ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Two days after making his first start at middle linebacker for the Broncos, Stewart Bradley said that he's finally feeling healthy again – and feeling right at home operating in Denver's 4-3 defense.
The seven-year pro racked up six tackles – five solo – in the first half of the Broncos' 10-6 win over San Francisco on Thursday.
That level of activeness, Bradley said after Saturday's practice, is a reflection of feeling truly healthy for the first time in years.
"I really feel like I'm back to my old self," he said. "I really feel healthy again."
For Bradley, a return to his 'old self' means reaching a level of physical ability and comfort on the field he hasn't experienced since an ACL injury with the Eagles in the 2009 preseason – an injury that ended his season and quelled the momentum he had built after a career year in 2008.
Prior to the injury, Bradley tackled everything in sight, collecting 151 tackles in his 2008 campaign with the Eagles and earning a place on *Sports Illustrated's *All-Pro team.
But the injury – the second such of his career, as he also suffered an ACL injury in 2005 when he played college football at Nebraska – set Bradley on a lengthy recovery path. Although he returned to the field for the Eagles in 2010 and then played two seasons with the Cardinals, Bradley noted that he still felt the lingering effects of the injury.
"I think that having it be my second one (ACL injury), it was a little bit longer coming back because all the pressure is going on your previous ACL, so you're trying to balance between both of the two," Bradley said. "But I'm in a good place now and I feel like the strength staff here and training staff has done a great job and I feel really healthy."
After joining the Broncos as a free agent in March, Bradley has split reps with Nate Irving and Steven Johnson at the middle linebacker position. And for Bradley, the shift back to a 4-3 defense from the 3-4 system he played in with the Cardinals has been a welcomed change to his more natural position.
"Definitely," Bradley said. "It's the system I've played in the longest and the position that I'm a lot more comfortable with. So as camps come along and I've gotten more and more reps there, I'm starting to think less and just play ball, so it's been fun."
Head Coach John Fox noted that Bradley's adaptability on defense is one of his best assets.
"I like a lot about him," Fox said. "He is a sharp guy that has played multiple positions. He is a smart player as far as his flexibility at any spot. He is a good teams player and a good teammate."
Bradley's veteran experience is also a plus according to Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio.
"He has done a nice job. He is a guy with veteran experience," Del Rio said, noting that he believes Bradley has done well in learning and adjusting to the Broncos' defensive system. "I think he is feeling more and more comfortable. He is a guy that is very active. He hunts the ball, he finishes on the ball and we like that part."
Del Rio noted that Bradley is part of the mix at the middle linebacker competition.
"We'll keep evaluating that, keep letting those guys compete and let it sort itself out through competition," Del Rio said.
And as for Bradley, he's focused on putting his best foot forward on the field – where he's finally feeling right at home once again.
"Of course, (coaches are) still continuing to evaluate everything so I'm just trying to go out there and play the best ball I can," he said.