Jaguars continue to pay price for going with youth movement
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — At 48, Gus Bradley might not be old enough to remember when all NFL teams were required to play six preseason games.
You think six was at least two too many? The defending Super Bowl champions had it even worse. As a reward — if you want to call it such — for winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy, those teams had to face a collection of quickly assembled draft picks each July at Soldier Field in Chicago.
In some sort of sign from the heavens, the concept was mercifully scrapped after a severe thunderstorm flooded the field while the Pittsburgh Steelers were toying with a team of rookies-to-be in 1976.
What does this have to do with Bradley and the Jacksonville Jaguars? Take a look at the roster.
Even with the loss of wide receiver Allen Robinson for the rest of the season with a foot injury, the Jaguars have seven players they drafted in May still suiting up. That’s in addition to the eight players they drafted in 2013. That’s in addition to close to a dozen undrafted free agents the past two years ranging from long snapper Carson Tinker to wide receiver Allen Hurns.
And these aren’t guys biding time behind veterans. Blake Bortles replaced Chad Henne at quarterback halfway through the third game. Denard Robinson has dislodged Toby Gerhart as the primary running back. Brandon Linder started at right guard until injuring his shoulder — and his spot is now being held down by another rookie, undrafted Tyler Shatley, instead of Jacques McClendon.
There’s something admirable about an approach that doesn’t include trying to coax a decent season out of a 35-year-old quarterback with a sub-.500 career record or relying on a boastful cornerback who ends up high-tailing it out of town after one year.
But that approach hasn’t led to many victories.
At 1-9 going into their bye week, the Jaguars are almost a modern-day version of those college all-star teams that lost their last 12 meetings with the league’s elite before common sense and bad weather intervened.
"We’re not pleased with where we’re at right now," Bradley said. "We would hope that we would play more consistently. We’re making progress in multiple areas but just not fast enough. We’ve talked about a race to maturity, but we just need it to happen faster."
Although Bradley made that comment Tuesday, those same words could have just as easily come from his mouth in August or early September. Back then, "race to maturity" was the catchphrase among Jaguars players and coaches.
The new phrase du jour appears to be a description that Bradley wants to desperately avoid being affixed to him or any of his players: "Volunteer victim."
"If you ask me ‘Gus, why (is the record) 1-9 right now?’ and I give you multiple reasons why, it’s almost like I’m volunteering information to you why we’re a victim," he said. "And we want to stay away from that. I think it’s important. As coaches we go through that but I think generally people stop after they give you the reasons why. They justify it and then they stop. What we are looking for are solutions."
The most obvious solution thus far is the decision to go with Bortles, who has cut down on his mistakes since the Miami Dolphins returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns. Even the move Tuesday to waive underachieving free-agent linebacker Dekoda Watson should grab the attention of a few people, if for no other reason than the Jaguars could be the only team to have released three starters at some point this season.
But the decrease in Bortles’ interceptions has been offset by an increase in fumbles, missed tackles and injuries. Parts of Sunday’s loss in London to the Dallas Cowboys bore a striking resemblance to the dismal showing put on by the Jaguars when they traveled overseas for the first time last year and were routed by the San Francisco 49ers.
"We’ve all seen teams that have maybe gotten disheartened or maybe don’t play with great effort throughout," Bradley said. "That’s something that we don’t take for granted and we appreciate. Now that part hasn’t got us any victories or what we’re looking for right now, but I do think it’s a big part of in the future, when we come back, that it’s important."
Will that future, meaning in 2015 and beyond, include him? From a historical perspective, Bradley’s coaching record of 5-21 through his first 26 games puts him on a par with David Shula, Bill Arnsparger, Rod Dowhower and Marty Mornhinweg. Of the six coaches in the modern era with worse records over the same stretch, only three weren’t in charge of expansion teams — although one of those happened to be Jimmy Johnson in Dallas.
The Cincinnati Bengals have still yet to fully recover from sticking with Shula for a third, fourth and part of a fifth year in the 1990s. Publicly, the Jaguars remain convinced that the almost unfailingly upbeat Bradley is the right man. But behind locker-room doors, as was the case of when they were down 24-7 at halftime to the Cowboys, that persona of likeability can give way to someone not afraid to give an earful.
"I think I am who I am," Bradley said, explaining his uncharacteristic outburst and inadvertently expressing his inner Popeye.
Barring a 4-2 record or better the rest of the way, the Jaguars and their fans might be on the verge of thinking they’ve had all they can stands and can’t stands no more.