BY JIM THOMAS
Posted: Saturday,
August 20, 2011 12:35 am

A year ago at this time, every pass was dissected, every practice rep with the starters duly noted, every media session with coach Steve Spagnuolo seemingly began and ended with a question about Sam Bradford.

That goes with the territory when you're a No. 1 draft pick. The early going was bumpy. Bradford was pummeled in the 2010 preseason opener against Minnesota, getting sacked four times and hit at least three other times. After a so-so showing in the second preseason game — in Cleveland — Spagnuolo conceded that Bradford was fighting it to a degree.

But then veteran A.J. Feeley, who had started the first two exhibition contests, suffered thumb and elbow injuries on a game-opening touchdown drive against the Browns. Bradford started the next week in New England and hasn't looked back.

Compared to what was transpiring last August, Bradford said it's "night and day." Even though he's learning a new offense under coordinator Josh McDaniels, Bradford is more comfortable, more confident, more relaxed.

A year ago, Bradford chafed at the notion of being the face of the franchise.

"That's ridiculous," he said at the time.

Bradford still might not like that designation, but he's now embracing the leadership role that's part and parcel of being an NFL starting quarterback.

"There's no doubt that that's something that I wanted to improve on," Bradford said. "I felt like last year being a rookie there were times where I probably could've or should have stepped up and said something but didn't because I didn't want to step on toes. Because I felt like I was a young guy.

"But this year, being in my second year, I'm a lot more confident just being in the huddle around the guys. So I have no problem saying things this year, and hopefully the guys do see me as more of a leader."

During the Rams' players-only practices in May at Lindenwood University, it was clear that Bradford was exerting more leadership. It looked like he was teaching the new offensive scheme to the receivers. Nearly three months later, and three weeks into training camp, Bradford thinks those sessions also helped from an Xs and Os standpoint. The Rams also had sessions in Phoenix, Houston, and Oklahoma during the lockout.

"It was helpful just in the fact that it gave us a base and it gave us somewhere to start," he said. "We talked the language. Obviously we weren't right-on with some of the things we were saying about concepts. But just hearing formations, hearing routes, knowing the depths of routes, things like that.

"I think it really helped because when we came in here Day 1 (for camp), at least for me, I knew what our formations were. I knew what the routes were called. I knew protections. I knew things like that. Everything wasn't foreign."

During that lockout period, Bradford also made a trip to Florida to brainstorm with Charlie Weis, the former McDaniels mentor in New England who now is offensive coordinator for the Florida Gators.

"Obviously Josh's offense has changed a little bit since he worked with Charlie," Bradford said. "But I think at the core, the offenses are very similar. A lot of the progressions are very similar even if route depths or something like that are a little bit different. So I think talking to Charlie and getting an idea for what Josh was going to be like, and what his offense was going to based around, really helped me grasp just kind of the very basics of it."

No stone unturned, even in a lockout. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, who will serve as analyst for tonight's telecast of the Rams-Tennessee Titans exhibition game, noticed that quality about Bradford during a get-together on a business endeavor in Tampa, Fla.

"I had only maybe talked to Sam a little bit (previously), not a lot,'' Faulk said. "He and I, we sat down and we just talked football.

"It's good to see a young man thirsty for knowledge of football, and this city, and what it was like (during the Greatest Show on Turf). And what it's going to take in order to get that back. His dedication to that, it's one of those things. I feel the same way about Sam that I felt about Kurt (Warner); the way I felt about Trent (Green). Those are guys that, they make you want to be around them. You want to be there for them."

Along those lines, the working relationship between Bradford and McDaniels is progressing smoothly so far at Rams Park.

They enjoy being with each other, and being there for each other. Bradford appreciates the fact that McDaniels just doesn't tell him when he's doing something wrong, he tells him how to correct the mistake.

"Exactly," Bradford said. "He doesn't just look at the film and say that's what you did wrong, get better, good luck next time. He actually breaks it down step by step. He gives us indicators on how we can see things quicker, how we can get to reads quicker, things like that. I mean, it's been awesome working with him."

For his part, McDaniels was impressed with Bradford's fire and leadership during last weekend's preseason opener against Indianapolis.

It's the first time McDaniels has seen first-hand that side of Bradford's personality.

It's a side Bradford seems more intent on showing this year.