Bradford Looks to Lead in 2013

Posted Jun 3, 2013

For the better part of the past decade and certainly for all of quarterback Sam Bradford’s time with the Rams, the task of leading the offense has fallen squarely on the shoulders of running back Steven Jackson.

Although Bradford has gradually taken on more of a leadership role as his time in St. Louis has gone along – including his first year as a captain last year – he’s often deferred to Jackson to handle that job.

With Jackson gone to Atlanta and other veteran types such as receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson also departed via free agency, Bradford sees a glaring hole in terms of leadership, particularly for the offense and is well aware that his time has come.

“It’s a lot different, not only in the huddle but in the locker room, in the meeting room, obviously (Jackson) was an extremely important part of this offense and this organization for a long time not only for what he did on the field but for his leadership skills off the field and in the locker room,” Bradford said. “There’s a void right now. I think it’s part of my duty going into my fourth year to step up and help fill that void.”

Indeed, to paraphrase a movie analogy that Rams general manager Les Snead likes to use, it’s time for Bradford to graduate from Simba to Mufasa and begin to lead the pride of young lions that join him in the offensive huddle.

Entering his fourth season in the league, Bradford is joined by right tackle Rodger Saffold as the longest tenured Rams on the offensive side of the ball. While there are a handful of other offensive players who have been in the league longer, none have been through more than two seasons as Rams aside from Bradford and Saffold.

Of course, not only is Bradford’s ascent to a more clearly defined leadership role an obvious one but also one for which he has never been better equipped than he is heading into 2013.

The work of Snead, coach Jeff Fisher and their respective staffs has been tireless in an effort to give the offense a better chance to succeed. And nothing may be more important in that regard than the continuity Bradford is finally getting in terms of the coaching staff.

For the first time in his four seasons, Bradford will work with the same offense coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, and quarterbacks coach, Frank Cignetti, for consecutive seasons.

That means a more intimate knowledge of the offensive scheme as well as the chance to expand his responsibilities from snap to snap. Even in just a handful of Organized Team Activities, Bradford notices a significant difference.

“(It’s) amazing,” Bradford said. “It just feels so much better knowing the details of this offense and actually having the ability to go over and coach our young guys. When you are trying to learn an offense for the first time, it’s really hard to go over and coach some of the young guys because you are still trying to figure everything out, too. You don’t know the exact details.”

Essentially, Bradford has spent the majority of his offseason time in each of his first three seasons trying to learn a new language, a language he didn’t feel comfortable trying to show to others until he was fluent.

Now that Bradford has a good grasp on this offense, he feels much more comfortable helping translate it to his teammates. That’s particularly important given the team’s youth at the skill positions.

While Bradford can get leadership help from experienced linemen such as Saffold, tackle Jake Long, guard Harvey Dahl and center Scott Wells, the vast majority of the receivers, tight ends and running backs save for Jared Cook, are entering no more than their third year in the league.

Now when Bradford goes back and watches tape from last year, he can quickly identify concepts that worked, concepts that didn’t, areas for improvement and how to make those improvements.

“I can take all of those points from those meetings with Schotty and with Cig to the young guys now,” Bradford said. “It’s ‘Hey, we studied this concept last year. We think a key for it succeeding next year is we’ve really got to get our depth on this route or the timing has got to be better.’ It’s just a lot more detail oriented now that we are in year two.”

On the heels of an offseason in which the Rams made splashy moves in free agency to add the likes of Long and Cook in free agency and did some bold draft maneuvering to land receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey as well as offensive lineman Barrett Jones and running back Zac Stacy, Bradford is now surrounded by an intriguing group of young talent.

Through just a handful of practices, Bradford can already see a change in the tempo and speed at which the Rams could play this year given the new toys he’s been given.

“I think we are much faster now,” Bradford said. “There’s a lot more speed on the field. We are all hoping that’s going to lead to more explosive plays. I think if you look at our offense in the past, we have really had to grind out touchdown drives because we haven’t been able to create those explosive plays. If you take some of the guys that we have on the field now and they turn a 5-yard hitch route into an 80-yard touchdown and I think that’s extremely exciting. It’s going to allow us to open the playbook a little more. Just with their speed we can get creative, figure out how we are going to use them. I think that’s the big thing, we are still trying to figure out how to best use everyone’s abilities that we have now.”

How that manifests over the course of the season remains to be seen but Bradford does acknowledge the possibility that the offense could spread things out and play at a more breakneck pace similar to some of the things he excelled at in college at Oklahoma and in more limited practice since he arrived in the NFL.

“I hope so,” Bradford said. “I think that’s something that we looked at and obviously had some success with last year. We did it out here today on day 2 and last year I don’t even think we got to it in OTAs. The fact that we’ve already put it in, we’ve already worked the mechanics, I think that’s a pretty good indication that’s a direction we’d like to go.”

Bradford is also making no bones about the direction he’d like to see the team go as a whole. Asked what his goal for this year is, Bradford quickly skipped over any personal accolades and pointed to the ultimate team goal, winning the Super Bowl.

“That’s what we set out to do every year,” Bradford said. “You never go into a year thinking ‘Man, if we could go 8-8, that would be awesome.’ Because if you do, you might as well not even play the game. When we started this offseason, what is it, six weeks ago now; we came in with the mindset that we are putting in the work each day to build the pieces to win the Super Bowl. That’s what our goal is. Obviously first we need to win our division which is the NFC West, take care of business in the playoffs and get there but that’s our goal every year.”

To reach that goal, it’s no secret that the quarterback must play an integral role in leading his team and putting points on the board on a consistent basis. Bradford knows his time is now.
“I feel a lot more comfortable in this system,” Bradford said. “I know how things are supposed to work. I know the way that I want things to be run, the depth, the details. Just being able to talk to someone on the field. Tavon, Stedman, hey this is how that route has to be when guys are in the film room and I’m watching the previous day’s practice with them. All of those things are part of taking control of the offense.”