Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Are The Jaguars ‘Hoping” For Success

“I’m not a big fan of hope,” former Jaguars linebacker Tom McManus once said to me during an analysis of a game.

Hope is a funny word when it comes to professional sports. On one hand fans can hope things go well. On the other, hope shouldn’t be a part of a coaching staff’s decision making.

That’s why I’m hoping that the Jaguars staff isn’t hoping things work out on the left side of their offensive line.

During his daily press conference, Head Coach Gus Bradley said they decision has been made to start Kelvin Beachum at left tackle and Luke Joeckel at left guard for the regular season opener against Green Bay on September 11th. All along they expected Beachum to be back for the third preseason game, at the same time saying it would be a competition for the starting spot.

Clearly, the competition was only between Beachum and himself, whether he’d be physically able to play when asked. His 23 plays against Cincinnati showed what he’s capable of doing at the same time showing how he’s not conditioned well enough to play an entire game.

Still, Bradley says it was a “body of work” decision and admitted it wasn’t a true competition at all.

“I can credit as far as where at left guard he really elevated himself and, I cannot argue, that’s what I told him, I cannot argue the fact that you’re playing left tackle better than you did last year.,” Bradley said of his conversation with Joeckel. “I can’t argue the fact that this was a competition back and forth; that’s not accurate because Beachum wasn’t playing much in training camp. It was more the body of work we saw in what was best.”

“The competition did not come out where it was straight from the start because of the number of reps Beachum got, so we went about it a little bit of a different way,” Bradley said, trying to put the best spin on an awkward situation. It’s the first time in his tenure as head coach that Bradley had to “clarify” some things that were going on. I’m not sure what the big mystery was or if they were just trying to protect Joeckel for some reason but it’s obvious they intended for Beachum to be the starter at left tackle, if physically able, from the day they signed him as a free-agent.

“I really appreciate Luke and how he competed at guard and tackle,” Bradley continued, echoing what he said earlier in camp. “He improved at both areas. We felt like he did a really good job with Beachum, you know the body of work that he has had and also what he has shown to us in camp.”

Most fans will only remember the two times Joeckel was put flat on his back against Cincinnati, once falling into Blake Bortles. Bradley says he saw those as well but is looking beyond and in a larger scope.

“There’s plays here and there that you look at, but going into it, we just think that he’s got a high, high upside at guard and for us, we got a guard that’s playing very well and a guy that’s improved at tackle versus where he was last year. For us, selfishly speaking, pretty good deal, a guard and another left tackle for us.”

They’ll have to trim another 22 players off the current 75-man roster by this weekend. That’s why Thursday’s game against the Falcons is so fiercely competitive. Roster spots and some NFL futures are on the line. The Jaguars have a lot of decisions between helping now and developing players down the road. Offensive line is one of those positions they’ll have to release some players who are capable of staying in the league.

“I think that the depth is coming along there.,” Bradley explained. “We feel like [Tyler] Shatley’s really starting to perform really well. He had some good plays we showed in the team meeting today. So did [Chris] Reed. He’s doing a pretty good job in there, too. We got some decisions to make, that’s why this game, a lot of those guys will play.”

Without committing to not playing the starters on Thursday night, Bradley said the plan is to see just about everybody else get some playing time. He’ll look at the general health of the team regarding tightness, soreness, etc., before he decides if any of the starters will see action against Atlanta. Blake Bortles will not play but Chad Henne could also be on the bench for the entire game. The head coach says it could be Brandon Allen at quarterback and he could play the whole game. Plagued with a back problem for most of training camp, Sheldon Day went through practice on Tuesday and the staff is planning on him getting some reps in the game against the Falcons.. Bradley was asked if he had addressed his players’ actions during the National Anthem in light of the recent Colin Kaepernick controversy.

“I have, individually. Just when it comes up in conversation, but we have not addressed it as a team. I think with our team, it is more the communication, they all have their freedoms and things like that, but to communicate and have good conversations about their thoughts, I think is important.”

Bradley added he didn’t anticipate any similar action by the Jaguars.

