LONDON — A year ago, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley noticed the tempo and energy among his players increase as their first practice at London’s Allianz Park neared an end. That effort preceded the Jaguars’ first win in three appearances at Wembley Stadium, a 34-31 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
On Friday, no more than seven hours after the Jaguars touched down in their home away from home, Bradley observed a similar level of enthusiasm at practice. If the same outcome occurs on Sunday, when Jacksonville faces the Indianapolis Colts, it would undoubtedly do wonders for Bradley and his team.
The Jaguars are 0-3 for the fifth time in franchise history and the second time in parts of four seasons under Bradley. A loss to the Colts (1-2), the last team Jacksonville beat, likely will not bode well for the coach’s future with the team, especially with its bye week looming.
“I mean, I feel good every week, but just to come here and see it, especially this practice — to see it start off a little bit slow and then to see how they got their legs underneath them a little bit, even in a short time, just our focus has been really, really good — really good this week,” Bradley said.
For a team trying to find any semblance of consistency, Bradley and the Jaguars’ front office have done their part in making sure the schedule offers some familiarity. The team’s travel and practice itinerary is the same as it was a year ago, and on Saturday, when the Jaguars convene for their final walkthrough, Bradley is planning on once again giving a speech about the tradition and history of Wembley Stadium.
The Jaguars even asked for an intradivisional matchup, only the second in what will be the 15th game in the NFL’s overseas series, in an attempt to capitalize upon their familiarity — and the Colts’ lack of it as first-time visitors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s routine yet, but you know, we have done it enough so players that have been here know what to expect,” Bradley said. “But you’re always going to have new players that this is the first time. (Defensive end) Malik Jackson, this is his first time going through something like this, and I think the players, being able to talk to him and being able to explain the environment, is kind of cool.”
What would be even better for Jacksonville, of course, would be returning home with a victory. Teams looking to make coaching changes frequently do so as they enter the bye week, giving the staff extra time to figure out how to move on from the changes.
Bradley is 12-39 since being hired as the Jaguars’ coach in 2013, but in what is shaping up as a muddy AFC South, it’s not impossible to think Jacksonville could end up salvaging the season if it were to beat Indianapolis.
“Guys are kind of taking it upon themselves (to fix things),” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “Not in the sense of pressing, ‘We need to win now,’ but just in a sense of, ‘What we’ve done hasn’t worked or been successful, so let’s figure out, rather than point fingers, try to come up with different ideas and solve what’s going wrong.’ Fix it, and try to become more effective and efficient.”
Bortles set a franchise record with 35 touchdown passes a year ago, but he has thrown for just five touchdowns while being intercepted six times in his first three games. The offense, as a whole, has stagnated, ranking in the bottom third of all teams in several major categories.
That hasn’t dampened the quarterback’s enthusiasm for Sunday, which he thinks could be the impetus the Jaguars need to shake out of their struggles.
“I’m excited,” Bortles said. “I think the people over here, it’s different. I don’t know if they pay that much attention, and I think if you’re a Jaguars fan in London, you’ve got to be pretty (darn) loyal, so I think that’s kind of cool. Win or lose, you show up and support us, and we’re going to have fun.”
NOTES: TE Julius Thomas (elbow) and OLB Dan Skuda (hip) are considered questionable to face the Colts, while DE Jared Odrick (triceps) and TE Ben Koyack (knee) were ruled out as they did not travel with the team. Also missing is wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, who has been battling an illness. … Sunday’s game would have been the last in the Jaguars’ original four-year commitment to playing in London, but the team extended that agreement in October and will continue to play in the city through the 2020 season. … About two dozen fans from the Jaguars’ local fan club watched practice.