ST. LOUIS — With the rookies already on site and veterans reporting Tuesday, we wrap up our series of Rams position analyses with a look at the quarterback spot.
Last year: Sam Bradford showed improvement in his third season, though not as much as many expected. Bradford set career bests in passing yardage (3,702) and touchdown passes (21) and had his best QB rating (82.6). Still, his rankings were just less than mediocre — like the Rams’ 7-8-1 record — when compared to other starting quarterbacks (15th in yards, 18th in TD passes and QB rating).
Coach: Frank Cignetti guides the quarterbacks while offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer calls the shots and figures to have a greater impact on Bradford’s performance this season. The good news: Both coaches are back for a second season with the Rams, which means Bradford won’t be dealing with new coaches for the first time in his young career.
1. What are the expectations for Bradford?
How about 5,000 yards, 50 TDs and single-digit interceptions? That should be enough to satisfy his growing circle of critics. Maybe. Seriously, the former Heisman Trophy winner is heading into his fourth season and we still don’t know how good he can be. He really hasn’t had a fair chance because he has spent so much of his career just trying to survive.
While the talent around him has been upgraded, Bradford, 25, will be dealing with a whole lot of inexperience at the skill positions. We also don’t know how much the Rams will change their attack after the loss of bruiser Steven Jackson. Bradford’s success, of course, ultimately will be determined by wins and losses. If the Rams win nine games, he will have had a strong season.
2. What does Bradford need to improve?
He needs to throw the ball downfield — something he is adept at doing, actually. The main thing is he needs more opportunities to do it. An infusion of speed at receiver should help in that regard as well. Bradford gained a reputation for struggling in the red zone but showed a dramatic improvement in the second half last season. In the final eight games, he threw nine TD passes with only one interception inside the 20.
3. Who’s No. 2?
The backup situation looks a lot like last year, with the return of both young Austin Davis and veteran Kellen Clemens. Coach Jeff Fisher has said he was impressed with the 24-year-old Davis’ progress in practice last year and considers him No. 2 heading into training camp. Clemens, 29, was a free agent but returned to the Rams on a one-year contract.
Quote: “I wouldn’t say more pass happy, but it’s definitely going to be a different offense. If you look at the speed we have now compared with the speed we’ve had in past years, we have significantly more speed this year. I don’t know if it means we’re going to pass more; I’d be fine with that.” — Bradford following an organized team activity
What others are saying: “What are the concerns when I study Bradford? A lack of efficiency in the red zone. Too many interceptions. And it’s a red zone game. You can’t be a high-level quarterback if you can’t execute there. Bradford at times still struggles with basic blitz concepts that a player with his experience level should understand.” — ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, who ranked Bradford 22nd among NFL quarterbacks
Bottom line: With an improved offensive line and considerably more talent at the skill positions, Bradford should have his best opportunity to show if he can be an elite quarterback. Will he step up? He won’t make the Pro Bowl, but he’ll do enough to crack Jaworski’s top 15 a year from now.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.