Gabbert ready to begin regular season for Jacksonville
By: Warren Mayes
Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert is about to being his first full season leading the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars open the 2012 season at noon Sunday at Minnesota.
“We’re ready to play for something that matters,” Gabbert said to reporters after practice earlier this week in Jacksonville. “I’m ready personally, and this team’s ready to go. The game changes in the regular season. It’s a lot faster, and a lot of more competitive.”
Gabbert, a Parkway West graduate, became youngest QB in NFL history to start at least 13 games last year when the Jaguars finished 5-11. After that rough rookie year, Gabbert threw for 355 yards, three TDs with 95.0 passer rating in the preseason.
For the Jaguars, it starts with Gabbert, the former first-round draft pick who struggled in nearly every aspect of the game as a rookie. His pocket presence, especially under pressure, got more attention than his long, blonde hair (it has since been cut). Gabbert ranked last in the NFL in passing, completing 50.8 percent of his throws for 2,214 yards, with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
There were plenty of excuses for his poor play: He was just 21 years old, spent his college career in a spread offense at Missouri, had no offseason program because of the NFL lockout, was saddled with a lame-duck coaching staff and one of the worst groups of receivers in the league, and got thrown into action after starter David Garrard was surprisingly cut.
“There’s circumstances last year that I won’t talk about, but there was a lot of things that were not in his favor to have a chance to step up and throw the ball like he is (doing) today,” new coach Mike Mularkey said about Gabbert.
Mularkey spent much of the offseason tweaking Gabbert’s mechanics, and the changes have been noticeable through training camp and in the preseason games.
“He’s one of our most improved guys in training camp,” Mularkey said. “We all knew he was capable of it, but we needed to see it happen in these games against good defenses. These are two good defenses we’ve faced.”
Gabbert completed 5 of 10 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in a 32-31 win against the New York Giants. He completed 13 of 16 passes for 112 yards and two scores in a 27-24 victory against the New Orleans Saints.
In the preseason finale, a 24-14 win over Atlanta, Gabbert completed 7-of-12 passes for 64 yards. Jacksonsville went 3-1 in preseason play.
Gabbert has some good targets to throw to this fall.
During this year’s draft, the Jaguars traded up to select two-time Biletnikoff award winner Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State University. The Jaguars signed veteran wide receiver, Laurent Robinson, after a breakout 2011 season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Blackmon’s 10-day holdout caused him to miss the preseason opener. But the former Oklahoma State standout showed exactly why the Jaguars traded up to select him with the fifth overall pick. He caught all four passes thrown his way, including a nifty nab in traffic. He turned up field and scored on them 16-yarder in the second preseason game.
Blackmon had a solid preseason, catching 10 balls for 136 yards and one touchdown. He became one of Gabbert’s top targets during the preseason and figures to be a major part of the Jaguars’ offense this year.