NFC West: Blaine Gabbert

Generally, when things are going bad, the most popular guy on a football team is the backup quarterback.

But with the San Francisco 49ers, who have been outscored by a combined 57-3 in two preseason losses, not so much. Not when Blaine Gabbert, Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson combined to go 16 for 25 for 128 yards and two interceptions in Sunday’s 34-0 drubbing by the Denver Broncos to christen Levi’s Stadium.

Gabbert
Gabbert
But Gabbert is the one with the pedigree, the one who was a first-round pick, No. 10 overall, of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. The one who should be able to step in at a moment’s notice for Colin Kaepernick without missing too many beats, right?

Well...

“It just comes back to taking care of the football,” Gabbert, who was picked off at the Denver 35-yard line midway through the third quarter Sunday, told reporters after the game.

“It starts at the quarterback position, whoever is out there, including myself, we have to be conscious of it," he added. "When you have some momentum going, you have a drive across the 50, and you turn the ball over, it’s a dagger.”

One play later, Denver backup quarterback Brock Osweiler threw a 33-yard touchdown pass and the Broncos led 24-0. Dagger indeed.

Gabbert, who has the upper hand on Johnson for the backup gig, suffered through a 32.4 passer rating afternoon.

“He’s a little bit like any quarterback,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “There’s going to be good days. The precision right now, though, is on the unit. And that’s where I see it. I see it needing to get better.

“I don’t put it on one guy.”

Gabbert has started 27 of the 28 NFL games in which he’s played, but he appeared in only three games last season before being traded to the 49ers in March for a sixth-round draft pick.

In the 49ers’ two exhibition games, he is a combined 11-for-25 for 60 yards with two interceptions.

Harbaugh seems frustrated with the lack of ball security by quarterbacks not named Kaepernick.

“They’re turning the ball over,” Harbaugh said. “All of them have. There’s nobody to elevate. Whoever doesn’t turn the ball over will be the backup quarterback.”

Which brings us back to Gabbert.

“Protecting the ball is the number one thing that the quarterback has to do, and that goes for every guy on this roster, and it starts with every guy out there,” Gabbert said. “My job, which I’m focusing on, is not turning the football over.

“There’s a little rust to knock off, but after the first game I felt pretty comfortable. We put some decent drives together there in the second quarter, I believe, and it just leaves a sour taste in my mouth turning the football over in the third quarter.”
Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Wrapping up the final day of the San Francisco 49ers' mandatory minicamp:

A lot has been made about the structure of the new contract quarterback Colin Kaepernick signed through 2020. He is guaranteed $13 million through a unique structure. But if Kaepernick plays well, he should rank in the top five quarters of the league. Kaepernick made it clear Thursday he has no problem with the contract.

"You can skew things however you want," Kaepernick said. "At the end of the day, a lot of the way the contract is set up is how every other quarterback's contract is set up. The things that aren't set up like those contracts are because we wanted them that way so we could sign other players. It was very deliberate by my agents, the organization and myself that we wanted things done this way, so we could keep a solid team here."

Fourth-round pick, receiver Bruce Ellington had a nice minicamp. He impressed his new quarterback, which is important.

"Bruce has been amazing out here," Kaepernick said of Ellington. "He's picked thing up very quickly. Good route runner. Very good feel for the game and he's made plays when we've given him the opportunity."

Harbaugh had some interesting things to say about his linebacker crew. The team will likely miss star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman for half the season while he recovers from a torn ACL. Still, Harbaugh likes what he sees from the deep group.

"I thought our linebackers were dominating," Harbaugh said. "Patrick [Willis] as well. Corey Lemonier, you'll see that this is Year 2 for Corey, and Dan Skuta. Outstanding group there. I think [rookie] Aaron Lynch is going to be a real good player, too. He's shown some real good things before he hurt a hamstring. So that's a real position of, not only strength, but a position of dominance for us. Feel real good about that position."

Harbaugh had a great line on rookie linebacker Chris Borland: "Borland was … to quote Denny Green, 'he is who we thought he was.' He's that kind of player. He's done a very nice job."

