Jaguars Still Trying to Find Offensive Identity

So they’re off the hook for the Jaguars managing an NFL-low 39 points in four games.

Coach Jack Del Rio, though, can’t escape what’s happening in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars (1-3) are dealing with the worst offensive start in franchise history.

It’s partly to blame for switching quarterbacks twice since the end of the preseason. It also has something to do with identity issues on offense.

Del Rio talked all preseason about running the offense through Maurice Jones-Drew, then announced last week he wanted to open things up with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert following consecutive losses.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter responded by calling passes on nine of the first 10 plays, including seven in a row to start the game, in Sunday’s 23-10 loss to New Orleans.

Gabbert threw 24 passes in the first half alone. Jones-Drew, a two-time Pro Bowler off to his best start in six seasons, touched the ball three times.

“I got the same directive you guys heard,” Koetter said. “We’re going to grow with Blaine. We’re still going to use Mo. Mo looked great when he had the ball in his hands. Blaine is going to learn a lot and grow from this experience. It will do nothing but help us as we move forward.”

The Jaguars were more balanced after halftime, with Gabbert throwing 18 passes and Jones-Drew carrying eight times for 84 yards.

Nonetheless, Jacksonville came across somewhat lost in the play-calling department. With a receiving group that lacks a big-play receiver, an offensive line that was shuffled for the third consecutive week and facing New Orleans’ blitz-heavy scheme, the Jaguars chose to put a lot on the shoulders of their rookie QB.

The result was a third consecutive loss and a second straight 10-point performance.

“I think there are a lot of things that are very close,” Del Rio said Monday. “I recognize the fact that 10 points a game won’t get it done, and we have design on much better, much more, and need it. No amount of bellyaching is going to help that process improve.

“It’s execution, it’s taking care of the little details and making the plays that are there to be made. We need production, we need play-making and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Gabbert finished 16 of 42 for 196 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also was sacked three times.

But he showed signs of progress despite a second-half performance in which he completed just 4 of 18 passes. His 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Miller was one of his better throws of the day, and he made a lot of correct reads against the blitz.

But he sailed a bunch of throws and missed several wide-open receivers.

His performance was somewhat expected since it was his second career start and it came against a Saints team that has given rookies all sorts of problems in three years under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis said Gabbert’s struggles had to do with his footwork.

“Once Blaine tightens his footwork up, we’re going to be fine,” Lewis said. “These are things that can be fixed. We need to find a healthy balance, just like in life. It’s understanding what your role is and embracing that role. We’ll be better. … We’ve got to turn this thing around.

“We feel like garbage right now because we lost, but regardless if you win or lose, there are things you can learn from and be better from.”

The field crew has room for improvement, too. The crew botched several yard-line markers on one side of the field Sunday, painting arrows pointing in the wrong direction. The error got national attention, much like Jacksonville’s offensive woes and seemingly strange play calls.

“I think each week takes on its own identity, has its own set of challenges and so we want to be a complete football team,” Del Rio said. “We feel like we are running the ball well now, we feel like we have a passing game that’s on the verge of doing substantially better and we’re going to continue to work to be a complete football team.

“We need growth in that area. … We’ll put the plan together that we think gives us the best chance to win each week. Some weeks that’ll require a lot more running, some weeks it’ll require a lot more throwing, but we expect to be good at both.”

Jaguars to Start Rookie QB Gabbert at Panthers

Coach Jack Del Rio named Gabbert the starter Wednesday, switching signal callers three days after Luke McCown threw four interceptions against the New York Jets. The move comes a little more than a week after Del Rio released veteran starter David Garrard following a poor preseason and a three-interception practice.

Gabbert will make his first start Sunday at Carolina.

“He’s a big strong kid whose really been kind of a star quarterback his whole life,” Del Rio said. “We think he has a chance to be a franchise-type quarterback. He’s getting a chance now to be our starting quarterback and become that guy.”

The transition was inevitable since the Jaguars selected Gabbert with the 10th pick in April’s draft. Del Rio had hoped to take it slow with the former Missouri standout, even planning to give him a year to watch and learn behind Garrard. But Garrard struggled in the preseason and was outplayed by McCown, a career backup.

Del Rio named McCown the starter five days before the season opener. McCown did enough to win the opener against Tennessee, but his ninth start in eight seasons was a debacle. He was picked off four times, could have thrown a couple more and was sacked for a safety — all in just three quarters

McCown wanted a chance to redeem himself, but understood the decision.

“Who’s to say what one deserves,” McCown said. “It would do me or this team zero good to sit and say I deserve another chance. I didn’t perform last week and that’s just the blunt fact of it. I didn’t play well enough to give our team a chance to win. I’m big enough to stand up here and say that.”

McCown completed 6 of 19 passes for 59 yards against the Jets, finishing with a 1.8 quarterback rating.

The Jets won 32-3, the second worst loss in Del Rio’s nine-year tenure. And since he’s widely considered to be coaching for his future — team owner Wayne Weaver said the Jaguars need to make the playoffs for Del Rio to stick around another year — it was reasonable to wonder whether he would put his fate in the hands of a rookie quarterback.

Del Rio chuckled when asked whether he went to Weaver to see if playing 14 games with a first-year quarterback would change expectations.

“I don’t look at life like that,” Del Rio said. “I’m a competitive guy. We expect to be a good football team. That will not change. Absolutely not would be a better way to say it. The furthest thing from my mind.”

Gabbert threw 40 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions as a two-year starter at Missouri. Because of the NFL lockout, he missed minicamp, organized team activities and dozens of meetings with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

Nonetheless, he impressed coaches and teammates with his arm strength, pocket presence, situational awareness and speed.

Del Rio said he considered going with Gabbert after opting to part ways with Garrard. But chose to give McCown a chance. He said Gabbert has shown progress in two weeks.

“We’re excited,” Del Rio said. “There’s a little freshness to it. There’s big upside potential.”

Gabbert’s teammates rave about his confidence. Guard Uche Nwaneri recalled Gabbert’s first live huddle, at New England in the preseason opener. Gabbert stared everyone in the eyes, then yelled, “Let’s (expletive) go, guys,” Nwaneri said.

“He’s got all the confidence in the world,” Nwaneri said. “He’s got a good swagger about him. He knows what the challenge is going to be. I think he’ll thrive against the challenge. He was drafted high and he’s itching for an opportunity to get in and make an impact, and now he’s getting an opportunity to do that.”

Gabbert has wanted to be a starting quarterback in the NFL since he first played football at age 11, so he’s looking forward to it and expecting a few jitters.

“You’re always going to have butterflies,” Gabbert said. “When you’re doing something you love, that you care so much about and you put so much time and effort in throughout the week, you’re going to have butterflies. I think something’s wrong if you don’t have them. That just means the adrenaline’s going and you’re ready to go.”

Rookie QB Gabbert Works Out With Jaguars Teammates

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — First-round draft pick quarterback Blaine Gabbert says it was a “blast” working out with 27 of his Jacksonville Jaguars players who practiced together for the first time at an area high school.

Previously, the players had been working in small groups throughout the area to stay in shape through the NFL lockout.

Gabbert, the 10th pick overall out of Missouri, spent much of the hour and a half practice taking instruction from starting quarterback David Garrard and throwing to a variety of receivers, including Cecil Shorts III, the Jags’ fourth-round pick.

Gabbert says it’s good to “have the opportunity to work out a little bit and throw the ball around.”

Gabbert says he arrived in town Sunday and has been working out with his group since.