Gabbert quickly impresses Jaguars in training camp

Former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert has made a strong first impression at Jaguars camp in Jacksonville, Fla.

Former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert has made a strong first impression at Jaguars camp in Jacksonville, Fla. Photo by The Associated Press.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Blaine Gabbert’s first week of training camp has included impressive throws, nifty runs and deft decisions, making him look more like a regular than a rookie.

It’s exactly what the Jacksonville Jaguars expected when they selected the former Missouri quarterback 10th overall in April’s NFL draft.

Seeing Gabbert in person has only reinforced Jacksonville’s decision. After not being able to get on the field for three months because of the NFL lockout, Gabbert needed just a few days to dazzle coaches, teammates, front office personnel and fans.

Back-shoulder throws, perfectly placed seam passes and scrambling runs have been among Gabbert’s highlights.

“He’s got a great skill set in terms of arm and size and speed, those things,” coach Jack Del Rio said Tuesday. “We think he’s got a bright upside. He’s got a lot of work to do. He’s doing some things now off natural ability, being able to throw the ball that will only get better.

“He’s going to get experience, he’s going to get time, and at some point, he’s going to be a really good player. I think we can all see that.”

The Jaguars expect to give Gabbert some work with the first-team offense during the preseason, but Del Rio said nothing he does will change the plan for the franchise’s quarterback of the future. Instead, Gabbert will watch and learn from starter David Garrard and third-stringer Luke McCown for at least a season.

“We are in a fortunate situation that we’ve got two quarterbacks here that we know can play in this league,” Del Rio said. “He’s not going to get forced into action. ... It may happen around the league. It’s happened before. Certainly this is a different year than most, but things like that occur.

“Sometimes guys, the best at their position, they end up playing. But is that a likely scenario? It’s not one we envision. It’s not one we’re looking for at all. In fact, we’ve said many times over David’s our guy and we have a capable backup in Luke and we’re going to bring Blaine along.”

Garrard, Gabbert and the rest of the Jaguars insist the team’s quarterback dynamic is a healthy one, with everyone comfortable in their roles and no one second-guessing any decisions.

“Dave’s the starting quarterback,” Gabbert said. “He’s a heck of a football player. People say he’s not, that’s wrong. Some of the throws he can make and makes on a daily basis are extremely impressive. ... Although I’m a competitor and I’m going to go out there and play the best I can and play to the best of my ability, David is the starting quarterback of this football team.”

Garrard completed 64.5 percent of his passes in 2010, setting a franchise record with 23 touchdowns passes but also throwing a career-high 15 interceptions. He was sacked 33 times, lost four of his 11 fumbles and questioned by people inside and outside the building.

Garrard had some of the best games of his nine-year career, but also endured some of the worst. The Jaguars responded by drafting a quarterback for the first time since 2003.

Gabbert threw 40 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions as a two-year starter at Missouri. He might be in a better position to vie for playing time in Jacksonville had he gone through minicamp, organized team activities and been able to work with assistant coaches all summer. Instead, he might have to wait for his shot.

“Everybody wants to play, but whatever is best for this football team that’s what the coaches are going to do,” Gabbert said. “You guys give Dave a hard time. He’s a hell of a quarterback and it’s fun watching him play because the throws he makes very few people in the world can make those. Having that chance to learn from him, watch his footwork, watch how he plays the game, is very valuable to me.”

Gabbert might be able to pass along some tips himself.

Coaches and teammates rave about his arm strength, pocket presence, situational awareness and speed. His demeanor, too.

“This is a very good spot for him,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “He’s around a proven veteran that knows how to win games, who’s been through the flood as well. He can learn a lot. I know all players coming into the league want to play right away, but I think he has that positive attitude that if this is his year to sit, he’s going to soak up as much as he can. His attitude is great and he’s in a prime position.”

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