Coming into the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars training camp, the biggest question that needed to be answered, and a topic that was hotly debated, was who would come out of the QB competition as the starter for Opening Day, September 8th, against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Would it be the much maligned 2011 first-round pick Blaine Gabbert or last year's free-agent Chad Henne, who played well in a few games down the stretch of a 2011 season that was a disaster for the Jaguars?
Head Coach, Gus Bradley stated from the beginning, that it, like all positions, would be an open competition and the best man would win the job. The big difference being, there is no position in all of sports that is more responsible on how a game and season are determined for a team than the QB.
This decision would not only have a major impact on the field, but with the QB being the defacto leader of the offense and in most cases the entire team, who "The Man" would be was also one of the biggest decisions of the early tenure of Gus Bradley.
For most of the off-season training and the practices leading up to the first pre-season game it was clear to me that Blaine was definitely the QB with more natural ability; better measurable arm strength, size, and athletic ability.
He looked to be the individual with more potential and the guy who could possibly be a franchise QB the Jaguars have been looking for since Mark Brunell graced the field in Jacksonville. The problem with that statement is "potential" is dangerous. Potential can tease you and never give you what you need. Sooner or later you have to do it and show that all the potential you possess is real, that it translates to what we long for – a franchise QB.
That is what we all want to see with Blaine. We want to see the young QB, who has had four head coaches and three offensive coordinators, become the player we all cheered for when he was picked 10th overall.
The competition between Blaine and Chad leading up to the second pre-season game for the most part has been pretty close; both guys picking up Jedd Fisch's new offense well and having more good days than bad.
And while Blaine's arm strength and athletic ability gave him a leg up on Chad, the play on the field wasn't that different to the naked eye. However, that was until pre-season game two against the New York Jets. Blaine looked really good!
He showed a command for the entire offense and moved the first offense like he was "The Guy". I know it was only a pre-season game, but Blaine looked the part of an NFL QB and gave every Jaguar fan a glimpse of what his potential could be when realized.
I believe it was his performance in the Jets game, and the fact he of the two, has the highest upside, that make Blaine the front-runner for the position. I am not trying to take anything away from Chad, but Blaine is clearly the guy who gives this team the best chance to win immediately, and definitely the guy who has the greatest chance to become a franchise QB. My guess is that Gus Bradley has been leaning towards making Blaine the starting QB and the Jets game just confirmed it.
The interesting thing was that in the same press conference that Gus named Blaine the starter, he also announced that Blaine would be out the rest of the pre-season with a hairline fracture in his throwing- hand thumb. They believe Blaine will be ready for the regular season opener, but it will be dependent on whether or not he will have the grip strength to hold the ball.
The natural question is, "Why name Blaine the starter when you are not a 100% he will be ready for the first regular season game?" There are two really good reasons I can think of. First, if you believe, and have conviction that Blaine is going to be your guy, then name him the starter and put the topic to bed. Make it clear to everyone that at this time Blaine is your guy.
This way no matter what Chad does in the last two pre-season games (he played well against the Philadelphia Eagles, 11-18 106yds, 2TDs, 1INT) the conversation about who the starting QB is done. This makes one less distraction for Gus and his team to deal with.
Second, I am a firm believer that it is important for an offense to know who their leader (QB) will be, who they are going to battle for and with. As an offensive lineman, I wanted that position, more than any other, to be settled and be constant. I wanted the voice in the huddle and on the line of scrimmage to be consistent.
When there is a constant changing-of-the-guard and no one is really sure who the guy they are going into the fight with, it is hard to be effective as an offense. Like no other position on a football team, if there is debate in the locker room about who the guy taking the snap will be, it is almost impossible to have success.
For that more than any other reason, I love that Gus Bradley made the definitive statement about Blaine Gabbert being the starting QB when he did, even if Blaine is hurt right now.