VOL. 133 | NO. 173 | Friday, August 31, 2018
Attitude, Ability Give Gabbert NFL Longevity
Terry McCormick, Nashville Sports Correspondent
Entering his eighth professional season, Blaine Gabbert has had many labels attached to his NFL career.
First-round pick. Franchise savior. Bust. Backup. Journeyman. But maybe what fits him best is survivor.
Consider this: Since being taken 10th overall in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2011 draft, Gabbert has never played for the same coach two years in a row. When he suits up to play on Sept. 9 as the Tennessee Titans’ backup quarterback to Marcus Mariota, Gabbert will play for his ninth head coach since coming into the league.
Gabbert was a first-round selection of the Jaguars when Jack Del Rio was still head coach. Del Rio was fired 11 games into Gabbert’s rookie season and replaced on an interim basis by Mel Tucker to finish the 2011 season.
Titans quarterback Blaine Gabbert had his most productive season as a rookie in 2011 when he threw for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns for Jacksonville. He had five starts and seven appearances last season. AP Photo/James Kenney
After that, Gabbert played for Mike Mularkey in 2012 and Gus Bradley in 2013. Gabbert won just five games in three years as the Jaguars’ starter for a team that itself finished 11-37 during his three-year run there.
Gabbert was traded to San Francisco before the 2014 season began, where his coach was Jim Harbaugh. But when Harbaugh left for Michigan in 2015, in came Jim Tomsula, who was fired after one year and replaced by Chip Kelly in 2016.
Gabbert started 13 games over three years with the 49ers.
Last season, Gabbert was on the move again to Arizona, where he started five games for Bruce Arians before coming to the Titans this year.
Through all the ups and downs of coaching changes and going from first-round franchise savior as a rookie to being a journeyman quarterback on his fourth NFL stop, Gabbert still enjoys playing football.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been in a lot of good quarterback rooms and been surrounded by a lot of great players and coaches. Anything that I can add to this locker room and the quarterback room, I’m willing to do,” Gabbert says.
Gabbert isn’t the first quarterback taken with a high draft pick who didn’t pan out and become a franchise starter. But unlike many who wash out when they don’t reach the expectations that come with being a first-round pick, Gabbert has managed to survive and stay in the NFL. Surviving in that realm is not completely unusual, but it isn’t exactly the norm either.
For every Gabbert who learns to live life as an NFL backup there are any number of players like JaMarcus Russell, Tim Couch, Cade McNown or Akili Smith who simply slip away once their star has faded.
The Titans, in fact, have had two of their own first-round quarterbacks slip off the radar after not living up to the hype and hope predicted for them.
Vince Young played just one more season in the NFL after his time with the Titans was done. Jake Locker, chosen two picks before Gabbert in 2011, apparently lost his love of the game and walked away after 2015 to spend time with family.
Gabbert says is it about staying confident when the opportunities come and staying that way even when they don’t.
“Every quarterback has the same mindset. When you’re out on the field, you’re the guy, and you can never lose sight of that,” he said.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson says mindset is a big determining factor in whether a quarterback like Gabbert can stay long-term in the league.
“I think it’s is up to the player. If they are accepting of a different role and are willing to prepare like a starter but know that they might not see the field, then they can have a chance,” Robinson says.
The Titans’ GM pursued Gabbert in the off-season, knowing the team needed to upgrade at the second quarterback position from the immobile Matt Cassel. Gabbert, who had led the Arizona Cardinals to a win against the Titans last year when Tennessee was battling for the playoffs and Arizona was not, made a good impression on Robinson.
“He’s mobile, has good arm strength and has made some plays in the league. He had a good visit, and we thought would fit in well with our guys,” Robinson says.
When you have rolled through so many coaches and systems, as Gabbert has in his career, you learn to adapt quickly. And that’s what he is doing once again in learning Matt LaFleur’s scheme to be ready to not only help when called upon but help Marcus Mariota.
“You’re trying to learn the system as fast as possible,” Gabbert says.
“When you’re going and learning a new system, it’s all about learning the little things, trying to master it as fast as possible, but you can’t skip any details along the way.
“The faster you can get up to speed and start talking the current language you are in, the faster you’re going to grasp that system and master it.”
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com