McDaniels career reboot begins with Rams
Josh McDaniels got a feel for Rams' coach Steve Spagnuolo's competitive fire from matching wits across the field when both were coordinators on the way up.
Joining Spagnuolo's effort to end St. Louis' five-year playoff drought offered him a chance to reboot his career. Getting the chance to develop quarterback Sam Bradford, well, that's a huge bonus.
The No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft was the only rookie quarterback to start every game last season, a show of durability that silenced any lingering doubts about his shoulder. Bradford excelled in Pat Shurmur's conservative system with a group of no-name receivers.
Now, Bradford is getting a chance to spread his wings working with a coach trying to rebuild his reputation as an offensive innovator after flopping as coach of the Denver Broncos. There's been plenty of one-on-one time.
Bradford describes McDaniels as a natural leader who'll break down plays bit by bit and point out indicators that'll help players make quicker reads.
''Sometimes you're around people who are really smart but they have no idea how to convey that information to you. He doesn't just look at the film and say 'That's what you did wrong, get better and good luck next time,''' Bradford said. ''I mean, it's been awesome working with him.''
The 35-year-old McDaniels almost sounds too happy to be away from the podium. He was fired in December amid the Broncos' worst slump in four decades.
Denver was McDaniels' first head coaching job and he also had control over personnel. With the Rams, he is simply part of the staff.
''I love the guys that I have to come to work with every day,'' McDaniels said. ''Focusing on the offense, trying to get better on that side of the ball, coaching the quarterbacks, is something that I really love to do. And it makes every day a great day for me.''
Personnel upgrades and better health could make it easier for McDaniels to re-establish himself. The Rams (7-9) made a six-win improvement last year, were one win away from taking the weak NFC West that Spagnuolo said has left players with a hunger for more, and have added veterans to the mix for Spagnuolo's third season.
Free agent guard Harvey Dahl solidifies an offensive line that the Rams have invested heavily in. Mike Sims-Walker adds experience at wide receiver, while deep threat Donnie Avery appears to be back after missing all last season with a knee injury.
The plan calls for Steven Jackson, coming off his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season, getting a more diversified role. Perhaps more rest, too, with quality backups Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood on hand.
''I think Jack's going to catch a lot more balls,'' Bradford said.
The NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year ties it together. Bradford took a leadership step forward in the extended offseason, helping organize informal workouts.
He gets high grades for keeping his head in the playbook while learning a new offense.
''I think the big thing with Sam is that whatever you give him, the first thing is he wants to master it,'' McDaniels said. ''That's half the battle. Then he works so hard to try to do it perfectly the first time.
''He's so driven to be great that it's fun to be around.''
On a defense that was already strong, safety Quintin Mikell replaces departed Oshiomogho Atogwe, and linebackers Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga also were added. First-round pick Robert Quinn figures to add pass rush help at end.
''I waved my pom-poms and said 'Thanks a bunch!''' defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. ''I know it probably looks like we were slow-playing it there at the beginning. As it turned out we ended up getting some guys that can help us.''
The first two preseason games gave conflicting looks, with the Rams very impressive in all phases in the opener against the Colts and downright dismal most of the first half of a 1-point victory over the Titans. Bradford got hit hard on consecutive plays late in the half and the defense allowed several big gains.
During his 1-15 rookie season in 2009, Spagnuolo preached learning from mistakes and never dwelling on failure. Preseason disappointment just means more teaching points.
''I definitely think we have some things to work on,'' Jackson said. ''But we don't expect to be hitting on all cylinders, so I think it's a great learning experience,'' Jackson said.