Although this year's draft could see three quarterbacks go in the top ten picks, the Jaguars won't be one of the team's selecting one. Jacksonville, for better or worse, is married to their young quarterback for at least one more year. Find out their plans to make Gabbert more successful.
2011 was a nightmarish season for the Jaguars for many reasons, not just due to their disappointing 5-11 campaign. Ineptness at quarterback caused the team to force first-round pick Blaine Gabbert into action before he was ready, and the damage done by the move is yet to be determined.
“We don’t know if Gabbert is going to be scarred from this to the point where he turns into a Tim Couch or David Carr,” a league source said.
Jaguars general manager Gene Smith, new head coach Mike Mularkey and Blaine Gabbert all have three years remaining on their contracts. The former two gentleman's success and employment relies on the third, and the team needs to do everything in it’s power to make sure Gabbert succeeds.
"I think we need to do some things scheme-wise that's going to be important how we do things for Blaine and how we address free agency and the draft," Mularkey said. "Even with the addition of Jerry Sullivan our receivers coach will also help get our guys that are already there to another level and that will also help Blaine. There's some things we can do in the scheme alone that can help out his production. Obviously the 14 games he's played is going to be invaluable."
Blaine Gabbert struggled in his first start at Carolina, which is to be expected from a 21-year old making his initial National Football League start. Gabbert was significantly worse in the Jaguars season finale against Indianapolis. Although he showed some flashes during the season that would give Jaguars fans hope, the overall body of work says that Gabbert regressed and that’s certainly not what you’d like to see out of the future and face of the franchise.
There are no shortage of factors that figure in to Blaine Gabbert’s struggles. His age, his lack of collegiate experience, the Jaguars weaponry, the scheme and philosophy, and a mid-season coaching change acts as the cherry on the sundae.
Some experts believe it was the Jaguars scheme that certainly added to the young signal-caller’s transgressions.
“The scheme was all wrong for him,” Yahoo Sports NFL expert Doug Farrar said. “They asked him to be a seven-step drop guy and that’s none of what he did at Missouri. You saw some decent things out of him when they went shotgun with quick reads and they were able to throw the ball quickly.”
A new coaching staff with a different perspective may be a better fit for the young quarterback. Mike Mularkey has tutored Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski had plenty to do with the success of Carson Palmer in Cincinnati.
"I think that will be a good relationship with Bob (Bratkowski) and Blaine (Gabbert). Bob was in Cincinnati when Carson Palmer was drafted now and he had the opportunity to work with Matt Ryan last year so he's had some experience working with young quarterbacks. He's familiar with the system so that helps tremendously. He and Greg Olsen together and myself we should have a good relationship to get the most out of Blaine," Mularkey said confidently.
Some of Gabbert’s struggles can be placed upon his weapons, or lack thereof in 2011. Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis appeared to have left his game in Hawaii as he struggled with drops and had as many touchdowns as this particular writer. The targets on the outside were no better as Mike Thomas was the leading receiver with just 44 catches for 415 yards and a touchdown.
“That may have been the worst wide receiving corps in the last 20 years in this league. They took a huge step back without Sims-Walker in 2011 and when he came back he got hurt. There isn’t an NFL receiver among those guys,” a league source told JagNation.
The Jaguars are cautiously optimistic that Gabbert can be a star in this league, but head coach Mike Mularkey didn’t want to commit to any grand proclamations.
"You'd like to think every time you draft somebody that you'd like that to be the case but you can't put the pressure on him if it doesn't happen," Coach Mularkey said when asked if Gabbert can be an elite quarterback. "There's a lot of those guys that it has not happened to and you're taking that risk when you draft a guy early in the draft."
Mike Mularkey is eager to get to know his young quarterback, but the league prohibits structured contact between players and coaches until April.
"What's frustrating is that they can throw and they can do all those things but they can't do it on our site and we can't be with them," the head coach said. "I'd really like to have lunch with him (Gabbert) but I can't have lunch with him because somebody will get the wrong impression that we're talking football and we're not going to go above the line on the rules."
In a world of the unknown, we are keenly aware that the Jaguars are putting all their organizational support behind Blaine Gabbert in 2011. There will be no quarterback drafted with an early pick and there will be no preseason quarterback competition. No free agent will be brought in to “push” Gabbert, the backup, whomever it may be, will be the backup.
If Blaine doesn’t perform in 2012, all bets are off.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie