JACKSONVILLE – This week features a visit with Pride of the Jaguars quarterback and ESPN analyst Mark Brunell.
What Jaguars second-year quarterback Blake Bortles is going through this offseason is familiar to Brunell, who over his 19-year NFL career with five teams experienced numerous changes in scheme and mechanics.
We caught up last week right across the St. Johns River from downtown on the campus of the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, where he is head football coach, ahead of this weekend's All Pro Dads event at EverBank Field.
In addition, the Jaguars hosted a 7-on-7 passing challenge for local area high schools this week.
As always, use #shadricksighting on Twitter to react or get involved, or hit me up at @jpshadrick.
Here we go Jags…
Brunell a master of changing systems
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles enters his second NFL season and continues to learn what will be his second offensive scheme.
For Pride of the Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell, learning and adapting to different offensive schemes was a big part of why he survived nearly two decades in the NFL.
"It's not an ideal situation," Brunell said last week. "You look at the best quarterbacks in our game right now: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers. They've been in one system. You can go back: Brett Favre, Joe Montana, Steve Young. They were basically in one system their whole career, and that has a lot to do with their success.
"It's not something you can't overcome, but learning a new offense in the offseason can be tough mentally and it takes a lot of time. Every new offense that I experienced and had to learn, it took me a year to get comfortable in."
Brunell was a fifth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 1993 and was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in April of 1995, prior to the team's inaugural season. He played 19 NFL seasons with five different organizations, including the Packers (1993-94), Jaguars (1995-2003), Washington Redskins (2004-07), New Orleans Saints (2008-09) and New York Jets (2010-11).
"My best years were in Jacksonville, where I had Tom Coughlin's system to the point where I didn't have to think anymore – you just go play. You didn't have to think about calling a play in the huddle, what your checks were, or what your reads were, because you've done it time and time again."
With those five organizations in 19 years, Brunell said he likely learned seven different offensive systems.
"Everyone pretty much runs the same thing, the same pass concepts, but the terminology and philosophies can be very different. I started with the West Coast system (in Green Bay) that I believe was and I believe is quarterback-friendly, it makes sense."
After the trade to Jacksonville, Brunell had a learning curve to master a new system that had multiple influences.
"(Coughlin's system) actually was challenging for me in the beginning. It was just kind of a hybrid of Tom's system he had with the New York Giants (as wide receivers coach) and we had (former offensive coordinator) Kevin Gilbride that brought the Run-and-Shoot, some of those concepts, so that was a lot for all of us. In a short time, we were able to get comfortable it in it."
The nuances of different systems can be the greatest challenge for quarterbacks young and not-so-young.
"I had a system my last year here in Jacksonville that there was very little audibles and checks. There wasn't much to do at the line of scrimmage, you just went out there and played. I've been in other systems where some of the plays are fifteen words long and the reads are complex and there's so much volume. You can get anything thrown at you in the NFL.
"The systems, regardless of how complex they are, if you can stay in them for a period of time you get more comfortable. And when you're comfortable you tend to have more success."
A quarterback's offseason routine
During the five-to-six week "dead zone," many players take vacation and then get focused for training camp by getting in the weight room or on a field somewhere for work with teammates. Some players work constantly throughout the next five weeks. Others work out less. Different players have different routines for what they feel is their best approach to the demands of training camp.
With Bortles continuing to work on his offseason routine so early in his career, I asked Brunell what his offseason routine consisted of.
"It depends on how old I was," Brunell said, laughing. "Later in my career I rested a lot, I had to. I had to recover."
The early days with the Jaguars were notorious for lengthy and physically-demanding practices under Coughlin.
"When I started playing with the Jaguars, when guys left the facility, and a lot of it had to do with playing for Tom, our OTAs and minicamps were pretty physical and pretty demanding, and so when you got away, you got away. You took a vacation."
After that initial time away, Brunell started throwing a football with a few weeks to go before camp. His targets were varied.
"It wasn't until about three weeks before the season started (training camp) that I started throwing again, and sometimes it would be to whoever (receivers) was in town. I'd throw footballs to my kids. If my dad was in town, we'd play catch. You'd just start throwing. Now, all these guys are going to Arizona, to these big facilities, which is great.
"Really, for a young quarterback, you can't have enough time on task with your receivers. So that's a good thing that guys are getting together, wherever it's at, meeting at a good place where you can train in the morning, go play golf in the afternoon or just spend time with your teammates and have fun. But guys are working and that's very important, you really can't throw enough."
For Brunell, the fact that Bortles has put in time earlier in the year to try to improve his mechanics and work with his receivers away from the facility is a good sign.
"What I like is that it's important to Blake," Brunell said. "When it's important to you, you're going to put the time in, whatever it takes, whether it's studying film, on the field, in the weight room. It's your conditioning. It sounds to me like he's doing everything he's supposed to do. He's becoming a leader."
As you would expect a former NFL quarterback of 19 years to say, the improvement of the entire team has a lot to do with the improvement of the guy calling the signals.
"It starts with the quarterback. Blake has to improve, and if he improves, which we all believe he will, that means more wins, because this is a quarterback league. If you've got a quarterback – not that everything is thrown on him – but if you have a quarterback, that's where it starts. You have a chance to win some football games."
The Jaguars made the first trade in franchise history on April 21, 1995. The club acquired Mark Brunell from the Green Bay Packers.
Brunell headlining "All Pro Dads" event
Coming up Saturday, June 27, Mark Brunell will headline the All Pro Dad Father and Kids Experience at EverBank Field.
The event is supported by Family First, a national non-profit "dedicated to helping people love their families well," according to the organization's website.
"All Pro Dad is really the outreach and the program that reaches specifically to fathers," Brunell said. "We're going to have about a thousand fathers and their children, and it's really a good event. It's an opportunity for dads to bring their kids, have fun, but more importantly, get to share an experience with their kids where we're talking about being a really good dad."
Brunell is the father of four children, with a daughter who attended the University of Alabama and was named Miss Alabama a year ago, one son who is in school at the University of North Florida, and two sons he currently coaches at Episcopal High School.
"In my opinion, being a father is my most important job – it's the most challenging, it's the most rewarding," Brunell said. "Sometimes I do things well, sometimes I make mistakes as a dad, so this is an opportunity for dads to come to maybe get some advice, hopefully be challenged and be inspired to be the best dad that they absolutely could be."
The event runs from 9 a.m. to Noon Saturday, June 27. To register, visit www.allprodad.com/event/jacksonville-fke/
Jaguars host 7-on-7 passing challenge
On Thursday morning, the Jaguars hosted a 7-on-7 passing challenge for local area high schools at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields.
NFL director of high school and youth football Roman Oben, a 12-year offensive tackle with the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers, addressed the players before the start of the games. In addition, Jaguars director of youth football Marcus Pollard spoke with the group.
The three Jaguars practice fields were split into halves, with six games going at one time and four different rotations.
The following high schools participated in the camp: Raines, Atlantic Coast, Ed White, Mandarin, Ribault, Sandalwood, Westside, Lee, Andrew Jackson, Orange Park, Vanguard, Bartram Trail, First Coast, Paxon, Terry Parker and Fletcher.
The Jaguars hosted 16 high school football teams to participate in the 7-on-7 Passing Challenge which is designed to sharpen the skills of young athletes.