Sticks and stones: Blake Bortles has no trouble ignoring the rash of insults

How likely is Bortles to choke against Bills? (0:47)

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This week it was Jurrell Casey.

Last month it was Jadeveon Clowney and Earl Thomas.

In November, it was Vontaze Burfict, and in August, it was Cameron Jordan.

All of them took shots at Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. That isn't a complete list, either, not when you consider what fans have posted on Twitter and what has been said and written about Bortles in the media.

Bortles is “going to choke,” and he can’t beat you.

He’s also “trash” and “a subpar quarterback.”

Those are pretty biting comments from fellow players, but they’re much tamer than what’s out there on social media. Yet Bortles pays no attention to any it. Whenever he’s asked about something an NFL player said about him, he has to have the comment read to him.

Then he just blows it off, deflects it with some humor or sneaks in a subtle dig. His ability to withstand the massive amount of criticism and not let it impact his demeanor or play has earned him a load of admiration from his teammates.

And a lot of respect, too.

“We don’t care [what people say],” receiver Marqise Lee said. “Bang him all you want. We’re still in the postseason.

“That [critical comments] are part of the league. Everybody’s going to get labeled here and there. Everybody gets something here, something wrong with them there. It is what it is. My thing is Blake’s doing a great job of just tuning it out and playing. Clearly it’s bothering everybody that he’s playing decent because they’ve all got something to say.”

It isn't a surprise to anyone inside the facility that Bortles handles that kind of stuff so well because they’ve seen what he has gone through in the four seasons since the Jaguars drafted him third overall in 2014.

He led the NFL in turnovers from 2014-16 (63) and threw the second-most interceptions (51) in that span. His mechanics have been dissected over and over again, and they deteriorated to the point where his college offensive coordinator didn’t recognize him. He has been the subject of scorn on various websites for several on-field gaffes, including bouncing a ball off T.J. Yeldon’s foot that Houston linebacker Whitney Mercilus caught.

Some of the things written and said about Bortles in the media have been pretty harsh, too:

Chris Simms said on PFT Live that Bortles “was not put on earth to throw the football.

Michael Lombardi of the Ringer wrote a piece entitled “I Don’t Hate Blake Bortles, But ...” in which he writes that he, um, really doesn’t like Bortles.

Former NFL quarterback and former ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer called Bortles “the worst quarterback in the NFL.”

That was before Bortles threw five interceptions in a training camp practice and was benched in August.

“Yeah, he’s used to it,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said of the harsh criticism. “It’s been happening quite a bit. If he doesn’t [handle it well], then how’s he ever going to be the player he wants to be, if he starts listening to that stuff?

“I don’t know how he handles it, honestly. I know for me, I don’t listen to any of that stuff.”

Bortles’ biggest supporter -- aside from general manager Dave Caldwell, who drafted him -- is offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. He raves about how Bortles has managed to stay the same easygoing, laid-back guy when it seems like the entire world is constantly telling him he’s an awful football player.

“It’s unbelievable, his mental toughness,” Hackett said. “His physical toughness, I think we all see it out there -- the hits that he takes, the ability to just get back up and keep rolling. But then when you take the mental aspect of having, like I’ve said in the past, the different coordinators, the different systems, the ups and downs, the boos and the cheers, all those things, but that’s part of being a quarterback. That’s why it’s one of the most difficult positions in all of sports. And I think that he relishes in it and he loves the game and he loves his teammates. So I think that’s what keeps him going every day, and he’s a pleasure to work with because of that.

“Somehow, some way, he blocks it out all the time and just keeps on rolling no matter what anybody says.”

Bortles thanked his head coach at Central Florida for helping him learn how to do that. George O’Leary was not exactly a warm and fuzzy, “how do you feel?” kind of guy. He was brash and sometimes harsh, but it prepared Bortles for the denigration he has endured from the media, fans and opposing players.

“Playing for Coach O'Leary, you learn quickly how to take criticism,” Bortles said. “I had four years of practice of that, so there is nothing anyone can say anything worse to me than he did.”

Like what? That he stunk in practice?

“Oh, daily,” Bortles said. “I got benched every other day.”

Bortles often uses his dry sense of humor to deflect criticism. He threw pick-sixes in three consecutive games against the Houston Texans in the 2015 and '16 seasons, and before the Dec. 18, 2016, matchup with the Texans, he was asked about that streak.

“I’ve got to be a better tackler,” he joked.

Bortles has a relatively simple approach to handling the insults: None of his critics has any impact on how he plays, so giving anything they say credence is a waste of time and energy.

"The only guy, the only person that you have to impress or please is the guy that is coaching you because he’s the one that’s making the call on whether or not you play," Bortles said. "So I think when you kind of get that and all the clutter out of your head -- of trying to prove people wrong or trying to prove people right -- and you understand that there are very few guys that are all within this building that you have to please, [it's easy to ignore the critics]."

While he is able to stop the negative -- and sometimes overly harsh -- comments and stories from bothering him, he acknowledges that his family members don’t take things as well. His parents, Rob and Suzy Bortles, and brother Colby (a former baseball player at Ole Miss) are especially sensitive.

“I have family all over social media and doing stuff like that, so they can't help but see some of it. And I know it makes them mad because I don't think anyone would want a loved one or family member to be talked about in negative light by somebody else who is playing against them,” Bortles said. “But I have talked to close family and friends, and they understand how I feel about it and know it doesn't bother me, and they do their best to try and do the same.”

Here’s the thing about all the criticism Bortles has faced this season: It’s unwarranted.

Bortles isn’t putting up Tom Brady numbers, but he completed a career-high 60.2 percent of his passes, cut down his interceptions (13) and threw for 3,687 yards in 2017. He did that without his No. 1 receiver (Allen Robinson tore his left ACL in the season opener), with his Nos. 2 and 3 receivers banged up (Allen Hurns missed six games, and Marqise Lee has missed two and counting) and while having to rely on an undrafted rookie from Kentucky Wesleyan (Keelan Cole) and a fourth-round pick who missed the first nine games of the season while recovering from sports hernia surgery.

Bortles' most important stat? The 10 victories as a starter, which are one fewer victory than he posted in his first three seasons combined.

The quarterback has just kept his head on straight, done every single thing he can and worked hard to get it. He’s doing pretty well.

“The coaching profession, you have to look at it and say change is the norm,” Hackett said. “You just always have to be ready to adjust. When it comes to the receivers, when it comes to the offensive line has had a lot of changes, the running backs have had a lot of changes ... that’s part of the game, and you just got to keep on rolling.

“I think the one consistent thing has been Blake, and he’s done a really good job at not letting the changes affect him.”

Not the insults and criticism, either.