Something is building in Jacksonville, and it's fun to watch.
The fans are buying into the Gus Bradley era. There's a lot of credit to go around, and we'll try to touch on it all. But first, give it up for the Jaguars fans, who showed out in record numbers for a rookie minicamp last weekend:
Previous attendance record for rookie camp: 2,378Previous high for training camp: ~4,500Today's attendance: 6,214 pic.twitter.com/7SbVDGLj8b— Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) May 17, 2014
That's surprising for a team off a 4-12 season. The draft class helped. If the Jaguars drafted a few linemen it probably wouldn't be such a draw, but fans want to see quarterback Blake Bortles and receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson.
But it's more than that. Credit the team. There are many NFL teams who would love to operate in a vacuum. The NFL can be an oppressively paranoid world sucking all of the enjoyment out of life, and having fans at a rookie camp or any practice that isn't the standard open training camp workout is crazy talk. Not only did the Jaguars open rookie camp, the Jaguars.com report talked about how the team wanted the fans who came to get as close as possible. (And I'd be willing to wager that the Jaguars didn't give up a competitive advantage by doing so.)
It seems to come back mostly to coach Gus Bradley, whose excitement is rubbing off on everyone. Bradley coached with Seattle's Pete Carroll, and he is following the Carroll model, enjoying coaching football rather than making himself miserable at every step to act like a war general. Many coaches would consider fans at a rookie camp a nuisance that gets in the way of The Serious Business of Professional Football, but Bradley was genuinely excited and grateful for the turnout.
"WHAT IS THAT? [looking at the fans] Underneath the banners. How about that, the fans? Are you kidding me? THAT IS AWESOME, man," Bradley said, via CoachingSearch.com (the video can be seen at No. 7 on this Jaguars.com post). "I mean, look at it. They’re all lined up underneath there. I don’t know how many, 5,000 or 6,000 fans. Look at all the people over there. What a credit to Shad [Khan]. I think his vision. That’s the thing; when I go around and talk to people, they feel so confident in his vision. I think it’s a credit to him and the organization. It feels good, I do know that. Our fans, we talk about connecting with the following and trying to help them go along this journey with us. When we get excited, they get excited. When we have tough times, they do. We’re going to do this thing together."
The NFL would better off if all coaches were like that. Well done by Bradley. There were also plenty of social media photos of players interacting with fans after practice, which seems to show that Bradley is spreading the "we're going to do this thing together" message in the locker room too.
Former Serra Cavalier Marqise Lee at rookie camp signing autographs. SFG pic.twitter.com/oRyUUJuuce— Serrahighfootball (@Serrahighsfg) May 19, 2014
The Jaguars get a bad rap in the NFL for having a small and uncaring fan base, and while they're not Pittsburgh or Green Bay as far as having an enormous following, let me tell you this: They're passionate and good fans. I heard from many of them last season when I talked about the possibility of them signing Tim Tebow. The Jaguars have been one of the most anonymous franchises in the NFL for a while, but their fans care. Trust me. And now they have a coach who seems like he really wants to get everyone in the Jacksonville area on board by preaching the idea that the fans are a part of the rebuilding project.
I can't tell you if the Jaguars are building a winning team. A lot of that will depend on if they made the right call with Bortles at the third overall pick. But the Jaguars and their excitable coach are doing things the right way, making sure the community is involved with every step.
The NFL is a game and should be fun. Thank goodness for teams like the Jaguars who recognize that.
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