JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Blake Bortles is getting another shot as Jacksonville’s starting quarterback.
Coach Doug Marrone made the surprising announcement Saturday, naming Bortles his starter for the opener at Houston and ending any uncertainty heading into the preseason finale.
Marrone was scheduled to address his decision after practice. The call came a little more than a week after Marrone opened up the job and pleaded with Bortles and veteran Chad Henne to ”go out there and take it.”
Bortles presumably did enough in Thursday’s exhibition loss to Carolina to keep the starting job he’s had the last three years. The third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft will make his 46th consecutive start when the Jaguars open the season Sept. 10 at Houston.
Henne started Thursday’s exhibition against the Panthers and had some decent moments, but the 10th-year pro also got sacked three times in the first half, had a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage and badly overthrew a receiver down the middle of the field. Henne completed 8 of 14 passes for 73 yards and had a would-be touchdown pass dropped by rookie Keelan Cole.
Bortles delivered his best outing of the preseason, finishing with a touchdown and an interception. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 125 yards, playing mostly against backups in the second half.
It’s unclear how much stock Marrone put on those performances. This much is certain: Bortles has more upside than Henne and should be more effective scrambling behind what appears to be a shaky offensive line this season.
Bortles looked like a franchise quarterback in his second season, throwing for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns while smashing several team records. Although he racked up a chunk of his statistics late in lopsided games, there was belief that Bortles would only get better.
Instead, he regressed in 2016 and was admittedly frazzled by the end of the year. His numbers were down, finishing with 23 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. His mechanics were a mess, leading to accuracy issues. And many of his decisions were suspect at best, leaving coaches and teammates shaking their heads.
Marrone worked closely with Bortles the past two seasons as the team’s offensive line coach and was convinced he would be more successful with an improved rushing attack. So Marrone and top decision-maker Tom Coughlin drafted LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick and added Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson early in the second round to beef up the ground game.
But when training camp opened, Bortles was making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
He threw five interceptions in the team’s first padded practice. He completed 5 of 17 passes in 11-on-11 drills during joint practices with New England. A few days after the preseason opener against the Patriots, Bortles threw two interceptions so ugly that Marrone pulled him and said he must have a tired arm. And then Bortles woefully underthrew two passes to Allen Robinson in last week’s exhibition game against Tampa Bay.
Marrone had seen enough and wanted to send a message. Bortles’ time on the bench ended up being brief.
Although Marrone likely will have Bortles on a short leash to start the season, the long-term solution to Jacksonville’s quarterback quandary includes drafting or signing another one in 2018.
In the meantime, the Jaguars will hope to keep Bortles healthy. Jacksonville exercised a fifth-year option in Bortles’ rookie deal in May that could pay him $19 million in 2018. His salary is guaranteed only for injury, meaning Jacksonville is taking a risk by even putting Bortles on the field.
But the 6-foot-5 Orlando native has been durable, starting every game since Week 4 of his rookie year.
Bortles has completed 59 percent of his passes for 11,241 yards, with 69 touchdowns and 51 interceptions. He also has been sacked 140 times and lost 12 fumbles. Maybe his most damning statistic: He has 11 victories and 11 interceptions returned for touchdowns in three seasons.
Now he’s getting another chance to change the narrative.
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