Garrard's Grip on Starting Job Shaky

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio says David Garrard is still the starter, even after taking Blaine Gabbert in the first round of the NFL Draft. Del Rio once gave Byron Leftwich a vote of confidence, too.


It's a matter of time before quarterback David Garrard is out in Jacksonville after the selection of Blaine Gabbert in the first round of the NFL Draft. (Sam Greenwood/Getty)

The Jaguars moved up six spots in order to select Missouri's Blaine Gabbert in the first round of the NFL Draft, presumably making him the quarterback of the future. However, considering the fact that coach Jack Del Rio has a history of making snap decisions at the game's most important position, don't be totally surprised if Gabbert is suddenly the quarterback of the present.

If you remember, David Garrard initially became the full-time starter in Jacksonville when Del Rio announced the winner of that summer's QB competition by unexpectedly handing a pink slip to former first rounder Byron Leftwich.

The oft-injured Leftwich only started six games in 2006 because of an ankle problem that eventually shelved him for good in October, which opened the door for Garrard to get his most significant playing time to date. While Leftwich was a classic drop-back passer with a cannon for an arm, Garrard had better mobility and more improvisational skills, both inside and outside the pocket. However, it didn't seem to matter who was starting, as Leftwich went 3-3 and Garrard 5-5, including a three-game losing streak to close out the schedule that cost the Jaguars a shot at the playoffs.

After the season, Del Rio announced publicly that Leftwich was still his starter for 2007. But everything changed once the preseason was in the rearview mirror, and seemingly out of nowhere Del Rio committed to Garrard by giving Leftwich his walking papers.

Garrard responded by leading Jacksonville to an 11-5 record and a 31-29 road upset of the Steelers in the wild-card round of the playoffs, but the team couldn't build on that success and hasn't been back to the postseason since, going 20-28 from 2008-10.

While it's unfair to place all the blame on Garrard, this is a franchise with a reputation for collapsing down the stretch. The 2008 squad won three of four to get back to .500 at 3-3, but then it lost eight of 10 to crumble down to 5-11. The '09 club won three in a row to climb to 6-4, only to drop five of six and finish 7-9. And then this past season, the 8-5 Jaguars had the inside track on winning the AFC South, until a three-game losing streak -- including an overtime loss to the hapless Redskins at home -- kicked them out of the playoff picture completely. Garrard missed the finale at Houston because of an injured middle finger on his throwing hand that required surgery.

It was a bit of a surprise that Del Rio kept his job, and if he didn't work for an owner like Wayne Weaver, who is having trouble making ends meet in what is arguably the NFL's worst city in terms of fan support, he probably would have gotten the heave-ho.

But the aggressive move the organization made to go up and get Gabbert, surrendering a second-round choice to Washington in the process, is an indication of change on the First Coast. Surely, if it were up to Del Rio, he would have used those first and second rounders to rebuild a defense that was 28th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed last year.

So, considering the price paid to acquire Gabbert and also the dwindling fan support for Garrard -- remember, Jax begged for local hero Tim Tebow in the 2010 draft -- is there any way the Leftwich episode repeats itself?

Probably not. First of all, the current state of the lockout means Gabbert is going to have to wait a while before he has a chance to learn the playbook, get familiar with his teammates and understand how to be a professional passer. Not to mention that he ran a spread-option offense in college, and even if the Jaguars have some spread elements ingrained in their system to take advantage of Garrard's unique skill set, Gabbert wasn't billed as NFL-ready during the evaluation process. It's going to take some time for him to get comfortable taking snaps from center and not operating out of the shotgun exclusively. And since so many of the throws in the spread are pre-determined, figuring out how to go through progressions properly needs to be learned, too.

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Nevertheless, once Gabbert comes to terms on what will likely be a lucrative five-year contract, Jacksonville then has a lot of money tied up at one position because Garrard still has three years remaining on a $63 million deal he signed in 2008.

And let's not forget that Weaver doesn't have the deepest of pockets these days. Every home game at EverBank Field has the potential of being blacked out on local television due to poor ticket sales, and when the rumor mill kicks into high gear about the NFL wanting to get back into the country's second-biggest market, Los Angeles, the Jags are always at the top of the list of relocation candidates.

Del Rio reiterated shortly after the Gabbert selection that Garrard would be his starting quarterback in 2011. Where have we heard that before?


John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.


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