortles, seemed woefully inadequate as of Wednesday morning.
The first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the third player chosen overall in the NFL draft last month signed a four-year contract with an estimated worth of $20.6 million, including a signing bonus of more than $13 million. In keeping with his low-key personality, the money and signing was not a big deal to the quarterback and star of UCF’s Fiesta Bowl-winning team last season.
”In my mind, it was over with when I was drafted,” Bortles said after the second of the three days of the Jaguars’ mandatory minicamp. ”I never thought about, ‘I need to sign. I can’t wait to sign. I need to hurry up to sign.’ It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, signing your first NFL contract. So that was something that’s cool and I’ll cherish forever. But it’s definitely in the past and forgotten about in my mind.”
Bortles was the third quarterback the Jaguars have drafted in the first round and highest drafted in franchise history. The Jaguars have said their intentions are to have him spend his rookie season learning while seventh-year veteran Chad Henne, the starter for most of 2013, continues to run the offense.
Almost as if to show how far the two-year starter at UCF needs to come along, Bortles admitted he was less than sharp on several of his throws to a group of receivers with far less build-up than him. With veteran Cecil Shorts III and second-round picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson all sidelined with lingering injuries, Bortles was working primarily with free-agent wideouts Chad Bumphis and Damian Copeland and tight end Marcel Jensen toward the end of the nearly two-hour session, which was open to the public.
”It wasn’t a great day,” he said. ”I thought there were things that I didn’t do very well, but that’s part of it. It’s not a two- or a three- or a four-week process. It’s a long process, a long journey. I need to keep learning, getting better and asking Chad questions. I definitely have a lot to improve and work on.”
One area where Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has seen Bortles progress is in picking up the knowledge and terminology of the team’s system.
”He’s able to speak the language more and more,” Fisch said. ”And the more he speaks it, the faster he’ll play.”
Before that happens, however, Bortles’ footwork and other fundamentals are being retooled under the watchful eye of Jaguars quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo.
”I’m working on a lot of things,” he said. ”I’m working on a lot of footwork stuff, so there’s things that I’m not doing well right now. But I’m not worrying about it because I’m trying to fix something else. It is a process. It’s something that me and Frank are working on that’s going to take a while. I’ll continue to improve and work hard.”
Those who regularly followed Bortles as he led the Knights to a 12-1 record and a bowl victory over Baylor might be surprised to see how frequently the Jaguars have him taking snaps directly under center instead of from the shotgun formation. The strength and improvisational abilities of the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder were on full display his junior year when he could survey the field from several yards behind the line of scrimmage before the snap.
”He’s always been comfortable under center, as far as I know,” Fisch said. ”He has never shown any hesitancy. As a matter of fact, I actually have to convince him to get in the gun — not because he doesn’t want to, but because I think he just feels like, ‘Oh, I’m supposed to go under center.’ And the NFL’s about a 65 percent gun league anyway.”
”Sometimes I come out and if I don’t hear ‘gun’ I assume I’m under center, and I’m fine with that,” Bortles said. ”So sometimes he does have to tell me to get back. Either or is fine.”
Bortles compiled a 22-5 record as a starter at UCF, throwing for 7,598 yards with 56 touchdowns and became only the second player in school history to produce multiple 3,000-yard passing seasons. He had been one of four first-round picks in the league who had yet to sign.
The Jaguars’ lone remaining unsigned selections are Lee and Robinson.
”We’ll see. Hopefully by training camp, those guys are taken care of, too,” coach Gus Bradley said.