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Bradford’s knee ‘best it’s felt’ since injury as Cardinals ramp up camp

(Kevin Zimmerman / Arizona Sports)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s quite obvious why the Arizona Cardinals approached Sam Bradford’s knee health with the greatest of care since signing the free agent to be their starting quarterback. Bradford enters his ninth NFL season having missed half of a regular season three times.

To this point, the team has covered him in bubble wrap, added packing peanuts and double-taped the box around him. Even on Friday, Bradford didn’t take part in a conditioning test to begin training camp.

But as camp ramped up with walk-throughs on Saturday, the Cardinals began unpacking their first team QB for the season.

“I get it. It’s frustrating for me to be injured as many times as I have,” Bradford said after a walk-through Saturday morning. “My mindset every year is that I’m going to go out there and play every game that I can and I am going to stay healthy.

Bradford led the NFL in 2016 with a 71.6 completion percentage and threw 20 touchdowns to five interceptions. He only played the first two games for the Minnesota Vikings last year before a scope on a left knee twice befell by ACL injuries ended his season. After Arizona signed him, the plan all along was for Bradford to sit on ice — until now.

“It’s definitely the best it’s felt since the injury last year,” Bradford said of his knee.

Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks wants to get into training camp quickly, taking the next few weeks to not only find a schematic and detail-oriented identity but to add a physicality to it.

That means getting Bradford acclimated to the first team offense.

“I think this is an extremely important time for everyone, every team,” Bradford said.

Arizona believes the quarterback is ready to take on an increased work load, and Bradford admitted his health has even improved since mid-June minicamp.

“Like I said, we had kind of had a plan in place all spring,” he said. “We were really just trying to get back as much strength as possible, at the same time challenge it on the field, you know, moving around the pocket, running, trying to simulate as much football-type movements as possible.

“I feel like I got a lot out of the five weeks. I feel like I’ve made significant steps since OTAs.”

Wilks, like he has all along, didn’t shy away from calling Bradford the starting quarterback with rookie and 10th overall pick Josh Rosen and veteran backup Mike Glennon in pursuit of him.

“I don’t waver that Sam is our starter. It is his job to lose,” Wilks said Saturday.

“Right now, (the backup spot is) still open and guys are competing,” the head coach added. “I think Josh is doing a great job as well as Mike Glennon. Those guys are getting the reps they need. Once we really get into the swing of things — particularly with me it comes down to preseason games and giving guys an opportunity to get in there and perform. We see how they start to separate themselves.”

Sending a message

Arizona will practice without pads over the weekend before suiting up to begin the week, and Wilks shared a little bit about his first full address to the squad.

“We really just talked about our vision and understanding our long-term goal is to bring a world championship here to Arizona,” he said. “The focus of not really worrying about the playoffs nor Super Bowl 53. Our concentration right now is really trying to clamp our dominance on the NFC West. That’s where it starts. You have to win the division.”

‘Training Day’ Denzel

Wilks’ former protege with the Carolina Panthers from 2014-16, Tre Boston, shared that he and his old teammates thought their defensive backs coach sounded — and acted — like Denzel Washington.

Of course, Washington played football coach Herman Boone in “Remember the Titans.” He also played a corrupt cop named Alonzo Harris in the movie “Training Day,” which has quite the PG-13 rated climactic scene.

“I’ve heard it before, heard it a couple times,” Wilks said of Boston’s revelation a day earlier. “I had a couple ‘Training Day’ episodes. I try to stay away from that. It’s hard to believe it’s in my personality.”

High expectations

While the Cardinals might be far from favorites in the NFC West due to the new faces on offense and new coaching staff, their defensive unit expects to be among the best in the NFL.

“Be a top five defense. Turnover-wise, be top five turnover-wise. That’s realistic,” veteran safety Antoine Bethea said. “The depth as well. We got depth on all three levels.”

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