Bradley’s optimism tested by woeful Jaguars

RENTON — Maurice Jones-Drew has a seen a lot in his eight-year NFL career. The Jacksonville Jaguars running back has not, however, encountered a coach quite like Gus Bradley.

“He always has that smile on his face,” Jones-Drew said on a teleconference. “I’m trying to figure out if he has a magic potion to be happy all the time, but it’s exciting to see that. … It’s a different coaching style that I’m used to.”

This weekend, Bradley and that ever-present grin will be back in Seattle as the Jaguars’ new head coach takes on his former team. Bradley, who had a teleconference with local reporters Wednesday, is still the same impossibly upbeat person he was when he served as Seattle’s defensive coordinator for four seasons, but that optimism is certainly being tested this season.

Bradley left Seattle because, well, it’s pretty tough to turn down an NFL head coaching job when there are only 32 of them. But he also took the Jacksonsville job knowing he was leaving one of the league’s best teams to take over a rebuilding one. And while it’s still very early in the season, the Jaguars look through two games like they might be the worst team in the NFL this season.

“We are trying to build something special, and I’ve had a unique opportunity with the staff and to really revamp our culture,” Bradley said. “Our owner, Shahid Khan, has been amazing; our general manager (David Caldwell) is amazing. So it really gives me the freedom to really share our message and the players have really embraced it. We’re seeing our guys get better. We’re still making some mistakes in our growth, but I like our guys. I really like their attitude and their whole mentality.”

And even if the Jaguars are 0-2, having been outscored by 36 points in their two games, nobody in the Seahawks’ locker room thinks that franchise will be down for long, not with Bradley in charge.

“He’s just got great people skills,” defensive end Red Bryant said. “He knows how to interact with a lot of different personalities. Just in the D-line room alone, we’ve got four, five, six different personalities, but he knew how to communicate with all of them. That’s a great trait to have.

Bryant, who with the help of Bradley, head coach Pete Carroll and then defensive line coach and current coordinator Dan Quinn revived his career as a defensive end, says people shouldn’t be fooled by Bradley’s sunny demeanor. Sure Bradley may be the anti-Jim Harbaugh when it comes to personality, but he can still command the respect of a locker room.

“A lot of times people look tough and they (are) soft, and a lot of times people look soft and they (are) tough, so you can’t get caught up in stereotypes,” Bryant said. “Gus has got a fire about him. … I played for him for four years, I know what type of man he is, and I know he’s committed to winning, and you best believe he’ll come up with the best game plan he can to beat us.”

Bradley’s rapid rise from small-college assistant to NFL coordinator is well documented, and those who played for him are hardly surprised that he was hired as a head coach at the age of 46. Despite his relative youth and inexperience when he joined Jim Mora’s coaching staff, then was retained by Carroll, Bradley immediately came across as head-coaching material to his players.

“You could see that right away,” safety Chris Maragos said. “It was clear. When you look at the way he handles himself, his confidence, the energy level he exudes, the way he gets guys to rally around him. He has all the qualities you see in a head coach. I think that’s why he was able to get that job at such a young age.”

Yet even if the Seahawks are happy for Bradley’s professional success, not everyone was excited that he made his way to the top so quickly.

“I wasn’t excited,” said safety Earl Thomas, who got his nickname of “Deuce” from Bradley. “I wanted him to stay, but that’s the nature of the business. He made the best decision for the family.

“He just made me feel comfortable from Day 1. He was like an uncle to me. I was sad to see him leave.”

As for the game itself, there figures to be something of a chess match between coaching staffs who are very familiar with what each team will try to do. Few people outside of Seahawks headquarters know Seattle’s personnel and tendencies better than Bradley, and on the flip side of that, Seattle’s offense should have a very good idea of what the Jaguars are trying to do defensively.

“It’s an interesting matchup because of all the familiarity with Gus and the guys on his staff and all of that,” Carroll said. “There’s a lot of information out there right now. They know us, we know them and everybody is going try to maximize that and see if we can take advantage of our knowledge.”

And as much respect as the Seahawks have for Bradley, and as much as his former players want to see him succeed in Jacksonville, that all takes a back seat to the task at hand this week.

“We wish him well, because we were with him for four years, but this week, we don’t know you,” Bryant said. “… Our relationship and how we feel about one another, that’s on the back burner. We mean business, it’s strictly business. After the game we can be lovey-dovey, but we’re trying to handle business.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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