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Making the Leap, No. 18: Jaguars' Bradley & Caldwell

Around The League will profile the top 25 figures we see Making the Leap in 2014. No. 18 on the list: Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell.

Why Bradley is on the list


Plucked from Pete Carroll's coaching tree to lift the Jaguars out of the ashes, Gus Bradley never wilted during his rocky first season in Jacksonville.

Despite an 0-8 start that reduced the team to a national joke, one Jaguars player after another praised their coach for keeping them focused.

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Bradley's unwavering pep doubled as the locker room's true north, leading former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew to wonder if his coach drank a "magic potion to be happy all the time." It was an approach MJD had never experienced during his eight long seasons in Jacksonville.

Plenty of those old Jaguars teams would have crumbled coming out of the bye, but Bradley's group fought on to win four games down the stretch, including three inside the AFC South.

He's an ideal fit for a Jaguars roster teeming with younger players. Bradley was instrumental in developing Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman in Seattle after guiding Derrick Brooks to multiple Pro Bowls during his time in Tampa Bay. Hailing directly from a Seattle organization that thinks differently, acts boldly and generates proven results, that shared DNA is now in Jacksonville's bloodstream.

"That is one of, if not, the finest football coaches I have ever worked with," Monte Kiffin once told former Seahawks coach Jim Mora. "He's an A-plus. He's a once-in-a-lifetime coach. ... This guy is special."

Why Caldwell is on the list


When owner Shad Khan hired David Caldwell last offseason, he asked his newbie general manager to overhaul the culture of an organization with just two playoff appearances in 14 years.

Caldwell's first order of business after taking the job? "I had them replace the cold, dungeon doors with windows," he told The Buffalo News in December. "I wanted transparency."

His second move -- hiring Bradley -- came easy, with Caldwell telling the newspaper that "about 30 minutes into the interview I knew Gus was our coach."

Fixing Jacksonville's ghost town of a roster has proven more challenging, but Caldwell's deft approach is why he makes this list.

The Bill Polian and Thomas Dimitroff disciple could have sold a trillion tickets out of the gate, but instead used his first day on the job to boldly and decisively slam the door on Tim Tebow.

The former scout who still obsesses over game tape has since used back-to-back drafts to find his left tackle of the future in Luke Joeckel and Jacksonville's new franchise passer in Blake Bortles.

Veteran players see a change. Former Seahawks Red Bryant and Chris Clemons talked of signing with the Jaguars because of their desire to reunite with Bradley, while Pro Bowl center Alex Mack -- before the Browns matched Jacksonville's offer sheet -- gushed over what he saw from the team's leadership.

The mind-meld between Khan, Bradley and Caldwell gives this long-suffering fan base new hope.

"It's really fit together," Bradley said. "We've trusted the results will come, and they have. I trust Dave will bring in the guys to make us better. We improved the roster from the bottom up."

Obstacles


Caldwell doesn't have the luxury of using free agency and the draft for depth. He's charged with finding immediate heroes. When one league personnel man was asked by CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco in February how many Jaguars would have started on the Super Bowl-winning Seahawks, the reply was grim: two.

Until that figure rises, happiness on Sundays will be elusive.

Questions at quarterback linger. While Jacksonville believes Bortles can develop into a savior, they continue to hint at a redshirt campaign for the No. 3 overall pick. Chad Henne's first errant pass will make that plan a struggle for Caldwell and Bradley.

Bortles is going to play this season. While Caldwell deserves credit for parting ways with Blaine Gabbert -- a quarterback he inherited -- he's responsible for Bortles, win or lose. Few general managers survive a bust at the quarterback position.

2014 expectations


The honeymoon is over.

Another four-victory campaign would unleash the dogs, but I believe the Jaguars will double last season's win total.

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That would represent a significant step for a team lost at sea since their last playoff berth in 2007.

Beyond the record, Jacksonville -- as an organization -- will "leap" if they are viewed league-wide as having a plan in place. If they have their quarterback, too, Caldwell and Bradley house a legitimate shot to guide this team into the next decade.

"It's difficult to build slowly, but it's the right thing to do," Caldwell said. "Sometimes I have to tell Gus and Shad, 'Please keep me patient. Don't let me get caught up and go down a path I don't believe in.' That's why our executive structure is so good. We have such good communication to talk through things."

In the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the heroes discuss which teams "realistically" have no shot at winning the Super Bowl this season.

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