JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Griping about the play of their quarterbacks has become almost as common among fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars as griping about the heat and humidity this time of year.
All it took Thursday was the sight of Blaine Gabbert throwing the ball out of bounds while rolling out to his right to get some diehards in attendance at the final day of minicamp plenty hot and bothered.
Gus Bradley knows that his patience and relentlessly upbeat demeanor will be tested at times by Gabbert, Chad Henne and every other quarterback the Jaguars will bring to training camp next month. He’s hardly the first head coach to have experienced those feelings. The thing that matters most to him is how the person entrusted with running the offense can respond to adversity. Both Gabbert and Henne got far too much practice at that a year ago when the Jaguars stumbled their way to a 2-14 record, the worst in franchise history.
“That’s what I talked to our quarterbacks about: Demonstrate belief to us,” Bradley said. “If you do something, if you make a mistake, those things happen. What we’re looking for more is how you bounce back.”
Gabbert, who has thrown 17 interceptions and been sacked 62 times in 25 regular-season games, spent more time Thursday working with the first-string offensive line than Henne did. Based on that, he would appear to have the inside track on the starting position.
But with the Jaguars going on their third offensive coordinator in as many years in Jedd Finch, Gabbert is taking nothing for granted.
“I wasn’t the first quarterback to have that happen to,” he said. “And I won’t be the last.”
Henne started the final six games of last season after a shoulder injury to Gabbert. Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell have made repeated references over the past five months to open competition, and Henne is taking their word for it.
“The coaches haven’t said anything to us,” he said, “so if they don’t say anything, I feel like I’m in the running. Obviously it’s their decision in the end who they feel comfortable with, but for me, it’s just give them every hope I can do it and lead this team.”
Behind Gabbert and Henne are Mike Kafka, who was claimed off waivers Tuesday from the New England Patriots, and rookie free agent Matt Scott. Another undrafted rookie, Jordan Rodgers, was at minicamp but unable to practice because he is coming off groin surgery.
Kafka became available after the Patriots signed Tim Tebow, whose every move since the Jaguars bypassed him in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft has been scrutinized in his hometown. But there is too much for Kafka to do in terms of understanding Finch’s system of attacking the defense and simply getting better for him to dwell on anything Tebow-related.
“None of that matters now,” he said. “My head’s right here.”
Should Kafka, Scott and Rodgers all be brought to camp with Gabbert and Henne, the Jaguars would join the Philadelphia Eagles as the only teams with five quarterbacks on their roster.
“I’m not opposed to it,” Caldwell said. “Obviously it’s a valuable position.”
“We’re just always evaluating that spot,” Bradley said. “And we’ll take any and all good players that we can.”
The Jaguars need to upgrade on both sides of the line. So it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that Bradley, most recently the defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks, is relying on Fisch and quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo to determine how well the quarterbacks are getting a grasp of the offense.
“I’m working a lot with the defense,” he said. “But I do try to split up the time and work with our offense, or at least watch them and evaluate them. The things that I’m looking for from the quarterbacks probably are different from what Frank and Jedd are looking for. My mindset is I want him to be the leader. I want him to compete, play in and play out, and demonstrate his belief. It’s that simple.”
But when pressed for an answer to the simple question of who is the front-runner at the position, Bradley was coy.
“I know that’s going to be a big topic throughout training camp: When are we going to make that decision? But I love it the way it is right now where the guys are competing,” he said. “And I don’t think it should affect their leadership. I don’t think, ‘Oh, you’ve become a stronger leader now that you’re a No. 1.’ ”