Thoughts on a struggling Gabbert

December, 16, 2011
12/16/11
3:23
PM ET
Blaine Gabbert has been terrible this season, and plenty of analysts including this one have said so.

None has been as scalding as this one from NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi:
“In my 20-plus years in the NFL, I don't think I have seen a high first-round pick look as scared or as out of place as Blaine Gabbert. The game looks entirely too big for him. When the ball is in his hand, he treats it like a hot potato. His play was embarrassing, considering he was a top 10 pick. I believed Gabbert was a good prospect and wrote about it leading up to the draft. When everyone was concerned about his down-field throws, I thought he would be able to adjust. But never did I think his eye level would be this low, his unwillingness to hang in the pocket this bad. I readily admit my mistake. Now the Jags need to do the same. The longer they play him, they run the risk of losing the team. How can they expect the players around him to buy in? Gabbert cannot fool his teammates. If he continues to play like this, no one will want to play with him.

“Now, I understand it is really early in Gabbert's career, and the Jags have a pedestrian offense and no receivers around him. But his play borders on that of an undrafted free agent. Organizations that are the most successful are the ones that ignore draft status and evaluate the players on how they play. I realize the Jags have a significant investment in Gabbert, but they have a bigger one in winning games.

“Jags GM Gene Smith has a huge problem. He has to lure a coach into Jacksonville and convince that potential coach that what he is seeing on tape is not the player who Gabbert really can become. Who would want the job saddled with a first-round bust? Smith can find anyone to agree to becoming an NFL head coach, but the good candidates will walk away, or won't even interview.”

I believe Smith is married to Gabbert -- he has to be. He traded up to get him 10th overall. When a personnel evaluator does that with a quarterback, he doesn’t look good if he’s at a point where he’d declare it a mistake one season in.

But it does put the organization in a tough spot while trying to hire a coach. If the quarterback is mandatory and good candidates don’t like him, they could quickly look elsewhere. And might a lesser candidate who didn’t like Gabbert coming out or doesn’t like him now tone down that sentiment in an interview because he wants the job? Then you are starting off with a coach inheriting a quarterback he doesn’t really like. That’s a terrible formula for a restart.

Here's hoping Smith asks candidates for their honest assessments of Gabbert and accepts the one of the best candidate.

We need to see Gabbert with better coaching on a more talented team in order to judge him. Smith and his new boss, incoming owner Shahid Khan, need to find the coach that can maximize Gabbert’s chances to succeed, but also find and have a sufficient alternative in place if the quarterback does turn out to bust.

One more thought: When a team has a longstanding issue, I think it tends to overvalue qualities in the draft that resolve that issue.

Jake Locker might turn out to be great in Tennessee, but one of the things that made him the "right guy" for the Titans was that he is the opposite of Vince Young in a lot of ways, and the franchise craved leadership and accountability.

Similarly, the Jaguars watched David Garrard fail to make a wide variety of tough throws for a long time. If Gabbert’s got one ingredient, it’s an NFL arm.

And so perhaps Smith and his scouts couldn’t help but love that arm and give it too much weight. The question is can the pocket presence needed to put it to use be developed, or is Gabbert doomed to never have a feel for the rush and an ability to withstand it?

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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