Game time is at 7pm Thursday on Channel 4. The pregame show is scheduled for 6:30.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Know Bengals Effort Won’t Fly

I was surprised by Gus Bradley’s upbeat mood after the game Sunday night against Cincinnati. Sure, the second and third teams were competitive and won the game in the end but the starters looked miserable in the first half. Bradley is a very positive coach, so I asked him if it might be a good thing to have two weeks before they play for real with this kind of performance fresh in their minds.

“Right. And that’s what I think for us these experiences we go through, for us the offense especially gets punched in the mouth, we got their attention the next 10 days. We definitely got their attention now about how important everything counts,” Bradley said in his post-game press conference. ” Blake said it too, ‘Come on, Gus. One more series.’ I said, ‘What a great lesson for you to say every series is so important because you don’t know when it’s your last one, how many you have left, so you really got to take advantage of it.’ So I mean there’ll be a bunch of lessons and we definitely got their attention.”

That might be a bit of a rosy outlook for a team that was just manhandled in the first half by an admittedly solid Bengals squad. Besides being physically outmatched, the Jaguars looked slow and out of sync compared to their first two-preseason games.

In the post-game locker room there wasn’t any panic but each player echoed what Safety Tashaun Gipson said about not performing.

“All of our starters were out there this game, we had a week of preparation, we just didn’t go out and execute at times,” the veteran safety explained. “But at times it looked right and that’s what you want, to be more consistent, but moving forward we shouldn’t panic by any means.”

We got our first look at Kelvin Beachum at left tackle. He played the expected number of snaps and seems poised to start at that spot when the season begins. It wasn’t pretty by any means on offense in the first half but Beachum is looking forward. “It’s the preseason,” he said in front of his locker. “You have to take that into account. At the same time, you can’t make excuses about the situation. You’ve got to find a way to make plays and do what we do best.”

While Luke Joeckel earned praise for his play at left tackle in the first two preseason games, he was moved to guard beside Beachum with the first team against Cincinnati. He was tripped on one play that was replayed by NBC and didn’t appear to have the same success he enjoyed the first couple of weeks. The coaches have noted that Joeckel has taken the move to guard seriously if that’s where he’s asked to play, but Luke is still competing in his mind for the left tackle spot.

“I’m definitely more comfortable at tackle, that’s where I’ve played my entire life, but I’ve got to get more comfortable at guard and when I’m in there I’ve got to be the best guard I can be,” Joeckel said, reflecting what the coaches have talked about when it comes to his dedication. “There are no excuses; I’ve got to keep getting reps and get more comfortable quickly, but I expect more of myself so I’ll go back and look at tape.”

We saw Myles Jack with the first team, a plan the coaches had before the game, trying to get him reps with the “ones” to see how he responded as well as putting him in all kinds of down and distance situations. He’s an athlete, he’s going to be a good player but for now, he’s a rookie. The good thing is, he knows it.

“With this being my first season I really don’t know what’s going on but I’m looking at every game is the biggest and most important game of our life,” he said post-game with a smile. “So the games are preseason in everybody else’s eyes but it’s a game to show, that’s how I’m trying to treat it and that’s how I have been treating it.”

Wanting to be great is part of the ingredients a player needs to be great and Jack certainly has that. Believe it or not, not every player has that same desire. It would be easy to call it luck for the Jaguars but that’s part of their vetting process before they sign or draft a player. General Manager Dave Caldwell and Bradley are looking for guys who love the game and want to play at a high level.

Bradley said he’s responsible for Hayes Pullard not reporting on the TD catch and you could say he’s dealing with a lot of young players who are learning how to be professionals. That’s the case with Dante Fowler, who was flagged for being on the field after Pullard’s TD and has a youthful exuberance that the team is trying to channel into production on the field. They even asked Fowler to concentrate on being more of a “professional” this week, watching more film, meeting with coaches and being mentally prepared.

“Yeah, he did. He responded really well,” Bradley said when asked if Fowler embraced that kind of coaching. “I think the big thing with Dante is just his conditioning. We got him in there some screen and then we set up for him to see some run series that he would go in there.”

