Bradford Ready to Bounce Back

Posted Apr 17, 2012

For someone instructed to take it easy, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford sure had an eventful offseason.

On the heels of a disappointing sophomore campaign that was muddled by a debilitating ankle injury, Bradford finished the year on the bench and hoped that within weeks of the season ending, he’d be able to return to the rehab process sooner than later.

The doctors examining his ankle had other ideas.

“I went to a doctor literally two days after the season ended and he told me not to do anything really until March 1,” Bradford said. “That’s when I got back here, so I kind of shut it down for six or more weeks after the season and then got back in the training room with (Head Athletic Trainer) Reggie (Scott), and I would say it felt 10 times better then and it’s only gotten stronger since I’ve been here.”

The Rams returned to the practice field for the first time since the end of the 2011 season on Tuesday for the start of a veteran minicamp. Much has changed since the final days of that year.

While Bradford has been resting his ankle, the Rams underwent a front office makeover that included bringing in a new general manager in Les Snead and new head coach Jeff Fisher, complete with a staff that almost changed in its entirety as well.

In addition, many of Bradford’s teammates have left to sign with other teams or been released by the Rams. Likewise, there are plenty of new faces for Bradford to meet and get to know after the Rams added nearly a dozen veteran free agents.

This week’s minicamp is considered voluntary and 59 of 60 possible Rams showed up (safety Darian Stewart was absent because of an exam) to begin anew.

Perhaps none of those players come into this minicamp and began the offseason conditioning program two weeks ago with more to prove than Bradford.

Following an Offensive Rookie of the Year performance in 2010, Bradford’s numbers and the Rams’ record regressed in 2010 in no small part because of his ankle injury. But Bradford enters his third year focused on reaching his immense potential.

“Definitely,” Bradford said. “Obviously last year was very disappointing as far as the injury, my performance. It just wasn’t up to par with what I expected from myself. So there’s no doubt that I’m extremely excited to get back out there this year and prove to myself and to everyone else that I can be the type of player I think I can be.”

Not that Bradford has many doubters amongst his peers. Fisher and the Rams have continuously given the young signal caller meaningful votes of confidence, including the emphatic trade of the second overall pick – and a shot at Baylor’s Robert Griffin III – to Washington nearly two whole months before the draft.

Even after just one practice Tuesday afternoon, Fisher couldn’t help but re-state his excitement about the opportunity to work with Bradford, saying Bradford looked quite good in the workout.

“It’s his vision, release, accuracy – it’s all those things that we expected to see,” Fisher said. “He’s picking things up very, very quickly. The accuracy, I think, if you have to pick one thing, it would be that. The ball’s just in the right place every time.”

That’s a good sign for Bradford who has had to go back to the drawing board for the third time in as many years as he gets to know his third offensive coordinator in that time and along with it, yet another offensive system.

Considering the Rams and Bradford get a full offseason, this year’s transition with new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer should be much smoother.

“It’s been great,” Bradford said. “Obviously this year is much better than last year. Obviously to be here and be able to have an offseason program and to come out here in a minicamp and get to have walkthroughs, get to have 7-on-7, things that we didn’t have last year, that really helps. The more reps you get at it, the more comfortable we become. I think it’s definitely starting to pick up. There are some similarities between this offense and the offense we ran two years ago. Some of the language is the same, so it’s kind of trying to go back to two years ago and trying to re-teach myself that.”

It should only help the transition to Schottenheimer’s offense that Bradford will once again have a quarterbacks coach in 2012. Josh McDaniels, who coordinated the offense last year, also served as the quarterbacks tutor.

This year, Bradford will work with Frank Cignetti, who comes to the Rams from Rutgers where he was offensive coordinator last year.

“I like that,” Bradford said. “I’m glad that we have a quarterbacks coach now. Obviously with Josh trying to do both last year, I think it was just a lot for him to handle. I think sometimes some of the little things such as drops, footwork, throwing mechanics kind of got put aside as opposed to putting reads and everything in front. I’m really happy that we hired a quarterback coach this year. I think it’s going to be great for my development. I think Coach Cignetti is a great guy, too, and can’t wait to work with him.”

Bradford’s offseason included a trip to Kuwait with middle linebacker James Laurinaitis as well as a stop in Thailand to vacation with friends. Upon his return, though, his ankle had pretty much returned to 100 percent and Bradford resumed working out and getting back to full strength.

In this minicamp, Bradford says he is full go and has no restrictions. Teammates such as receivers Danny Amendola and Steve Smith said Bradford was putting the ball where it needed to be and looked as accurate as ever in Tuesday’s workout.

The delay in getting back to full strength may have come as a result of Bradford’s attempting to play through the ankle injury but he says he wouldn’t change anything about the way he approached things following the injury.

“Absolutely not,” Bradford said. “I would have tried to play. Obviously I want to be out there. It’s no fun watching. It’s just one of those things. I don’t think there’s really a proven method to healing other than rest, but if you can play, you can play.”

For the rest of the offseason, Bradford will make it his top priority to get as familiar with the new offensive system as possible. He has been a mainstay at Rams Park since the offseason program started and Fisher says he is picking it up at a rapid pace.

Bradford is the first to acknowledge that this season is important for him to establish himself in the hierarchy of NFL quarterbacks but to him that doesn’t mean any sort of rank or file.

Rather, Bradford is just focusing on getting better on a daily basis. All the other stuff will take care of itself.

“That’s really not up for me to decide,” Bradford said. “I’m going to go out there and try to be the best player I can be every day. That starts right now, that starts with tomorrow, being better in Day 2 of minicamp than I was today. Hopefully if my play leads people to believe that then so be it. I’m just going to continue to work to get better.”