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Missouri's Blaine Gabbert prepares for NFL Draft

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 | 9:00 p.m. CDT; updated 9:36 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 28, 2011
Former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert laughs with his former teammates during the spring NCAA college football scrimmage game Saturday, April 16, 2011, in Columbia. Mo.

Bev Gabbert is controlling what she can.

For the most part, it’s life as usual. There’s laundry to do. There are granola bars and Gatorade to pack, snacks for her youngest son, 10-year-old Brett Gabbert. And there’s a trip to plan, coordinating flights to New York for five people.

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Several other former Missouri players will likely be selected in the NFL Draft or will sign as undrafted free agents afterwards. 

Aldon Smith
Smith, a defensive end, is a projected first-round pick. He has worked out for 12 teams, and some likely candidates to select Smith include the Dallas Cowboys (ninth pick overall), Houston Texans (11), Minnesota Vikings (12), St. Louis Rams (14) and Jacksonville Jaguars (16). Smith was one of three Tigers (Blaine Gabbert and Kevin Rutland were the others) invited to the NFL combine in February. Like Gabbert, Smith was one of 25 prospects invited to New York for the draft.

Kevin Rutland
Rutland, a cornerback who was invited to the combine and worked out at Missouri's pro day, is projected to be drafted in a late round or sign as an undrafted free agent.

Tim Barnes
Barnes, a center, has been projected as anywhere from a fourth-round selection to a priority free agent. He has met with teams including the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens.

Andrew Gachkar
Gachkar, a linebacker, has worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs and has been contacted by other teams. He is projected to sign as an undrafted free agent.

Carl Gettis, another cornerback, and Jarrell Harrison, a safety, are also entering their names into the draft, but will most likely have to sign as undrafted free agents.

TV COVERAGE: The draft will be broadcast on NFL Network and ESPN/ESPN2. The first round of the draft is set to begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, followed by the second and third rounds at 5 p.m. Friday. Rounds four through seven will be held starting at 11 a.m. Saturday. 

 



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For Bev Gabbert, that’s all it is right now: a trip to New York. The NFL Draft and what looms beyond for her oldest son, Blaine Gabbert, are a lot to think about, and she’s focused on getting to that point.

For the Gabbert family, the past few months have been an adjustment. They’ve been strange, Bev Gabbert said, but time is moving too fast for her to appreciate how special it's been. She’s now accustomed to seeing her son interviewed almost daily on ESPN. She’s not surprised when she hears speculation that he will be one of the first players picked in the NFL Draft. Somehow, it’s all become normal.

“It’s been awesome,” Bev Gabbert said about the experience. “You wish everybody could experience it. We’ve all been very lucky.”

But for Blaine Gabbert, it’s been a lot more than luck. It’s been months spent training with quarterback coach Terry Shea at Athletes' Performance in Phoenix. It’s been support from his family and former teammates. It’s been pro days and the NFL Combine and countless TV appearances.

Workouts, interviews, dinners — he controlled them all, and each had the potential to affect his prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft. But as the day of the draft approached, there was less and less that he could do.

In these final weeks, the attention on Blaine Gabbert lingered, even increased. It became more critical, more urgent. But Blaine Gabbert tried his best to ignore it, to enjoy the final days with his family in St. Louis. Last Thursday, he pulled Brett out of school to go fishing, and he spent the weekend with his family.

“Of course it’s (the draft) on his mind,” Bev Gabbert said. “But he’s got other things to do. Blaine’s the type that he packs as much into a day as anyone I’ve ever seen. He enjoys every day to the fullest. There’s not a day that goes by where he’s not living life to his fullest.”

It all come down to control. At this point, it’s out of Blaine Gabbert’s hands. He established who he was and what he could do. He has had to work to ignore what Shea calls the “fire in his belly.” Now, he just has to wait.

“He has no control over it whatsoever,” Bev Gabbert said.

But at least he has managed to keep the focus on the field, on what he can do as a quarterback.

Not every prospect has had that luxury. Players like Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett and Nick Fairley have faced criticism for off field issues. Newton spent most of last season involved in an investigation of whether he knew about a pay-to-play deal his father had organized. Mallett was accused of drug use, and both he and Fairley missed meetings and workouts with teams.

Blaine Gabbert has been subject to none of this. He's been on time to workouts, and he's answered questions the right way — poised, but vague.

So while as a junior Blaine Gabbert threw for 407 yards less than he did as a sophomore, he has always shown potential. On the sidelines during a Missouri game he was a study in intensity. It was almost frightening, hunched on the bench, eyes squinted and scrutinizing each motion of the game.

