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Gabbert hears, handles, criticism

Gabbert hears, handles, criticism

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. • Blaine Gabbert is comfortable enough with himself to handle all the criticism.

So go ahead, pile it on.

Talk about his shaky pocket presence and his errant passes. Ask about his confidence and his receivers. Blame him for the losses and the coaching change.

Jacksonville's laid-back rookie quarterback from Parkway West High and the University of Missouri doesn't really seem to care.

"Whatever," he said Saturday. "I know we take the brunt of the criticism. That's just the position we play, and that's how it should be. We're the face of this team, and the ball goes through us on every play. We kind of shape it. I know things haven't gone well this year and I haven't played how I wanted to, but there have been a lot of positive things that have gone on."

The positives have been difficult to see.

The Jaguars (4-10) rank last in the NFL in total offense and have scored 14 or fewer points in 10 of 14 games. Gabbert has completed 50.6 percent of his passes for 1,924 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He had two costly fumbles in Thursday night's 41-14 debacle at Atlanta, giving him 14 turnovers in 13 games.

Maybe more troubling for him is that fellow rookies Cam Newton (Carolina), Andy Dalton (Cincinnati), Christian Ponder (Minnesota), Jake Locker (Tennessee) and even T.J. Yates (Houston) have looked better than Gabbert in 2011. Gabbert has heard about it all season.

"Everybody's going to be criticized for something, whether you deserve it or you don't," said Gabbert, the 10th pick in April's draft. "It's the way the world works, I guess. It's whatever. I'm comfortable in my own skin. I can handle it."

Gabbert has been so maligned that some question whether general manager Gene Smith would consider drafting another quarterback in 2012, especially because Stanford's Andrew Luck, Southern Cal's Matt Barkley, Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Oklahoma's Landry Jones are expected to be taken in the first round. But Smith and new team owner Shahid Khan insist Gabbert is the guy for the future.

"I think he can be a successful quarterback," Khan said. "This is a passing league. This is a quarterback league. If you are not doing those, you're not going to be successful. I care about playing winning football. What is winning football today? It's quarterback, it's a passing game. With that, comes excitement, which puts fans in the seats."

The Jaguars believe their biggest problem is a lack of quality receivers.

They waived Jason Hill last month, a day after firing coach Jack Del Rio, and parted ways with receivers coach Johnny Cox. Rookie Cecil Shorts and Jarett Dillard have been disappointments, leaving Mike Thomas as the only dependable wideout on the roster. And Thomas (concussion) and Shorts (hamstring) were out Thursday.

The Jaguars are well aware of their deficiencies at the position, something they plan to address in the offseason.

It's the main reason they have written off Gabbert's slow progress. The Jaguars expect to get a receiver in free agency and at least another one in the draft, and with a new offensive coaching staff on the horizon, they are holding off on making any judgments about Gabbert until all the pieces are in place around him.

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