PHOENIX – It doesn’t matter where Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone is or who’s asking the question. The question is always the same: “What about Blake Bortles?”
At the AFC Coaches breakfast at the NFL’s annual meeting in Phoenix, Marrone was asked about Bortles in every way possible. And he stuck by his answer: Blake is the Jaguars quarterback.
“The relationship with head coach and quarterback is important,” he said in front of a group of reporters gathered around his table. “We’ll set some goals. He’s our quarterback. No different than any other position. You have to earn the respect of your teammates and earn a roster spot.”
With Marrone and VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin preaching competition, it is interesting that they’ve done that at every position but quarterback. Pointing out that Brandon Allen and Chad Henne are still on the roster, Marrone said that will create competition but he doesn’t believe Bortles is the type of player who needs to be pushed.
“He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He’s able to stand up and be consistent. A lot of people wouldn’t know what’s that like, constantly being asked ‘Why aren’t you playing well, why aren’t you winning.’”
In the final two weeks of the 2016 season with Marrone as the interim head coach, Bortles seemed to settle down and play better. While he won’t take credit for that, Doug does say he changed the focus for his quarterback, giving him options to keep a play, series or drive going without taking chances. That seemed to allow Bortles to take some pressure off himself.
“You appreciate that but as a coach you have to manage it,” Marrone explained of the expectations some players have of themselves. “You have to be smart, check the ball down, sometimes he puts a lot of pressure on himself to make a play and sometimes that play’s just not there.”
Not to say Doug doesn’t want players who have high expectations. Especially for themselves.
“The players that you want are the players who compete against themselves,” he added. “Those are the kind you want. I don’t think anyone on our team has a sense of ease.”
That uneasiness comes from the culture that Marrone and Tom Coughlin are changing around the organization. Their long-standing relationship is one of the things owner Shad Khan pointed to as why the new management structure on the Jaguars is working, along with GM Dave Caldwell. Marrone is pretty comfortable with the way things are.
“I know that from when I was a very young coach I’ve always looked up to Coach Coughlin,” he said. “When I was the head coach at Syracuse I relied on him quite a bit about culture, philosophy, dealing with coaches, dealing with players, without a partnership. He’s helped me grow so much as a coach.”
“I know I’m the head coach and I’m going to run this team but I have the greatest situation in the world, he continued. “I have someone who’s aligned with me philosophically. I tell him all the time, ‘By the time you’re done with me, I’ll have sucked every bit of information out of your brain.’ To have somebody to walk ten feet into his office and ask ‘Is there a better way to do this’ I just think is outstanding.”
As they go about reshaping the Jaguars inside and out, Marrone says it’s not a mystery why certain teams win and others can’t.
“There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “When you look at teams that haven’t won, the same things pop up. Mental toughness, not being able to finish games. We want to create structure, discipline. You have to train mental and physical toughness. You have to experience adversity.”
When the regular carousel of coaching changes started happening right after the regular season, Marrone was named as a possibility for several other franchises. But he stayed in Jacksonville, partly because of his two years already here. Not necessarily on the Jaguars, but living in town, getting to know the people. He believes the team should take on the personality of it’s own community.
“I love these types of challenges. I was able to live in the community, you get to see the passion and the disappointment. When we come in as a coaching staff and as players, we have a chance to change that. And do it in a way that reflects the community. The community is a group of hard-working people. We have to reflect the people in the community who get up and go to work everyday and build something.”
Calling on his experience helping rebuild the Saints after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, Marrone says there has to be a connection between the fans and the team. When the Saints finally returned to the Superdome, he looked into the stands before the opening kickoff and saw people crying.
“That’s when I started to realize what type of effect a football team can have on a town or a region. I’m not going to compare our situation to that but I want our fans to have that pride again to wear the Jaguars logo.”
In another offseason full of changes and the remaking of the roster, again, skeptics are everywhere around a team that looked like it had so much promise a year ago. And for the new head coach, that means even at home.
“My son’s friends, they want to know everything. You want to talk about being prepared to talk to reporters?” he said with a big laugh. “Try talking to a bunch of 13-year-old kids! ‘Why are we going after this guy? What are we doing?’ They have no filter. Even my son “What are we doin’ Dad?” And my wife asks, “Do you know what you’re doing? Are you sure?”
All good questions that will only start to be answered in September.