JACKSONVILLE – Walking off the practice field last summer during Gus Bradley's first training camp as the head coach of the Jaguars, I found myself at the back of the pack walking with the Jaguars new leader.
"What the biggest surprise," I asked as the two of us made our way to the locker room.
"Just the scope of it," Bradley said, spreading his arms wide. "As the DC you're in charge of the defense but as the head coach it all falls to you. It's exciting."
I've come to learn that that's a pretty typical Bradley response. Assessing the situation, grasping the solution, rising to the challenge and excelling at the execution.
During this first real conversation one-on-one between the two of us, I asked him what he thought of Blaine Gabbert.
"He has all the tools, great arm, right size, nice speed," he explained, outlining all of the things everybody sees when they get a look at Gabbert on the practice field.
"What you'll find is that he's the most seductive practice player you'll ever see," I said, echoing my sentiment since about day one of Gabbert's tenure in Jacksonville.
"What the heck is that supposed to mean," Gus said with a playful poke to my shoulder.
"It's just that when you watch him in practice, it makes you wonder how do we ever lose?" I explained. "He has all of the tools, size, speed, arm strength. He makes all the throws, has a command of the offense and runs the team like he owns it out here," I added pointing to the practice field.
"But taking that from here, to there," I said pointing to the stadium, "seems to elude him."
"I guess I'll have to see that for myself," Bradley quickly replied. He went on to outline the research they'd done on Gabbert, noting that he completed over 80% of his passes when given a reasonable amount of time in the pocket and how he was like having a first round pick on the roster.
"Fair enough," I said as we shook hands. "I hope you're right."
And Bradley named Gabbert the starter for game one before training camp was over.
Almost four years into his tenure with the Jaguars, Gabbert has finally been given a chance to perhaps to make it elsewhere, traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a 6th round draft pick this year. The Jaguars could get another pick next year if Gabbert gets some significant playing time in San Francisco this season.
While Gabbert was surly and sullen generally during his time talking to the media in Jacksonville, it'll be interesting to see if he can take his talents from the practice field to the game field at the same level with a fresh start. If you look at the Niners starter Colin Kaepernick and Gabbert in terms of what the NFL people call "measurables," they match up pretty well. But that's where the similarities end. Kaepernick has outperformed his draft position (2ndround) while Gabbert has never lived up to his (10th overall.)
Some of that can be blamed on Jack Del Rio putting Gabbert in the game as a rookie before he was ready. With no summer (strike/lockout) and only a few weeks of training camp, Del Rio threw Gabbert into the game three weeks into the season because Luke McCown had thrown a bunch of interceptions the week before.
Gabbert was in way over his head, didn't know much of the offense, couldn't figure out the speed of the game and started looking for the rush instead of looking downfield. John Gruden called him out on a Monday Night Football national broadcast and Gabbert's reputation as "afraid" in the pocket was cemented. That's followed him around since then, and he's done nothing to prove that theory wrong.
Given the benefit of the doubt and every chance to ascend to a true starting quarterback role in the National Football League, in Jacksonville, Blaine Gabbert never got it done. Maybe the West Coast will be the tonic that allows him to flourish.