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Clean slate for Gabbert

Posted Feb 2, 2012

New Jaguars QB coach approaching work with Blaine Gabbert with "an open mind."

Greg Olson sees but one way to approach his situation.

To Olson, it’s not just the only fair thing for Blaine Gabbert, but the only way that makes sense in his new position. All the talk about Gabbert?

The local and national criticism, the theories, the judgments?

Olson said to him they matter not a bit, that he sees the Jaguars’ young quarterback with a less biased view.

“I’m just looking at a young player who has room for improvement,” Olson said Thursday during his first meeting with the Jacksonville media since being hired two weeks ago as the Jaguars’ quarterbacks coach.

Olson, 48, is entering his 11th season in the NFL, and he has spent six seasons as an offensive coordinator. With Jacksonville, his main task will be to work with Gabbert, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft who struggled much of his rookie season.

 “He’s very talented,” Olson said. “He’s a young player and has a lot of room for growth.”

Olson, who spent the last four seasons with Tampa Bay – the first as quarterbacks coach and the last three as offensive coordinator – said he has spent this week watching and evaluating tape of Gabbert. He said he has watched every pass by Gabbert last season twice, and although they have not met face-to-face they have spoken by telephone.

He also has spoken to people around the Jaguars about Gabbert, and what he has taken from those conversations is Gabbert is a hard worker and self-motivated player who wants to improve.

For now, Olson said that’s what matters.

“I’m not going to make a judgment based on what he was thrown into last year with the previous staff,” Olson said. “I don’t know what was being taught. I don’t know schematically reads and progressions. I’m really coming into this thing with an open mind.

“If he is the worker and he is the self-motivated player that everyone in this building says he is, then he has a chance to get better. That’s all you can ask for right now, in a young player.”

Olson, who also worked as the offensive coordinator in Detroit in 2005 and St. Louis in 2006-2007, said there were many circumstances last season that may have been beyond Gabbert’s control.

“With the lockout and not having a chance to learn the system – there are a lot of things there,” Olson said. “It’s easy, I think, for people to make judgments based upon last season’s play, but until we get a chance with this current staff to work with them I don’t want to pass any judgments at this point.”

Gabbert started the final 14 games of the 2011 season,  completing 210 of 413 passes for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He turned 22 on October 15, and was the youngest quarterback in NFL history to start 13 games.

“You can’t replace experience, and he hasn’t had a lot of experience,” Olson said. “He was a very productive player in college. He had a very good career at the University of Missouri. The game is different at this level. I think any college quarterback would tell you that that has played in the league any length of time. It’s a matter of experience and time will tell.”

Olson, who has worked with quarterbacks such as Drew Brees at Purdue, Marc Bulger in St. Louis, Jeff Garcia in San Francisco and Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay, said the first step he will take with Gabbert is gaining an understanding of where Gabbert believes he is as a player.

“Before you can get better, and before can solve problems, you have to admit any problems you might have,” Olson said. “It will be part of sitting down with him and being honest in our evaluation phase, and him being honest with himself. That’s part of that dialogue between a quarterback coach and his quarterback.

“We have to be open and honest about the problems that need to be fixed. Until we can admit that things are a problem, we can’t fix a problem. We have to kind of bare our souls a little bit and go to work. From everything I’ve heard, he’s that kind of guy.”

Such conversations, Olson said, will be critical to building the trust that he said will be crucial in his relationship with Gabbert.

“He has to trust that everything that I’m telling him and coaching him is designed to make him better, to make him that franchise quarterback we all want him to be,” Olson said. “There has to be a tremendous amount of trust there.”

Because of the new off-season rules under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, while Olson spoke to Gabbert this week, the two can’t talk football until the Jaguars’ off-season program begins in April. Neither Gabbert nor any other Jaguars player can talk to coaches until then, and while the players can be at the facility, they can’t use a football while there and can’t be coached in any capacity.

“It will be a while before he gets a chance to be here and we get a chance to spend some one-on-one time,” Olson said. “But that can be a good thing, too. It gives us a chance to put together some training tapes and put together a plan on where we want to go with his development.”

In terms of individual coaching of Gabbert, Olson said, “You have to find out what buttons to push in terms of motivating and how does he best learn. Is he a guy who needs to be on the field? Does he need hands on work? Is he better off seeing it on tape then going out? That’s part of the relationship that’s missing right now because we haven’t had that chance. Certainly with the CBA, it has shortened it down to a shorter time period.”

Under the new CBA, teams essentially have nine weeks from April through June to get in eight weeks of allowable work with players. The Jaguars’ program will begin in April and run through a mid-June mandatory mini-camp. That period will feature 10 organized team activities, 12 coaching sessions and a voluntary April mini-camp that Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Wednesday is essentially a veteran orientation.

Olson was asked Thursday if eight weeks was enough for Gabbert to improve.

“We’re certainly counting on it being,” he said. “There is no other choice: ‘Here’s the allotted time we have to spend with him.’ So we have a lot of work to try and get done and a lot of things to try and fix – not just Blaine, but fixing the other things around him as well to try to help him.”

Olson said Gabbert may be able to improve some techniques before the off-season program begins – individually and with outside assistance. NFL quarterbacks often hire personal coaches during the off-season or attend various quarterback clinics around the country, and while Olson said that environment could benefit Gabbert he said that’s true only “as long as we’re all on the same page.”

He said the staff is currently putting together a plan to relay to Gabbert and anyone who may work with him this off-season.

“As long as there aren’t mixed messages or two different messages,” Olson said. “Obviously, that’s not what you want – too many voices. We’re coming up with a plan – the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s not some outside source saying, ‘This is what you need to work on.’ It’s, ‘This is our plan and our collective minds as an offensive staff and things you need to improve on.’ A lot of it will depend on him and his work ethic.

“It’s really all about the quarterback offensively. You have to do whatever you can to help that quarterback and build our team around that quarterback. He touches the ball every single play so you have to make sure he’s doing the right thing with it.”

Also on Thursday Olson:

*Said while he is hesitant to compare players, he sees similarities between Gabbert and former New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe: “He has that Drew Bledsoe-type body. I think his delivery is similar and he looks like that kind of player, but he’ll be his own player, I’m sure.”

*Discussed an offensive staff that features four coaches with coordinator experience: Olson, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and running backs coach Sylvester Croom. “You’re going to have creativity within the room and it’s going to be important that everybody understands their role as we start putting the plan together of where we’re going offensively,” Olson said. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey also has been an offensive coordinator for Pittsburgh, Miami and Atlanta.

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