FOXBORO, MASS. – As preseason debuts go, this one was about what could be expected.
Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars' quarterback of the future, started Thursday night's preseason opener in place of injured starter David Garrard. It was the NFL debut for a hyped, talented player, a potential franchise quarterback with less than two weeks of professional practice.
It was an earlier first start than was ideal, and certainly earlier than the Jaguars had hoped.
He wasn't great and he wasn't awful.
About what should have been expected given the circumstances.
"There are definitely things we need to improve on," Gabbert said after a playing the first half of a 47-12 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., Thursday night.
"All in all, when I was out there, I thought we accomplished some things. We just have to capitalize on opportunities."
Gabbert completed 9 of 16 passes for 85 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions in the first half, after which the Jaguars trailed 19-9. The game disintegrated after that, with Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio saying afterward, "It was pretty ugly out there at the end."
But Del Rio, who said last week the game would be more about evaluation than style points, also remained steadfast in what he has said throughout training camp – that while camp and preseason will be about improving and putting together a team with a slew of newcomers, he believes the result of that process will be a successful season.
"We're going to have a good team," Del Rio said. "I'm very confident of that. We're just going to stay the course."
And while the players weren't thrilled with the outcome Thursday, remember: this is a team that lost four games by 25 or more points early last season and still contended for the AFC South title. This team is resilient, and a big loss in a meaningless preseason game won't change that.
The Jaguars also on Thursday played without two Pro Bowl selections – running back Maurice Jones-Drew and tight end Marcedes Lewis – as well as defensive end Aaron Kampman. The newly signed free agent class, after practicing less than a week, played sparingly, and not after the first quarter.
Yes, there were times things looked bad Thursday, but most of those times came with what Del Rio referred to as the final 35 guys on the roster in the game. Del Rio emphasized that will be more than that group plays the rest of the preseason. The team that lost the second half 28-3 Sunday may not have looked good, but it won't matter come the regular season, because that team for the most part won't be on the team.
More pertinent to the future of the franchise was the play of Gabbert, and while he was the first to say it wasn't spectacular, it also was solid in spots, and showed signs of what the Jaguars expect him to be.
"He did a nice job," Del Rio said. "I think he showed a little poise leading the team down and we had a couple of drops. The good thing is I see him on the sidelines saying 'my bad, I could throw it better.' I know one thing, it's great exposure for him and great experience. We have to be a little sharper and we knew that coming in."
That's what the Jaguars were looking for from Gabbert Thursday – signs he belonged, that he wouldn't get flustered, that he could handle the position.
"It's really tough for it to start here," Lewis said at halftime. "He's showing his poise, he's been hit a couple times and he just gets right back up. He's standing in the pocket and making the throws. That's what you want to see out of a young quarterback. I'm impressed. . . .
"He's playing without a lot of weapons but he looked good. He's getting the ball in the spots it needs to be and we have dropped a couple. He's been hit a couple times. This has been a good experience for him and he played longer than I thought."
Garrard, the Jaguars' starter who is expected to return to practice next week and play Friday against Atlanta, agreed.
"He's come out here and is throwing the ball with a lot of poise," Garrard said. "He had a few drops but it's his first time in the NFL. I'm proud to see it. He's looking good. I'm sure he would like to have a few throws back."
Gabbert, for his part, talked afterward of positives and negatives. He said for the most part he believed he played with poise, and while he would have liked to convert more third downs and have more red-zone efficiency, he said the offense didn't have mental errors in the first half and functioned well at times.
"We've been in practice 11 days and haven't had any rookie minicamps or OTAs," Gabbert said. "It was a good opportunity to play, get some throws against a live rush, and have fun."
In time, Gabbert will expect more, and an organization that selected him with the No. 10 overall selection in last April's NFL Draft will expect and deserve more, too.
On Thursday night, what should have been expected was a player who showed flashes of impressive things, and one who wasn't flustered by the moment. The good news for the Jaguars was he showed those things. He was impressive at times, and he didn't seem flustered. He could have, too. He was under more pressure in the first half than is ideal, and certainly more than the Jaguars wanted. He was sacked three times, and it doesn't matter who's playing quarterback for the Jaguars this season, that can't happen.
There were certainly other storylines for this game, and there are improvements that must be made. But the overriding topic was Gabbert, whose debut was what might be expected for a rookie, and that wasn't at all a bad thing.