The Athletic has stay protection of NFL Week 3 that includes Chiefs vs Bears

It is Blaine Gabbert’s first OTA apply with the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs after becoming a member of the group in April. Coach Andy Reid is empowering Patrick Mahomes, telling him to push limits and see what he can get away with on today. Mahomes is smiling, laughing and speaking smack.

Seeing Mahomes having a blast is making Gabbert have a blast.

Now Gabbert is smiling and laughing.

“Super fun,” Gabbert says. “Super fun for me to be out there and for me to be in that room. This great game gives us a lot of happiness.”

Others who have traveled related paths didn’t really feel what Gabbert feels. They felt bitterness, anger and disillusionment. Some needed to chop ties and begin a new life in anonymity.

The primary move Gabbert ever threw in organized soccer was a landing. He was a fifth grader in Ballwin, Mo., enjoying on Parkway West’s sixth-grade group.

He killed it in highschool, and Rivals ranked him the No. 1 quarterback within the nation, forward of Andrew Luck. He may have gone to nearly any faculty. He selected Missouri, the place he led an upset of No. 1 Oklahoma in 2010.

NFL groups noticed a quarterback who was large (6-foot-4, 234 kilos), athletic, quick (he ran a 4.66 40-yard sprint) and sensible (he scored a 42 on the Wonderlic), who may throw a soccer via drywall. Analysts referred to as him the potential first choose within the 2011 draft. Many scouts rated him forward of Cam Newton, who was chosen first.

“The pieces for long-term success are there,” one normal supervisor mentioned earlier than the draft.

Gabbert was chosen tenth. Six years later, Mahomes was chosen tenth.

In an alternate universe, Gabbert would have walked into a scenario like Mahomes did, and Gabbert’s profession would have performed out in one other method altogether.

On this universe, he’s a 33-year-old with 13 profession wins as a starter.

He has been a backup to Luke McCown, Chad Henne, Colin Kaepernick, Carson Palmer, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Tom Brady and now Mahomes.

So the place does Blaine Gabbert get off having so much fun?

As soon as a blue-chip prospect, Blaine Gabbert is greater than content material to again up the celebs of the sport, together with Tom Brady and now Patrick Mahomes in Kansas Metropolis. (David Eulitt / Getty Photographs)

The Chiefs put in a Hail Mary move not too long ago. For instance, coaches confirmed the play run by the Jacksonville Jaguars 12 years in the past. It was Gabbert throwing a 36-yard touchdown pass to Mike Thomas as the primary half expired — one of many few nice recollections from Gabbert’s rookie season.

With out a collective bargaining settlement, NFL groups had locked out gamers within the 2011 offseason. When the lockout ended on July 25, Gabbert had not had a single day {of professional} teaching, and the scenario he walked into couldn’t have been extra dysfunctional.

Head coach Jack Del Rio later mentioned he had no concept normal supervisor Gene Smith deliberate to commerce up from 16 to pick Gabbert. And he wasn’t on board with the selection. “He wasn’t a first-rounder,” Del Rio mentioned.

David Garrard was speculated to be the beginning quarterback and the plan was for Gabbert to sit down and be taught, however the group reduce Garrard simply earlier than the beginning of the season. McCown struggled via the primary two video games, after which it was Gabbert’s flip.

“He was the kind of guy that, because of his college experience, probably needed to sit and watch and really get comfortable with things at the beginning of his career,” McCown says of Gabbert, a faculty starter for 2 seasons who performed nearly completely within the shotgun at Missouri. “It was an unfortunate circumstance for him to have to play at that time.”

Gabbert’s main receivers have been Thomas and Jarrett Dillard, neither of whom lasted two extra years within the league. In Gabbert’s fifth profession begin, his grit was questioned on nationwide tv by then-“Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden.

At 22, Gabbert turned the youngest quarterback in NFL historical past to begin 14 video games. He misplaced 11 of them. His passer ranking of 65.4 was the worst within the league. On one December day, Del Rio was fired and Wayne Weaver bought the group.

