2011 was nothing short of a nightmare for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The 22-year-old struggled mightily as a rookie, throwing for just over 2,200 yards and 12 touchdowns versus 11 interceptions while posting a paltry 5.4 yards per attempt, which ranked dead last among the NFL's starting quarterbacks.
Jacksonville's offense also brought up the rear in the National Football League in 2011, but if the first two preseason games are any indication, then Gabbert may be ready to take the mythical "next step" and lead the Jaguars into offensive respectability, regardless of who lines up behind him at tailback.
Gabbert performed very impressively against the New Orleans Saints in the Jaguars' second preseason game, completing over 80 percent of his passes, for two scores and a passer rating that was more than twice his rating for all of last season.
Granted, it's preseason, and it's dangerous to read too much into exhibition games, but Peter King of Sports Illustrated thought well enough of Gabbert's performance to name him the offensive player of the week in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column:
Twenty-four hours after venting to Yahoo!'s Mike Silver about the critics who (justifiably) ripped his 2011 play ("They can't do my job; there are 31 other guys that can do my job, and that's it''), Gabbert continued his ascending preseason at New Orleans with a 13-of-16 night, for 112 yards and two touchdown passes. Gabbert looks night and day from last year, when Curtis (House) Painter had a better passer rating.
King's right in that Gabbert has appeared to be a completely different quarterback this year, because he's looked like a quarterback.
At no point during the 2011 season did Blaine Gabbert appear to be the least bit comfortable under center, and most of the time it looked like Gabbert would rather have been cleaning the grout in his bathroom than under center at EverBank Field.
That hasn't been the case this year, at least through two exhibition contests. Gabbert has been poised in the pocket and wasn't sacked against the Saints. Sure, defenses don't generally throw many blitzes at quarterbacks in the preseason, but there's no denying that the quick-hit offense of head coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski appears to be sitting well with Gabbert.
Of course, part of the improvement might also be attributable to the fact that Gabbert now has someone to throw the ball to.
The Jacksonville receiving corps was as bad as any in the NFL last year, and you simply can't discount the effect that the additions of wide receivers Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon will have on Gabbert's confidence.
Listen, I'm not saying that Blaine Gabbert is going to transform into Aaron Rodgers overnight, and it's not reasonable to expect him to.
However, it does appear that there's been a marked improvement in his play from last season, and if Gabbert can carry this momentum into the regular season, then a a pick that seemed like a waste eight months ago may may not have been so ill-advised after all.