Since the turn of the new millennium, the Jacksonville Jaguars have mainly been defined by their running game and defense. Consequently, running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew have been the most exposed players on the team nationally. Even over the last few years when he looked a step slow, Jones-Drew has been the face of the franchise on a team that hasn’t really been competitive for the better part of a decade.
With Jones-Drew’s departure, the Jaguars are in search of a new face of the franchise, and the most qualified candidate is a guy who doesn’t even suit up on the field – head coach Gus Bradley.
Bucky Brooks over at NFL.com recently went through all the teams in the AFC South and chose a face of the franchise for each one, and he opted for Bradley with the Jaguars.
This spot is normally reserved for the top player on the roster, but Bradley has quietly rebuilt the Jaguars into a competitive unit with his positive attitude and infectious personality. Watching the Jags progress in 2013, and seeing their late-season effort and enthusiasm, it was obvious the team bought into Bradley’s message. Despite being overmatched at nearly every position, Jacksonville came off its Week 9 bye afire, winning four of five and consistently hanging in games. They’ve built upon that momentum by adding several quality players in free agency and through the draft. With Bradley’s presence and competitive spirit behind it all, the Jaguars are clearly a reflection of their coach at this time.
It’s hard to argue against choosing Bradley given what he did over the course of the final 8 games of the 2013 season with the talent he had to work with on the field. His upbeat personality and his overflowing passion makes him an even more ideal candidate. Still, the Jaguars would like to get to the point where one of their players is worthy of the “franchise face” moniker, and Brooks thinks first round pick Blake Bortles could eventually be that guy.
The team’s brass has attempted to downplay expectation for the No. 3 overall pick, but everyone around the league knows that a quarterback taken near the top of the draft is fast-tracked to the starting position in today’s NFL. Thus, it’s simply a matter of time before Bortles gets his chance to direct a Jaguars offense that desperately needs a playmaker at the position. While some question Bortles’ readiness for the gig due to his inexperience and unrefined skills, there’s no illusion about what’s expected of him: to be Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback and live up to his draft billing. To do this, he must outperform fellow classmates Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. More important, Bortles must prove to his teammates that he is the kind of player and leader they can depend on as a burgeoning playoff contender.
Being the number 3 overall selection, Bortles is expected to develop into that franchise guy. Bucky talks about outperforming Manziel and Bridgewater, but Bortles just needs to help this team get the playoffs and be a consistent contender. He has a long way to go, but Bortles should be the premier player on this team within a few years.
- Daniel Lago