The Jaguars had their plan all mapped out when they drafted Blake Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick in May.
Bortles was obviously tabbed as the franchise quarterback, but there was no need to rush him onto the field. Veteran Chad Henne would play this year, and Bortles could sit and learn and be ready to go for 2015.
Jaguars leadership stressed this plan to everyone and anyone who would listen.
“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,” coach Gus Bradley said in May.
Well, it’s now officially time to reconsider the plan.
Bortle-mania is in full effect in North Florida following the Jaguars’ second exhibition game Thursday night in Chicago. The book on Bortles entering the draft was he had a high ceiling but wasn’t as NFL-ready as recent picks such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson.
Through two exhibition games, though, Bortles sure looks like he belongs in the NFL. In his first appearance against Tampa Bay, Bortles was 7 of 11 for 117 yards. On Thursday, he was 11 of 17 for 160 yards.
Yes, he’s doing it against backups. But it’s not just the stats that make Bortles look good, it’s the type of throws he’s making — deep corners, sluggo seams, and anticipation routes. He’s maneuvering well in the pocket and throwing darts. He’s big, strong-armed, and looks like he’s ready for the pro game.
“He saw more looks tonight than he did last week,” Bradley said after Thursday’s game. “I thought he responded. He’s starting to grow confidence, as well.”
So why, exactly, do the Jaguars want to sit Bortles for his rookie season? For that matter, shouldn’t fellow first-round quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater play sooner rather than later, too?
Before 2008, the conventional wisdom was to sit a quarterback for at least one season to let him acclimate to the NFL. Carson Palmer, Michael Vick, Drew Brees, and Daunte Culpepper all sat for one year, while Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub, Chad Pennington, Steve McNair, and Brett Favre sat for more than a year before taking over.
But Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco turned that convention upside down in 2008, when they both started 16 games as rookies and led their teams to the playoffs.
Now, it’s a surprise when a rookie doesn’t start right away. The rules are more skewed in the offense’s favor than ever before, and quarterback prospects are way more advanced now when they enter the league thanks to the complexity of college offenses and the rise of 7-on-7 passing camps.
Consider that from 1990-2007, only eight quarterbacks started in Week 1 of their rookie years: Jeff George, Rick Mirer, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, Peyton Manning, Quincy Carter, David Carr, and Kyle Boller. Other than Manning and Bledsoe, it’s not exactly a distinguished list. Carr is the shining example of how to ruin a quarterback by playing him too early.
But from 2008-13, 14 quarterbacks started in Week 1 of their rookie years, and seven took their teams to the playoffs: Flacco, Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Andy Dalton, Griffin, Luck, and Wilson. Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, and Ryan Tannehill also have been starters since Day 1.
There’s no set formula anymore. Brandon Weeden played right away and was awful. Jake Locker sat for a full season and he’s teetering on bust territory. Colin Kaepernick sat for 25 games and has been great.
The key for a young quarterback’s success is more about his mental aptitude than physical. It’s why Ryan, Flacco, and Dalton excelled right away, and Tim Tebow and JaMarcus Russell failed.
“Not only was Matt Ryan bright, but he was very quick mentally,” said former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt. “You can be bright, but if you don’t have mental quickness, you’re going to have a hard time being a good NFL quarterback.”
Here’s what it boils down to with this year’s crop: The Jaguars are just spinning their wheels with Henne, killing time before Bortles is ready. Same with the Browns and Brian Hoyer, and the Vikings with Matt Cassell. They are trusty backups who won’t be taking a team to the playoffs any time soon.
Bridgewater’s first game was a little shaky — 6 of 13 for 49 yards and two sacks — and maybe he would benefit from half a season or more on the bench. But Bortles looks ready to start right away, and Manziel showed enough in his first game (63 yards passing, 27 rushing) that he looks like he can handle himself at the NFL level.
So why bother playing Henne, who was 4-9 as a starter last year and directed the Jaguars’ offense to 19 yards in 17 snaps last week? Or Hoyer, a career backup who hasn’t exactly wowed in camp this summer?
Might as well play the kids and see what you’ve got. Start the clock on their evaluations sooner.
“What you want to guard against are setbacks mentally, in confidence, in development if adversity occurs,” one AFC personnel executive said. “But fair to say it’s never been easier for quarterbacks to play right away, especially when you feel like they have a supporting cast, a ground attack, a good defense. Those are important to a young quarterback’s maturation.”
After losing out, Lurie landed on feet
Watching Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie take in Tuesday’s joint practice with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, it was hard not to think what could have been.
The little football empire in Foxborough was almost his, 20 years ago. Lurie, a Newton native and original Patriots season ticket-holder, went toe-to-toe with Robert Kraft in a bidding war for the Patriots in 1994 before finally bowing out after Kraft offered a then-record $173 million. Three months later, Lurie bought the Eagles for a record $185 million.
Lurie said he has an excellent relationship with Kraft and his family that goes back decades — Kraft played tennis with Lurie’s uncle for 25 years — and hasn’t had any regrets about landing the Eagles instead of the Patriots.
“I really haven’t. Two great franchises,” Lurie said. “I love Philly. The fan base is spectacular. I look forward, never back. It’s been great.”
But Lurie still holds a soft spot in his heart for the Patriots and was thrilled to be watching his two favorite teams practice on Tuesday. Lurie has vivid memories of Gene Mingo and the Denver Broncos beating the Patriots in their first-ever game in 1960 at Nickerson Field, and regularly attended training camps at Bryant College. Lurie’s extended family members still own Patriots season tickets.
