DT Carl Bradley (96), here with fellow rookie Damonte McKenzie, believes he has learned volumes from the Bucs' veteran defensive line
If you look at the numbers, you see steep odds. Rookie DT Carl Bradley is joining a deep and talented group of interior linemen and may find it difficult to win a full-time job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If you talk to the man, you realize he has already won.
Bradley, in fact, has done nothing to hurt his chances, opening eyes with a strong offseason and coming to training camp determined to learn from the men around him. Even if he fails to beat the odds as an undrafted free agent, the former Virginia Tech star will have made the most of his opportunity.
This is not conjecture on our part; this is straight from Bradley's mouth. An intelligent and introspective man, Bradley believes it has been his good fortune to join a group of people similarly focused on self improvement. He feels he has used his time in Tampa Bay to learn valuable lessons, not all of them related to the football field.
"My best place was here," said Bradley who, as a free agent after the draft could have chosen from among other NFL suitors. "Regardless of whether I'm here in the future or not, the things that I learned here I guarantee I wouldn't have learned anywhere else. We have the best defensive line in the league here and one of the best defensive line coaches. Everything I'm learning here I can keep with me for the rest of my life and use – in my life, in football and out of football. I appreciate that, as an individual and as a player."
Bradley has quickly learned that his position coach, Rod Marinelli, is both a caring man and one of the top assistants in the league. "He's a great coach," said Bradley. "He pushes us day in and day out. It isn't just about football. Everything that I've learned so far from Coach Marinelli has made a better man, an individual and a player of the game. The things that I've learned, I can take with me for the rest of my life, whatever I'm doing."
That doesn't mean Bradley has conceded that all he will gain from his efforts are life lessons. Though he didn't quantify the lessons he has learned from Marinelli, it's a safe bet that one of them is the power of determination. Marinelli spoke positively of Bradley's mini-camp work and said he was anxious to see him in pads in practice. Now that he has reached that stage, Bradley is anxious to show what he can do in a live game.
"So far, so good, but there's still a long road ahead of me," said Bradley after just two days of practices. "I'm just trying to learn from the veterans, just pick up from them, watch their tempo in practice and approach it the same way they're approaching it. By far, Tampa Bay has the best defensive line in this league, so I'm just trying to find my little niche to fit in.
"(Preseason games are) the big test right there. To go out there and show where we stand on this team and, if we're good enough, to play on this team. That's what I'm really waiting for. Practice can only take you so far. It can get you to that point where you're ready to play in a game. Once that day comes, I believe I'll be ready, ready to go out there and show what I'm capable of doing."
In camp, Bradley is lining up at the nose tackle position, where Brad Culpepper starts and Anthony McFarland and James Cannida back up. It is a similar position to the one he played at Virginia Tech, where he helped the Hokies reach last year's NCAA title game. Though he is 'cocked' over the center now and thus less susceptible to double teams than he was with Tech, much of his duties are the same. For the Hokies, he was a top-notch run-stopper up the middle who also came up with 5.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
Bradley feels like the position Tampa Bay has slotted him in is his natural one. Furthermore, he feels the same level of comfort that he did when he decided to attend Virginia Tech, and that is important to Bradley.
"The main reason why I chose Tech is because I felt like it was a second home to me," he said. "I felt really comfortable there. I felt free there, mentally and physically. I really didn't have the stress I did when I visited other schools. I just felt at home at Tech. They welcomed me with open arms and everything worked out for the best.
"You can't go somewhere you're not comfortable. You have to go somewhere you can fit in, where the environment is well-balanced so you can achieve progress as an individual, mentally and physically. Football is what, 90% mental? Being comfortable mentally is a big plus for me. I feel that as I'm able to grow, my mind can grow and I can get better as a person."
That is, apparently, something he has already achieved in Tampa. What he wants to achieve next would mean yet another January championship game.
"Before this whole free agent thing went down," he said "and before I even stepped foot in One Buc – and I wasn't a real big Tampa Bay fan – I told my parents that Tampa Bay was going to the Super Bowl this year and that they were going to win it. What a coincidence that I ended up down here. Everything is coming together like a puzzle and I've just got to play my part. I just need to keeping working hard."