Will Blaine Gabbert make progress as a quarterback before the start of next season? I say, with as much emphasis as I can, “YES!” How, I’m sure your wondering, could I believe that so emphatically after watching him all of this past miserable season? The answer is quite simple. Time and coaching will make him better.
Let’s start with the brief summary of the hardships that Gabbert had to deal with last year.
- No offseason. This lead to Gabbert having to learn the playbook on his own until training camp. Then, at training camp, he worked with the third team players right up until the start of the season. He finally moved up to the first team after the Jets debacle (which I think we can all agree was probably a knee jerk reaction that shouldn’t have happened)
- No wide receivers. Mike Thomas and Marcedes Lewis signed contract extension over the course of the past year and both look poised to blow up. My how everyone was wrong. Thomas disappeared in the second half of the season and Marcedes stunk it up until the very end of the season. The guy who was supposed to be the #1 was cut midway through and the rest of the wide receivers were picked up and dropped every single week. Cecil Shorts was slow to adjust to the NFL speed and the coaches didn’t play him at all until the coaching change up. Everyone had a case of the drops. Surprisingly, Jarrett Dillard was the most productive receiver the last few games of the season. Hell, Colin Cloherty was playing better than most of the wide receivers at the end.
- Shotgun to the foot. Gabbert clearly had issues under center and struggled most of the season. He showed poor footwork and a tendency to shy away from hits. His game progressed later in the season and he had a few games near the end where he looked poised and confident, but his wide receivers (again) never helped him out. Jones-Drew was far and away his best weapon.
- No coaching. What a fiasco. After Del Rio was fired, Mel Tucker went and shook up the coaching ranks and we saw improvement almost weekly. You won’t hear that from the national media and casual fans, but the improvement was there. What a wonder real coaching makes.
- A full offseason as The Man. Gabbert will have to learn a new playbook, but at least he’ll have it tailored around him and he’ll have a full offseason and training season to learn it. Being The Man will also help. He’ll take most of the snaps as the #1 QB with the #1 offense. The repetitions with his wide receivers will most likely work wonders with communication and anticipation.
- Real Coaches. This might be one of the best coaching staffs in the league in terms of cumulative knowledge. Greg Olson, Bob Bratkowski and Mike Mularkey all have worked with quarterbacks in the past and all have been offensive coordinators. Olson has said that he will work closely with Gabbert on everything. Bratkowski has said that Gabbert’s footwork is a major flaw, but it can be fixed. They have expressed an interest in bringing in a more season backup than McCown who can offer more tutelage. Mularkey understands that this is a quarterback driven league and he’ll do whatever is necessary to give Gabbert all the resources necessary in order to succeed.
- Gabbert himself. Gabbert has things you can’t teach, height, speed, arm strength, vision. Vision is arguable, but I saw a quarterback who was more conservative than unable to see the field, as instanced by his low interception count. I’d like to point out a play in one of the later games where Gabbert had a screen pass to the right and instead of throwing it to the running back for a loss, he threw it into the ground. As a designed screen pass, he did what he was supposed to do, however, most fans believed that he didn’t read the field, but that wasn’t that case. The coaches are on the record as saying that Gabbert made the right throw. If we can believe the coaches, then Gabbert’s flaws should be fixable. His conservative demeanor could also be fixed by actually having receivers that could actually get open.
- Better weapons. The Jaguars have to spend money, a lot of money. Thanks to the new CBA, there are more free agents than you can shake a stick at, especially at wide receiver. I’ve talked extensively about who the Jaguars could get, but I’ll keep it short here, the Jags will get three new receivers this year, two in free agency and one in the draft. The weapons will be much better for Gabbert this year than last and the guys who stay will play their more natural positions.
- Time. Gabbert has time to reflect on his season. His time as this past year’s starter also was invaluable. He knows what the NFL has to offer, he’s faced one of the hardest defensive slates I’ve seen in a long time. He’ll be mentally ready for the grind of another season.