JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- They were two wide-eyed rookies. One was the golden-boy quarterback who a carried the hopes of a jaded fan base on his right arm. The other was a tall, lanky receiver who arrived to far less fanfare, but possessed drive and determination to go with the desired measurables to be an elite pass catcher.
They came together knowing little about each other, but were thrown together by circumstances, a quarterback and a receiver, bonding over the simplest of things: Playing catch with a football.
When Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson showed up as new teammates with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the spring of 2014, they were immediately thrown together. They lived in the team hotel. They ate meals together. They worked on the field together.
"We were together 24-7 the first three months we were in Jacksonville." Bortles said "It was me, him and (fellow receiver Allen) Hurns. We threw together at high schools. We stayed together at the hotel. We ate dinner together before any of us found a house. We rode the bus over (to team facility) in the morning. We were together 24-7 and it really created good chemistry. That's how we started building our relationship. We felt comfortable off the field that when we were on we already had a relationship, one where I could say I don't like that or he could say he didn't like something to me. That was important."
"We were able to get so many reps together because Chad (Henne) was the starter, so Blake was on the second team and so was I," Robinson said. "That's how we started things. You get comfortable working with a guy from the start."
The quarterback-No. 1 receiver relationship can sometimes be a tricky one. Receivers can be divas. Quarterbacks can have giant egos and my-way-is-the-right way mentalities.
Clashes happen. Receivers claim they are always open, and sometimes pain-in-the-ass receivers can chafe a quarterback to the point where he might purposely avoid throwing to them. That's happened in the NFL in the past.
That's why building a strong bond is so important. That's why coming in together as rookies has been so important for Bortles and Robinson, who, entering their third year together, are developing into one of the best young QB-receiver duos in the league.
In 2015, Bortles threw for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdown passes in his breakout season, putting himself into the mix as a potential top-10 quarterback this season. Robinson caught 80 passes and 14 of those touchdown throws by Bortles were his. He also led the NFL in catches of 20 yards or more with 31.
They did all that while playing in a system together for the first time under offensive coordinator Greg Olsen. The Jaguars changed coordinators after the duo's rookie seasons, which meant learning an entirely new offense for two consecutive years.
That can make a quarterback go slower through reads and a receiver think more on the run.
That's why the numbers from 2015 are so impressive. Now in the same offense again, things are much smoother.
"We are so much more comfortable in the offense now and working with each other in it," Bortles said "It's amazing how much better we are now than last year."
Now they can focus on the little things. What routes need work? What details need fixing? What's the best way to attack a corner?
Robinson came into the league as a player not known for his speed. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds he has a vertical leap of 40 inches, and has a great knack for going up and high-pointing the ball, but he is also sneaky fast. He showed that on a play last year against the Saints where he turned a one-on-one situation with Brandon Browner into a 90-yard touchdown catch.
On that play, Robinson beat Browner in man coverage with a slight push off and Bortles hit him in stride on the left sideline where he raced untouched into the end zone with a long, gazelle-like stride.
"Guys view him as a mid-speed, jump-ball guy, but he has some wheels," Bortles said. "We were able to show that last year."
"That play was a check," Robinson said. "He saw me outside in that one-on-one situation and he made the check. The rep for me is that I don't run that well. But that rep kind of started to diminish when I stretched the field last year."
His physical traits were on display on that play as well, getting away from Browner, who is a beat-you-up corner.
"You pushed off," I told Robinson.
"No I didn't," he said with a smile.
Robinson's ability to go up and make the tough catches can sometimes be a crutch for Bortles. It's easy to think that part of his game will always be there when a play breaks down. But that doesn't always allow Bortles to go through his progressions, which is why it's not always a good thing.
"I've thrown the ball to him so much that I wonder if I should go somewhere else with it," Bortles said "When he gets a one-on-one matchup, I want to give him his chance to go get it. It can get difficult there. I want to throw him the ball, but I want to work him through the system too."
"It's hard to rely on that all the time," Robinson said. "You're going to go against some really good athlete defensive backs, so you can't do it all the time. You need to get separation."
That's something Robinson has focused on this year, something he's worked hard to get more of during the offseason, even as he battled through some hamstring issues.
"That's something Antonio Brown has been able to accomplish," Robinson said. "He creates the separation, at the line or in the intermediate routes with his ability to get past the defender. That's what makes it so tough to stop him. I am trying to make everything I run look the same so people can't get a beat on us. That will help us create separation."
That means it's more than just speed at work, which is why throwing all the routes on a daily basis is so important for a young duo. Add in Hurns, a tireless worker in his own right, and you see the makings of a special passing game.
"When he's healthy we'll throw every route he runs during our work," Bortles said. "And then if there's anything we are unsure of or uncomfortable with we'll stay after during special teams period and work on it on another field. There are guys in the league who have talent and want to go home. Not him. He's the perfect teammate. He's the perfect receiver. He has an unbelievable amount of talent and he wants to continue to get better."
Robinson said he wants to be better in the intermediate routes, so he made that a priority this offseason. They spent a lot of time together throwing, throwing and throwing some more. They took their work away from the facility when they weren't allowed to be there. Beach time? Forget that.
It was working on the little things. Early success in a career is one thing. Greatness is another.
"I worked hard on being better on in-breaking, out-breaking, all of them," Robinson said. "I want to be better at the top of the route."
Robinson turns 23 this month, while Bortles turned 24 in April. That's baby years for an NFL pass-catching combo, which is why special things are expected of the duo for a long time.
They do need to clean up the mistakes of youth -- Bortles threw 18 picks last season -- but they have a chance to develop into one of the 5-7 best combos in the NFL.
"I hope we play together for a long time," Bortles said. "If we do, sky's the limit."