JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is getting another chance to turn his career around — and seemingly without competition.
The Jaguars opted not to select a quarterback during the three-day NFL draft, a somewhat surprising decision considering Bortles’ continued struggles and the addition of Tom Coughlin as the team’s executive vice president of football operations. The 25-year-old Bortles returned to California last month to work on his mechanics, hoping to improve his accuracy and efficiency, and surely needs to refine his pre-snap reads and post-snap decisions.
“I think you guys know how we feel about Blake,” said general manager Dave Caldwell, who drafted Bortles with the third pick in 2014. “We’ve got a lot of new eyes on Blake from a new coaching staff and have gotten good feedback from those guys, guys that haven’t been around and who don’t have anything vested in the kid. We still think … he’s got a lot of room to improve.”
The Jaguars, who are league-worst 17-63 over the last five seasons, brought back Coughlin to oversee football decisions and hired Doug Marrone as the franchise’s fifth head coach. Both expressed support for Bortles, but they really showed their hand in the draft.
They drafted bruising LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick, chose massive Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson in the second round (No. 34) and added speedy yet troubled Oklahoma receiver Dede Westbrook in the fourth (No. 110).
Fournette was one of the most talented backs in college football the last three years, running for 3,830 yards and 40 touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards a carry. Robinson was the 2016 Outland Trophy recipient as the nation’s best lineman. Westbrook, who caught 80 passes for 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, was a Heisman Trophy finalist and the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top receiver.
Westbrook slipped because of his baggage. And despite the Jaguars’ history of dealing with troubled receivers — Jimmy Smith, R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones and Justin Blackmon spent time in the NFL’s substance-abuse program — they took a chance on a guy with big-play ability.
Westbrook was twice accused of domestic violence by the mother of two of his children, before he transferred to Oklahoma from Blinn Community College. The district attorney’s office rejected the first charge in 2012 and dropped the second one in 2013 because prosecutors could not locate the state’s witness.
Westbrook was arrested a third time last May on a charge of criminal trespassing.
“I felt like my past, I’ve grown up and I’ve learned a lot from it,” Westbrook said. “It made me a lot wiser and made me think things over, so every situation I go about, I think it through twice or three times and get someone else’s opinion and make sure it’s correct all the way around. For Jacksonville, I thank them for believing in me and I’m going to do everything that I possibly could to help this organization win.”
Caldwell said Westbrook will be on a short leash.
“It has to be behind him,” Caldwell said. “There’s no choice now. Obviously with Coach Marrone and Coach Coughlin here there’s no margin for error for him off the field. … I think we have done our due diligence enough to realize that is behind him and that, like we said, all of those charges were dropped.
“I think we all have been accused of things, not all of us, but many of us have been accused of things. We don’t take it lightly. Obviously it is a serious issue, and we just feel like at this point in time to give the kid a chance to make it right.”
And help Bortles, who threw for 3,905 yards, with 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, in his third season. It was a step back after throwing for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2015. He has been sacked a whopping 140 times in three years and has the most turnovers (63) of any player during that span.
“We need to do something about balance,” Coughlin said. “We need to do something about creating a better situation where the quarterback doesn’t have the entire game on his shoulders.”
Jacksonville’s other picks Saturday:
–Ohio linebacker Blair Brown (fifth round, No. 148 overall) will have a significant role on special teams while playing behind weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith.
–Minnesota cornerback Jalen Myrick (seventh round, No. 222 overall) covered the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds at the NFL combine. He returned kickoffs and punts in college, and the Jaguars hope he will be a special teams ace.
–Miami fullback Marquez Williams (seventh round, No. 240 overall) could end up paving the way for Fournette.