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A new season, a new role

Posted Apr 3, 2012

QB Blaine Gabbert looks to take on more of a leadership role as Jaguars off-season program begins

The objective for the coming months is simple, although Blaine Gabbert said it’s not really so much about specifics.

Gabbert, the Jaguars’ second-year veteran quarterback, said when it comes to the most-discussed aspect of his football life these days – i.e., what he’s doing to develop between now and next season – his goal actually is pretty obvious.

He must improve. He must do it quickly.

But as much as that, Gabbert said early Tuesday afternoon he must do it steadily and within the framework of an important off-season for the franchise, one Gabbert said Tuesday is beginning on a positive note.

“There’s a renewed sense of energy,” Gabbert said Tuesday during a series of player press conferences at EverBank Field on the second day of the team’s off-season program.

“Everyone’s excited to see that. We’re all happy to be here, and excited to get back. We’re really just anxious to get going.”

That was the mood of the day Tuesday, and it has been the mood of the week as the Jaguars begin their first off-season program under new head coach Mike Mularkey.

The Jaguars’ coaching staff is mostly new. The strength-and-conditioning program is new. The weight room is new. The cafeteria is new. Ownership is new.

With all that newness, the time for looking back on a 5-11 season has past.

“The changes we have now – I think that is the direction we are headed,” Jaguars defensive tackle Tyson Alualu said. “The team is coming out with the right mindset of putting everything we can into the offseason to help us win games and be successful during the season.”

Alualu and Gabbert – the No. 10 overall selections in the 2010 and 2011 NFL Drafts, respectively – were among the many veterans working out at EverBank Field the last two days as the off-season program began with the introductory phase of the strength-and-conditioning program.

The Jaguars and six other NFL teams with new head coaches can work that phase of the off-season for the next two weeks before beginning more extensive on-field work in mid-April. The Jaguars also can conduct classroom work beginning this week, and Gabbert said formal meetings with offensive coaches are expected to begin Wednesday.

“It starts tomorrow,” said Gabbert, who said he met with coaches discussing terminology and the offense each of the last two mornings.

The off-season is considered by many to be an important one for Gabbert, who struggled at times as a rookie. Asked his primary focus in the coming weeks, he said, “Just get better – make consistent, constant improvements.”

“That’s starting right now,” he said. “All of us want to get in the best shape possible, so we’re not limited in training camps and OTAs.”

Gabbert, who last season became the youngest rookie quarterback ever to start 14 games in an NFL season, said he believes the experience of last season will benefit him moving forward.

“It’s definitely going to be fun, having that year under my belt, having played with those guys and knowing what to expect,” Gabbert said.

Gabbert said experience also means he must take more of a leadership role, something he said begins immediately.

“This is my first off-season, so I’m getting my feet wet with the new schedule,” he said. “It’s going to be on me to go out there with these guys and get some of the voluntary stuff going….It’s up to the quarterback to get the ball rolling, especially with the new offensive system, new terminology. You have to get out there and just talk over it.”

With Mularkey having completed hiring the coaching staff in late January, the Jaguars’ offensive staff has spent much of the last two months installing the playbook. Gabbert said he has seen parts of the new offense, and the main challenge is learning the new terminology used by offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

“You really couldn’t have football talk with the offensive staff (until this week), so you were dissecting it and trying to teach it to yourself to the best of your ability,” Gabbert said. “It was difficult at times, but football’s football. Everything’s fairly similar.

“The verbiage is different, but you get used to that and it’s second nature.”

Also around the Jaguars Tuesday:

*Gabbert said Mularkey and Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith communicated with him throughout the off-season, including when the team signed backup quarterback Chad Henne and during the discussions with Denver to trade for Tim Tebow. “It’s extremely important, having that communication with your head coach, your general manager, your quarterback coach – so that you can build a relationship with them,” Gabbert said. “When we’re not here in the off-season, phone calls and text messages are the only way to communicate. Being in contact with them and hearing the words come out of their mouth makes everything a lot easier.” Of the effort to acquire Tebow, whom the Broncos instead traded to the New York Jets: “It was not a worry in the world. They (the Jaguars) had to do their due diligence evaluating players. It’s the nature of the business. You have to do that in order to build a complete football team.”

*Jaguars WR Mike Thomas said he believes he will benefit from working with veteran receivers coach Jerry Sullivan next season. “His track record is amazing,” Thomas said. “They tell me he's a little challenging, but in a good way. I know he’s probably going to be a little anal, but in a good way.” Thomas joked that most coaches are “anal in a good way,” and said that was true of former receivers coach Todd Monken, who left before last season. Thomas said the level of play of the receivers group dropped after Monken’s departure and he said while Sullivan has a reputation of being tough on players, Thomas said the reputation is he’s tough in a positive way. “I’m ready for it,” said Thomas, who caught 48 passes for 452 yards and a touchdown after catching 66 passes for 820 yards and four touchdowns in 2010. “I’m open to it. I know he’s going to be coaching me as hard as he can. I need that. I feel like I have a lot of room to grow…. I’m going into it with an open mind.” Thomas, asked his role in the offense this season, smiled and said, “I hope it’s abundant.”

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