Here’s the Jaguars press release on reducing the roster to 78 players. They need to be down to 75 by tomorrow at 4. The only surprise name is McCray. Both Ficken and Quigley were auditioning Sunday night for everybody else in the league.

The Jaguars waived the following eight players: fourth-year LB Joplo Bartu, third-year WR Shaq Evans, first-year K Sam Ficken, rookie CB Mike Hilton, first-year RB Cameron Marshall, fourth-year CB Demetrius McCray, fourth-year P Ryan Quigley and rookie WR Jamal Robinson.

The Jaguars placed seventh-year OL Jeff Linkenbach (concussion) on the team’s reserve/injured list.

The Jaguars assigned the reserve/physically unable to perform designation to third-year OL Luke Bowanko (hip) and rookie DL Jonathan Woodard (achilles). Players assigned the reserve/physically unable to perform designation do not count against the team’s active roster and can return to practice any time between Week 6 and Week 11 and then have a 21-day window before they must be moved to the active roster, kept on the team’s reserve/physically unable to perform list or waived.

The Jaguars waived/injured third-year S Earl Wolff (hamstring). Wolff will revert to the team’s injured reserve list if he clears waivers.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Wake Up Call For Jaguars Vs. Bengals

If nothing else, the first half against the Bengals should have served as a giant wake up call for everybody associated with the Jaguars.

“We played pretty bad at every position. When you play bad, you don’t score a lot of points,” quarterback Blake Bortles said in the second half.

Players, coaches, front office people and even fans who have been full of optimism had that tempered a bit by many of the same mistakes that have plagued the team in the last three years.

A reminder: it is still preseason.

But against a perennial playoff team, the Jaguars turned it over, missed assignments on defense, and had 14 yards of total offense midway through the second quarter.

And oh by the way, they were down 14-0.

When it was first team vs. first team, the Jaguars were no match for the Bengals, getting manhandled at the line of scrimmage and outsmarted in the field. If Gus Bradley was looking at this game as a “fact finding” situation, what he found out is that his team has a lot of work to do.

Early in the week Bradley said having the game on s Sunday night in front of a national TV audience would give him a chance to see how his players reacted to that spotlight. When they kicked it off, the Jaguars, unlike the first two-preseason games, looked tentative and a step slow.

Andy Dalton and the Bengals turned a TJ Yeldon fumble in the first quarter quickly into a touchdown. Three plays, twenty-two yards and it was 7-0. Their next drive, after a Jaguars punt, chewed up 8:57 on the clock and ended in another Cincinnati TD, 14-0 Bengals. The Jaguars looked outmanned up front and were out of place on defense consistently. If Bradley and the coaching staff were asking the players to do something different (i.e. play a base defense) it might be explainable. But teams do prepare and game plan for the third preseason game much like the regular season so it’s hard not to just see the first half as not much better than anything we’ve seen in the past three years.

Simple things kept the Jaguars from having any success.

Hays Pullard was so excited to be in the game as the fullback, he forgot (or wasn’t coached to) to report to the ref as an eligible receiver his touchdown catch was negated.

That’s just basic football stuff that can’t be ignored.

That was followed by a couple of miscues that led to a field goal from Sam Ficken that bounced off the left upright and in for three points. Ficken and punter Ryan Quigley were in the game for starters Brad Nortman and Jason Myers. Both were auditioning for other teams in the league.

As the defending division champs and a 2015 playoff team, the Bengals are good, not great. But Bortles was right when he said they were the perfect team to go up against in the third preseason game on national television. Tough, big and solid, they exposed the Jaguars starters as “not ready for prime time” yet. It might not mean it’s time to panic but it should get everybody’s attention.

If the Jaguars are still in the building and learning process, hoping to be a competitive team in the division, the Bengals are several years in front of them, already thinking about a deep playoff run.

From the look on Gus’ face on the sideline, he’s not going to have too much good to say about this one when it comes to the starters. His thought that anybody thinking “I got this” is the enemy of all success will be a theme this week.

