Bradford seeks reasons for his regression
ST. LOUIS – Sometimes being the bright young quarterback isn’t enough. Sometimes being smart and accurate and decisive and studious will take you only as far as your team will allow. Sometimes the receivers will drop the ball or the linemen will miss blocks or someone won’t quite understand the new offense and the bright young quarterback suddenly won’t look so bright.
And so here is Sam Bradford(notes), the NFL’s Rookie of the Year last season starting his second professional autumn next to the bottom in the league’s passer rankings. In fact the only quarterback with a worse rating is Kerry Collins(notes), a last-moment signing the Indianapolis Colts dragged out of retirement because of Peyton Manning’s(notes) injury. Bradford has completed fewer than half of his passes, thrown only three touchdowns and has 849 yards which is tied with Donovan McNabb(notes) for fewest among NFC quarterbacks with at least four starts.
It is, as seasons go, a disaster.
But what exactly does he have to work with? The Rams receivers have done nothing for him, he has been sacked 19 times and the running game is missing because of Steven Jackson’s injuries. If ever a quarterback’s team has deceived him it is this one.
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Bradford won’t say this, of course. Rather he talks about the mistakes he has made. He says he needs to do a better job of throwing to his receivers. He says he needs to release the ball quicker and run through his passing options with more haste. He says he needs to keep throwing. He says he needs to keep pulling the Rams along because he also says he’s sure they are much better than their 0-4 record in the NFL’s worst division.
“I think it’s what you have to do,” he says of putting the blame for the offensive failings on himself. “If you don’t have high expectations for yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure.”
He is perplexed by this season. Especially after last season when he led a fast, hopeful St. Louis team to the brink of the playoffs before losing that dreadful game in Seattle on the season’s last day. Everything came so fast last year. The games raced by, pass rushers appeared from nowhere, receivers went from open to covered in an instant. He struggled to keep up. He rushed everything. This year the game has slowed. He sees so much more. The new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, has given him new freedom and responsibility and he understands clearly what McDaniels wants. If anything, he should be beyond the player he was last fall, not worse.
Last week, while the Rams had a few days off for the bye, he went back to Oklahoma, to the warmth of the school where he won the Heisman Trophy after his sophomore year. He walked into the office of his old position coach, Josh Heupel, and sat down.
“I feel like I’m 10 times better than I was last year but it’s not coming together as it should,” he told Heupel.
“Just because you’re a better quarterback, you may not have better numbers.”
Standing in a room just off the Rams’ practice field as he remembers the exchange, Bradford smiles.
“Oh my God,” he says. “It’s funny.” Because this is exactly the thing Heupel told him all the way through college, even when injuries came and he didn’t win the Heisman his junior season. Statistics aren’t always the measure of a player’s growth. Three touchdowns in four games don’t always mean a quarterback is regressing.
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“I think it was nice to hear him say that because I knew that,” Bradford says. “I look at us and I feel like we are capable of playing at a higher level but it’s not resulting in more points.”
McDaniels keeps pushing him, keeps challenging, keeps believing the offense will improve, that all it takes is time. “He’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders,” McDaniels says.
But looking at the Rams, what indicates they will get better? Their best receiving threat, Danario Alexander(notes), has shown glimpses of brilliance, but there have been too many mistakes. The same with most of the others, a group distinguished by the fact they have caught anywhere from six to 13 passes this year. No one seems special. The blocks aren’t always there. A mediocre football team is stumbling through an easy division struggling to find its way and so Sam Bradford must struggle along with it.
Perhaps the success of last year was the worst thing that could have happened because it gave him a taste of how good he could be before the foundation for he and the franchise was in place. The surprise victories allowed everyone to think he would be even greater with a year of experience.
Not the name next to the bottom of the NFL’s passer rankings.
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