JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Blaine Gabbert is getting the first crack at Jacksonville's quarterback job, albeit without three offensive starters.
Coach Gus Bradley announced Thursday that Gabbert will start against the Miami Dolphins on Friday night, but he plans to give Chad Henne some repetitions behind the first-team offensive line.
"I think that he's really shown a lot of poise," Bradley said of Gabbert. "I think he handles situations that have been presented to him in practice. They both have done some really good things, both have made some really good progress. Now, are they there yet? No, and I hope they would both answer it the same way. We just felt like with Blaine, with what he's done the last couple days in practice and how he's responded, we decided to give him the nod."
Bradley also said running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who is recovering from foot surgery, won't play in the team's preseason opener as a precaution.
"We just feel like he's making good progress but still has to work on conditioning," Bradley said. "He's going in the right direction, but we felt that was needed for his recovery and his continued progress. And we want to be smart with him and not force anything. But we're pleased with where he's at right now and excited about it, and it's good."
Eight others, including four starters, will be held out because of injuries. The group includes starting defensive end Jeremy Mincey (concussion), rookie safety Johnathan Cyprien (hamstring) and receivers Justin Blackmon (groin) and Cecil Shorts III (calf). The others are backup running back Justin Forsett (toe), defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick (groin) and cornerbacks Jeremy Harris (back) and Lionel Smith (quadriceps).
For the rebuilding Jaguars, the game gives Bradley a chance to see players in an even more competitive environment than practice -- something he's talked about throughout training camp.
Miami, meanwhile, is expected to give its starters more work than they got in the Hall of Fame game against Dallas last week. The Dolphins' starting offence played 10 snaps in against the Cowboys, and coach Joe Philbin said the first team likely will see a little more action against Jacksonville. That could include receiver Mike Wallace's first game with Miami since signing a $60 million, five-year contract. He missed the opener because of a groin injury.
The home crowd likely will focus on the QBs.
Although Bradley calls the situation an open competition, many believe it's Gabbert's job to lose.
The Jaguars look at Gabbert's first two seasons and find it difficult to fully evaluate what he can do and whether he can be a franchise quarterback. They point to his rookie season, when he was thrown into the starting lineup in Week 3, without much off-season work and asked to play with a lacklustre receiving corps and a lame-duck coaching staff.
Gabbert was supposed to show improvement last year, but Jones-Drew went down early in the season and Gabbert's offensive line was a patchwork unit that provided inconsistent protection.
With MJD and the line getting healthy, and the receivers a year older, the Jaguars want to see what Gabbert can do in 2013.
It really starts against the Dolphins, when Gabbert will play against live action for the first time since a forearm injury sideline late last season.
"I always expect to start football games," Gabbert said. "But at the same time I know competition is always going to be the theme of this organization, so you never take things for granted. You have to go out there and prove yourself day in and day out."
Henne handled the news well even though he would prefer to start against his former team.
"There's no disappointment," he said. "It's preseason. Nobody's decided anything in preseason yet. There's still competition here."