JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Whether you prefer to call it an open competition or a controversy, there is at least no longer any question about who the Jacksonville Jaguars will start at quarterback when they open their preseason Friday night against the Miami Dolphins.
Coach Gus Bradley said Thursday that Blaine Gabbert, the starter for most of his two seasons in the NFL, will get the nod ahead of Chad Henne. But he made it clear that Henne, the former Dolphin who took over for an injured Gabbert toward the end of last season, will get to work with the first-string offensive line for part of his time under the lights.
Gabbert and Henne will be two of the few recognizable names on the Jaguars’ offense to many fans in attendance. Maurice Jones-Drew is being held out as a precautionary measure because of concerns about his conditioning, and the running back who was signed in the offseason to back him up (Justin Forsett) is still nursing a toe injury. And with Justin Blackmon on the physically unable to perform list and Cecil Shorts having suffered a strained calf Monday, the starting wide receivers will be a rookie (Ace Sanders) and someone who has never caught a pass in a regular-season game (Mike Brown).
“It’s still an ongoing deal,” Bradley said of the situation involving Gabbert and Henne. “We understand they’re both in competition, like a lot of places on our team. But we just felt that would give them both an opportunity.”
“It’s the preseason,” Henne said. “Nobody has decided anything in the preseason yet. It’s still a competition here, and I’m just excited about my opportunity to get on the field.”
Bradley cited Gabbert’s poise and progress during practice the last few days in training camp as a large reason why he decided Wednesday night to start him instead of Henne. The two of them were both listed as first string on the depth chart the Jaguars put out earlier in the week.
The number of snaps both of them are expected to take was not given.
“We’re not counting reps,” Gabbert said. “We’re going to go out there, get our job done, get in some quality work. And then whatever happens, happens.”
“We know there’s going to be some timing and things like that we’ll have to work out,” Bradley said. “So we have to look at the big picture — how they handle the huddle, how they handle situations, how they control the team and the clock. There’s a wide variety of things we’re looking at, not just completions and attempts.”
One thing Bradley is definitely not yet looking at — who will start in the Jaguars’ next preseason game at the New York Jets.
“We have not even discussed what we’re doing on Saturday as a staff, much less next week with the quarterback situation,” he said.
Jones-Drew, who is coming off an injury-riddled season that ended with him undergoing foot surgery, was participating regularly in drills since camp began and had a few carries in the team’s non-contact scrimmage last Saturday night. He was told Thursday morning about the decision, which Bradley said included input from general manager Dave Caldwell.
Jordan Todman, who spent most of 2012 on the practice squad of the Minnesota Vikings, will open in his absence.
“It’s one of those things like, ‘All right, coach, I hear you. But if Todman goes out there and runs for 300 yards, we’re going to have us a problem,'” Jones-Drew said with a smile. “But it’s good. It’s good competition. And I think he’s going to do well, as our other running backs will.”
“He’s going in the right direction, but we felt that was needed for his recovery and his continued progress,” Bradley said of the NFL’s leading rusher two years ago. “And we want to be smart with him and not force anything. But we’re pleased with where he’s at right now.”
Sanders, Brown, Jordan Shipley and free-agent signing Mohamed Massaquoi stand to benefit from Shorts and Blackmon being unavailable, although the game could turn into more of an audition for players on the bubble such as Jeremy Ebert, Toney Clemons and Tobias Palmer. And while the first-string line appears set, including first-round draft pick Luke Joeckel, there remains concern about the depth behind the five starters.
On defense, the Jaguars will open with several new starters from a year ago — defensive tackles Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks, outside linebacker Geno Hayes and cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball. Safety Chris Prosinski made six starts last season and will be at strong safety instead of rookie Johnathan Cyprien, who injured his right hamstring running sprints before the beginning of camp and has still yet to practice.
Tyson Alualu has been moved from tackle to defensive end, although Bradley said he expects Alualu to line up as a tackle in third-down passing situations. At 26, Alualu is among a host of players under the age of 30 of whom much is expected.
“We have a young team,” Bradley said. “So it’s important to get those guys reps and get them in that atmosphere and see if they can stay and operate in that manner.” Defensive end Jeremy Mincey, defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick and rookie cornerback Jeremy Harris will also not be in uniform because of injuries.