INDIANAPOLIS – Gus Bradley worked the room, as expected.
The Jaguars’ Head Coach made his second podium appearance at the NFL Scouting Combine Friday, and from the beginning, there was energy, there were smiles, and even with the impending arrival of Johnny Football on the other end of the room, Bradley more than made his presence felt.
“I’m a little wired,” Bradley said as he stepped to Podium A in the Combine press room at Lucas Oil Stadium shortly after noon Friday.
Well, *of course,* he was.
Outside, high winds of yet another winter storm belted Indianapolis; inside, at the other end of the room, the media awaited the arrival of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, whose press conference was the news of the day for most.
But many also listened to Bradley. What they heard was a guy who was indeed and very characteristically “a little wired,” and who brought to the moment the same energy he brought to his first year with the Jaguars. Fans watching saw a familiar scene, with Bradley enthusiastically discussing topics ranging from the Combine interview process, quarterback height and his feeling as the Jaguars embark on preparing for the ’14 offseason.
“It’s a cool time,” Bradley said.
And while it wouldn’t be fair to say Bradley stole the day on Quarterback Day at the combine, it is fair to say this:
Bradley’s energy? The approach that has helped change the culture of the Jaguars? It’s becoming more and more evident this offseason that people outside Jacksonville are noticing, too.
Remember? Last month at the Senior Bowl?
That was when Bradley and the Jaguars’ staff not only coached the South team to victory, they did so in such high-energy fashion that people there couldn’t not notice. A tape of Bradley’s pre-game speech made rounds on social media, and media and other football types there were struck all week by the tempo, intensity and effectiveness of practices.
What emerged wasn’t just a picture of a high-energy, enthusiastic coach – though that picture indeed emerges whenever images of Bradley emerge.
What’s also emerged is a picture of a guy who can coach, and who can lead.
That’s an impressive picture, and it’s a picture shared by more than just Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, who told Jaguars.com LIVE! Friday he was “bullish on the Jaguars.”
“I think he (Bradley) has unusual command of people,” said longtime NFL writer Dan Pompei, now NFL columnist for Bleacher Report. “When he speaks, all ears and eyes are on him. He has natural leadership skills.”
Pompei said while Bradley was perhaps somewhat unknown when hired by Jacksonville, “over time it has become more evident that his team has really connected to him and he reaches the players.”
It’s the reaching the players part that matters most. It’s one thing to own a room and impress a crowd, but that’s a temporary phenomenon. Motivating and leading 53 players for the long-term is a different proposition.
Jaguars players last season lauded Bradley’s ability in this area, particularly after an 0-8 start. The Jaguars went 4-4 after a Week 9 bye, improving dramatically during that time, something national observers agreed bodes well for the Jaguars’ future.
“Players buy in,” Fox Sports 1 NFL Insider Alex Marvez said. “When you’re 0-8, your message can wear thin. Players start to wonder, ‘Who is our coach? Who is this guy? Is he the one to lead us?’ The fact that this Jaguars team, which is clearly in rebuild mode, did not give up on their head coach, continued to play hard and played pretty darned well down the stretch … I think it’s a testament to what Gus Bradley is doing and a testament to the type of character guys that (Jaguars General Manager) David Caldwell’s bringing in.”
Another factor helping Bradley’s perception, of course, is his past. He spent four years as Seahawks defensive coordinator, the last three under Head Coach Pete Carroll. When a team wins the Super Bowl, that team’s approach becomes the NFL Flavor of the Month, and Seattle’s Super Bowl victory early this month by extension made Bradley a favorable flavor to some.
But if that stuff feels sort of “surfacey,” there is something tangible in the connection, too. There are plenty of differences in Carroll and Bradley, but some of the core values that make Carroll successful are integral to Bradley’s core as well.
“He has that Pete Carroll mentality – positive, good coaching, tough football,” John Clayton of ESPN.com said. “He knows the mentality of how to do things. He has a very positive energy and that reflects well in getting players to play. He knows the style of coach that tends to work. You want a guy who relates to the younger guys. In this transition period as teams get younger, it does help.”
None of this guarantees the Jaguars success, of course. There’s a huge difference between respected observers liking your direction and actually contending on the field, particularly because the Jaguars are indeed – as Marvez noted – doing a major rebuild.
The challenge, Marvez said, is keeping “everyone on the same page” during the process, but he also said “if you look at the Jags and the optimism around the future of this team – especially if the quarterback position can be addressed – I think the needle is pointing way up.”
And if Bradley didn’t exactly steal the day from Johnny Football and the rest of the field on Quarterback Day, no matter. For the Jaguars, the direction of that needle is what’s important.
If this week’s Combine is any indication, they’re in good shape there.
This article is presented by Turner Pest Control.