Jaguars hope to use bye week to improve

Published On: Nov 03 2011 10:06:37 PM EDT
Updated On: Nov 03 2011 10:11:17 PM EDT
Blaine Gabbert Before Game
JACKSONVILLE -

His footwork is shoddy, his pocket presence is suspect and his most common play is the chuck and duck.

Rookie mistakes? Growing pains? Maybe. Then again, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert simply hasn't shown the same progress as fellow NFL newcomers Cam Newton and Andy Dalton.

Gabbert has completed 45.7 percent of his passes for 907 yards, with five touchdowns and four interceptions. He has been sacked 19 times and has seven fumbles (two lost). He ranks last in QB rating (62.0) among the 33 players who have attempted enough passes to be considered.

It's far from what the Jaguars (2-6) expected when they selected the former Missouri standout with the 10th overall pick in April's NFL draft. Jacksonville has the worst offense in the league and the worst passing game by nearly 60 yards a game.

"Well, it starts with the quarterback," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "We've got to get Blaine to have confidence in his footwork and his fundamentals."

Gabbert looked sharp in training camp, showing off his arm strength, mobility and decision-making skills. But his performances have dipped dramatically since taking over the starting job in late September.

He completed 10 of 30 passes for 97 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions in a loss at Houston last week. Jacksonville is off this week, giving Gabbert extra time to get things turned around.

"I've got to eliminate some of the ups and downs, and that will come with experience," Gabbert said. "We've got to win games and everything will be better."

There are plenty of reasons for Gabbert's struggles, including the NFL lockout, his receiving corps, his offensive line, coaching and the defenses he's faced.

The lockout prevented Gabbert from working out with teammates and meeting with coaches during the offseason. But Newton and Dalton have fared considerably better with the same amount of preseason work.

The one thing Newton and Dalton have in common is legitimate No. 1 receivers. Newton has veteran Steve Smith, and Dalton has rookie A.J. Green. Gabbert has slot receiver Mike Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick who has failed to catch a pass and several castoffs.

Desperate to upgrade the position, the Jaguars signed Chastin West off Green Bay's practice squad, signed Mike Sims-Walker a day after he was released by St. Louis and then claimed Brian Robiskie off waivers from Cleveland.

Also, Gabbert's offensive line has used four starting combinations in eight games, creating continuity and protection issues.

"The main thing is that we need to throw it and catch it better, but I don't think it's all on (Gabbert)," coach Jack Del Rio said. "It's a team game. I think the passing offense is about protection and route-running and the quarterback decision-making and accuracy, and then when the ball's there, a catch, finish the deal. So there are a lot of different components that go into it, and a breakdown in one of those areas can lead to a play that doesn't go the way you'd like it to."

Gabbert has been plagued by dropped passes and poor route-running, so much so that outsiders have started questioning receivers coach Johnny Cox.

Cox spent the last two years as the team's quality control/offense coach. He replaced Todd Monken, who left to become offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, and much of his coaching experience came at the high school level.

Quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard has been under fire, too. Sheppard was hired to replace Mike Shula, who left to become quarterbacks coach in Carolina and has Newton playing well. Sheppard has five years of experience coaching quarterbacks, but the only names on his resume are Jon Kitna and Aaron Brooks.

Team owner Wayne Weaver basically tied Del Rio's hands by refusing to extend the contracts of his assistant coaches in January. Shula and Monken bolted, and the pool of coaches willing to come to Jacksonville for one-year deals was small. So the Jaguars got Cox and Sheppard, who spent the last four years coaching receivers in Cincinnati.

Possibly the biggest reason for Gabbert's seemingly slow progress is the defenses he's faced. They include New Orleans (ranked 15th), Cincinnati (No. 4), Pittsburgh (No. 2), Baltimore (No. 1) and Houston (No. 3).

Nonetheless, the Jaguars refuse to use that as an excuse for Gabbert's off-balance throws, early releases and consistent inconsistency.

"You can say maybe somewhat to be expected from a rookie, but not necessarily acceptable by him or by us," Koetter said. "He knows that. I'm not saying anything that he doesn't already know. ... Blaine needs to have a more consistent pocket presence. All I can say at this point is he knows it and we're working on it. I think that's going to get better and better with experience."

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