“I went to the first game and I was hooked,” Lurie said. “I don’t think I ever missed a game.”
Lurie is still chasing that elusive Super Bowl ring with the Eagles, but otherwise his ownership tenure has been similar to Kraft’s. The Eagles were a model of stability, employing Andy Reid as coach for 14 years (with nine playoff appearances and one Super Bowl berth), and have sold out every seat at home games since Week 2 of the 1999 season, a stretch of 239 games.
The Eagles and Patriots also have two of the game’s most innovative coaches in Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick. The teams met in the Super Bowl 10 years ago, and we have a nagging feeling that a rematch is in order this season.
“It’s nice that we’ve both been able to surround ourselves with really good people,” Lurie said of himself and Kraft. “It’s a lot more fun when you’re doing well, and we’ve both had a great run.”
Preseason shows ads can disrupt the game
The NFL’s television contracts run through the 2022 season, but owners such as Jonathan Kraft already are thinking about the next deal and how the NFL can find new and creative ways to broadcast games to take advantage of new technology.
We have a message to Jonathan and the other owners: Don’t ruin the sport with virtual ads on the field. Please.
These monstrosities have crept onto TV broadcasts this preseason. When the 49ers advanced the ball inside the 20 last week against the Ravens, they were entering the “Toyota Red Zone,” as digitally advertised in bold red letters on the field. In St. Louis, the Rams’ red zone was colored navy blue and sponsored by AAA Insurance.
We don’t have to worry about these ads creeping onto our TV screens this fall, or any time soon. Preseason games are produced by the teams and their local broadcast partners, and they control advertising rights. All regular-season games fall under the league’s contracts with its network partners, and an NFL spokesman said virtual ads are not permitted.
Still, the NFL always is looking for ways to generate new revenue. Putting virtual ads on the field in the next round of TV contracts has to be tempting.
But this is not an area to be messed with. The Toyota ads were so universally hated in San Francisco that the company agreed to curtail them for the rest of the preseason.
“We’ve heard fan feedback and it’s not our intention to distract from the joy of the game,” a Toyota spokeswoman said. “We’re working to ensure that future brand mentions won’t distract from game play. During the remainder of the 49ers’ preseason games, fans and viewers should no longer see the Toyota Red Zone once the ball is snapped.”
The league should consider banning the ads in preseason games, as well. Last week in New Orleans, the Saints’ red zone had the giant words “Slap Ya Mama” superimposed on the field — an ad for a Cajun hot sauce company.
The league declined to comment on the advertisement, but “Slap Ya Mama” is probably not a message any team should be promoting, particularly in the wake of Ray Rice’s lenient two-game suspension for domestic violence.
The red zone ads, if nothing else, make the NFL look tacky. The field is sacrosanct, and shouldn’t be messed with.
Tougher penalties being considered
It was good to see a report from the Washington Post last week that the NFL is considering tougher punishments for domestic violence offenders following the suspension handed out to Ray Rice, roundly criticized as too soft.
According to the report, the NFL could establish a minimum suspension of 4-6 games for a first offense and a one-year ban for a second.
A structured code of punishment, with tougher penalties than Rice got, would be good for the NFL in these cases. Because based on recent events, here is the message the NFL is sending: Dwayne Bowe gets caught with marijuana — one-game suspension. Rice allegedly knocks his girlfriend out cold in an elevator — two-game suspension.
The first weekend of the exhibition season was a flag-fest, particularly with the league’s new point of emphasis on calling illegal contact, defensive holding, and defensive pass interference.
According to ESPN’s John Clayton, officials called 27 illegal contact penalties in the first weekend of preseason games, compared with just 37 during the entire 2013 regular season. There also were 53 defensive holding calls last week, compared with 171 all of last season.
Referee John Parry, in Foxborough last week to officiate practices and Friday night’s game between the Patriots and Eagles, said they overofficiate exhibition games to make their point, and he expects players and officials will get into a good rhythm by the start of the regular season.
“By Week 1 of the regular season, I am sure we will all have forgotten this,” Parry said of the flag-fests. “I’m sure if we went back to every preseason schedule it’s 15-25 flags every game, and then we get into regular season, I think we average 13.1 or something like that. I think you’ll see that back.”
There has been a lot of talk about how the Patriots’ secondary, particularly physical cornerback Brandon Browner, could be adversely affected.
Who else needs to change their style? According to the indispensable website NFLPenalties.com, the Seahawks were called 28 times for defensive holding or pass interference last year, followed by the Chiefs and Broncos (24), Cowboys (20), and Colts, Bills, and Panthers (19).
NFL international expansion usually focuses to the east in Europe, but Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil are going far east. The former Eagles partnered with Philadelphia businessman Marty Judge, and the group got official approval and sanctioning from the Chinese government to launch the China American Football League, the country’s first pro football league. The CAFL will kick off in 2015 with six or eight teams, and hold an all-star game and championship game in Macau . . . Unable to find work as a safety, future Hall of Famer Ed Reed has joined the dark side, agreeing to a deal with Showtime and CBS Sports to be a featured analyst on the acclaimed show “Inside the NFL.” Also contributing to the show this year will be Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, pulling off the rare receiver/reporter double . . . This week’s Sign That We’re Getting Old: Rams receiver Emory Blake, fighting for a roster spot in his second training camp, is the son of former 14-year quarterback Jeff Blake, 43, who last played for the Bears in 2005.