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Taking advantage of the off-season

Posted Jan 12, 2012

Mularkey: Gabbert will benefit from off-season to learn, prepare

Mike Mularkey very much understands the situation.

Mularkey, who officially was announced on Wednesday as the Jaguars’ third permanent head coach, said developing quarterback Blaine Gabbert is critical to the franchise, and toward that end, the coming months will be equally important.

That’s because the coming months are the NFL off-season.

Gabbert, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, didn’t have an off-season – not in the way NFL people think of one, anyway – before his rookie season, and Mularkey said it’s his belief that hurt the young quarterback’s early development significantly.

It also makes this season’s off-season critically important.

“He got thrown right into the fire of training camp,” Mularkey said Wednesday during an appearance on Jaguars This Week.

“Training camp is 100 miles per hour, which is hard on anybody, let alone a quarterback.”

Gabbert, who met with Mularkey early Wednesday afternoon, said he plans to drive home to St. Louis this week, but that he will return to Jacksonville soon to begin working with Mularkey and learning the offense. The Jaguars’ off-season conditioning program likely will begin in April.

The team’s mini-camps and organized team activities will be held sometime after that, and Mularkey said the pace and environment of the off-season will benefit Gabbert.

Gabbert last season because of the lockout didn’t work with coaches until training camp.

“When you get into training camp and the regular season, you’re basically installing and going to practice what you’re going to do in the game,” Mularkey said, adding of the off-season, “It’s a little more at ease and the pressure is much more off of him. You see things a little clearer, and it’s a better environment when you can do that. He had no opportunity to do that, and I think that held back a lot of players – not just him.

“I just think he needs an off-season to sit in a relaxed environment where we can sit and show in detail the little things in a game, not just his fundamentals and techniques. He never really had a chance to do that last year.”

Overall, Mularkey said of Gabbert, “Obviously, he has the skills, the size. He has a very strong arm and he’s mobile. In this offense, you have to be able to move out of the pocket. We like to run the ball, but you have to have something to play off the run and Blaine fits that mold great.”

Mularkey during his introductory press conference said he will not call offensive plays, saying he would hire an offensive coordinator to do so. He later said while the Jaguars will run his offensive style, the coordinator could dictate specifics such as terminology.

“I’m not going to force-feed the terminology,” Mularkey said. “It’s going to be the offense, but it may be somebody else’s terminology. I had that experience in Miami (as offensive coordinator in 2006), where I had to run another offense and learn the offensive scheme and basically install it and call it like I had invented it.

“I thought, ‘I’m so good I can do something like that.’ I really struggled with it.’’’

Mularkey said his decision not to call offensive plays stemmed from his experience trying to do so in Buffalo as head coach from 2004-2005.

“There are some guys in this league who are excellent play-callers and can manage games (as a head coach),” he said. “I’m not sure I’m one of them. I had that experience in Buffalo. I just think it’s too critical at times in games.

“If you’re not prepared for something and do the wrong thing, it can be catastrophic for a game. I don’t want to put our team, our organization or myself in that position.”

Also

*Asked about the people who had had the biggest influences on him as a coach, Mularkey mentioned former San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Bill Walsh, Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Bud Grant and former Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Chuck Noll. Mularkey played for Grant and Noll and spent a training camp and off-season with Walsh’s 49ers as a rookie. “Probably the biggest influence was Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh,” he said. He also cited the influence of San Wyche in Tampa Bay and Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh.

*Mularkey said he believes the Jaguars are “not far off. It’s still a young team, and there are a lot of good things here already. It’s not going to be a total rebuild.”

*Mularkey discussed the season of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who set a franchise record with an NFL-leading 1,606 yards rushing. “He’s special,” he said. “He has the ability to move a pile and he can get on the edge and make people miss. That’s unique in this league.”

*Mularkey discussed his offensive approach, saying balance is “whatever it is to win. You’d like to go in thinking, ‘We’re a physical run team that sets up the play action, then take your shots at the right time – block it up throw the ball down the field.’ You’d like to get to the point where teams know that’s the philosophy and they try to stop it and can’t. If you have to be a pass offense for a day or a half we have the capability. Everyone has different philosophies on it, but the one thing our offense has been able to do is time of possession.”

*Mularkey discussed the use in his offensive scheme of no-huddle packages, saying, “It’s just another way to keep a defense off balance. Each week, we talk about if we need to keep it in the no-huddle. One reason might be to pick up the tempo or maybe they’ve got guys you want to wear out up front even without snapping the ball. There are a number of reasons why we did it. It was very effective for us. But the quarterback’s instructions were, ‘Try to run the ball and if you can’t run the ball, and if you can’t run the ball because they’ve done something defensively, then throw the ball.’ It wasn’t about getting him out there in the no-huddle to throw the ball.”

*Mularkey said the no-huddle packages used in Atlanta were very similar to those he used in Pittsburgh in the late 1990s and the early 2000s with quarterback Kordell Stewart: “The thing we found out about it was when the quarterback had the opportunity to call plays, he was going to call the plays he was most comfortable with.  He was probably going to be more successful, because he had confidence in what he was about to call compared to me sending the call in there and him having to make the adjustment based on the defense in front of him. It plays to the quarterback’s strengths. It’s a great changeup.”

*Mularkey called filling the coordinator roles “of utmost priority. You don’t want to just bring in a bunch of different pieces and maybe they don’t fit with that coordinator and his philosophy. You don’t want to just grab because you have first choice early in this off-season of hiring coaches. We’re going to focus on the coordinators, then you work down the list with assistants. We have a list, good targets for each position.”

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