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.”