UPDATE – In the battle of the marquee rookie quarterback, Cam Newton led his team to victory while Blaine Gabbert managed a quiet opening performance. Newton’s number fell back to earth, as he threw for 158 yards and 1 TD in the victory. Gabbert threw for 139 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT, while the Jags focused on the running of Maurice Jones Drew, who had 24 carries for 122 yards. The Panthers held on to win 16-10.
EXCLUSIVE VIDEO – As the 2011 NFL Draft loomed, Cam Newton versus Blaine Gabbert as potential number one picks at quarterback was a popular topic. The two will now face off on the field for the first time as they each lead their team in Sunday’s matchup of Jacksonville at Carolina at 1:00pm ET.
After Newton was selected first overall by the Carolina Panthers, Gabbert fell to the tenth pick where he went to the Jacksonville Jaguars as the third quarterback selected in the draft (Tennessee took Jake Locker at number eight).
In spite of the shortened training camp, the Jaguars showed a vote of confidence in Gabbert by releasing veteran starting quarterback David Garrard just prior to the start of the season. After two starts by Luke McCown, including a 4-interception game against the New York Jets, Gabbert gets his first start on Sunday.
Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter commented on Gabbert’s first start, saying, “You’re running your offensive system; our offensive system starts with our run game… Obviously you don’t draft a guy at number 10 if he doesn’t have special talent, and you’ve all been out there and you’ve seen it through training camp. This guy is very talented. I’m excited for him to play.”
“The leadership shows through,” Jaguars Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “I don’t think it’s a surprise. It’s an innate trait – you either have it or you don’t. Blaine definitely has it.”
Gabbert is looking forward to “competing against the best athletes in the world on a weekly basis.” Asked what to expect of him this season, his answer was simply – “Some football, throwing a few touchdowns hopefully.”
The pre-draft buzz back in the spring said that Gabbert was more ready to play now, and Newton needed more time to develop but could ultimately have more upside. Newton got the start from week one and has showed no signs of being a “project.”
He shattered all records for rookie starts, throwing for over 400 yards in each of his first two games. Not only has no rookie ever started his career that way, there have been only 7 times in NFL history that a quarterback threw for over 400 yards in consecutive regular season games. Both Newton and Tom Brady have a chance this week to accomplish something no one has ever done in the history of the league – throw for 3 consecutive 400 yard games.
But ultimately, this is a team game, so while the matchup of two marquee rookie quarterbacks is an interesting story line, the game will be decided by the overall play of the team. How well the rookies play will be critical, but the game will likely turn on how much support each gets from their teammates.
In spite of the great numbers that Newton has put up in his first two starts, the team is currently 0-2 and Newton would definitely give up some passing yards in exchange for a win.
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