Harbaugh is also quite thrilled with the depth on both the defensive and offensive lines.

Harbaugh pointed out the offseason performances of several players. The names that popped out to me included backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, running back LaMichael James and rookie defensive lineman Kaleb Ramsey. All three will be interesting to watch in training camp.

Harbaugh said veterans report to training camp July 23 and training camp practices start July 24. There will be three practices that will be held at new Levi's Stadium and will be open to the public. Those dates will be announced.

The 49ers will practice with the Baltimore Ravens in August after their preseason game August 7. Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters Thursday the Ravens hope to come out to visit the 49ers next year.

The final minicamp practice lasted 55 minutes.

Harbaugh will embark on his missionary trip to Peru on Saturday for the sixth straight year.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Prior to the San Francisco 49ers' first mandatory minicamp practice, offensive coordinator Greg Roman said he was looking for sharp workouts.

The 49ers didn't exactly deliver.

There were plenty of drops in a mostly mundane workout. However, I wouldn't exactly say it's cause for alarm. It's June and a lot of players were held out or limited. This is not high-intensity times.

It's a time to continue to work on rhythm before the team takes a month break before starting training camp.

The 49ers worked a lot of red zone offense Tuesday. They often stalled in the red zone last season, settling for field goals.

Roman said Tuesday he hopes to see an evolved offense in 2014. With a more experienced Colin Kaepernick, deeper receiving core and rookie running back Carlos Hyde, Roman likes the potential changes.

"I think it's fair to make the statement that it's a different offense, 2014. Because we've got some new guys in," Roman said. "I think it's definitely evolved from (from when he arrived to San Francisco with coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011) and it'll probably change a little bit this year."

In other camp notes:
  • Hyde and rookie receiver Bruce Ellington each had their moments Tuesday. Roman praised Hyde for his football knowledge. "Carlos, since he got here from the draft, really impressed me as a guy that football just makes sense to him," Roman said. "If you could just tell him what to do, and you don't have to tell him too much. And that's a beautiful thing in a running back because they have a lot of adjustments to make and protection, etc."
  • Several veterans such as running back Frank Gore and Justin Smith sat out practices as they did in the voluntary practices. It's just saving older players wear-and-tear. Receivers Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson didn't work in team drills as the team is being cautious.
  • Receiver Brandon Lloyd continued to make some nice catches as he continues to make a push to make the 53-man roster.
  • Roman was complimentary of young tight ends Vance McDonald and Derek Carrier as they get time with Vernon Davis holding out. McDonald is set to get the most time if Davis stays away. The 2013 second-round pick had some drops Tuesday, which was a problem in his rookie season.
  • Fifth-round pick Aaron Lynch, who will be a pass-rusher, didn't practice because of a hamstring injury. Seventh-round pick Kaleb Ramsey at defensive tackle looked solid. He will be interesting to watch in training camp and in the preseason.
  • Harbaugh maintained that he thinks Gore can play three more years. He is 31 and entering the final year of his contract.
  • Blaine Gabbert has the edge to be to Kaepernick's backup. Harbaugh heaped praise on him. "Very impressed with Blaine mentally, physically -- all attributes that you'd like to see in a quarterback. He's been very good, very solid. (He's) picked up everything very quickly. It's going well. Everything is progressing well. I think you'll watch it when you have a chance to see it today and look at it for yourself. In my eye, it looks very good."
  • Harbaugh said he is optimistic right tackle Anthony Davis will be ready for the start of training camp. He had shoulder surgery in April.
  • Running back Marcus Lattimore looked good and he is working full-go. He missed all of last season as he recovered from a torn ACL he suffered at South Carolina in 2012.
  • In a hint third-round pick Marcus Martin could push Daniel Kilgore for the starting center job, Roman heaped high praise on the rookie. "I think Marcus has done a really good job coming in as a rookie. The center position, there's so much that a center has to do in this league week-to-week," Roman said. "There's just so many different adjustments and whatnot. He's done a really good job so far against our defense, not only physically, but mentally as well."
  • Roman said he is happy with the play of Joe Looney at right guard. He is working with the starters with Alex Boone holding out.
This is what Jim Harbaugh does. He adds quarterbacks.

