By Brady Henderson
It’s one thing for an NFL team to draft a college offensive tackle and make him a guard – a relatively common switch involving positions that are sometimes interchangeable. The Seahawks did it with James Carpenter, for instance.
It’s another thing to take a mobile college quarterback and move him to a skill position like running back or wide receiver. Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson made that transition when he was drafted by San Francisco.
Allen Bradford was a bruising tailback at USC before moving to middle linebacker with the Seahawks. (AP)
It’s downright unheard of, though, to turn a college tailback into an NFL middle linebacker – not only because it involves moving to the other side of the ball but because that position carries enough responsibilities to be referred to as the quarterback of the defense.
It’s a transition that Allen Bradford is making with the Seahawks.
“In the history of [football], who has ever done that?” Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr. asked rhetorically when he joined “Brock and Danny”
on Thursday. “So it’s exciting as a coach, for us to wake up every day and know that we have this challenge to do something that’s never been done before.”
It’s a little easier to see why the Seahawks took on that challenge after hearing Norton speak effusively about Bradford.
Here are the highlights:
Some familiarity. Bradford isn’t learning an entirely new position. He was a middle linebacker as well as a thumping running back in high school, a five-star recruit who was recruited to USC by coach Pete Carroll with the thought that he could play offense or defense for the Trojans. Carroll decided to play Bradford exclusively at running back, and he finished his career with 16 rushing touchdowns before he was chosen in the sixth round of the 2011 draft by Tampa Bay. The Seahawks claimed him off waivers early that year, released him two days later and signed him to their practice squad as a linebacker.
While he hadn’t played that position since he was 17, it’s not as though lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow were new concepts to him. Bradford has identified that as the easiest part of the transition.
“Allen is a pretty good football player. It’s not like he just fell off the truck. He’s been playing football for a long time. Hasn’t played linebacker at the pro level for a long time, but he has what it takes,” Norton said.
The ‘wow’ factor. The speed of an NFL play leaves no time for indecision or second-guessing, which is what Bradford is trying to eliminate as he works on diagnosing plays. It’s about reading his keys and trusting what his eyes tell him, which Bradford said has been the toughest part of the transition. It’s a work in progress, but Norton loves what he sees when Bradford plays without hesitation.
“He doesn’t pull the trigger all the time, but he pulls the trigger some of the time, and those few times that he pulls the trigger, wow, that looks good,” Norton said. “It’s like, ‘Man, that’s what it could be?'”
Which of Seattle’s linebackers can deliver the hardest hit? You guessed it.
“It’s Allen Bradford. It’s not even close. He’s the most explosive guy in the group. He will run right through you,” Norton said. “I will say, ‘Allen, bring me his head. Detach his body parts and bring them to me.’ He will do it, by any means necessary. He’s the guy.”
Bradford is all in. Bradford had no qualms about moving to linebacker when the Seahawks told him that was their plan. It was actually his preference, which helps explain the degree to which Norton said Bradford is committed to learning the position.
“When he came back to us and he said, ‘Coach, I’m really passionate about … getting back to where my home in, on defense,’ Coach [Carroll and I] looked at each other said, ‘You know what, let’s give it a shot,'” Norton said. “Allen has been everything. He takes his work home. He puts his work on his iPad and studies it all night and … falls asleep studying, comes to work studying. I’m really excited about the process.”