Smith and Mularkey Tied to Gabbert

Mike Mularkey was introduced as the third full-time head coach in Jaguars history. Find out how not only he, but Gene Smith will be judged by Blaine Gabbert's improvement.

When former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio helped former Jaguars quarterback David Garrard get a contract extension following the 2007, their fates were immediately tied to one another. The quarterback didn't live up to expectations, the team faltered and although it took longer than it should have, both Del Rio and Garrard are currently unemployed.

The Jaguars find themselves in a similar situation right now with a pair of men tied to a quarterback. General manager Gene Smith, new Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey and the rest of Mularkey's soon to be determined coaching staff will ride or die with the success of quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who struggled mightily in his rookie season.

"Blaine is a competitor," Mularkey said in his introductory press conference. "I like that to start. I see some field command from him. I told this to Shad & Gene, first thing I felt the lockout put him behind the 8-ball. When you miss an offseason and don't have a chance to be in that meeting room where it's not a rush, rush..that put him behind."

Mike Mularkey is Gene Smith's first head coaching hire and Blaine Gabbert is the first quarterback that Smith has selected. With Mularkey's less than stellar past and Smith's mediocre drafting history it's likely that both men will not be able to survive in their current roles unless Gabbert becomes "the real deal."

During his rookie season Blaine Gabbert worked hard and said all the right things but didn't find much success. Gabbert navigated the league's worst passing attack through 14 starts while completing just 50.8 percent of his throws for 2,214 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 65.4, one of the lowest in football for any full-time starter.

"I've got to get better," Gabbert said routinely after each game. "I'm just going to work as hard as I can to improve on everything this offseason."

Without any doubt the shortened offseason hurt Gabbert considerably, as the early-entry junior only started for one full season at Missouri. What set him back further was the Jaguars coaching staff changes and the lack of weapons on the outside. Gabbert's leading receiver was Mike Thomas who caught just 44 passes for 415 yards and one touchdown. To put that into some perspective, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught 23 passes for 455 yards with three touchdowns--in the Lions final two games.

"Gene and I are addressing some of the needs right now, without making them public, we'll make sure they're addressed," Mularkey stated.

One of the reason's that Mike Mularkey was hired was due to his fine work with Falcons signal-caller Matt Ryan. Ryan is one of the better quarterbacks in football and Mularkey has nurtured him since being drafted by the Falcons in 2008.

"You have to careful of how much you overload them," Mularkey said of grooming young quarterbacks. "Play to their strengths overall..It's got to be very player friendly. Matt (Ryan) had time to come in and learn the system with us early. It's a gradual process. There's some stumbles along the way. At that position it's critical that you don't overload them early on with terminology and too much information."

The Jacksonville Jaguars head coaching job is a great opportunity for Mike Mularkey. He wasn't exactly a hot name and there are rumors that say the Falcons may have moved on without Mularkey assuming he hadn't been hired. He and general manager Gene Smith are both on three-year deals and Blaine Gabbert has three years remaining on his contract.

Although they won't be seen around town in Jaguars "Number 11" jerseys, both Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey likely won't have a long tenure in Jacksonville if Gabbert fails to improve rather quickly.

Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie

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