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Arizona Cardinals: Why Stewart Bradley Will Win the Starting Job at ILB

John DegrooteCorrespondent IIJanuary 15, 2017

Arizona Cardinals: Why Stewart Bradley Will Win the Starting Job at ILB

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    While most of the attention around the Arizona Cardinals has been directed towards the quarterback battle between John Skelton, there are other position battles happening on the depth chart.

    One of those battles is at the the inside linebacker position between Paris Lenon and Stewart Bradley.

    Daryl Washington, who led the Cardinals in tackles last year with 107, has one side locked down in the 3-4 defense, but Bradley is giving Lenon an unexpected challenge for the other spot.

    Bradley had a down season last year after signing as a free agent and trying to adjust to the Cardinals 3-4 scheme.

    After taking a pay cut in the offseason, Bradley is looking to remove the stigma of being an underachiever.

    Here are six reasons why Bradley will come out on top in the battle for the starting inside linebacker spot along side Washington.

Improved Understanding of the Defense

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    When Bradley came over in free agency, he was forced to adjust to a 3-4 scheme after playing in a 4-3 during his first three years as a pro in Philadelphia.

    He also had to do it with no benefit of offseason workouts due to the 2011 lockout.

    Bradley said in an interview with the Arizona Republic:

    In a 4-3, your gaps are your gaps, you have an 'A' gap and a 'B' gap, so you can play downhill as fast as you want. In a 3-4, it depends upon where the (defensive) tackle is. You might be here, you might be there.

    Bradley has recorded 10 total tackles in just two preseason games.

    He only had 31 all of last year.

    If Bradley continues to improve his understanding of Ray Horton's defense, expect him to be in the running for leading tackler this season.

He's Younger, but Still Experienced

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    Paris Lenon is with his fourth NFL team, and will be turning 35 this season.

    Stewart Bradley is only with his second team, and will only be 28.

    Bradley is young enough to still be an asset for the future, but experienced enough to have some veteran savvy on the field.

    Daryl Washington is only 25 years old. The Cardinals will be able to build off Bradley improving this year in a starter's role, and will have a solid duo inside their linebacking corps for years to come.

    While Lenon's career may be winding down, Bradley is still in his prime.

Paris Lenon's Ankle

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    Paris Lenon left the Cardinals first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints with a sprained ankle and did not play in the team's second game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

    This has led to more opportunity for Stewart Bradley to impress.

    "You never want anyone to be injured,'' said Bradley. "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.''

    In the HOF game, Bradley saw some extra time and the field. He ended up leading the team in tackles with seven and added a sack, tackle for loss and defended pass.

    Bradley could use the extra time with the first team to gain even more ground on Lenon, eventually surpassing him.

Bradley Wants to Be a Cardinal

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    Stewart Bradley signed a pretty hefty contract when he signed as a free agent last offseason (5-year, $25 million).

    He knew that he under performed during the 2011-12 season, and was willing to restructure to be able to stay with the Cardinals.

    The restructuring cut his base salary from $5 million to $2.5 million. However, that loss can be recouped through a series of incentives.

    Stewart most likely would have been let go if he did not restructure.

    For a lot of players, money is everything.

    Bradley enjoys playing for coach Ken Whisenhunt, and being in a Cardinals uniform. He knows that Arizona is a place he can flourish once he masters the defense.

    I would not be surprised if Bradley earned back the money he lost from the restructuring by meeting the incentives this season.

Athleticism

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    Once the defensive scheme becomes second nature to Stewart Bradley he will be able to use the full range of his athleticism that he showed while with Philadelphia.

    "The more comfortable you get, the better you can show what skills you have," defensive coordinator Ray Horton said in an interview with the Arizona Republic. "He's a byproduct of that."

    Bradley is six years younger than Paris Lenon and much more athletic. He will simply be able to make more plays than Lenon because of his athletic ability.

    His stats so far this preseason have proved that.

    Lenon remains the starter for now, but Bradley is developing into the better option. If Lenon loses out to Bradley, he will still be a major asset to the defense, just not in a starting role.

    Head coach Ken Whisenhunt said:

    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 and 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.

The Carlton Celebration

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    Who would not want to see more of this?

    Stewart Bradley pulls off the Carlton dance nearly to perfection after a sack of New Orleans Saints quarterback Chase Daniels.

    I don't think Paris Lenon can keep up with Bradley's dancing skills.

    Just another testament to Bradley's athleticism.

     

    What do you think? Will Stewart Bradley assume a starting role on the defense? Let us know in the comments below.

    Follow me on Twitter: @john_degroote

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