JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blaine Gabbert has a starting job — if he’s healthy.
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley named Gabbert his starting quarterback Monday, the same day he announced the former Missouri standout will miss the rest of the preseason because of a broken thumb.
Gabbert has a hairline fracture in his right thumb, an injury sustained during Saturday night’s 37-13 exhibition loss to the New York Jets.
Gabbert completed 13 of 16 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown in three series — arguably his best showing in three years. He banged his hand on a defender’s helmet during his final throw.
Gabbert won’t need surgery, but he will wear a protective brace while the bone heals. The Jaguars believe he should be able to return to practice in two weeks and be ready for the Sept. 8 opener against Kansas City.
“Normally a break would require surgery or six to eight weeks,” Bradley said. “It’s not the same with this injury. They feel like in two weeks he should have a chance to come back and begin his prep for Kansas City.”
The Jaguars insisted all offseason that Gabbert and Chad Henne were competing for the starting job. But many outsiders believe the scenario was created to put extra pressure and strain on Gabbert, and see how he would respond.
Although Gabbert struggled at times in practice and did little in the preseason opener, his performance Saturday night was enough to convince Jacksonville’s coaching staff that he’s the guy.
Bradley doesn’t anticipate a quick change, either.
“The reason why we took this length of time is so that we would have some conviction and to stay strong,” said Bradley, who was part of Seattle’s staff that stuck with rookie Russell Wilson last season. “Russell, as the quarterback in the first couple of games, had to go through some learning and some growing, and that conviction was in place. I think it was really good for me to see how that entire process took place and the conviction and the support you need.”
Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft, is coming off consecutive seasons in which Jacksonville had significant issues around him. He had no offseason as a rookie because of the NFL lockout, was thrown into the starting lineup in Week 3 and played with one of the worst receiving corps in the league.
He was expected to show improvement last year, but he played behind a patchwork offensive line and with two young receivers in Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon. Jacksonville also lost star running back Maurice Jones-Drew to a season-ending foot injury in October.
Maybe the biggest difference this year is offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s scheme. Having worked in a spread offense in college, Gabbert seems more comfortable in Fisch’s system, which focuses on reading defenses before the snap and making quick decisions and throws.
“It’s very quarterback-friendly and it puts a lot of responsibility on our shoulders because we do so much stuff at the line of scrimmage,” Gabbert said. “It makes it fun for the quarterback to know that you have the ability to do some things.”
Gabbert has completed 54 percent of his passes for 3,876 yards, with 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, in two seasons. He is 5-19 as a starter.
“It’s a nice opportunity, but it doesn’t end here,” Gabbert said. “Gus always preaches competition every day and we compete against each other, but we’re still going to go out there and put your best foot forward regardless of the situation.”
Henne, who will start Saturday’s preseason game against Philadelphia, handled the decision well.
“From my standpoint, it’s disappointing,” Henne said. “But I’m going to be the same person. I’m going to keep competing each and every day, try to better myself. I’m behind this team 100 percent. I’m behind Blaine. Whatever I can do to help is what I’m going to do.”