The changes may be hard to see for those who don’t study tape or aren’t familiar with quarterback fundamentals, but teammates and coach Gus Bradley said they saw a significant difference in the second-year former Central Florida standout in the first of 10 organized team activities (OTAs) workouts.
The consensus: Bortles’ mechanics -- both upper body and footwork -- were crisper than they were during his rookie season in 2014 and as a result he’s throwing the ball better.
"You can tell his release is better just from his footwork," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s going to be doing. You can definitely tell he went back home and sharpened up and that’s really good to see from a guy getting drafted where he did and coming into his second year."
Actually, Bortles didn’t go home to Oviedo, Florida. He went to California, where he spent more than two months working with quarterback guru Tom House and quarterback coach Jordan Palmer. Bortles said he spent five consecutive days with House, who also has worked with Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and then worked with him three days a week for the rest of the two months. He also threw with Palmer once or twice a week.
They didn’t overhaul his throwing motion, but they did get him consistently using his entire body to make a throw, keeping his footwork clean, and making sure he was able to identify when he did something wrong and how to correct it.
The difference, though subtle to most outsiders, is huge to Bortles, especially when he watches tape from 2014.
"To me, it’s a big difference," said Bortles, who threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and had the worst Total QBR (21.9) of any starting QB in 2014. "To the guys that I worked with it’s a big difference. It’s just more efficient. It’s better. It’s something when I was able to talk to Olly (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) a while back, there were things we wanted to work on to fix. It was good because we were on the same page with things I was trying to fix anyways."
Allen Hurns was one of several Jaguars players that attended some throwing sessions that Bortles organized in California. He said he noticed a difference in the way Bortles threw the ball immediately.
"Coming in last year he was working on his spirals, so this offseason I worked with him and his balls are getting a lot faster," said Hurns, who led the Jaguars in receiving yards (677) and receiving touchdowns (six) last season. "You could see the progression as far as the ball [being delivered quicker as receivers are] getting out of your breaks, the spirals, the timing down pat as far as his releases of the ball."
What’s just as important to Bradley as the improvements is the way Bortles went about making them. Bortles made getting better a priority and took the necessary steps to do so, which is something that earned him a lot of respect in the locker room.
"I like what he did in the offseason," Bradley said. "The ideal thing is to be with us and to be with our coaches, but that can’t happen [because of NFL rules] so he took the next best thing and met with somebody, met with another player, and threw in the offseason and really worked on it. I appreciate that. I think the team appreciates that.
"… He’s not there yet, but we’ve seen really good improvement."
The next phase is making those improvements permanent. That’s not easy because Bortles has been throwing one way for his entire life and it will take a while for the changes to become second nature. Overall, he was pleased with what he did during the first day of OTAs.
"Definitely still working on things, trying to make them muscle memory," Bortles said. "It felt good and I thought the guys were running around and working their tails off on the first day."