He did it again Wednesday when the San Francisco 49ers signed veteran Josh Johnson. He was cut Monday by the Bengals, who had drafted AJ McCarron.

The 49ers first cut Johnson, who played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, during the 2012 preseason. Blaine Gabbert, acquired in a trade in March, is still the favorite to be the backup quarterback to Colin Kaepernick.

To make room for Johnson, the 49ers cut defensive lineman Christian Tupou.

In other 49ers notes:
Some fans of the San Francisco 49ers are a bit apprehensive that the team has not been overly busy in bringing in new talent this offseason.

While concentrating on keeping their own free agents, the 49ers added just four veterans. They signed safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Chris Cook and traded for quarterback Blaine Gabbert and tackle Jonathan Martin.

The small incoming veteran class is keeping in step with many of the winning teams in the NFL. Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, the chart includes the teams that added the fewest players this offseason and their 2013 record.

It's clear that many winning teams -- like the 49ers -- liked their roster and made some tweaks instead of wholesale changes.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Blaine Gabbert never became the franchise quarterback former Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith envisioned when he traded two picks to get him in the first round of the 2011 draft. The Jaguars finally gave up on Gabbert last Tuesday when current GM David Caldwell traded Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft and a possible conditional pick in 2015.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson break down the trade:

DiRocco: Blaine Gabbert clearly wasn't in the Jaguars' plans any longer and I, like most people, expected the team to release him at some point -- though I thought he'd at least go to training camp. But GM David Caldwell was somehow able to work out a trade with 49ers GM Trent Baalke to send Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick and a conditional pick in 2015.

What does Baalke like about Gabbert and why did he swing that trade?

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesUnder the guidance of coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers are hoping that Blaine Gabbert can finally flourish.
Williamson: The 49ers had 12 draft picks and they have a stacked roster, thus, low-round draft picks don’t mean much to them. Baalke and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh (who loves taking fliers in young quarterbacks) were both at Gabbert’s pro day three years ago and they had him visit prior to the draft. The 49ers have a need for a backup and always kept Gabbert in mind. I know it may have come as a surprise to folks in Jacksonville that the Jaguars got anything more than a loaf of San Francisco sourdough bread from the 49ers, but they actually do see value in Gabbert.

Mike, what do you think the 49ers are actually getting in Gabbert?

DiRocco: They're getting exactly what you want physically in a quarterback: a big (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), athletic, strong-armed player. That has never been his issue. It's what happens mentally that has held him back. He's somewhat skittish in the pocket and he makes too many questionable decisions on where to throw the ball. It's disconcerting because he's a pretty good practice player, but it doesn't transfer to game day.

There seems to be the thought that if anyone can fix him, it's Jim Harbaugh. But how much time can he devote to Gabbert while still working with Colin Kaepernick?

Williamson: You make a good point. Kaepernick is still not a finished product. But Harbaugh loves tinkering with quarterbacks. Gabbert’s time will be in the offseason, training camp and in the preseason. He needs to take advantage of working with the Quarterback Whisperer. Colt McCoy said last year he learned more about quarterbacking in his one season in San Francisco than in his entire playing career. So this is an opportunity for Gabbert; Harbaugh and his staff are top notch.

Mike, do you think Gabbert can put the misery of the past three years behind him and take advantage of this opportunity?

DiRocco: I think he will definitely benefit from the fresh start, but I don't know if he can overcome his mental issues. I don't buy the argument that he panics and is afraid to get hit. I think he was hurt by being forced to play before he was ready, plus he didn't exactly have a lot of weapons in the passing game. Not many quarterbacks are going to flourish under those conditions. If he's willing to start over from ground zero and approaches this with an open mind, I think he can make strides. He's still only 24 years old.

Bill, it may be too early to tell, but do you think the 49ers view Gabbert as a potential long-term backup or is this just them kicking the tires to see if he's a viable option?

