Everyone is a scout these days. But instead of projecting on upside, fans, media and blogs across the country think that they can look into a crystal ball and predict success, which is near impossible to do with any sort of certainty. Too many variables are at play.
More frustrating than everyone's misinterpretation of scouting, is the inability of so many to form their own opinion. Such was the case with Blaine Gabbert this season. As soon as Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski ripped into Gabbert on Monday Night Football against the Ravens, it became the cliche and lazy analysis of the masses. Phrases such as pocket presence, "you can't coach courage" and reading the defense, were being thrown around ad nauseum to describe the play of Blaine Gabbert, with very few people actually understanding Gabbert's situation, or the situation of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Now, many are speculating that Gabbert was bad enough for the Jaguars to considering selecting another quarterback seventh overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
The analysis is lazy, and after the jump, I'll explain why.
Blaine Gabbert's rookie season was anything but strong. Let's get that out of the way first and foremost. I'm not here to tell you that Gabbert is the next Aaron Rodgers. But I am also not ready to write him off as a bust. His circumstances, surrounding talent and the fact that he is just 22 years old, are all indicators of just how early it is to be calling No. 11 a bust.
Gabbert's rookie season did not go as planned. For starters, the offseason was shortened by the lockout. (Before you go and mention that Andy Dalton and Cam Newton didn't seem to mind the short offseason, remember that Dalton had four years of experience in a pro-style offense and A.J. Green at his disposal, while Cam Newton was the first overall pick, and was working with Steve Smith and coordinator Rob Chudzinski.) Coming out of a spread style offense after just three college seasons, Gabbert was expected to need some time to sit and learn the ropes before being thrown to the wolves. Not only did the shortened offseason not give him much time, but the failures of David Garrard and Luke McCown forced Jack Del Rio to start Gabbert far earlier than he would have liked to.
So what, right? Plenty of quarterbacks have been thrown into the fire early in their careers, and done just fine. But every situation is different. In addition to the fact that Gabbert was, and still is, considered a very raw prospect, the former Missouri Tiger was thrown under center for a team that had nothing to work with at wide receiver. And I mean nothing. Marcedes Lewis, the former Pro Bowl tight end of the Jacksonville Jaguars, was dropping balls like it was going out of style. Mike Thomas, who signed a contract extension earlier this season, went into the tank after cashing in, running lazy routes and showing no ability to get separation. Aside from those two familiar names, the likes of Chastin West, Jarred Dillard, Jason Hill and Cecil Shorts could be found running routes for Blaine Gabbert.
At times did Blaine Gabbert show terrible pocket awareness? Yes. Did he even look timid, or everyone's favorite "scared," at times? Sure. But the fact of the matter is that, far too often, nobody was open for him to throw to. The receivers couldn't get separation. Period. So, yeah, a rookie quarterback thrown into the fire far earlier than expected, with a short offseason and coming from a spread offense, looked a bit rattled in the pocket when nobody was open and the defense was closing in. That seems understandable to me.
The fact that Gabbert's pocket presence, which was a huge weakness this season, was harped on by the media is not the problem. The fact that pocket presence (or playing scared as everyone likes to put it) is an issue that cannot be corrected. Courage can't be taught. Oh, really? You think Tom Brady was born the magician he is in the pocket? Do you think Drew Brees came into the league, knowing what he does now about feeling pressure? That skill, like any other, is developed. And, in fact, Gabbert improved on it quite a bit over the course of the season, despite what many will lead you to believe. Confidence breeds pocket presence, in my opinion. The more confident Gabbert is in himself and his teammates, the more comfortable he will be in all facets of his game, including pocket presence. But until the box score shows improvement, the media won't recognize any improvement in Gabbert's game, because that would take work.
The coaching situation is another that was far from ideal in Jacksonville. Jack Del Rio, who was fired midseason, is not much of an offensive mind, and rumors of his perceived, lazy blame-everyone attitude make him a tough match for a rookie quarterback.
This offseason, Gabbert will get the chance to reset. And he will do so with a new coaching staff, which will likely be a huge upgrade over his first group of coaches. Gabbert will get the benefit of a full offseason with this new and improved coaching staff, and will likely have that benefit alongside of some new offensive weapons to work with.
If there is one positive to hold onto with Blaine Gabbert, it is that he has said and done all the right things off the field. He was the first to arrive at the team's facilities after the lockout, he always takes full responsibility for his performances and he has shown a competitive fire that his team rallies around.
Some have used the the phrase "sunk cost" to describe Gabbert's future with the Jaguars in economic terms. And while the economic principle is sound, especially under the new CBA, the Jaguars need to look at this situation from a football standpoint first and foremost, as the folks over at Jaguars Blog have noted. Unless Gabbert had proven to be a major locker room concern, ala Ryan Leaf of JeMarcus Russel, how could a team that drafted Gabbert in the top ten less than a year ago, with the belief that he would develop into a franchise quarterback, just give up on him after a pedestrian rookie season under difficult circumstances?
He deserves time.
Bringing in a new quarterback is not going to fix the problems with the Jaguars. Just as we can't predict the success of Blaine Gabbert, we cannot predict the success of Robert Griffin III, or Landry Jones. Gabbert has a world of upside, and without surrounding him with weapons, he is not getting fair shot at that.
Gene Smith, the Jaguars' general manager, understands that. He is building this team with an eye for the long term, being patient in the short term. Smith knows that will not always be a popular approach, but he is not one for knee jerk reaction. The situation with Blaine Gabbert will be no different.
The Jaguars are going to give Blaine Gabbert the offseason to develop, and next season, they hope to see a much improved product on the field, and I believe they will. Nobody is questioning the fact that work has to be done. But there is a plan, for both the Jaguars and Blaine Gabbert.
Give it time to play out, and then judge.