I've looked at all the Jaguars rookies this week, leading up to my final article in the series about how I believe Blaine Gabbert will fit into the Jacksonville Jaguars' plans in 2011 and beyond. Yesterday I talked about Blaine's skill set, and how to me he looks like a player with tremendous physical upside. Still, I have to believe that coming from a spread system, with a shortened offseason and moving to a run-first team, Gabbert will take some time to really come into his own. How much time will it take? Well, that's what I'm about to discuss in part 2 of my Blaine Gabbert Rookie Prognostication.
David Garrard is a solid quarterback who has earned some amount of respect around the league. The Jaguars passing game wasn't necessarily the most potent unit in the game, but it was effective and built off the success of the running game. Garrard is a capable player and a great leader, and GM Gene Smith and Coach Jack Del Rio have essentially come out and said that Garrard gives the team the best chance to win next year as Gabbert develops. That's important: Garrard has the support of his coaches and he has shown that he can lead this offense with some success.
I bring this up because, undoubtedly, Gabbert will look pretty good during the preseason. He'll be given a legitimate shot to play in the 2nd and third quarters of games, and he'll likely end up with something like 3TDs and 2 INTs over the four games. (No one does much more than that in the preseason because coaches don't put in enough plays). Yes, Gabbert will look pretty good. (On a side note, Luke McCown will probably look good also. He could be a starter-quality player and he'll be going against 3rd and 4th stringers). As soon as people see Gabbert look good, it'll plant the seed of "let's start the rookie!" in people's minds.
As I discussed yesterday, Gabbert will take some time to mentally prepare to lead the Jaguars, and the Jags with Garrard last year were good enough to have themselves in contention in December. So here's my prediction: as long as the Jaguars are in playoff contention, Garrard will be the starter. "In playoff contention," to me, means within two games of first place with enough time remaining to make it up. Fan outcry will probably start to be an issue as early as week four, when the Jaguars play a playoff contender in the Saints. Of course, the people deciding whether to pull the trigger on Gabbert will be the same guys who drafted a wide receiver from Mount Union and a running back from Liberty, so I doubt highly that they would cave to fan complaints.
My guess would be that if the team is 2-6 (which I highly doubt) Gabbert would start after the bye week and that's the absolute earliest he will get a shot (barring injury). If the Jaguars aren't contending after the tenth game of the season (week 11 against Cleveland) you can take it to the bank that Gabbert will see the field from week 12 out. That would put Gabbert at the beginning of a string of three home games, one of which is the Monday Nighter against the Chargers. What better way to get some ratings for sure and keep fans buying tickets until the end of the season, right?
My guess is that Gabbert will see between two and six games worth of action this season due to either injury to Garrard or the team being out of contention. In those games, I'd expect to see the team give Gabbert the opportunity to throw down the field, and maybe put him in the shotgun a higher percentage of the time to ease him into the system. The Jaguars have run a mean shotgun draw in the not-too-distant past.
Beyond this season, Gabbert will be the starter. Garrard will be released or (fingers crossed) traded since with Gabbert as the QB of the future, Garrard won't be worth the money they'd have to pay him. I'll parrot Gene Smith in saying that the Jaguars should be very happy with their quarterback situation. Garrard is an established starter and Gabbert is a highly regarded rookie project. The future belongs to Gabbert, but as long as Garrard is healthy and effective, I believe next year will belong to him.