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Jaguars never lost confidence in Blaine Gabbert


Terrance Knighton saw this coming. A lot of the Jaguars did.

Knighton and his teammates told people, too – anyone willing to listen, anyway – that this kid with the long hair, the one taking the abuse and the criticism, was going to be OK. He was going to be a quarterback.  

So, when they see Blaine Gabbert looking different now, when they see signs of success . . . well, they're not saying, "I told you so." At least not yet.

But neither are they surprised.

"I always had faith in him," Knighton, the Jaguars' fourth-year defensive tackle said as the Jaguars prepared to play the Ravens in Baltimore Thursday.

It's not just Knighton, either. Throughout a difficult rookie season, with his statistics lagging and critics multiplying weekly, teammates publicly and privately supported Gabbert.

That support, it would seem, is being rewarded. Gabbert in two preseason games has completed 18 of 26 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He has a passer rating of 126.1, and beyond numbers, he has been a different, more confident player.

Criticized throughout last season for lacking pocket awareness, Gabbert completed passes four times while being hit or with a defender applying pressure on Friday against New Orleans. And the stuff Gabbert's showing?

Teammates said absolutely it will translate when the games start counting.

"You can say it's preseason, but it's still games," center Brad Meester said. "Nobody's going out half speed. It's real games when we're going out there. He's going a great job reading defenses, reading coverages, reading blitzes and finding guys that are open. He's making checkdowns when he needs to.

"He's made tremendous strides, and it has been on him to study the game and learn."

With his preseason performance has come the beginning of a new narrative. Many national observers wrote Gabbert off last season, a theme that carried through the offseason. Following a 10-of-13 passing performance with two touchdowns against the Saints, some national analysts said over the weekend this may be the first sign of Gabbert playing to the level expected from the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.

"I'm not surprised, because I felt like he had that in him," Jaguars tight end Zach Miller, among Gabbert's closest friends on the team, said. "I don't like to talk about the past, but he was put in a tough position. To watch him grow from then until now, I'm really proud of him. I'm impressed with what he's done.

"I knew he had it in him, so it's not something where I was like, 'Oh, wow.' I knew."

Gabbert last season had a slew of forces working against him. The offensive coaching staff was working on one-year contracts. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio was in his final season, with an air of inevitability throughout the season surrounding a firing that came in early December. Gabbert also was in his first season working from a pro-style offense, having spent his college career working from Missouri's spread offense.

Gabbert arrived at training camp in late July following a lockout that eliminated the offseason, with the team's plan to have him be the third quarterback behind David Garrard and Luke McCown. The team released Garrard days before the regular-season opener, and by Week 3, Gabbert was the starter.

Gabbert completed 210 of 413 passes for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in a 5-11 season, but Meester said amid the criticism, Gabbert continued to work, watch tape and put the extra time need from a quarterback.

"This game's a mental game," Meester said. "He's always done a tremendous job of being in there, watching film. I knew he was going to continue to grow."

Said Knighton, "You could see the want, you could see the work he put into it. A lot of times in football the quarterback position is circumstance. He wasn't put in the best of circumstances, coming out of a lockout – now he's expected to play and he's thrown into the fire.

"He responded. He didn't complain about it and kept a positive attitude."

Meester said that approach continued in the offseason.

"All of us could see it," Meester said. "I could see it in the offseason, the way he was approaching things. That's a huge part of it, how a guy approaches it, how he practices it – things like that are going to translate into the games. He did a tremendous job in the huddle."

"There was a lot put on him last year. He had no offseason, and was thrown in there. I remember my rookie year – it's a blur, and I don't do half the calls he does. a blur. It happens fast. To get thrown into tough situations, it takes time to get used to it.

 "You can tell this year how much he's grown and responded."

Miller said while criticism mounted throughout last season, he never saw signs that it unduly bothered the young quarterback.

"I don't know the percentage, but a large percentage of people don't know what goes on this building," Miller said. "That's why you look at that stuff and let it go in one ear and out the other.  That's a testimony to how he is as a person and player.

"He's tough-minded, very sharp and he gets the whole picture."

Knighton, for his part, said while it's not yet time to say "I told you so," seeing the faith teammates showed in Gabbert rewarded has done more than bring that feeling that comes with being right. It has given him and a lot of others a whole lot of hope for the future.

"The quarterback position is a position you sometimes have to be patient with, especially for a rookie," Knighton said. "I felt like for a rookie quarterback he was thrown into the worst circumstance you could be thrown into. He responded to it and I saw something like this happening.

"I'm happy for him. I can't wait to see what else he can do." And on that front after two preseason games, Knighton is far from alone.

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