Victor Bolden Jr. was ready for more football, and it seems to be showing in his performance in training camp thus far.
Bolden, a wide receiver and return specialist the Cardinals signed a few days before training camp started, was in training camp with Arizona only a few weeks after he completed the three-month USFL season that culminated in a league championship with the Birmingham Stallions.
Bolden accepted the lack of a long break between football seasons, knowing that if he put in the work and played well in the springtime USFL, a potential invitation to an NFL camp could be there for him. It was, and a chance with the Cardinals could be his ticket back into the NFL.
"I knew that it was going to be a long season going in and that was the whole point, was to get the NFL, so I prepared before for the USFL season to be able to withstand for this year," Bolden said. "So I knew that moving around was going to be tough and I'm excited for opportunity, and just ready to do what I do."
Bolden was a rookie success story in 2017, having finished his college career at Oregon State sixth in school history with 170 receptions, ninth in receiving yards with 1,863 and tied for ninth with six 100-yard receiving games. His 5,196 all-purpose yards were third-most all-time at the Pac-12 school, and he had a school record 2,420 kickoff return yards in his career.
That and his speed got him a free agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers, after Bolden went undrafted, and he made the team out of training camp as a return specialist.
But in June of 2018 after one season the league, Bolden was suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. The 49ers kept him for a month in 2018 after his suspension was served, then signed him to their practice squad.
The Buffalo Bills signed Bolden off the 49ers practice squad, but cut him after training camp in 2019. From there it was two seasons of practice squads and futures contracts with the Detroit Lions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, then the USFL.
A Southern California guy playing ball in the South for the first time, Bolden enjoyed the Southern hospitality and playing in front of devoted football fans in Birmingham.
"There's nothing like an opportunity to go out there and play live game reps, so I think that's what a lot of guys are missing right now that are kind of on the edge," Bolden said.
Bolden had 42 catches for 415 yards in nine games with Birmingham. His 618 kick return yards were fourth-most in the league, and his 1,209 all-purpose yards led the USFL.
Bolden has been working at punt returner in Cardinals training camp, part of a group of candidates for a position as a return specialist that includes wide receivers Rondale Moore and Greg Dortch, running back Eno Benjamin and three rookie running backs . Moore's expanded role in the Cardinals' offense means he will be used sporadically in the return game, head coach Kliff Kingsbury said, so that means more opportunity for the other competitors.
The Cardinals are loaded with speed at wide receiver, and Bolden fits right in with the group in that sense. Signing with the Cardinals put him in what he feels is a good situation to suit his skills.
"I was excited man, just to be on a team with this much talent and just to be a part of this offense, where they really focus on getting the ball to guys in space and making plays,
As a punt and/or kick returner, there is a lot of competition among the Cardinals as well. It could be Bolden's best opportunity to win a roster spot.
"We're just going to keep kind of repping that and see who takes the lead and rolls with it," Kingsbury said.
Bolden has also turned heads on the field as a receiver.
"That kid has really stuck out, to be honest. He's shifty. He's another guy who's played both inside and outside," Cardinals associate head coach and wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson said. "He can make guys miss after the catch special-team wise. So we have a battle. We have a battle going on in that group across the board."
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Cardinals' Victor Bolden Jr. has played a lot of football this year