JACKSONVILLE – If you’re a hardcore Jaguars follower, mark this day down.
In terms of key Jaguars dates, this is one people may not discuss much in a year or two, once the “build” becomes the team Gus Bradley and David Caldwell envision. Sunny Tuesdays in early April aren’t always remembered once turnarounds fully turn, once missions are accomplished, so this date may not be remembered in the stories that get written then.
But for those who were there Tuesday? The players? The coaches?
You can bet they’ll remember – maybe not the exact date on the calendar, but what they saw, what they heard, and how it felt.
Because this feeling Tuesday? It was different.
“There’s a genuine excitement, I think, throughout the whole building,” Bradley said early Tuesday afternoon at EverBank Field.
This was the first day of the 2013 offseason program – the day for which Bradley had waited since he was hired January 17 as the Jaguars’ fifth permanent head coach. This was the day he could really, really get started.
This was the day he could start teaching, start coaching, start talking to players.
This was the day he could start with the message, about how things will be, about what he really means by competition, how that concept is more than a word, and how it will change things.
Bradley gave that message en masse to the team for the first time Tuesday.
And yeah, the players heard.
“I’ve never seen anything like it – it’s refreshing,” veteran tight end
Wide receiver Cecil Shorts agreed.
“There wasn’t a dull moment – at all,” Shorts said. “Everything you hear about him – energy, excitement. He seems real passionate about what he’s doing, so that’s definitely something that makes me excited for the year.”
Said defensive end
Bradley joked at the recent NFL Owners Meetings that his biggest concern about the first team meeting was that it not go two and a half hours. It was a joke – and it wasn’t. That was how excited he was – is – about getting started. That’s how Bradley is. There’s so much energy, so many ideas he wants to get across to players, that you get the idea if he could, he’d coach, teach and instill 24/7.
This is a key time, he knows. This is the time for establishing his message, for setting the tone, for setting the foundation. He wants competition, a daily atmosphere of getting better. Those sound like simple words, but to Bradley they are deeper. They represent a belief, a way of doing things, an approach, and they will establish the structure in which the Jaguars operate.
“I wanted to give them a feel for what we’re all about,” Bradley said afterward. “It felt like it went really well. I was excited with how well it went.”
Talking to players after the meeting there was little question he held their attention.
“His message was to get better,” Jaguars running back
Lewis said he was struck, too, by the enthusiasm of the coaching staff.
“In the past, you’d have coaches that said, ‘We’re going to give enthusiasm and it’s going to be this way’ and it’s never that way,” Lewis said. “This is a little different.”
Not that there wasn’t some weirdness Tuesday, particularly in the locker room. Gone are familiar faces such as cornerback Rashean Mathis, cornerback Derek Cox, fullback Greg Jones, safety Dawan Landry, cornerback Aaron Ross, wide receiver Laurent Robinson, defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, offensive linemen Eben Britton. They were popular players, former starters. All have been released or signed elsewhere. Many players Tuesday talked of having watched a bit nervously in recent weeks, checking their phones more often than normal.
Lewis joked that he checked jaguars.com often to see if he was still on the roster.
That’s part of the restructuring process, bidding farewell to the past. And as linebacker
He talked, too, of simplicity, using Beethoven and Michelangelo to make his point. Beethoven, he said, used seven notes to create masterpieces. Michelangelo used three primary colors. Simple.
“We don’t have to be overcomplicated in our house,” Bradley said. “Maybe to the offense or defense that’s watching us on film it appears that way, but we’re going to teach simple concepts. The big thing to us is we want to play hard, fast, together. That middle part – that “play fast” – there’s nothing we can do coaching-wise to get in the way of that.”
Get used to that. That’s the kind of talk you’re going to hear around here for a while, the words of a coach establishing a vision. And yes, it was just a start, but you have to start somewhere, and Bradley – who said he woke at 4:30 to prepare for the meeting – said he was happy with Day One.
“I know it’s just a day, but I was pleased,” he said.
Tuesday in a very real sense was Square One of the process, a day of optimism, of hope. Not every day ahead will be like that. Competition means improving, and it also means lost jobs. Some players will thrive and others will not, but if Bradley has his way, while every day may not be giddy, every day will be about competition and being a team that – as he says – “improves every day.”
If that happens, Tuesday will be remembered as not only the start of something new, but something good, and absolutely it will be a day worth marking down and remembering.