They’ll cut 15 players on Monday and give the second and third teamers a chance to start and make an impression on Thursday in Atlanta. While the starters won’t play for either side, that game, as is the case with the final preseason game, will feature fierce competition with guys trying to make an impression and stay in the league. After that, they’ll cut again to 53 and look to sign up to as many as 10 players to the practice squad.

Everybody should be happy it’s just preseason. If it is a wake up call, the bell is sounding loud and clear.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Arrow Up On Jaguars

Looking at the Jaguars through two preseason games and three weeks of training camp some things about the team are starting to take shape.

1) A year under his belt in the offensive system has helped Blake Bortles take command and get comfortable. They time spent in the offseason throwing to Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson has paid off with them understanding what the other is thinking as a play develops. Head Coach Gus Bradley has noticed that Bortles is carrying his practice play into the preseason games.

“I’m really pleased with his consistency and decision-making,” Bradley said after Saturday’s game with Tampa Bay. “Those are two facets that we pointed to in the offseason and into training camp. He’s put two games together where he’s made good decisions for us.”

It was funny to hear Bortles explain his process last year getting into the huddle and up to the line of scrimmage. Blake said in one pregame meeting that he was hoping nobody would talk to him after he got the play in his helmet so he could repeat it several times in his head before stepping in the huddle to make the call. Now he doesn’t even think about it.

2) While the team is waiting on Kelvin Beachum to get into a game and ramp up the competition at left tackle, Luke Joeckel is taking advantage of his opportunity, playing like the first round draft pick the Jaguars expected.

“He did a really nice job,” Bradley said about Joeckel’s play against the Bucs. “I think it was Luke’s most physical game that he’s played as a Jag, where he showed up and really attempted to be physical. I think sometimes, people will play more physical when they really understand the assignments and their jobs. He’s on it now. That part of the game, I think, has really picked up for him. He did a good job in protection and in the run game.”

Bradley has also been impressed with how Joeckel has been willing to learn the left guard spot and excel inside instead of pouting and thinking he’s only a tackle. No matter what happens with Beachum, the Jaguars are comfortable at this point with Joeckel starting at tackle.

3) Good effort is evident when you watch Dante Fowler in practice and although he was stymied in two practices with the Bucs last week, Fowler continued to give the same effort in the game.

‘His effort continues to show,” Bradley explained. “He got a hit on the quarterback on a throw on a twist game that we have set up, so his effort still jumps up out at you. But I do know we complimented him on his effort and on all the plays that he was in.”

4) Both publicly and privately in the locker room, veteran players have been impressed with rookie Jalen Ramsey. Mark Brunell told me that it might take several years for some players to understand and take to the professional game, for Ramsey “It might take a few weeks.” Bradley admitted Ramsey is one of those players who raises everybody else’s game as well.

“Well, I hope everybody raises each other and every individual takes on that responsibility, but he is,” Gus said. “He does some really good things. Just like he’ll pick up some things from other players, I’m sure they’ll pick up some things from him.”

One of the unique things about Ramsey is that he can play both inside and out, pretty special for a player just out of college.

“I thought he did a good job,” Bradley explained. “Now we saw him both on the outside and in the slot and I don’t know exactly how many times, but I do remember a couple of them in particular. The big thing with Jalen is he’s got really, really good poise. He’s obviously a very talented athlete and he’s got good technique, but his poise at the line of scrimmage and you really trust his speed, so it allows him to play at a comfort level that he has great confidence.”

5) There will be players who are cut by the Jaguars before the regular season who will make, and play for other NFL teams. Despite their lack of production against Tampa Bay, the second and third teamers who remain on the final 53 for the Jaguars have the kind of depth they’ll need to compete over a 16 game season. That hasn’t been the case for the last four years.

A player like Sen’Derrick Marks isn’t listed as a starter but he’ll play like one. Sen’Derrick told me that the addition of Malik Jackson and the rotation he’ll be in during the regular season could put him in the game for 30 or 40 plays. He expects to be fresh and productive and not double-teamed.

