Carl Bradford’s biography in the “Packers Media Guide” doesn’t include the word “bust” in it.
But with a “Pro Highlights” section that wraps up his two seasons in merely 21 words, it might as well have.
At Arizona State, Bradford was an unstoppable force. In his final two seasons, he piled up 20 sacks and 40.5 tackles for losses. The Packers grabbed him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft and tried him at outside linebacker.
Toward the end of his first training camp, Bradford was moved to inside linebacker. He spent all 16 regular-season games and both playoff games on the active roster but never suited up for a game. It was worse last year. Bradford didn’t even make the roster. When the Packers needed another inside linebacker early in the season, they signed Joe Thomas off Dallas’ practice squad rather than promote Bradford.
Bradford entered his third training camp as little more than an afterthought, even at a position riddled with change and uncertainty. He sits in the auxiliary locker room, surrounded by undrafted rookies. No offense to those young guys, but he’d do anything to join the rest of the Class of 2014 — Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers, Corey Linsley, Jared Abbrederis, Demetri Goodson and Jeff Janis — in the main locker room.
“I’ll do anything for it, man,” Bradford said. “I have a whole different mind-set. Think of the hard times. Being cut is a big motivation to me.”
Maybe this is Bradford’s year. After another nondescript start to training camp, Bradford has been tremendous. On the practice field, he’s grabbed a couple of interceptions and made a bunch of plays in the backfield. His strong play continued in the preseason game vs. Cleveland, with a team-leading three solo tackles and a hard hit to break up a pass.
For the first time with the Packers, he’s playing with confidence.
“I felt good. I felt like myself. I’m glad I went out there and showed it on film,” Bradford said. “Being this third preseason, this third training camp with the Packers, I needed to show them. I need to step up and show them why they drafted me in the first place. I believe I showed a glimpse of that that night and keeping it rolling it from there.”
Making splash plays hasn’t been a problem for Bradford. He probably made more noteworthy plays than any of the inside linebackers in training camp last year. Those big plays were a byproduct of the aggressive style that made him a star at Arizona State. Aggressive play, however, doesn’t always work at inside linebacker.
“It’s a mind-set, man,” Bradford said. “I used to take it a different way coming into it. ‘I have to play slower.’ Off the edge, you’re hitting every play and running every play. it’s all a mind-set, man. I can still do the same thing at the middle backer position. I can run and hit, and as you can see, deliver and play like my hair’s on fire from that inside position. That’s what I’m trying to do. I think I’ve transitioned pretty well this camp.”
He added later: “Coach Scotty (Scott McCurley) still gets on me because I want to be quick to the ball. Inside, you have to be patient more and see what’s going on and develop the play. I have that where I want to go and go and go, and that’s not good all the time. So I have to be able to stay patient for a little bit, read what I’m doing and then attack. I’m still learning how to do that better.”
McCurley, the assistant linebackers coach, has been impressed with what he’s seen. While Clay Matthews shifted back outside, Sam Barrington is healthy and Blake Martinez was added in the draft. Those additions to the depth chart made this a do-or-die training camp for Bradford.
“I think he’s really stepped up and taken the challenge,” McCurley said. “It goes back to losing weight, changing his habits, changing his routine, changing his mind-set of how he’s approaching everything. He’s had an approach where he’s going to figure it out, he’s going to know it this camp. He’s going to know what he’s doing and (what) the guys around him (are doing), and that’s really been able to bring out some confidence in him — the ability for him to play fast and be explosive and use those things we’ve talked about. We’ve seen [that] at times before but I would definitely say this past game he put it together snap after snap, which is really the challenge for him. You see those plays every now and then in the past preseasons, and there might be a play or two where he’s lost. This past game, he stepped up and he made those plays across the board and he did a good job when he was in there. But like I’ve told him, he’s got to take that day-to-day now. He’s got to show up every day with that mind-set and compete the way he did this past week.”
Bradford appeared to do that at this week’s two practices. On Sunday, he had a tackle for loss and an interception. On Monday, he made three plays at or behind the line of scrimmage in the half-line run-game drill, a tackle at the line in a team period and excellent coverage on a pass to the flat.
More of that, beginning with Thursday’s preseason game vs. Oakland, will be necessary as he continues his unlikely quest for a roster spot in a battle that includes Thomas and undrafted rookie Beniquez Brown. Perhaps only one of those players will make the roster.
“Keep playing like I’m playing,” Bradford said. “Show them I can attack and I know what I’m doing, so I can read my keys and be that linebacker that they saw when they drafted me. Just playing like I played at Arizona State, just going out and getting it. Being that guy who flies around the ball and attacking. That’s what I want to show them.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.