As it is every year, the 2011 NFL season will be dominated by quarterback storylines and three of the more intriguing such threads hit full stride starting tomorrow night when Blaine Gabbert, Tim Tebow, and Tarvaris Jackson make their bids for starting gigs.
The Jags travel to Gillette Stadium tomorrow night and although there should be some intrigue to the debut of Ryan Mallett, it's the other high-profile quarterback who is garnering much more attention.
Gabbert, Jacksonville's relatively surprising first-round pick, is set to start now that David Garrard is nursing a back injury. And even though it's unlikely that one preseason game appearance—no matter how phenomenal—can lead to a rookie supplanting a three-year starter on the books for $8 million, don't be surprised to see Gabbert take control of the quarterback race.
He's supposedly been very impressive in camp, and since Jack Del Rio is really in a do-or-die situation this season, he's going to go with whichever player he thinks can lead them to the postseason. He shouldn't be worried about loyalty to Garrard, Garrard's salary, or the rookie learning curve. If Gabbert can play better than Garrard, he will.
That seems to be the approach of new Broncos head coach John Fox as well, although he's in a completely different scenario than Del Rio. Tim Tebow might have a higher ceiling and superstar potential, but Denver is standing behind Kyle Orton, who has been named the starter for Thursday's game against in Dallas. Tebow is definitely going to get some opportunities to shine, but he wasn't able to take the gig from Orton in training camp—and the club refused to make a deal with Miami—so he's going to need more than one great preseason effort to make his case.
As exciting as the Broncos and Jags quarterback battles are going to be, neither of those clubs are legitimate playoff favorites coming into the 2011 season. That's not the case in Seattle, where the Seahawks won the division (albeit with a terrible record) only to completely blow up their roster. Of all the additions and subtractions they made, swapping out Matt Hasselbeck for Tarvaris Jackson is easily the biggest. Hasselbeck is a proven winner with a Super Bowl berth and several playoff wins under his belt, while Jackson is...well, not.
For now he's been given the reins, but since Charlie Whitehurst led the club to that critical win over the Rams in Week 17 last year (and is due even more money than Jackson in 2011) that can change in a hurry, starting tomorrow night when the Seahawks go to San Diego.