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Gabbert becomes The Guy


The Blaine Gabbert era. Sunshine's time.

Whatever you call it, make no mistake:

The future became now around the Jaguars on Wednesday when Head Coach Jack Del Rio named Gabbert the starting quarterback, ending Luke McCown's two-game stint as the team's starter to open the 2011 regular season.

It is very definitely the beginning of an era, for better or worse, in good times and bad, 'til who knows do us part.

What should we expect?

I was asked that question this morning shortly after the Jaguars confirmed the announcement, and the answer is a fairly easy one, even if it is many-faceted.

Expect Gabbert to make mistakes. A lot of them. Expect him to make big plays. A lot of them.

Expect him to look bad at times. Very bad. Expect him to look good. Very good.

Expect the Jaguars to lose games with him playing quarterback this season, and it's possible they will lose more than they win with him. More possible than many might think.

And remember this:

All of that is OK. It's normal. It's expected. It's the growth process, and there would be a growth process even if Gabbert wasn't a little more than three years removed from high school, even if he hadn't started more than two years in college, even if he was a year or two older than 21.

It has been easy in recent weeks and months to cry out, "Play the Kid" and "He has to make mistakes some time," but there will be trying times, and there may even be times you wonder why McCown isn't playing.

Don't wonder that, and don't bother bringing it up. There was a school of thought this week, that the Jaguars should give McCown another game or two, a mulligan if you will. The thought was that despite a four-interception performance against the New York Jets this past Sunday the team might have a better chance at making the post-season with the eight-year veteran.

That wasn't unsound thinking. The Jaguars had had sub-par games at quarterbacks in the past. David Garrard last season turned in a few similar to the one McCown had Sunday and the Jaguars recovered to lead the AFC South in December.

But this was a new season, a different situation. Now, Garrard had been released two weeks ago, and you had a choice: go with the veteran and hope he played better than he had the first two weeks, or go with the rookie and watch him learn.

The Jaguars' move Wednesday not only means Gabbert's time begins, but that there can be no more calling for McCown.

That time is passed. There is no going back. Once you name a rookie first-rounder the starter, he is the starter until you decide he no longer is part of your plans.

That means living with mistakes, and that means patience during difficult times.

But while those difficult times may be many, through them, you should look for other things, for it's not on immediate victories and losses, or even touchdown-interception ratio, or passer ratings or total passing yards that Gabbert should be judged this season.

Look for growth. Look for him to begin looking off receivers. Look for him to be less quick to run when under pressure.

The growth won't come all at once. To the naked eye, and the eyes of fans and media, the early stages of an elite quarterback are often a one-step-forward, two-or-three-steps back proposition.

And that's OK, too. What you want to see is Gabbert learning from mistakes, and to begin the process of being an NFL quarterback.

That process began Wednesday, as he took his first snaps as the starter, went through his first team meetings as the starter, met with the media for the first time as the starter . . . .

The week of firsts will culminate Sunday with a game against the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft and a player who has surprised the NFL world by throwing for more than 800 yards in his first two weeks as a starter.

Newton's stunning success, and the status of rookie Andy Dalton as the starter in Cincinnati, was cited by many observers as a reason to start Gabbert. If there, why not here, the reasoning went, and it makes a compelling bar-room argument.

But the NFL is not a bar room, and early on at least, the important thing for Gabbert won't be comparisons, not that they won't be made. What will be important is how he develops, and every player develops at a different rate.

You want to see his demeanor change over time. You want to see him look like The Guy, and while you can't predict how it happens, when it happens, you know it. More than that, you know you have a direction for your franchise for the foreseeable future. While you won't see a finished product even by season's end, you want to get a feeling by December this is a player with whom you can win going forward.

Will Gabbert be that guy? How will it play out?

Part of the fun of it, part of the adventure, the reason we watch, is that we don't know. All signs point to a player who will be the foundation of the franchise. All reports are that he has the work ethic, the desire. He certainly has the arm strength, the size, the look.

However it plays out, we do know this.

For better or worse, the future became now Wednesday. Hold on for the ride.

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