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Big story for Gabbert begins now

Posted Aug 19, 2013

EDITORIAL: Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert officially the starting quarterback, beginning the most important stretch of his career.

JACKSONVILLE – Blaine Gabbert’s the guy, officially.

That wasn’t unexpected, not after what we saw Saturday night in New Jersey and not if you followed the Jaguars all offseason, but it became official Monday, with Head Coach Gus Bradley announcing the decision shortly before 11 a.m.

“I’m really excited that we’re going to name Blaine our starting quarterback today,” Bradley said.

And with that, the suspense ended.

With that, Gabbert became the starter over Chad Henne, ending a competition that had been ongoing throughout the offseason and the first two preseason games, a competition that rightfully and pretty much completely overshadowed all other 2013 Jaguars Training Camp storylines.

“It’s a nice opportunity, but it doesn’t end here,” Gabbert said shortly after the announcement.

No, it doesn’t, not for any player on the Jaguars’ roster in this year of competition, but in Gabbert’s case it’s particularly obvious the story doesn’t end here.

Because while Monday’s announcement ended the suspense, it began something else:

The most important stretch of Gabbert’s career.

It won’t begin immediately. Gabbert won’t play again until the regular-season opener. That’s because in the same game he secured the starting position with a 13-of-16, 165-yard, one-touchdown effort against the New York Jets he also sustained a hairline fracture of his right thumb.

Bradley said the injury – which was revealed with an MRI Sunday – was not as serious as it sounded, and said he even hesitated to use the term “hairline fracture” because it made people think six-to-eight weeks when the expectation is Gabbert will return in far less time. The Jaguars expect Gabbert to be ready for preparation for the regular-season opener, which means him working in two weeks when Jaguars began preparing for the Kansas City Chiefs September 8 at EverBank Field.

Gabbert said the focus is getting the swelling down, getting “grip strength” back.

“The biggest telltale sign is when I can throw the football,” he said.

The Thumb Watch therefore begins now, but that’s for the coming weeks. The story Monday was the faith Bradley and the coaching staff showed in Gabbert, and the locker room reaction.

Bradley, for his part, said his commitment to Gabbert is strong. He said he doesn’t consider himself a knee-jerk reaction guy, and that his experience as defensive coordinator in Seattle when Russell Wilson struggled in his first few starts as a rookie last season showed him the value of patience, of sticking with convictions.

Bradley said the decision-making process was extensive, that practice, meetings and leadership was evaluated. He said each quarterback improved, and that the faith in Henne remains strong should he be called upon to play. But in the end, Bradley said Gabbert’s ability to stretch the field vertically and horizontally played into the decision, as well as his grasp of the offense and his athleticism.

“He has command on what we’re looking to get done,” Bradley said, adding, “Blaine has earned this opportunity and the entire organization is excited about his growth and we will strongly support him.”

That was true in the locker room immediately after the announcement.

“He did a great job in camp, and he showed his talent this past weekend,” wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said. “It wasn’t really a big deal, but now that we know who it is, it’s something we don’t have to think about.”

Tight end Marcedes Lewis called Gabbert’s performance Saturday “awesome.”

“It’s a big step for him, and for us,” Lewis said, adding that since the beginning of the offseason program in April he has seen a steady progression from Gabbert. “He blocked everything else out and worried about getting better. That’s what he’s done.”

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew said there hadn’t been worry over the quarterback competition.

“We knew one of the two was going to be the guy,” he said. “We had played with both before, so we’re familiar with both guys. Coach felt it was time, and it was time.”

Henne handled the situation as he has handled himself in all situations since joining the Jaguars – with proper perspective and professional tone.

“Obviously from my standpoint it’s disappointing, but I’m going to be the same person,” Henne said. “I’m going to keep competing each and every day, try to better myself each and every day and I’m behind this team one hundred percent and I’m behind Blaine. Whatever I can do to help is what I’m going to do.”

Henne said he will continue to compete as if he can win the job, but make no mistake: the announcement Monday isn’t short-term, and it won’t change based on the rest of the preseason. Nor should it.

This first-year coaching staff and first-year General Manager David Caldwell needs to know, once and for all, what Gabbert can be over a long stretch. The most important stretch of his career? That’s what this is for Gabbert, and it’s an equally important stretch for the organization.

Gabbert is the guy now. He earned it, but he must earn it again in the regular season, consistently. Whether he does or not will determine his future, and go a long way toward setting the path for the future of organization as well.

The suspense therefore is officially over. And at the same time, the bigger story for the Jaguars’ guy at the quarterback position is just beginning.

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