UPDATE (9:30 a.m.): According to tweets from sources on the ground, Jim Harbaugh is in attendance at Blaine Gabbert’s pro day.
Unless today’s pro day at the University of Missouri comes complete with collapsing pockets, an army of NFL coaches and scouts won’t witness what one draftnik views as Blaine Gabbert’s biggest weakness.
In what might be The Mother of All 2011 Pro Days, Gabbert, who didn’t throw at the NFL Combine, will unveil his right arm in public for the first time since the Insight Bowl on Dec. 29. Gabbert’s no-throw strategy certainly hasn’t hurt him – he’s now popping up as a popular No. 1 overall pick in mock-draft land.
Gabbert is even growing on Sporting News draft analyst and former NFL scout Russ Lande, who said he wasn’t convinced Missouri’s 6-foot-4, 234-pound quarterback was a first-round prospect back in early February. Upon further review of six Missouri games, though, Gabbert answered Lande’s concerns about his arm strength.
But Lande isn’t fully aboard the Blaine Bandwagon. He views him as a mid- to late-first-round prospect due in large part to a lack of pocket presence. Gabbert is an excellent athlete – he ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine – but he doesn’t effectively use his feet to avoid pressure and extend plays, according to Lande.
“When the pocket is not clean, it’s not that he makes bad decisions because I don’t think he throws the ball up for grabs,” Lande said. “But I don’t think he consistently does what he has to do in terms of moving and sliding. A lot of times I think as soon as he feels the pressure he doesn’t even try to slide and move to avoid pressure, he just throws it away. He will just instantaneously throw it away.”
The matter of pocket presence, and the tendency to heave the ball out of bounds, is a familiar one for 49ers fans. It could be reasonably argued that the biggest difference between Alex Smith and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is their contrasting abilities to sense pressure, step away from trouble and make plays downfield.
• Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks checked in with quarterbacks coach Terry Shea, who has been working with Gabbert the past two months at Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona. Banks writes that some NFL scouts have questions about whether Gabbert consistently stretched the field enough in Missouri’s dink-and-dunk spread offense.
Lande said his own concerns were erased by a string of down-the-field lasers he saw Gabbert toss on film.
“That was one of my big questions was arm strength,” Lande said. “I thought he had a good arm, but it was hard to tell in their offense because he made so many short, quick passes. But in those games (I watched) he made about seven throws of 25-plus-yards where the ball needed to be on a rope and he ripped them. I mean, he made great throws.”