ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Five seasons ago, as the Jaguars made a run to the AFC Championship game for just the third time in franchise history, Blake Bortles enjoyed his most successful season as a professional.
The third-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft threw 21 touchdown passes and completed a then career-high 60.2 percent of his passes as the Jaguars went 10-6. Jacksonville posted the league's fifth-ranked scoring offense and first-overall rushing attack that year, and they reached the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.
As Bortles reflects back on that season, he acknowledges that individual players had some of their best seasons. But he also emphasized the role that then-offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett played in Jacksonville's offensive success.
"As much as an offensive coordinator can influence an offense in a season, I think he did that that year," Bortles told DenverBroncos.com on Thursday. "He was able to … change week in and week out things to take advantage of. It was always stuff that everybody loved and everybody knew and made minor tweaks, whether it was personnel or formation or a motion or a shift [to] kind of disguise things. And then at the end of the day, that's all good, but you've got to be able to call it. He's always had a really good feel for being able to call a game."
Hackett, who agreed to terms Thursday to become the Broncos' 18th head coach in franchise history, helped Bortles to more than just one good season. He began a four-year stint in Jacksonville as the quarterbacks coach in 2015, and Bortles threw 35 touchdown passes during just his second season in the league. As a rookie, before Hackett's arrival, he threw just 11 touchdown passes.
"I was lucky enough to have him as a quarterback coach — my second quarterback coach in the NFL — for two years and then as an offensive coordinator for two, so kind of got to see both sides of it, got to be around him, get to know him as a person, as a father, as a husband, as a coach, as everything," Bortles said. "For me, he's by far had the most impact on my NFL career [in terms of] the knowledge, what it takes to play the game [and] the position. [I] was fortunate enough to create a relationship with him that will last a lifetime. He's a special dude. He's got unique leadership abilities, and one thing that I always thought was special about him is his ability to connect with anybody in the building and form a relationship and maintain it and genuinely care about people. He's always been really good at that. Like I told him the other day, 'Whenever or wherever you get an opportunity to get a head job, I can't wait to watch you go attack it and hopefully be successful at it,' because he's earned it as much as anybody."
Hackett earned that opportunity Thursday, as General Manager George Paton and the Broncos tabbed him to lead their team back to the postseason. And while he'll be tasked with helping the entire team improve, his ability to tutor the quarterback position will surely be one of his biggest impacts in Denver.
"We watched countless hours of old tape: Joe Montana, Steve Young — all these old guys playing — and him kind of talking through it and being able to simplify it," Bortles said. "The game's obviously evolved and changed, but there's a lot of stuff that's kind of remained the same, and [he had an] ability to kind of take the time … and walk me through everything, explain things layer by layer by layer so you truly have an understanding of everything going on."
In the meeting room, Bortles said Hackett's energy was "unmatched."
"He's in costumes, he's yelling, he's jumping up and down," Bortles said. "He's high energy for sure, which is great. He's got that infectious energy that you can't help but be in a better mood when you're around him."
Bortles, though, said Hackett was about more than his captivating meetings and fun ways of presenting information.
"He'll have a relationship with everybody and I think his differences from the stereotypical football coach allow him to be so good at that," Bortles said. "I think at the same time, you talk about how crazy he can be at times and how high energy he is at times, but he also is extremely focused and dead set on achieving whatever the goal is."
Through his ability to tailor an offense to his quarterback and the manner in which he made week-to-week adjustments, Hackett showed Bortles his ability as both a motivator and a tactician.
And as Hackett moves into a head-coaching role for the first time, Bortles can foresee more success for his former offensive coordinator.
"I think [number] one is [his] knowledge of football," Bortles said of why he believes Hackett will find success. "That's what you have to have. … You've got to have a high IQ of football, and he definitely has that. I think he's somebody that everybody in the building will want to play for. His energy, his positivity, his ability to hold everybody accountable including himself is something you can't ignore — and it's stuff for me as a player, you love."