JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The 2017 season will be make-or-break for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, and he got an assist from management's decision to remove the interim tag from Doug Marrone and make him the new head coach.
Marrone's hiring and his expected decision to retain offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett -- which CBSSports.com's Jason LaCanfora reported will be the case -- means Bortles will avoid having his fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons. He will have to learn a new offense because Hackett will install his own system -- he stuck with Greg Olson's offense after Olson was fired in late October -- but the familiarity Bortles has with Hackett over the past two seasons will make the transition much easier.
Bortles said after the season ended that he really clicked with Hackett -- who joined the staff as quarterbacks coach in January 2015 -- and improved more in the nine weeks that Hackett called plays than at any other time in his career. Bortles has a close relationship with Hackett, with whom he spent significantly more time than Olson, and the quarterback said he hoped Hackett would be retained.
Bortles' numbers in 2016 aren't markedly different from his time with Olson (60 percent completions, 12 TDs, nine interceptions, 48.2 total QBR) than Hackett (57.9 percent completions, 11 TDs, seven interceptions, 49.6 total QBR). However, he said his biggest improvement came in understanding game situations and being smarter with the football. Bortles threw only one interception in the final four games.
Things really seemed to click for Bortles in the final two games, when Marrone took over as interim head coach. Bortles completed 66 percent of his passes for 626 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also caught a touchdown pass.
Bortles completed more than 64 percent of his passes in each of the final two games of the season. He did that just once in the previous 14 games.
The final two games were his best of the season and renewed hoped that Bortles can indeed be the player around whom the franchise is built.
The hiring of Marrone and retention of Hackett is essentially the Jaguars going all-in on Bortles, especially when you factor in general manager Dave Caldwell's two-year contract extension, which puts him and Marrone on the same timetable. All four are tied together now, so if Marrone and Hackett can get Bortles on track and if the Jaguars win games, things will be good.
There are reasons to believe Bortles will be better in 2017. He didn't spend much time in California working with his personal coach last offseason, choosing instead to stay in Jacksonville and throw with Jaguars receivers. Olson encouraged that, Bortles said.
Similar to gaining a few pounds here and there and all of a sudden realizing you're overweight, Bortles' mechanics slowly slipped throughout the offseason. When he got to training camp, things were a mess. There was no time to fix it at that point, and he struggled as a result.
Bortles is planning on leaving for California in mid-January and returning to Jacksonville at the end of March. That gives him approximately 10 weeks of work on his mechanics.
He'll have to learn Hackett's offense, but that process should be streamlined a bit because Hackett already knows what Bortles likes and is good at, so he can eliminate some plays and calls immediately.
The Jaguars are giving Bortles the advantage of continuity with a coordinator he feels comfortable with and likes. Now he just has to prove it was a disappointing 2016 -- and not his impressive 2015 season -- that was a fluke.