Recovery of Bradford, Long Key to Rams Success

Posted Jun 11, 2014

Even though their injuries occurred weeks apart, Sam Bradford and Jake Long have worked together to overcome significant knee injuries this offseason.

While much attention regarding the Rams’ offensive has been directed toward a running game following the re-signing of guard Rodger Saffold and the use of a second overall pick on offensive lineman Greg Robinson, the success of the unit likely will hinge heavily on the performance of two players returning from injury.

Left tackle Jake Long and quarterback Sam Bradford, who each saw the 2013 season end early following surgery to repair a torn ACL, have made steady progress in their bids to be available for the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. Bradford has participated in both individual and offensive team drills during this week, and showed no ill effects from last year’s injury. For the time being, Bradford is slated to participate in roughly half of the team’s OTA workouts.

“It felt great, to be able to come back out here today and actually participate and throw routes, be a part of 7-on-7,” Bradford said after his second OTA session. “After having to sit there and watch everything last year and not being able to be a part of the group, part of the guys, it just felt really good to be back to normal.”

Head Coach Jeff Fisher has lauded Bradford for how quickly he applied himself in his rehab, and simultaneously remained a valued member of the offense in the film room, and as a sounding board to quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Austin Davis.

“He started the mental process immediately after the injury, even before the surgery,” Fisher said. “He knew what he needed to do and he’s handled it very, very well. You noticed during the second half of the season, he was side-by-side with (QB) Kellen (Clemens) and his teammates. He’s worked very, very hard. He’s had no setbacks.”

In his second year working under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Bradford was off to a scintillating start in 2013, prior to the injury. In seven games, he completed a career-best 60.7 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, good for a passer rating of 90.9 Extrapolated over a 16-game season, those numbers had Bradford projected for the most productive season by a Rams quarterback since Marc Bulger’s Pro Bowl season of 2006. Still, questions by some outsiders persist, of Bradford’s durability and consistency following a rookie season that saw him named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The Rams’ quarterback has taken the questions and skepticism in stride, and dismisses the notion of an added pressure to perform in his fifth season.

“I think that’s what everyone says at the beginning of every year,” Bradford said in an interview with NFL Network’s Michelle Beisner last week following the team’s second OTA. “I don’t think there is any added pressure.”

With Bradford on track to start the opener on September 7 against the Minnesota Vikings, much attention remains on Long, Bradford’s chief protector at left tackle. Due to his injury coming in the home finale, Long’s rehab pushes his return to the field a bit later. Currently less than five months removed from the procedure, the four-time Pro Bowler has been limited to strength and agility drills. Fisher placed Long’s return to the field at roughly midway through training camp. Still, both Fisher and Long expect the seven-year veteran to be at left tackle for the season opener. For Long, counting the days to his return began immediately following his injury.

“The first thing I did when I got home was look at the calendar,” Long said. “I saw how quickly we could get the surgery done and when the season starts. I’ve been working really hard with the trainers, and didn’t take any time off during the offseason. I’ve been here every single day and I’m working to get back for the season opener. That’s the goal.”

Both Bradford and Long will figure to benefit from the Rams’ two key offseason moves along the offensive line—the re-signing of Saffold and the drafting of Robinson. The additions not only serve to benefit the Rams in 2014, but could potentially arrange for a lengthy run of success in arguably the league’s toughest division, the NFC West.

While both Saffold and Robinson have extensive history playing at left tackle, Fisher has elected to install both at the right and left guard positions, respectively, while keeping Long’s seat at left tackle warm. Fisher has placed reserve tackles Mike Person and Sean Hooey in Long’s position with the first-team offense for the time being, an early indication of Fisher’s confidence in Long’s impending return for the first game of the season.

“We want to go through OTAs and most of camp with players playing the position they’ll play in the opener,” Fisher said. “You assume Jake comes back so we’ll just plug someone else in out there.”

The notion of an opening-day lineup including both Long and Bradford would certainly be an encouraging sight for Schottenheimer and company, who, after the team’s second consecutive seven-win season, looks to make a move within the NFC West in the system’s third season.

“Obviously, this is a big year for this organization,” Bradford said. “We feel like we’re right on the cusp of taking that next step and becoming a playoff team. Everyone in our building and in our locker room believes that we can do that.”

With Bradford and Long in tow for a full season, the possibility certainly improves.