During a post-practice interview lacking pomp and circumstance, James Bradberry was informed he’d been named the Carolina Panthers’ MVP of training camp by the Observer.
The second-year cornerback from Birmingham smiled. Then he was told no prize money or trophy accompanied the award.
He didn’t seem to mind.
“It feels good,” Bradberry said. “I just want to be able to translate all that over to the game. That’s the main thing. That’s my main focus.”
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Naming camp MVPs and predicting breakthrough seasons can be tricky business.
Devin Funchess was a popular pick for both at this time last year, before the lanky wideout produced a solid but unspectacular second season.
But from the earliest, muggy days in Spartanburg to the equally humid mornings in Nashville this week, Bradberry has had the look of a player on the verge of big things.
Bradberry, thrown into the NFL fires last season after the abrupt exit of the previous No. 24, all-pro Josh Norman. And Bradberry has spent the past four weeks deflecting more passes than Draymond Green.
He broke up another pass Thursday during the second of two joint practices with the Titans. Blanketed on wideout Harry Douglas, Bradberry reached up with his right hand to swat away a Marcus Mariota spiral near the goal line.
Bradberry wanted more.
“I feel like I should’ve picked that last one with Harry Douglas,” he said. “But at the end of the day it was a pass breakup, he didn’t catch it. So it was all good.”
Shaky start, strong finish
Not everything was all good during Bradberry’s rookie season. He was on the field for at least the start of Julio Jones’ 300-yard receiving game in Week 4 in Atlanta.
Jones caught three passes on Bradberry during the first series before Bradberry caught his toe on Jones’ foot and left the game. Bradberry missed the next three games with turf toe.
Bradberry showed little rust when he returned in early November against the Rams, breaking up a season-high three passes in a victory in Los Angeles.
He ended up with 11 pass breakups, becoming the first rookie to lead the team in PBUs since Norman had eight in 2012.
It was a strong start for the second-round pick from Samford, who had been fixing his mom’s toilet when the Panthers called during the 2016 draft. Bradberry was the first of three corners drafted by former general manager Dave Gettleman, who took Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez in the third and fifth rounds, respectively.
Worley started 11 games and finished just behind Bradberry with 10 pass breakups.
A package deal
Bradberry understands why a lot of people – including many inside the organization – are expecting he and Worley to take the next step in their development.
“I know looking everywhere and hearing from the coaching staff, everyone’s looking forward to seeing how me and Daryl play this year,” Bradberry said. “It’s our second year, you want to take a sophomore leap.
“But I’m just trying to be the best that I can, trying not to put too much stress or too much weight on my back.”
Bradberry’s strong preseason started in June.
During one minicamp practice, he had an interception and two PBUs against No. 2 quarterback Derek Anderson despite basically playing with one hand. Bradberry had fractured his wrist in a collision with linebacker Luke Kuechly during an OTA practice a week earlier.
Although he still wears a protective cast on the wrist, Bradberry has continued to make plays.
“It’s year 2 for him. I’m expecting him to step up and raise his game very high,” nickel back Captain Munnerlyn said. “He had a good rookie year, had a little injury so it kind of slowed him down a little bit. But I’m expecting him to really take his game to the next level.”
Questions, and cleats
Since returning to the Panthers in March, Munnerlyn says he’s noticed Bradberry asking questions in position meetings and getting more comfortable with receivers’ route concepts.
Munnerlyn also noticed Bradberry’s pink cleats, generally reserved for October games during breast cancer awareness month. Bradberry has worn the same low-cut Nikes since the spring because of their cushion and comfort.
“These cleats are comfortable,” he said. “I’m not too fond of all the Nike cleats they have out right now. I know these are kind of the old ones. This was the only color they had with these cleats.”
Bradberry, who has a deal with Nike, has ordered some new cleats in the same style, as well as some of the Calvin Johnson models. Until they arrive, he’ll keep practicing in the pink ones.
He says teammates have not given him any grief about them.
“They know I like them,” Bradberry said. “And I don’t care what they say anyways.”
With the start of the regular season fast approaching, what’s being said and written about Bradberry lately is all good.