Williamson: I think it’s a total kick-the-tires expedition. Again, it’s a low risk at a low cost. He’ll be the backup this year and they will see what he can do. If he’s terrible, they will move on. If they fix him, perhaps they will try to flip him and make a nice draft-pick profit. Basically, this is a guy who previously intrigued them and they are confident they can make him better. If it doesn’t work, well, at least Baalke and Harbaugh will know they tried.
Free agency is entering its fifth day (it only seems like 43) and the San Francisco 49ers have been busy making roster changes. Let's take a look at what has gone on so far:

Returning free agents: Receiver Anquan Boldin, kicker Phil Dawson, cornerback Eric Wright.

Departed free agents: Safety Donte Whitner (Cleveland), cornerback Tarell Brown (Oakland), running back Anthony Dixon (tweeted he is signing with Buffalo on Saturday).

Released: Cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Free-agent addition: Safety Antoine Bethea (Colts), Cornerback Chris Cook (Vikings).

Acquired in trade: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert from Jaguars; tackle Jonathan Martin from Miami.

Who are they interested in? Cornerback Walter Thurmond (Seattle),receivers Julian Edelman (New England) and Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh).

Remaining 49ers free agents: Center Jonathan Goodwin, receiver Mario Manningham, quarterback Colt McCoy, receiver Kassim Osgood, cornerback Perrish Cox.

Starting lineup changes: Bethea for Whitner; likely Daniel Kilgore for Goodwin.
The San Francisco 49ers are getting a veteran cornerback. But they might not be done adding at the position before the draft.

Cook
An NFL source confirmed the team will sign Minnesota free agent Chris Cook. He is expected to sign a team-friendly one-year deal. The team still has interest in Seattle cornerback Walter Thurmond, who is vising the 49ers on Friday, and have interest in retaining Tarell Brown.

Cook will battle for a roster spot. He has experience and at 6-foot-2, he is big for a cornerback. But he has struggled on and off the field at times. He has no career interceptions.

Still, the 49ers -- who added quarterback Blaine Gabbert and offensive lineman Jonathan Martin -- are banking they can salvage Cook's career. If not, the team doesn’t have much invested. ESPN analyst Matt Williamson thinks taking a flier on Cook is worth the 49ers’ while.

“He has a lot of talent,” Williamson said. “Maybe he can resurrect his career in San Francisco.”

49ers' offseason scorecard

March, 12, 2014
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Free agency isn’t 24 hours old and the San Francisco 49ers have been busy making roster changes. Let’s take a look at what has gone on so far:

Returning free agents: receiver Anquan Boldin, kicker Phil Dawson, cornerback Eric Wright.

Departed free agents: Safety Donte Whitner (Browns).

Released: Cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Free=agent addition: Safety Antoine Bethea (Colts).

Acquired in trade: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert from Jaguars; tackle Jonathan Martin from Miami.

Remaining free-agent priority: Cornerback Tarell Brown.

Other remaining free agents: Center Jonathan Goodwin, receiver Mario Manningham, quarterback Colt McCoy, receiver Kassim Osgood, running back Anthony Dixon, cornerback Perrish Cox.

Starting lineup changes: Bethea for Whitner; likely Daniel Kilgore for Goodwin.
Blaine Gabbert is no longer the Jacksonville Jaguars' problem. But it doesn't mean he is the San Francisco 49ers' problem either.

Many fans may be shaking their heads at the 49ers, who traded a sixth-round pick this year (and a conditional pick next year based on playing time) to the Jaguars to get Gabbert. He has been an unabashed bust since he was taken with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Look, the 49ers are not investing much here. They are simply taking a flier on a guy they liked three years ago at a bargain price. Expect the final year of his deal to be reduced; and the 49ers will still have 12 draft choices.

There is no guarantee Gabbert will even be the backup to Colin Kaepernick, who was taken 26 spots after Gabbert in 2011. Former NFL general manager Bill Polian said on ESPN on Tuesday he doubts Gabbert makes the 53-man roster.

