Before he flamed out in Jacksonville and resurrected his career in San Francisco, 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert was on the Carolina Panthers’ radar for the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.
Head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers liked Gabbert. They just liked Cam Newton better.
The Panthers were particularly impressed with how Newton addressed questions during the pre-draft process about his father’s pay-for-play scheme when Newton was leaving junior college.
“As you go through it, you look for certain things, certain characteristics. And probably the biggest difference was the situation Cam had been in, going through the adversity and then coming out on top,” Rivera said this week. “Cam was tremendously impressive, and Blaine did a nice job for us.”
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Gabbert ended up being picked 10th by Jacksonville, where he posted a 5-22 record in two-plus seasons as a starter. Gabbert was traded to San Francisco in 2014, and he replaced Colin Kaepernick as the starter midway through last season.
While the Panthers’ scouts and coaches liked Gabbert’s arm strength and mobility, they zeroed in on Newton early in the lead-up to the draft. But Gabbert has good memories of Carolina, where he met Panthers owners Jerry Richardson.
“I always had great visits with Mr. Richardson and the coaching staff there and coach Rivera,” Gabbert said. “I wish them nothing but the best and they were great to get to know.”
Gabbert played in Charlotte as a rookie in 2011 – a 16-10 Panthers victory in a game played in a torrential downpour. Gabbert said he remembers seeing water pouring down from the upper deck and linebacker Daryl Smith carrying a teammate out of the tunnel to avoid the huge puddles.
“It was pretty wild. I think that was the wettest game I’ve played in,” Gabbert said. “I think we actually ran out of footballs at one point just from them getting so waterlogged.
“It was fun. It was just like backyard football – making sure you get the snap, making sure you got the handoff and when you had to throw, just taking care of the football.”