The rap on preseason NFL games is that they don’t matter. This is true in the sense that they don’t count in the standings. But for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, the Jags game in New York against Tom Coughlin and the Giants definitely means something.
The talk about Bortles in year 2 is whether or not he can make the jump from being a first half checkdown artist prone to the second half pick six to being, if not a “superstar” like former Jags WR Cecil Shorts claims he will be, than at least a competent game manager who inspires as much confidence as departed signal callers David Garrard and Byron Leftwich.
I watched Game 1 with Jags’ legend Fred Taylor, and he observed what most saw: Bortles is comfortable with the short and intermediate stuff, but in terms of going deep, we aren’t seeing the kind of touch and timing that characterize Ben Roethlisberger, the Steeler that many in Jacksonville hoped Bortles would turn into when he was drafted.
Roethlisberger sets up the deep ball amazingly well, and isn’t afraid to pull the trigger and throw bombs down field. The chunk game drives the Steelers to the playoffs most years. Meanwhile, Bortles, with all the physical gifts Roethlisberger has, still seems reluctant to let it fly.
Ideas have consequences. And so do timid choices by QBs. Julius Thomas, one of the top 5 tight ends in the league, got big money from Shad Khan to help Bortles stretch the field. Of course, the first throw of the preseason to him last week was a two yard flare that got Thomas blown up. Hand now in a cast, the hope is he’ll be back for week 1.
Part of the reason Bortles can’t go deep has been the line play, and the man Jax folks blame is left tackle Luke Joeckel, who was brought in to be the next Tony Boselli but has left Jags fans missing the departed and derided Khalif Barnes.
Joeckel has a penchant for getting beaten by edge rushers, despite his size. He’s been working on his footwork, they say, yet he gave up a backbreaking sack last week against Pittsburgh that led to a nine yard loss that could have been much worse.
It was the type of sack that often leads to fumbles being returned for touchdowns by opposing defenses.
Joeckel is one of those guys who seems to do well until he gets obliterated in a matchup. A putative franchise left tackle, there are many who wonder if he’s even as good as a street free agent.
There will be more such speculation if he doesn’t show real progress in Saturday night’s game.