Bradford Learns A Lot, Proves Plenty in Rookie Season

Posted Jan 5, 2011

For the months between suffering a season ending shoulder injury and last April’s NFL Draft, there was only one question that people wanted answered:

Can Bradford’s surgically-repaired right shoulder hold up to the rigors of the long NFL season and the impact of the NFL’s biggest and fiercest defenders?

As the Rams wrapped up their season last week, Bradford presented a resounding answer as he completed the 16th and final game of his rookie season.

When all was said and done, Bradford had taken all 1,053 offensive snaps as the Rams quarterback. Of the many impressive statistics that the rookie signal caller accumulated in his first year – more on that in a moment – it’s this one that he perhaps takes the most pride in.

“It means a lot,” Bradford said. “I don’t know how many guys did it this year.  Two others?  So it wasn’t a lot, but considering one of the questions about me coming into this year was whether or not I was going to be able to last through a full NFL season, and to come out and take every snap with this offense, I think it just means a lot to me.”

Indeed, Bradford was one of just three quarterbacks – Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco were the others – to accomplish the feat.

Taking it a step further, Bradford became just the fourth rookie quarterback to take every snap in his rookie season joining Manning, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Houston’s David Carr in that category.

Not that there weren’t a few scares along the way such as the hard shot he took from behind in Tampa Bay that caused a fumble. But Bradford maintains that even though shots like that happened every once in a while, he never really considered leaving a game.

“That wasn’t good either, but it was never really close,” Bradford said. “Fortunately, I think that’s a credit to our guys up front.  They did a great job protecting me all year, and I really didn’t take many shots.  Hopefully it stays that way.”

Of course, while the act of being on the field is impressive in its own right, what Bradford did with those snaps is what really rings out when everything is taken into account.

Statistically, Bradford posted one of the greatest seasons by a rookie quarterback in the history of the league, a fact that isn’t lost on the humble Bradford but also one that his competitive side wouldn’t allow him to reflect on so soon after the season.

Bradford might have no bigger critic of himself than the guy that looks back at him in the mirror which is why he was reluctant to put his season into any kind of pigeonhole.

“It’s tough to put a grade on the season,” Bradford said. “I felt like I improved.  I felt like the coaches trusted me more at the end of the year.  I felt like they put a lot more on my plate, which is something that I take a lot of pride in, the fact that I was able to progress in this offense and I was able to handle more things and we were able to do more.  We probably did more than actually I would have expected to do, and I take a lot of pride in that.  Hopefully that continues.”

To understand why Bradford was able to progressively earn the coaching staff’s trust more as the season went on, all one had to do is take a look at the numbers he posted.

To wit:

- Bradford set a rookie record for consecutive attempts without an interception, going 174 straight without a pick.
- He set a rookie record for attempts (590) and completions (354), passing future Hall of Famer Manning in both categories.
- He finished second among rookie quarterbacks in passing yards with 3,512, behind only Manning and fifth in touchdown passes with 18.
- He was the Rookie of the Month two times, becoming the first rookie quarterback to achieve that feat.

Despite all of those individual accomplishments, it’s the chops Bradford showed as a leader and competitor that perhaps speak the most to what his future holds.

Bradford set a record for the most wins by a rookie quarterback taken No. 1 overall in the draft with seven.

“Outside of his physical, God-given capabilities, I think you have a strong leader, someone now that has 16 games, 16 starts under his belt,” running back Steven Jackson said. “He’s taken some good hits. I think the shoulder is not a question anymore, and I think his capability of being a winner is not a question anymore. Now it’s just continuing to grow as a person, and getting some guys around him that’s going to help not only take their games, but his game to another level.”

Considering the many questions people had about Bradford’s ability to hold up for the course of a season, there was a segment of fans and media types that wanted him to sit on the sidelines this season and learn the position from veteran A.J. Feeley.

After a hand injury to Feeley in the preseason, Bradford started the third exhibition contest against New England and put on a show. Not long after, he was named the starter.

Playing right away is an experience Bradford believes will serve him well in the short and long term.
“No doubt,” Bradford acknowledges. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be honest.  I think it was the best thing for me, to get out there, to learn in live situations.  You just learn so much more than you do standing on the sideline.  In the film room, I feel like going through what I did this year will make me that much better going forward.”

The Rams wasted no time putting plenty on Bradford’s plate as he attempted a rookie record 55 passes in his first start.

From there, the confidence in him from the coaches and staff only continued to grow.

By the end of the season, Bradford was doing more and more and even performing above even reasonable expectations for what one can expect from a rookie at the game’s most pressure-packed and difficult position.

“You hope for that,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I think Sam obviously did a terrific job, especially in the fact that it’s a demanding position for a young guy to come in and play, yet he seemed to make it look easy at times.  But I’m sure if you asked Sam, he’d probably tell you he wished he played better in a number of games, because that’s how he is.  He’s a competitive guy, but it was good to have him, I know that.”

Beyond the abundant physical skills, the fiery competitiveness and the impressive for a rookie statistics, perhaps Bradford’s greatest quality is his self-assuredness and willingness to acknowledge his mistakes and the ways he can get better moving forward.

For example, Bradford had 18 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, the most in the league according to STATS, Inc. While some of that can be attributed to other factors in the opposing defense, Bradford says it’s something he’ll look at to see if he can cut down in 2011.

“I think that’s one thing that I can work at during this offseason,” Bradford said. “So there will definitely be a couple things going back and looking at this season, trying to figure out things that we can get better at going forward.”

Beyond that, Bradford vows to be constantly working to make himself a better player in every area of quarterbacking.

“A lot of things,” Bradford said of what he wants to work on. “Everything.”

Included in that laundry list is basics like footwork, making reads, going through progressions and finding ways to slow down the game for him.

As he’s able to do that, he’s aware that his responsibilities can grow even more.

“I think one of the big things that I want to improve on this offseason is just becoming more comfortable in this offense,” Bradford said. “I felt like for the most part I was comfortable with what we were doing, but I still stayed within our base reads.  I’d like to be able next year to pre-snap, maybe take some more shots down field just based on leverage and matchups that we’re getting.  Within plays that were really designed to take an intermediate throw, recognizing what the defense is giving us and maybe take a shot.  So that’s one of the big things.”

And if those football-specific items are the things Bradford gets questioned about heading into next season, he’s just fine with it.