GREEN BAY – Carl Bradford will be making another run at a roster spot this summer, and he’s planning to do it full speed.
Bradford’s first two years in the NFL haven’t gone as planned. Since coming to Green Bay in the fourth round of the 2014 draft as an accomplished pass rusher from Arizona State, Bradford has yet to make an impact on the field for the Packers.
Outside linebacker didn’t work out his rookie season, so at the tail end of training camp two years ago he was shifted to inside linebacker. He made the 53-man roster, but with his feet barely wet at a brand new position, he was never on the active gameday roster.
Then last year, still making the transition and learning the defensive scheme from a different perspective, he didn’t feel totally up to speed. He was released at the end of camp and re-signed to the practice squad, where he spent his entire second season.
Now, entering his third year, Bradford knows as well as anyone there’s no more waiting on him.
The Packers have drafted two inside linebackers in the fourth round each of the last two years in Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez. Sam Barrington is coming back from a season-ending injury, dime linebacker Joe Thomas returns, plus undrafted rookies Beniquez Brown of Mississippi State and Manoa Pikula from BYU have been added to the competition.
“Right now my mindset is to go get it,” Bradford said as the offseason program wrapped up last month. “I’ve done enough thinking these past two years. I know what to do. Read the right keys, go react and make plays. It’s a go-get-it mentality for me.”
Put another way, it’s about recapturing the mentality Bradford had in college, just at a new position. A player doesn’t record 21½ sacks among 44 tackles for loss, plus six forced fumbles, in three seasons in the Pac-12 by slowing down to think and feeling out of his element.
Bradford was an attacking player for the Sun Devils, and it’s what he must be for the Packers to keep him around. Last preseason, there were moments. The press box statistics credited him with 11 tackles in four games, including two behind the line of scrimmage (one sack), plus a deflected pass.
It was a start, but Bradford admitted the standard of play is set higher, both by the team and himself. This training camp and preseason need to build on that.
“He’s got to go compete,” assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley said. “He’s been in there now, and you see glimpses and you see times where he feels confident and he’s moving. He’s got to go earn it, be in the right spots, and command the defense.”
Bradford showed another flash this spring. During minicamp while defending a two-minute drill, he dropped back into coverage and snagged Joe Callahan’s seam pass for an interception.
It was a great way for Bradford to wrap up the offseason. He showed he’s smoother in coverage, one aspect of the game that’s been difficult to learn. It may be a sign he’s ready to hit the ground running in training camp, rather than be dragged down by another slow start.
“It’s about time,” Bradford said of the turnover play. “I finally got one. I hadn’t had my hand on the ball for a while, so that felt good.”
The aggressive nature of the play and the instinctive reaction required are what stood out the most about it.
“It’s what we both need,” McCurley said. “We need it out of him as a defense, and he needs to get it out of himself to be around here. I think he understands that, and we’re all on the same page. We’ll see how this preseason goes.”
If Bradford’s knowledge and understanding of the defense are where he believes they are now, this preseason should be his time to shine. It has to be.
“Just watch how I go get it, man,” Bradford said. “No more thinking for me. Just read my keys, trust my eyes and what I see, and go get it, and be that explosive player I can be from the middle, just like I was on the edge.
“I feel the most comfortable I’ve been. The first season, that was a whole transition, and then last year, having a couple of preseason games playing inside, I got a little more familiar. But going through it this time, I should know it by now, and if I don’t, that’s nothing but on me.”