Bradley gets an opportunity
Last season was tough for Bam Bradley. He transitioned from safety, the position he played in high school, to full-time linebacker, but not playing a single snap was the biggest challenge as he redshirted his first year at Pitt.
Although he didn't realize it at the time, Bradley said that sitting last year out was in his best interests. It allowed him to adjust to the game speed and tempo of college football, and he's now ready to make an impact.
"I'm really excited," Bradley said. "I've got family behind me that's backing me 100 percent. I've got a good support system. I'm kind of fearless right now. I'm going to take this thing head on and do the best I can this season."
He's already doing just that in training camp.
Bradley, a redshirt freshman linebacker, has worked several practices this week at the first-team strong-side linebacker. He's trying to take advantage of the opportunities he is getting, and he's ready to make an impact this fall.
"This is all you ever want is an opportunity," he said. "You don't ever want anything handed to you, you just work as hard as you can and when you get your opportunity you try to take advantage of it."
Bradley's elevation in the depth chart shuffled the linebackers a bit. Fellow redshirt freshman Mike Caprara, who had been playing first-team strong-side linebacker, was moved to second-team middle linebacker behind Shane Gordon.
Bradley found out about the move during Wednesday's practice when the coaches put him on the first-team for the inside-run drills, and he has remained with the first unit next to Gordon and weak-side linebacker Anthony Gonzalez through the end of Thursday's first workout.
The redshirt freshman from Ohio has tried his best to capitalize on the opportunities. He still makes mistakes, ones expected from a young player, but he has made some plays as well. Bradley made his mark in Thursday's morning practice when the offense was backed up near its own goal-line, He recovered a James Conner fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
"We hope he's starting to realize his potential," head coach Paul Chryst said following Thursday's workout. "Him and Nick [Grigsby] missed a little bit of time for their family. It's good to get him back. I thought he was doing some good stuff early in training camp, and now he's got to get back in the swing of things. We're looking forward to seeing what he can do."
Although the coaches are intrigued by Bradley, he's a long way from locking up a starting job. Chryst has hesitated to use the words" depth chart" or name a first team or second team throughout camp with the coaches rotating players quite a bit. Bradley's got an opportunity, but according to defensive coordinator Matt House, he still must earn it.
"We're kind of rotating guys around and we wanted to see him out there for a little bit and see how he'd work with some of the other guys," House said. "I mean this when I say this, other than Shane [Gordon], there isn't a true group [of starting linebackers.]"
Bradley, 6'2" 230, said he worked most on using his hands this off-season, utilizing them to deal with linemen, which he didn't have to do much of as a safety. He's also adjusting to splitting his time forward and backward. At safety, everything was in front of Bradley, but now at linebacker, he must be aware of things happening all over the field.
He has leaned on his teammates - Gordon, Gonzalez and Jason Hendricks - to help with his adjustment.
"It's harder than I thought it would be because I played downhill a lot as a safety in high school," Bradley said. "Playing linebacker is different when stuff is behind you. As a safety everything is in front of you, and you just see everything and you can read and react.
"But being a linebacker you have to turn around and look and read different things. It's a big difference and I'm still getting used to it. I still mess up sometimes, but I just try to mess up going 100 miles per hour."
Things didn't seems so optimistic this summer when rumors swirled about Bradley and his brother, Nicholas Grigsby, possibly transferring from Pitt. Things were further fueled when the brothers were excused from practice a few days last week, tending to a death in the family.
Bradley doesn't know how the rumors started, but he's happy at Pitt.
"I'm always happy with a chance to play," he said. "I love my teammates, and I love the city of Pittsburgh. I don't know what the rumors were about or whatever, but I'm here."
Bradley is also happy with an opportunity to contribute in 2013. Nothing will be handed to him, but he's making a push for the starting strong-side linebacker and doing his best to seize the position.
"They're trying to find guys that fit well together and the guys that don't," Bradley said. Any rep I get, I take advantage of it. Even when I'm not repping, I try to take advantage of it mentally, so I'm just trying to get better every day."
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