Blaine Gabbert struggling to keep up
You don't have to look very far for the evidence of Blaine Gabbert's struggles as a rookie quarterback. Jacksonville is last in the league in points scored (12.2), last in passing yards per game (123.6) and is the only team without 1,000 total yards through the air this season.
Gabbert has the lowest completion percentage (45.7) and QB rating (62.0) of any regular starting quarterback.
Making matters worse: Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are having spectacular first years -- the former from a statistical standpoint; the latter as the driving force behind a shocking Cincinnati playoff run. Even Christian Ponder, who's made just two starts in Minnesota, has generated more of a buzz than Gabbert.
Ex-NFL quarterback and current FOX analyst Chad Pennington told the Florida Times-Union that the rest of this season will be a balancing act in Jacksonville:
“It’s a delicate situation for both Blaine and the Jaguars to make sure they allow him to progress and not be too critical,” he said. “... It’s so important that a young quarterback knows and feels the support of his teammates and his coaching staff. It’s very hard to go out and play if you don’t think you have that.”
So far, at least on the surface, Gabbert has received that support, even as frustration among the Jacksonville fan base grows.
When Gabbert was drafted in April, it looked like the Jaguars had a strategy in place to ease him into the NFL. David Garrard was set to return as the team's starter, and Luke McCown re-signed in February as the main backup.
Ideally, that should have set the table for Gabbert to sit and learn for at least half a season, if not all of 2011.
Instead, Garrard was cut just before Week 1, McCown imploded as the starter, and the Jaguars pulled the trigger on moving Gabbert into the lineup. Thus far, the results haven't been there, which circles back to one reason teams often ease rookie QBs in: Once you turn the keys over, it's hard to take them back.
Jacksonville is stuck with its situation now -- backtracking and benching Gabbert now could do even further, possibly irreversible damage to Gabbert's confidence.
And so it's fair to ask if the move to Gabbert came too quickly.
Gabbert headed into the 2011 draft as one of the most promising quarterbacks available. His size and arm strength had NFL scouts drooling. But one major problem: He played in a spread offense at Missouri, meaning he faced a transitional period in the NFL, as he tried to grow accustomed to a pro-style attack.
Dalton, who is neck and neck with Newton in the Offensive Rookie of the Year chase, had a similar challenge in front of him after playing in TCU's spread attack. A key difference in Dalton's situation -- and part of why he's been so successful -- is that Cincinnati installed a west-coast offense this year. It's still a change from the straight spread look, but for a quarterback, it involves similar principles: Quick reads, multiple options.
Gabbert hasn't had that luxury.
He also has not had much help. Aside from the dependable Maurice Jones-Drew, who has 790 yards rushing this season despite defenses loading up on him, Gabbert is playing behind a shaky offensive line and with one of the NFL's more underwhelming groups of receivers.
All this would be fine, of course, is the Jaguars were committed fully to a rebuilding situation, centered around Gabbert. It's hard to tell if that's the case, mainly because of the uncertainty of head coach Jack Del Rio's situation going forward. Del Rio's been on the hot seat for what feels like forever, and with the Jaguars at 2-6 and headed in the wrong direction, this could be the end of the line.
If Del Rio gets canned, though, it will mean another system for Gabbert to soak up. Maybe a new regime would be a better fit for Gabbert's abilities, maybe not. For now, the Jaguars would take any sign of improvement from Gabbert and the offense. There haven't been many thus far.