Allen Bradford embodies the type of characteristics Pete Carroll looks for in players – work hard, battle through adversity, don’t complain and you will be rewarded.
After spending most of the past two seasons on the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad, the 5-foot-11, 235-pound thumper of a middle linebacker got an opportunity last week to run with the first-unit defense because starter Bobby Wagner is out with a sore shoulder.
You can pretty much guarantee Bradford is not taking the extra reps for granted.
“I feel good, but I’m not comfortable,” Bradford said. “So I still feel like I’ve got room for improvement. And I’ve just got to keep riding on the horse and taking stepping stones, and just getting there. I’ve got 10 other guys that depend on me to make sure I know what I’m doing,”
Bradford has been playing for Carroll since he was a 17-year-old Parade All-American running back out of Colton, Calif.
Back then, Bradford wanted to follow in the footsteps of great USC linebackers such as Clay Matthews Jr., Junior Seau and Lofa Tatupu.
Carroll had other plans.
“The first day, we started him on the defense and I always wanted him to be the tailback because he’s such a brute,” Carroll said. “He always wanted to play defense.”
Although not his first choice, Bradford was an effective runner for his five years with the Trojans, finishing with 1,585 yards on 267 carries (5.9 per carry average) and 16 touchdowns in 52 games.
Bradford was selected by Tampa Bay in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, but was released at midseason.
The Seahawks claimed Bradford off waivers, released him and added him to the practice squad a few days later. During that time, Bradford talked to linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. and Carroll about moving to linebacker.
During his first two seasons in Seattle, Bradford would sometimes work with the scout squad on both side of the ball for the Seahawks, particularly when the team was facing a physical running back such as Steven Jackson.
And the Seahawks showed their commitment to Bradford, keeping him on the practice squad even when he suffered a broken hand last season.
“Every time I come out on the grass, I smell the field, get the feel of it, because I guess I kind of know what it feels like when it’s gone already,” Bradford said. “And I don’t take days for granted. I’ve got to take care of my body because I’ve only got one. And then I’ve got to get in that film, text Coach Norton and do whatever I have to do to be on my game.”
Bradford, who turns 25 on Aug. 31, is not a blazer. But he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds at the scouting combine before the draft, and bench-pressed 225 pounds 28 times.
However, Bradford’s strength is the physical way he plays.
“I run through fullbacks,” Bradford said. “I’m going to hit the running back. I’ll hit the receiver – wherever the ball goes, I’m going to go, and I’m going to crush it, regardless. That’s just my mentality since I’ve been playing football.”
Along with being physical, the difference for Bradford has been his attention to detail. Bradford stayed in Seattle for the entire offseason to work out, watch film and learn new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s version of Carroll’s 4-3 defensive scheme.
“It’s not overnight,” Bradford said. “They had me on practice squad for two years, and I learned a lot. It’s kind of a development process. Coach Norton told me it’s time to go, so I got on the horse and I just kept going.
“I study every night, make sure I’m in my playbook. I watch all the practices, make all the calls and make sure the defense is lined up.”
Bradford’s attention to detail has not gone unnoticed by Quinn.
“You can feel his effort out on the field,” Quinn said. “This is a guy that’s completely going for it. He’s trying to make this team. And you sense that, you feel that urgency that he’s brings to the team. … I’ve got a lot of time and respect for a guy who’s putting that type of competition out there.”
Now Carroll wants to see Bradford carry that effort and intensity to Seattle’s first exhibition game Thursday in San Diego.
“It’s a really important step for him,” Carroll said. “He’s made a big transition. You see it took a long time to get him to here, and this preseason is going to be really crucial for him. So far, he’s done a nice job.”