Breaking Down the Jacksonville Jaguars' Quarterback Competition
While neither player may be the future at the position, quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne appear to be closing in on a true and open competition ahead of Jacksonville Jaguars' training camp.
For better or worse, the competition narrative has been consistent in Jacksonville throughout this offseason.
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley reinforced that idea during his pre-training-camp press conference on Tuesday.
According to John Oehser of the team's official website, Bradley called his quarterback situation an "open competition," while also stating that both Gabbert and Henne could get an opportunity to start preseason games next month.
Bradley says there's a chance Gabbert and Henne each could start a preseason game.— John Oehser (@JohnOehser) July 23, 2013
Bradley's comments appear in line with what the Jaguars have preached since the new regime took over following last season. Back in February, recently hired general manager David Caldwell told Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com that "it's going to be a wide-open competition" at quarterback this summer.
Given the results from each quarterback over the last two seasons, the Jaguars have no better alternative to an old-fashioned August battle at the game's most important position.
Real competition occasionally brings out the best in one player, as Bradley knows from his time watching Russell Wilson rise from third-round backup to unquestioned starter and Pro Bowl quarterback in Seattle last August.
If there was a slight favorite for the Jaguars job before camp, it'd likely be Gabbert. Former management in Jacksonville moved up to get him with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
At the time, Gabbert's selection looked like the kind of decision that could turn around the struggling franchise, but disappointment has followed the first-round quarterback.
Over 25 games in two seasons, Gabbert has a modest 21 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. He's also averaged just 5.61 yards per attempt with a 53.8 completion percentage and 70.2 passer rating.
To win in the NFL today, the quarterback position has to perform much better than Gabbert has to start his NFL career.
Since 2011, only two quarterbacks have posted a completion percentage under 55 percent with a passer rating under 72.0 (minimum 400 attempts). John Skelton is one, Gabbert is the other.
Also, Gabbert's average yards per attempt of 5.61 and passing yards per game of 155.0 are each dead last among qualified quarterbacks since '11, while only Henne's record of 1-9 as a starting quarterback is worse than Gabbert's 5-19 mark.
Gabbert will get another chance despite his struggles, and it's entirely possible that the new regime will be a breath of fresh air for his career.
However, the men who brought him to Jacksonville are no longer with the team, making his ties to the roster spot more tenuous than one would expect for a former first-rounder.
Any decision to dump Gabbert and start over would be much easier if his backup were a more accomplished player.
Now 28 years old, Henne has been a model of consistency during his NFL career—but not in a good way.
The former second-round pick has never cracked a passer rating over 80.0 during his six NFL seasons, and his career highs in completion percentage (61.4), passing yards (3,301) and passing touchdowns (15) came during a season (2010) in which the Miami Dolphins went just 6-8 under his control.
Henne did come off the bench to make six starts (10 total appearances) for the Jaguars last season, but the results were more of the same.
After throwing for 354 yards and four touchdowns in relief of Gabbert in Week 11 and then tossing two scores in an efficient (108.0 passer rating) start and win over the Tennessee Titans the next week, Henne threw nine interceptions and failed to finish any of the final five games with a passer rating over 75.0.
His numbers in 2012-13 ended up looking very Gabbert-like: 2,084 yards, a 53.8 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 72.2.
He went just 1-5 as the starter, and the win marked his only one as a starting quarterback over the last two seasons. In fact, Henne had won just one of his last nine starts before beating the Titans.
His mobility is another huge concern. Since 2011, Henne ranks in the bottom five quarterbacks of the league with a sack percentage of 8.5. Gabbert isn't too far ahead at 8.2. Both are more or less statues in the pocket.
Behind Gabbert and Henne are two unproved and inexperienced players in Mike Kafka and Matt Scott, neither of which will be expected to push for any starting time. Kafka could make a run to be the primary backup with a strong August, while Scott has practice squad written all over him.
Given the history of the quarterbacks on their roster, the Jaguars may be in a position where the competition comes down to the lesser of two evils.
Gabbert, for all his struggles with injuries, attacking downfield and pocket presence, possesses starting-level physical tools. While the mental side hasn't come, his arm is an obvious asset. He can make all the throws.
The team also doesn't want to give up on a player drafted in the first round, even if it was by the former regime.
Who will start at QB for the Jaguars in Week 1 of the 2013 season?
Henne is plenty experienced under center, having started 37 NFL games, and there were brief moments of greatness during his initial two-game trial run while Gabbert was hurt last season. The Jaguars might hope some of that experience and confidence will carry over to 2013.
However, Henne's never looked like an NFL starter for any sustained stretch of his career and his limited athleticism is a big negative.
The Jaguars didn't address the quarterback position in the 2013 NFL draft, and that was likely by design. With a strong quarterback draft likely awaiting next April, new management was given the opportunity to give Gabbert and Henne one final chance to prove the franchise's future belongs with them.
If next season proves that neither can handle the chore long-term, then Caldwell and Bradley can handpick the next quarterback to tie their jobs to in 2014.
For now, though, the Jaguars are keeping their options open.
No team wants to have this much uncertainty at quarterback heading into a season, but Bradley knows that competition can be the breeding ground for rapid improvement and progression.
If true to their word, the Jaguars have provided Gabbert and Henne an environment where the best quarterback in August rightfully starts in September.
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