Rams QB Bradford not looking much like a rookie
Usually, Sam Bradford is quick with a response. This time, the St. Louis Rams' fast-rising rookie quarterback was stumped.
The question: What's the hardest part of your job?
''I don't know. I don't know. Don't know,'' said Bradford, his voice trailing off as he met with a small group of reporters. Then a long pause, and the answer from a player seemingly wise beyond his years.
''It's an awesome job, to be honest,'' Bradford said. ''I don't know how many people are blessed to come to work every day and love what they do.''
Doing it well right away is the big surprise. Rookies are supposed to struggle and get flustered by defensive strategies.
It hasn't happened yet with this guy. After giving up 289 yards and two touchdowns to Bradford on Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks felt as if they'd faced a seasoned leader.
''We got after him pretty good, we chased him around a lot,'' coach Pete Carroll said. ''He was able to manage and not make the big mistake with all of the heat that was on him, and he made enough good plays.
''It's very impressive that he's able to do this this early and they've got be really excited about it. I'm sure they are.''
Four games in, Bradford is probably the best quarterback in the NFC West on a 2-2 team that's surprisingly tied for the division lead, thriving even though the Rams have a bargain basement batch of pass catchers. Mistakes have been so rare that four games in, the Rams find themselves surprised when the kid actually has a rookie moment.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops remembers having that feeling with the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner who helped set an NCAA scoring record and led the Sooners to 60 points in five straight games. The compliments come just as fast as the scores did then for a player who rose to stardom after arriving on campus as something of an afterthought.
''Nobody's more competitive, nobody's brighter. I mean, the guy is incredibly smart in all kind of ways,'' Stoops said a day after Bradford's performance against Seattle.
''I think the most underrated thing that everyone didn't realize is how talented he really is,'' Stoops added. ''The guy just has it all. He doesn't have an ounce of prima donna in him, so he's a great locker room guy where guys want to play for him and be in the huddle with him.''
Humble, yes, but with just a trace of cockiness thrown in. Ask him about exotic blitzing schemes and disguised coverages that are supposed to furrow his brow and you'll get the equivalent of a yawn.
''At the end of the day they have to get where they're supposed to be, they can only hide a look for so long,'' he said. ''If you're a rookie or you've been in the league 10 years, that's what teams do. They're not going to line up in Cover 2 and say 'All right, here's what we're playing, have fun.'''
Certainly, there are things the No. 1 pick can improve upon. Bradford hears all about it on Mondays when offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Dick Curl dissect game tape, and again during Tuesday sit-downs with head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
As the film breakdown progresses, the nitpicking starts.
''There were some throws that weren't exactly perfect,'' Spagnuolo said. ''As we sat there with the offensive staff, it was like we were disappointed in Sam, rookie quarterback, fourth game of his career, because it's not perfect.
''He's earned that, and he put that on himself, too. He would say the exact same thing, that's how he operates.''
Sure enough, Bradford picked apart his shortcomings. Off-target throws, some of them that should be easy completions, and hurried execution at times.
''I feel like anytime I'm on the field, whether I'm a rookie or not, there's no way a quarterback should make mistakes like that,'' he said. ''I'm extremely hard on myself. I don't think I played very good.''
Bradford doesn't have the playbook memorized yet. There have been instances where he's run a play that's never been called in practice, or perhaps only once. He said there was one such instance against the Seahawks and it did not go smoothly.
At Oklahoma, the so-called new plays were things he'd run the previous year.
Still, day by day he's gaining confidence along with a team that was 1-15 last season.
''I feel like I have made progress, I feel like coach Shurmur is starting to gain more trust in me,'' he said. ''I think as long as I continue to improve, at the end of the year I'll be in a pretty good spot.''
How about now? Bigger, faster, stronger players don't seem to bother him a bit. The day after the Seahawks game, a butterfly Band-Aid on his right knee was the only evidence of the pounding.
Bradford prepared for the physical wear and tear of the NFL by adding 10-12 pounds of muscle. The surgically repaired shoulder that ended his final season at Oklahoma prematurely has been a non-factor for several months.
''I really haven't gotten beat up, my body feels great,'' he said. ''Naturally the hits are going to be a little harder.
''But they're nothing crazy.''
AP College Football Writer Jeff Latzke contributed to this report from Norman, Okla.