It has been quite the journey with one Mr. Sam Bradford, one that in all honesty started before the Commissioner called his name on behalf of the St. Louis Rams for the first time. The quarterback position under the arch has long been a tumultuous one. From the Tony Banks “era”, followed by the short-lived/never started Trent Green run, then carrying through Kurt Warner and his untimely handoff to Marc Bulger—both situations that ended in horribly painful to watch flameouts—it is a position that could rightfully carry claim to a hex at the very least.
Yet when Bradford was the top overall player taken in the 2010 Draft, the mantle of franchise axis was rightfully given to him. A former Heisman Trophy winner and owner of a 23-6 record leading the Oklahoma Sooners over the course of two years, he had the credentials to rightfully be the top pick, but to think that he would make the transition into bringing a similar success to St. Louis he enjoyed at OU.
Yet now as he enters his fifth season, he is still the undisputed signal caller for the team, but he far from unquestioned in that role. Mostly because his tenure has rarely been consistently satisfying on any level. A starter since day one, Bradford has had a start and stop tenure, that has been highlighted by moments of progress, but has been more regularly shrouded by leaving too much room for interpretation both in his results and approach. And now has he enters the crossroads campaign of his career in St. Louis, where long-standing questions have to be answered with immediate results.
The Rams are on the brink of being players in the NFL. They are armed with an athletic young defense that is spearheaded by arguably the best defensive line in the game. The offense is rounding out as well, with a playmakers beginning to emerge in the passing game, a deepening offensive line and a scheme that has a stout run-based approach as well. Yet, the biggest question is still the biggest part of bringing it all together: what will they be able to get from Bradford?
Bradford had plenty of opportunities to make an impact as a rookie, and delivered on them mostly. He a had a record-setting output in his first campaign, posting 3,512 yards and completing 354 passes, both NFL rookie records. While he dealt with a bad offensive line and struggled the usual bumps that day one rookie starters usually face regarding timing and recognition, he still managed to connect for 18 touchdowns on the year, with a +3 over his interception total. It was a good starting point to run with.
But his second season, he never got out the blocks at all and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the 10thgame. But even before that point, he struggled to keep his completion percentage above 50% and delivered only 6 touchdown passes in 10 games. The progress had stopped, and it has been questionable about whether it has ever truly picked up the needed momentum again.
Sure, he had a solid offering in 2012, setting career highs across the board and was off to a better than it seemed 2013 as well, but in the moment there is still a lot to be desired in decision-making and utilizing the ever growing variety of options in the receiving corps. Jared Cook was the biggest addition to the offense last year, intended to add a new dimension as an open field threat from tight end which Bradford had not truly had in any season since departing with Jermaine Gresham at OU. However, Cook’s impact was minimal in his games with Bradford last year, with the pair connecting only 26 times and seven of which came in the season opener.
The deep game suffered as well due to a loss of chemistry with Chris Givens as well. A year after busting onto the scene with a surprisingly adept and long absent downfield chemistry which saw the two connect on six passes of 35 yards or more, Bradford often overshot the team’s best deep threat or opted away from taking the shot at him, as they connected only once for a gain of over 30 yards on the year.
For a team that has long been starved for dynamic options in its pass game, it is essential that the ones now present are capitalized on far more often. And while the team will not be a high-octane, spread out and push the pace style team, it will be one that has a more defined offensive image than ever before. The decision to base the team around the run and offset it with the pass was smart down the stretch, and even made backup Kellen Clemens look viable in the process. With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey figuring out their respective roles as their rookie years wound down as well, there was a better looking offensive unit in place after Bradford departed than he had available during his run in 2014. All things considered, the young Rams did as would be expected: they developed and improved.
This is a major reason why this year is the definitive season for Bradford in St. Louis. The team has been aggressive in bringing in options to improve the offense on every level and has continued that direction with the addition of Kenny Britt this year. The dedication to improving its offensive front has been just as clear, with the addition of Greg Robinson and resigning of Rodger Saffold to the sizable (yet also rehabbing) investment in Jake Long. All of the former exceptions that could be fairly made for the plight of Bradford in getting the team over the hump have been addressed, and now it is squarely on the shoulders of the quarter to do what is his charge: take advantage of his surroundings and lead the team over the hump.
What the team needs to see is progress, and steady quarterback play is the quickest way to make those strides. There are many that have given up on the idea of him being the one that can be responsible for leading those steps, and admittedly the team has stood by him in an uncontested manner longer than any other unsuccessful QB in the game today has. He has to reward that faith with victories. All other pieces are in place, and for all of the other investments in the club to reach their full potential, it has to follow Bradford realizing his.
The time for results is upon him—and it is not a clock that has much time left on it.