JACKSONVILLE – Gus Bradley ran practice Wednesday, but did so with a heavy heart.
J.T. Townsend, a former Episcopal High School football player who had become close to many Jaguars and the organization since being paralyzed in a 2004 high school football game, died unexpectedly early Wednesday morning.
"We lost a friend today," Bradley told reporters following a 2013 organized team activities practice Wednesday afternoon at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields.
"I know I've had a chance to meet JT twice while he was out here, and he was my kind of guy. Just visiting with him and talking with our team today in our team meeting I know he inspired many. It was truly a privilege to get to know him the short time that I did."
Townsend, 17 years old at the time of his paralysis, had been active in the community, starting a foundation to raise money to assistant others with disabilities and for medical equipment.
He graduated from the University of North Florida in April with a degree in sports management, and was scheduled to assist in the Jaguars' public relations/community relations department in the fall.
"We were looking forward to having him around during the fall, and it's just so unfortunate," Bradley said. "I heard something this morning when I heard that he passed away that 'heaven got richer,' and that's what I talked to the team about. It's just a real sad deal and I know right now we'll grieve for a while and then we will end up celebrating all of the things that he's done for us and many people around this community.
"It's a tough day for our team and a tough day for me as well even the short time I had a chance to get to meet him."
Several Jaguars players had been close to Townsend in recent years, including wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, who visited with Townsend often. Center Brad Meester said the Jaguars were praying for Townsend's family.
"He was such a great guy to be around," Meester said. "I loved seeing him come through the locker room. He was always an upbeat guy, which was great to see."
Said Bradley, "A lot of guys on our team were close to him and they talked to me about him and then when I had a chance to meet him and just visit with him he just captured you. He just drew you in and just his attitude and the way he saw things, I wanted to be around him more and more. That's what happens when people are positive you gravitate towards those types of people, and there's no doubt our whole team gravitated towards him."
VIEW FROM THE OZONE
Today's view is one many outside the team will have trouble sharing – the idea that tight end Marcedes Lewis could be an impact player this season. Lewis made the Pro Bowl in 2010, but has struggled the past two seasons. Many have written him off. Some wonder if he might be released. That's not happening. Bradley likes how Lewis has responded as a leader, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch likes Lewis as a blocker and a receiver. But as important as how the coaches feel about Lewis may be how he feels about the direction of the franchise. It's clear Lewis loves Bradley, Fisch and the new staff. Lewis was rarely seen without a smile during the first two weeks of OTAs. He likes how he's being utilized, and likes the new offense. Lewis said the last time he felt this good entering a season was 2010, the year he made the Pro Bowl. Perhaps his outlook this season translates into a similar season. If so, that would be huge for a staff that Lewis clearly likes a lot.
"We talk all the time about getting and protecting the ball, and it's all about the ball within our organization. We talk about playing hard, playing fast and playing together. Each and every opportunity we have to get better we try to raise the standard of our play. Those things we hit on day in and day out. I reminded them today that the central theme of our organization is competition. That's what we really focused on today, was competing and going out there."
--- Head Coach Gus Bradley
The Jaguars will hold the ninth of 10 organized team activities practices at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields Thursday at 11:25 p.m.
AROUND THE JAGUARS
*Bradley said he liked the tempo of practice Wednesday, and that the team's speed has improved in the first three weeks of OTAs. "We're seeing it on tape," Bradley said. "We're watching schemes and we're watching individuals to see. . . . We watch scheme and we feel the speed picking up and we're continuing to evaluate our guys each and every day. It does feel faster but we still have a ways to go."
*Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, defensive end Jason Babin and rookie quarterback Jordan Rodgers remained the lone players not practicing Wednesday. Jones-Drew is working out in South Florida, Babin underwent groin surgery in Philadelphia Monday and Rodgers is rehabilitating from sports hernia surgery.
*Bradley said veteran end Jeremy Mincey practiced well Wednesday. "I think he's going to have some shots," Bradley said. "I saw a couple just out here and I expect to see more of it on tape. I thought he really flashed at me today that he had a pretty good day."