“Yeah, it was a sh– show to be completely honest,” Gabbert says charitably.

It didn’t get much higher in subsequent seasons. Six video games into 12 months 2, he tore the labrum in his non-throwing left shoulder. Gabbert tried to play for 4 video games earlier than acquiescing to season-ending surgical procedure.

By early October of his third season, he had a damaged thumb, a lacerated hand that required 15 stitches and a hamstring damage. Gabbert was benched and didn’t play the ultimate 11 video games. He endured 4 head coaches in three years in Jacksonville, then was traded to San Francisco for a sixth-round choose.

In his second season with the 49ers, Gabbert was given the beginning job by coach Jim Tomsula after Kaepernick slumped. There have been scrapbook recollections from that season, together with a 26-20 victory in opposition to the Chicago Bears through which Gabbert ran for a 44-yard landing with 1:42 remaining and threw a 71-yard landing move in extra time to win the sport.

The next 12 months, coach Chip Kelly named Gabbert the opening-day starter however benched him after a 1-4 begin. From there, it was one 12 months with the Arizona Cardinals and one other with the Tennessee Titans.

By the point he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, Gabbert had performed in eight offenses in eight seasons. His beginnings in Tampa have been promising, however a dislocated shoulder in a preseason recreation necessitated surgical procedure and prevented him from enjoying that season. Of all of the low factors in Gabbert’s profession, that was the bottom.

Gabbert has achieved much to make his father, Chuck, proud. He has change into the form of husband to Behkah and father to Leyton that Chuck hoped he could be.

Final December, Blaine and his brothers, Tyler and Brett, have been driving two jet skis about a mile off the south finish of Davis Island in Tampa, the place Blaine lives, when he heard one thing that seemed like a pop within the distance. He noticed the rotor of a helicopter sticking out of the water.

They motored to the world the place they came across an oil slick and hydraulic fluid within the water and 4 folks — the pilot, a father, a mom and their son — coated in oil, shivering and making an attempt to remain afloat.

Some would have feared an explosion — fairly so — and circled. Blaine and his brothers motored to the crash scene, helped the survivors onto their jet skis and doubtless saved their lives.

Chuck is pleased with Blaine, Brett and Tyler for the way in which they responded. However he’s additionally proud — actually proud — of Blaine’s resolve and the way in which he has constructed a profession from the ashes.

“He’s always approached things positively and given it 110 percent,” Chuck says. “It’s how he’s persevered through the good times and challenging times.”

For each Alex Smith who stumbles out of the gate however finally finds his stride, 10 first-round quarterbacks fall and by no means stand up — gamers such as Jake Locker, Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Rick Mirer, Joey Harrington, Tim Sofa, Cade McNown, Matt Leinart, Josh Freeman and Johnny Manziel.

The NFL had instructed Gabbert repeatedly he wasn’t as good as he was speculated to be.

He ought to have believed it.

He ought to have misplaced the generally unreasonable self-assurance that convinces quarterback heroes to zip laser passes into tight home windows with video games, seasons, contracts and careers on the road.

He ought to have been scarred.

Again to that rookie 12 months — that terrible rookie 12 months, that important rookie 12 months.

Gabbert is the starter, however McCown isn’t coasting.

Within the Jaguars’ weight room, Gabbert takes a drugs ball between his legs, then throws it behind him and over his head in opposition to a wall. Then McCown does it. It’s a “Granny Toss” competitors to see who can throw the ball larger.

Then, on the sector, they compete in an accuracy contest to make throws via a goal with a web hooked up to it from totally different spots on the sector.

Lastly, they race from sideline to sideline.

McCown was competing with Gabbert as a result of it was pleasing. However he additionally needed to indicate him how a backup may keep his edge.

McCown labored and ready as if he have been the starter despite the fact that he wasn’t.

