Gene Smith likes what he sees in the Jaguars&39; quarterback position.
When he says that, Smith – who is now entering his third season as the Jaguars&39; general manager – said he&39;s not just talking about the long-term future, a future made brighter during the recent 2011 NFL Draft. Rather, he&39;s talking about the present, too.
David Garrard. Blaine Gabbert.
There&39;s much from which to draw from the group – a solid present, a strong backup presence and a talented future – and Smith said the combination of depth, youth and experience gives the Jaguars a solid situation at the position entering the 2011 NFL season. A very solid situation.
"I think the quarterback position – when you&39;re talking about the three guys we have – it&39;s a strong group," Smith said recently when discussing the quarterback position for this story, part of a position-by-position look at the Jaguars&39; roster scheduled to run this month and next on jaguars.com.
Smith reiterated during the interview what he and coach Jack Del Rio have said often since the end of last season – that Garrard is the Jaguars&39; starting quarterback even with the team having selected Gabbert No. 10 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft from the University of Missouri.
"David is our starter," Smith said. "I know Luke and Blaine will come in to compete certainly for playing time, but coming out of last year with his starts history in the NFL David is our quarterback whenever football starts back up."
Garrard, a 10-year veteran and the Jaguars&39; starter since 2007, has thrown 81 touchdown passes and 50 interceptions the last five seasons, averaging 2,839 yards during that span despite missing six starts in 2006 and four in 2007.
Garrard, despite criticism at times from fans and media, last season set a franchise record with 23 touchdown passes, and said earlier this off-season his hope was to keep his touchdowns total high next season while reducing his interceptions to around 10. He finished last season completing 236 of 366 passes for 2,734 yards and the 23 touchdowns with 15 interceptions, and had streaks of solid play coupled with inconsistency throughout the season.
In three early-season victories, he threw eight touchdowns and an interception. He also had 11 touchdown passes and five interceptions during a stretch of five victories in eight games that moved the Jaguars into first place in the AFC South in early December.
But while there has been speculation that the selection of Gabbert will mean a quarterback change, Smith said shortly after the draft that&39;s not the case – and said Garrard is a capable player who can put the Jaguars in position for success in 2011.
"He has a skill set that doesn&39;t limit your play-calling," Smith said of Garrard.
McCown, an eight-year veteran from Louisiana Tech, spent the 2009 season as the backup to Garrard after being acquired in a September trade with Tampa Bay. He had a solid off-season in 2010, then played well during the preseason before sustaining a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a Week 2 loss in San Diego.
Smith said his understanding is McCown is progressing well, and that he likes what McCown brings to the position as a reserve.
"Luke is coming off a knee injury, but he has had no setbacks," Smith said. "He&39;s a strong, veteran backup."
Gabbert (6-feet-5, 233 pounds), who played collegiately at the University of Missouri, started 26 of 31 games during the past two seasons. He completed 568 of 933 passes for 6,822 yards and 40 touchdowns with 18 interceptions at Missouri, and during his final collegiate season, he emerged as one of the top players entering the draft.
The Jaguars had said before the draft it was likely they would take a quarterback to develop behind Garrard, then on draft night, they traded their 2011 second-round selection and the No. 16 overall pick to the Washington Redskins for the No 10 selection.
The selection has been the most-discussed move of the off-season, and Smith has said he believes it was a move the team needed to make at the time to secure a potential franchise quarterback for coming seasons.
"Blaine Gabbert we have strong feelings about," Smith said. "We believe he&39;s a quarterback who can lead us into the future as an organization. It&39;s unfortunate that we have a shorter out-of-season because of the unique year we&39;re in, because I think all of the rookies could benefit, the quarterback in particular.
"But we have a very good group of quarterbacks to enable us to win."
Smith, who has said the Jaguars will add about 19 veteran and rookie free agents before the season, said it&39;s possible a quarterback could be among the latter group.
He also said that while Gabbert has traits that should make him a top-tier quarterback moving forward, the reality is that the quarterback situation entering next season is about competition in the present and not necessarily the future. At least not yet.
"The No. 1 thing – other than the physical talent – you&39;ve got to have at quarterback is a will to prepare," Smith said. "We have some guys who do work at their craft. I feel very confident it will be a very competitive situation. It&39;s David&39;s job to lead this team, and I know Blaine and Luke will be competing for an opportunity, but David is our starting quarterback."
*(This is the first of a position-by-position series scheduled to run on jaguars.com in the coming days and weeks. Up next: running backs.). *