“I think knowing Sen’Derrick, there are times in his career that he has been here that when we did limit some of his reps, that it helped him be even more effective,” Bradley confirmed. “He is going to argue this. He is going to argue all of this. I don’t really look at him as a backup. We talk in terms of, ‘We are going to need you all.’. He is in a strong competition now. I was very pleased how he handled it, though. He went in there with the second group and competed his tail off and really showed up on film. I think message sent, message received for him.”

If they get the offensive line set, they’ll make quick progress scoring points and controlling the clock. Brandon Linder has adapted to the center position quickly, not surprising because he’s a smart player, but he brings a physical presence in the middle of the line that the team is hoping improves the run game. Chris Ivory not only likes to be physical he has speed you don’t expect. Brad Nortman is a nice addition as the punter but Ryan Quigley can really boot it as well. Brandon Allen looks better than expected behind center and could be backing up Bortles sooner rather than later. They’ll keep a bunch of running backs, like last year, but special teams will determine where Denard Robinson and Joe Banyard fit into the regular season plans. Corey Grant, healthy again, appears to be the kick returner. They’ll keep five wide receivers if Marqis Lee stays healthy, so that means Bryan Walters is competing for that fifth spot with guys like Aurileus Benn and Tony Washington although the coaches like Rashad Lawrence as well. And Myles Jack can really play.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

South End Zone Project: Khan Wants To Get It Right

In February of this year when the Jaguars made a big splash unveiling their Shipyards project vision; Jaguars Owner Shad Khan said a renovation of the South End Zone could be completed before the 2016 football season began.

While the project went through various design stages and permitting processes, that timeline got pushed back with Khan saying, “We’re only going to build this once, so let’s get it right.”

Today’s announcement of the project called “Daily’s Place” as part of a multi-year naming rights agreement put the completion in March of 2017.

At the original announcement seven months ago, Khan told me he’d like to see the Jacksonville host the NFL Draft. He reiterated that today.

“It could be a great venue for the draft with all the amenities,” Khan said. “We’re going do our utmost.”

Last year’s draft was held in and around Grant Park near Chicago’s waterfront. The NFL estimated 750,000 people made their way through the exhibits, displays and temporary amphitheater over four days.

All along Khan has said his vision was “iconic, a signature piece for Jacksonville.” Today’s renderings backed up his idea of more “Sydney opera house” than strip mall.

Here’s how they describe the combination covered practice field and entertainment venue in today’s press release:

Daily’s Place will house the new 5,500-person capacity amphitheater and 94,000-square foot covered flex field, as well as a luxurious back-of-house artist building. The soon-to-be-iconic superstructure will reside underneath a roof that covers both venues. Fabric and steel comprise more than eighty percent of the design materials for the project. Polytetrafluoroethylene (“PTFE”) fabric will be suspended from a series of steel trusses, each spanning 430 feet from the south end zone of the stadium to the southern façade of the flex field.

Daily’s Place will be fully integrated into EverBank Field, creating a cohesive environment for events and festivals to utilize the entire stadium premises. At the ground level, the new south end zone field super-tunnel will lead to a brand new central bar connected to the amphitheater entrance. The existing Bud Light Party Zone and Terrace Suite areas will now be linked to the amphitheater’s elevated seating decks via access bridges at each level.

The covered flex field includes a regulation size football field with over 20 feet of auxiliary space around the artificial playing surface. At its highest point along the 50-yard-line, the roof rises nearly 80 feet. Flanked on the north and south side by massive hangar doors, the facility can be used independently or opened up to the amphitheater via a sliding door behind the stage that measures approximately 53 feet tall by 60 feet wide. Along the south side of the property are four more sliding doors of similar size that, when opened, create an open air experience measuring 222 feet wide. When the doors are closed to the flex field, the space is fully climate controlled.

With the inside of the stadium renovations completed, for now, Khan says the south end zone project will provide the impetus to get the entire Shipyards project going.

“What this means for the Shipyards is very good, because you have to have some inertia to get something going,” Khan said. “We have now, across the highway, would be a great opportunity for a high-end hotel and convention center, which really this town needs. We’ll try to work with the city and then as you move towards downtown, the city is wrestling with a lot of challenges environmentally. As that is addressed, then you can really have the growth. I think it’s very good. It’s embryonic, but important.”

