JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said this past week that rookie quarterback Blake Bortles was eventually going to get reps with the first-team offense, both in practice and in a preseason game.
It needs to be done this week.
After back-to-back impressive performances against Tampa Bay and Chicago, Bortles could be on the verge of changing the franchise's mind about going with veteran Chad Henne as the starter. The only way to know for sure whether it would be a good idea to reverse course and plug Bortles in right away is by seeing how he handles himself with the first-team offense while playing against a first-team defense.
Bortles completed 11 of 17 passes for 160 yards in the Jaguars' 20-19 loss to Chicago on Thursday night and is 18-for-28 for 277 yards in two preseason games. Bortles has looked poised and confident, has made some tough throws and has not locked onto his primary receiver. However, all of that work has come with the second-team offense against second-team defenses, and that doesn't give a true picture of just how ready Bortles is to play.
Blaine Gabbert went 35-for-70 for 365 yards and one touchdown with one interception in his four preseason games as a rookie in 2011. Solid but not great numbers, but it was enough to convince the coaching staff that it could get by with Luke McCown and Gabbert as the two quarterbacks. Then Gabbert went out and threw 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions and guided the Jaguars to a 5-11 record. They scored more than 20 points in a game just once.
That's not to imply a comparison between Bortles and Gabbert. Bortles has looked far better than Gabbert did as a rookie in the preseason, but it's clear the game is played at a different speed in the regular season, when the first-teamers are on the field for the entire game. That's why Bortles needs first-team reps.