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Bortles confident he can become top-tier NFL quarterback

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The Canadian Press
2/21/2014 8:33:19 PM
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Of the three quarterbacks projected to be picked at the top of the NFL draft this year, Blake Bortles is considered to be the most raw.

This, he freely admits.

"I have no problem with that. I need coaching. I need help. I think everybody in the game does," Bortles said.

He is also determined to make up the difference, fueled by the belief he can become the best prospect at this heralded and critical position.

"I'm going to do everything that I can here to make sure that when I leave there's other people saying that besides me," Bortles said Friday at the NFL's annual scouting combine.

Bortles was measured at an ideal 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds. He has a strong arm and decent athleticism for his size. He didn't face consistently top-tier competition at Central Florida, but he has shown steady improvement and shined at the Fiesta Bowl in his last college game before deciding to skip his senior season.

"To give you a complete evaluation at this point, I don't think I'm ready to do that, but I can tell you we've watched enough that we're very intrigued by him, the traits he has: big, tall, timing, accuracy, decision making," Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley said. "Those are the things we take a close look at."

With Houston at No. 1, Jacksonville at No. 3, Cleveland at No. 4, Oakland at No. 5, and Minnesota at No. 8, teams all seeking a long-term solution at quarterback, there is almost no way Bortles, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater will still be available after that.

Bridgewater, who wasn't available to reporters on Friday, declared early for the draft like the two others. But he is the most polished.

"You can put the tape in and watch him do things and say, yeah, that translates to the next level," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "He's not as much a wild card as Manziel, and I think he's more developed in his reads and throws than Bortles. So that's why I say I think he's the most ready to play."

Bortles will throw in front of the teams and their evaluators Sunday when the quarterbacks test their skills at Lucas Oil Stadium. It is a seemingly simple decision now seen as risky by some prospects under advisement from agents to limit their participation to pro day workouts on their own campuses. Bortles stood at a podium Friday with poise, polish and plenty of confidence, not brash but sure sounding ready for whatever the NFL will bring.

He revealed Brett Favre as his childhood favourite and said he sees Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck as contemporary examples of the type of quarterback he can develop into. He even boldly mentioned Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

"By no means am I those guys," he said, adding: "I 100 per cent believe that eventually I can do what those guys do."

Bortles also emphasized his character during the mini-sales pitch he made to the media, undoubtedly similar to what he's sharing with the teams themselves during screening interviews throughout the weekend.

"I won't embarrass an organization off the field by making maybe bad decisions or anything like that," Bortles said. "I won't embarrass my family's name, and will be a trustworthy guy and a trustworthy player."

Perhaps that was a subtle shot at Manziel, the biggest headliner of this class. Manziel was all business in his news conference Friday, but he won't soon escape the tales of off-the-field shenanigans and questions of character that have followed him from Texas A&M.

In many ways, Bortles is the opposite of Manziel, starting with the skill sets.

"He is a big guy. He is athletic. He is a competitive guy," said Houston coach Bill O'Brien, whose Penn State team was beaten by Bortles and Central Florida last year. "It has been fun to watch him play on tape. It will be good to work him out here."

Derek Carr of Fresno State, Jimmy Garappolo of Eastern Illinois, and A.J. McCarron of Alabama comprise the consensus next tier of 2014 quarterback prospects. McCarron, of course, has what none of the others do: two national championships.

In the hyper-saturated world of professional football analysis, somehow those titles have managed to become a potential weakness for McCarron, who had the benefit of maybe the most talented roster in the country around him.

"Everybody says I played behind NFL talent at Alabama. Well, usually that's what's in the NFL: NFL talent. So I don't know how that can be a knock, really," he said, embracing the old chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. "I've been disrespected my whole college career, because I won."

Blake Bortles (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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