NFL: Quarterback Sam Bradford says he can adapt to a pro system
By Randy Covitz
St. Louis Rams general manager Billy Devaney could barely contain his glee after watching quarterback Sam Bradford complete 62 of 63 passes during his pro day workout at the University of Oklahoma two weeks ago.
"This is shocking," Devaney told reporters with a hint of sarcasm. "The guy is really accurate."
Bradford's accuracy, strong arm, intelligence, toughness, size and competitiveness are reasons the Rams are expected to select him with the first pick of the NFL draft on April 22.
Certainly, there is the issue of Bradford's surgically repaired shoulder that was injured twice during Oklahoma's 2009 season, limiting him to just three starts before calling it a career.
Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, has received a clean bill of health from noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, who performed the procedure last October.
And after spending the winter rehabbing, adding muscle and weight to his 6-foot-4-inch, 236-pound frame, Bradford has earned praise from just about everyone who observed his 25-minute workout in Norman, a performance former Dallas Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt said was the best he's seen since Troy Aikman in 1989.
"He just kind of solidified what everyone believed," said Cleveland president Mike Holmgren, whose team has the seventh pick and could use a young quarterback. "(The shoulder) was the question mark. I think everyone wants to kind of see for themselves, even though everyone is saying he's fine . . . you came away saying, 'He's the guy I thought he was."'
He was the guy who completed 68 percent of his passes in his four years at Oklahoma, including 88 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. But just to make sure, and to have the Rams doctors examine Bradford's shoulder, the team will bring him to St. Louis for another workout on their terms on April 19, just three days before the draft.
"We want to make sure there haven't been any setbacks, that the shoulder is still good," Devaney said. "That close to the draft, one last time, just throw the ball around a little bit, make sure he's still good to go."
Even if Bradford had no injury concerns, some wonder if he can adjust from the spread offense he played in college to the pro-style sets of the NFL. He has no doubt.
"I think people get this misconception that if you play in the spread or play in the shotgun, you don't know how to take a drop," Bradford said at the NFL combine. "It just shortens your drop. When you're in the gun, you still take a three-step drop.
"When we were at Oklahoma, at practice every day, our first drops were under center. Our coach made us take drops under center. If you threw two out routes, the first one was under center, the second one was in the gun. My first year at Oklahoma, we were under center a lot. I believe it was 50-50. We were more of a conventional, two-back, pro-style. So I feel like I have the skills to adapt to any system."
During Bradford's first two seasons at Oklahoma, he didn't encounter much in the way of pass rushes while playing behind outstanding offensive lines. As a junior, operating behind a makeshift line, Bradford hurt the shoulder while being slammed to the ground in the season opener against Brigham Young. Two games later, his college career ended with a thud when he re injured the shoulder when sacked against Texas.
"Two years ago, he was playing pitch and catch with all day to throw and some very good receivers to throw to," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. "This past year, you wanted to see him under duress, and he got hurt.
"The issue I have with Sam Bradford is that we haven't seen him in an NFL-like setting where he's getting pressured, and he's got to throw into small windows. We have not seen that at Oklahoma. We did in a couple of games, and they lost those games — to Florida and Texas two years ago."
Playing for the downtrodden Rams won't be any easier. St. Louis may have the worst offensive line in football. Recently released Marc Bulger was sacked 128 times in his last 52 games, or 2.5 times a game.
Bradford believes he has the athleticism to throw on the run.
"I throw on the run really well," he said. "I have a great presence in the pocket. I'm able to sit in there and deliver the ball under pressure while taking a hit. And I'm a competitor. I love to compete. I love to win. I've loved to win since I was little, and that's not going to change."
The Rams haven't done much winning lately, having won only six games in the last three years. St. Louis is not only in need of a quarterback for second-year coach Steve Spagnuolo's rebuilding program, the Rams are searching for a face of the franchise which has taken a nosedive since the years of the Greatest Show on Turf.
But there are no guarantees when taking quarterbacks in the first round, even with the first pick. Since 1970, 17 quarterbacks have been taken with the first overall pick. Some were wildly successful, including Terry Bradshaw (1970), John Elway (1983), Troy Aikman (1989) and Peyton Manning (1998), who have 10 Super Bowls wins; others were abject failures, such as Tim Couch (1999), David Carr (2002) and JaMarcus Russell (2007); while others like Vinny Testaverde (1987), Jeff George (1990) and Michael Vick (2001) fell somewhere in between.
Bradford has no reservations about playing for a bad team or being the face of the franchise.
"It's a great opportunity just to play for a team in the NFL, whether they're rebuilding or real successful," Bradford said. "I really don't think one single player is the face of the franchise. It's still a team game. There's a bunch of guys who people look to when they think of that franchise.
"If people want to put that on me, though, it's something I'll embrace. It's something I'll have to grow into it, but I'll learn the ropes, just like I did when I was at Oklahoma."