JACKSONVILLE – Gus Bradley wanted to accomplish two things Friday.
The Jaguars' first-year head coach wanted to finish 2013 organized team activities strong on the field. At the same time, it's OK to not be all-football, all-the-time. As such, he wanted something different, something memorable and something enjoyable.
The Jaguars wrapped up 2013 OTA practices Friday at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields with a crisp, hour-and-a-half practice, and then followed that with a "home run derby" that eventually came down to offensive lineman Drew Nowak and linebacker Brandon Marshall.
Nowak won the "derby," which Bradley said had the desired effect of further establishing a connection and trust between players and coaches – and really, the entire group.
"We finalized the last OTA with a little competition at the end," Bradley said with a smile after the 10th OTA practice in the last month.
"It was good. It was good to see their spirits and see them compete in that situation, too."
Jaguars players have talked throughout the offseason about quickly feeling a strong connection with Bradley and a largely new coaching staff, and wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said Friday's practice and festivities was another example.
"I think we're all buying into what he's saying," Shorts said. "We all believe in him. We trust he's going to take care of us, and he has proven he's going to take care of us. He's not going to go out there and kill us with hundreds of reps. He keeps cutting reps, making sure we're fresh.
"He's talking to us, communicating back and forth, so it's going well."
Bradley said there was thought given to using the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville that can be seen from the practice field.
That thought was put aside.
"The fences were a little long," he said, laughing. "We decided to move it over there."
The makeshift field/fence setup the Jaguars used for the home run derby Friday initially was a bit long, too. With Associated Press reporter Mark Long pitching with on-again, off-again accuracy, home runs were scarce early. Tight end Isaiah Stanback hit a solid home run in preliminaries, as did Nowak. Fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou reached the "short-porch" bleachers and was "credited" with a home run, as were Marshall, defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith and quarterback Chad Henne.
The plate was moved toward the fence for the final rounds, with Nowak eventually outlasting Marshall in the finals.
Friday's practice marked the end of the voluntary portion of the offseason for veterans. The team will hold a three-day mandatory minicamp for veterans and rookies next Tuesday through Thursday, but with veterans leaving town immediately after that, Bradley said Friday was an opportunity for connection off the field.
Bradley said he considers that an important element of building the team, which was why he invited players' and coaches' families to view Friday practice.
The Jaguars held a cookout for players, coaches and families after the event.
"I wanted to get all the families here, so I told the players, 'Invite all your families,''' Bradley said. "It gives a chance for the coaches and families to get together. . . . We could have gone out and done something outside, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. It could be a good thing when that time is right, but right now I haven't even had a chance to meet any of their families. We've talked about it so I said as a coaching staff we decided to do this to give us a chance to go and meet some of their families and get to know them as well. I just think that's important."
Bradley said that as much as camaraderie, Friday was about building trust.
"Trust is huge," he said. "We have to take advantage of this. The biggest thing for me as a head coach is to remain consistent with our approach and remain consistent with our players. I think if you do that consistency brings credibility. If you have credibility then you can continue to build on that trust. That's going to be my challenge to remain consistent with our approach. I think the way we have it set up is my hope to remain consistent."
Bradley said next week's minicamp will be largely about bringing together all of the work done the past month one final time before training camp.
"All the installations are in for the most part," Bradley said. "There may be a few more things that we add, but it will be more about execution and you'll see more move-the-ball situations including two minutes, backed up and trying to hit every situation one more time before we leave."