Ahmad Bradshaw used to be the quick one. The zippy running back who could slip through a crease, juke a defender, and bring the ball to the end zone on any given touch. Injuries, particularly to his ankles and feet the last few years, have taken away that part of his game. He's not that same kind of back any longer.
He might be better.
Bradshaw is the rare running back who has been able to change his identity and do so with success. There are plenty who come into the league as big bulldozers and spend a career as a wrecking ball pounding into defensive lines, and just as many who make their living avoiding contact by spins, slithers and sidesteps, but very few have been able to accomplish both in such a short period of time.
These days, Bradshaw is more likely to be fighting for extra yards, thrusting every muscle in his body like a hooked swordfish trying to avoid the boat, than he is to be burning down the sideline in a touchdown sprint. That's David Wilson's job now. It used to be Bradshaw's.
We see this kind of thing more often in baseball. A pitcher loses a few miles per hour on his fastball, but overcomes the loss in velocity with wisdom and craftiness. They say he goes from a thrower to a pitcher. Bradshaw is doing that as a running back.
There are only a handful of backs in the league who could meet 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman head on at the goal line and find a way to push through to the end zone as Bradshaw did Sunday. That wasn't always Bradshaw's game and it only makes the play more impressive.
He still shows glimpses of those open-field moves when he can break through the defensive line and reach the secondary. He did that Sunday, and also against the Browns the week before. But now Bradshaw isn't bolting for 88-yard touchdowns as he was as a rookie five years ago. He's more likely to leave an imprint on a defensive back and take the 30-yard gain than find the end zone on a breakaway.
There was a time this season when he looked on the verge of washed up, a geriatric 26-year-old. In his first game back from a neck injury, he ran for 40 yards on 13 carries against the Eagles, his longest run a 9-yard gain. This after younger, faster Andre Brown had success replacing Bradshaw while he was sidelined for a game and a half with a neck injury and Wilson, drafted to be Bradshaw's eventual replacement, churned out kickoff return yardage and tried to find a role in the offense. But Bradshaw has had his most productive stretch as a Giant in the last two games.
He ran for 200 yards on 30 carries against the Browns, and followed that with 116 on 27 carries against the 49ers on Sunday. Those 316 are the most by a Giants running back in two games since Tiki Barber ran for 344 on 61 carries in late 2005. Bradshaw is on pace for his second 1,000-yard season -- he had 1,235 in 2010 -- and with 449 after six games, he needs just 211 more to top last year's disappointing total of 659.
Some may say that "the old Bradshaw" is back. Numbers wise, perhaps. But this isn't the old Bradshaw. This is a new one. Redefined and reclassified. Evolving as few NFL running backs ever have.