Did Gabbert Play Too Soon?

Unwilling to pay a part-time quarterback elite money and having a failed backup caused the Jaguars to thrust Blaine Gabbert into the lineup as starting quarterback. After some promising performances Gabbert has taken a step back against elite competition. Did the team play him too early?

After cutting David Garrard five days before the season started, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio yanked quarterback Luke McCown for rookie Blaine Gabbert after McCown threw four interceptions against the Jets.

It turns out Del Rio probably made the move too early. If six games are any indication, Gabbert wasn't ready to play this soon.

He is the ranked 33rd-ranked quarterback in a 32-team league with a passer rating of 62.0. He also ranks 33rd in completion percentage (45.7) and average yards per attempt (5.24).

The last three games, the Jaguars passed for 76 net yards against Pittsburgh, 73 against Baltimore and 90 against Houston -- the worst three-game stretch in franchise history.

And there are no statistics for the number of inaccurate passes Gabbert has thrown, as he frequently misses his targets.

He's also 1-5 as a starter since replacing McCown in the third game.

As the Jaguars enter the bye week with a 2-6 record, the team is searching for answers as it attempts to fix Gabbert's problems going into the second half of the season, which starts in Indianapolis on Nov. 13.

One thing that should help is that the Jaguars play only three top-10 defenses -- Cleveland, Houston and San Diego -- in the second half after playing a current top-five defense the last four weeks in a row.

Gabbert needs a better second half to match the rookie season that Byron Leftwich had in 2003. Leftwich had a 73.1 passer rating, completed 57.2 percent of his passes and averaged 6.7 yards per pass attempt.

Coach Jack Del Rio indicated he thinks it is a good time for the Jaguars to have a bye week and regroup.

"Maybe taking the bye right now will be a good time to kind of sit back and take a breath and collect ourselves a little bit and come out of this bye with a team that can find some rhythm there in the passing game," he said.

Whether or not Gabbert was ready for the job when he got it is longer an issue, Del Rio said.

"We're way past that. We already talked about how we wanted it to go (Gabbert not starting). It didn't go that way so here we are," Del Rio said. "There's no sense in talking about things in that capacity. What does that help us? We know where we are, we know what we need to do, and we're working on it."

After Garrard was cut and McCown struggled, Gabbert was the only option left.

Of the passing game woes, Del Rio said, "We'd all like it to be going a little smoother right now. We could do some things better around him. He could do some things better himself. It's not any one person, not any one thing, but I would say he's remaining very competitive and working on it. But, obviously, we haven't gotten that phase of our football team going."

Del Rio declined to go into any specific things Gabbert needs to improve on.

"The main thing is that we need to throw it and catch it better, but I don't think it's all on him. It's a team game," the coach said. "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, and 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."

When Del Rio was asked if he felt there were one thing Gabbert needed to work on, he said, "Fortunately, we don't have to narrow ourselves to working on one thing because there's a lot of things we need to work on. We will identify the things that we need to be better at and put in the time."

There have been questions about Gabbert's footwork and getting his reads fast enough, but Del Rio said, "You can't just say, 'If this thing here were better, then it would be all better.' That's just not the case."

Gabbert also doesn't always seem comfortable in the pocket at times, but Del Rio said, "It's only a problem when we don't make enough plays to win."

Of questions about Gabbert's leadership skills, Del Rio said, "I think he's a natural at applying himself but not being over the top. He's got a season under his belt now. He's been here the whole preseason, and here we are eight games into it, that's almost like a college year. He's asserting himself. He's been our starter for a while now. I don't think there's an issue with that."

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said last week that Gabbert took a step back in the Baltimore game. When Del Rio was asked about Gabbert regressing, the head coach said, "I don't believe that. I know that ultimately those questions are going to be asked if you're not getting the production you want and not winning ballgames. There have been other guys that have come in and had their struggles, but he's our guy."

When he was told that wide receiver Jason Hill said the offensive players are pressing, Del Rio said, "I would agree with that. It's not a lack of want-to. The desire to succeed and to play well offensively, there's no question in my mind that would be accurate that guys have pressed."

The Jaguars practiced Tuesday and will practice again Wednesday, and then they will have the four days off mandated by the league for the bye week.

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