“Luke showed me early on you can never really let your mind slip into the mentality of, ‘I’m just a backup and that’s all my role is,’” Gabbert says.

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Blaine Gabbert credit Luke McCown for educating him tips on how to be the perfect backup quarterback throughout their time collectively in Jacksonville. (Brian A. Westerholt / Getty Photographs)

Luckily for Gabbert, McCown was a higher trainer than a quarterback. By the point they got here collectively, McCown had been a No. 2 for the Browns, Bucs and Jaguars and was the perfect mix of knowledge and kindness.

Many have struggled with the incongruity of being compelled into a recreation after solely operating the scout group in apply. McCown confirmed Gabbert tips on how to profit from practices even when he wasn’t getting reps with the offense. McCown would stand behind the starter and take into consideration what he would do in every scenario. Then, when he ran the scout group, he used his personal offense’s verbiage to explain the opponent’s performs.

McCown helped put together Gabbert for the tough waters to come back, making him perceive it’s simpler to swim with the tide even when you choose to go in one other path.

“Luke told me that year that if you play this game long enough, you’re going to be cut, traded, released, put on IR,” Gabbert says. “Things will happen you wish didn’t happen. But it’s how you keep pushing forward and maintain confidence in yourself. That’s how you get through those tough times.”

Sooner or later, Gabbert could inform his grandchildren about sharing a assembly room with Mahomes and Brady. And he additionally will inform them about McCown as a result of no teammate was extra crucial to his growth, actually to his profession.

Via McCown, Gabbert got here to know the artwork of the backup.

The backup, McCown taught Gabbert, should stay within the area between confidence and humility, between competitiveness and acceptance, between contribution and sacrifice.

The bookend to Gabbert’s quarterback training got here in Tampa. It’s the place, with assist from Brady, every part Gabbert had discovered from McCown was bolstered and validated.

Brady was on a airplane above everybody, however two days earlier than each recreation, Gabbert had a probability to show what he was about in competitions that have been “epic,” based on then-Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen. They began with assessments of accuracy, through which Christensen graded each throw. There could be a bonus spherical, perhaps throws at a blocking dummy on a golf cart flashing throughout the again of the tip zone.

The weekly winner took possession of a gaudy purple belt with the inscription “Top Gun Champion” and featured a photograph of Tom Cruise.

Gabbert usually acquired the higher of Brady, who was properly into his 40s by then. The youthful pushed the older in agility and pace drills as properly.

After which there have been conferences and tape classes.

“What do you think of this play’s chances?” Gabbert would ask him.

“Why don’t you like this?”

“Why is this better?”

“What is our plan if this happens?”

Gabbert was serving to Brady. And there is no query Brady was serving to Gabbert.

Brady, greater than every other quarterback Gabbert had recognized, ready purposefully. From watching and listening to him, Gabbert discovered to do every part on the apply subject with intention, self-discipline and element.

When Brady was about 31 — the identical age Gabbert was after they have been collectively — he altered his coaching strategies with an eye fixed on preservation. Via lengthy conversations and demonstrations, he shared his method, which Gabbert adopted. Now Gabbert is a disciple of TB12, wholly purchased into the physique work, massages, pliability and muscle activation that helped Brady go longer higher than anybody ever.

Brady labored and labored, and Gabbert was by his aspect nearly at all times, absorbing and elevating. Their time collectively was principally about soccer, however there was extra — they hit the golf course, the seashore and a pool. Gabbert says he spent extra time with Brady over three years than anybody else, together with his spouse, and nonetheless considers Brady his pricey pal.

The excessive level of all these NFL years for Gabbert was profitable Tremendous Bowl LV as Brady’s backup and realizing he performed a position. Earlier than the Bucs started training for the Chiefs, Gabbert, Brady and apply squad quarterback Ryan Griffin watched tape at Brady’s and got here up with performs to suggest to the coaches.

What they advised was applied, and what was applied labored.

