Even after using the No. 3 overall draft pick on Blake Bortles — much to the surprise of nearly all respected pundits — the Jacksonville Jaguars stood firmly behind incumbent starting quarterback Chad Henne.
“We really felt comfortable with (Chad Henne) coming back,” Jaguars coach Bradley said on May 20. “And we do feel good about where Blake’s at, but we feel like this time that he has under Chad, a year to develop, will be really good in the end result.”
Even after Bortles shined throughout the offseason, demonstrating a solid grasp of the offense in minicamp and OTAs, the Jags’ support of Henne only increased.
“I think it’s been out there that our beliefs and our feelings is that we feel so strongly about Chad and he’s going in, I think the team has really rallied around that,” Bradley said on June 25, from the NFL Rookie Symposium.
Even after Bortles arguably outplayed Henne in training camp and preseason, Bradley downplayed a potential quarterback controversy, saying only that Bortles will get a few reps with the first-team offense.
What Bradley doesn’t want to admit is that Bortles deserves much more than first-team reps; he deserves a legitimate chance to start this season, foregoing a pointless “redshirt” campaign in which he’d be relegated to clipboard-holding duties.
If Bradley, entering his second year on the job, wants to tread water, then by all means he should stick with Henne, the 29-year-old signal-caller with limited upside. The same guy who threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (13) in 2013, “leading” Jacksonville to a pitiful 4-12 record. The same guy who, as NFL.com pointed out, has never thrown for more TDs than picks in a single season during his six-year career.
But I find it hard to believe that Bradley, a former Seattle Seahawks assistant, is willing to accept mediocrity. Not with his boss, ever-enthusiastic Jags owner Shad Khan, continually promising the fans something far greater than what they’ve witnessed in recent years.
To compete in an AFC South division that features the high-flying, Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts, the Jaguars will need to better their lackluster offensive statistics from last season — 16 points per game (17th in NFL), 264 yards per game (24th), and 173 passing yards per game (19th).
Assuming that’s a central goal — and why shouldn’t it be? — it would behoove Bradley to hand the reigns over to the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Bortles. The same guy who, following a highly successful collegiate career, has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger and the very same Luck he will be seeing twice a year. The same guy who’s largely backed up those comparisons in preseason action, standing tall in the pocket and making big-time throws.
Those who didn’t tune into the Jaguars’ last preseason game against the Bears missed a gem from Bortles, who completed 11-of-17 passes for 160 yards. It should be noted that Bortles entered the game late in the first half, working mostly with backups and third-stringers. In the team’s first exhibition contest, he went 7-of-11 for 117 yards.
For comparison’s sake, Henne completed 12-of-17 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown against Chicago, and is now 16-of-24 for 160 yards and the touchdown in two preseason tilts.
Thus far, Henne and Bortles are statistically about even. But does a tie really benefit the veteran? Isn’t the guy who’s made 50 career starts supposed to be, without a shadow of a doubt, trumping the rookie with no NFL credentials to his name? Isn’t that why you’d want Bortles to sit and learn behind Henne? Otherwise, what’s the point?
Those are a sampling of the critical questions that Bradley must ask himself, before the start of the regular season. It seems he’s already begun pondering — and perhaps re-thinking — his plans — considering Bortles most recently received 7-of-8 first-team snaps in practice.
The Jaguars don’t have a bye week until Week 11, and face a handful of playoff-caliber teams during the first half of their schedule (Eagles, Colts, Chargers, Steelers, Bengals, Cowboys). By the time Halloween rolls around, they could once again be in the AFC South basement, sitting with six or more losses. In that scenario, Bortles probably becomes inserted as the starter, if only to generate some life in the moribund franchise.
Why even waste that much time, though? What would Bortles have learned from Henne by that point? Again, these are the questions that Bradley needs to start mulling around his noggin.
You don’t draft a quarterback with the third overall pick to park him on the bench. That goes double when you’re having him back up one of the least effective signal-callers in the NFL. Luck, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III weren’t forced to suffer such an indignity.
Why should Bortles?