Linebacker Stewart Bradley (97) celebrates a play earlier this preseason in Oakland as cornerback Richard Marshall (31) looks on.
FLAGSTAFF – Losing a season in the heart of your NFL career is difficult, but the hurt can last even longer.
New Cardinals linebacker Stewart Bradley played at a Pro Bowl level back in 2008 as the middle man for the Eagles' defense, a reason Philadelphia was able to advance to the NFC Championship against the Cards. He was a rising star – only to have it all derailed the following training camp, when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament during a Philly night practice.
His season was lost. His return in 2010 became a fight as Bradley got comfortable playing with a repaired knee while missing a game with a concussion and then, as the season reached December, suffering a dislocated elbow and missing the final three games. Then the Eagles decided not to try to bring him back.
Bradley came to Arizona for a fresh start, refusing to lament what could have been.
"You can't think like that," Bradley said. "You just say, 'I'm back and healthy.' "
The Cardinals are counting on that. Bradley got a five-year deal worth up to $30 million for Bradley to come in and solidify the middle of the linebacking corps after the team released Gerald Hayes. Playing behind fellow veteran Paris Lenon for now, Bradley should team with Lenon and Daryl Washington for a three-man rotation.
At 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds, Bradley could also make an impact outside in certain situation, becoming a pass rusher and a wild card in the new defense of coordinator Ray Horton. That versatile use is a big reason Bradley liked the idea of coming to Arizona.
It wasn't the only one – Bradley is from Salt Lake City, close to the Valley, and he was already friends with Larry Fitzgerald and Kevin Kolb – but it meant a lot when he talked to coach Ken Whisenhunt when the free-agent period began.
"I wanted to be in a 3-4 (alignment) because I think it features linebacker play," Bradley said. "It's a valued position, they call a lot of blitzes, they put a big nose tackle in there and let you run around and make a lot of plays. It's definitely a scheme linebackers want to be in."
Whisenhunt likes Bradley's ability to work from different spots, whether it be as a pass rusher, a linebacker in any of the Cards' "sub" packages, or even on first- and second-down in the team's base look.
"There is a willingness for him to do anything you ask him to do," Whisenhunt said. "He just wants to contribute. I like his enthusiasm."
There is no question he can upgrade the Cardinals' defense. Linebacker has been a spot in need of more depth for a couple of years, especially in a scheme focusing on the position. The hope is that he can revert to his 2008 form.
Bradley thinks he has gotten past the "frustrating" times of 2010. The full comeback from a torn ACL frequently doesn't come until the season after the return – ask fellow Cards linebacker O'Brien Schofield – and that puts Bradley (who tore an ACL in college in 2005) in the perfect place.
If he can stay on the field, Whisenhunt acknowledged, he has talent to lend. His former-and-current teammate said the same.
"He's a freak, a big athletic guy when he's running around out there," Kolb said. "He'll be a true quarterback once he gets it down out there on that side of the ball. He studies hard, he takes the game serious.
"His only issue is staying healthy, and it's been freaky (injuries). If we can just keep him healthy, I think everyone will be very pleased. He'll be a Pro Bowl-caliber player."