Blaine Gabbert's return is on track

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Blaine Gabbert says he let it rip on Monday.

The Jaguars quarterback threw the ball pretty hard for the first time since he suffered a hairline fracture in his right thumb against the New York Jets on Aug. 19, and says he’s progressing according to the team’s plan to get him back in time to start the season opener against Kansas City on Sunday.

"Very optimistic about it," Gabbert said. "It’s healing well, about as fast as it can at this point, but I feel great. It’s a process. You’re going to feel good some days and some days not so much, but at the same time the more I can do out there, the more reps I get, that’s going to help me mentally and physically."

Coach Gus Bradley is optimistic, too, but he’s taking the wait-and-see approach. Gabbert began gripping a ball for the first time since the injury late last week and began throwing over the weekend. He was nearly a full participant in individual drills on Monday, doing everything but taking snaps under center or in the shotgun. Now the plan is to see how Gabbert’s thumb responds on Tuesday.

"This was what we expected to see from him today so we’ll just see how the week goes," Bradley said. "I think Wednesday will be a big sign to see if he’s going in the right direction, and even after today’s practice we’ll see how his thumb came out of it."

The plan is for Gabbert to participate in team drills on Wednesday, which includes taking snaps. Gabbert said he still has some minor pain when he throws and is working with the training staff on wearing some type of support wrap on his hand, but he’s worried about that affecting his ability to hold the ball.

"There’s some stuff that we’re trying out and trying to do," Gabbert said. "You can’t have too much on there because it’s kind of a catch-22. You don’t want to have too much and then you can’t grip it. We’re just finding ways right now to help it out."

Bradley said it could take until Friday before he’s able to determine if Gabbert will be able to play against the Chiefs. However, all indications point to Gabbert being on the field provided he doesn’t have a setback on Tuesday. If Gabbert is able to fully participate in practice on Wednesday then it would be a surprise if he didn’t start the season opener.

"Just like I said, we’re taking it day by day, see how I feel tomorrow and make decisions from there," Gabbert said.

This is a pivotal season for Gabbert, who so far has been a disappointment since the Jaguars drafted him with the No. 10 overall selection in 2011. He has completed 53.8 percent of his passes for 3,876 yards and 21 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and he missed six games last season after suffering a right forearm injury. Gabbert had to hold off Chad Henne in training camp to win the starting job. Despite some up-and-down practices, Gabbert posted pretty good numbers in the preseason: 18-of-26 for 184 yards and one touchdown with one interception.

One of Gabbert’s biggest issues has been consistency. In his 24 starts, he has completed at least half of his passes 16 times (including the game in which was injured last season and went 2-for-2) but has also had seven games in which he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. He has thrown for more than 300 yards just once (vs. Green Bay last season) but has thrown for less than 200 yards 16 times (not including the game in which he was injured last season).

Gabbert has to level out and prove he can be a franchise quarterback. That begins with starting and playing well with Kansas City -- even if he has to fight through some pain in his throwing hand.