Bradford-Cook connection growing
Bt=y Jim Thomas
There were no moon shots from kicker Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein. Or surprise comments from quarterback Sam Bradford about his ankle still bothering him. That was last year.
This year’s FanFest at the Edward Jones Dome featured nothing out of the ordinary. But there was a crisp 2-minute drill, highlighted by an 11-yard touchdwon pass from Bradford to new tight end Jared Cook. And there were enough tosses to Cook, Tavon Austin, and the rest of the Rams’ receivers to leave a Saturday crowd estimated at 15,000 stimulated about what 2013 could offer.
Bradford knows the feeling.
“I’m definitely excited about the potential of this offense and the things that we’re capable of doing,” he said. “Obviously we have a lot of speed and a lot of playmakers.
“I think the greatest thing as a quarterback is I can trust my reads and trust my progressions, and know that wherever I go with the ball we’ll have a playmaker and someone who’s able to make the play once the ball’s in his hand.”
Make no mistake, this group is a l-o-n-g way from any comparisons to the Greatest Show on Turf. But the potential — repeat, potential — is there for multiple options in the passing game, which was a trademark of the Greatest Show.
Before practice started, general manager Les Snead — standing on the field — told the crowd that the Rams’ goal was to “conquer the West.” As in NFC West. But after 18 years as an NFL head coach, Jeff Fisher is not one to get overly excited over a few sharp-looking pass plays on a Saturday afternoon in early August.
“It’s hard to judge,” Fisher said. “Ask me after Thursday night.”
Which would be the preseason opener in Cleveland against the Browns.
“You just don’t know,” he said, of what figures to be the NFL’s youngest team for the second consecutive season. “We know what to do. We know how to do it. But how we matchup against another opponent? I don’t know.”
The offense was at it’s best Sunday during a 2-minute drill that began deep in Rams territory with a “pretend” 1:40 left on the Dome scoreboard clock and one timeout. Working against the Rams’ starting defense, Bradford completed seven of eight passes — totals that don’t include a couple of spiked balls.
Cook hauled in three of those passes, including the TD toss with 7 seconds left when he got inside position on Cortland Finnegan just across the goal line. A few play earlier, Cook grabbed a 20-yards pass over the middle to advance the ball beyond midfield.
“Our 2-minute stuff is very, very important, especially at the end of the game,” Fisher said. “Because it’s life or death. So we have to continue to work that and get a good feel for that.”
Bradford said he already has a good feel for Cook, who came to the Rams from Tennessee via free agency in March.
“I think you saw today my trust with Jared,” Bradford said. “I’ve got all the trust in the world that if I put the ball up there he’s gonna go get it. And I think every time I step out on the field that comfort level grows.”
The defense also had its moments. During a 7-on-7 red zone drill, rookie safety T.J. McDonald intercepted a deflected pass from Bradford, and broke up another toss. The first-team pass rush, with ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn pressing the edges, threatened to sack Bradford on several occasions. Obviously, no contact was allowed on the QBs, and a couple completions might not have gotten off under game conditions.
The only live contact came at the end of the two-hour session when third- and fourth-stringers, mostly younger players, went at each other. Fourth-team QB Timothy Jenkins threw a couple of interceptions, one of which was picked off by rookie safety Rashard Hall, who joined the Rams after camp started.
During the live session, undrafted rookie running back Benny Cunningham was impressive running the football. It was the first live action for the Middle Tennessee State product since a mid-season knee injury last fall.
As for “The Leg,” he made field goals of 34, 39, 46, and 52 yards during a special teams session. But there were no jaw-droppers as was the case during last year’s FanFest. Zuerlein missed a pair of kicks from 64 yards, both wide left. Later in practice during a hurry-up kick drill, he fell short from 59 yards, getting the ball off just before the clock expired.
The crowd did get a kick out of seeing eighth overall pick Austin line up in the backfield and carry the ball from scrimmage during an 11-on-11 period.
“He’s got a lot of ability and he can do a lot of different things,” Fisher said. “Whether we continue that stuff in the regular season, I don’t know. But it’s kind of fun to play around with.”
For the rookies, including Austin and McDonald, it was their first time in the Dome. McDonald, in fact, has played in a dome only once previously, and that was for a high school all-star game in the Alamodome.
“When I first walked in here, I had to kinda just sit back for a little bit,” McDonald said. “It’s a good feeling to see the Rams’ (logo) in the middle of the dome, and know that I’m part of this organization. This is our home. This is a good thing.”