Whenever the labor dispute gets resolved, assuming the NFL will have a season in 2011 and training camp will start on time... There is going to be a raging debate amonst fans about the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011.
Do you sit Blaine Gabbert or do you start Blaine Gabbert?
Personally, I think Blaine Gabbert should play. In the modern NFL, more and more rookie quarterbacks are playing their rookie season. Quarterbacks are more prepared now for the modern NFL then they have been in the past. In the past few years, rookie quarterbacks have faired just fine starting from week 1, even quarterbacks who came out of a passing spread offense (NOTE: A passing spread is much, much different than a spread option).
Sitting a rookie quarterback can sometimes yield great results. Look at Aaron Rodgers, for instance. Aaron Rodgers however, sat for 3 seasons before he finally got to start. There's also the case of Philip Rivers, but like Rogers he sat for multiple seasons before he played. The Jaguars aren't in a spot where they're going to sit Gabbert for more than a single season, if that. The premise behind sitting a quarterback their rookie season is that they get to sit back and learn. Well, they get to learn the offense, how to prepare, and watch film. They don't necessarily learn how to play, however. How do you learn the tempo of the game if you're on the sideline? Practice? Practice is barely 75% speed and you don't get hit.
I spent much of the weekend trying to think of how to write this without making it look like I was banging the drum to start Gabbert right out of the gate. Truth be told, I do feel he should start right away. The economics of it and the fact that you traded up for him make it logical, amonst other things I won't get into right now.
Luckily while I was laid up all weekend with food poisoning (damn you Sonny's cole slaw!) Matt Bowen of the National Football Post wrote up a short and sweet article called The Rookie QB Question.
Here's a few excerpts from it that I think hit the nail on the head, for me at least.
Forget August (or what we hope will be the regular pre-season schedule this summer). Those exhibition games are as vanilla as they get in terms of X's and O's. During my career we would go into those games with a game plan of Cover 1, Cover 2 (maybe some Cover 3 sprinkled in), plus a very elementary zone and man pressure scheme. Line up and play-and let the coaching staff grade the tape.
These rookie QBs won't see the exotic blitz schemes of a Gregg Williams in New Orleans or a Rex Ryan in New York. Plus, what about their own game plan? Basic and simple. Slant-Flat, Smash-7, etc. Hand the ball off and carry out the fake.
While it's worrisome if a rookie QB struggles in the pre-season against and using such basic schemes, we shouldn't get too excited if they excel.
Here is the point that Bowen makes that really hits home for me:
It sounds easy to talk about bringing in a veteran (such as a Marc Bulger) to run the offense for a year while they sit on the sidelines in a visor, holding a clip board and a bag of sunflower seeds. That is the standard plan for most first-year single callers in this league.
Why? Because they will make mistakes and they will also throw interceptions. And, well, look completely lost at times. However, nothing can compare to playing in true game situations at the position. Once we get to free agency (my bet is in early July), we will find out if these clubs will stick with the rookie QB for 2011.
My take? Let it ride with the rookie-and take your lumps on the field. There will be rough, rough Sunday afternoons for sure, but how else are you going to get your high priced young QB NFL ready?
Young quarterbacks are still going to take their lumps on the field, even if they sit for a season. Even in the case of Aaron Rogers, people were still unsure if he was the guy in 2008 when he started his first full season, despite putting up good numbers.
There's only so much a guy can learn standing on the sidelines, and I'm not sure they need the entire season for it. It boils down to this for me: A guy is going to have his growing pains and take his lumps, even if he sits for a season. Your best bet is to get it out of the way sooner than later. I feel like the Jaguars offense is built enough that throwing in a rookie QB isn't going to ruin him. I think the offensive line is better than it's given credit for. He's got one of the best running backs and tight ends in the NFL to fall back on. He's got a receiver in Mike Thomas who's perfect as a safety valve on shorter routes. And let's be honest, it's not like the Jaguars run a complicated offense right now. It's centered around short passing, running the ball, and play fakes.
If Gabbert had been drafted by the Panthers, I'd feel different. Not to mention that if you're worried about a rookie's confidence being broken, if it's broken that easily... it's better to know you missed on a guy sooner than later.