But he will be given a chance by 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who went to his pro day at Missouri while scouting quarterbacks. Harbaugh loves quarterbacks. He and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke like Gabbert. Harbaugh and his staff will coach him up and see if they can salvage his career.

"We thought highly of Blaine as an early entry into the 2011 NFL draft," said Baalke, who took Gabbert's Missouri teammate Aldon Smith at No. 7 in 2011. "He is a high-character individual that will be given every opportunity to develop within our system and we are looking forward to working with him."

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson thinks the 49ers have their work cut out for them.

"Gabbert can throw it and maybe Harbaugh can get more out of him, but Gabbert has very poor pocket presence and awareness," Williamson said. "He plays scared."

The 49ers will likely give Gabbert the first crack to be the backup quarterback. But they could also draft a quarterback in the middle rounds and they like McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who finished the season on the practice squad.

This is a look-see trade. If it works, great. If not, the 49ers will continue their search for a long-term backup.
Patrick Peterson and Chad Henne AP PhotoCornerback Patrick Peterson, left, and the Cardinals could make life hard for the Jags' Chad Henne.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars finally took 0-16 off the table with their 29-27 upset of Tennessee in Nashville.

But that doesn't mean things are wonderful in Jacksonville. The team still ranks last in the NFL in total offense and rush defense and next-to-last in rushing offense.

To the Jaguars' credit, the players said those same things almost immediately after the game and have repeated them throughout the week. Finally getting that first victory doesn't change the fact that the team still has a long way to go.

The Arizona Cardinals have won back-to-back games for the second time this season and find themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot. The offense hasn't been especially productive, but the defensive front has been stellar, which is why the Cardinals are the NFL's third-best rush defense.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss break down Sunday's matchup at EverBank Field:

DiRocco: Josh, running back Rashard Mendenhall has really struggled this season. Rookie Andre Ellington has clearly outplayed him, yet coach Bruce Arians seems to be sticking with Mendenhall. What gives?

Weinfuss: If I had the answer to that question, I would sell it to Arians, retire and be living on a beach. Nobody really knows. There are a few guesses as to why, but the most common one is that Arians is simply loyal to players he brings in. Mendenhall was Arians' handpicked running back, and the coach will go with him through thick and thin. There's also the fact that Arians doesn't consider Ellington an every-down back. Arians would rather give Mendenhall the brunt of the carries -- especially between the tackles -- while he uses Ellington out in space. That said, Arians won't shy away from using Ellington more than Mendenhall throughout the game if the rookie has the rhythm.

After getting their first win, are the Jags feeding off that momentum, or are they basking a little bit in not being a winless team?

DiRocco: The Jaguars certainly enjoyed their first victory, but I would call it a tempered excitement. In the locker room after the game, players talked about fixing mistakes and staying humble. That message was reiterated Monday and Wednesday. The players remember what happened after the Denver game. They played relatively well against the Broncos, trailing 14-12 at halftime before eventually losing by 16 in a game in which they were 28-point underdogs. They figured the progress they showed would naturally continue, but they followed that performance by playing two of their worst games of the season, against San Diego and San Francisco. The players say they've learned their lesson and that won't happen again. We'll have to see Sunday if that's the case.

Like the Jaguars, the Cardinals are searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. But they're also in contention for a playoff berth, so they're not likely to be picking near the top of the draft. Louisville standout Teddy Bridgewater, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel are probably out. So which quarterbacks to do you think they have their eyes on, and which would be the best fit?

Weinfuss: I think this draft could be the long-term answer to the Cardinals' quarterback situation. If the Cardinals end up in the playoffs, they won't be picking near the top, which means they might get their hands on a college veteran. I've liked Aaron Murray from Georgia for a long time, and I think he's the type of player who can come in and have the talent to play right away. Another guy who could benefit the Cardinals is LSU senior Zach Mettenberger. They are both pocket passers who have big arms and are smart. Mettenberger might pick up an NFL offense quicker than Murray, because he's been running an NFL offense under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Arians' offense calls for a big arm, but I think Arians is seeing what life is like in the NFC West, facing mobile quarterbacks like Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, who can run and have big arms. Both Murray and Mettenberger could benefit from playing behind Carson Palmer for another season, if the Cardinals bring Palmer back. If a slinger like Clemson's Tajh Boyd is available, I wouldn't be shocked to see him drafted. At the same time, I also wouldn't be surprised if Arizona waits on a quarterback until the second or third round, hoping a gem like Wilson is available then.