All along developers have known that the old Jacksonville Shipyards was an environmental challenge, costing upwards of $50 million to clean up before any construction can begin. The city, as well as Khan, is trying to engage the State of Florida and the federal government to participate in the cleanup.

Starting at the stadium and moving west, Khan wants to reshape downtown, saying a strong urban core is a vital part of any city’s success. He originally wanted to buy the Jacksonville Suns franchise from the Bragan family as part of the project but the timing and the price at the time weren’t right.

“These new facilities are part of our ambitious vision for the future of downtown Jacksonville as a world-class sports and entertainment destination,” Khan said today. “The proximity of Daily’s Place to the St. Johns River, EverBank Field and the Sports Complex will further shape the identity of Downtown Jacksonville as a cool place to be. And, we should expect all of this to serve as a catalyst for future development in the area. It’s a great day for Jacksonville.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars vs. SD: Nothing To Like

Whatever we watched last week against the Packers we watched the opposite this week against the Chargers. From the opening snap, Phillip Rivers and San Diego did whatever they wanted against the Jaguars on offense and defense, looking dominant in a 38-7 rout.

For all of the tenacity last week against the Packers, the Jaguars folded this week on the west coast. San Diego scored on their first three possessions, running the football at will and putting the game out of reach early. Blake Bortles threw behind Marqis Lee again in the middle of the field and it was picked off. Rivers quickly took advantage of the short field to take the lead and never looked back. When the game felt like it might be slipping away last week against the Packers, the Jaguars put their foot in the ground and made a stand. This week, the defense was porous and Bortles had three turnovers in the first half, two interceptions and a fumble, all leading the Chargers scores.

Without an outstanding play by Yannick Ngakoue, San Diego would have been up 28-0 before halftime. Ngakoue recorded his first sack, stripping the ball from Rivers and the Jaguars recovered it. Bortles looked out of sorts all day and threw an interception to end the drive.

Besides the play by Ngakoue, Dante Fowler recorded his first two professional sacks and we saw Myles Jack on the field at middle linebacker for the first time. Other than that, there weren’t any highlights. Any scores by the Jaguars were meaningless and any stats compiled by Bortles were all during garbage time.

I’ll go back to the four keys they needed to compete in San Diego and they didn’t get any of them. No pass rush to speak of, turnovers in their own end, no running game and special teams had their failings as well. Penalties were a problem again with Jared Odrick losing his poise and his temper helping the Chargers to another score.

I’ve said all along that the number of wins at the end of the year won’t necessarily be the measuring stick for Gus Bradley’s future. Games like last week gave the Jaguars hope. Games like today call Bradley’s future into question.

Khan wants a competitive team and doesn’t like being embarrassed. He’s been patient, like the fans have, and he wants results. Looking at the first four games of the season, and the rest of the schedule, it appeared the Jaguars needed to win two of their first four. Now as they’ve started 0-2, they’ll need to win against Baltimore and Joe Flacco at home and beat the Colts and Andrew Luck in London to look like a competitive team for the rest of the year.

This one’s a blow to the psyche as well as a loss on the scoreboard. It’s a ding in their confidence. What they built last week is gone and they’ll have to rebuild themselves quickly before the entire season gets away.

(Here’s a stat that applies: Teams that start 0-2 have a 12% chance of making the playoffs)

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Will Gus Bradley’s Coaching Experiment Work?

Just about all the talk, all the prep and all of they hype are behind them now. The re-tooled Jaguars will take the field on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers with new expectations. Last February I asked Owner Shad Khan what his expectation level would be for 2016 and he said, “Better than 5-11 I can tell you that!”

So while a specific number of wins is probably not the measuring stick for success this year, how the team plays, how competitive they are throughout the year and how they compete in games will give an indication of how much better they are. Through the draft and free agency they’ve upgraded the talent. But to become a better team it takes a little bit of an intangible quality. Head Coach Gus Bradley has said through training camp that he’s felt that intangible has come quicker than expected and explained how it manifests itself when he’s with the team.