The chemistry between Brady — the sixth-round choose who exceeded expectations — and Gabbert — the tenth choose of the draft who failed to satisfy expectations — was elegant.

It wasn’t as a result of Gabbert was resigned. It was as a result of he was decided.

“You know, I think Blaine Gabbert believes that if somehow he had to play 17 games this year, they’d still win the Super Bowl,” Christensen says. “He would have that kind of confidence. And he should. I think he could have been a really good starter in the league. He has that kind of talent. He’s athletic, as tough as could be, and he works.”

The consequence is what Christensen calls an “elite” backup. And an elite backup, he’ll inform you, is uncommon.

“Sometimes you get a backup and he doesn’t get it,” says Christensen, who has coached offense for the higher a part of 43 years. “He talks too much. He talks at the wrong time. He says the wrong thing. He doesn’t know when to just be quiet and let things be. You know, you can get a backup who’s undercutting everything. Blaine has a feel.”

What Gabbert did on his jet ski final December was selfless. What he did for the Bucs was selfless.

Reid acknowledged an elite backup when he noticed one.

Within the offseason, Reid recognized the free agent as the perfect successor to the retiring Chad Henne.

The Buffalo Payments, Inexperienced Bay Packers and Las Vegas Raiders additionally expressed curiosity. The Chiefs, cash apart, had extra to supply — one of many NFL’s most gifted rosters, proximity to household and the chance to work with a coach and quarterback properly on their solution to the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame.

Gabbert has lasting affection for a lot of of his head coaches, particularly Mike Mularkey, Jim Harbaugh, Tomsula, Bruce Arians, Mike Vrabel and Todd Bowles.

And now there is Reid. He has been impressed with Reid’s heat and elegance, to say nothing of his resume.

“He loves the input from the quarterback,” Gabbert says of his tenth NFL head coach. “He lets you play free, lets you play your game. And that’s ultimately what quarterbacks love. He’s just a rock star.”

Mahomes reminds him of Brady as a result of each are meticulous about how they need performs run.

“There are a lot of similarities between him and Tom when you’re dealing with the timing of man breaks, route depths, where he wants guys to be in certain coverages, things like that,” Gabbert says.

Mahomes asks him questions on what Brady thought or what he would have achieved in sure circumstances. Chiefs teammates deal with Gabbert with reverence and name him “O.G.” as in Unique Gangster. He is acknowledged now as somebody who has lived many quarterback lifetimes.

It is a new position for him, large brother as a substitute of little.

Gabbert may need had higher alternatives to play if he had signed with different groups. However in Kansas Metropolis, he has a possibility to boost Mahomes.

He doesn’t want this — doesn’t want the strain of operating onto the sector to interchange an injured starter in a determined second as hope drains from a sideline, doesn’t want the stress of watching a hungry, no-name quarterback cheered as he makes an attempt to take his job, doesn’t must be enjoying within the third quarter of a preseason recreation, doesn’t have to danger his mobility and his thoughts.

Along with a Tremendous Bowl ring, Gabbert has earned practically $30 million in his profession. A home on the water and a life with out clocks is ready.

However there is this. “I love the game of football,” Gabbert says.

Perhaps a utterly totally different story would have been written if Gabbert had been drafted by a mannequin group with a Corridor of Fame head coach and a lineup full of playmakers.

Perhaps he would have turned endurance and stability into touchdowns and playoff wins.

The well-meaning will usually ask if he’s upset by how his profession has gone.

“That’s almost an insult,” he says. “I’m going into Year 13 in the National Football League. I think that’s pretty f—— awesome. There have been a lot of ups and downs and arounds, and I don’t think some people would have persevered the way I did. There always are things you wish you could have changed. But I sleep damn well at night knowing I tried to put my best foot forward every day. And you know, everything happens for a reason. If things didn’t happen the way they did, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Gabbert is in Kansas Metropolis.

He’s an elite backup and the O.G.

And he’s having a blast.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; images: David Eulitt and Norm Corridor / Getty Photographs)

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