Jacksonville Jaguars Have to Balance Gabbert and Henne This Preseason

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistJuly 11, 2012

How much should Henne play?
How much should Henne play?Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Traditionally, starting quarterbacks in the NFL have a cushy job for two of the four preseason games they play.

Usually, the starter will play a drive in the first game and if he even bothers to suit up for the fourth game, he's in barely long enough to break a sweat.

Blaine Gabbert, on the other hand, should go ahead and put on the Right Guard for that last week.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are completely dedicated to developing Gabbert, but they also invested heavily in Chad Henne as their backup.

Henne may actually be the better player.

It's a difficult position for the team. On one hand, the temptation is to give Gabbert every possible luxury, knowing that a lot of people's jobs likely depend on him. But if Gabbert struggles in camp or Henne lights things up, the team would do well to make sure Henne has had the reps he needs in order to take over.

Gabbert is the starter and Mike Mularkey and company have no obvious interest in turning the preseason into a quarterback competition.

The most likely outcome will be that the Jaguars will engage in a reasonable traditional splitting of snaps. Gabbert will probably start, play a couple of drives in Weeks 1 and 4, and play a full half or half and a drive in Weeks 2 and 3.

This will be the plan because that's what NFL teams always do and if there's one thing we know about NFL coaches, it's that they love to do what everyone else is doing.

The Jaguars, of course, don't have to follow the crowd. They could choose to give Henne some second-quarter snaps and bring Gabbert back for a longer stretch after half time. This could give him the confidence of playing against weaker players and allow him to put up some easy numbers while giving Henne the work he needs in the event he has to take over.

Ideally, this wouldn't be an issue. In a perfect world, Gabbert would blow everyone's doors off in camp and light it up in the preseason and the Jaguars could follow the traditional model knowing full well that Henne is nothing but an expensive insurance policy in the event of injury.

There's another possibility to consider as well. If Gabbert improves enough that the team is sure he's the starter, but not so much they feel good about where he's at, he might need extra work.

In that case, the Jags should consider cutting back on Henne's snaps. Letting Gabbert get more comfortable in the offense could be the difference between a win or two early in the year. For a team with a small margin of error, that extra preparation could pay off down down the line.

NFL teams have a way of trying to force reality to match their best-laid plans, whether it's a fair paring or not. I expect the Jaguars to treat Gabbert as if he were a sure thing, even if the evidence points to the contrary.