Blake Bortles doesn’t have to watch a lot of film to know what Jameis Winston is going through.
Young quarterbacks tend to be wildly inconsistent early in their careers, even those deemed to have as much talent and potential as Bortles and Winston.
“I honestly haven’t seen a ton (of Winston) … but I do catch some clips every now and then,” said Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“After going through it last year, and even this year, it’s unbelievably hard to be successful as a rookie, seeing things for the first time,” the second-year pro added. “You’re seeing things you’ve never seen before, you’re doing things you’ve never done before, so I think it takes a lot of adaptation and time to get used to. I definitely feel and know what he’s going through, and it does get better.”
Bortles will make his 18th pro start Sunday, facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted Winston No. 1 overall this year.
Both teams are off to 1-3 starts. And while that may not bode well for playoff aspirations this season, the Jaguars and Bucs believe the young quarterbacks are leading them in the right direction.
“We had great faith and have great faith in Blake. … I know they have great faith in (Winston), and they trust him and know sometimes things can happen,” Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley said.
“The biggest thing is to learn, quickly recover from your mistakes and move on,” Bradley added. “That’s kind of what we went through. We saw the great games and we saw the tough games and the inconsistency. I think it will eventually even out.”
Unlike Bortles, who didn’t make his first start until the fourth game of last season, Winston has been Tampa Bay’s starter since the opening day of training camp. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner threw for a career-best 287 yards and two touchdowns, but also tossed four interceptions and lost a fumble during a 37-23 loss to Carolina last week.
Winston also played poorly in a season-opening loss to Tennessee. In between his first and fourth starts, the rookie beat New Orleans on the road and played fairly well in a 10-point loss at Houston.
“We’ve seen signs that he can be a great player. But with that, though, we are not there yet,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “There will be growing pains. He’s a rookie that just played his fourth NFL game. That’s a part of it. When things like that happen others of us need to be able to help him out a lot more.”
Bortles threw 11 TD passes and was intercepted 17 times as a rookie. Although Jacksonville is averaging just 15.5 points per game, he’s off to a better start with six TDs vs. three interceptions.
“All young quarterbacks have to go through the same process. If you are talented, you are going to see improvements each week,” Smith said. “We see (Bortles) growing. He’s come a long ways. He’s a good football player. We just don’t want him to be at his best” Sunday.
Some things to know when the intrastate rivals meet during the regular season for only the sixth time:
SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE: The Jaguars have lost 11 straight road games, eight with Bortles at quarterback. The Bucs have dropped 11 consecutive home games, dating to December 2013.
RED ZONE WOES: The Jaguars are looking for better results in the red zone. They rank 28th in red zone efficiency, scoring four touchdowns in 11 trips inside the 20-yard line. Only four teams — Cleveland, the New York Giants, San Francisco and Seattle — have been worse this season. “It’s precision and attention to detail that is lacking, and it’s something that definitely needs to improve for us to be able to execute it,” Bortles said.
BIG BLUNDERS: Winston has six TD passes, but also seven interceptions. Two of the picks have been returned for TDs, one coming on his first pass as a pro and the other on his first pass of the day in last week’s loss to Carolina.
HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS: Jacksonville has been mostly awful in the second half of games. The Jaguars have been outscored a combined 51-17 after halftime, not the way to close out close games. The worst part for the team is players and coaches haven’t been able to pinpoint a common issue. “It’s the same game plan with the same players running each play, right?” Bortles said. “So it’s hard to figure out why the lack of execution occurs in the second half.”
DECEPTIVE STAT: The Bucs are ranked 10th in total defense, allowing 322.3 yards per game. They’re 30th in a much more important category, yielding 29.3 points per game.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.