Schottenheimer raises the stakes

18 minutes ago • BY BERNIE MIKLASZ bjmiklasz@post-dispatch.com

We’re still working our way back into writing shape after a two-week absence, so our latest edition of "Friday Frivolity" will be shorter than previous versions. Thank you for reading…

There was an interesting piece from our pal Mike Sando, who covers the NFC West for ESPN.com. The thrust of Sando's angle was a dramatically enhanced comfort level between Rams QB Sam Bradford and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer as they prepare for their second season together.

The back story — for those that missed it the first 7,194 times — is Bradford will be running the same offense for the same coordinator for the second consecutive season for the first time in his Rams' career. Bradford had Pat Shurmur as the OC as a rookie in 2010, Josh McDaniels as the OC in the disastrous 2011, and Schottenheimer as the boss in 2012.

"There were times last year, I remember sitting in meetings, maybe (Schottenheimer) was really comfortable with a play because they had run it in the past and had success with it, but it was new to me and I wasn't as comfortable with it," Bradford told Sando. "Now, I think we have a much better feel for each other."

Schottenheimer was emphatic in stressing the difference.

"The day Sam walked back into the building (this offseason) we started making adjustments," Schottenheimer told Sando. "We are a thousand years ahead of where we were last year.

"The things we are able to do starting this offseason, we are 1,000 years ahead of where we were last year.

"It's been fun to push Sam and have Sam push me, too, in terms of, 'Hey, I can take more.' We're both enjoying having some stability."

A thousand years ahead of where we were last year.

Talk about raising the ante.

Talk about putting the pressure on yourself.

I like it, actually. I want Schottenheimer and Bradford to raise the expectations and aspire to greatness.

Bradford played considerably better than he was given credit for by the lazy, short-attention span minds in 2012, but there's obviously plenty of areas that require improvement from him.

In 2013 Bradford will have the most speed, talent and playmaking ability around him since his installation as Rams quarterback in 2010.

The Rams moved up to draft all-purpose weapon Tavon Austin with the eighth overall pick. They tabbed Austin's West Virginia teammate, Stedman Bailey, in the third round. They join two promising second-year wideouts, Chris Givens and Brian Quick. I don't get worked up about offseason OTA sessions — they're only practices — but the Rams were raving about the performance of third-year WR Austin Pettis.

The Rams also spent a free-agent fortune on a long, tall hybrid receiver, Jared Cook.

"It's going to be hard for people to match up with him," Bradford said. "It's just going to give us the ability to open the playbook and kind of stretch the middle of the field and put stress on the defense."

The situation at running back is undefined and unpredictable. But an interesting collection that includes Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson, Zac Stacy and Terrance Ganaway has a lot of raw ability. I don't know how all of this will shake out, especially after Pead's one-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. But the Rams should have more breakaway capability in 2013.

The only thing that can hold Bradford back is the glaring inexperience level of the team's receivers and running backs.

That is certainly a factor ... and an important variable at that. But this can't be a cover-all excuse for Schotty and Sam.

It's up to Schottenheimer and the coaches to get the young WRs and RBs up to speed. They have to be excellent teachers. They also have to draw up an offense that will play to the strengths of this cast instead of weighing down the receivers and backs with an overly complicated, convoluted scheme.

(However: with Quick, I don't want to see the Rams playing the "he's struggling to learn the offense" card in 2013. If Quick can't learn the offense over a two-year period, then it leaves us with this conclusion: the people that drafted Quick failed, or the people that coach Quick failed.)

Schottenheimer has to put Bradford and his new mates in positions to make plays, and that's on him.

Bradford has to do his part to educate the kids, take complete charge as a leader, and consistently hit on opportunities to make plays.

Schottenheimer and Bradford have been gushing about all of the fresh, diverse talent in the Rams' offensive huddle. And that's great. But if the OC and the QB can't maximize the the improved skill level, they'll catch a lot of heat in 2013.

Clearly, the pressure is on.