Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC South [Print without images]

Sunday, October 6, 2013
Time running out for Blaine Gabbert

By Michael DiRocco

ST. LOUIS -- Blaine Gabbert will be the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting quarterback next Sunday against Denver -- provided his left hamstring injury isn’t severe enough to put him on the bench.

Coach Gus Bradley didn’t hesitate a bit when asked that question after the Jaguars’ 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Gabbert is his quarterback.

Blaine Gabbert
Blaine Gabbert threw a TD pass and two interceptions in the loss against the Rams.
Gabbert’s performance against the Rams produced some compelling reasons why he shouldn’t -- and should -- be.

First, the bad:

He air-mailed a pass 6 feet over Justin Blackmon’s head that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

He fumbled twice while trying to scramble around in the pocket.

He threw an end-zone interception on fourth down.

And he missed a wide open Cecil Shorts on the sideline on a scramble, when he had enough room to run for a first down and time to set his feet and make a good throw.

Now, the good:

He threw a perfect pass to Shorts along the right sideline for a 28-yard gain from the Jaguars’ 1-yard line.

He also converted a third-and-5 with a nifty pass to Shorts a millisecond before Rams defensive end Robert Quinn hit him in the legs.

He answered the interception return for a touchdown by guiding the team on a seven-play, 50-yard drive that culminated with Josh Scobee’s 48-yard field goal to give the Jaguars a 10-7 lead.

But that’s quintessential Gabbert. Inconsistent, with flashes of the kind of talent that would warrant being the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 draft.

"We just need the consistency of making good decisions," Bradley said. "We just have to continue to train. The challenge is for our guys to play with some freedom. We have to find that balance, where we are making good decisions, but yet we have freedom to make plays."

The problem is that Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell haven’t been able to get a full evaluation on Gabbert this season because he has been injured and playing without full firepower. He had a sprained ankle and fractured thumb in the preseason, then suffered a cut on his hand that required stitches and kept him out of two games. Now he’s dealing with a hamstring strain that put him on the bench in the third quarter against the Rams.

He hadn’t had Just Blackmon, his best receiver, until Sunday, and tight end Marcedes Lewis has been on the field for just two plays this season because of a calf injury. The Jaguars are now on their third left tackle after the trade of Eugene Monroe and the season-ending ankle injury to Luke Joeckel.

The running game has been no help, either, averaging just 49.0 yards per game going into Sunday’s game -- although the Jaguars did run for a season-high 96 yards against the Rams.

"Things haven’t gone the way we wanted to the first couple weeks of the season for this team and with some individuals on it, but it’s just something that we’ve got to fight through," Gabbert said. "We’ve got to fight through some adversity, and we’ll get better in the long run."

That’s what he’s been saying all season, but at some point you have to rise above adversity and just start making plays. There have been opportunities for big plays in every game he’s played this season, and he has failed to make the throws.

He’s making the same mistakes this season he made as a rookie. Any strides he made with his pocket presence evaporated on Sunday when he hopped around and bolted out early. Not once or twice, but several times.

Nobody is asking Gabbert to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees. The Jaguars just want him to not be Mark Sanchez, and that’s not too much to demand in his third season.

Barring injury, Gabbert will start against the Broncos, but his time to prove that he deserves to have that job at the end of this season and beyond is running out.