ST. LOUIS — The expectations surrounding fourth-year Rams quarterback Sam Bradford are so generally agreed upon that Bradford’s teammates — especially those who have been added to the quarterback’s offensive arsenal — don’t bat an eyelash when they field questions about the importance of Bradford’s upcoming season.
This is the year the former No. 1 NFL Draft pick and 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year could (and should) take his game to the next level.
Bradford has even stuck a toe into the waters of outspoken confidence as well.
“When we started this offseason – What is it, six weeks ago now? – we came in with the mindset that we are putting in the work each day to build the pieces to win the Super Bowl,” the quarterback said this week. “That’s what our goal is.”
Big goals like that will go unfulfilled unless Bradford logs his best season under center. That just might happen, too. The cards seem to be stacked in the quarterback’s favor. Here’s why… BETTER WEAPONS
The best plays made during Friday’s organized team activities did not feature the most-hyped playmaker new to the Rams this year.
Instead it was 6-foot-5, 248-pound tight end Jared Cook dragging his feet to stay in bounds as he reeled in a pass on the sideline. Or, it was rookie receiver Stedman Bailey aggravating the defense by coming down with a 40-yard-long bomb from a backup QB.
“You can never have too many weapons,” Tavon Austin said. “It’s a good thing about us. They can’t key on any of us. They’ve got to play us honest the whole time. I’m thankful they made a lot of changes, got people in here that can make plays.”
No one should be more thankful than Bradford. In the past, his struggles have been compounded by the lack of top-notch talent to throw to. With guys like Austin, Bailey and Cook, that’s no longer an issue.
“We’re much faster now,” Bradford said. “There’s a lot more speed on the field. I think we’re all hoping that’s going to lead to more explosive plays. I think if you look at our offense in the past, we’ve really had to grind out touchdown drives because we haven’t been able to create those explosive plays. You take some of the guys that we have on the field now, and they can turn a five-yard hitch route into an 80-yard touchdown.”
Bradford needed the help. Now he has it. If there’s a lack of offensive success with this crew, the weight will fall squarely on Bradford’s shoulders.
“The Rams have brought in a lot of help for him,” Cook said. “It’s a lot of weapons being used, and they have some things in the running for all of us, which looks great. I couldn’t be more excited. He is really going to have his opportunity to shine and take advantage of that.” FAMILIAR SYSTEM
For the first time as a Ram, Sam Bradford will not be learning a new offense at the start of a season. The quarterback spoke at length Thursday about the benefits of going back to something familiar (the scheme designed by Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) instead of grasping brand new concepts on the fly — a challenge Bradford faced previously due to a revolving door of offensive coordinators in St. Louis.
“When you’re trying to learn an offense for the first time, it’s really hard to go over and coach some of the young guys because you’re still trying to figure everything out, too,” Bradford said. “You don’t know the exact details. You watch it on film from how someone else runs it, so you think you have an idea how you want it run, but until you actually get out there and rep it multiple times, you really don’t have that feel.”
Bradford was sacked 35 times last season, and that number could have been higher. Plagued by injuries on the offensive line, the Rams started 10 different players at least one game.
“If we don’t have a good offensive line, Sam can’t get the ball to any of us,” Austin said.
A healthier, more-complete front should protect Bradford this year. St. Louis has bookend tackles after the addition of former Miami Dolphin Jake Long on the left side — a signing that, whether he liked it or not, pushed Rodger Saffold to the right tackle position.
In between, St. Louis should have a healthy Harvey Dahl (right guard) and Scott Wells (center). Right now, the only real question mark is Rokevious Watkins. The player tabbed to be the team’s starting left guard has been suspended for the the season opener due to a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. NO MORE JACKSON
The departure of former Rams running back Steven Jackson to Atlanta left a gaping hole in the St. Louis backfield that second-year players Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead — along with rookie Zac Stacy — will try to fill.
“I’m hoping to do better than I did last year,” said Richardson, who ran for 475 yards on 98 attempts last season. “I’m working harder. I will hopefully be the starter, and can contribute to the team more.”
But even if Richardson, or one of his competitors, manages to become the new featured back in St. Louis, it won’t replace the veteran presence that made Jackson — who spent nine seasons with the Rams — the team’s motivational leader.
When Bradford realized what was missing, he started picking up the slack.
“There’s a void right now,” he said. “I think it’s part of my duty going into my fourth year to step up and help fill that void.”
Richardson said Bradford is the first player in the locker room every morning. When Cook arrived three weeks before the start of organized team activities, Bradford was already at the Rams facility. The two threw together every day.
“For him to be such a young quarterback, all of his approaches, they have veteran characteristics,” Cook said. “He’s the one who calls up everybody after the practice. He’s the one that focuses on us getting better by watching extra film, and getting extra catches.”
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