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Gabbert welcoming challenge


JACKSONVILLE – He'll be allowed no excuses, and to Blaine Gabbert, that's fine.

He doesn't plan to make any.

Gabbert, the Jaguars' starting quarterback in 24 games over the last two seasons, sat down with Wednesday for his first extended interview since the end of the 2012 season, discussing topics from having a fourth head coach in three seasons, to fighting for a starting job, to recent comments by an anonymous former coach criticizing the third-year quarterback.

But as Gabbert spoke Wednesday, the coming weeks and months were on his mind far more than the comments of a former coach.

Gabbert, after finishing the 2012 season on injured reserve, on Wednesday said he will enter the offseason program 100 percent healthy. The torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder healed quickly after late-season surgery, he said, and although the forearm injury that ended his season was more complex, he said he has been recovered from that and throwing full for the last month.

Mostly, Gabbert said he is looking forward to the Jaguars' offseason program, which begins Tuesday at EverBank Field. That's the first day Head Coach Gus Bradley can speak to the team as a group, about football.

As the offseason opens, Gabbert said he understands his situation entering Year 3. First-year general manager David Caldwell has said while Gabbert will get every chance to win the starting job, there are no excuses for the former tenth overall selection in the draft, and that the competition will be real – and could possibly include not only veteran Chad Henne, but a rookie draft selection and a veteran free agent.

Gabbert said he welcomes the competition, and said regardless of what Caldwell, Bradley or anyone says publicly, this is a critical year.

"The third year is an important year for any quarterback," Gabbert said. "It's where you make the jump. You start playing at a high level. There are still going to be ups and downs. Some guys have off seasons and they've been playing 10 years in the NFL. You have to eliminate the peaks and valleys. You have to play at a high level consistently. That's what I'm looking forward to doing."

Here's's conversation Wednesday morning with Gabbert:

Question. First off, your health. Where are you in your recovery?

Answer. "The shoulder is feeling great. The elbow took a little longer to come back to where I wanted. It's something I had to focus on to get it to respond."

Q. Take me through the injuries last year again.

A. I popped my shoulder against the Raiders (on October 21), early second quarter. I had to get it fixed sooner or later and that was going to get fixed after the year. Then, against Houston (November 18), I completed a ball to Justin (Blackmon). We did a play action. I was going to take a shot and a safety came off the edge. It was kind of a freak injury in my forearm. It wasn't something that was common. They see it a lot in high-trauma car accidents when your forearm hits the steering wheel. It was kind of a weird deal.

Q. And it has been the forearm that took the longest to get back to normal.

A. The shoulder was sort of straightforward. This (the forearm) was kind of a new thing they hadn't seen before. I had to get my grip back, get the finger function back. Right now, I feel great. I'm 100 percent. You can't throw here (at EverBank Field before April) with the (CBA rules), but throwing was part of my rehab to get strength in the tendon. I've been aggressively throwing for the last month or so.

Q. In those last two or three games before the injury, you played about as well as you've played in the NFL – over 700 yards passing and three touchdowns.

A. I felt comfortable. We weren't winning, of course, and that's the only thing that matters in the NFL. Personally, I was learning on the run and getting acclimated to some of the nuances of our system last year. It's just a process. At the quarterback position you have to have a level head, "Stay on the grind," and not really let outside factors dictate your mood one day or another. That's one thing I do pretty well: focus on one thing and not let the outside distractions get to me. There are so many in the NFL. This is the No. 1 brand in the world and everyone's going to have an opinion on what you should or shouldn't do.

Q. Mindset going into this season?

A. Have fun, compete and be the starting quarterback for this football team and this franchise. Gus has said everyone's going to compete for a job and that's the way it should be. That's the beauty of this game: you have to compete at a high level day in and day out regardless if it's a voluntary minicamp, training camp or the regular season. You have to prove to your teammates, the coaching staff, the fans, the league that you can play at a high level.

Q. David Caldwell has made it clear there will be competition at the quarterback position. There are rumors about drafting Geno Smith or trading for Matt Flynn. Thoughts on this?

A. There is going to be competition every year. There is always going to be somebody coming in to take your job. (Former Jaguars quarterback) Mark Brunell said it best. When he was a veteran, he knew guys were coming into eventually take his job. You still come in and bust your ass regardless of the situation. We're competitive guys. We want to play at the highest level regardless and succeed at the highest level for the longest period of time.