“Very good. Very focused team,” he explained on Friday. “You see position groups talking among one another. It’s conversations [about] what are we dealing with this week. They are having a lot of conversations about football and what they’re going to see, so that’s always good. Can’t always say that is how it has always been. This group is really into football, really, really into it. You can tell by how they’re watching film together and they’re doing it as groups rather than individuals, which is cool.”

Working with Bradley in press conferences and in private meetings, he’s authentically positive. It’s not an act. He truly wants to empower the players to hold one another accountable, to get them ready to play their best. He’s done it in his own career, telling me last week becoming a head coach in the NFL wasn’t an “ultimate goal” for him.

“I wanted to be the best position coach I could be,” he told me. “And when I became a coordinator in Seattle, I wanted to be the best coordinator I could be. I wasn’t always looking at what path would make me a head coach.”

So giving the players that kind of focus has been his goal. To change the meaning of success from what happens on the scoreboard to how you play. Giving the players the tools to play their best is his goal. That’s when the score will take care of itself.

“Now I think when they’re confident that should be a sign that they feel prepared,” Gus related about his team’s vision of the opener. “They’re prepared, they understand the task in front of them, the challenges that they’re facing, but they’re clear on it and they know what they need to do. So I think when you’re prepared like that it breeds confidence.”

Through the conditioning, the meetings, the installation and the practices, Bradley said his team is prepared to take on the season. He never wants his players to have an “I got this” mentality, but rather to be constantly improving both physically and mentally.

“We got better today,” was the perfect answer Kelvin Beachum gave when I asked him what the team did on their ‘Bonus Monday.’

Bradley would approve.

“We talk about enthusiasm, play tough, and one of them is playing smart,” the head coach explained about how the team is finding out all the facets necessary to win in the NFL. “We really have to play smart this game. You play smart every game, but there are so many challenges that this team presents with the hard counts, with the freebies, with the penalties and the substitutions. We have to have a really clean game. That has been addressed with our team.”

In their fourth year of changes, the Jaguars have the ‘look’ look of a legitimate NFL team. They’re big across both fronts; they’re fast in the offensive and defensive backfields and their quarterback is building on some previous success. But they’re still young. Only two players (Marcedes Lewis and Paul Posluzsny) are out of their 20’s. Myles Jack just turned 21 last Saturday. They’ll start Jalen Ramsey, a rookie, albeit a highly touted and drafted one, at one of their cornerback spots against Aaron Rodgers. To Bradley, that ‘reason’ for not doing well passed a couple of years ago.

“If we said we’re a young team then, we can’t say that any more,” he explained when asked if he was worried about his team being so young.

“If they are counting on a Saturday speech then it’s too late,” he added. “This team, everything we do, we try to teach them [that it is] more internal. It is more about you going out there and doing your job and doing it at a high level. Hopefully it comes from within rather than from me.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bortles Better, Defense Better

He’s a third year pro but perhaps more importantly, it’s Blake Bortles’ second year in the same offensive system. It’s allowed the Jaguars quarterback to be more in command and take a bigger leadership role.

“Yeah, I think so, definitely. If I wasn’t then it would be pretty disappointing,” he said after Tuesday’s practice in full pads.

“I think going in a second year in the system, I think, personally, the decisions have been better. As a whole there are some bad decisions and bad throws and there probably always will be, but trying to minimize those as much as possible and try to find ways to be efficient.”

Watching Bortles on the field, he looks crisper and more decisive with his decision-making and his throws. Some of that is just maturing as a player. Some of it is the competition he’s facing each day in practice.

“Yeah, I think everything feels better,” he explained. “From an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint as well. I mean the defensive line, the backers, the secondary – you know it really feels better and it’s challenging as a quarterback to try and match these plays against this kind of caliber of a defense.”

While Bortles didn’t single out the previous Jaguars defenses as deficient, it’s obvious the money spent in free agency and the addition of Fowler, Ramsey and Jack through the draft has changed the whole look and speed of the defense.

I think the stuff they are doing is really good and effective. Some of the things they are doing, mixing looks up and doing things like that presents some different challenges so I think it is definitely more effective and when you put better players into the system then it is only going to be that much harder.”