He has capitalized on all of this, and he has been given the chance to be something more.

The first time that Blaine Gabbert met with Shea, the coach asked him about his goals for the NFL Draft. Most players, Shea said, tell him which teams they’d like to play for or that they’d like to be drafted in the first round. Not Blaine Gabbert — his answer was one Shea had never heard before.

“Blaine’s (Gabbert) response was, ‘Coach, I’d like to be the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL Draft,’” Shea said.

Shea coached Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford and Josh Freeman. None had such a lofty goal. Whether or not it happens doesn’t matter, Shea said. That statement pushed Blaine Gabbert more than anything else.

Shea described his time with Blaine Gabbert as a journey, a journey that began in the second week of January and culminated on Blaine Gabbert’s March 17 pro day. Shea’s job was no small task — he was charged with making sure that Blaine Gabbert was in top form both on the field and in interviews and meetings with teams.

They spent about an hour each day on the field, working on Blaine Gabbert’s mechanics “from the feet on up.” Shea said they focused on improving his presence as a drop back passer from under center, and he also worked to perfect the young quarterback’s accuracy.

“A lot of the college quarterbacks have very strong arms and are very skilled, but they don’t bring accuracy into it until they realize how important it is until they see those really talented guys in the NFL,” Shea said.

Shea quickly realized that Blaine Gabbert is a fast learner. Early on in their time together, Shea began verbally explaining passing plays that the quarterback had never run or heard of before. He would take him through the motions, step by step, spending about 15 minutes on each sequence.

Then it was Blaine Gabbert's turn. After briefly learning about each play, he had to teach them back to Shea. He was nearly perfect each time.

“His ability to retain knowledge is very special,” Shea said.

The coach wasn’t surprised, though. He’d seen, listened and watched as Blaine Gabbert talked him through game film, and in doing so noticed his attention to detail and the quick tempo of his mind. That’s why he treats Blaine Gabbert’s Wonderlic score of 42 as something less than surprising.

“For a quarterback, or for any position, that is extremely high,” Shea said. “It’s a test that’s based on a 50 perfect score, and I don’t know if I ever remember a quarterback … For Blaine to score 42 is very, very special.”

But the Wonderlic isn’t the ultimate predictor of how a player will fare in the NFL. It’s something that can be overcome (Adrian Peterson scored a 16) and a high score doesn’t necessarily make an NFL star. Shea said that Blaine Gabbert has an edge, though, a drive that should lead to professional success.

Shea isn’t worried that Blaine Gabbert never posted record-breaking statistics or a standout season at Missouri. He compared the quarterback's 18-6 regular-season record in two years as starter to a potential NFL record. Extrapolated over two 16-game NFL seasons, that record would translate to 24-8, and Shea said that if Blaine Gabbert were to win at that pace in two seasons in the NFL, he’d be leading his team to the playoffs.

Not everyone sees it that way. Blaine Gabbert knows that. Shea knows that, and he preaches the same message that Bev Gabbert has embraced. He, too, knows that it all comes down to control.

“There’s so much talk and so much hype given to this particular activity of drafting in the NFL,” Shea said. “So I said, ‘Blaine, you can’t even blink. Whenever you hear your name or don’t hear your name, you just keep on doing what you’re doing.'”

That’s all it comes down to. Don’t blink.

For someone with Blaine Gabbert’s intensity of focus, that shouldn’t be difficult. And for a time, he was able to revert back to fishing, to family, to being a 21-year-old brother. That might have helped drown out the buzz, but only for so long.

Thursday night, Blaine Gabbert will walk across a stage at Radio City Music Hall and accept a jersey from the Arizona Cardinals. Or the Cincinnati Bengals. Or the Buffalo Bills. Or another team. For any hunch about which team will take him, there's a contradicting rumor, constant reminders of Blaine Gabbert's lack of control.

But with the certainty Thursday night will bring comes the real challenges: impressing a team, building relationships, proving himself. Shea is far from worried about how Blaine Gabbert will handle it.

“He’ll win over that NFL huddle as soon as he steps into it,” Shea said. “If a young rookie QB carries that kind of presence, he’s going to drive his team to win.”


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Comments

Jack Wilson April 27, 2011 | 9:39 p.m.

It should be noted that signing as undrafted free agents is no guarantee in the current NFL state. Even the so-called priority undrafted free agents won't likely be able to sign unless transactions are allowed to occur.

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