Gabbert Looking Ahead to Improvement Process

4 years 9 months 2 weeks ago January 04, 2012 Jan 4, 2012 Wednesday, January 04 2012 Wednesday, January 04, 2012 8:54:27 PM CST in Football
By: John Oehser

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- Blaine Gabbert's short-term plan is simple - and pretty understandable, too. "Rest," he said. But while that's the short term, the Jaguars' quarterback said the plan after that - the one entering his first full NFL off-season - is as simple, and certainly more important.

The plan is for improvement, a plan that will begin as soon as possible.

Gabbert, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, started the last 14 games of his rookie season. While it was a season marked by ups and downs, Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker said Tuesday the arrow is pointing up regarding Gabbert.

"He was thrown into a very difficult situation," Tucker said. "As a rookie, I thought he handled it well - never any excuses or explanations, very unselfish, stood up to the challenge and found a way to improve throughout this season. His play time is going to be a tremendous asset for him moving forward.

"The experience he's gotten throughout this season in the NFL is just invaluable. I think he's going to be a great NFL player and only time will tell that, but he's got a start on it and I think his experience will bode well for him in the future."

Gabbert on Tuesday said he believes that, too.

"I know what I can do," Gabbert said Tuesday as players packed their lockers two days after the season ended with a 19-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

"Like I said previously, the opinions that matter to me are the coaching staff, the players in this locker room because they have an effect on how I play. The 53 guys that are out there on every Sunday, their opinions matter to me.

"Criticism is part of the game. You're going to take it for what it's worth, but at the end of the day you're responsible to the guys in this locker room and the coaching staff."

Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said Gabbert's approach this season won the respect of players.

"He was thrown into the fire," Knighton said. "He accepted that role and he improved in it. By Week 5 or 6, he was understanding that he can step up and say something. Being the QB, it doesn't matter how much experience you have. If you're the guy, you have to be the guy. He accepted the role.

"The best way to learn in this league is to play. He did a lot of that this year. He'll know what to expect next year."

Knighton said when it comes to Gabbert's development, "people just have to be patient."

"He didn't expect to get thrown into the fire right away, and I think he responded well to it," Knighton said. "Once he gets a full off-season of the playbook and OTAs, developing a relationship with his receivers and offensive line, I think a lot of things are possible."

A full off-season is something Gabbert didn't get entering his rookie season.

Because of the lockout, Gabbert's first work with teammates and coaches came during training camp, during which time he mostly worked as the backup to David Garrard.

Gabbert started the preseason opener before working as a backup the rest of the preseason. He entered the regular season as a backup when the Jaguars released Garrard and moved veteran backup Luke McCown into the starting role five days before the regular-season opener.

McCown started two games, then after he threw four interceptions in a 32-3 Week 2 loss to the New York Jets, the Jaguars moved Gabbert into the starting role.

Gabbert finished the season completing 210 of 413 passes for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He also was sacked 40 times and finished with a passer rating of 65.4.

"For him, and the same is for me, we have to continue to get better and get on the same page," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "I know part of it is a maturation process. Him playing games early, trying to get a grasp of the whole offense - he did a good job of doing that, but also, it's everybody around him. We all have to get better. I think that's part of being a professional, understanding you don't know it all. With our passing game, we all have to get on the same page."

Lewis said a priority in the off-season will be him and other receivers working with Gabbert extensively.

"I look forward to getting in the same page with Blaine, and that way I know what he's thinking," Lewis said. "When Dave would drop back and throw the ball, I knew exactly what he was thinking. It's different when you're running routes and you know the face, you know the launching point. You know his mannerisms. I think that's going to be important for me and Blaine, to get on the same page so we can be our best."

That process is expected to occur simultaneously with another adjustment period for Gabbert and the rest of the offense - that of adjusting to a new offensive coaching staff.

"We'll get a new offensive coordinator, whoever that may be," Gabbert said. "We've got to learn the offense so that's going to be a big step for this football team."

Gabbert and Lewis each said receivers and quarterback working together - throwing and catching and even watching tape together - in the off-season will be key.

"That's something me and Dave did the last few years," Lewis said when asked about the importance of off-season tape work. "When he threw certain balls, even if it didn't come to me, I'd ask him why he did that. So, I get an idea of how he's thinking and how everything is working, so even when I'm not getting the ball, I'm getting to a spot to get another receiver open. That's important.

"Blaine's going to be here for a while. So am I. I think it's important we get on the same page, and if we get on the same page then our offense is going to run smoothly."

Said Gabbert, "You've got to see the same things from the same set of eyes, and that's crucial for a wide receiver and a quarterback for certain coverages. It's two different viewpoints, so that was a thing that we had to work on all year because we didn't have that time to do that in the offseason or throughout training camp because all of the reps were being split up throughout all of the quarterbacks and we had a bunch of receivers rotating in and out.

"It was just a difficult year. A lot of ups and downs, a lot of bumps and bruises but we'll get better this offseason."

Gabbert said Tuesday he will focus in the off-season on sleeping habits - "sleep more than four or five hours a night," he said - and that he believes overall, the experience of playing 14 games as a rookie will help his development. He also said he is "excited about where this team is going."

"We're very close," he said.

He also said he and most of his teammates obviously will be watching the coaching search in the coming weeks.

"You've got to," he said. "It affects all of our situations, so every player on this team is going to be wondering who the coach is going to be, who the other assistants are going to be, so we've just got to keep focused, but all of that stuff is going to work itself out. It's all out of our control right now. The front office is going to do a great job."

Mostly, he said he is anticipating getting back to work - once there is a brief time to rest and recover from a long rookie season - whatever changes the off-season will bring.

"It's going to be a process again," he said. "You're going to have to get with the coaches, but it's going to help having all of the OTAs and mini camps over the summer to do that and kind of ease that transition because this year we didn't have that. That will definitely be a positive in the offseason."

"The sky is the limit for this team. We have great athletes, great people, great talent. We've just got to put that all together and just keep working."

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