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Magnificent Seven VIII


7)No turning back.One thing that's certain about the move the Jaguars made Wednesday is that there is absolutely no turning back. Before the Jaguars named Blaine Gabbert the starting quarterback officially, some observers floated the idea that there was no risk in starting Gabbert because you could always go to Luke McCown for a game or two if things didn't work out. Uh-uh, and no way. With McCown, you could do what you wanted because there was no long-term risk. He's a veteran who knows his situation and is paid to deal with it. If he didn't play well, you could always turn to Gabbert. That's over. Now, except in the case of injury, Gabbert is the starter until the franchise no longer wants him as its franchise quarterback. Whether that is a few years or into the next decade remains to be seen and is almost entirely up to him, but you can't move him in and out of the lineup based on a bad game here or there. While that was permissible with McCown, it cannot be done with Gabbert. He's the guy and you must be patient throughout what will be an up-and-down growth process.

6)A key matchup.In the interest of not making this Magnificent Seven an all-quarterback-all-the-time affair – although this week, that'd be understandable – we'll take a minute to discuss what could be the most critical matchup of the Jaguars-Panthers game Sunday: Eugene Monroe vs. Charles Johnson. The latter is one of the more underrated pass rushers in the NFL and could be the best pure pass rusher Monroe has faced all season. He absolutely is capable of altering the game and certainly is capable of making Gabbert very, very uncomfortable, something he is going to be at times during his rookie season but something you'd like to keep at a minimum in his first NFL start. We also should take this time to mention that Monroe, who took a lot of criticism during the preseason, has improved dramatically in the past few weeks. There were more than a few people around the Jaguars, General Manager Gene Smith among them, who believe Monroe had the best game in three NFL seasons last week against the Jets. This week will be his toughest match-up of the season, but it's a good sign for the Jaguars that Monroe has made the strides necessary.

5)No time for comparisons.The temptation is obvious and very . . . well, tempting, but it will be wise for Jaguars observers to not put too much into the comparisons before and after Sunday's game between Gabbert and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. Without question the two players will forever be linked, understandably and correctly so. Newton was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft and Gabbert went No. 10 overall. Many, many personnel officials around the league – those from the Jaguars and Panthers included – spent a lot of time and money comparing the two during the off-season, and like any quarterbacks from the same draft class, they always will be the measure of one another. But it's just as true that quarterbacks develop at different paces in different situations. Newton has been the main guy in Carolina for seven weeks and the Panthers clearly have built their offense around him. Gabbert has worked at times with the starters in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars are still largely built around the running of Maurice Jones-Drew. That will change in time, but it hasn't changed yet. If Newton throws for a ton more yards than Gabbert, it's not the final word on the ultimate development of the two players. It's a snapshot however it plays out. Nothing more.

4)A striking start. A quick word on Newton: he has started much better than I imagined and a big reason appears to be an advanced pocket presence for a player of his experience. He likes to run, but appears to have the poise to stand in the pocket and look downfield. For all of Gabbert's arm strength and ability to make all of the throws, that may be his biggest adjustment to the NFL. That's not a knock. It's true of many, many quarterbacks of his age and experience. He took off and ran very quickly under pressure during the preseason and appeared to do so in limited time against the Jets last week. The ability to step up and move around nimbly in the pocket is a trait shared by nearly every great, elite-level quarterback. Pocket presence for most quarterbacks is a learned skill, and that will be the skill to watch in Gabbert as the season goes on.

*3)Coming along. *Spoke with Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker very briefly this week, and congratulated him on how the defense was playing early in the season. He was cautiously optimistic about a unit that currently ranks fifth in the NFL and said he believed the defense was getting there, but that it still had work to do. One thing he likes is the improvement in tackling the Jaguars have made as defense, and at the same time, he said that remains a work in progress. Coaches are never going to be thrilled two games into the season, but the reality is the Jaguars are dramatically improved as a defense. Whereas last season there were significant holes in several spots of the defense – particularly at safety and linebacker – this year there are players at every position who can be relied upon to function at a competitive level. In some cases, there are more than one or two players. The Jaguars aren't a team full of Pro Bowl defensive players, and outside of defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton I'm not sure there are obvious candidates yet for postseason awards, but as a group, these guys are playing well enough to make the Jaguars competitive when the offense gets a bit more traction.

2)Focus on Knighton.Often during the off-season I was asked what player I most looked forward to watching in my first season covering the Jaguars. I had a few thoughts, but mostly I was looking forward to letting the process of learning the Jaguars happen organically – i.e., through the natural process of training camp, interviews, practices, preseason and regular season. That's the best way to get to know a team and its players. So far, perhaps the most interesting player to cover is Knighton, and there are more than a few intriguing players on the roster. I read once where my predecessor wrote that he wasn't crazy about Knighton's nickname, Pot Roast, because it didn't do him justice – that Knighton was in reality a charismatic, articulate, talented, courteous kid. He couldn't have been more right, and that's one reason you don't see me refer to him as Pot Roast often either. The guy is a pleasure to cover, and not only that, he may be the biggest reason the Jaguars are developing into a legitimate front-line defense.

1)A final word on the quarterback.This is pretty obvious, but just because something's obvious doesn't make it untrue.  I wrote earlier this week that the fans will need to be patient with Gabbert, and while that's not likely, the fact remains that Gabbert is going to make mistakes early, and a lot of those mistakes aren't going to look even remotely pretty. He's going to throw interceptions and he's going to miss open receivers and he's going to take sacks. Early on, that's to be expected. What's important about Gabbert's mistakes in the big picture isn't as much whether they cost the Jaguars games or even a playoff appearance, but how he responds to the mistakes. All indications are he is dedicated to working and learning from mistakes, and indications are, too, that he is willing to put in the time and work toward having the solitary, laser-like focus it takes to be an elite-level quarterback. The road to that status isn't a short one, and can take several seasons. It also can be an up-and-down road where the lows feel far worse and more frustrating than the highs at first. Gabbert's ability to deal with that reality and stay focused on the process at hand likely will go far further in determining his success than his considerable physical ability. 

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