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Jaguars, Blake Bortles encouraged by QB's near-flawless performance in preseason opener

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JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Blake Bortles had one critique about his performance in Jacksonville's preseason opener.

Not surprisingly, it involved what essentially was his only incompletion.

Bortles completed 11 of 15 passes for 118 yards in a 23-21 victory against Pittsburgh last week. Of his four misses, three of them were dropped passes that should have been caught. The other was the one that stood out to Bortles, who spent much of the offseason tweaking his mechanics and footwork.

Bortles stepped up in the pocket on third down, elongated his windup and overthrew tight end Clay Harbor in the end zone. Other than that, Bortles was nearly perfect against the Steelers.

"I think it's definitely a good sign," he said Wednesday. "I've got to continue to do certain things and continue to rep it."

The Jaguars would like to see Bortles build on his opener Saturday night against the New York Giants. The second-year pro played just about the entire first half against Pittsburgh, facing some starters but mostly second-teamers, and likely will get a similar amount of work at the Giants.

"I'll play as long as they want me to," Bortles said.

Bortles has seemingly made significant strides since his rookie season, in which he completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,908 yards with 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also was sacked 55 times.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2015, file photo, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles dives over the goal for a 4-yard touchdown run past Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Alden Darby (33) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla. Bortles delivered a strong showing in the team's preseason opener, completing 11 of 15 passes for 118 yards and running for a touchdown. Now, he looks to double it up at the New York Giants on Saturday.  (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2015, file photo, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles dives over the goal for a 4-yard touchdown run past Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Alden Darby (33) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla. Bortles delivered a strong showing in the team's preseason opener, completing 11 of 15 passes for 118 yards and running for a touchdown. Now, he looks to double it up at the New York Giants on Saturday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

He spent part of the offseason working with former major league pitcher and current quarterback guru Tom House, and learned a new scheme under offensive coordinator Greg Olson. But just being in Year 2 has been the biggest difference for the third overall pick in the 2014 draft.

"I think the word would probably be slower," Bortles said. "It slowed down more. Feel more comfortable. Feel more at home. That'll just continue to come with repetitions and continuing to own the offense and feel more comfortable within that."

The Jaguars are pleased with his progress, something general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley said repeatedly would take time.

"I think it shows," Bradley said. "I think we see it out in the practice field every day, just the accuracy, even when the ball comes out of his hand, the tightness of it, the spirals. All of those concepts, and his arm feels stronger, so all of those things are good."

Even the one questionable aspect of Bortles' preseason opener was mostly well received.

Bortles scrambled for a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, a play that made coaches and others cringe. He rolled left, headed for the end zone and took a shot from safety Alden Darby as he lunged for the pylon.

"We're committed to that aspect of his game," Bradley said. "It's a strong suit. He has great toughness. You can do two things: you can coach him out of that or say that's an asset, the team rallies around it and we don't want him to change who he is. But let's be smart. If it's first-and-10, slide. If it's third-and-3 and you've got a chance to get it, you've got to pick and choose."

Bortles jumped up after the hit and celebrated with teammates. Not everyone was thrilled, though.

"The athletic trainers weren't too happy, but that's OK," he said. "I'll handle them."


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