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Bradford knows it's time to take leadership role.
By Jim Thomas
From the day Steven Jackson bid farewell to St. Louis and signed with Atlanta in free agency last March, quarterback Sam Bradford knew it was time. Time to assert a leadership role with the Rams.
“I realized that the minute I knew that ‘Jack’ was gone,” Bradford said. “And I think it’s the perfect time for me, going into Year 4 (overall), going into Year 2 of this offense, feeling comfortable. I think it’s part of my evolution and part of my position that I need to step up and be the leader of this offense.”
As a rookie in 2010, Bradford knew the lay of the land in Earth City.
This was Steven Jackson’s team and Steven Jackson’s offense. No. 1 overall draft pick or not, Bradford wasn’t going to walk into Rams Park and act as if he owned the place.
But as Bradford enters the 2013 season, the offense has been placed squarely in his lap. It’s a quarterback-driven attack now. It runs through Bradford.
Make or break year? Not exactly, according to coach Jeff Fisher.
“I think it’s just the next year,” Fisher said with a shrug. “He’s a young quarterback with a great future ahead of him. So that’s not the way we look at it.”
Fisher wants nothing more than for Bradford to pick up where he left off during the spring practice period. That’s as big-picture as he’s willing to go.
“He’s really comfortable in this system,” Fisher said. “He’s throwing the ball well. He’s excited about the relationships he’s developing on and off the field with (tight end) Jared Cook and the young receivers. We’ve surrounded him with better people. All that’s going to do is increase his production at the position.”
In a sign of that leadership, Bradford gathered most of the team’s top skill position players in Norman, Okla., two weekends ago for “Camp Bradford” — his informal workouts at the University of Oklahoma.
“It was awesome,” Bradford said. “I had a great time. I think everyone there had a great time. It just gives us an opportunity to come together, kind of do some team building, team bonding. And also get a little refresher before camp starts instead of taking the whole 5, 5½ weeks off from (OTAs till now. ... That way we’re talking ball and everyone’s hearing things again.”
With all the help provided Bradford in the offseason, plus some much-needed stability with the return of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the bar has been raised in terms of what’s expected for Bradford in 2013.
But if Bradford senses that, he didn’t tip his hand Thursday to reporters after the first full-squad practice of training camp.
“I kind of treat every year the same to be honest,” he said. “I think my expectations of myself were always high. I don’t think there’s anyone outside this building that can have higher expectations of myself than I do.
“I think the challenge for me, the goal for me, is to build on what I was able to do last year. Coach ‘Cig’ (QB coach Frank Cignetti) talked about it today in the meeting. Last year we were learning the offense, and this year it’s more of trying to master the offense.”
Even though it’s the same system and the same coordinator, the approach promises to be entirely different. No one knows this more than middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who has faced the new-look offense every day in practice since the start of OTAs in May.
“They look way different,” Laurinaitis said. “‘Schotty’ knows Sam. Sam knows ‘Schotty.’ Last year at this time, you’re 2-back, you’re power ... you’re play action, you’re all that.”
In other words, pretty predictable.
On Thursday, the Rams’ offense threw all kinds of formations and alignments at the defense.
“We’re gonna be a lot more ‘11,’ a lot more ‘12’ personnel,” Bradford said.
(What’s called 11 personnel is one-back, one tight end and three wideouts; 12 personnel is one-back, two tight ends, two wideouts.)
“That gives us the flexibility to move people around and play them in different spots,” Bradford added. “Last year, I think there were times where we were pretty predictable as far as who was gonna be where and what we were gonna do.”
On Thursday, Laurinaitis said there was one play in which Cook lined up at split end, with three wide receivers on the other side. Chris Givens played split end Thursday, but also will line up at flanker.
“You’re trying to figure out how to match up and man up,” Laurinaitis said. “They present matchup problems, and they’re gonna make defenses have to think and think quickly.
“Sam’s been doing a great job of changing up the snap count. Sometimes he gets you on a quick count, and the next time it’s a hard count and guys are jumping offsides.
“So you can just kind of see a growth altogether with really the whole ‘O.’ It’s exciting to see what they’re doing to us. And really quite frankly, they did it all OTAs to us.”
An enthusiastic crowd of 1,755 watched as Bradford threw a lot of deep passes Thursday, hitting on big plays to rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey among others.
“Some offenses in the past that I’ve been around here would be a lot of quick slants, check downs, stuff like that,” Laurinaitis said. “You saw Sam trying to throw bombs over Bagdad today. And it was good to see him just slinging it.”
Re: Bradford knows it's time to take leadership role.
Play it again Sam. LONG.
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