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One week in, Blaine Gabbert a pleasant surprise for Cardinals

Cardinals QBs Blaine Gabbert and Carson Palmer walk around during an OTA practice Wednesday, May 24. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert has been in the NFL long enough to where people have some pretty concrete opinions of who he is and what he isn’t.

A bust? Well, he has yet to live up to being the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

A victim of circumstance? Surely starting his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars only to move on to the post-Harbaugh San Francisco 49ers was not ideal, nor is the fact that he has played under six different offensive coordinators in six NFL seasons.

A combination of the two?

The Cardinals brought Gabbert in on a one-year contract because, if nothing else, the 27-year-old is worth getting a closer look at. Maybe his career 56 percent completion percentage with 38 touchdowns and 37 interceptions is indicative of the kind of player he is, which would seem to be no more than a backup quarterback, at best.

Or, maybe the 6-foot-4, 235-pound passer, now in a system that fits his skillset and surrounded by more talent than at any point in his career, can be something more.

Roughly one week into his tenure with the Cardinals, opinions are not only positive, but maybe a bit surprising.

“Really, really bright,” head coach Bruce Arians said of what he has learned of the QB. “It’s amazing how much he’s picked up; he’s already changing protections.

“He’s light years (ahead of) where I thought he’d be mentally, really pleased with that.”

Arians admitted he’s surprised when anyone can come in and pick up his offense this fast, adding that it took Carson Palmer — a veteran who had started 122 games, been to the playoffs and thrown for 29,465 yards with 189 touchdowns prior to landing in Arizona — most of his first spring and into fall camp before he really got the system down.

Perhaps Gabbert’s ability to learn quickly should not be shocking, given that his Wonderlic score of 42 back in 2011 was the second-highest among QBs in that draft class. Besides, just last week Gabbert was able to rattle off the names of all six of his previous offensive coordinators on the spot.

Gabbert’s newest offensive coordinator, Harold Goodwin, is also impressed with what he’s seen.

“Oh I like him, I like him,” he said at Steak 44 on Monday prior to the Arians Family Foundation Fundraiser. “You can see everything B.A. talked about when he came in and told us we were bringing him in. I can see it.

“The arm, the intelligence is there. He’s a guy who wants to learn. He’s there on days he doesn’t have to be there, so I’m kind of excited about the future for him.”

Gabbert’s past has not exactly been noteworthy, which his 9-31 career record would indicate.

Goodwin did not want to comment on the thought that maybe all Gabbert needed was a situation like Arizona in order to succeed because, as he said, he does not know what went on behind closed doors at his previous stops.

He did say, however, he did not know what to expect from Gabbert, but sees plenty of upside.

Is it possible for a player of Gabbert’s age with his kind of track record to have upside?

That’s the question the Cardinals are trying to answer, and if they can, it’s possible their search for a successor to Carson Palmer will have ended before anyone really realized it came to an end.

“We’re always looking for ways to better our team, we’re always looking for ways to make sure that quarterback position is secure because that’s the toughest position to solidify on the football team,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said at the Arians event. “Steve Keim, Bruce Arians, those guys are always looking, always searching, and if he’s one of the guys he’ll stay around. If not, we’ll continue looking.”

Pressed for a scouting report on Gabbert, who Peterson has seen some in practice after playing against him the last couple of years, the Pro Bowler complimented the QB’s arm strength while noting he did not get to show it much last year, possibly because of the team’s offense.

“He really has a rocket, he really does,” he said. “You don’t really see him throw the ball deep as much as Carson (Palmer) or Drew (Stanton), but in this offense you have to.

“But he has a very, very strong arm — he can put the ball in tight spots — and it looks like he can command an offense.”

Gabbert completed 18-of-31 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 33-21 Week 5 loss to the Cardinals last season. He also ran for 70 yards and one touchdown on 10 attempts. He was replaced as the 49ers’ starting quarterback the following week, appearing in just one more game the rest of the way.

The game last season was one of just two Gabbert has played against Arizona, with the other coming in 2015 when he completed 25-of-36 passes for 318 yards and one touchdown with one pick.

In 2015 he was running an offense that, while not what the Cardinals use, was at least a better fit than the read option he was asked to guide last season.

Of course, none of that really matters now for Gabbert or the Cardinals. What transpired in Jacksonville and San Francisco only matters in that it led him to Arizona, which features a coaching staff who wanted him and an opportunity for a future.

It also has a certain future Hall of Fame receiver who said Gabbert “can flat-out throw the football.”

“He’s displayed that in a few practices we already had last week,” Larry Fitzgerald said Monday at Steak 44. “This is not easy for a quarterback to come in here and do it really quickly because this offense is extremely difficult to master — the nuances, the hots and the sights — the things that you have to do. But from a physical standpoint, he can throw the football, he’s accurate, he’s made some plays.”

So in other words, he has the look of a franchise quarterback?

“I mean, all first-round picks, they look a part, they look the part,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re 6-foot-4, they can do certain things. He’s a lot more athletic than you think.

“But he can’t play golf though; his putting stroke is horrendous. I know that about him already. He’s not ever going to be on the PGA Tour.”

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