Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In a perfect world, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert would have carried a clipboard and modeled a baseball cap for much, if not all of his rookie campaign. Before he was the 10th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Gabbert had just two seasons as a starter at Missouri and was transitioning from the spread offense in college in a short time frame after being denied offseason work by the lockout.
Any plans of easing Gabbert into the NFL were scrapped when David Garrard was released five days before the season-opener, and while Gabbert wasn't named the starter, he was one hit to Luke McCown away from making his regular season debut. Soon-to-be former head coach Jack Del Rio demonstrated extreme will power in waiting a full seven quarters before tossing Gabbert to the wolves in the fourth quarter of a 32-3 loss to the New York Jets.
Over the next 14-plus weeks, Gabbert would complete just 50.8 percent of his pass attempts for 2,214 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Gabbert was sacked 40 times -- third-highest total in the league - and his 5.4 yards per pass attempt was the lowest among qualifying NFL quarterbacks. In other words, Gabbert's rookie season was ugly, but what could one reasonably expect from a rookie quarterback who was probably too raw to be starting in the league this soon anyway?
As excusable as his rookie season was, that won't be the case in Year Two.
Del Rio was replaced by Mike Mularkey, who spent the previous four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, where he aided in the development of Matt Ryan into a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. Mularkey hired Bob Bratkowski, who coached Ryan during a record-setting 2011 season and previously worked with Carson Palmer in Cincinnati, to coordinate the offense and named Greg Olson his assistant head coach/quarterbacks. Olson was the offensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the last few years and played a key role in the development of Josh Freeman. In addition to those three coaches, Gabbert will also be able to lean on Jordan Palmer, a journeyman quarterback who has spent much of his career in Bratkowski's offense and was signed to be the No. 3 behind Gabbert and free agent Chad Henne and can be a sounding board for Gabbert.
General manager Gene Smith has also surrounded Gabbert with plenty of weapons. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing in 2011 and Marcedes Lewis is a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end. The Jaguars signed Laurent Robinson to a five-year, $32.5 million contract and traded up to the No. 5 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to select Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who caught 251 passes for 3,564 yards and 40 touchdowns in his 38-game college career. Veteran field-stretcher Lee Evans was added to push Mike Thomas for the No. 3 receiver role.
With solid coaching and better talent around him, it's up to Gabbert to prove that he can be starting quarterback in the NFL.