The Jaguars are getting running back Maurice Jones-Drew back on Sunday, but their chances of an improved record this season hinge on more than just the return of the NFL’s leading rusher from last season.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s play is going to have a lot to do with the final record in Jacksonville this season, something that would be a bit scary if he’s the same player he was as a rookie. Gabbert posted the third-lowest completion percentage of any rookie quarterback making double-digit starts in the modern era, something that needs to change dramatically if Gabbert and the Jags are going to succeed.
He’s looked improved during preseason action and the Jaguars are unanimous in their belief that Gabbert’s made progress off the field as well. Guard Uche Nwaneri called him more composed and there’s a lot of talk about his increased comfort as a leader after his first full offseason in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski also thinks that Gabbert has been unfairly maligned as being skittish in the pocket.
“If he was scared, you wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination see him making the improvement he has,” Bratkowski said, via Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union. “Quarterbacks have to protect themselves. I think what’s probably come along a little bit better is he knows where those checkdowns are. He can get them out if they’re there. If not, and he knows he’s going to take a hit, he’ll take the hit. Now there may be some times where there’s nothing for him to throw the ball at. You got to get down and protect yourself. That doesn’t mean you’re scared.”
Changes to the Jaguars offense based on getting the ball out quickly should also help Gabbert in that department, but, truthfully, last year’s criticisms no longer matter. It’s a new system in Jacksonville with Bratkowski and coach Mike Mularkey in charge and Gabbert’s rookie results will be forgotten if he can build ont he improvement he showed in the preseason.