Both second-year quarterbacks are coming off rough rookie seasons, Gabbert in particular. Both signal-callers have come under intense scrutiny this offseason, some of it warranted, much of it overwrought and unrealistic.
The fact of the matter is that both Gabbert and Ponder had much to work on and have had the chance to start down the right path this year in their first full offseasons with their NFL squads. The Vikings sat Ponder as long as they could last year until it was apparent that they weren't going anywhere with Donavan McNabb as their starter.
The Jaguars threw Gabbert into the fire well before he was ready, but they had little real choice. His transition into the NFL was harsh, coming from a spread offense and being asked to lead a much more traditional, pro-style offense that was as predictable as it was vanilla.
After watching both Ponder and Gabbert last night, it's pretty apparent that both quarterbacks have taken advantage of the coaching on offer so far this offseason.
Gabbert in particular seemed to have shaken free of many of the fundamental issues he displayed throughout last season. On several occasions he could be seen to look off deep safeties before coming back to reads outside the hash marks. His shoulders were even much of the time, unlike last year, when he tended to carry himself unevenly, which would necessitate an elongated throwing motion.
As for Ponder, he too did a good job looking downfield and wasn't afraid to pull the trigger. He was plagued by a spate of drops from his receivers; otherwise, his final stat line (4 of 9 for 80 yards) would have looked much better.
As encouraging as the performances of Ponder and Gabbert were, it's important to remember that they did what they did against the most basic of defensive schemes and vanilla play-calls. Both of their opponents, the 49ers and Giants, respectively, played base concepts and kept things incredibly simple on defense, throwing out a bit of man and a few different zones in coverage but little more.
Even with the simple calls and limited, if any, game-planning, both quarterbacks had their issues. Gabbert still had a couple deer-in-headlight moments (though he did seem to keep his eyes downfield against the rush, a big improvement over last year), and Ponder tended to lock onto a single read far too often rather than scanning the whole field in an attempt to hold the opposing safety.
All that said, last night was a great first step for both quarterbacks in their attempts to fill the void that the Vikings and Jaguars have when it comes to employing "franchise" quarterbacks. The tests only get tougher from here, but the initial signs are certainly encouraging.