UCF’s Blake Bortles keeps poise with solid pro day performance
ORLANDO, Fla. — With numerous NFL scouts, coaches and general managers watching his every move and throw Wednesday, it was a challenge at times for UCF quarterback Blake Bortles to maintain the poise for which he became well-known last fall.
But the player who is being mentioned as a possible top overall draft pick May 8 thought he made a pretty convincing case for himself with his showing at the Knights’ pro day. Bortles threw a variety of passes during a 30-minute session scripted by Jordan Palmer, who had been working with him in San Diego within a matter of days after UCF’s victory in the Fiesta Bowl in early January.
Some of his former teammates were used as receivers while others broke into occasional cheering along the sidelines following particularly impressive completions.
"I showed movement and that I fixed the footwork and kinds of things that were flaws on film," Bortles said. "Obviously, I had a couple of throws that I’d like to have back, but it’s going to happen when you throw 65, 70 balls. For the most part, I thought it went well and I did what I wanted to."
UCF coach George O’Leary said the time Bortles put in with Palmer, the brother of former No. 1 draft pick Carson Palmer and someone who was in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ training camp, has resulted in a more fluid delivery than what the native of nearby Oviedo showed during the best season in school history.
"You could see that he spent a month and half, two months really working on some of the things you need to work on to play at the next level," O’Leary said.
And after what was widely regarded as a mediocre showing by Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater during his school’s recent pro day, the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Bortles could vault past him in the eyes of talent evaluators and wind up going first to the Houston Texans or to the Jaguars at the No. 3 spot. Both teams are looking to add a young quarterback, and new Texans coach Bill O’Brien once coached with O’Leary.
"I know they have a great relationship," Bortles said. "But I’m sure that has zero (influence) on who the Texans are going to take."
Among those in attendance were Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, general manager Dave Caldwell and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. While Caldwell described the workout as "just kind of what you expected," Bradley was more glowing in his review of Bortles.
Bradley and Caldwell met Tuesday night with Bortles for around 90 minutes, and Caldwell could be seen during the workout picking O’Leary’s mind for details on the quarterback’s personality.
"It was a good drill setup," Bradley said. "He got all the movement passes, all the different throws that you ask him to make. And I thought he did a nice job with them."
Bortles’ mobility and knack for throwing on the run has never been in much question. Against Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, he ran for 93 yards and passed for 301 more while accounting for four touchdowns.
Bortles, Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M are widely viewed as the top three players at their position in the draft.
"I don’t worry about any of the stuff I can’t control," Bortles said. "I knew this was something on the list of things that I could control, and the last thing before that was the combine (in February)."
Dressed in a gray UCF T-shirt and black shorts, Bortles was generally on target with his mid-range throws, perhaps moreso to his right than his left. Palmer would occasionally toss plastic golf balls at his feet to try to get him to show his footwork in the pocket.
It was the long passes with which he struggled most, a case of him perhaps overcorrecting a tendency he had to underthrow receivers during the season.
"I was trying to aim it. I was trying to be perfect," Bortles said. "So I had the mindset of if I’m going to miss a deep ball, I’m going to throw it by him."
He said he will stay in the Orlando area for now and be available for additional workouts should any teams require another look at him. And the way in which his career is taking off remains a mystery to Bortles.
"It’s been different," he said. "It’s very surreal. But it hasn’t hit me. In my mind, I’m still a UCF football player walking around, just not involved with football practice anymore."
"He hasn’t taken the ‘me’ attitude, which is great for a kid," O’Leary said. "It shows the character and substance and what the kid’s about."