The scorching hot flames of a quarterback situation in Jacksonville back in 2011 through 2013 highlighted the team's extremely disappointing run as a franchise as of late. The team's dependable veteran, David Garrard, had injuries catch up to his career that would later force him to never step on an NFL field ever again. It seemed that the Jacksonville Jaguars had hope again, and that hope came with Missouri product, Blaine Gabbert.
In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Jaguars were coming off an 8-8 season, one game from winning the division after falling apart in December under former head coach Jack Del Rio. However, past general manager Gene Smith looked to the future of the team instead of bolstering what was already there. They held the 16th overall selection (who was later selected to be Pro Bowl defensive end Ryan Kerrigan) and decided to trade up with the Washington NFL team, who held the 10th overall selection, to select the apparent next great quarterback in Blaine Gabbert.
Many people remember the 2011 offseason infamously due to the NFL Lockout from the NFLPA and the owner's debating on who should receive the majority of the funds the NFL receives every single year, in which the players demanded more of the money from the league's revenue. During the offseason, players could not go to team facilities in order to prepare for the season with the coaching staff, and could have set Gabbert back from the season. However, many experts and coaches agreed that Blaine was not supposed to be a year one starter quarterback; he was deemed to be a learner to sit behind a proper mentor to prepare for the daunting task of running an NFL offense. Well, it never came way.
The Jacksonville Jaguars decided to part ways with David Garrard, who seemed to have been worn out with the team, and put third string quarterback Luke McCown as the team's starting quarterback to start the 2011 season. Things started off well for the Jaguars, as they won their first game of the season against the Tennessee Titans, but then an abysmal performance by McCown the next week, in which he threw four interceptions in a single game against the New York Jets, and would become the day that the Jaguars threw Gabbert right into the fire. The Jaguars would eventually end the season with a 5-11 record, an interim head coach, and many questions rather than answers all around the franchise.
The Jaguars were now sold to the Pakistani Shad Khan, known from the automobile parts manufacturer Flex-N-Gate and the first owner of an NFL franchise that is a minority, and many questions even loomed if the team would even stay in the city. While he intended and vowed to keep the team in Jacksonville, he had a lot of work to do with the personnel on the team. He did retain general manager Gene Smith and Khan said he would not be involved in the football operations part of the franchise, as he wanted to focus more on the business part of the franchise. Gene Smith would go out and hire former Buffalo Bills head coach Mike Mularkey to become the team's fourth head coach in franchise history and help mold Gabbert to become a perennial franchise quarterback.
His rookie season did not wow people, finishing 2011 with a 50.8% completion rate with only 2,214 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 games played with 14 of those games being NFL starts. However, with the mix of optimists and pessimists around the team, there was a reason for hope in the 2012 season. Especially with the arrival of another player the Jaguars went out and traded up for in the first round in wide receiver Justin Blackmon, in hopes to give Gabbert a reliable number one receiving option. There were problems in Gabbert's style of play that many thought could be fixed. However, he seemed to crack under duress of pressure, especially when blitzed, where he collapsed in the pocket and would take a sack, which was awkward for a quarterback with his size and mobility. He also might have done the "chuck-and-duck" maneuver, which might have put the ball in bad positions for the Jaguars. It was not the most favorable of problems for the quarterback.
As the 2012 season played on, it was the same issues were popping up. As his errant play continued, as it caused many situations for the team in which they would have multiple three-and-outs, one of the worst in the league. As the season rolled on, the team was 1-7 heading to a Thursday Night game against the rookie Andrew Luck led Indianapolis Colts, who the Jaguars beat earlier in the season. However, Blaine Gabbert received a right forearm injury that would force him to have surgery and end his season right then and there. He finished the 2012 season with a 58.3% completion rate with 1,662 yards, nine touchdowns, and six interceptions in ten starts.
Jaguars' owner Shad Khan decided to scrap everything once the season was over, firing both the general manager Gene Smith and head coach Mike Mularkey after a horrid 2-14 season. However, under new team management in general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley, they decided to keep their faith in Blaine Gabbert. The then 23 year-old during the 2013 offseason was saved by the owner's son, Tony Khan, the team's Senior Vice President and head of the Football Technology & Analytics department, who had a certain statistic to defend his play, with analytics showing the he was a top-ten quarterback when given more than three seconds to throw the football. This may have prompted the Jaguars to go with offensive tackle Luke Joeckel with the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and the team not deciding to select a quarterback that year, as faith remained in Gabbert.
However, into year three in his NFL career, injuries plagued Blaine Gabbert once again. He suffered a right thumb injury in the preseason, which did not affect his play time, until the Jaguars were nearing the end of a 27-2 defeat against the Kansas City Chiefs, where he suffered a lacerated right hand, which made him miss the next game. He then suffered another injury against the St. Louis Rams, this time his hamstring, in a game where he threw his only touchdown of the season, to another now-forgotten Jaguar in Blackmon, before being ultimately benched for Chad Henne. He finished the 2013 season with a 48.8% completion rate with only 481 yards, one touchdown, and seven interceptions, being his worst season as an NFL quarterback and a lock for one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.
During the 2014 offseason, in a shock move, the Jacksonville Jaguars dealt the former 2011 first round selection to the San Francisco 49ers, in exchange for a 6th round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. This was a quote from former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh commenting about the trade for Gabbert:
"I think he's a very talented player and his career so far hasn't gone on to be what he expected, and maybe others expected it to be. But I believe it can be a really powerful opportunity, powerful motivator for a player to say, 'It wasn't me, it was my situation.' And now he has that opportunity."
He was to become the back-up for Colin Kaepernick, who was drafted 36th overall in the same draft as Blaine Gabbert. He only made a single appearance for the 49ers in the 2014 season, in where the 49ers were getting blown out by the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field in Mile High, where he completed three out of his seven attempts for 38 yards and a touchdown, marking his only appearance for the Niners that season.
Now, he has been put as the starting quarterback for the 49ers, after a bad string of games for the struggling Kaepernick. Whether it was an issue from poor management in owner Jed York, general manager Trent Baalke, and head coach Jim Tomsula, or the actual regression from the former Nevada quarterback, Gabbert gets another opportunity to start a game as an NFL quarterback. His career has been attached to the loss of so many jobs in Jacksonville and the end of the dreadful Gene Smith regime that set the Jaguars to rebuild once again. Now he will be the getting the nod to play against the Atlanta Falcons this coming Sunday.
"Sunshine" Blaine Gabbert will be the man for the 49ers, who look to be heading on a downward slope and not far from entering a rebuilding mode, and will be looking to see if he will be the quarterback everyone saw as a bust in Jacksonville or become a reborn player in a seemingly hopeless situation. It's time to hop aboard the "Blaine Train" once again; it is going to be an interesting ride.