Bortles-mania has begun in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Even though the guy isn't supposed to play this season, Jacksonville Jaguars fans have quickly embraced quarterback Blake Bortles.

That was evident by the 2,054 fans who piled onto the practice fields adjacent to EverBank Field for the first day of the team’s two-day minicamp Friday afternoon. And by the noise they made when Bortles jogged through the blocked-off walkway onto the field.

"It was awesome," Bortles said. "The fans were unbelievable. I’ve never seen so many people at practice before."

There haven’t been the past several seasons, not even in 2011 when the Jaguars took quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the 10th pick, because the team didn't have a rookie minicamp thanks to the lockout. Not when the team hasn’t had a winning record since 2007 and hasn’t won more than five games since 2010.

But the fans were out there on a sunny, windy, 80-degree Friday. Sprinkled among the teal and black was a lot of UCF gold. Members of the school's sports information department made the trip from Orlando, as did several television stations. The sideline was littered with photographers and photojournalists, too.

The scene would be considered a normal open minicamp in Denver, New York, New England and Chicago. But it was five times as many as usual for one of the NFL's smallest markets.

It was all to get a look at the player who is supposed to turn the franchise around.

"How about this atmosphere?" Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said.

Although the players were only in helmets, Bortles didn’t disappoint. He completed 11 of 14 passes in 11-on-11 drills. One of the incompletions was a drop by receiver Greg Childs. Another was knocked out of tight end D.J. Tialavea’s hands by defensive back Chris Pickett. The third was an overthrow on a deep ball to receiver Marqise Lee, who also caught Bortles’ first pass of the day.

"I thought he did a nice job," Bradley said. "He got a lot of reps. I think it was going to be 50-something reps compared to 14 for Stephen [Morris], trying to get him in a rhythm. As he went through it, I’m sure he did some things that were good and some things that he needs to improve on. But we just want him to capture it and grow from it."

Bortles was just happy to be on the field for the first time since the Jaguars took him with the No. 3 pick on May 8. Since then, he came to Jacksonville for his introductory news conference, returned to Orlando for a few days and drove back to Jacksonville on Monday. He and the rest of the rookies had physicals and have gone through orientation and meetings before finally practicing for the first time Friday.

He said he wasn’t nervous at all for his first NFL workout and is looking forward to No. 2 on Saturday afternoon.