NEW YORK – The biggest boom of sound all night at Radio City Music Hall was the one that greeted the anti-Manziel.
Blake Bortles' name brought a gasp of shock from the rafters when the Jacksonville Jaguars made the UCF quarterback the first passer chosen in this year's NFL draft. Johnny Manziel sat in the Green Room and watched him go, and Bortles' new team made it clear the Florida product's drama-free personality helped his cause.
"Obviously it had an effect," Bortles said, when asked if his low-key vibe won the Jags over.
Down in Duval County, Jags general manager David Caldwell echoed the thought when he praised Bortles in part because "football is his only priority."
Whether that was a subtle shot at Manziel, for whom football is clearly not the only priority, doesn't matter. Bortles is someone the Jags will not worry about. Yes, he has the pinup girlfriend, Lindsey Duke, but she was hidden from cameras and the spotlight Thursday night. The glare was on Duke's boyfriend, and Bortles then passed it along to everyone else, praising the Jags' coaching staff and naming all his potential receivers: Cecil Shorts III, Justin Blackmon, and even Denard Robinson.
Bortles wasn't highly recruited out of high school – hence his arrival at rarely relevant UCF – but the reasons he might have been passed over as a prep ended up making him a mint at the next level. He's quiet, respectful, and exceedingly coachable. There will be no freelancing, no calling his own shots. Bored-les is beautiful.
"I've always been about taking care of off-the-field stuff," Bortles said, "and showing how much you care about winning."
So when Caldwell said Chad Henne is the quarterback of the present for Jacksonville, there was zero chance Bortles would bristle.
"If I'm the second [string], or third, that's where I am," Bortles shrugged.
He'll certainly press Henne for the starter's job, but the Jags have been burned twice recently by unreliable first-round offensive players, and Bortles is virtually assured of not causing the same hassles. Caldwell said the team will not throw Bortles to the wolves like it did with Blaine Gabbert, who looked skittish as a rookie in 2011. And Bortles' steadiness should keep the Jags from another nightmare like the one that has kept former first-rounder Blackmon off the field with substance-abuse issues. Jacksonville has had quite enough drama, thank you. Coach Gus Bradley even said the Jags would have taken Bortles if Jadeveon Clowney had dropped.
Bortles got to this lofty position in part by being noiseless about waiting in line. He was a tight end in most recruiters' minds, and even when he got to UCF, he wasn't expected to start right away or ever. He ran the scout team, and never made a peep.
"His personality suits the position well," said UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. "He's very much the same every day. Doesn't get too down when things don't go right. He's a good barometer for the rest of the team."
In the moments after his news conference, Bortles showed his dutiful nature at every turn. He stood patiently in a cramped hallway by some old lockers and took a cell phone handed to him by Jags' PR man Tad Dickman.
"Is this from Jacksonville?" he asked, making sure before starting to speak.
Then he was ushered along a row of servicemen and women. A Navy lieutenant named William Stroup commented on his watch – the only snazzy item on him – and Bortles quickly held it up and explained it was a gift from his mom. Stroup then reached out with a Challenge Coin – a symbol of respect, affiliation and appreciation – and Bortles took it gladly and thanked the man.
Then Bortles was shuffled down a long, narrow hallway, where he sat in a tiny folding chair and signed his name over and over again on various mementos of the evening. He signed with his right hand – his throwing hand – but he grew up batting and playing golf as a lefty. Even as a small boy, he would do whatever was asked of him, and learn quickly.
That's what made his dream come true, and that's all the Jaguars are counting on him to do now. No drama? No problem.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football