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No guarantees Gabbert will start for Jaguars

Thursday, June 13, 2013 | 7:59 p.m. CDT
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert (11) passes the ball during a voluntary veteran NFL football mini-camp in Jacksonville, Fla.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars are carrying their quarterback competition into training camp.

The Jaguars ended a three-day minicamp Thursday — the final practice of the offseason — without naming a starter or moving much closer to deciding on one.

Former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, a former top-10 draft pick, remains the front-runner, but general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley insist it's a wide-open competition that's likely to stretch into the preseason.

Chad Henne, rookie Matt Scott and recent addition Mike Kafka also are in the mix.

"We don't feel there's much of a rush," Caldwell said. "When it presents itself and we feel good about it, that somebody's the flat-out winner, we'll do it. We've got to go through camp and some preseason games to figure it out."

Gabbert started the first 10 games last season before finishing the year on injured reserve with a forearm injury and a torn labrum in his nonthrowing shoulder. He completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,662 yards, with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He showed some improvement from his rookie season, but not the kind of leaps many expected from a player selected with the 10th overall pick in 2011.

Although the Jaguars acknowledge Gabbert had two shaky seasons to begin his career — his biggest problem has been pocket presence under duress — they also are taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding whether he's their franchise quarterback. They are factoring in issues with his offensive line, his receiving corps and his previous coaching staffs.

Gabbert, meanwhile, said there's "no question" he's better than he was a year ago.

"I think I was better last year than I was the year before," he said. "It's just all about getting comfortable in an offensive system, having reps against live NFL defenses, and there's going to be kind of a trend up. That's what I'm feeling right now."

Henne started the final six games last season, completing 54 percent of his passes for 2,084 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Henne probably would be the starter had the Jaguars kept Mike Mularkey. The unemployed head coach created headlines Wednesday by telling Sirius/XM NFL Radio that he would start Henne over Gabbert. Mularkey said teammates responded to Henne when he replaced Gabbert in November.

"At the time, players were drawn to him by his leadership ability," Mularkey said. "He reminds me a lot of Matt Ryan, being with Matt for four years (in Atlanta), of walking in that huddle and calling a play and guys believing the play's going to work. That's what Chad's got going for him right now."

The new regime has given Henne every opportunity to supplant Gabbert during the offseason, even alternating their repetitions with the first-team offense, but the former Miami Dolphins starter has done little to state his case as the starter.

"To be honest with you, I'd wait," Henne said. "You can evaluate in the offseason, in shorts, but how are you really going to know until you get into preseason and you're under fire and you're getting hit? For us, just keep on competing until they make a decision, and it's their choice."

The Jaguars opened practice to the public Thursday, a move that allowed media members to release details of team drills — something that's off limits during closed sessions.

Gabbert completed 4 of 8 passes, with a touchdown and two sacks. He also had another would-be TD pass dropped in the end zone. Henne completed 6 of 9 passes, with a would-be interception dropped near the goal line. Scott completed 4 of 7 passes, with a touchdown pass on the final play of practice.

Although Jacksonville's offense has been one of the worst in the league the past two years, the Jaguars believe it will be better in 2013 with the return of guard Will Rackley (ankle) and running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot), the addition of second overall draft pick Luke Joeckel at right tackle and the continued emergence of receiver Cecil Shorts III.

Bradley maintains the team has open competition at every position, but the reality is that 10 of the 11 starters on offense are seemingly set. The only one that remains unresolved is quarterback — and it could be open for another two months, or maybe longer.

"This is better for both of them," Jones-Drew said. "You can't settle anything in OTAs. Things change when the pads come on."


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