Gus Bradley stressed simplicity and collaboration as two of the keys he used to build now-legendary defenses with the Seattle Seahawks a decade ago.
Some may assume Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” units, which led the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory in 2013, were complex schemes that baffled the rest of the NFL, but the team’s ex-defensive coordinator says that’s a misconception. Bradley says the basis of the Seahawks’ defense came out of an attempt to form the best fit for his personnel that allowed it to play freely and quickly.
“Some of us that came up with it went into a room and kind of designed it,” Bradley said. “There’s always things that are copied, but the foundation of the defense, really when it was brought to our attention, ‘Hey, try to design something that allows young players to come in and play early.’ It’s not a defense that you’re going to come say, ‘I’m going to need this 12-year veteran, I need this 13-year veteran because they understand the system.’ It was not brought up in that fashion.”
Bradley now hopes to bring a similar philosophy to Las Vegas. The Raiders announced Bradley, who spent the last four years with the Los Angeles Chargers, as their new defensive coordinator Tuesday morning.
The 54-year-old plans to spend the next couple months devouring Raiders’ game film from the past couple seasons to devise the best system suited to the team before the 2021-2022 league year starts in mid-March. It’s a massive reclamation project considering Las Vegas finished 26th in the league in giving up 6 yards per play this season, the fifth straight year the Raiders have ranked in the NFL’s bottom 10 on Bradley’s side of the ball.
The continued struggles led to coach Jon Gruden’s late-season firing of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, whom Bradley will now replace.
“The style that you should see is a team that plays with great effort, great enthusiasm, great toughness and a defense that plays smart,” Bradley said. “That is our key, that is the style.”
The specifics of Bradley’s style, at least in the past, may seem to conflict with Gruden. For starters, Bradley’s preaching of simplicity is in stark contrast to Gruden’s highly-sophisticated offense that players say it takes years to master.
Although Gruden takes a less active role in defensive game plans, he’s been known as a Cover 2 coach ever since he linked up with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay 18 years ago. Bradley is known as a Cover 3 — dropping an extra defensive back into deep zone coverage — acolyte.
But the new defensive coordinator says that won’t be a problem as he’s started to more frequently switch up looks and provide multiple coverages. Bradley cited Gruden as a primary reason for what he was attracted to the Raiders’ job after being linked to other defensive-coordinator openings around the league.
“What I was really impressed with when I came in here to interview was just the vision that Coach had,” Bradley said. “I had a chance to meet with (Owner) Mark Davis — he was in on the interview and shared his vision. To hear Jon Gruden’s vision, (General Manager) Mike Mayock’s vision, it was something that was very good for me to hear and see just how they are so closely related.”
It’s a reunion of sorts for Bradley as Gruden gave him his first shot in the NFL in 2006. Gruden hired Bradley, who had spent 15 years on the North Dakota State coaching staff after playing for the Bison, to coach the Buccaneers’ linebackers.
Bradley’s career took off from there, landing him the Seahawks’ gig and then eventually a four-year stint as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Bradley went just 14-48 as the Jaguars’ head coach, but the team did improve defensively each year with him at the helm.
Jacksonville just consistently struggled offensively, but Bradley said the experience made him a better coach.
“When you’re a head coach, you’re involved in many of the offensive meetings,” Bradley said. “You’re sitting in with the offensive personnel, the offensive staff and you’re hearing how they game plan….so I think, in many ways, it was beneficial. It did give me a different view of maybe how defenses are attacked.”
Bradley anticipates his focus “starts up front,” getting pressure on the quarterback. That will be a particular challenge with the Raiders.
Despite the progression of second-year defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby and significant capital invested on the defensive line in free agency, the team ranked 30th in the NFL in sack percentage at 3.49% this season. The Chargers weren’t much better under Bradley this season — coming in at 23rd and 4.74% — but they dealt with cluster injuries along the defensive line.
In his four seasons with Los Angeles overall, Bradley’s defenses ranked average to slightly above-average by most metrics — far superior to the Raiders’ recent units. He’s interested in bringing over some of his assistants from the Chargers, though did specifically mention defensive-line coach (and interim defensive coordinator) Rod Marinelli and assistant defensive-line coach Travis Smith as likely to stay in Las Vegas.
The priority will be unchanged regardless of whomever Bradley puts on his defensive staff. It’s the same as it’s been for him at every stop of his coaching career — working towards a common goal of finding the best defensive setup that suits the particular roster.
“We want the players to have the mindset that every call we have is designed to get the ball,” Bradley said. “It’s very important, the communication that takes place within the defense. We’re going to add defenses, we’re going to be very multiple but not at the expense of not playing fast.”