CHARLOTTE – What has gotten into James Bradberry?
An offseason appearance in studio with Good Morning Football; posing for the cameras on media day; recording a sack and an interception in the opener and celebrating both standout plays with passionate roars.
That doesn’t sound like the quiet, reserved cornerback who came to Carolina as a second-round pick from little known Samford in 2016.
“I just think he’s got even more confidence now,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s kind of neat to watch him.”
It’s taken some time, but yes, Bradberry has started to come out of his shell.
“I guess a little bit,” Bradberry conceded. “I’m kind of starting to love it here.”
Rivera used Bradberry’s participation in the Panthers’ media day production as evidence. The team uses that footage on social media and on the big video boards in Bank of America Stadium.
“He never really would have done anything like that in the past,” Rivera said. “We give him a little grief about doing it. I think he feels more sure about himself. As a corner, that goes a long way.”
It does, and Bradberry agrees that’s he’s become a more confident player in his fourth season. The reason being? Trust in his preparation.
“I’m spending more time in the film room. Confidence comes with that,” Bradberry said. “I try to watch a lot of film so I’m not as nervous and I kind of know how (the offense) is going to try to attack us on Sunday.”
Bradberry said he’s developed routine with his film study over the years. First day consists of first and second down trends. Then he’ll spend a day on third-down looks. He wraps it up with red zone review and an examination of an offense’s go-to plays for explosive gains.
His fourth-quarter interception against Rams quarterback Jared Goff was a result of that film study. He was right on top of wide receiver Robert Woods when Goff let it fly.
“I saw that play when I was watching film throughout the week. When it came I just took advantage. I just broke on the dig,” Bradberry said. "Got my hands on it and actually caught it."
It was without question the most impressive interception of Bradberry’s career (he had five coming into the season).
Even Rams head coach Sean McVay was impressed.
“I thought Bradberry’s pick where he undercut Robert Woods on the deep in-breaking route was, you know, we kind of got a look we wanted, and he made a great play right there,” McVay said.
McVay sought out Bradberry as soon as time expired to tell him personally.
“I was surprised he knew my first name, honestly,” Bradberry said in true Bradberry fashion. “But it felt good to get some recognition.”
His own head coach also had plenty of nice things to say about his performance.
“I thought he played with good vision. When you watch his movement throughout the game and where he was, he put himself in position,” said Rivera, who also noted that Bradberry has gotten better about moving his feet off the snap instead of reaching. “He was very aware of what was going on around him and that’s a huge plus.
“With James’ quickness and length, he can make plays, and we saw that… I think James can be a pretty special player for us.”
Especially with the help of Semaj and Chad.
OK, so now you’re obviously wondering who Semaj and Chad are.
This year, the defensive backs came up with names for two of Bradberry’s alter egos.
The first is Semaj – James spelled backwards. Hilarious. It’s what they call James when he’s feeling himself.
“When he gets that fresh cut. Or when he puts on the suit or the nice clothes to come to the games – that’s Semaj,” cornerback Donte Jackson explained.
Then there’s Chad. I’m not sure why exactly they chose the name Chad, but that’s used to describe James when he gets intense and/or fired up.
“He was Chadberry on Sunday,” Jackson said. “Like, James made the pick, but Chad celebrated.”
The defensive backs of course find this all to be endlessly funny. Bradberry just laughs along with them.
“He’s the best guy to crack jokes with,” Jackson said. “James is an all-around good dude. Never in a bad mood, never hear him complaining, you just never get any bad vibes from that guy. If they had All-Pro guys in the league, he’d definitely be All-Pro.”
If he keeps playing like he did against the Rams in the opener, he might be an All-Pro, period. Pro Football Focus graded Bradberry as the top-ranked cornerback overall in Week 1 (90.5).
Everyone knows this is a contract year for Carolina’s No. 1 corner, so the pressure is on to perform. He’s off to a fantastic start, and you can tell his teammates love watching him flourish.
“Oh yeah, everybody is rooting for James,” Jackson said. “He has the support of this locker room through and through.”
And if he wants to get paid like a top corner, Bradberry knows he’s got to do what top corners do. Make plays on the ball, be consistent, and yeah, show some swagger when the moment is right.
“It comes with the territory,” Bradberry said. “I’m going to enjoy it.”
View photos of cornerback James Bradberry posing for the camera during production day.