Jacksonville’s Quarterback Dilemma

When the Jacksonville Jaguars traded up to select Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert 10th-overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, then-coach Jack Del Rio and former general manager Gene Smith could not have predicted a Jacksonville franchise with such a question mark at quarterback.

The biggest news out of camp concerning who’s playing under center revolves around a former first-round bust (Gabbert) and a second-round bust (Chad Henne). Gabbert’s woes are well documented in Jacksonville — a disastrous rookie season that garnered the label of “the fifth-worst season we’ve ever measured” by Football Outsiders along with league lows in yards per attempt (5.4), passer rating (65.4) and quarterback fumbles (14), while ranking second-worst in completion percentage (50.8).

In 24 starts in the past two seasons, the Jaguars have gone 5-19 with Gabbert under center. Henne’s poor play to finish out the season (1-5 record, 7:10 TD:INT ratio) following Gabbert’s torn labrum in week 11 may be the only reason why Gabbert still has a shot at beating out the former Dolphins veteran.

Henne had an up-and-down four-year stint with Miami following a 57th-overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, never once managing a passer rating of 80.0 or throwing more touchdowns than interceptions in a season. Henne played sparingly as a rookie behind starter Chad Pennington, and only started in 2009 following a season-ending pair of injuries to Pennington in week three. In four seasons Henne started only 31 games (13-18 record) and was not re-signed by the Dolphins after his rookie contract ended.

This offseason marked the addition of two undrafted free-agents following the 2013 NFL Draft — Matt Scott (Arizona) and Jordan Rodgers (Vanderbilt), the brother of star Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Both Scott and Rodgers are lauded as project quarterbacks with plus arm strength and athleticism that need work in both decision making and picking up an NFL-style offense. While Rodgers may be out of luck following a sports hernia surgery that has kept him sidelined, Scott looked to have the third quarterback spot locked up until the addition of another young quarterback — ex-Eagles 2010 fourth-round pick Mike Kafka.

Originally selected by Philadelphia to learn behind Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb as the third quarterback, Kafka was displaced following the third-round selection of Nick Foles out of Arizona last year. Kafka spent 2012 searching for a job, only to find his first offer in the form of an a reserve/future contract in early January from the Patriots — who would later cut Kafka to make room for media hype Tim Tebow in early June.

Kafka offers the Jaguars very little in the way of arm strength, but is a smart passer with excellent accuracy. This polish could appeal to coach Gus Bradley for the third quarterback role over either project players Scott and Rodgers, and general manager David Caldwell stated that Jacksonville had interest in Kafka as a player to push Gabbert prior to his addition by the Patriots.

As of now, the camp battle is up for grabs between Gabbert and Henne. Kafka’s addition is more of a sideshow at this point in the quarterback competition, but preseason struggles by either Gabbert or Henne could change the coaching staff’s perspective on Kafka.

This doesn’t mean that Jacksonville is standing pat with their talent under center. Caldwell has made it clear his staff is looking into the 2014 quarterback crop, including the likes of Tahj Boyd (Clemson) and Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville). While every team will look into the upcoming draft class’ quarterbacks, regardless of talent on their roster, this is a very important indication that Gabbert is in a make-or-break season — if he can’t prove on the field that he’s worthy of the time and money Jacksonville has invested, he’ll likely be getting a one-way ticket out of town after the 2013 campaign.

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