The Cardinals handled Sam Bradford with kid gloves this offseason, prioritizing his health over practice snaps with his oft-talked about "plan."
Training camp's arrival has brought with it a ramped-up approach.
Bradford is expected to participate fully in practices during the lead-up to the regular season, albeit with interspersed veteran days off to keep him fresh. While a history of knee trouble brings durability concerns, it's imperative for Bradford to get consistent work as he continues the transition to a new team and new offensive system.
"This is the time where he needs to step it up," coach Steve Wilks said. "He understands and knows that. We've got to proceed forward with our timing. He's ready."
Bradford only played two games for the Vikings last season because of knee issues, the latest setback in an injury-riddled career that also includes a pair of torn ACLs. A large swath of people believe another injury is inevitable, but Bradford remains positive.
"You have to stay optimistic," Bradford said. "I think if you're not optimistic, I think the odds of staying healthy and the odds of playing well, they're probably not that great. I get it. It's frustrating for me to be injured as many times as I have. But my mindset every year is that I'm going to go out there and play every game that I can, and that I am going to stay healthy."
Wilks said the offseason maintenance plan put in place was "phenomenal," and both he and Bradford feel good about the quarterback's current health. But Bradford admitted there is a physical and mental hurdle to clear in the next few weeks.
"I didn't play a ton of football last year, so being able to get back in the flow of things, get back in rhythm and play again, and see how my knee reacts, see how my mind reacts out there on the field in practice," Bradford said. "I think it's important in these next couple of weeks to re-establish that rhythm."
First-round draft pick Josh Rosen lurks on the depth chart, but Wilks said Saturday the starting quarterback job is Bradford's to lose. While the injury history dominates the Bradford conversation, Wilks is focused on the upside possessed by the former No. 1 overall pick.
"He has a lot of doubters out there," Wilks said. "I know, personally, I'm not into trying to prove people wrong, but that's probably what he's trying to do – really come out and perform, and be the player that I know he can be, and he knows he can be. I'm excited about where he is, and I'm looking forward to a good season with him."
Bradford has been open about the mental toll all the injuries have taken, especially the second torn ACL early in his career with the Rams. He's made plenty of money and could have chosen to walk away after the most recent setback, but the passion still burns.
He was ready to go for the first training camp practice on Saturday afternoon, and hopes it is the start of a full and prosperous season instead of an abbreviated one.
"It's why I do this, why I continue to come back," Bradford said. "It's to be out there on Sundays and to be out there with my guys, to play football again. Just to get that feeling again – running out onto the field on Sundays and playing the game – I think that's what I'm most excited for."
The Cardinals open up 2018 training camp with a run test