Outside of Michael Sam, Blake Bortles may have had the best night of any rookie in the NFL on Friday. The newly-minted Jacksonville Jaguar spelled Chad Henne, and went 7-for-11 for 117 yards. Henne, who coaches had all but declared the starter for the season opener, went just 4-for-7 for 30 yards in limited snaps.
So is Bortles pushing for immediate playing time?
Hard to say just from watching him, because preseason football is a spoonful of a small sample size from which we tend to draw disproportionately heavy conclusions. Bortles caught the attention of Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, however, and that isn't insignificant.
#Jags coach Gus Bradley said Bortles will be getting time with the 1s in coming weeks, perhaps in game action.— Jason Cole (@JasonPhilCole) August 9, 2014
First-round quarterbacks tend to find the field during their debut seasons (Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers, excepted). The Jaguars were comfortable labeling Bortles the No. 2 quarterback heading into training camp. According to Big Cat Country's Alfie Crow, that in itself is justification enough to expect to see Bortles during the regular season.
The team has also left themselves a gray area to play with on how long Bortles will sit, if he sits at all. When asked, both Bradley and Caldwell have consistently said when he's "ready", which in reality could mean tomorrow or a year from now. It means whatever they want and that's by design. For one, the team doesn't want Bortles to worry about having to "win" or "prove" he's the starting quarterback.
Whether Bortles "wants" to prove he's the starting quarterback, he certainly looked like the stronger player against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (And again, this is part of a meaningless game we're picking over.) The reaction to Bortles' performance was, well, one-sided:
#Jaguars Bortles comes out smokin' in the second half, first four throws are money. One of them wiped out by OPI.— Jason Cole (@JasonPhilCole) August 9, 2014
Blake Bortles with a dart to WR Mike Brown. The rookie is improving as the game continues. First down Jaguars at Buccaneers 15.— John Oehser (@JohnOehser) August 9, 2014
Is there any doubt at all that Bortles should start from the get-go? At all?— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) August 9, 2014
How did Blaine Gabbert do— /r/Alfie (@AlfieBCC) August 9, 2014
It's a fair distance yet to the regular season, but Bortles took a small (but still noticeable) step toward taking over the reins in Jacksonville.