Playbook: Jags need to arm Gabbert for success

For any team that drafts a quarterback in the first round, next year’s offseason has to be about solidifying your squad around that player.

Now, a year into their term with Blaine Gabbert at the helm, the Jaguars need to amplify the strengths of their prized signal caller and do their best to work around some of his weaknesses.

Below is our “to-do” list for Jacksonville’s front office, keeping in mind what we saw from Gabbert on tape in his rookie campaign.

Offensive line

We wouldn’t say offensive line is Jacksonville’s greatest weakness. But if you are going to have Gabbert at quarterback, offensive line has to be the Jaguars’ greatest strength.

Gabbert showed a propensity for “shrinking” in the pocket under the slightest hint of pressure. He would often curl up, not stepping into throws. This reduced his strength and accuracy, and he completed only 50.8 percent of his throws. But when protected, Gabbert stood tall on his plant foot and displayed one of the hardest fastballs in the league.

While a lot of the blame lands on Gabbert for a lack of pocket presence – something you hope he will improve upon next season – it’s within the Jaguars’ control to upgrade the offensive line. Guy Whimper is a free agent at right tackle and replacements are available through the draft (Riley Rieff of Iowa or Jonathan Martin of Stanford) or the open market (Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins or Carolina’s Geoff Schwartz).

Wide receivers

We can’t predict how much of the Jaguars’ $45 million in cap space will be used, but this is the right year to have cash on hand to buy Gabbert some toys at receiver.

First, Jacksonville needs someone to unseat Mike Thomas (44 receptions) as Gabbert’s No. 1 target – and, preferably, bump the 5-foot-8 Thomas back to the slot. Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Lloyd will command a lot of money, but their ability to win on the outside could be invaluable to Gabbert’s development. With someone who can win on the outside, Gabbert can learn to trust his receivers, throw on-time and without fear of the rush.

Justin Blackmon could be gone by the time the Jaguars pick in the draft, so if they find the free-agent route too expensive, they’ll still pay dearly to trade up and grab the draft’s only clear No. 1 receiver.

Quarterback

No, we aren’t saying you need to replace Gabbert. But Mike Mularkey definitely needs an insurance policy, just in case his young signal caller can’t pick up his offensive system (remember J.P. Losman in Buffalo?).

How about Chris Redman, Mularkey’s No. 2 guy in Atlanta? He’s a free agent and would provide Gabbert a mentor who already knows the offense. Redman also wouldn’t be viewed as much of a threat to a young quarterback whose confidence you don’t want to undercut at this stage.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — aired Thursday and Friday on NFL Network during the season. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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