Speaking of quarterbacks, is Chad Henne the short-term or long-term answer, and what will the Jags do with Blaine Gabbert?

DiRocco: Right now, Henne gives the Jaguars a better chance to win than Gabbert, but Henne isn't the long-term answer for the franchise. The Jags' first pick in the 2014 draft -- whether it's No. 1 or not -- will almost certainly be a quarterback. That's a clear indication that the team is ready to move on without Gabbert, who was the No. 10 overall pick in 2011. I would be surprised if he's on the roster next season. Henne will be a free agent after the season and might opt to go somewhere else to compete for a starting spot. If he decides to come back to Jacksonville, it would likely be to serve as a mentor to whichever quarterback is drafted.

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has shadowed top receivers Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith and Andre Johnson and did a good job against them. I'm assuming he'll draw Cecil Shorts on Sunday. Is that the case, and where do you think Peterson ranks among the league's top corners?

Weinfuss: If Shorts is the Jags' top receiver threat, then Peterson will most likely draw that assignment. Peterson prides himself on stopping the opponent's top receiver, as he has done in wins against Detroit and Houston -- despite two touchdowns by Andre Johnson that were barely inbounds. Peterson is no doubt one of the top two or three cornerbacks in the game, and depending on how you grade them, he could be the best. He's definitely the most athletic, but sometimes his fundamentals aren't as sound as they should be. He's shown that size doesn't matter as he takes on bigger players and makes them all but a nonfactor.

Is the Jacksonville defense better than people give it credit for, or is its 32nd ranking in stopping the run an accurate representation of the unit?

DiRocco: It's pretty bad. The defensive line, outside of Sen'Derrick Marks, has played pretty poorly. It has been physically handled way too often, has poor gap control and has had trouble with missed tackles. Linebacker Geno Hayes has been inconsistent, and there are three rookies in the secondary. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny has been terrific, but he might not play this week because of a concussion.

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert once felt very much at home at the Edward Jones Dome. In fact, it was at the current home of the St. Louis Rams where he kick-started a career that would eventually make him the No. 10 pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

Gabbert made his first college start as a sophomore in 2009 at the Edward Jones Dome, for Missouri against Illinois in what then was an annual border showdown. He led the Tigers to a blowout win, throwing for 319 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another touchdown. He returned with the Tigers in 2010 and led them to another victory on the same field in his final college season.

"It’s going to be a nice return to the Dome, and we’re ready to go,” Gabbert said.

Finding a NFL stadium where Gabbert has had success in his young career isn't an easy task. Putting it mildly, Gabbert has had a tough transition to the league, going through coaching and scheme changes nearly from the day he was drafted. This season, he's posted a quarterback rating of 30.7 in his two starts, with no touchdowns and five interceptions.

Gabbert's struggles in Jacksonville have many wondering just how long he'll get to prove himself. It seems the Jaguars are committed to seeing it through this season and at least finding out what they have.

Well aware of the criticism that surrounds him, Gabbert has a pretty respectable approach to understanding all that goes with playing his position at the game's highest level.

"It’s rightfully deserved," Gabbert said. "It’s part of the job description when you signed up. The quarterback and the head coach are the ones that get the blame, and they’re the ones that get more of the credit than they deserve when things are going well. But it’s the quarterback’s job to lead his football team and it’s the quarterback’s job to get points on the board."

Getting points on the board has been a tough task for the Jaguars so far this season; their 7.8 points per game rank last in the league. Considering the Rams' struggles this season both scoring and preventing points, they'd better hope Gabbert doesn't feel too at home in the Edward Jones Dome.

I.C.Y.M.I.

