Gus Bradley knows what we want.
The Chargers defensive coordinator, and former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, knows we want to see him foam at the mouth at the mention of his former employer. He knows we want him to flip the podium over when talking about how the Jaguars are winning without him. He knows we want to see him turn beet red and start screaming about how unfair it all is and show how bitter he is.
But Bradley can’t give that to us. It’s not who he is. And it’s not what this is.
“If you’ve been around Gus at all,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said, “that’s probably not a quality you see very much.”
Bradley’s breakup with the Jaguars, which came in 2016 after 62 football games and only 14 wins against 48 losses, wasn’t as messy as you might think.
“I’m not like that,” Bradley said Wednesday. “For me, you work with people, you care about ’em, to automatically shut that off feels disingenuous. So you do care about them.”
Revenge hasn’t been much of a topic around the facility in Costa Mesa the past two weeks as the Chargers readied for the Jaguars, and it wasn’t again on Thursday.
If revenge was a motivator, Bradley said, then would he not work as hard when the Chargers play Buffalo next?
Instead, there’s a levelheadedness to Bradley’s return to Jacksonville; an opportunity to celebrate the past successes of his ex-players this season while handing them some adversity on Sunday.
“You go in there on Sunday, you have a mind-set that it’s about our team, what we have to do,” Bradley said. “We need this challenge to go against a team that’s playing at a high level for us to get to the next step we want to take. So you keep it more on those teams than to personalize it.”
Bradley is not the only Charger with ties to Jacksonville.
Starting middle linebacker Hayes Pullard was released by the Jaguars this preseason before being claimed by Bradley’s new team. Pullard even stopped trading texts with his best friend, Jacksonville wide receiver Marqise Lee, until after the game.
But like his former and current coach, Pullard isn’t being driven by revenge or bitterness.
“Everyone’s been asking me if I was going to be different because we’re playing against the Jags. I know everyone probably looked at him the same way,” Pullard said. “I look at it like we’re the same guy, and it’s the same thing. No team is any different. Just because we came from there, got fired or got cut, it’s nothing different.
“We’re going to go out there and play a football game.”
Bradley said the Jaguars provide the Chargers with “a good challenge,” and that’s probably putting it kindly.
No team in the NFL runs the ball for more yards per game than Jacksonville and only one team allows more rushing yards per game than the Chargers.
“They’re the No. 1 team running the ball, so it’s going to be a heavyweight fight,” linebacker Denzel Perryman said.
The heaviest weight, rookie running back Leonard Fournette, is a 240-pound bulldozer that’s gained 311 yards in his last two games. Sunday, he’ll return fresh after being made inactive last week for violating team rules.
“He’s having a good rookie season so far. He sat least week out and still sixth in the league in rushing,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “…He’s a prototype NFL runner.”
The key, the Chargers said, is to get to Fournette early with multiple tacklers — something much easier said than done.
“We’re trying to come downhill a lot quicker this week,” Lynn said. “If he gets going, hits the soft spot, it’s even harder to get him down.”
Right tackle Joe Barksdale was a full participant for his second consecutive practice, a positive sign pointing to a Sunday return after missing two starts because of turf toe. … Pullard (neck) was the only Charger limited in practice Thursday. … Jaguars defensive lineman Marcell Dareus missed his second straight practice with an illness, while Lee, a former standout at USC, returned to a limited role in practice as he recovers from a knee injury.
Follow Dan Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports