Blaine Gabbert has a year to convince the new Jacksonville Jaguars regime he can be their long-term starter. That's according to a recent report from NFL.com's Marc Sessler. What exactly are Gabbert's chances for success?
The No. 10-overall pick in 2011 has come to symbolize the failings of ex-general manager Gene Smith. For every bit of promise Gabbert has shown, he has displayed even more reason not to believe in him.
If he hopes to keep is job in 2013, there are four key areas where he must improve, starting with the deep ball.
Must Show the Ability to Attack Defenses Deep
In his first two pro seasons, Gabbert has been notorious for settling for simple, underneath throws. These have often come at the expense of big gains from vertical patterns.
However, Gabbert has showcased some potential for improving his vertical game. The following play from Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season against the Minnesota Vikings is an excellent example.
In the screenshot below, the Vikings present Gabbert with a simple, man-under, 2-deep coverage look.
He will attempt to exploit a matchup on the outside by targeting wide receiver Cecil Shorts on a deep pattern. This is shown below.
At the snap, the cornerback plays the inside first, shown by the red arrow. This gives Shorts the chance to exploit the outside, indicated by the blue arrow.
However, the key to the play is how Gabbert draws the safety down and away from the deep coverage.
Gabbert is able to bring the safety down and split the deep coverage. The screenshot below shows how.
He stares the safety down and uses a pump fake to get him to jump underneath. Once the safety has been manipulated, Gabbert is able to quickly turn, set his feet and eye the deep sideline pattern.
From here he is free to launch a vertical throw that showcased arm strength many believe Gabbert lacks.
With the cornerback having already taken the inside away, Gabbert is challenged to fire his deep pass to the outside. The screenshot below shows Gabbert achieved ideal ball-placement for this play.
By putting the ball on the outside, Gabbert aimed his pass to a spot where only Shorts had the chance to make the play. The cornerback was left to simply watch the wideout complete a 39-yard scoring catch.
While any deep passer relies on natural arm strength, technique is also a key factor. This play shows Gabbert has the potential to improve his deep game.
With the likes of Shorts and Justin Blackmon on the outside, the Jaguars have the potential to threaten defenses vertically. If Gabbert wants to keep his job in 2013, he must become more adept at attacking downfield.
Make More Plays as a Runner
Although the numbers don't always support it, Gabbert is a capable runner. He should use his athleticism to make more plays with his legs.
One example, from Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts, demonstrates Gabbert's athleticism on the ground.
In the screenshot below, Gabbert sees the Colts' coverage quickly take his receivers away once the ball is snapped.
He is also put under immediate pressure in the pocket. However, Gabbert is agile enough to quickly turn away from the rush.
Once he has escaped the pocket, Gabbert is nimble-footed enough to exploit the open running lane on the outside. As he bolts to the outside, Gabbert is immediately targeted by two Colts defenders, both of whom have favorable pursuit angles on him.
However, Gabbert possesses deceptive and dangerous speed as a runner. He is quick enough to beat the pursuit to the edge and exploit the Indianapolis defense for an easy nine-yard gain.
Any quarterback who can make plays with his feet, adds an extra dimension to an offense. He increases the flexibility of a scheme and expands the play-calling for a coordinator.
Gabbert needs to showcase his skills as a runner more often in 2013. If he can show a genuine dual-threat, Gabbert will be difficult to remove from the starting lineup.
These plays have shown two things Gabbert can do well, and must do more often. The next plays show areas where he must make immediate and significant improvement.
Reading Coverage Adjustments and Forcing Throws
Read pro coverages has been the bane of Gabbert's short NFL career. A key turnover from a Week 10 clash with the Indianapolis Colts highlights some of his main issues.
The Colts show Gabbert a run front, with a safety down in the box, creating an eight-man look. Gabbert hopes to exploit this front by utilizing the bunch formation with three receivers on the strong side.
However, the Colts adjust their coverage pre-snap. In particular, the safety will drop deep, shown by the black arrow.
At the snap, the Colts will rotate the coverage over to the three-receiver bunch, by dropping an outside linebacker into coverage. This is indicated by the red arrow.
This is a simple response to a bunch look from a 3-4 defense, but Gabbert fails to anticipate it. He also fails to diagnose what the safety bailing out will mean for the coverage.
The Colts now have a four-on-three advantage on the strong side. They are locked up man-to-man on the bunch receivers, with safety help behind.
Although the Colts' adjustments have caught him out, Gabbert still has two open receivers to aim for. They are both shown in the blue circles in the screenshot below.
Gabbert has the running back open in the flat and could even chance getting the ball to his big tight end, Marcedes Lewis. The one place he can't go with the ball is to Shorts along the strong-side sideline. The receiver has already drawn the attentions of two Colts defenders.
Sadly, that's just where Gabbert did go and his dangerous sideline out-pass was intercepted by Darius Butler. The pick was returned for a touchdown, all but killing the game for the Jaguars.
The problem was that Gabbert made his mind up to go to the three-receiver side straight away. Notice below how he has immediately locked onto the bunch set once the ball is snapped.
Gabbert should have anticipated the outside linebacker on that side would drop out when faced with three receivers. He should also have read the safety rotation and realized the Colts were shifting the coverage to outnumber the bunch set.
By not anticipating and reacting to these adjustments Gabbert ignored an open receiver on the other side. He instead forced a dangerous pass into the strength of the coverage.
If he can't improve at reading coverage looks and adapting to adjustments, Gabbert will continue to be beaten before the snap.
As much as reading coverage has been an issue, Gabbert has had equal problems dealing with blitz looks.
Recognizing and Adjusting to Pressure
Gabbert must show greater command of his offense, by recognizing and adjusting to pressure. One play from a crushing Week 4 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals reveals the extent of Gabbert's problems.
In the screenshot below, the Bengals are showing an overload pressure on the strong side.
Both the outside linebacker and a safety are preparing to blitz Gabbert. With two receivers on the side of the pressure, this should be a quick fix for Gabbert and his offense.
He simply needs to have one of his receivers adjust their pattern and become the designated hot route. Take a look below at how this might work.
Gabbert simply needs to indicate to one of his receivers that they should alter their pattern and run behind the blitz. However, once the ball is snapped, Gabbert's failure to adjust and communicate with his offense becomes painfully clear.
Neither receiver has adjusted their pattern to a hot route behind the blitz. As a result, Gabbert was sacked by the blitzing outside linebacker, Manny Lawson, for a huge loss.
Gabbert didn't get much help from his receivers on this play. However, adjusting to pressure and assigning hot routes is the ultimate responsibility of a quarterback.
The fact that neither receiver noticed the problem also shows how little communication there is between Gabbert and his offense. A signal-caller with greater command of the huddle and the line of scrimmage would have exploited this pressure.
Gabbert has some intriguing physical tools which could allow him to be a playmaker at his position. He is an above-average runner and with some work on his technique can become better at attacking defenses deep.
However, unless he becomes more comfortable with the mental aspects of playing pro quarterback, Gabbert won't last. He must show the ability to read defensive adjustments and react to pressure looks.
A third system in three years is a lot for any young passer to take on. Yet, if Gabbert doesn't get an early command of the nuances of his scheme and apply that to what defenses show him, he won't keep his job beyond 2013.
All screenshots courtesy of CBS Sports, NFL Network and NFL.com Gamepass.
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