It would be easy to say that Jake Locker should be the player here, as he's the only one who wasn't the team's default No. 1 quarterback in 2011, but Gabbert has much more to prove.
Locker already showed his explosive playmaking abilities last year in his short stint as the team's starter, and I expect we'll see more of the same from him in 2012. That said, he's going to have a struggle hitting more than 52 percent of his passes.
Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are going to be hard-pressed to improve upon their impressive rookie seasons, and I won't be shocked to see them actually take a step backward this year. Christian Ponder doesn't have any help on the perimeter, as Percy Harvin is the only reliable receiver currently on the roster.
It's Gabbert who has the best opportunity to make his move, and here are a few reasons why.
Change of Scenery
The Jaguars have brought in a new offensive coordinator this year. We know from his time with the Cincinnati Bengals that Bob Bratkowski is adept at healing a team's offensive woes. He was brought into Cincinnati in 2001, and he turned one of the worst offenses in the NFL into one of the best in short order.
Dirk Koetter is a good coordinator. There's no denying that. He doesn't have the same kind of influence on developing quarterbacks as Bratowski, though.
The first few years that Bratkowski spent with Carson Palmer at Cincinnati showed how capable he is with young quarterbacks. Once Palmer got hurt in 2008, things started falling apart, but the marriage between the two men worked to perfection until that point.
From what we've seen so far he's making a good impression on Gabbert.
So far this preseason, Gabbert has completed 29-of-47 passes for 291 yards (6.2 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns and zero interceptions—good for a passer rating of 100.6.
Yes, it's just preseason, but it's clear to see that Gabbert is looking more confident and competent this year than he did in his rookie season.
Offensive Line Much Improved
Gabbert was criticized for being scared in the pocket last season, but it's hard to blame him. His offensive line was terrible, allowing him to be sacked 40 times—the third-worst total in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Eben Britton—a solid, if not really good lineman—was out most of last year. He's healthy and starting at right guard in 2012.
Eugene Monroe is an up-and-coming star at the left tackle position. He and Britton, if healthy, will be excellent together next to center Brad Meester—one of the best centers in the NFL.
Undrafted rookie Cameron Bradfield is looking good on the outside as the right tackle, and according to the Florida Times-Union's Vito Stellino, "He’ll work alongside Nwaneri, and they already seem to be developing a rapport."
This group of men have made great strides towards improving their pass-protection of a year ago, and through three preseason games, Gabbert has only been sacked twice.
Gabbert Has Weapons
Besides getting mobbed by defenders in the backfield, Gabbert's biggest problem in 2011 was that he didn't have anyone to throw the ball to.
The team's leading receiver last year was Mike Thomas, a possession receiver who caught 44 balls, averaging less than 10 yards per catch. Maurice Jones-Drew was the second-leading receiver, catching 43 balls for 374 yards and three touchdowns.
Things are a bit different in 2012.
Despite getting off to a rocky start with the Jaguars, high-draft pick Justin Blackmon has been phenomenal since joining the team. He is explosive after the catch, and his strong, sure hands are already benefiting Gabbert.
Additionally, Laurent Robinson was brought in as a free agent to take pressure off of Blackmon. So far, Robinson has yet to make much of an impact.
Someone who has impressed in his stead is Brian Robiskie, and if he continues to play as well as he's been playing in the preseason, he may well overtake Robinson on the depth chart.
Marcedes Lewis is still the team's No. 1 tight end, and he is capable of being highly productive, as we saw in 2010.
The ceiling is sky high for Gabbert and this offense. As long as he gets the protection he needs to progress through his reads, Gabbert will continue to improve. He has all the physical and mental tools to make it work in the NFL, and I look forward to watching him develop in 2012.
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