Bradley's Arrow Pointed Up

Bears second-round draft choice Mark Bradley figured a rise in the level of the competition he was facing in college would lift his chances of getting to the NFL.

That's why the gifted wide receiver left his hometown school of Arkansas-Pine Bluff after two years and enrolled at Oklahoma, where his father Danny was an option quarterback in the 1980s. Although he had offers from Division-I schools, including Texas, Bradley opted for Division-II Pine Bluff.

"My mom wanted me to stay close to home," he said, "and at first I was real reluctant (to see) if I could play at the Division-I level."

But when he suffered a torn ACL midway through the 2001 season, Bradley rethought his decision. Although he was Pine Bluff's leading receiver with seven touchdowns and more than 600 yards, he was ready for a step up in class, a move that his father, who is also his agent, advocated from the beginning.

"It's hard for me to say that I couldn't have made it (to the NFL) from a Division I-AA school -- maybe I could have -- but I thought that I would have a better chance going to a Division-I school and a program like Oklahoma's," Bradley said. "In my opinion it made it a little easier because of the higher level of play."

Not only did Bradley fit in on a team that played for the national championship the past two seasons, he stood out. Coach Bob Stoops said he was the best athlete on a team that included running back Adrian Peterson, 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver Mark Clayton.

"I took my hat off to him for that comment," Bradley said with a big smile. "We had a lot of great guys; a lot of good athletes."

If Bradley had not elevated his level of play, he would've fallen by the wayside at Oklahoma, but that didn't happen.

"I think my level of talent and play rose along with those guys," he said.

But it was still initially difficult to get playing time on an Oklahoma roster that was loaded -- especially at wide receiver. That's why Bradley started his Oklahoma career as a cornerback and then quarterbacked the scout team while sitting out a transfer year in 2002. He was back at wide receiver the following season but caught just 11 passes, although two went for touchdowns. He added another score while averaging 35.3 yards on seven kickoff returns. Last season, Bradley had a modest 23 catches, but an impressive 21.3-yard average and seven TDs.

In making him the 39th overall selection last weekend, the Bears didn't look at how many catches Bradley had as much as they noticed what he did with the ball when it was in his hands.

"That ball was spread around," said Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, who tried to recruit Bradley to Texas when he was the wide receivers coach in Austin. "Mark Clayton didn't have the numbers he had as a junior because they spread the ball around so much. They also had that big horse at tailback (Peterson), and they gave it to him a lot more than they gave it to anybody in previous years. So I don't look at his numbers, I look at his athletic ability."

And that is considerable. Bradley runs a 4.43 40-yard dash, faster than track all-American Airese Currie, the Bears' fifth-round rookie wideout from Clemson. Bradley set the Arkansas high school record in the high jump at 7 feet 4 inches and broke the state meet record with a 24-foot, 7-inch long jump.

That athleticism translates well to all aspects of football. Bradley will make an immediate impact on special teams. He covers kicks as well as he returns them and even holds for placements. Special teams are a chore for some players but just another form of enjoyment for Bradley.

"It's fun to me," he said. "When I got to Oklahoma, that was the first thing I got involved in, and I've been having fun ever since. You have to have a crazy man's mentality to play it, but it's exciting."

That's an accurate description of Bradley's style of play at receiver. He brings to the Bears' table a lot of ingredients that were lacking last season.

"He's a guy that has the potential to be a complete receiver and can do a lot of different things," Drake said. "Not only can he stretch the field, but he can catch the ball and make people miss, and he can outrun people after he catches the ball. If you watched us play last year, that's one thing that we had problems with. We'd catch the ball and make a couple moves, but we weren't outrunning anybody."

Before he runs away from anyone, Bradley will have to learn to walk, like any rookie. He performed best at Oklahoma when he wasn't given too much responsibility and, because of his limited experience in a major-college program, the Bears will bring him along slowly. But his speed makes him a deep threat right now.

"I think that's primarily what he'll be early," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We're going to put him in a limited role early, teach him a little bit.

"We'll find out what he can do well and try to put him in a position where he can do those things. We're not going to expect him to learn and master the whole package right away. We're going to find out where he is and what he can do."

All they have to do it put a ball in Bradley's hands to find that out.


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