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Jaguars QB coach Sheppard high on rookie Gabbert

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Posted Oct. 07, 2011 @ 4:02 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

Struggles aside, Jaguars rookie QB Blaine Gabbert has seen a lot in his first two NFL starts.

In Week Three on the road in Carolina, monsoon-like conditions played a large part in the 21-year-old's struggles (12-of-21 for 139 yards, one touchdown, one interception). In Week Four, against defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' blitz-happy Saints, the Jaguars' game plan was to exploit single coverage by attacking downfield. The plan failed, with Gabbert completing only 16-of-42 passes (38.1 percent) in another Jacksonville defeat.

Of course, the original plan was for Gabbert to be brought along slowly. But David Garrard's sudden release five days before Week One, paired with backup Luke McCown's disastrous Week Two performance led to the Jaguars changing direction less than three weeks into the season.

Jacksonville QBs coach Mike Sheppard, in his first year with the Jaguars after spending the previous four seasons coaching wide receivers in Cincinnati, isn't discouraged by the rocky start.

"It's always difficult on a first-year player," Sheppard said by phone on Oct. 6. "The transition at all positions is a challenge, but I think particularly at QB because there is both the mental and the physical …

"What I'm excited about with Blaine is that he has got a unique skill set. He's got great size, he can throw it — he's got good velocity, good accuracy. His mechanics are solid. He's competitive; he's got some toughness about him."

When asked about Gabbert's tendency in college to get happy feet and leave the pocket prematurely when things started to break down, Sheppard said it was correctable, adding that he didn't necessarily view it as a negative. He said the Jaguars encourage their QBs to extend plays with their legs, and that "pocket toughness" will come.

Sheppard singled out the Missouri product's ability to see the field when asked what has impressed him most that he didn't already know prior to getting his hands on the rookie.

"When he comes to the sideline, he tells (offensive coordinator) Dirk (Koetter) exactly what he saw on the field and he is always right. That vision is one quality that separates QBs at this level."

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