I’m not gonna lie – I never saw this coming. Sure, I expected some hype and excitement to surround the Jaguars’ pick of a highly-regarded quarterback in the top 10 of this year’s draft. David Garrard is by no means “finished” in Jacksonville, but the selection of Blaine Gabbert represents a youthful dose of hope for the Jaguars franchise that will hopefully carry us well into the future. The Colts weren’t much to talk about before Peyton Manning – they seem pretty healthy now. The Saints were in danger of being relocated before Drew Brees – since then, they’ve been embraced by the whole state of Louisiana and many more throughout the nation. David Garrard has been a good quarterback in Jacksonville and at times, jaw-dropping; he’s capable of taking the Jaguars to the playoffs and winning there, but I think we can all agree that he’s not that “next level” of quarterback that consistently makes magic happen. We have no idea at this point if Blaine Gabbert can be that guy either, but he was thought to be special enough for the Jaguars to take a big gamble, trading up in the draft to select him, and the expectation is that he will become special and become the face of this franchise. This is what this franchise needs – badly. Let’s face it, we’ve had a dark cloud hanging over our city that’s been perpetuated by blackouts, insults from the national media, and an obvious disdain towards the Jacksonville market from the NFL and other parties who look at Los Angeles and see nothing dollar signs. Putting together a special team and having a player who garners the attention and adoration that a young, elite quarterback attracts would help usher Jacksonville through these dark days and solidify the foundation of NFL in our market. So, the BIG question – does the rookie have a shot to start in 2011?
3 Reasons Gabbert WILL Start in 2011:
- The Jacksonville Fanbase: It’s no secret that the lockout has hurt the Jaguars pretty badly in the ticket department. These fans are constantly clamoring for something to be excited about – the Tim Tebow Campaign, the yearly push for “big name” free agents…nothing sells ticket like a pretty face who’s also the captain of your team. It’s not just the team that needs Gabbert to succeed, this fanbase needs someone to look up to in adoration.
- Physical Tools: Blaine Gabbert has shown flashes of a skill set not seen in Jacksonville, possibly ever. This is not to say he’s better than David Garrard, Mark Brunell, or Byron Leftwich, but Gabbert is showing the jaw-dropping “WOW” plays already in his first week that indicate this kid has the physical arsenal to be really special if he puts together the “complete picture” of an NFL quarterback. Blaine is already showcasing his prototypical size, playmaking mobility, pin-point accuracy, and cannon arm. Once he learns the playbook and assimilates to the lifestyle of the consummate professional football player (ala Aaron Kampman), he’ll be ready to start building his legacy.
- Recent success of highly-drafted rookie QB’s: In the last few years, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, and Sam Bradford have all found surprising success as starters in their rookie season. It’s a copycat league and suddenly, the old tenant of letting your young quarterback developed are being challenged. Flacco, Ryan, and Sanchez all made it to the playoffs in their first year behind power running games and good defenses – if Maurice Jones-Drew is healthy and running well and the Jaguars’ defensive FA signings assimilate quickly and improve the defense, there may be enough of a “support system” around Gabbert to give the coaches confidence to start him.
3 Reasons Gabbert WON’T Start in 2011:
- Playoffs or Bust: I’m not even going to call this a Jack Del Rio issue, because I believe he’s not on “the Hot Seat”, as much as most believe – the Jaguars are still growing and Wayne Weaver (and I) believe that continuity with the coaches and systems is important so that our young talent has a stable foundation to support their growth. But the franchise is due for a playoff run and this fanbase needs it – because even more than Blaine Gabbert, a playoff run is what will inject the most hope into our fans and sell tickets for 2012. Rookies, and especially ones in a high-pressure position like quarterback, are more prone to swings and mental errors and more so when the pressure mounts – late in games, late in the season, and in the playoffs. The coaches are more likely to lean on veterans in a serious playoff run.
- Mental Development: The quarterback position takes MUCH more to succeed than just the physical tools Blaine has – field awareness, playbook knowledge, rapport with receivers, coping with pressure, handling the media, and learning opponents are just a few of the skills that can’t be measured at the combine or seen in underwear practice that a successful quarterback must possess. It takes time and repetitions to build these.
- Recent success of Slowly-Developed QB’s: Despite the early success of many recent rookie QB’s, there have also been many who were handled patiently by their coaching staff as they learned the position. Jack Del Rio said today that rushing a quarterback onto the field can cause more harm than the benefit of early experience and there’s a solid argument for giving them time and room to grow. Last year’s Super Bowl winner, Aaron Rodgers, sat behind Brett Favre for three years and made a near-seamless transition into his role as Green Bay’s starting quarterback. Last year’s passing leader, Philip Rivers, was also brought along patiently behind Drew Brees in San Diego. With all of the Gabbert’s missed practice time due to the lockout, there’s little chance of them sitting or cutting Garrard in favor of the rookie – especially with that extremely affordable salary, thanks to the new CBA.
– Andrew Hofheimer