TBO.com: Tampa Bay Online, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather.
Thursday, Sep 18, 2014
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kaufman: Jags coach already has hands full

Published:
TAMPA -

Welcome to the NFL, Mr. Bradley.

New Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant on Jon Gruden’s staff, knew he was taking on a difficult challenge.

The Jaguars haven’t been competitive for a while and young quarterback Blaine Gabbert hasn’t proven himself as a leader or a winner.

Months before overseeing his first NFL training camp, Bradley already finds himself in the midst of his first controversy: Promising wide receiver Justin Blackmon, the No.?5 overall pick in the 2012 draft, appears to be a 6-foot-1 headache.

After a standout career at Oklahoma State, Blackmon started slowly as a rookie. But by the end of last year, he looked like his All-American self, finishing with 64 catches for 865 yards and five touchdowns.

Heading into the 2013 season, Bradley figured the passing combination of Gabbert to Blackmon would be the focal point of an offense that hasn’t scared anyone in the past five years.

Then word came down that Blackmon has been suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The Jaguars, who have little margin for error, face the Seahawks and AFC South rival Indianapolis in that first month, and Bradley will have to scramble to find a replacement for Blackmon, who quickly issued a statement of apology.

“I’ve made a mistake and I have no excuse,” he said. “I am truly sorry and disappointed in myself for putting the Jaguars in this situation.”

That’s only a first step for the rangy receiver.

There’s a long way to go in making amends with teammates, coaches and management.

The bigger issue is this isn’t the first time Blackmon has dropped the ball.

Last summer, before he had played his first preseason game as a pro, he was charged with aggravated DUI. Authorities say they measured a staggering blood-alcohol level of .24 percent, which is three times the legal limit. Blackmon pleaded guilty to the charge and received a one-year deferred sentence.

At Oklahoma State in 2010, Blackmon was arrested on a DUI complaint in Texas and was suspended for one game by coach Mike Gundy.

So much talent. So little self-control.

“He realizes he’s at a crossroads, not only in his career, but in his life,” Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said. “We know we’re not going to have 53 angelic players. There’s no excuse for not doing the right thing. These guys were young in college. Now, they’re professionals. They’re a reflection of the Jacksonville Jaguars. We don’t take this thing lightly.”

Caldwell and Bradley have had many discussions regarding the Blackmon situation. Even if they decide to be tolerant with a potential Pro Bowl receiver, they also realize one more positive test would generate a season-long suspension by the NFL.

“I told Justin I do trust him,” Bradley told the Florida Times-Union. “We’ve had great conversations since this came out.”

Talk is cheap. Blackmon’s contract isn’t.

The Jaguars could cut him tomorrow and walk away, telling their fans Blackmon doesn’t represent the core beliefs of the organization. That would be quite a statement, but it’s unlikely the Jags are willing to jettison a player with Blackmon’s ability after only one season.

Blackmon led all rookies in receiving yards last year, and the alternatives at wide receiver won’t keep opposing cornerbacks awake at night.

For now, Bradley is supporting his guy. Caldwell is still trying to deal with the mess.

“It’s very disappointing,” Caldwell said. “We understand this isn’t all going to be an upward trend and we’re going to have setbacks. It’s frustrating because it’s an avoidable situation.”


ikaufman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7833

Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO

Subscribe to The Tampa Tribune

Comments