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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 23, 2010

NFL draft: Rams hope Bradford is their ticket to the promised land

By Bernie Miklasz
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Although he was seated in a theater in New York, Sam Bradford's smile could have illuminated the Gateway Arch. He called being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft a "dream come true."

Meet us in St. Louis, Sam.

Bradford was the prince of the city, untouched, unharmed, uncorrupted. And on this Thursday evening, when his life changed, it didn't seem possible that anything could go wrong for the new St. Louis Sam.

Let's hope this strapping young man from the great state of Oklahoma won't become the quarterback version of Tom Joad.

You want the very best for him. You want him to feel nothing but this same unbridled joy in a few years. You don't want to see the Rams turn him into Sad Sam, or Marc Bulger 2.0 — a battered, bitter quarterback who will limp and wince away his remaining career Sundays.

The last thing you want to see is this kid's dream break off into fragmented scenes of misery and horror.

You'd just hate to think that one day Slingin' Sammy will be so despondent he'll anxiously count the hours until he can climb into the SUV, hit the gas, and speed away from St. Louis as fast as he can.

You ask the football gods for a reversal of fortunes, and that they will show him the mercy of granting him a healthy, successful career and a happy ending.

Please let Bradford become the next Troy Aikman instead of the next David Carr. And may his career live up to his initials: S.B., as in Super Bowl. Wouldn't it be nice?

Well, getting there won't be easy. This job can break the best of them. And those who survive usually endure severe tests early in their careers.

Since 1965, 18 quarterbacks have been drafted No. 1 overall, and four made it to the Hall of Fame.

And let's take a look at how each of the Hall of Famers did in their rookie seasons:

—Joe Namath, Jets, 1965: 13 games, nine starts, 3-5-1 record, 48.2 completion percentage, 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, passer rating of 68.8.

— Terry Bradshaw, Steelers, 1970: 13 games, eight starts, 3-5 record, 38 percent completions, six TDs, 24 INTs, 30.4 passer rating.

—John Elway, Broncos, 1983: 11 games, 10 starts, 4-6 record, 47.5 percent completions, seven TDs, 14 INTs, 54.9 passer rating.

—Troy Aikman, Cowboys, 1988: 11 games (all starts), 0-11 record, 53 percent completions, nine TDs, 18 INTs, 55.7 passer rating.

And future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning was 3-13 as a Colts rookie in 1998, throwing more interceptions (28) than touchdown passes (26), with a passer rating of 71.2.

So we can see how difficult the breaking-in process can be for even the most illustrious of quarterbacks. The Rams must be aggressive in doing everything they can to find Bradford an elite wide receiver and a good-hands tight end. The Rams' offensive line is better than most people assume, but still requires sprucing.

Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and staff will have to prove they know what they are doing. And that they can find the right balance by handling this gift with care — but without being overly protective. Already there are questions about how soon Bradford will start.

"There's no preconceived notion or game plan with Sam right now," Spagnuolo said. "We've put ourselves in a situation where we can go either way. I feel real comfortable with some guys we've got on this football team. As I've said before, this isn't about one guy. This team will never be about one guy. That's certainly a very important position, and that position has to play well. But we'll do what's best for him and what's best for the team."

There will be a lot of public pressure to start Bradford at the beginning of the regular season, but I'd be surprised if that happens.

Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur were on Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia in 1999; that was Donovan McNabb's rookie season.

Spagnuolo admired the way Reid prepared McNabb.

"I thought what Andy did with Donovan in Philadelphia was terrific," Spags said. "That worked out pretty well."

So if you're looking for a possible Bradford roadmap, check this one out: journeyman quarterback Doug Pederson started the first nine games for the '99 Eagles, but McNabb was eased in, appearing in six of those nine games. McNabb took over late in the second quarter of the ninth game, then started six games the remainder of the way.

So Reid managed to get McNabb plenty of rookie action but wasn't careless or impatient.

I'd guess the Rams will use roughly the same model for Bradford. Pederson was a teacher but not a threat to McNabb. A.J. Feeley will be a teacher but not a threat to Bradford. But we can worry about Bradford's schedule later.

Rams general manager Billy Devaney, who made this pick, is a devoted Bruce Springsteen fan. Devaney's favorite Springsteen song is "Promised Land."

And that was the Rams' theme for the opening night of the draft, which was set aside for daydreams.

At Rams Park, when Bradford's name was called, there was optimism and energy and the launch of a new journey. A prospect, a franchise and a suffering fan base perked up, hoping that this was the moment when everything changed. We wanted to believe in a promised land.