Could Blaine Gabbert Be the Most Improved Player in the NFL This Season?
There is a rumor going around Jacksonville that the Jaguars may have found their quarterback of the future.
His name is Blaine Gabbert.
Surprised? I am, but not for the reasons that you think. I’m surprised there have been so many national head cases that have all but thrown Gabbert in the St. Johns River this year without having the stones or chutzpah to come to Florida and see the second-year pro for themselves.
Just because you cover the NFL on a national level, that does not make you an expert on the inner workings of the team that could be vastly improved this year and garner Gabbert, who was and still is fodder for jokes and comments around the NFL, some votes for the Most Improved Player in the League.
You can stop laughing any time now and listen as I lay the groundwork for what could be a decent and on-par season for one of the NFL’s most troubled teams last season.
Admittedly, I have a “love/hate” relationship with the Missouri quarterback. On draft night, I was almost in tears when the team traded up to the 10th spot in the 2011 NFL draft to take their “quarterback of the future.”
And throughout the 2011, Gabbert nearly left me in tears as he could have won three more games than he lost last season based on rookie mistakes (Cincinnati, Cleveland and at least one of the games against the Texans).
That would have been a .500 season if you're scoring at home.
But, there is something about Gabbert that looks different. No, it’s not the hair (but, it helps to get rid of the “Sunshine” moniker he had) and no, it’s not the fact Jack Del Rio is no longer the head coach (but, having an offensive-minded coach in Mike Mularkey helps).
Maybe it's the solid gate, the determined look, the command in the huddle, the countless hours of study and the respect he has earned among his teammates.
Are you listening to that, Maurice Jones-Drew? Gabbert is taking your spot as the team’s leader.
There are facts we haven’t discussed when talking about Gabbert and his failed 2011 season. They aren’t excuses. They are facts that need to be identified.
Gabbert turned 21 after he was drafted. Also, he was a true junior when he was drafted, very young and wet behind the ears.
At Missouri, he had three years of college experience under his belt in a pass-happy offense. He then was thrust into the starting job when David Garrard was cut by the team, and Luke McCown was named the starter and then dismantled by the Jets. He started his first home game against the Saints. What a welcome to the NFL.
Del Rio and his offensive staff did little to help him get better last season. The entire offensive staff was a lame duck. There was no imagination, and Gabbert learned an offensive system on the fly.
Oh, by the way, there was this thing called an NFL lockout as well. That did not help things either.
This is Gabbert’s third offensive game plan in three years he has had to learn. That is a lot to ask of anyone, let alone someone who is now just 22 years old.
We as fans want a quarterback to come in like Dan Marino and set the world on fire. It does not happen that way. And while Gabbert needs to be more like Drew Bledsoe than David Garrard, there also needs to be a learning curve and a certain amount of patience when taking him to task.
This is a much more improved Gabbert than the one we saw last season. Yes, this is the preseason, and things needs to be ironed out, but if there is a solid running game (whoever runs the ball) and three solid receivers in Laurent Robinson, Justin Blackmon and Mike Thomas, not to mention a new and improved tight end in Marcedes Lewis, Gabbert can only ruin it for himself.
This is a team that “could” be a real surprise and stir the pot in the AFC. They aren’t Super Bowl champions yet and won’t be this season. But, if the improvements shown in the preseason in two wins over the Giants and Saints continue to be an indication of a growing offense that can move the ball on the ground and in the air, then maybe, we have something here.
As a writer and analyst, I do not usually take the preseason seriously. But in this case, maybe we should all look at what the team has done and the circumstances of these two wins. Injuries and absences have not helped them, and still, they follow through. Maybe it’s a new culture. Maybe it’s a new pride. Maybe it’s the right coaching staff.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s having the right passer to lead this team.
This reporter sure hopes that is the case.
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