JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blaine Gabbert won the competition to be the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars the old-fashioned way: He earned it.
But while first-year coach Gus Bradley takes a bit of pride in being unconventional, the way in which Gabbert will prepare for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 is far from what he and the Jaguars might have in mind.
The announcement Monday that the third-year pro and former first-round draft pick out of Missouri had beaten out six-year veteran Chad Henne was coupled with the news that Gabbert will miss the final two preseason games due to a hairline fracture of his right thumb. An MRI revealed the injury on Gabbert’s passing hand after X-rays Saturday night during the Jaguars’ 37-13 loss to the New York Jets were negative.
Gabbert had connected on 13 of his first 15 passes for 165 yards before hitting his hand on the arm of Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson on a second-quarter incompletion. So Henne, who started the final six games of the 2012 season and also relieved Gabbert four times, will get to work almost exclusively with the first-string offense when the Jaguars host the Philadelphia Eagles in what is regarded as the closest thing to a dry run before teams start playing for keeps.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Bradley said of the injury, after seeing on film that Gabbert’s thumb was bent back on the follow through.
Gabbert will wear a hard splint and hopes to be able to participate in everything during practice the next two weeks excluding drills against the defense.
“It’s one of those deals that if it feels good on Friday or Saturday, I’ll give it a shot,” he said. “At the same time, you just have to be cautious with something like this and let it heal itself.”
“He’ll be out on the practice field,” Bradley said. “He’ll be doing calls. We’ll keep him involved. We’re just making sure he doesn’t bump it or hit it or anything like that.”
Gabbert was the starter two weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins and again when the Jaguars faced the Jets. He raised his quarterback rating to 86.1 in his second outing, while Henne’s fell to 53.1 after a 4-of-10 performance that included an interception. But it was more than game competition alone that Bradley said went into the decision he made with input from general manager Dave Caldwell, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo.
“It’s my hope to stay really patient with him,” he said. “We can help him being strong in finding out what his strengths are and then putting him in those positions. I’m not a knee-jerk reaction type person, and I hope I don’t go to that. That’s why we could have tried to name one earlier, but in my mind, I wanted to make sure that when we did it, it was a time when we had strong conviction.”
Asked about being named the starter, Gabbert replied, “It’s a nice opportunity, but it doesn’t end here.”
And Henne intends to prepare as if he’ll get the nod beyond the game against the Eagles and the final preseason contest at Atlanta.
“Obviously from my standpoint, it’s disappointing,” he said. “But I’m going to be the same person. I’m going to keep competing each and every day, try to better myself each and every day. I’m behind this team 100 percent. I’m behind Blaine. And whatever I can do to help is what I’m going to do.”
Even if Gabbert gets cleared to practice the week before the Jaguars open against the Kansas City Chiefs, he won’t be able to work with wide receiver Justin Blackmon, their top draft pick a year ago.
Blackmon, who had three catches for 37 yards in his preseason debut against the Jets, is not allowed to be anywhere near the team during the four-week suspension the NFL imposed on him earlier this summer.
Cecil Shorts III, their leading receiver last season based on yardage, has not practiced for almost two weeks because of a calf strain but could be ready to go Tuesday, Bradley said.
Gabbert’s injury ended a week that began with the offense looking so sloppy in practice that tight end Marcedes Lewis felt compelled to call an impromptu on-the-field meeting.
Gabbert was noticeably sharper the next several days and then went 4-of-4 on the Jaguars’ opening drive against the Jets with completions to four different receivers, including a 20-yard swing pass to running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
“Every day is not going to be perfect,” Lewis said. “It’s about being able to get better and not dwelling on things you may have messed up on because at the end of the day, we’ve still got to continue to play. So it’s great for his confidence that he was able to do that, and it’s great for him now that he has a little clarity going forward.”
“It’s just always good to compete,” said Jones-Drew, who was playing in his first game since a foot injury last October that required Lisfranc surgery. “It brings the best out of you. You saw that Saturday. And Blaine earned it.”