After 6 weeks of camp and exhibition games, practices and meetings it was pretty clear that Luke McCown had played his way into the mix as the best quarterback on the Jaguars roster. McCown had produced when he was on the field in games, he was sharp in practices and the guys on the team liked his football acumen. “Ball out” is his nickname for how he makes quick decisions and is willing to throw into tight spots.
That left the Jaguars management and coaching staff with a dilemma: What to do with Luke McCown?
It didn’t make sense to sit him on the bench and with the heir apparent in the wings and just waiting to play. He was worth a draft pick if they wanted to trade him but the dilemma was complicated by the poor play of the incumbent starter, David Garrard.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio told us going into the third exhibition game that “now would be a good time” for the quarterback and the offense to start showing some production. Del Rio had met with Garrard earlier to encourage him to pick up the tempo and “get it going” since David had struggled from the beginning of camp.
But that never happened.
So faced with that decision, and knowing that Blaine Gabbert was going to be your starter at some point either sooner or later, Garrard became the expendable player. They knew the upside on Garrard. He had reached the pinnacle of his ability and what that produced was average results in the NFL.
It’s hard to say why he plateaued out so quickly after signing a new contract following the 2007 season but for a guy who was talked about in the next breath after Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, he never elevated his game again. Maybe he was satisfied after he “got his money” or maybe he started to believe he was better just because everybody said he was next in line. But whatever it was, the Jaguars couldn’t count on him getting any better;
With a $9 million price tag the Jaguars couldn’t sit him on the bench, so they cut him. It wasn’t about money, or they’d have never let Garrard take the field in the pre-season. They had the perfect excuse when he strained his back in practice and missed the opener. If he had gotten hurt playing in an exhibition, they’d been on the hook for $9 million and out a quarterback.
So McCown earns the starting spot and plays well enough to beat the Tennessee Titans in game one of the regular season. “He’s not ready,” is the response given when asked about Gabbert’s debut in the NFL.
One thing’s for sure again in 2011 on offense for the Jaguars: they’re not going to the playoffs through the quarterback position. The QB wasn’t going to get them into the post-season but he could keep them from getting there. They’re a run-first; stop the run team that wants Maurice Jones Drew to handle the ball about 25 times a game among their 35 or so rushes.
In a battle for the starting QB job in Tampa Bay, Luke McCown lost out to Byron Leftwich. That made him expendable in Tampa and the Jaguars acquired him for a 7th round pick. The rap on McCown was that he was skittish and inconsistent. He didn’t show any of that in his time in Jacksonville: until Sunday against the Jets. When things starting going downhill, they snowballed and got worse. McCown reverted to the player they thought he was in Tampa when they got rid of him.
Which brings us to the dawning to a new era in Jaguars history: The Gabbert era.
If you’re going to run the offense the Jaguars run, handing it off and throwing safe bubble screens and slants, then let the rookie do it. The Jaguars believed Gabbert was the best player in the draft last year. They just happened to get him with the 10th pick. It was evident when he went in the game last Sunday against the Jets, albeit a bit late, that he can play. He has quick feet, a quick release, makes fast decisions and can fire it. He didn’t like getting hit in the backfield but who does?
So put Gabbert in the game.
If he gets overwhelmed, sit him down for a couple of weeks. But put him in the game and see what he can do. It’ll create an ancillary excitement about a season that’s already been written off as average at best.
He’s a first round pick. Let him play like one.