His entry into the NFL couldn’t have gone much worse for Blaine Gabbert. He’ll be on his third head coach in three years, his third offensive coordinator in three years, and his third quarterbacks coach in three years. If I didn’t know any better, I’d tell him to shower more often, because it seems like he keeps driving our coaches away. But now that Shad Khan has hand-picked a new regime – one that will hopefully have a lasting impact in Jacksonville – the first question this regime has had to answer is what they are going to do about the quarterback position. Once it became clear that this wasn’t a question about Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne, but about Tim Tebow, Caldwell shut the door on the idea that Tim Tebow would be in black and teal next year. Since, the attention has turned to Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, and the stable of misfits that make up this year’s quarterback class.
Since the days that the Caldwell and Bradley hires were announced, the commentary on Blaine Gabbert has been cautiously positive. Caldwell, Bradley, and co. have been talking favorably of Gabbert’s youth, tools, and overall potential. Quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo was the most recent of the new hires to laud the young quarterback. He called Gabbert “a player blessed with a lot of good tools” and said that “physically, there’s nothing he can’t do on the football field”. He also re-iterated what GM David Caldwell has said about Gabbert’s youth. “This is his draft class. If he would be coming out, with the quarterback class the way it is, would he be the top guy taken? I think the answer would be yes. If you asked scouting departments and general managers around the league, I think you’d end up with a yes on that.” I was never a fan of the Gabbert pick, but I think Sclefo’s right – I’d say yes on that.
But before Gabbert-advocates rejoice and Gabbert-haters lament, I’d caution you to take these words with much more than a grain of salt. He most certainly hasn’t been anointed as the Jaguars’ starter, and if there’s one thing that Bradley has stressed, it’s that “there’s going to be competition for every position on our team.” Do Caldwell and co. think that Blaine Gabbert is the quarterback of the future for the Jaguars? They don’t know yet – but he is the only quarterback with the potential to be. I know there are Chad Henne supporters out there, but let’s be honest, the Henne train hasn’t been chugging for quite some time now. In 2012 – his fifth season in the NFL – Henne finished with his lowest quarterback rating of his career (72.2), and he has finished below 80.0 every year he’s been in the league. A guy with those kinds of stats is relegated to career back-up duty, and that’s why he hasn’t been mentioned nearly as much as Gabbert has in the past few weeks.
Has Gabbert shown enough to even remain with the Jaguars, much less be given the starting job in 2013? We’ll spend some time after draft-season trying to answer this question by breaking down his play from the previous year and attempting to gauge if the superficial statistical improvements he made (12 point jump in QB Rating, 20+ point jump in Total QBR) correlate to significantly better on-the-field play. However, as of now, it looks like the answer in the eyes of the Caldwell/Bradley regime is yes.
The forward-thinking fan (and/or conspiracy theorist) may wonder if this is all just part of the ritual pre-draft smokescreen. What if the Jaguars truly have fallen in love with a quarterback in the 2013 NFL draft and are building up the Gabbert talk to prevent teams from trading up with Kansas City to select a quarterback? In this case, wouldn’t they be talking up Gabbert the way they are now? Of course they would, but isn’t it a little early for pre-draft smokescreens? The new regime likely hasn’t even had enough time to formulate an opinion on the top quarterbacks in the draft, much less Gabbert. Furthermore, regardless of what the Jaguars want to do in the draft, talking up Gabbert is the best move for them. If Caldwell and Bradley believe in him (or at least believe in him enough to give him a shot at the starting job), they’re going to talk him so that he knows he has support and to help his confidence. If they secretly want to draft Geno Smith, they’ll do the same, so that teams are less likely to be able to predict their move with the second pick. If there’s a team that’s willing to trade for him, they’re going to talk him up too. Unless they think that Chad Henne or Jordan Palmer is the team’s future at quarterback, talking up Blaine Gabbert is the smart move for the Jaguars regime.
I may be naïve, but I truly don’t think it’s all talk. I think that the new Jaguars regime is looking at Gabbert’s youth and potential the way they would scout a potential draftee. I think they’re looking at him like a rookie with experience – a rookie that has spent enough time in a pro-style system to finally get a hang of things – and will likely give him as much of a blank slate as he’d be afforded by any regime in the league. Quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo said recently, “you all have an opinion formed based on two years. I don’t have an opinion. My vision of him is not skewed one way or the other… there never has been a guy who has been defined in the first two years about who he’s going to be for the rest of his career.” If this is truly the case, then Blaine has finally caught a bit of luck after all the volatility he’s faced the past few years. Maybe if he gets a little more Luck to him, the Jaguars will have bounce-back year.
– Zain Gowani