JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Between wrist surgery, signing a $54 million contract and nearly getting robbed, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles had quite the start to the off-season.
His next phase probably won't create as much buzz, but it's much more important to the team's success in 2018.
Bortles opened organized team activities Tuesday behind a revamped offensive line and with three new passing targets — all part of a plan to improve an offence that featured the league's top rushing attack last season.
"I have always believed that when your quarterback is ahead of everyone, and the rest of the offence has to catch up, that is a pretty good thing," coach Doug Marrone said. "You don't want the quarterback trying to catch up to the rest of the offensive players. I think that Blake is in a good spot as far as what he knows of the offence, what we want to do. It's just another year.
"I think that's why you see those quarterbacks that stay in these systems for a long period of time and play for a long period of time that do such a good job."
Bortles threw for 3,687 yards, with 21 touchdowns and a career-low 13 interceptions in 2017. He was at his best in the post-season, throwing for 594 yards and three scores without a turnover.
Interceptions and fumbles were among Bortles' biggest faults during his first three years in the league. He limited them down the stretch last season and eliminated them in the playoffs, helping the Jaguars reach the AFC championship game.
"You want to have that every game," said Bortles, who had surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his right wrist in late January. "Just wanting to make sure that no matter what I did I gave us a chance to win. I knew that if I didn't turn the ball over we're going to have a chance to win every game. That should be and it is my mindset every single game we play. I think it was only heightened in the playoffs to make sure I wasn't the reason we couldn't win the game."
The Jaguars rewarded Bortles with a three-year contract that included $26.5 million guaranteed, making him the team's starter for at least the next two seasons.
"The contract stuff doesn't really change anything about how I think or how I approach every day," he said.
The biggest difference, he said, is having continuity. The Jaguars returned their entire coaching staff, giving Bortles and offensive co-ordinator Nathaniel Hackett a solid foundation to start from during OTAs.
"We talked about it this morning: Kind of taking it to the next level," said Bortles, who didn't have the freedom to audible early last season. "He kind of gave me the green light to go ahead ... as far as what you're doing versus all the different looks and not just running the play called, (but) getting yourself in the best play possible."
Bortles will have a much different supporting cast to work with in 2018.
Donte Moncrief and rookie DJ Chark replaced receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins stepped in for longtime starter Marcedes Lewis.
Moncrief and Chark are expected to bring more speed to Jacksonville's offence, which coaches are counting on to help loosen up defences and create more room for bruising running back Leonard Fournette. The addition of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell should help, too.
Bortles will use the next few months to build a rapport with those newcomers. If it includes any dinners, Bortles probably will be sure to lock his truck.
Bortles had his wallet stolen and pickup truck nearly hijacked earlier this month from teammate Brandon Linder's driveway during an offensive line dinner. An 18-year-old Jacksonville man was arrested and charged with auto theft, auto burglary and trespassing.
Bortles left his keys inside his unlocked truck, but other vehicles parked around it prevented the man from driving away.
"He checked my truck out a little bit and left it nice and clean for me," joked Bortles, who has since teamed up with local police to help prevent automobile burglaries. "It was all right. ... Glad to be back playing football, running around. It feels good to kind of be back to some familiarity."
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