It was an exceedingly busy day in this corner of cyberspace, with Twitter nonsense, trades and so much more. Here's a recap of yesterday's activities. ... We started with the weekly quarterback watch and a look at Sam Bradford. ... From there, it was time for the weekly buzz with a video breakdown of this week's storylines for the Rams. ... Next was the first glimpse at the possible changing situation at running back and the Daryl Richardson/Twitter affair. ... We looked at how Jacksonville's trade of tackle Eugene Monroe changes things for this week. ... A quick injury update and the Rams' lack of bodies in the secondary. ... Finally, we had a news story with reaction from all parties on Richardson and the Twitter incident, as well as a vote for Zac Stacy as this week's starter.

Elsewhere:

At stltoday.com, my pal Bernie Miklasz took a break from Cardinals mania and offered his take on the Rams' run-game struggles.

Post-Dispatch writer Joe Lyons writes that rookie end Gerald Rivers is looking to build on his debut.

CBS Sports offers a preview of Sunday's Rams-Jaguars game.

At stlouisrams.com, Jonathan Webb takes a look at Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein's solid start.

Final 2013 preseason QB snap counts

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Six projected starting quarterbacks played in their teams' final exhibition games of the 2013 preseason. The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick were two of them, and both led touchdown drives before exiting after one series. None of the NFL's projected starters got hurt Thursday night.

The chart shows week-by-week snap counts for quarterbacks I singled out as projected starters heading into preseason. NFC West alums Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn might not start after all, but I've left them in the chart for context.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has generally played starters in the final preseason game. He did not this time.

"Typically I have, but I guess in the new world that we’re in, it’s hard to," Fisher told reporters after the Rams' game against Baltimore. "What that implies is that I'm pleased with where they are right now, those guys that sat. They worked hard. We got a great workout and it allowed them to fast-forward their minds to Arizona."

Fisher could have been alluding to the run of higher-profile injuries around the league this summer. Last year, the Rams lost rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers to a high-ankle sprain in the final preseason game.

The Rams emerged from this preseason healthier than their division rivals. That did not stop the 49ers from playing their offensive starters or the Seahawks from playing starters on both sides of the ball Thursday night. The Arizona Cardinals rested most of their starters, though Michael Floyd was one notable exception.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh offered no explanation for playing his starting offense one series. Kaepernick hadn't gotten many snaps through the first three games, however. Getting additional reps for Kaepernick and the team's group of emerging receivers made some sense on the surface.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll went into the final preseason game saying he wanted starters to play because the team values this games as competitive opportunities.

NFL teams have played their most important snaps of the 2013 exhibition season now that every team has played at least three games.

This becomes a good time to check out how many snaps each projected starting quarterback has played. The players listed in the chart below entered preseason as the quarterbacks I considered most likely to start season openers. We might have to make adjustments in some cases.

Teams have different priorities based on a range of factors. This snapshot does provide some context.

A few notes regarding the NFC West info:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer appeared sharper in the preseason opener than he did subsequently. Pass protection was one problem against San Diego on Saturday night. Palmer still got 37 snaps, his highest total of the preseason. But with the team losing key players Rob Housler and Jonathan Cooper to injuries, snap counts for Palmer were not a leading storyline.
  • St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford has played 25 snaps in each of the last two preseason games. He is averaging 10.2 yards per pass attempt in the preseason and has a 114.1 NFL passer rating to this point (he finished the 2012 preseason with five touchdown passes, no picks and a 116.3 rating). The team's most recent preseason game, at Denver, provided Bradford a good opportunity to connect with Jared Cook, the tight end St. Louis lured away from Tennessee in free agency with $19 million in guarantees. Cook caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick has played fewer snaps than any projected starter other than the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III, who has not yet played in a game since suffering knee injuries in the playoffs last season. Kaepernick finished strong against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, completing his final six passes, including one for a touchdown.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson took three sacks and threw two interceptions while playing 38 snaps against Green Bay in the most recent preseason game. The Packers, meanwhile, pulled Aaron Rodgers after 10 snaps. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the Packers came after Seattle with scheme-related wrinkles an offense would address in the regular season, but not preseason.

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