Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio is sticking with his starting quarterback. This time, he really means it.
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Del Rio said that rookie Blaine Gabbert will start Monday night’s game against San Diego.
Del Rio backed Gabbert after Sunday’s 20-13 loss against Houston, but since Del Rio showed similar support for David Garrard before cutting him the week of the opener, there was speculation the coach would return to Luke McCown.
”I would just say that, right now, Blaine’s the quarterback,” Del Rio said Monday. ”He’s doing some things that are pretty good at times and he’s doing some things that he’ll need to do better going forward.
”He’s not the only one on the field. There are other people that need to do things, whether it be blocking, running routes or catching the ball that will help him have better days and will help us have better days. Clearly, the head coach and the quarterback are the two people that are directly tied to winning and losing, and if you don’t win, then those are the two people who are going to hear the most.”
Gabbert completed 13 of 29 passes for 136 yards, with an interception, against the Texans. He was sacked a season-high six times, showing more indecision in the pocket.
Del Rio benched the 22-year-old former Missouri standout midway through the fourth quarter, putting the offense in McCown’s hands for the final two drives. McCown provided a spark by leading the team to a field goal, but his fourth-down pass in the closing minutes fell incomplete and the Jaguars (3-8) were all but eliminated from the AFC South.
McCown finished 7 of 11 passing for 62 yards.
”The backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town if you’re not doing well offensively in the game of football,” Del Rio said. ”These are decisions that I’ve got to make and I’ll make them and we’ll go forward.”
Gabbert has completed 48.5 percent of his passes for 1,371 yards, with six touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s been sacked 28 times, ranks 33rd in the league in QB rating and is seemingly way behind fellow rookies Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder.
His problems have become obvious: He gets rattled under pressure, is woefully inaccurate on short throws and doesn’t appear to be making much progress.
”I think it’s fair to say he’s going to have to operate with pressure in his face at a higher level that what we’ve seen thus far,” Del Rio said. ”Part of that is the responsibility of us making sure that we’re affording him the kind of protection that a quarterback should have. Part of that is him being able to stand in the face of it and make decisions and be on time and accurate. That’s part of playing that position.”
He could use more help, too.
Jacksonville’s offensive line, even though the same unit has started five consecutive games, has been mediocre at best. And the game’s receivers have dropped balls routinely all season. On Sunday, tight end Marcedes Lewis dropped a pass in the end zone with no one around him, and the Jaguars settled for a short field goal in a close game.
”I know my abilities. This team knows my abilities,” Gabbert said after the game. ”We’ve just got to execute. It’s a team sport. Everybody has got to do their job on a daily basis and we’ll go up. But right now we’re not doing that and we’re losing football games.”
The Jaguars have lost 11 of their last 14 games dating to last season, making it likely that Del Rio will be fired during or shortly after the season.
Team owner Wayne Weaver has declined to talk about Del Rio’s future. Del Rio, meanwhile, said he is solely focused on getting his team ready for the next game.
”This is not a time to stop and think of selfish things,” Del Rio said. ”This is a time to continue to commit to the team and do all I can, give all the energy I can to this football team.”