It’s safe to say if the Blaine Gabbert we saw in the Jaguars 27-24 victory Friday night in New Orleans is the Blaine Gabbert we’ll see for 16 games in the regular season, Jacksonville is a playoff team.
The biggest question mark for the Jags coming into 2012 is whether or not their 22-year-old quarterback will progress into the franchise player they thought they were getting when they moved up six spots in last April’s draft to select the young signal caller.
The biggest knock on Gabbert during his rookie season is he often looked overmatched, constantly shying away from the pressure that an NFL quarterback must deal with each and every Sunday. To be blunt, Gabbert looked scared. Friday night, he was anything but, hanging in the pocket, absorbing punishment and making all the throws on his way to a 13 for 16, 112 yard, 2-touchdown performance.
Gabbert looked great on his team’s first possession as he orchestrated a 7-play, 80 yard drive, capped by a 16-yard TD pass to first round pick Justin Blackmon – another player who Jag fans have high expectations for.
Blackmon, playing in his first NFL game, finished with four catches for 48 yards and displayed the type of playmaking ability at the wide receiver position this team has lacked since the days of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. Jacksonville has had little success drafting wide receivers in the first round, with Matt Jones, Reggie Williams and R. Jay Soward all having less than stellar NFL careers, and that’s being generous. The Jaguars are hoping they’ve finally reversed that trend, and plan to lineup Blackmon opposite free agent acquisition Laurent Robinson, giving Gabbert the weapons he lacked in his rookie season.
The other big question for the Jaguars is when, or if, Maurice Jones-Drew will join the team. Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan has already said he will not give the NFL’s reigning leading-rusher a new contract. Now the question becomes which side will cave first. Backup running back Rashad Jennings isn’t helping Jones-Drew gain any leverage, as he was impressive for the second consecutive week, rushing for 62 yards on 11 carries. Jennings looks ready and willing to carry the load if number 32 is a no-show come Week 1 in Minnesota.
Sure, this is still the preseason and an August victory in New Orleans doesn’t necessarily translate to regular season success, but the Jaguars are hoping they can ride this momentum into September and beyond.
The Jacksonville fan base desperately wants something to be excited about, and for at least one night, Gabbert, Blackmon and Jennings gave it to them.
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Written by Steve Wojcik