From the moment he signed with them as a free agent back in March, the Cardinals have had a plan for Sam Bradford. It involved countless faces from both the football and medical side of things coming together to determine the exact route and progression the club would take in keeping the quarterback and his oft-injured left knee as healthy as possible.

They eased him in and out of offseason workouts and minicamps, gradually increased his workload in June, and Bradford spent five long weeks continuing his rehab and strength programs to get himself ready for training camp.

Coming up on two weeks’ worth of practices at University of Phoenix Stadium, Bradford said he hasn’t felt this good in years. And the detailed and structured plan the Cardinals put in place for him, he added, couldn’t have been designed any better.

But now comes the conundrum.

Just what exactly is the plan for Bradford in preseason games? Will the Cardinals treat him like any other starting quarterback and give him a few series here and there the first two games, starting this Saturday when they host the Los Angeles Chargers? Or might they hold him back, protect his knee, and not let him play much until their third preseason game on Aug. 26 at the Dallas Cowboys?


Cardinals’ quarterback Sam Bradford comments on Larry Fitzgerald and Josh Rosen at training camp.
Rob Schumacher, azcentral sports

Coach Steve Wilks said he plans to huddle with his coaching staff on Wednesday to talk about how the team plans to not only utilize Bradford, but players such as wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson, as well.

But what should be the plan for Bradford? If he’s healthy enough, what could a little extra playing time hurt? It’s not like he couldn’t use it after missing all but two games last season with the Vikings. Then again, what’s the point of risking your starting quarterback by exposing him to possible dangers in a meaningless preseason game?

There’s also the Josh Rosen factor to consider. Wilks knows he has to get his rookie quarterback up to speed, which is why Rosen has been sharing some of the first-team reps in camp with Bradford. Rosen needs the preseason work just as much, if not more than the nine-year veteran.

“It seems like I get asked that question every year,” Bradford said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s like, how much work do you need? How many snaps? I don’t think there’s a magic formula.”

The Cardinals, though, need to find one. They have to be shrewd if they don’t want to be screwed. Play Bradford too much, it could be disastrous. Don’t play him enough, it might take him weeks to find his footing and rediscover his rhythm.

“It’s not a magical formula,” Wilks agreed, adding, “I think you’ve got to be able to get a feel for how the week is going and then, most importantly, I think it’s also based on who’s in there, meaning the offensive line. We have a certain amount of plays where I want to see the (the first-team offense).

“I want to be able to get (Bradford) some timing down in a game-like situation with the receivers as well as the first-team offensive line. It’s also going to be an opportunity for Josh to be able to step in there, so we’ll see exactly how many plays I want him to go.”


Katherine Fitzgerald and Bob McManaman discuss Tuesday’s Cardinals training camp practice.
Rob Schumacher, azcentral sports

For the record, Bradford says he’ll take as many snaps as Wilks is willing to give him, which is encouraging. He said he’s always had the same mindset – to prepare as if he’s going to play an entire preseason game “until the coach decides to pull you out.”

“When you’re in there, you approach it like a game,” he said. “You want to see the process, you want to see a sharp, in and out of the huddle (routine), no mental mistakes, out there executing on offense, playing at a high level. Really, just trying to get into a rhythm so you can kind of carry it over into the regular season.

“I think (preseason games) are beneficial. I think getting out there, especially after not playing a ton last season, you can only simulate so much in practice. There’s only so much live work you can get in practice with people around you, in the pocket, getting a feel for the pocket, being able to move, feeling when the ball’s got to come out, how long you’ve got. I think getting in there in the preseason, getting some of that awareness back, I think there’s definitely some benefits to that.”

So far, Bradford has checked all the boxes, according to Wilks. He’s looked sharp in practices. He likes what Bradford has been doing in meeting rooms. He’s been getting good reports every day from offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and quarterback coach Byron Leftwich. Even Buddy Morris, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, has been pleased, especially with Bradford’s knee.

So are the Cardinals’ receivers like J.J. Nelson, who marveled about Bradford’s accuracy and zip by comparing his passes to Carson Palmer: “He’s got that soft touch. Nice spin on the ball. Great velocity. It’s easy to catch.”

It isn’t just Bradford’s arm, either.

“Just to be able to talk to him, he’s so smart,” rookie wideout Christian Kirk said. “Just to be able to get his insight and see what he’s seeing, and being able to get on the same page. He’s easy to talk to and easy to work with, so I’m excited about that development as well.”

Besides learning how much action he will see in preseason games, Bradford is eager to find out how the Cardinals’ offensive identity will take shape. Coaches continue to install new plays in the playbook every day in camp, but over the course of the next two weeks, things will start to get narrowed down and isolated.

“We’re going to figure out exactly what we want to do, who we want to be as an offense, what we’re successful with, and I think that’s the part that’s fun for a quarterback,” Bradford said. “When you really do start to narrow it down, that’s when you can say, ‘This is what our identity is going to be, these are the plays that we feel comfortable with, these are the plays that our guys execute well, we’ll play fast with these plays coming out of the huddle.’

“It’ll be fun these next couple weeks to kind of see where that goes.”


Reach McManaman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.