ORLANDO, Fla. – Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was one of more than 70 NFL representatives who sweated out Blake Bortles’ pro day on Wednesday. It was held in the University of Central Florida's indoor practice facilty. The fans inside UCF's barn were turned off to reduce noise. As temperatures climbed past 75 degrees outside, it was hotter inside.
The sweat dripping down Bradley’s head was not enough to blind the pro day performance he witnessed. He saw a big quarterback throwing balls with zip. Bradley watched Bortles throw deep balls with ease. Bradley may have seen something else.
Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback.
It explains why after Bortles wrapped up his pro day, Bradley abruptly ended his interview session with the media because he had to shake the quarterback’s hand and congratulate him on Wednesday’s performance.
“I thought it was a good drill set up,” Bradley said. “He got all the movement passes. All the different throws you’re asked to make, and I thought he did a nice job with them. He’s got two guys running the routes with him. It was exactly what you hoped to see.”
It was also the reaction Bortles hoped to have.
“He just said, 'Great job,'” Bortles said. “He was awesome. I had an opportunity to talk and meet with him. He’s a great guy. I really learned a lot for him. He had a couple of words of wisdom and really said, 'good job.'”
Bradley, along with several NFL scouts, were very satisfied with Bortles’ performance, and that should help him as the draft approaches.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater recently had his pro day, and most NFL observers were not impressed. Bridgewater struggled to make throws during a scripted event on his home turf. Bridgewater played well in college, but his lackluster performance was enough to question if he deserved to be the first quarterback selected in May's draft.
"He [Bridgewater] has a really thin frame,” an NFL assistant coach told Shutdown Corner. “I worry about his durability, but the way he throws the ball, sometimes it looks really good, but when they miss, it’s ugly. You see one-hoppers on film when he’s throwing a hitch route or something, and the ball one-hops to a wide receiver. You don’t see that very often in a real thrower, a natural thrower.
"All of these NFL experts say he’s the most NFL ready. No way. I said that before. I told somebody I bet he throws it when the ball never turns over, the back end of the ball lands first on a deep throw. Afterwards, he said you hit it right on the head. I wasn’t expecting that. I had an eerie feeling watching film, some of the end zone shots, I’m like, ‘Oh [explicative]. This isn’t a natural throwing motion."
The same cannot be said about Bortles.
The 6-foot-5, 232-pound quarterback excelled during most of his drills on Wednesday. Bears backup quarterback Jordan Palmer has been working with Bortles in California to prep his protégé for the draft. Palmer helped Bortles prepare for the scouting combine, and they scripted plays to run for NFL teams during pro day.
Bortles did not run the 40-yard dash or lift weights. Instead, he threw passes and gave scouts a variety of things to digest. Bortles was hot at first, completing all of his passes, and some in attendance even applauded the completions.
He did, however, overthrow some of his targets on deep pass plays. Bortles said he underthrew receivers during the regular season, which he has been working hard to correct. His goal on Wednesday was to make every completion, but if an incompletion occurred, he preferred it to be an overthrow.
“Me and Jordan Palmer got together, and it was what routes do we run in college, what routes do people run in the NFL, and what routes do people want to see,” Bortles said. “We compiled not really a script, but an outline. We could throw a couple of these, couple of these.”
Judging Palmer’s reaction, they could not have scripted a better performance.
“He came out of college exposed to some really good football,” Palmer said. “Really talented, been in some big situations, so he didn’t have to do a whole lot [when they started working together]. Some things we addressed is footwork, and more specifically, his balance and his base. You can do so many more things consistently when you have a good base.
“He got away with it a lot of times in college because he’s so athletic. Now it’s just gravy on top when you can have that base and throw the ball, you can slide, you can take off out of the pocket, you can do all three of things more consistently.”
Bortles has consistently impressed NFL teams in two areas.
He excelled in college, and as the old saying goes, the tape does not lie. Bortles led UCF on six second-half comebacks in the 2013 season. The quarterback finished with 3,581 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season, plus a victory against Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
Bortles, a lightly recruited player out of high school, has embraced the newfound attention.
“He’s getting comfortable,” Palmer said. “Nothing fazes him. You’d think that he played big-time SEC football and played in national championships by the way he carries himself. ...
“He’s done a great job of handling two things every quarterback has to handle. He’s handled adversity and he’s handled success very, very well, and that’s a trend that will continue with him.”
Bradley, along with other NFL coaches, are banking on it.
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