JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dressed in sandals, warm-up pants and a Jacksonville Jaguars workout shirt, coach Jack Del Rio is the picture of relaxed. All the swirling pressures surrounding his team seem like so much sand from the beach near the house he just moved into.
Yeah, it could be a little irritating, but you just brush it off.
Even as the Jaguars struggle to sell tickets while hearing weekly rumors about how the team is eventually headed to Los Angeles, there's no panic. The Jaguars have a plan in place, and they're going to follow it. Even if it means holding off on the obvious.
After a month, there is little doubt that rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert(notes) is better than incumbent starter David Garrard(notes). Way better. Gabbert's superior arm strength, decisiveness, poise and footwork compared to that of Garrard is as easy to spot as a plotline on a Kardashian reality show.
During an Aug. 19 preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, Gabbert's ability to set up quickly (he is still perfecting his drop after playing in a shotgun formation his entire career at Missouri) and throw was faintly reminiscent of Dan Marino. Little wasted motion, from his feet to his delivery. Of course, Marino was a savant. Gabbert, who can run better than most people would expect, is a puppy right now.
Del Rio doesn't disagree, saying of Gabbert, "It's pretty easy to see we have a guy who could be that franchise quarterback everybody talks about having, if we handle it right." No one in Jacksonville has ever used the term "franchise quarterback" with Garrard.
But just as easily as Del Rio says that, he and the rest of the Jaguars make clear Gabbert's time isn't now.
"Those people who talk about there being a quarterback competition, they're not in this room," running back Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) said. "How can you have a competition when one of the guys doesn't even know the whole playbook yet?"
That's not a knock on Gabbert, who is plenty smart. It's just common sense. While it's easy to see that Gabbert has a firm grasp of parts of the offense he's learned, what he has learned isn't enough. Not even close.
"This is maybe where we would have been by the end of June, maybe," Del Rio said when asked to compare the work the Jaguars have done with a typical year that included a full offseason. "Maybe not even that much. By June, you'd probably have repped everything three times at full speed by now."
That is why, when it comes to discussing the ascendancy of Gabbert, most everyone here smiles politely and gives some variation on the "not today" theme.
"For a young guy, he's very quick and poised on the stuff he knows," cornerback Rashean Mathis(notes) said, his voice trailing off slightly on the final five words of that statement. "You can see that he's quick and decisive when he knows where to throw. But there's a lot of stuff he has just started to learn."
Again, Gabbert has the acumen to pick it up fast. As he talks about what he sees each time he comes to the line, his passion for breaking down coverages is obvious. He talks rapidly and excitedly, like a gifted student who wants to consume knowledge, not just learn it. As he rattles off coverages and defensive looks, his hands flow through the air and you can see him imagining the situations in his head.
"The stuff we're seeing from the defenses right now is really vanilla, I know that," Gabbert said. "It's probably a little more sophisticated than you might see some years because even the defenses have to work on some things they didn't do in the offseason. But it's not anything close to what I know I'm going to see when the games really start. The pre-snap stuff might be close, but the post-snap stuff is nowhere near it."
Putting Gabbert out there before he's armed with a full understanding of the offense could be disastrous. At least that's what the Jaguars think.
"It's the same thing we've said from Day 1 when we drafted him: We're going to give him time to fully develop before we put him out there," Del Rio said.
He paused slightly when asked if Gabbert might see action by some point in the season. All of that will obviously depend on how the season unfolds. The more important issue is that Del Rio doesn't seem swayed by outside pressure. There is neither a desire to play Garrard just to win a few games in the short run. Nor is there a desire to put Gabbert in before he's ready, so that Del Rio can somehow latch on to the youngster's coattails.
As Del Rio enters his ninth season with Jacksonville, he has routinely been placed on various "hot seat" lists. When Del Rio and his wife completed the sale of their house in June and moved to a new place near the Atlantic Ocean, it was viewed by some as an indication that he was getting ready to leave after this season.
Not so, Del Rio said.
"It's the second time I've sold a house since I've been here. That's not what we did that for, trust me," he said.
Del Rio's son Luke is at a rather critical stage in his athletic life. Luke Del Rio, a junior in high school, is considered a Division I prospect as a quarterback. He recently transferred from local powerhouse Bolles High School, with its traditional Wing-T, run-based offense, to Episcopal, which plays a pass-oriented spread attack.
To put it another way, Del Rio isn't just planning for one quarterback.
And the plan isn't just about today.
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- Jack Del Rio