The kind of impact Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has on people is evident in his EverBank Field office.
Cards and pictures are scattered on his desk, and the two-row case along the front wall has filled up with books about coaching, leadership and spirituality, the product of being sent a lot of fan mail.
There is no book for how to build the Jaguars. But after a 4-12 season in 2013 and several perceived upgrades this offseason, Bradley hopes Chapter 2 of his time in Jacksonville includes even more progress and even more victories.
But he’s not naïve, either. This team remains a complete work in progress.
Bradley talked to Times-Union Jaguars beat writer Ryan O’Halloran about the start of his second training camp with the Jaguars, which starts Monday when the rookies report.
Here is an abridged version of the interview:
You’ve tweaked your practice schedule — an extra practice before putting on the pads, a workout the day following the Tampa Bay game, practicing on the two days you travel to Chicago and Detroit, etc. What was the strategy?
“We felt like coming out of our OTAs and minicamps, our guys did a really good job practicing without pads, and we got a lot of good work done, and we could zero in on the fundamentals. This [fourth] day will give us the ability to put those fundamentals back in place.”
Particularly at the receiver spot, your team had a slew of lower-body injuries during the offseason workouts. Will getting those players up to speed result in a slower start to camp?
“I wouldn’t say slower. We’re going into camp with the same level of intensity and competitiveness as we normally would, but we will monitor the reps [early on].”
Last year, the Jaguars were one of the few teams to have a “live” period — the ball carrier (non-quarterback) could be tackled. Running back Justin Forsett was injured during this drill. Will you implement any “live” periods this year?
“There are going to be times where we will make a period of practice live, but not many. Hopefully, we can do some of that during the individual drills. But you could still see some live [team] reps.”
Looking back at the OTAs, one of your best quotes was saying the Jaguars were in a “race to maturity.” What does that mean?
“The ‘race to maturity’ is having a great understanding of the game, their responsibilities, of how to handle challenging times — the whole process. We have some young players on our team, but it’s not just them who have to come together. It’s the new free agents coming together with the guys who were already in place here. By it being a race, what I mean is if we do that, we’ll have a better chance of being our best quicker.”
During camp, how do you get quarterback Blake Bortles enough reps in case he’s called on to play while also getting Chad Henne ready for Philadelphia?
“Our philosophy will be we don’t have an issue getting our draft picks or our younger guys in there with the starters. It’s not just Blake. It could be [right guard Brandon] Linder. It could be other guys on the team. I’ve told our coaches, ‘It’s OK to do that.’ ”
Is it possible that Bortles will start a preseason game?
“It would be late [in the preseason] if he did, and we’ll see how things go. We’re really excited about Chad and what he’s going to do so we’ll see how it goes with him until that fourth preseason game.”
The Jaguars’ two second-round picks, receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, missed the final two weeks of the offseason because of injuries. Are you confident they can get themselves into a position to help the Jaguars in Week 1?
“We’ll see. Obviously, we drafted them because we liked what they brought to the table and now it’s a matter of them going out there and competing. It has to be about constant improvement for them. They have the physical traits, but this is a different game than college, and they need the [game] reps. They need the practice reps, and they need to be put in different situations.”
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is now in Oakland, and the Jaguars were aggressive in replacing him with Toby Gerhart. Can he be The Guy from the outset?
“I do see it. His work ethic, his knowledge of the game, his ability to fit in with our team, his competitiveness — he checks all those boxes. The one thing we saw during the OTAs was that his speed — he’s even faster than we gave him credit for.”
Will the coaching staff have to monitor overusing Gerhart out of the regular-season gate even though he can play in all situations?
“We’re really intrigued by Jordan [Todman], Denard [Robinson] and Storm [Johnson], but there are a lot of questions we need to get answered there in camp and that might go into the season. We’re trying to figure out each guy’s strengths and how to best utilize them. “
The Jaguars’ offensive line will be revamped with new starters at every position compared to this time last year. What will the transition be like?
“We’ve got some experience in there with [left guard] Zane [Beadles], and that obviously helps. [Center] Mike Brewster has experience in the system and knows the importance of communication. [Left tackle] Luke [Joeckel] has really come into his own, and you’ll see really good improvement from him.”
It doesn’t sound like you’re overly concerned about the group despite its newness. Accurate?
“They’re talented. They’re tough. They’re physical. They’re competitive, and it’s important to them. We’re seeing them be a close-knit group both on and off the field. All those things give us reasons for optimism.”
On defense, the Jaguars were active early in the offseason adding Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood. How surprised would you be if they didn’t make your team better?
“I really trust Clem and Red and being with Ziggy and seeing his work ethic, the trust is there for him as well.”
Linebacker is clearly an issue because of Dekoda Watson’s sports hernia surgery and Geno Hayes’ knee that will require him to be managed. How big a worry is the depth there?
“There are some intriguing things there, and it’s become a really competitive group. I think LaRoy [Reynolds] made a big jump in the OTAs [working at Watson’s spot]. We’re excited about his development.”
What about rookie linebacker Telvin Smith? He’s listed at 218 pounds — would you like him to add weight?
“If he was 230 pounds, we may not have had a chance to draft him where we did [fifth round]. He’s very athletic, and whenever you can get speed on the field, you try and do it. I had a chance to coach Derrick Brooks in Tampa Bay, and he was around 217, 218 when he was drafted and then played at 230. I know Telvin has put some weight on, but he’s one guy that we’ll see how he develops and he could be a situational player for us.”
How big a leap can strong safety Johnathan Cyprien make in his second year?
“I see him playing with a lot more confidence. Poise is the thing I’m seeing from Cyp. He’s letting things come to him rather than trying so hard to make things happen.”
Are you big enough and physical enough as a defense to compete against the best teams?
“That’s our objective — to become more physical. It’s players like [free safety] Winston [Guy], who by nature is physical, and players like Cyp, who bring that.”
You have an extremely young team entering camp — only four players are age 30 or older. Is coaching youth all you know at this point?
“Our whole objective as a team when we got here was that we needed to get faster, and you can get faster by going young or by a guy having a better knowledge of the system so they can play faster. I think we have a good mixture of that.”
For yourself, entering Year 2 as the Jaguars’ head coach, do you envision being more hands-on, particularly with the defense?
“I try to be involved in all areas. It’s important that we hire coaches to do their jobs, and it’s no different on offense or defense. Our defensive staff has really taken ownership. I’m more there to bounce ideas off of or bring up different things for them to think about.”
What will make this training camp and preseason a success?
“Our biggest challenge is we believe we’re a faster team, and the teams that have success are fast and play with experience. For us, we have inexperience. Through camp, if we can challenge our guys and get closer to where we play like an experienced team, that’s the race we’re running.”
Ryan O’Halloran: (904) 359-4401