Toward the end of any NFL season, teams are going in all kinds of different directions. Some are already looking ahead to the playoffs. Others are fighting for a spot in the postseason and still others are looking ahead to next year, checking their current roster to see who might be able to help them in the future.
The Jaguars are unique among that latter group because they’re playing with an intensity that would suggest there’s more football to play. Instead, they know their season ends in Indianapolis in two weeks but the players also know what they do this week and next will have a big impact on whether they’ll get a chance to be on this team next year.
Is that what they really want anyway?
I’ve been surprised how the locker room has reacted to Gus Bradley and what he and Dave Caldwell are trying to build with the Jaguars franchise. “I want to be here,” Paul Posluszny said as the second half of the season started. “I’d like to stay here,” Maurice Jones Drew echoed two weeks ago, knowing his contract is ending and he’ll be a free agent.
No question Bradley has this group of players believing that he’s building a winner that won’t go away soon. They won’t win soon either, but once they start, they won’t stop. The culture of empowerment that the players are a part of gets the most out of their talent. Sometimes that’s not even enough to win games, but when the talent level starts to rise, the outcome will different.
“I don’t want the players to be motivated by wins and losses,” Bradley said last week. “I want them to be motivated by performing at their personal best.” That would have been considered heresy in the league 20 years ago, but to give the players the power and to act as a “servant leader” is what Gus Bradley has adopted.
Mel Tucker was the same way. “I want to be here to help the players become the best they can be,” Tucker said during his tenure as the Jaguars interim head coach.
In 2013, Gus Bradley has said the scenario has developed “perfectly.” “We had a stretch where we didn’t win, then we had a little success, then we got punched in the mouth a little but. We were going to find out if this team can take a punch. And we found out they can.”
Bradley never talks about winning but always about “getting better.” And he knows at the end of this year the team is a bit thin at certain positions because of injury, like most teams in the league. He’s adjusted the practice regimen because of it and moved some players around, trying to stay competitive.
“We really weren’t sure as a coaching staff where our depth was early in the year so we had to really work on developing guys,” Bradley said while preparing for Sunday’s match with the Titans. “But that’s our job, developing guys, brining them up off the practice squad and seeing if they can play. It’s been pretty good.”
Without the playoffs as a goal, the Jaguars have continued to strive according to Bradley. “It hasn’t changed,” he said about their motivation. “When they get in the meetings, in the locker room, the practice field, they’re still working hard. I don’t see any difference. They’re still trying to get better.”
And he was able to cite some specific examples of guys getting in games and perhaps performing better than the coaching staff expected.
“Austin Pasztor and Cam Bradfield, we didn’t know what they might do. As a coaching staff we went ‘uh-oh’ but we put them in there and they did great.”
Bradley also named Kerry Taylor as an example. “Sometimes guys just need a chance to compete and they show you what they can do.
That’s what the coaching staff will be looking for in the last two weeks, and what we should be looking at as well.
Who wants to be here?