Q. You know there are people who have written you off. How do you respond to those people?

A. I really don't worry about their opinions, because if they knew what they were talking about they'd be in my position or in a position inside this building. They're going to voice their opinion and a lot of people on the outside listen and value their opinions even though they really may or may not know what they're talking about…. You can't let the outside distractions affect what you're doing in this building. They're two separate worlds. Talking heads on the radio who don't know what we're doing, you just smile and laugh it off. I don't listen to talk radio or watch SportsCenter. You have to have a separation between work and home. You can't dwell on the fact that someone in some city is talking bad about you.

Q. You've had so much change in a little less than two calendar years in the NFL: Four head coaches, three offensive coordinators, four quarterbacks coaches. Crazy?

A. You don't want to be in that situation, but I'm not the first quarterback to be in a situation like this and I'm sure as hell not going to be the last quarterback to be in a situation like this. It's kind of shown me a different side to the NFL business, but at the same time, I've learned a lot. I am in my third offensive system. I've had three or four head coaches in three years, but I can take bits and pieces of every coach I've been fortunate enough to be with and apply it to my game. I can take bits and pieces from every body, see what things worked and what things didn't.

Q. Who do you turn to when times are tough?

A. I usually bounce things off my dad. He'll shoot it to me straight. He's a business-minded guy. I talk to him on a daily basis, and even my younger brother .There are a couple of friends I talk to. You have to have people you can talk to, who will shoot you straight. You need those people in your life.

Q. How anxious are you to get in the room with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch?

A: It's going to be awesome. I'm excited to get some consistency in the building. Jedd's a young, energetic guy. It's fun to sit in his office – as much as we can – and meet, to just talk. I know we're going to have an up-tempo, fun room again.

Q. Bradley, Caldwell – even quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo – have put out largely the same message about you: that while there will be competition, they believe you can get it done and you will get a fair chance to win the job. Good feeling that they did that?

A. You always want support. They have never seen me play in person. All a person can ask for on a football team is a fair shot, a fair opportunity to compete. When you hear that, anything can happen. It was the same way last year. I'm going to do the same this year. I'm going to compete day in and day out. I'm going to do my job to the best of my ability.

Q. There were headlines made recently when an anonymous coach on last year's staff criticized you for several things, including your approach. How do you handle that?

A. It pissed me off quite a bit, just because you learn to trust your coaches because you spend so much time with them. That's starting now. April 2 through whenever your last game is, you're with them countless hours every day, six or seven days a week. You learn to value their opinion, trust it. It's a close-knit grip. When you have an anonymous source saying something that couldn't be further from the truth, it pisses me off. Like I always said, 'Put your name on it.' If you're going to say something to the media, say it to me. Say who said it. No need to hide behind a computer screen or an anonymous source name when you're trying to make a point.

Q. Extra motivation?

A. When it's not the truth, it doesn't really motivate me, although you do have external motivators. You want to prove every person wrong who says you can't do your job at a high level. We're just competitive guys. That's what makes this job fun.

Q. You mentioned proving people wrong. A lot to prove overall?

A. That's not my mindset. I just want to go out and play at a high level, and get this team to play at a high level, to play as a collective group of 53 guys. When we do that, this team's really going to take off.

Q. It seemed last year you made marked improvements in specific areas, particularly pocket presence, moving around and feeling rush. Did you feel like you made strides?

A. I did, and at the same time, I felt like I was healthy until the injuries happened, which was beneficial. Trust me, I have plenty of things to work on. That's what I'm looking forward to.

Q. As we discussed, you seemed to be making strides just before going on IR last year. How disappointing was it to not be able to finish it out?

A: It was a bummer. You never want to end the season on IR. That was brutal, having to go out and watch practice and stand around and watch games. I did my best to help every guy on this football team. You want to be out there playing, making a physical difference in the game. I learned a lot from that viewpoint, but it's not a viewpoint I ever want to get comfortable doing.

Q. Say in theory the Jaguars have a bye week halfway through the season. When you watch video that week, what do you want to see? What will you need to see to say, "I've improved?"

A. A winning record. Everything else will take care of itself. If you have a good record after the first half of the season and can make a run, you know the whole group is playing at a high level. Winning cures everything. It's like that controversial Nike ad with Tiger Woods, but it's the truth. It's the truth. You win, and that's all people talk about.

Q. So, despite all the talk – and all the speculation to the contrary – when you visualize and set goals, you see yourself as the starting quarterback for this time for the foreseeable future.

A. I was in the same boat last year. It was going to be an open competition and whoever played the best was going to be the starter Day One. I welcome that. It's fun to me. You have to go out and prove to everybody you're the best guy on the field.

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