RENTON – Allen Bradford knows where he stands.
“I’m so close,” he said, “but I’m still so far away.”
Bradford, Seattle’s backup middle linebacker, has pieced together a solid training camp so far. He has put himself in good position to stick around with the Seahawks. But Bradford is quick to point out something else: He’s still an unfinished product.
There’s something endearing about Bradford’s story; somehow, the former five-star high-school All-American with major-college offers has become the underdog.
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Bradford was drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but didn’t make it through the season. The Seahawks and Pete Carroll, his coach at USC, brought him in after the Buccaneers cut him.
Upon his arrival, he talked with Carroll and linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. about switching to linebacker, and all three agreed to give it a shot.
“This has been a long-term project with Allen,” said Carroll, who initially moved Bradford from linebacker to running back in college.
Bradford spent most of the next two years toiling away in anonymity on the practice squad and broke his hand last season. When Bradford talks about his path, there’s a genuine appreciation that carries through his voice.
“They could have released me but didn’t,” he said. “They must have seen something, and I just don’t want to let those guys down.”
That comes through in the way Bradford plays middle linebacker, the way he must play if he’s going to stick around.
“I run through fullbacks,” he said. “I’m going to hit the running back. I’m going to hit the receiver. Wherever the ball goes, I’m gonna go and crush it. That’s just my mentality since I’ve been playing football. It’s something I can bring to the team. It’s something I want to bring.”
Yet the rugged Bradford, who will be 25 at the start of the season, is also coming to terms with the more nuanced aspects of the position.
The Seahawks like Bradford’s physical play, his aggressiveness, his explosiveness. But Bradford understands that there’s far more to playing middle linebacker — the quarterback of the defense, Norton said — than hitting someone.
“A lot of it has to do with your eyes when you’re playing linebacker,” Bradford said. “I’m just trying to open my eyes and see.”
Bradford needs to get better in the passing game, something both he and Carroll acknowledged. Right now he’s not comfortable enough reading quarterbacks and offenses to anticipate what might be coming. He still doesn’t trust his eyes, and that’s something that only comes with time.
“Right now I just line up and with the back I just react to it,” he said. “If I knew what formation they were in, I could be like, ‘OK, they’re only going to run in this or they’re only going to pass in this.’ I’ve just got to keep working.”
Said Norton: “You have to be jack of all trades and master of all trades.”
That will be Bradford’s challenge. Can he master the art of dropping in coverage? Can he pick up on what offenses might be doing?
But he has come a long way since Tampa Bay cut him as a running back two years ago, and he remembers that each day of practice.
“I just had the feeling of, what if football ended?” he said. “Every time I come out on the grass I smell the field, get the feel of it because I guess I know what it feels like when it’s gone already. I don’t take days for granted.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org