It’s not hard to see that the Jaguars could have won three of the four games they’ve lost this year if they had only gotten out of their own way. But you are what you earn in the NFL and the Jaguars have earned one win and four losses. That has lead to a lot of soul searching this week at the stadium about the whole process. I’ve said all along that Head Coach Gus Bradley’s coaching style is one huge experiment, trying to empower the players instead of the coaches standing over them with demands. Bradley confirmed that this week in not so many words with some of the things he said regarding a change in his approach.
“Whenever things don’t go the way you had hoped you always search inside to try to find out what can I do to help be a part of this?” Bradley said at the end of the week. “Rather than say he’s wrong, he’s wrong or he’s wrong you say what can I do? How can I be a bigger part of this?”
If you’ve ever been on a team at any level, you know that’s a whole different approach to getting things done from a head coach. Usually they have their ideas and they put them in place. You can either get on board or ship out. For Bradley though, he’s looking for answers not just among his team and his staff, but within himself as well
“A hundred things run through your mind saying ‘maybe we should do this, let’s take a look at that, let’s take a look at this,’ and your mind is constantly racing trying to find out what works and that’s the competitive side in you.”
Does that mean he’s not sure about what he’s doing? Hardly. Bradley believes in the process and how to get there. He’s said often that his conviction has been tested but he’s staying on course. There’s a philosophy of the “servant leader” that Bradley adheres to as a coach. He’ll give you the tools to get better: it’s your job to do it.
“I don’t want them to rely on me or their coaches for juice or to always be corrected,” he explained. “They’ve got to self-correct. That’s what happens in a game. There’s no one out there in a game and they’ve got to learn to do it on their own.”
And while having a young team is no excuse, it is the young players who are having the most difficult time self-correcting and staying focused play after play, game after game, week after week.
If you compare scores in the last three years you could make the case that the Jaguars are light years ahead of where they were in 2013 and last year. But it’s no solace to continue to see losses mount when the expectations were so much higher.
When asked about the process, Bradley points to the progress made by Blake Bortles, the defensive backfield, the offensive line and other places. But when I asked him if part of the process of improving the pieces and becoming a better team is actually finishing and winning games, he agreed.
“That’s the next step, to be consistent and precise and finish,” he told me. He also said this week was a big step forward in that process.
“They’ve had good weeks but I just felt like the whole emphasis on putting these things together. I felt more accountability. I’m not saying from me, I think it’s more powerful if you feel from player to player,” as he reiterated where he hopes to put the team permanently.
“We’re learning a lot of lessons about our team. Each week there’s going to be new things that come up, that’s just how the NFL is. That’s how it goes but we’re trying to minimize these things as much as possible. I think how they’re holding each other accountable is a big part of it.”
As they get healthy and mature, the Jaguars appear on the verge of stepping out of the cellar of the league and becoming very competitive. But they have to take that step. There are hundreds of teams that get to this point and never take that step. If they do, they have the talent to be good for a long time. If they don’t, the players will have to adjust to a new message in the future and the fans will continue to wait.