Stretching the Field: It's time to reconsider Gabbert experiment
The Jacksonville Jaguars have seen the good side of bad and the down side of up and everything between with quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Picked 10th overall in the 2011 draft, Gabbert was expected to be the next consistent quarterback in Jaguars history since Mark Brunell. Well, the Gabbert experiment may have reached its inglorious end.
Inserted into a starting role back in Week 3 of last season, Gabbert took over a team that finished last in both total yards and passing yards, 28th in scoring and 12th in rushing. The rushing success was made possible by Maurice Jones-Drew, who led the NFL with 1,606 yards on a league-high 343 carries.
You would think an established running game would go hand-in-hand in Gabbert's development, but that hasn't been the case in this almost two-year trial. Gabbert has had a rating over 100 just once this season and twice in his career, and his first was 102.8 because he completed 5-of-6 passes for 52 yards in mop-up duty of a 32-3 loss to the New York Jets last Sept. 18.
It seems the Jaguars are trying to make a silk purse from a sow's ear, but really they're getting quite the opposite of what they expected when they traded up to grab the former Missouri star.
Gabbert and the Jaguars were one-dimensional in Thursday's 27-10 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a team they defeated in Week 3 on the road. Jones-Drew set the tone offensively with 177 yards and a score in that one, but has been sidelined the last two games with a foot injury. With MJD on the sidelines and Rashad Jennings tallying 27 of the 37 rushing yards (Gabbert, 10), the Jaguars had no choice but to pass. And why wouldn't they with Indianapolis missing two of its starters in the secondary?
Seizing the moment didn't quite happen for Gabbert, who was sacked three times and completed 18-of-31 pass attempts for 209 yards. He was intercepted for the third time in two weeks and knocked out of the game after aggravating a left non-throwing shoulder injury originally sustained at Oakland on Oct. 21. Head coach Mike Mularkey didn't feel it was necessary to bring Gabbert back with the game out of reach and turned to veteran backup Chad Henne.
"I just thought where we were with the score, with a guy who had just gotten injured, I didn't think it was worth the risk," Mularkey said. "I didn't think it would have been very smart on our part to put him back out there."
That sounds like an endorsement to keep Gabbert as the starter.
Jacksonville didn't help its cause by receiving 10 penalties for 115 yards, including six that were 15 yards a pop. But they at least know Henne can lead this beleaguered offense. Henne was 10-of-16 for 121 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception, and will reluctantly take the clipboard for next week's trip to Houston if Gabbert's left shoulder is not an issue. Henne has proven he can play in this league from his time with Miami.
"I'm going to do my best and be ready to roll," Gabbert said.
Does it really matter at this point in the season if Gabbert is ready to "roll" against a Texans team that pounded Jacksonville, 27-7, back in Week 2? Gabbert passed for only 53 yards and a touchdown versus Houston, before Henne got a shot and completed both of his attempts for 23 yards.
Another reason for Gabbert's inability to turn the program around is the lack of production from his receivers. Laurent Robinson, signed to a deal in the offseason after a breakout campaign with Dallas, has just 252 yards and no touchdowns in six games. However, Robinson, a journeyman receiver who posted 11 TD grabs in 2011, had his best game as a Jaguar last night and caught a season-high nine passes for 77 yards. First-round draft pick Justin Blackmon has been a major disappointment, having caught just 26 passes for 250 yards and one score. Maybe Blackmon doesn't understand the offense because he has the potential to be a 1-2 punch with Gabbert.
The Jaguars, off to a franchise-worst 1-8 start, went 1-for-10 on third down versus the Colts and frustration has begun to set in. Missed opportunities and mistakes have led to six straight defeats, including five in a row at home. Confidence is out the window as well, but at least there's no more pressure to perform at a high level.
"We're pretty ticked off. We just got to keep fighting, keep working at it and turn it around," said Gabbert, who's 27th with a 58.0 completion percentage, 29th in both passing yards (1,638) and passer rating (76.9) and last in the league with 182.0 ypg. "I can't say anything up here to fix our record, to fix our loss tonight, it's just up to us to focus throughout the week, keep working hard, keep chipping away and turn it around ourselves."
Jaguars leading receiver Cecil Shorts echoed that statement in saying, "we are going to stick together and keep grinding and keep fighting hard." Shorts has been the Jags' most consistent player and eclipsed 100 receiving yards for the second time in the last three games. Shorts has helped Gabbert to 200-plus passing yards in a career-high three straight games. When 200 yards passing in three games in a row is a career high, there's something not right there.
Is it too harsh on Gabbert? Not when you're given the keys to the kingdom and have done nothing but sputter in the parking lot. Jaguars owner Shad Khan is in his first season with the team and this week touched on making changes and evaluating talent.
"Let me quote Einstein here, the definition of insanity, 'Doing the same thing over, and expecting different results.' If you have a losing season, what are the changes that are being done that will change the organization?"
Khan added: "The most important thing for me is that this becomes an organization that wins over time. There's nobody here who's happy with the results. We want to win."
Little did Khan know more salt would be added to the wound a few days later in a loss to the Colts in front of a fanbase desperate for a winner.
The end of the Gabbert era may not be over yet. The entire team could use a makeover. If and when that happens, the first order of business should take place under center.