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Jaguars to start rookie Gabbert against Panthers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars are turning to rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Coach Jack Del Rio named Gabbert the starter Wednesday, switching signal callers three days after Luke McCown threw four interceptions against the New York Jets. Del Rio met with Gabbert and McCown on Wednesday morning, then told other players about the switch at a team meeting. Gabbert will start Sunday at Carolina. The transition was inevitable since the Jaguars selected Gabbert with the 10th pick in April’s draft. Del Rio had hoped to take it slow with the former Missouri standout, even planning to give him a year to watch and learn behind David Garrard. But Garrard had his worst preseason as a starter and was outplayed by McCown, a career backup. Del Rio named McCown the starter five days before the season opener. But his ninth career start was a debacle. He was picked off four times, and could have thrown a couple more, and was sacked for a safety – in just three quarters. Gabbert replaced McCown to start the fourth, and completed 5 of 6 passes for 52 yards in relief. Gabbert threw 40 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions as a two-year starter at Missouri. Because of the NFL lockout, he missed minicamp, organized team activities and dozens of meetings with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Nonetheless, he impressed coaches and teammates with his arm strength, pocket presence, situational awareness and speed. But Gabbert struggled at times in the preseason, essentially confirming to Del Rio that he needed more time to learn the offense and read NFL defenses. The Jaguars wanted to give him time, but McCown’s performance against the Jets changed everything. McCown completed 6 of 19 passes for 59 yards. Jacksonville ran the ball well and kept McCown from getting hit much, so there were few excuses for the interceptions. The Jets won 32-3, the second worst loss in Del Rio’s nine-year tenure. And since he’s widely considered to be coaching for his future – team owner Wayne Weaver said the Jaguars need to make the playoffs for Del Rio to stick around another year – it was reasonable to wonder whether he would put his fate in the hands of a rookie quarterback. Del Rio took several days to evaluate the situation before turning things over the Gabbert. Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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