Sam Bradford gets down to business with Rams
By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
It was Saturday morning at Rams Park, and Day 2 of the Sam Bradford Experience moved along rather quietly. The second day of the rookie quarterback's pro football life was turning out to be exactly what it needed to be: strictly football without so much as a hint of unnecessary media-circus insanity.
On Day 1, things were a bit different. After his first professional practice — at rookie minicamp, mind you — the NFL's No.1 overall draft pick was greeted by a media crush of over 40 assorted reporters, TV cameramen and photographers. ESPN was there, and so was every local TV station, radio station and newspaper within 50 miles of St. Louis, not to mention a reporter or two from Oklahoma.
Now just for the record, this will not be the last of the days when Bradford creates a breathless media buzz. At least let's hope so. The giddy, nervous, hopeful, urgent and silly updates will continue flowing out of Rams Park on a daily basis as we all attempt to document the progress of what everyone hopes, prays, begs and pleads (and that's just the casual Rams fan) will be the start of a brilliant NFL life for the kid drafted to grow into a franchise QB who can lead the Rams back to football respectability.
But on Day 2, the phenom-crazy atmosphere had been replaced by a sedate dose of normalcy. Friday's overflow media crowd had dwindled to a decidedly more intimate gathering of eight reporters. And that was a good thing because it's already starting to feel like this journey is going to be one that has a regulator on it that will prevent it from turning into an out-of-control circus.
And that's why I call it an "experience," rather than an "experiment", because experiment suggests that the trip Bradford is about to embark on is a flighty game of chance. Bradford's future, which is tied in directly to the future of this organization, is quite predictably being studiously orchestrated from the very start by coach Steve Spagnuolo.
If you know anything about Spags, he's not really big on letting things "just happen."
To be kind, he's an extremely organized man.
To be perfectly blunt, the man's an organization-obsessed creature who never leaves anything large or small to chance. He wants you to know that he definitely does have a plan for Bradford's development, but you should never confuse that plan for a timetable that will accurately predict what day Bradford will ultimately take over as the starting QB ("I think you have to earn that," he says).
But ask him how Bradford will get to that point, and he'll lay it all out for you.
"When Sam got in here on Thursday, I sat him down and told him there are three structures in this league when it comes to developing a quarterback, and I've studied them all and they all work," Spagnuolo said Saturday as he sat in an empty meeting room. "Some (QBs) have the head coach, the quarterbacks coach and the offensive coordinator all talk to him. Some have just the QB coach and the coordinator — the ones like us with a defensive head coach. And some just have a coordinator do the talking because he's also the QB coach.
"I told Sam he won't hear quarterback stuff from me. It will be the little things that I talk to you about. I will tell him things like how to get the team in and out of the huddle with the sound of your voice," Spagnuolo said. "I'll hit him up with leadership things. ... But (offensive coordinator) Pat (Shurmur) will be the lead guy for Sam because he installs the offense and he's the one who tells everyone what we're doing. Then (QB coach) Dick (Curl) will be the guy who gives him the details, the technique."
On Saturday as Bradford went into the huddle, Shurmur was giving him the plays, talking West Coast Offense 101. He was the one who was chirping "Okay, you threw the ball to the out (pattern) here, but you could have gone to the seam (route) because the safety moved."
And just as soon as Shurmur was done, Curl would move in and the conversation was far more technical. He could concentrate on every little motion from how Bradford turned to make a handoff to how his hips opened on a short throw to the tight end or how much air he put under the ball on a fade to a wide receiver.
Spagnuolo was in the background, always lurking with his pencil stuck over his right ear, his notecards in his back pocket, constantly watching, occasionally planting a thought in Bradford's head that had a larger meaning to it, that might help the kid calm down the mental tornado swirling in his head as so much information was being crammed into it.
"I told Sam to remember that everything's fine in these situations as long as we're all speaking the same (football) language," Spagnuolo said. But he cautioned Bradford that if he was ever confused by all these people talking in his head, he has to speak up.
"That's when you have to say, 'Wait a minute, I thought Dick said this, Pat said this, and now I'm hearing another thing from you.'"
A year ago, James Laurinaitis was in the role of rookie (defensive) quarterback being hit with information overload and Spagnuolo told the middle linebacker the same thing. There was no timetable for Laurinaitis either, but there was a careful plan that helped prepare him to move into the starter's role — and the defensive signal caller — from the start of the season. "A lot of the coaches wanted to make that move right away with him," Spagnuolo said, "but I resisted because I kind of like to make a guy earn that. ... But it became evident at some point that (Laurinaitis) was way above the normal learning curve. And so you make that move and it was the smart move and it worked out."
So now Laurinaitis becomes the template for Bradford.
Spagnuolo knows — or at least he hopes — things will progress as smoothly for Bradford, who has proven at every stage of his quarterbacking life to be a quick learner.
"Now I have no idea when that moment will be for Sam," Spagnuolo said. "I don't know if we'll feel that way during the fourth OTA or if it will be the fourth quarter of the 12th game of the regular season."
If you are a long-suffering Rams fan, you should know something.
The coach was flashing one of those knowing smiles that suggests the moment is not a matter of "if" but "when."
Re: Sam Bradford gets down to business with Rams
Let's hope Bradford has the same positive progress as JLau did last year. I'm really liking what I've been hearing about Bradford, so far he certainly seems dedicated, I love it.