Maurice Jones-Drew’s holdout is not one that will only have short-term effects on his individual performance with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Blaine Gabbert’s rookie-season performance, especially in active comparison to that of Cam Newton’s, was poor and disappointing.
Coming out of Missouri, Gabbert was supposedly the most complete quarterback product in the 2011 NFL draft, but his mechanics were sloppy and his footwork unethical.
Gabbert’s progression in the league will depend on two things: 1. Justin Blackmon’s efficiency and 2. Maurice Jones-Drew.
As much as the Jacksonville Jaguars' front office, coaching staff and even fans are touting Rashad Jennings as the probable starter in MJD’s absence, Jones-Drew is not easily expendable. At only 27 years of age, MJD is still as explosive and bottom-balanced as any elite running back in the league.
His influence over the offense was the primary reason Gabbert looked a little bit okay in his first season. Jones-Drew became the workhorse of the offense, cleaning up the mistakes of his teammates, essentially his quarterback. Gabbert is a very intelligent football player and has the intangibles to have a very high ceiling as a starting quarterback in the league, but as a project.
Thrusting him into the starting position in a franchise with not much else to beam about put a lot of pressure on a rookie quarterback and Gabbert wasn’t prepared to face those responsibilities. The drafting and finally signing of Justin Blackmon just a couple of days ago set Gabbert up to become much more effective in the air.
Blackmon’s strength, agility and savvy separation alone is enough to make him a difference maker in offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski’s system, who himself acknowledges that the Jaguars’ passing game “isn’t very good” (h/t Josh Alper, Pro Football Talk). In Gabbert’s defense, the offense as a whole hasn’t been that good—with the exception of Jones-Drew.
This cringing fact is what makes the Jaguars’ refusal to cave or at least compromise with MJD’s demands that much more critical to Gabbert’s development and potential replacement in the organization.
The NFL has become far less accepting of two-time offenders, be it arrests or poor on-field development, and Gabbert is at risk of being a second-year bust by the time the 2013 NFL draft comes rolling around. Without Jones-Drew as that cushion, the Jaguars are expecting Gabbert to lean on Jennings, Blackmon and his own offseason training to secure his position as the starting quarterback of the franchise for longer than two measly seasons.
With questions surrounding Blackmon’s character due to multiple arrests this offseason and Jennings’ obvious drop of talent from what Jones-Drew brings to the offense, the season will be just as bleak and confusing as it was previously.
A two-man running punch with the inclusion of Jennings and MJD would be ideal, but Jennings carrying the load alone will result in individual praise, yet collective failure. Maurice Jones-Drew is an integral part of the Jaguars’ process to develop Gabbert into an ideal quarterback for the franchise.
Without him, Jacksonville may be playing through the season just to get to the other side and replace him.
Time will only tell, but the past didn’t set such a fearless precedent. The Jaguars need Maurice Jones-Drew to fill his role for the organization just as much as Gabbert needs him to define the pace of his progression.