Extra Points: It's still Gabbert over Tebow in Jacksonville

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If continuity means anything in the NFL, Blaine Gabbert hasn't really had a chance in Jacksonville.

Once upon a time the Jaguars traded up six spots to select Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft, seemingly cementing his future in northeast Florida as the team's franchise quarterback.

Although it's now been less than two calendar years since the Jags handed the keys to Gabbert, it's also been three coaching regimes since Jack Del Rio still called the Sunshine State home.

Billionaire auto parts magnate Shahid Khan bought the Jacksonville franchise in February 2011, eventually replacing Del Rio with interim coach Mel Tucker before hiring Mike Mularkey, who was then jettisoned after just one season, albeit a disastrous 2-14 one, earlier this week.

And that came days after hiring David Caldwell as the replacement for already deposed general manager Gene Smith.

If your head is spinning, imagine how Gabbert feels. The former Mizzou signal- caller has gone from a top 10 pick to afterthought in the one market which beats the drum louder than any other for the limited but extremely popular Tim Tebow, who starred in college at the University of Florida in nearby Gainesville.

At Caldwell's introductory press conference earlier this week, Tebow, despite still being under contract to the New York Jets, was the main event.

The fans in Jacksonville want Tebow badly, but to his credit Caldwell has his eye on the prize and doesn't want to be sitting with those same fans in the near future. So, he quickly put out the Tebow to Jacksonville fire.

"I can't imagine a scenario where he'd be a Jacksonville Jaguar," Caldwell said when asked about Tebow at his introductory press conference before adding, "Even if he is released. I have others in mind and I'm comfortable with what's here."

Meaning Gabbert?

"He is still young. He's had two different offensive coordinators (Dirk Koetter and Bob Bratkowski) in his first two years," Caldwell said when addressing the once highly touted signal-caller. "Get a coach in here and get some sustainability for him. I think it's important to see what he can do."

Like any new general manager with actual power behind the title, Caldwell wasted no time in putting his own stamp on the team, announcing his decision to fire Mularkey on Thursday, less than 48 hours after taking the job.

The former director of player personnel for the Atlanta Falcons, Caldwell knew Mularkey well from their days in Dixie and if he wasn't comfortable with the former NFL tight end, for whatever reason, he certainly deserves the rope to go in another direction.

"I know Mike well and do not want anyone to misinterpret the rationale behind my decision," Caldwell said. "Mike is an excellent coach and I am sure he will succeed in his next stop in the NFL. However, I must do what I believe is best for the Jacksonville Jaguars and immediately explore every avenue possible to turn our football team around."

Caldwell has already set up an interview with St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, but rumors persist that the eventual choice will be his old college buddy at John Carroll University, Greg Roman, the current 49ers offensive coordinator.

Wherever the coaching carousel ends, however, the real issue in Jacksonville becomes who can fix Gabbert.

The 6-foot-4, 233-pound Gabbert is straight out of central casting when it comes to quarterbacks, but he has certainly struggled to this point.

In his rookie season, Del Rio's last stand after nine years in Jacksonville, Gabbert started 14 games, was sacked on 40 different occasions and fumbled an NFL-high 14 times. His 50.8 percent completion percentage was second-worst in the NFL, besting only Tebow's laughable 46.5 mark, and his 5.4 yards per attempt, along with his 65.4 overall passer rating were dead last.

In came Mularkey, an offensive-minded head coach, and a promising start for Gabbert in 2012, one in which he threw for career-high 260 passing yards with two touchdowns and a solid 96.1 quarterback rating in an season-opening loss at Minnesota, quickly dissipated.

Gabbert went on to tear the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder against Oakland on Oct. 21 before eventually being put on season-ending injured reserve a month later.

The Jaguars beat only Indianapolis in Week 3 and Tennessee in Week 12 in 2012 before closing the campaign with five straight losses. Jacksonville, though, played much of 2012 without their top offensive weapon, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and arguably their top defensive player, linebacker Daryl Smith.

Things probably shouldn't have gone off the rails to the degree they did but Caldwell has more to work with than most realize.

Gabbert, though, remains the lynchpin and to his credit Khan isn't being shortsighted and attempting to force Tebow on his organization.

It's all about building up a program in Jacksonville which results in consistent, winning football, something which will do more to boost the interest around town and ticket sales at EverBank Field than a mediocre Tebow- led team.

"Look at some quarterbacks. It takes maybe more than two years, three or four years," Caldwell said. "(Gabbert) came out as a junior and he's a very young quarterback and he still has a lot of upside. I always thought Blaine was going to be a long-term project when he came out anyway."

That means Gabbert will get one more chance to prove he's the answer, although this time there should be a safety net. Caldwell plans to have four quarterbacks on the roster by training camp and said there would be an open competition for the job.

"I studied (Gabbert) when he came out and he came out from the spread offense," Caldwell said. "I felt like it was going to be a longer process for him. Look at the quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning, they spent a full five years in college. Blaine should be a rookie coming out this year. Let's work with him."