When Jacksonville used their No. 10 overrall draft pick on Missouri quarterbacking specimen Blaine Gabbert, football fans knew incumbent Jaguars’ starter David Garrard was playing on borrowed time. Today, after a full preseason, the Jags released Garrard, leaving that starting spot wide open.
Gabbert won’t get it, not now. 30-year-old Luke McCown, a reserve quarterback for the Jags in 2009 and 2010, steps in to the vacated spot.
Why not Gabbert?
For starters, Gabbert was the team’s third-string quarterback, and his performance this preseason did little to earn him a starting spot. He completed exactly half of his 70 passes and threw as many touchdowns (one) as he did interceptions.
ProFootballTalk.com talked to insiders who watched Gabbert practice in Jacksonville and attended every game he played; those insiders said Gabbert looked the part in practice, but could not efficiently run the cats’ offense.
From the outset, the young quarterback with flowing blonde locks had less time to adjust to the professional style of offense thanks to the NFL lockout. Without those extra reps, and with the questions about his intangibles still lingering from his playing days at Mizzou, Gabbert hardly seems like the kind of guy coach Jack Del Rio wants starting right now.
Still, the general sentiment among those in the media is that Gabbert will start by the end of the season. ESPN’s John Clayton pointed to week nine, when the Jaguars have a bye, as the ideal time to make the switch from McCown to Gabbert.
If you want my opinion, Gabbert will start sooner than he should. He looked solid at Missouri, maybe even better than solid, until then-Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh broke him in October of 2009. A fear of contact has followed Gabbert since high school, where he sat out the majority of his senior year with what teammates and their parents termed a “phantom injury” during his senior season at Parkway West (Ballwin, Mo.) High School.
Here’s a guy who has been groomed to play in the NFL since before he could drive. He left Mizzou a year early, may have checked-out of high school football before the end of his senior year, and now he may start early in the NFL.
Why isn’t he starting now? Because he probably shouldn’t be. So why would he start by the end of the season?
Because he plays in the perennially undersold EverBank Field in Jacksonville, where a lack of sellout crowds forces many of the Jags’ home games not to be broadcast locally per the league’s blackout policy. New quarterbacks, especially those with the size and arm strength Gabbert possesses, sell tickets.
McCown theoretically gives the Jaguars the best chance to fill those teal seats, because he gives them the best shot to win, according to Del Rio. At 6-foot-4, and just less than 220 pounds, McCown is an inch shorter, 15 pounds lighter, and nine years older than Gabbert. Those nine years of experience alone, even if McCown qualifies as little more than a journeyman, make him the better choice behind center.
By contrast, Gabbert has skipped several steps to find the most efficient path to the NFL. He has never played anything close to four years of consecutive football, in high school or college.
For his sake, and for the Jaguars, let’s hope he takes it slow for once