Leaning on the perspective of history you learn that it’s never as bad as it seems or as good as it looks when it comes to the NFL. That’s why watching Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley after the 19-9 loss to Oakland was a study in how “team building” is part of his philosophy as a young head coach. He told us when he was hired that he was excited to now lead the whole team instead of just the defense and he’s putting that theory into play.
And he’s been tested early.
There wasn’t much good to go on in the opening day loss to Kansas City and Bradley admitted that adding, “We competed like crazy, but sometimes the wrong way.” And while that was harsh on the ears at first, it made sense that a young, inexperienced team was having difficulty just doing their job, following their training and talent and going out and playing.
He could have spent some time calling guys out, singling players out for their mistakes, but instead called on the players as a whole to “buy in” and the coaching staff to re-evaluate how they were trying to teach.
Following the Oakland loss, Bradley said there were “small victories” and if you look at the glass “half-full” it’s easy to see some of them. The Raiders scored one touchdown against the Jaguars defense, and that was on a short field created by special teams. The rest of Oakland’s points came from Sebastian Janikowski’s foot.
Bradley singled out Chad Henne from a statistical standpoint and said that the running backs did a decent job after Maurice Jones Drew left the game. He acknowledged that Luke Joeckel was anxious during the two-minute drill and jumped early twice, and was critical of his team’s mental errors causing penalties, noting that a “hands to the face penalty kept a drive going. We have to clean that up.”
I’ll admit that Bradley is an easy guy to like. Good listener, honest, not a bunch of baloney coming from him when you ask him a question whether it’s hard or a softball. And his ability to direct his team to “take the next step” without crushing either their enthusiasm or their motivation has showed up at important times.
It would be easy to fall into a culture of losing where the players start doing their own thing, figuring they’re going to be on the wrong end of the scoreboard no matter what.
And that’s where Bradley’s challenge gets a little steeper.
How do you keep veterans like Jones Drew, Monroe, Lewis, Babin and others engaged in the process of getting better when in the short term they might not have much success in beating opponents on the field?
In his acceptance of a complete rebuild, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan said it made him think “Why didn’t I start this a year sooner” leaving him with the understanding that it’s going to take some time to build a consistent winner. Because of some bad decisions made by Wayne Weaver, Gene Smith, James Harris and Jack Del Rio the Jaguars missed their “cyclical uptick” about 3 or four years ago.
They beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs and were one win away from the AFC Championship game but got off track in the off-season and got lost. That means they’ve been in the losing doldrums for an inordinate amount of time by NFL standards. That doesn’t make the fans happy and rightfully so.
But I’ve never understood that segment of fans that say “they’re not winning so why don’t they just move?” If that were the case in the last hundred years of watching sports the Cubs would be out of Chicago, the Red Sox could easily be in south Florida and the Lions would have left Detroit decades ago. They haven’t won in ages.
No, it’s a process with peaks and valleys and right now the Jaguars and their fans probably feel like they’re in the Marianas Trench of losing.
Does Bradley know how to get the most out of his guys? Is Dave Caldwell the personnel whiz that most people in the league think he is?
We’ll know the answers to those questions soon enough when you measure it against the NFL’s timetable. It wasn’t that long ago in “NFL time” that San Francisco, New Orleans, Baltimore and even New England were lowly bottom feeders in the league. As Shad Khan sees it, this group of his football management has some time to build a winner.
As I’ve said before.
Not lots of time.