ASU Football: Carl Bradford is Taking Over

Carl Bradford prepares to smother USC quarterback Matt Barkley. - Stephen Dunn

With such a daunting schedule, the Arizona State Sun Devils will encounter many obstacles in their road to the Rose Bowl. One player who won't back down? Carl Bradford. The rising junior thrives against tough competition and can't wait to lead the 2013 defense.

This spring, coach Todd Graham has hardly danced around his expectations for the 2013 season.

At each practice, a poster featuring the Rose Bowl trophy surrounded by rose petals rests on the sideline to serve as a reminder about what this team is working toward.

But to take over the Pac-12 and represent the conference on New Year's Day, Arizona State must fight through a daunting schedule.

This season, if the Sun Devils want to be the best, they have to beat the best. Literally.

The 2013 schedule includes a BCS Championship representative in Notre Dame, the Big Ten Champion in Wisconsin, the Pac-12 Champion in Stanford, and the Pac-12 South Champion in UCLA.

Fortunately, the Sun Devils have a proven veteran who shines on the grand stage.

Last season, sophomore Devilbacker Carl Bradford had a breakout year with 20.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks as a driving force in one of the country's best front sevens.

Bradford's freakish athletic ability is on display nearly every play, but especially against top competition.

The 6-foot-1, 241-pound playmaker had his best games in 2012 against two of his most hyped opponents.

Against UCLA, Bradford recorded nine tackles and sacked Brett Hundley twice. Against USC, Bradford was simply unstoppable as he racked up 10 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

However, Bradford's incredible individual efforts didn't lead to victories, and that's something he's hoping to change this time around.

"My biggest goal is to have everybody be more familiar and to know what each other are thinking so that we can be on the same page," Bradford said. "We want to be connected, all for one."

Even though Bradford has proved capable of performing his responsibilities, he wants to make sure everyone else understands each player's role on any given play.

Last year, the job of organizing and preparing the defense went to captain Brandon Magee. But with Magee's graduation, Bradford wants to step in and carry the load.

Bradford credits Magee for helping to instill the value of leadership in him, and he thinks he's ready to become the heart and soul of the defense.

"A lot of guys are starting to look up to me more in that leadership role and I just try to set a good example for them," Bradford said. "Hopefully they'll follow my footsteps and just keep it going by always having a positive attitude and positive mindset."

For the Sun Devils to join the Pac-12's elite this season, they'll need more than just leadership from the rising junior.

Throughout the spring, Bradford's versatility has played a key part in helping the defense evolve. The Norco, California native is a rare breed at the college level in that he thrives out of both a three-point stance and a stand-up look.

Bradford has worked on blitzing from the middle of the field, rushing from off the edge, and developing his moves as a pass-rusher.

Though he admits shifting around can be mentally exhausting, he knows the variety of looks he can give will pay off in the long run.

"I practice sometimes in a stack defense when I'm standing up and sometimes down as a defensive end," Bradford said. "I just have to be able to change my mindset because it's a different type of position and I just have to be able to transfer back and forth between the two."

One of the greatest challenges Bradford and company will encounter this season are the different styles of offense they'll see on a weekly basis.

While Stanford and Wisconsin love to gash opponents with power-run schemes, UCLA and Arizona like break down defenses with spread attacks.

However, Bradford thinks his teammates will be prepared for all comers because of how they've dealt with the Arizona State offense this spring.

Taylor Kelly, Chris Coyle, Marion Grice, and D.J. Foster present tough tests for any defense, and the Sun Devils' unit has the pleasure of dealing with them on a daily basis.

"Our offense is fast so we try to keep up with them on defense," Bradford said. "That's where we get our conditioning. Our offense is real fast but our defense is pretty good with keeping up with them."

Though it's only spring, the level of intensity is apparent with each passing day. Bradford and his teammates have bought into Coach Graham's philosophy that winning the Rose Bowl starts now, and the tempo at practice reflects this.

The difference isn't just apparent to media and spectators, the players are beginning to develop the feeling that something special is brewing.

As a leader, Bradford can sense the pulse of his team and he knows the direction this group is heading.

"We're hungrier this year and I can see it in every guy's eyes. We're ready to go out and finish number one in the Pac," Bradford said.

If Bradford continues to perform at a high level and lead by example for the rest of his teammates, there's no reason to believe otherwise.

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