Cardinals' Bradley making his case at ILB

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Stewart Bradley already needed to prove a lot. The Arizona Cardinals linebacker now has a larger stage to show the strides he's made.

Entering his second season with Arizona, Bradley needs to remove the stigma of underachiever after a disappointing first year after signing as a free agent.

Bradley received first-team repetitions on the inside next to Daryl Washington each of the past two days during Arizona's brief training camp sojourn at Missouri Western State University.

That came as a result of veteran Paris Lenon's ankle injury suffered Sunday in the Cardinals' preseason opener.

''You never want anyone to be injured,'' said Bradley, who signed with Arizona as a free agent after the 2010 season. ''That's not the way you want an accomplishment to go down at all, so I definitely want to say that. But also you want to take advantage of the chances you get in there to make plays.''

Bradley might have put on the best show for Arizona (No. 23 in the AP Pro32) in a 17-10 loss to New Orleans in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday in Canton, Ohio.

After Lenon exited early, Bradley filled in and led Arizona with seven tackles, adding a sack, a tackle for loss and a pass-defensed. The extra repetitions this week could provide another chance to push Lenon, an 11-year veteran who has started all 32 games he has played for Arizona the past two seasons.

''(Bradley's) a different player this year,'' Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ''With Paris being a little gimpy on his ankle, he's going to get more opportunities, and that's great. We get a chance to see him, hopefully, further develop.

''I think Stewart's making it a tight competition. I certainly respect Paris, and how he's played for us and the leadership he brings to the table. Stewart's an athletic player that when he gets it right, he's a good player, and he's gotten a lot more right this year than he did last year.''

Lenon serves as the quarterback of the defense from his inside spot in Whisenhunt's 3-4 defensive scheme. He recorded a career-high 126 tackles in his first season with Arizona (2010) and fell just short of the 100 mark last year.

By contrast, Bradley came from Philadelphia last year and struggled to adjust from his role as a 4-3 linebacker.

The University of Nebraska product played in all 16 games last year but started just once. Bradley worked his way up the depth chart his rookie season with the Eagles in 2007 and then started all 16 games and recorded a career-high 108 tackles the following season.

A torn ACL suffered in the preseason kept him out for all of 2009, but he returned to start 12 games in 2010, which turned out to be his last year in the 4-3.

Questions about an inability to recreate that production have dogged Bradley in Whisenhunt's 3-4, and in the offseason, he agreed to restructure his contract for less money to stay in Arizona. Bradley wants his play to allow him to move past the doubt.

''You just have to control what you can control,'' Bradley said. ''I can't control what you guys ask, so you just have to focus on handling the part of the game that I can handle.''

The part of the game Bradley continues to handle right now is making the necessary adjustments.

Payoff for that work started to show on Sunday, and a player who has come back from a torn ACL in both college and the pros might be developing a comeback of another kind. Bradley's convincing himself that he can be the same productive player he was in Philadelphia.

''I don't know if it's the same thing as a knee injury,'' Bradley said.

But he said this situation requires him to have confidence and belief in himself.

Lenon said after Sunday's game that the ankle injury was minor and shouldn't cost him any time long term. However, the Cardinals staff has used caution in the short turnaround from Sunday to Friday's game against the Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo., with injured players like Lenon, quarterback Kevin Kolb (ribs) and running back Beanie Wells (knee).

Lenon, the definition of an every-down linebacker, doesn't want to miss any time but is unsure of his playing status for Friday.

If Lenon can't go, Bradley might again receive some extra looks. Even if he serves the year as a backup, that could prove a valuable commodity for Arizona's defense. Just don't expect Lenon, at 34, to simply pass the torch.

''We all get paid to do a job and to do that job effectively,'' Lenon said. ''(Depth) is a great thing, but I don't feel like I need a blow. It's always great to have more depth on your team because you never know what's going to happen in the course of the season. If we all play effectively, there'll be no drop-off.

''But from a personal standpoint, I'm going to play. That's how I approach it.''


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Tagged: Cardinals, Paris Lenon, Stewart Bradley

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