Jaguars’ Gabbert practices, feels ‘great’

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It’s not easy being the 1-5 Jacksonville Jaguars. Ranked near the bottom of the league in every major statistical category, the team started its week by having to rule out three-time Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) from this Sunday’s game against the Packers.

There also was some concern whether the injury suffered by quarterback Blaine Gabbert to his non-throwing shoulder would keep him out of the Jaguars’ lineup this weekend.

However, with Gabbert able to take part in the team’s entire Wednesday practice, he felt optimistic he’d be ready to lead his team on to Lambeau Field and attempt to pull off an upset victory on the road.

“I feel great,” Gabbert said in a teleconference with the Wisconsin media. “You’ve just got to do your best not to worry about it. It’s not going to affect anybody if you don’t think about it. It’s just mind over matter. You’ve just got to go out there, practice, keep practicing and learn the game plan.”

Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft, has not had much success early in his career. Since taking over as Jacksonville’s starting quarterback in Week 3 last season, he’s won only five games, has never thrown three touchdown passes in a single game and has yet to surpass 260 yards in a game.

But new Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey isn’t ready to give up on the quarterback he inherited.

“I think he had a tough situation when he got here (in 2011) with no offseason (due to the lockout), not being the starter in training camp so getting limited reps and, by default, being thrown in there as a 21-year-old,” Mularkey said. “I just think there were a lot of things going against him: ownership change, coaching changes, all those things just never really gave him a chance to establish himself or even progress as a quarterback.”

Gabbert finished last season with the worst passer rating in the NFL (65.4) and is currently ranked 28th out of 33 quarterbacks this season with a 77.1 rating.

Mularkey is hoping that the addition of quarterbacks coach Greg Olson will help Gabbert’s development.

“He’s coached a lot of very good quarterbacks, including Drew Brees,” Mularkey said. “I think I see steady progress with Blaine. I think we have a lot of room to still grow maturity-wise and in his level of play. I thought he was one of our most improved guys in training camp.

“He’s a different quarterback in the pocket than he was last year, and a lot of that has to do with just time with Greg. Obviously the starts are invaluable for him.”

Gabbert isn’t getting much help from his group of wide receivers. The Jaguars drafted Justin Blackmon with the fifth overall pick this offseason, but he’s been a significant disappointment thus far. Blackmon has been targeted by Gabbert 37 times but has caught only 14 of those throws for 126 yards and no touchdowns. Blackmon also has dropped three passes.

“We can help (Gabbert) in other areas that will help his progress be more rapid if we can protect him a little better and do a little better outside with catching the ball,” Mularkey said. “Right now, after six games, we’ve got 20 drops. That’s not good.”

Even if Gabbert is able to start in Sunday’s game, not having the running threat of Jones-Drew will only add to the difficult task of beating the 4-3 and surging Packers. But the Jaguars, who went through training camp without Jones-Drew due to a contract holdout, aren’t using his injury as an excuse.

“Maurice is a great player, but the philosophy we have here, and NFL teams around the league have, is it’s the next man up,” Gabbert said. “Next guy up has to step up and execute at an extremely high level so we don’t miss a beat on offense.

“And (backup running back) Rashad (Jennings) did a phenomenal job throughout the preseason, carrying the workload, and he’s going to continue to do that.”

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