Carl Bradford hears the knock of opportunity.
Plenty has changed in the past 12 months. A fourth-round rookie a year ago, he was trying to earn a role at outside linebacker. Meanwhile, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore were atop the depth chart at inside linebacker.
With Hawk in Cincinnati, Jones in Philadelphia and Lattimore in New York, Bradford is setting the stage for what could be a make-or-break training camp at inside linebacker.
“Of course, of course, of course,” Bradford said on Thursday of pursuing a starting job. “Why would I look at it less?”
Last year was nothing less than a huge disappointment from a personal and team perspective. After piling up 20 sacks, 39.5 tackles for losses and six forced fumbles in two seasons as a starter at Arizona State, where he played mostly with his hand on the ground, Bradford was overmatched as a standup outside linebacker last summer. At the end of training camp, he was moved to inside linebacker in hopes of salvaging the draft pick and hopefully tapping into the talent he showed in college. He was inactive for all 16 regular-season games and both postseason contests as he attempted to make the transition.
“I felt it went pretty well,” Bradford said of making the switch. “Just from the new position, I need to settle into this position and I feel pretty comfortable but I’m not where I want to be yet.”
Before the 2014 draft, Bradford said he spoke to teams who viewed him as a better prospect at inside linebacker. That, in fact, is where the NFL’s head scout, Packer Report contributor Dave-Te’ Thomas, thought Bradford would best fit because of arms too short to combat offensive tackles but superb strength to battle oncoming blockers. Green Bay, however, liked Bradford’s pass-rushing production and put him on the edge.
“When I came here, my game was all motor and attacking,” Bradford said. “I definitely feel like that can transfer to playing inside and just attacking and going and getting it and bringing that high energy to the defense. I feel like that translates.”
What he has to learn is to temper that aggression just a little. If he’s right, that aggression can lead to a tackle for a loss. If he’s wrong, that aggression can be beaten with misdirection of play-action.
“When it’s my time to blitz, attack that blitz,” Bradford said. “When it’s my time to cover, know I’m going to attack that guy and cover him with everything I have.”
Linebackers coach Winston Moss said finding that middle ground is a “process.” These no-contact offseason practices are important in continuing to build that comfort level at a new position. But, obviously, what will matter are the full-go situations of training camp and the preseason.
“There’s transition, there’s working at, there’s taking reps there but until you see a person actually go through it live, you really don’t know at what level he’s at,” Moss said. “Until we get into the preseason games, when he gets his opportunities, we’ll get a very good indication of what he can do.”
To challenge for a starting job, Bradford focused on two things during the offseason that will help him play quicker. One was getting physically quicker – he dropped seven pounds to get down to 245. The other was getting mentally sharper by getting a better understanding of his role on the defense.
“I can’t play fast without knowing where to go,” he said. “That was my No. 1 (goal) was to come in and study hard and get to know the defense. Then from then on, my ability to play the game will fall as such.”
Based on Bradford’s superb production in college, he should have the talent to contribute to a defense that has revamped its inside linebacker corps and gutted its special teams. Bradford believes he’s talented enough to make an impact anywhere on the defense. He also knows he needs to show it, starting with these organized team activities and then onto training camp and the preseason.
“Right, yeah, but college is college. This is what you do now,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to prove and earn my spot here and earn my keep here.”
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