NFL Wire News

Bortles making progress at quarterback for Jaguars

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The Sports Xchange

JACKSONVILLE – Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles continues to be the center of attention during training camp. It’s widely understood the Jaguars’ offense can only be better if Bortles takes his game to another level from what he showed a year ago during a trying rookie season.

Bortles had a strong showing in OTAs and stayed in the area to work with Jaguars receivers in the six weeks that the team was off during the summer. The dividends from the offseason practices and summer workouts seem to be paying off as the second-year quarterback from Central Florida has looked sharp. Head coach Gus Bradley has continued to spew positive reports on his quarterback during the team’s opening days of training camp. He said Bortles’ grasp of the offense under new offensive coordinator Greg Olson has been good.

“He came in and had a better handle of our offense. That has allowed him to come in and play faster. We talk about playing with absence of fear, to have no fear,” Bradley said. “They have to have no doubt and in order to have no doubt, you’ve got to put the time in. So to me, you’re seeing him play with no doubt and no fear and that’s a good sign.

“He’ll make some mistakes, but he’ll come back. I think he threw an interception off a tipped ball and then he came back and completed a pass the next play and went for it again. All of those things, especially at this time of the year, these guys need to figure out who they’re throwing to and what skill sets they have. We talked to them in the team meeting about discover your skills both offensively and defensively, and they’ve got to find those things out in these practices.”

–Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks remains confident that he’ll be ready to go by the time the regular season begins. The talented Marks, probably the team’s most consistent and best defensive player in 2014, tore his right ACL last Dec. 29 and had surgery shortly thereafter. He is currently on the physically unable to perform list and will remain there through the four preseason games.

Marks has indicated he would like to return to practice a week before the Jaguars’ season opener with Carolina.

“That would be good, just to get back into a routine and that would allow me to remove whatever fear and doubt I have in my mind,” he said.

As for coming back before then, Marks winced at the suggestion.

“I hope not. No training camp,” he laughed.

Marks included a video on Twitter last month that showed him knocking over some tackling dummies. “Hey, I’m working,” he said of the video that he posted. “My mindset is to be back for the first game and I’ll continue to work.”

–It’s been three years since Arrelious Benn appeared in an NFL game. Those are the first odds he has to overcome. Add in the fact that he entered training camp no better than the sixth best receiver on the team and his chances of making the Jaguars roster seemed remote. But Benn is continuing a strong showing that he exhibited in OTAs to go with a fast start in the opening four days of training camp to indicate that he’s determined to do whatever it takes to be on the 53-man roster come September.

Benn was a second-round draft pick of Tampa Bay in 2010 following a stellar career at Illinois. He left there after his junior season, ranking fourth in school history with 3,613 all-purpose yards. He totaled 159 receptions for 2,221 yards and seven touchdown.

But while starting 31 games in his first 2 1/2 years with the Bucs, he’s experienced several injuries that have kept him off the field. He missed the final half of the 2012 season with shoulder and knee injuries that landed him on injured reserve. He was then traded to Philadelphia during the offseason but missed the entire season with an ACL injury suffered in training camp. A year ago he participated in the preseason with the Eagles but was placed on injured reserve and later received an injury settlement.

Benn has been healthy during his time with the Jaguars and appears to be taking advantage of his opportunity. The Jaguars like his size (6-foot-2, 220) as a receiver, and the fact that he can also return kicks adds to his value. He’s caught the eye of head coach Gus Bradley several times during training camp.

“You know what? When you look at him and his size, he’s really strong,” the Jaguars coach noted. “I think when you look at a guy that could be a fourth or fifth receiver type that guy’s got to play a lot of special teams, so when you look at him and his size and what he brings to the table, especially if he’s a No. 5, he’s going to have to play four core (special teams) so that size is an advantage. He also has shown up and made two really good plays yesterday on the offensive side so offensively he’s got to have versatility where he can play multiple positions. I think his experience in the league brings us that attribute that he can learn multiple positions, the size that we might not have in some positions and then his special teams value.”

–It’s a training camp battle that has lived up to its hype. The fight for the starting center spot looks like it will run the course of the full preseason schedule before the Jaguars make their decision between incumbent Luke Bowanko and challenger Stefen Wisniewski.

Both players were starters a year ago. Bowanko started the final 14 games for the Jaguars, Wisniewski answered the call for all 16 games with the Oakland Raiders. But that’s where the NFL comparisons end. Bowanko was in his rookie season while Wisniewski was a four-year starter in Oakland, starting all but three games during that time.

Wisniewski, signed by Jacksonville as an unrestricted free agent in April, has several factors working in his favor. He spent the last two seasons in Oakland working with current Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who served in the same capacity for the Raiders. And he has the benefit of being a starter for four NFL seasons.

Bowanko’s best asset may be his size. He packs 300 pounds over a 6-foot-6 frame. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley likes the attributes of both players.

“I think with Wisniewski, experience (is his strength). I think he has a really strong command of the offense since he was in Oakland last year,” Bradley said. “Bowanko has great size to him so as he gets stronger sometimes against 3-4 teams. You have a nose that’s head up on that size and strength can be used to his advantage.”

The best news for the Jaguars, of course, is that they now have quality depth at the position. And should a need arise at one of the guard spots, both Bowanko and Wisniewski have played that position in college and could fill in there as well.


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