The gamble of starting a rookie quarterback isn't always rewarding, as Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars are finding out. He very well could give the team's anemic offense the best chance to succeed but the diminishing results -- at least when it comes to Gabbert's production -- are leaving more questions than answers.
"It's tough when you almost have to pitch a shutout to win," a league source said about Jacksonville's offense as a whole and not specifically Gabbert.
In fairness, Gabbert has been thrust into a situation that wasn't supposed to happen. Though the Jaguars traded up to nab Gabbert with the 10th overall pick, the plan was for him to sit for the season behind David Garrard, sources said. When Garrard got mired in mud in the preseason and eventually was cut, the Jaguars went to Luke McCown before going to Gabbert.
So Gabbert wasn't simply thrust into action based on the success of recent rookies. He's had six starts, going 1-5, and things are getting tougher each week. He completed 10 of 30 passes in Sunday's loss to Houston, including 3 of 13 after halftime. He was 9 of 20 in last Monday's upset of Baltimore and 12 of 26 the game before that against Pittsburgh. Only twice has Gabbert completed better than 50 percent of his passes.
In speaking to some people in the NFL who've watched him, they say he's struggling but it's impossible to put a ton of blame on him or peg him as someone who doesn't have the potential to be good. His anticipation isn't where its needs to be, and his footwork and mechanics need refining. Those are coachable flaws. He does, however, have the arm, athleticism and the knack for the position.
What could be holding back Gabbert, as opposed to the other rookies, is he simply doesn't have much help. Where Cincinnati's Andy Dalton has A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham and a solid ground game, Gabbert has Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and recently re-signed Mike Sims-Walker at wide receiver. Those are not playmakers or guys who attack the ball in traffic, and it is apparent on a weekly basis.
Experience is something that is critical to a quarterback's development, even if it isn't positive from the outset. Peyton Manning told me that before training camp in 2010. He should know, having thrown 28 interceptions and 26 touchdowns while going 3-13 as a rookie. So whether things get better for Gabbert or not, he's at least putting some pieces in place.
The biggest issue that could sidetrack Gabbert's development might be that he'll likely be playing for a new coach and new coordinator next season and everything he's learning now might not apply. Cam Newton, Dalton and Christian Ponder will almost certainly be in the same system with the same coaches -- as could Tennessee's Jake Locker, the eighth pick who is biding his time. Gabbert might not be so fortunate.