By Howard Balzer, The Sports Xchange
EARTH CITY, Mo. – While optimism is high following the St. Louis Rams' 7-8-1 record last season, quarterback Sam Bradford knows he must take on more responsibility. Especially with No. 39, running back Steven Jackson, no longer in St. Louis.
"It's a lot different," Bradford said when asked about the absence of Jackson. "Not only in the huddle, in the locker room, in the meeting room. Obviously, he was an extremely important part of this offense and this organization for a long time, not only for what he did on the field but for his leadership skills off the field and in the locker room.
"There's a void right now. I think it's part of my duty going into my fourth year to step up and help fill that void."
And how will he do that?
"Just being more vocal," he said. "Year 2, I feel a lot more comfortable in the system. I know how things are supposed to look and the way I want things to be run. The depths, the details, just saying, 'Stedman [Bailey], Tavon [Austin], hey, this is how that route has to be.' Pulling guys in the film room. Watching the previous day's practice with them. All those things where I'm taking control of the offense."
Bailey and Austin are rookies who join a young offense that also added free-agent tight end Jared Cook.
"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 5-yard hitch route into an 80-yard touchdown.
"I think that's extremely exciting. It's going to allow us to open up the playbook probably a little bit more, just with their speed we can get creative, figure out how we're going to use them. But I think that the big thing is we're still trying to figure out how to best use everyone's abilities that we have now."
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Most important is that, for the first time since being the first overall choice in the 2010 draft, Bradford is in the same offensive system for the second consecutive season. He was emphatic in saying how that feels.
"Amazing," Bradford said. "It just feels so much better knowing the details of this offense and actually having the ability to go over and coach our young guys.
"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. 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.
"Now, obviously, we had the opportunity to go back and watch all our cutups from last year, all the concepts that we had success with, all the concepts that we struggled with. We talked about the areas that we need to be improved, the things that we need to do, and I can take all those points from those meetings with Schotty [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] and with 'Cig' [quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti] to the young guys now. 'Hey, we studied this concept last year. We think the key for it succeeding this year is we've really got to get our depth on this route or the timing's got to be better.' So it's just a lot more detail-oriented now that we're in Year 2."
Finally, asked about Austin, Bradford said, "He's fast. He's quick. He's smart. He gets open. He's done a great job so far. We've thrown a lot at him. The first two installs, these two OTAs, it's amazing how much quicker you can go the second year in the system.
"Everyone's not seeing something for the first time and these rookies are being asked to keep up with the veterans. I've been really impressed with the young guys and the way they've been able to handle things mentally.
"I think that's something that's extremely important, because it doesn't matter how talented you are physically if you can't handle it mentally. I think the young guys that we have in here have done a great job and I expect them to continue to get better."
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