Lately I discovered a disturbing new trend in the mainstream media covering the NFL. There is a now a new sport out there: “Who can slam Blaine Gabbert the most?” It first started with Mike Lombardi (who in my opinion should stay away from commenting about QB development after drafting Jamarcus Russell with the 1st overall pick….) saying the Jaguars are waisting their time with Gabbert. In response to that, Pete Prisco (who -a bit shockingly- seems to be the only major sportswriter who thinks Gabbert can be successful in the NFL) wrote a counterpoint article, where the second year QB acknowledged that he has to became much better, and he knows he can only silence his critics playing on the field. But it seems to me, that everybody read just one line from that article, where Gabbert asked Prisco “Who is Mike Lombardi?” Prisco showed Lombardi’s article to the young QB, and I really think he just really didn’t know who the current NFL Network analyst is. Yet Lombardi was so upset that he wrote an open letter in response to this. It was good to see an expert act like a serious, grown up person.
So who can’t take the criticism Mr. Lombardi?
Then during last week’s draft I saw another two shots at Gabbert. First Peter King wrote this on Friday:
“I think whoever plays quarterback in Jacksonville, and I’m skeptical long-haul it will be Blaine Gabbert, got the draft’s best play maker in Justin Blackmon.”
Then NFL.com published a story about the Justin Blackmon draft with this final thought:
“Gabbert is out of excuses.”
Let me start with the second one. Please, dear Gregg Rosenthal show me please one interview, where Gabbert made an excuse for himself!
I read/listened/watched plenty of interviews with him, yet I don’t remember a single excuse. You can criticize the young signal caller for a lot of things, but he is not exactly a Donovan McNabb type player. In fact I remember an interview from not so long ago, when Gabbert said : “Excuses are for weak people.”
As for King’s comment, why he (and many others) are rushing to call Gabbert a bust after one season, when he experienced a perfect storm kind of situation? I though we should judge draft picks after 3 or 4 season. Or even more time (I’m looking at you Alex Smith).
Yet there ts almost a consensus that Blaine Gabbert is a bust. He can’t play. He plays scared.
I never thought Jon Gruden’s take on a player was so important to that many people. Or that so many people were just plain lazy. They saw two bad games from the then rookie QB, and then everybody labeled him a bust. I guess they didn’t see that Texans game were he was almost knocked out with a very hard hit on his ribs, yet returned one series later and played the rest of the game, and every snap after that in the whole season. Yeah, Gabbert is “so soft”…
And since he doesn’t say a word about how bad his situation was last year, let me describe how ‘ideal’ his situation was in his rookie year. When Gabbert was drafted, the master plan was that he would sit behind David Garrard in 2011, and he might compete for the starter’s job the next year. But then Head coach Jack Del Rio demanded Garrarrd to be benched and because of his high salary the Jaguars cut him five days before the season opener and named Luke McCown as the starter.
McCown did an okay job against the Titans on Opening Day. However, he alone lost the next game in a very ugly fashion against the Jets. So they benched him, and the youngest player on the roster become the starting QB in Week 3, with basically one full training camp of preparation. That alone is a high challenge for a QB who played just 2 years in college.
(Side note: Gabbert is the youngest QB in the NFL to start 14 games. People say the best age for a QB is around his late twenties, early thirties. So how foolish/lazy/stupid is the thought that if a 22 year old QB doesn’t show immediate improvement, then it will be impossible for him to become a little better down the road?…)
The other circumstances far from ideal either. First he had Mike Sheppard as QB cach who worked only with wide receivers prior to that in the NFL. You can easily see that, until Dirk Koetter replaced him at the position, there was no improvement at all.
How about his receivers? Well, they were terrible too. There was absolutely no ‘go-to” wideout for Gabbert. We can all agree that it was the worst receiving group in the entire NFL last year. Plus their (ex)position coach, Johnny Cox was easily the worst on the Jaguars staff since Ted Monachino left. The WRs could never get open, the route running was horrible, the whole group consistently had drop issues, and Cox was not much of a demanding coach (according to Mike Thomas). The situation was so bad, that Thomas literally quit in the last few games, despite being extended during the season. Other than Maurice Jones-Drew there was no help for Gabbert. Even Pro Bowl TE Marcedes Lewis had horrible plays, he dropped at least 3 sure TDs last season (but still he caught 460 yards, the most yards on the team. Which says everything about how bad the WRs were last year), and the offensive line protection was also far from ideal with rookie Will Rackley starting at LG, and Guy Whimper at RT. Not to mention that the Jaguars are still a run first team, and often Koetter had hectic changes week after week in calling the game. I remember there were games when one week Gabbert had 22 pass attempts and in the next that number went up to 41…
So I want to ask those who want to pair the bust label with Gabbert: Which rookie QB had to deal with this many issues last year?
Sure Gabbert had plenty of ‘C’mon man’ moments. His footwork was often awful. He sometimes had very lively feet which could result in good thing (like running for a 1st down) or bad thing (like running into a sack). There were some accuracy issues as well. He needs to improve a lot from last year, and I think he knows and agrees with that. But I think all of his flaws are coachable.
Now he had the coaches, weapons, and preparation time he lacked last year. I think he has all the tools to become successful in the NFL. I think this year will reveal much-much more about what the Jaguars got in Gabbert. A franchise QB, a total bust or somewhere between those two categories. If he can stay healthy and start all 16 games this season, we can start the real discussion about how good or bad the 2011 #10 pick is.
For now, I can advise those who already think Gabbert will be a bust, to do one thing. Look how “great” Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, and current Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning played in their first season in the NFL and how ‘good’ a barometer those rookie years were about the success they archived later in their careers…
- Zoltan Paksa