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View from the O-Zone: The next step … with urgency


INDIANAPOLIS – Gus Bradley took the podium inside Lucas Oil Stadium at 12 p.m. Thursday, bringing with him a lot of Jaguars talk – and his keynote phrase for the '15 offseason.

High noon for the head coach. Center stage.

We won't tell you this was the biggest happening on the second day of the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. That honor went to the press conference of Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback whose availability drew a horde befitting a potential No. 1 overall selection.

(Actually, Thursday's biggest crowd never happened. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, he of the high-profile off-field incidents and prototypical skill set, will speak Friday instead of Thursday, delaying for a day the combine's biggest event).

But while the Combine Day Two on a national level was about Mariota's thoughts on transitioning from a spread offense and just who might trade for him come Draft Day, locally it was about Bradley's appearance in the media center.

It was his third such appearance, his third chance to talk on this national stage about his vision for the Jaguars.

This one looked in a lot of ways like the first two. Bradley spoke with enthusiasm and energy. He spoke with optimism, and yes, he was infectious.

His money quote came at the beginning of his podium appearance:

"When (Jaguars General Manager) Dave (Caldwell), (Owner) Shad (Khan) and I got together, we came up with this plan and this process that we're putting together. We're right on schedule as far as the youth of our team.""

Bradley then went on to talk about having younger players, having added veterans. The Jaguars, he said several times Thursday, have made progress since he and Caldwell took over a little more than two years ago. Young talent has been drafted. Free agents have been peppered in.

A foundation – the beginnings of one, at least – is being built.

Those were Year One and Two accomplishments, and Bradley on Thursday talked again about the Year Three objective:

"We need to take the next step now."

And that's the keynote phrase. If there has been a theme from Bradley this offseason, something you've heard pretty much any time he has spoken – and something he said more than once Thursday while making the media rounds – it's very much that:

A next step is needed. And it's needed now.

Bradley covered other issues Thursday, of course. The addition of Doug Marrone as assistant head coach-offense/offensive line was a topic. So was Blake Bortles, with Bradley clearly pleased with the offseason approach of the young quarterback.

Bradley also said he liked the direction of the offense as it is being installed by offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and added that the desire to be a strong, run-first offense remains strong.

"We're hopeful," he said. "We have that mindset."

But while the combine is about such specific topics, it's also the beginning of the offseason. As such, it's a time to set or re-set the big topics. And the big topic in Jacksonville is unquestionably improvement – and more to the point, when that improvement will mean more winning.

That's why this Combine has a bit of a different feel among Jaguars observers than the past two, with a feeling that after 4-12 and 3-13 records in Bradley's first seasons the team must improve – perhaps significantly.

While the Jaguars indeed will move forward with a theme of steady improvement and getting better every day, there without question is an undercurrent of urgency to this offseason that wasn't there the past two offseasons. The Jaguars will be more aggressive in free agency next month than they were the past two offseasons, and while that has been the plan from the time Bradley and Caldwell took over, that plan also includes more winning in Year Three than happened in Years One and Two.

It's professional football, and winning matters.

And yes, Bradley is keenly aware of this.

At the same time, he believes just as strongly the best way, the only way, to win more is to take the same approach as the first two seasons. That's improving every day, letting that process lead to more winning. That remains the core approach.

Bradley said Thursday he believes the Jaguars' young players improved last year as individuals. The idea now is to improve as a team, and have that improvement yield the desired results. That's what continuity brings, and that's where you see benefits of time working together, of letting young players play together, of growth.

He used the example of the Jaguars' defense, which he said was basically in Football 101 in 2013 when it came to understanding what Bradley and the staff wanted and expected.  That area improved last season, and in theory will do again.

"This year, it should be Football 501," Bradley said. "Now that they understand the concepts you can take it to another level and that can help us take that next step."

That has been the message and remains the message that the next step will come organically, and it will come from doing things the right way. That's the hope. That's the theory. That's the plan.

There's just a lot more urgency as time goes on.

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