Locker, Gabbert could be longtime rivals

First-round QBs Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars) and Jake Locker (Titans) join the AFC South next season. AP Photo/Icon SMI

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Two picks apart, they’re in line to play two games against each other every season.

If the Titans and Jaguars both hit with their quarterback picks Thursday night, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert will be linked for a lot of years.

“I think there is a natural rivalry there,” Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said of the two being drafted into the same division in such proximity. “They are both very talented guys. Blaine was in the mix of guys we considered. At the end of the day, I think the consensus for us was that Jake made more sense for us. But Blaine is a very talented young man.”

Locker and Gabbert will have the chance to be faces of their franchises, and they will be bold-faced lines on the résumés of two general managers still relatively new on the job.

In Reinfeldt’s fifth year as GM in Tennessee, he said he had a solid consensus on Locker as he looks to replace Vince Young. The team will cut Young after five years, and new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer immediately contrasted his new pupil to the guy he’ll replace.

“I think we have a new culture here at the quarterback spot, a guy that’s going to be the first one in here and the last one out,” said Palmer, who was quarterbacks coach for the Giants when Titans owner Bud Adams had his team draft Young third overall in 2006. “A guy who’s getting married in July, and he’ll spend his time this summer on Cape Cod with me. I’m looking forward to that; I like to throw in the summer on the beach.”

The Titans will still sign or trade for a veteran, but after spending their first-round pick on Locker, they surely are out of the mix for names such as Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer and Kyle Orton, and more likely to look back to Kerry Collins.

Tennessee obviously had Locker rated at least a bit higher than Gabbert; Titans officials said the team feels it can help Locker be more accurate and loves the leadership he will bring to the locker room and huddle.

“It’s his leadership, his toughness, his smarts and his talent,” Titans VP of player personnel Ruston Webster said. “He’s a very talented young man with a lot of makeup. When everyone talks about him, they talk about his intangibles, but he’s also very talented. That combination, I think, is going to bode well for him.”

In Jacksonville GM Gene Smith’s third year, he traded his second-round pick to jump from No. 16 to No. 10 and snag Gabbert, who had been projected by many to go inside the top five. The Jaguars had Gabbert rated ahead of Locker.

Said coach Jack Del Rio: “[Smith] has shown a couple of years in a row that he’s willing to be aggressive and go make a move that he thinks is best for our football team.”

Smith and Del Rio have talked about how the Jaguars have time to get their next quarterback ready to play with a capable veteran in place in David Garrard.

But the inconsistent Garrard is 33 and probably not going to get any better. It makes sense for the Jaguars to put a young quarterback in the middle of a young team and let a bunch of kids grow up together.

“You’re talking about an underclassman, and as skilled as he may be, he’s got a lot to work on,” Del Rio said. “It will take some time. As far as timetables and when, I think you let it play out through competition. Certainly we feel very good about the strength we have at that position. David is a very capable starter, and Luke McCown is a very capable backup. Now we’re adding a super-talented young man into the mix.”

Gabbert said he’s got a good football IQ to go with his arm strength.

“The biggest thing as a quarterback is you have to be able to process information, diagnose certain coverages in order to throw the football,” he said in a conference call with Jacksonville media. “That’s extremely important to being able to have success on the field. You have to prepare very hard and pick up the X’s and O’s. It’s crucial to the quarterback position. ...

“I have the ability to throw the ball downfield and fit it into tight windows, and then the ability to make a play when the pocket breaks down. Obviously nothing is perfect on game day, and you’ve got to be able to throw on the run, and I make people miss.”

Locker was better on the run than in the pocket as a collegian. The Titans' offensive line will offer him far better protection than he ever got at Washington.

The Titans and Jaguars square off at EverBank Stadium on opening day. If their teams try to bring them along slowly, we might have to wait until the rematch in Week 16 at LP Field for the first of many possible Locker-versus-Gabbert contests.

“You get to know a lot of these guys throughout this process,” Locker said. “A great guy, great talented quarterback and someone that I think will be very successful at the next level. I think you would have a rivalry with anybody you play against.

"You want to go out there and beat them every time you step on the field against them. That’s kind of the mindset that I will go into that with and against anybody.”