JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On the surface it looks like a mismatch of a still-learning quarterback in the Jaguars Blake Bortles and a 12-year veteran Aaron Rodgers. But closer inspection shows a lot more similarities between the two quarterbacks and the receivers and running game they rely on.
Bortles has spent the recent off-seasons working specifically on his quarterback skills and training with his top receivers, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. He’s also feeling pretty good about Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon running the football. Rodgers has worked on his delivery and footwork throughout his career and leans on players like Randal Cobb and Jordy Nelson when he’s scrambling around and Eddie Lacy pounding it on the ground.
“That’s what you rely on. You rely on the thousands of reps we’ve put in over the years and trust we’ll be able to make it work when he gets out there,” Rodgers said of Nelson’s return in 2016 after an injury. “I’m sure he, just like a quarterback, going out there in the preseason, doesn’t mind taking a shot to get a feel of the game. I’m sure it wouldn’t be bad for him to get tackled.”
Working for the second year in Greg Olson’s offense, Bortles has better command and is more comfortable. He admits it’s still a learning process but he’s getting more comfortable knowing where Olson might be going during a particular drive.
“I think this year it’s definitely more of a collaborative effort—or not a collaborative effort, but I have a good feeling of what he likes to call,” Blake explained before practice on Wednesday. “So it’s definitely less shocking, but I think when the calls come in, I expect them to come in and we’re definitely on the same page.”
On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers us under a new offensive coordinator, Jacksonville’s Edgar Bennett is running the Packers offense after stints as the running back and receivers coach in Green Bay. But the offense is basically the same.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a structured offense for 12 years,” Rodgers explained. “Obviously, it’s morphed over the years. I had a good relationship with Mike (McCarthy) over the years as a play-caller to a quarterback. We’ve had a lot of great moments together and we learned to anticipate things and anticipate the calls and get into a flow with him where you feed off each other.”
Taking over the offense was in the cards a few years ago as Bennett switched coaching groups to gain a more diverse knowledge of the offense.
“When Edgar went to wide receivers in 2011 the initial thought was mine and I went to him, sat down and talked to him about it and then told him what I was thinking,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy explained. And his praise and expectations of Edgar are higher still.
“Definitely. I think Edgar Bennett is head coach material in the National Football League. With that being said, when you look at what he’s done at every position he’s had success. He did a great job with the running backs, great job with the receivers and that’s a big part of why he’s our offensive coordinator today.”
In only his third year, Blake Bortles has shown marked improvement and hopes to build on the 35 touchdowns he threw last season.
“You can really tell. Just the ownership, even with protections,” Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley explained about Bortles progression. “That was a big emphasis with us. I know the sack numbers have gone down last year from the year previous. It is a big point of emphasis. I think when you own the protections and understand it and can handle it out on the field, it is a big part of it. I really see that part of Blake as well.”
For Sunday’s game, the Jaguars are the “sleeper” pick, figuring that if you’re going to beat the Packers, early in the season, on the road and in the heat is the place to get it done. But Bradley warns against thinking that Green Bay could be down an out before the final whistle. He noted their ability to come back in the second half.
“They have that. You can see multiple games where they have done that. Let’s come out strong and have a good couple stops and then that is good, but it is 60 minutes because this team can get a roll. It is more of that message. We are going to need this effort throughout. It is a very explosive offense.”