JACKSONVILLE – Gus Bradley knows what he has read and heard about Justin Blackmon.
He knows, too, what everyone else has read and heard, and he understands that people will form their own opinion about the second-year wide receiver and his off-field issues.
If we know anything about Bradley four months into his tenure as Jaguars head coach it's that he's not much into what others believe, and he's not much into worrying about what he can't control. So, it's not surprising that he has his own stance on Blackmon, and that's this:
He trusts Blackmon.
That's right, he trusts him.
Bradley has spoken to Blackmon. He has listened to Blackmon. Perhaps most importantly, he has looked into the young, talented receiver's eyes, and he believes that his message is getting through.
"I talked to him about trust and things like that," Bradley said Tuesday following the second of 10 scheduled 2013 organized team activities practices at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields just outside EverBank Field.
"It feels like it hits home with him. He responds the way I'd hope he responds. I understand it's a process. I'm not naïve to that. But I love the challenge."
Trust. That's what Bradley is building this relationship on. It's an important concept to Bradley, and listening to Blackmon this week, it seems it's important to him, too. Blackmon, speaking for the first time since it was announced he will miss the first four games of this regular season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, spoke Monday of a support group that included Bradley and General Manager David Caldwell. While some rolled their eyes at what sounded much like what Blackmon said in a similar situation last offseason, Blackmon didn't talk last offseason about a support group, and he didn't talk about heart-to-heart conversations with the coach.
That's no commentary on what came before, but it's something different, and something that perhaps – perhaps – could be a difference for Blackmon.
"It's big-time," Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "I can kind of correlate that to how (former Head Coach) Jack Del Rio was when I was that age. Jack was a good coach and also a good person. It's one thing to be a great coach, but a terrible person. Everything just falls in line. It doesn't surprise me Coach (Bradley) is the way he is with Justin."
Lewis said such guidance could be key for a young player.
"With a guy with the ability of Justin's, if he can get the right people around him to help him stay focused and hone in on the task at hand, he can do some great things in this league," Lewis said.
And that matters? That guidance from a coach?
"Definitely," Lewis said. "Justin's still a young man. He's trying to figure it out. Sometimes, you have to go through the back door. Everything is not always pretty. From the outside, people perceive like we should be perfect, but we're just like everybody else. Everybody makes mistakes.
"It's about having people there who will pick you up after you make those mistakes, and that's the kind of environment we have here."
Lewis didn't say that thinking it will change many minds. And Bradley doesn't necessarily think his confidence in Blackmon will change people's minds immediately. That's not what this is about, and Bradley's approach to Blackmon has nothing to do with Blackmon's image in the short-term. Blackmon himself on Monday said he knows he can't control that, and people are going to think what they're going to think.
Bradley's approach is about trying to reach a player in a significant way, and on Tuesday, when he spoke about Blackmon publicly for the first time since the suspension was announced, that was his focus.
Bradley said he speaks with Blackmon in his office regularly. Not every morning, but a lot. It's not a case, Bradley said, of the coach calling a player down the hall.
"He sticks his head in, knocks on the door and says, 'Gus, can I visit with you?'" Bradley said. "He sits down and we visit."
Bradley on said those conversations aren't just football. They're everything, including Blackmon taking ownership of his situation, and the importance of that.
"I'm trying to get him to own it, so it becomes powerful within him," Bradley said.
Bradley spoke for several minutes about Blackmon Tuesday, and said a lot after the cameras had left the post-practice gathering. Late in his thoughts on Blackmon, he said something that at first seemed a tangent then in the end seemed not a tangent at all.
"We grew up differently," Bradley said. "Where I grew up, you trust people right from the start, because they've never done anything wrong to you. Not everybody's like that. Some people say, 'I don't trust you or you or you, and it's going to take six months to earn my trust.' We come from different worlds.
"I'm not going to change who I am. He's never done anything wrong to me."
He's never done anything wrong to me.
That, more than anything, is why Bradley trusts Blackmon? Because for now, for whatever others have heard and read, he has no reason not to.
On that fundamental fact is being built a relationship that, without question, is important to the team. In the end, could prove even more important to the player.