Lovie, Licht get closer look at UCF QB Bortles
ORLANDO -- It remains to be seen whether UCF quarterback Blake Bortles will be available when the Bucs have the No. 7 pick in May's NFL draft, or whether they like him enough to select him as the franchise's quarterback of the future.
But Tampa Bay's new leaders -- coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht -- took advantage of the easy drive up I-4 on Wednesday morning, watching intently as the Knights' 6-foot-4, 229-pound quarterback held his pro day at UCF's indoor facility.
In all, four teams drafting in the top eight picks had head coaches on hand -- Licht chatted with Houston's Bill O'Brien, who has the top pick, and Minnesota's Mike Zimmer, who picks immediately after the Bucs at No. 8. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said he spent at least 90 minutes with Bortles on Tuesday night; the Bucs did not meet individually with the passer, though they did so at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
"Any time you see a guy perform, you learn something about him," Smith said. "It was good to see him throw again, in his home surroundings and all that. The evaluation process is ongoing, and we had another chance to look at him."
Of course, if Bortles has his way, he'll be long gone by the time the Bucs pick at No. 7 -- he made it clear his goal is to be the No. 1 overall pick, which is where draft experts like ESPN's Todd McShay have him projected to go.
"It'd be huge. There's one a year," he said of being the top pick. "That's something that would be an enormous accomplishment. It's a goal of mine that I have, but it's not the end of the world if I'm not. I want to go into an organization and do what I can to make them as successful as possible. If it's Houston, if it's whoever, I can't wait to be a part of it. ... Hopefully (the Texans) liked it. If not, hopefully somebody else did."
Wearing a gray UCF t-shirt and shorts, Bortles ran through about 65 passes, so well scripted a rundown was passed out to scouts, shifting directly from the deep over to the "Sluggo seam" to the shoot route. He rarely missed early, then didn't connect as well on deep passes at the end of his workout, but said he was pleased with the range of throws he could make, both in the pocket and while on the run.
"Obviously I had a couple of throws I'd like to have back, but that's going to happen when you throw 65-70 balls," he said. "I thought for the most part it went well and I did what I wanted to."
Bortles, from nearby Oviedo, led UCF to an upset of then-No. 8 Louisville and Bridgewater, then beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl to finish a 12-1 season, prompting him to skip his senior year and enter the draft. He is seen as one of the three elite quarterbacks in the draft, along with Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. The Bucs only had offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford at Bridgewater's workout earlier this week, though teams can bring in top prospects for private workouts as well.
"Overall, it was a really, really strong performance," McShay said. "I see a guy who clearly has better raw physical tools to work with and is progressing towards a more finished product than what I saw from Bridgewater earlier in the week. If I'm absolutely taking a quarterback, I'm taking Blake Bortles."