Sunday, May 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

UCF's Blake Bortles draws plenty of pro day attention

ORLANDO — It remains to be seen whether UCF quarterback Blake Bortles will be available when the Bucs pick No. 7 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 Interstate 4 on Wednesday morning, watching intently as Bortles, 6 feet 4 and 229 pounds, held his pro day at UCF's indoor facility.

In all, four teams drafting in the top eight 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 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.

"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. … 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 that 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 deep at the end of his workout. But he said he was pleased with the range of throws he could make, both in the pocket and 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 Teddy Bridgewater in October, then beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl to finish a 12-1 season which prompted him to skip his senior season and enter the draft. He is seen as one of three elite quarterbacks in the draft, along with Bridgewater and former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. The Bucs only had offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford at Bridgewater's workout 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."

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