Either the coaches love your potential and want to expand your opportunities, or it’s a last-minute life preserver to a career that’s about ready to sink.
On Monday, two of the Green Bay Packers’ young outside linebackers — second-year player Nate Palmer and rookie Carl Bradford — lined up at inside linebacker. Bradford, a disappointing fourth-round pick who put up monster numbers at Arizona State — took a bunch of reps inside.
“I take it as play me wherever — outside, inside, I’m willing to play wherever,” Bradford said when asked how he looked at the position switch. “Whatever way they see, I wouldn’t know, but they moved me here and this is my job to do this now and I’m focused on that.”
The move inside isn’t totally unanticipated. At the Scouting Combine, Bradford said some teams operating 3-4 schemes liked him outside but others liked him inside. Upon drafting him, Green Bay made it clear that Bradford would start on the outside because of his prodigious production — 19 sacks and 39.5 tackles for losses in 27 career starts. That pass-rush ability only rarely showed up for the Packers, with Bradford’s 6-foot-1 frame and 30 1/4-inch arms proving inadequate against long, tall offensive tackles.
“Bradford will likely be tried at weak-side outside linebacker first, but I liken that to having the Mona Lisa hanging up in your garage (great piece of work that no one will appreciate it),” read the summation of the NFL’s official scouting report on Bradford, provided to Packer Report by the league’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas. “Move this Sun Devil inside in a 3-4 scheme and you will unleash the next (Tedi) Bruschi on NFL quarterbacks. He is more effective on the bull rush than coming off the edge, anyway.”
With a ton of depth outside — especially with undrafted rookie Jayrone Elliott having a big preseason — and a lack of bodies inside with starter Brad Jones (calf) and rookie Joe Thomas (knee) nursing injuries, now was the time to make the move.
“He’s a big guy that I think can be physical,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “He’s a guy that I don’t think they can knock out of there in terms of you compare him to our other inside linebackers. He’s a little bigger than those guys, a little thicker. He’s got some football instincts to him. We’re going to give him an opportunity to show what he can do inside. We’ve done the same thing with a number of guys (Jones, Jamari Lattimore and Robert Francois). You start looking at the spots and the positions, if a guy can play two roles for you, he becomes much more valuable.”
It will be a crash course for Bradford, who was notified of the decision before Monday’s practice by position coach Winston Moss. Moss was encouraged by the early results.
“I think he plays hard. I believe he has some toughness to him. I believe he moves well enough,” Moss said. “His short-area quickness and his ability to move and pursue and work from sideline to sideline, his read and react is fine from what I can see. He’s processing the right things. I think his movement was really good today. From a physical standpoint, he’s shown that he can move well. We still have to evaluate a lot of other things based on if he stays there.”
Bradford, who said he’s had a “solid camp,” took the move in stride and said he wasn’t worried about the looming roster cutdowns. He thought his physicality would be an asset at his new home.
“I believe I’m a versatile player where I can play many positions,” he said. “I’m kind of their chess piece and moving me around, seeing what I can do. I like it. It allows me to understand more and gain more knowledge of the game.”
Palmer, on the other hand, said he knew of this possibility “a while back” and had been studying the playbook in preparation. A sixth-round pick out of Illinois State, Palmer played linebacker during his two seasons at Illinois, so there was some familiarity with his new role.
“Being on the line, things happen a lot faster,” he said. “Being off the ball, you’ve got a split-second to see what’s going on. It’s still not a big difference but being on the line of scrimmage, things happen right away. Off the line of scrimmage, you’ve got a chance to read stuff and let it develop in front of you.”
Palmer and Bradford join outside linebackers Elliott and Andy Mulumba as part of a big group on the roster bubble. Capers said the ability to play two spots makes a player more valuable and improves his odds of making the team or being part of the 46-man gameday roster.
“Yeah, that’s probably exactly what it is,” Palmer said. “I just tried it out, showed everything that I can in hopes that, come Saturday, it’s good enough to keep me around.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.