The Jaguars have had a very tough season to watch, and the easy thing to do is blame it on the rookie quarterback.
I have read article after article from professional sports writers who seem to know less about the Jaguars than they do the WNBA (no offense to the WNBA intended).
In order to assess the Jaguars true woes, it takes more than seeing poor statistics and a poor record before saying that Blaine Gabbert is a bust after his first year.
The Jaguars rookie quarterback came into the year as a backup to veteran QB Luke McCown, a capable second-stringer who never should have been thrown into the year as the team's starting QB.
After the David Garrard debacle, the Jaguars' fans morale was already at a new found low but wanted to trust what the team believed was the best direction to take the franchise. Unfortunately, the direction that the team headed in was south, dropping in the rankings week after week.
After the Week 2 manhandling to the New York football Jets, the team put in a young (21 years old at the time), inexperienced Gabbert to take the role of leader on the offense.
Jaguars fans witnessed the lacking skill set of Luke McCown, and were excited to have the 10th overall selection from the 2011 NFL draft put in and show that he is capable of being the franchise quarterback that GM Gene Smith traded their first, second and fourth round picks for.
I remember the fans comments during that week, ranging from excitement to skepticism, all the way to complete anger that a 21-year-old QB with no true offseason experience was being put into the starting lineup on a team that had a much improved defense and one of the best running backs in Maurice Jones-Drew.
Gabbert came into the year, and quite honestly, did what most believed he was going to do. He played scared, he played like a rookie, and he showed flashes of the reason why he was a top 10 pick.
Now, sitting at 4-11 with one game remaining, the Jaguars fan base is wondering, why should we believe this kid is the future franchise QB of an organization in need of winning just to keep the team in Jacksonville? What are the reasons why Gabbert is not to blame for the lack of success this season?
Reason 1: The wide receivers on this team are not finding any separation. Jason Hill and Mike Thomas are two pretty good WR's on any team that can play them in their natural position, slot WR. The Jaguars forced these two to be the play-making wide outs that they are not. Lacking size, and the hands of any true No. 1 receiver in the NFL has, the Jaguars set these two guys up for failure.
Where are they now? Hill was waived, and Thomas has had a less than stellar season. Yet to have top 75 yards in a single game, and with only one TD, Thomas was signed to a three-year, $18 million contract extension, and will never play up to the level that the Jaguars expected until he has some of the match ups that made him look like a good WR last season.
Reason 2: Marcedes Lewis. Lewis went from a Pro-Bowl tight end, to a guy who looked like a third-stringer on any other team. How do you go from 10 TDs to 0 TDs? Somebody should ask Marcedes, because he did it, and made it look relatively simple. Gabbert has targeted Lewis more and more as the season has gone on but has not gotten any help out of him. Lewis leads the Jaguars in receiving yards, but that is not any kind of accomplishment this season. Developing a case of the bobbles every game has not helped Lewis' case for the $35 million extension he received in the off season.
Reason 3: Offensive line struggles. After cutting Vince Manuwai due to poor conditioning, the team's offensive line never really was able to look near as dominate as they did parts of last season. Eben Britton cannot stay healthy for the life of him, and Eugene Monroe is looking like a good player, but not the dominate LT they expected when they grabbed him eighth overall. Plugging in guys such as Guy Whimper and rookie Will Rackley will not help a rookie QB get any time in the pocket. Rackley showed signs of promise, and may end up being a pretty good guard, but he was put in quicker than he should have been, and it showed.
Reason 4: Defensive injuries. The Jaguars defense was looking phenomenal the first five to six weeks of the season, but once Rashean Mathis was knocked out for the year, it was all down-hill from there. With a league-leading (and wouldn't be surprised if it was a record) 31 players on the IR, the Jaguars secondary is currently starting an undrafted free agent in Kevin Rutland, and Morgan Trent, a player signed a few weeks ago. Without any type of real help on defense, the Jaguars have gotten down early, and do not have a team that will win any kind of offensive battle. Besides Mathis, the team lost Aaron Kampman, Matt Roth, Clint Session, Derek Cox, Dwight Lowery, Austen Lane, William Middleton, and many more but figured I should just stop there.
Reason 5: The Lockout. An easy excuse to throw out there, but it is definitely necessary. The lockout was something that hurt every single rookie that played, even though some were able to overcome it. Eliminating crucial time for the rookies to learn, it was only a matter of time before the lack of playing time and experience showed with Gabbert. After a full offseason with his wide receivers and other teammates, Gabbert should come out much more prepared and confident.
Blaine Gabbert still has a long way to go, but he is a very young quarterback with an incredible arm and can be a very smart decision maker. Gabbert's flaws have showed, and despite those issues, he still has only managed to throw 11 interceptions.
Statistically, Gabbert has nothing to be very proud about, but with the addition of a couple of sure-handed WR's and an improved offensive line, critics will be surprised to see what he can do in Jacksonville next season.