By the opening game of the 2011 preseason, the Jaguars' starting right guard said although it may not have been known exactly when rookie Blaine Gabbert would become the starting quarterback, when he did . . .
Well, let's just say Nwaneri knew confidence wouldn't be an issue.
This much Nwaneri said he knew on the first drive of the preseason opener at New England: Gabbert started the game, his first in the NFL of any kind, and while Gabbert said there were butterflies, Nwaneri said he saw something else.
"He came in there, looked everybody in the eyes and said, 'Let's ---- go,''' Nwaneri said Wednesday afternoon as the Jaguars (1-1) prepared to play the Carolina Panthers (0-2) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday at 1 p.m.
"He was ready to battle."
An impression, Nwaneri said, was certainly made.
"You wouldn't know he was a rookie," Nwaneri said. "That's one thing I love about him – you wouldn't be able to tell he was a rookie. When he first got out there at training camp, it was like he'd been on the team a couple of years. . ."
Such was the consensus around the Jaguars' locker room Wednesday.
It's Gabbert's time, and his team.
That it would be the case someday has been known since the Jaguars made Gabbert the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft from the University of Missouri. What wasn't known was when that would happen.
It became official early Wednesday morning.
"It was kind of inevitable," Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "We knew this was going to come, so the time is now. We can't wait to play with him. . . . I think he's going to do great."
Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas said he wasn't shocked with the move.
"I don't think anybody is," Thomas said. "But 11 (Gabbert), he possesses at lot of potential to be good in this league. You're going to have some plays where guys might not be on the same page, where he might not be on the same page, where receivers might not be on the same page, but that being said, we'll prepare.
"He'll get looks in practice and we'll go out and do the best we can. Blaine has been around for a couple of months, so we've had time to get a feel for each other. We'll just have to speed it up in practice so we feel comfortable and come game time we can roll."
Gabbert replaced quarterback Luke McCown this past Sunday after McCown completed 6 of 19 passes for 59 yards and no touchdowns with four interceptions in a 32-3 loss to the New York Jets. Gabbert played the fourth quarter, completing 5 of 6 passes for 52 yards.
Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio did not immediately name a starter, nor did he name one Monday, but when players arrived at the facility Wednesday, they were informed of the move.
"We had no idea what was going to happen," Jaguars center Brad Meester said. "The choice was made. We'll rally behind Blaine. He's a very capable guy."
McCown, an eight-year veteran who has started nine NFL games – including the first two this season – said his approach won't change.
"The other guys in this locker room deserve to have the opportunity to win no matter who is at quarterback," McCown said. "If I'm not prepared, and something happens to Blaine, they're getting the short end of the stick, so I'm prepared to start. Whether I'm the third guy or whether I'm the backup, it doesn't matter. That way I know I'm ready and I know I will help these guys have an opportunity to win."
Of Gabbert, McCown said, "Blaine has a great future, a great upside. I'm going to do whatever I can to help him."
Jones-Drew said Gabbert made an immediate impression upon arriving at training camp in late July. Gabbert had received a playbook the day after the draft, and despite the lockout that kept players from practicing with the organization, Jones-Drew said it was evident Gabbert had done what he could to learn the offense.
"He was doing a lot of things you wouldn't expect a rookie to do," Jones-Drew said.
Jones-Drew said he has been impressed with Gabbert's approach off the field as well as on, and Nwaneri said Gabbert "has a lot of charisma."
"He's very talkative," Nwaneri said. "He plays with emotion. We'll see that come Sunday."
Nwaneri joked that if anything, Gabbert is too loud in the huddle.
"He talks *loud," *Nwaneri said. "Sometimes we're like, 'Hey, we're five yards away. Not so loud.'"
But Nwaneri said joking aside, Gabbert in seven weeks has displayed a side that makes him optimistic the rookie can be successful at the NFL's most demanding position.
"He's got the swag," Nwaneri said. "He's got what you like to see. There doesn't seem to be any nervousness about him, which is always good. When quarterbacks get nervous, they start shuffling their feet, turning their head . . . But he'll be good. I'm looking forward to seeing him get out on the field. . . .
"We have his back and he has our back. He lets you know, 'Hey, I'm right behind you guys.'''
Said Jones-Drew, "He's going to take over and be the face of this organization. I can't wait to see him do it."