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Friday September 2nd, 2011

Blaine Gabbert has had a predictably up-and-down rookie preseason. (Stew Milne/US Presswire)

When Luke McCown replaced David Garrard at quarterback in Thursday night's Jaguars loss to the Rams, Jacksonville TV analyst and legendary Jag Tony Boselli was asked why McCown came in before rookie Blaine Gabbert.

Boselli's answer:

"Well, [(McCown]'s the backup, according to Jack Del Rio. I was shocked when Jack Del Rio came into the production meeting ... we talked about what the rotation would be, and he said Luke will get the snaps with the No. 2 -- he said, 'We want to see him with the 1s. Blaine's had his shot. ... He'll be third-string opening day as well, Luke will be our backup.'

"I was shocked."

Boselli is not alone there. As far as the tedious fourth week of preseason games go, this was a bombshell. Gabbert, the No. 10 pick in April's draft and a guy thought to be fighting Garrard for first-string reps, found himself suddenly demoted, just 10 days before the season opener.

Del Rio didn't exactly confirm Boselli's report after the game, but he didn't deny it either. He simply said: "We have two backups."

McCown has been with the Jaguars since 2009, a factor that may have played into Del Rio's move, but he's attempted just 22 passes over that stretch. He hasn't started a game since 2007 with Tampa Bay.

Quite frankly, this doesn't make a lot of sense. Other than vying for (relatively minimal) experience over an untested rookie, there's little that should have McCown ahead of Gabbert on the depth chart.

Gabbert hit 9 of his 18 passes Thursday, right in line with his 50 percent completion rate throughout the preseason. He hasn't been lights out, by any means, but the idea that McCown -- who went 4-for-9 vs. the Rams with a TD toss -- is a better option right now is tough to figure.

Part of the reason Jacksonville drafted Gabbert in the first place was a lack of confidence in Garrard, an up-and-down QB throughout his career. And Garrard didn't exactly light the preseason up himself, so you have to assume the Jaguars still have questions about his future.

It will be interesting to see how Del Rio puts this Gabbert demotion into practice. Not only does it mean the Jaguars coach would turn to McCown first in game action, it also means Gabbert will get less reps with the first and second units in Jacksonville's workouts.

That, as much as anything, could slow his development during the 2011 season.

McCown has been in the NFL since 2004. He played fairly well when given the opportunity last season, but he's 30 and coming off a torn ACL. Gabbert, meanwhile, is the future of this franchise, even with Garrard signed through 2013. Anything Jacksonville does to slow Gabbert's development at this point is a mistake.

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