When Tiquan Underwood arrived at Pitt as a new position coach from Rutgers, Jaden Bradley was a youngster somewhat lost in a room that featured Jordan Addison and Jared Wayne. JB, as he’s known, isn’t hard to miss with a 6-foot-4 frame though.
Underwood may not have known too much about Bradley upon arriving as Pitt’s new wide receivers coach, but as Pitt entered fall camp in August following an offseason getting to know its players, he had already come to the realization that the sky was the limit for a player of Bradley’s skill and size.
Bradley, coming off a true freshman season in which he caught nine balls for 129 yards, was a bigger receiver who was able to get in and out of breaks nonetheless and possessed phenomenal ball skills to match. ‘JB’ was a player with boundless passion, and that’s part of what drew Underwood in.
“What I love about him, he’s passionate about football,” Underwood said in August. “He loves it. So, you’ve got the Tom Brady’s, the (Terrell Owen’s), they love football, and they may go about it differently. So, I don’t want people to look at (Bradley), like, ‘Man, he needs to learn how to control his emotions.’ I want him to be emotional, but just be smart about it.”
It hasn’t been the easiest start to the season for Bradley, having come off a rough showing against Rhode Island and dropping his first target against Georgia Tech Saturday night, but that passion wasn’t channeled into a shutdown. It was turned into the best game of his young career.
Bradley had been working hard to learn and master the X and Z wide receiver positions in Pitt’s offense, but as he trended toward the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ status, Underwood and Pat Narduzzi stopped him. A player of his talent would be better suited to learn — and actually master — one spot over dabbling at everything.
“He’s confident, okay? He’s very, very confident to a point where he thinks he knows every position,” Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “‘I can play the X, the Z, I can do it at all.’ We had him learning them all. A mistake on our part. You might know what you’re doing, but can you do it at a high level?
“He wasn’t doing it at a high level. That’s our fault as coaches not putting him in a position to be successful. I think what we’ve done the last two weeks is saying, ‘Listen, you’re playing one position and you’re going to know that position in and out.’”
Bradley played sparingly over the first three weeks of the season, with just two targets and a 16-yard reception against West Virginia in his 29 passing snaps against WVU, Tennessee and Western Michigan. He logged 25 passing snaps against URI, but he turned it into two receptions for four yards and a drop on four targets.
Against Georgia Tech, it was his first chance to showcase his growth. Bradley hauled in just two receptions from Kedon Slovis, but those two receptions went for touchdowns. It may have come against GT’s prevent defense, but his 26-yard and 18-yard touchdown receptions — the first two touchdowns of his career — helped Pitt stay alive late.
“I’m fired up for Jaden,” Narduzzi said. “Bradley has done a nice job. He’s fought through some adversity. Things aren’t going good. Short memory. Everything you want to see out of a wideout. We’ve helped him as well.”
Bradley’s progression has come about as Pitt’s staff has stopped looking at the wide receiving corps as numbered options. Bradley may be the fourth wide receiver in the room, but he’s no longer just sliding into the lineup at the X or Z slot when a starter needs a breather. If Konata Mumpfield needs a break, it won’t be Bradley going in. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be playing his share either.
“We’re not doing that anymore,” Narduzzi said. “When your position needs a blow, that’s when you go in. Just slim down what (Bradley) has to know so he can play fast and do everything exactly the way we need it.
“Everything is precision. Again, it’s one guy. One guy runs a bad route, it messes up the levels in a pass concept, you have issues. Everybody has to be in the right spot just to spread the defense out.”
Pitt’s wide receiving corps hasn’t exactly been consistent this season. Wayne and Konata Mumpfield offer a solid duo, but Bub Means has been inconsistent, Jaylon Barden hasn’t been used at all and the younger receivers have been used even less. Bradley’s progression the rest of the season isn’t just the present for Pitt’s receiving corps, it’s the future too.