NFL: Sam Bradford terrific’ in camp, Rams say
By Jim Thomas
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS — For five practices over three days, Sam Bradford called the play in the huddle, stepped up to the line and (drum roll, please) lined up under center.
Let the transition begin, from spread offense at Oklahoma to pro-style quarterback with the Rams. By all accounts, it was a good start for the No. 1 overall draft pick.
"Sam did a terrific job," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Sunday after the conclusion of the Rams' rookie minicamp. "All the reasons for drafting him were obvious.
"He's very smart. Got a great command of the huddle. He's got great attention to detail. By the end of the weekend, he was repeating things like he got 'em in the installations. And he's very talented. So you take the talent and then the 'work hard' and I think he progressed well in five practices."
There is much to learn and many hurdles to cross. But Bradford's Rams journey began with him lining up under center—over and over and over again. By design, every snap Bradford took over the weekend was under center as opposed to the shotgun formation.
"The focus in this camp was to do pretty much everything under center, so we could work on the one-, the three-, the five- and seven-step drop," Shurmur said. "As time goes on, what naturally happens is they get smoother and smoother and smoother."
At first blush, Bradford looked surprisingly comfortable with his footwork and his dropbacks. About 85 percent of the rookie minicamp was open to the media (all but about 90 minutes of Friday morning's practice). And in that time, Bradford had only two botched center exchanges.
Maybe this shouldn't be surprising. It's not as if Bradford never lined up under center. He said the Sooners were under center about half the time during his freshman season.
"That's one of the things that the media kind of skews a little bit, because it's not that big of a deal," Bradford said. "If you've never taken a snap from under center, I mean, I could see where the footwork obviously would take some time getting used to. But if you've spent any time under center. ... I've taken snaps under center since I was in third grade."
So give Bradford an early checkmark for his work under center over the weekend. But that's just one layer of his multi-faceted learning curve.
In the week between the draft and the minicamp, Bradford spent hours on the phone with Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Dick Curl. They talked about formations, protections, the cadence, even how everyone would line up in the huddle.
"A lot of the little things that I don't think everyone sees," Bradford said. "You don't think about it because everyone thinks, 'Oh, it's second nature.' But when you haven't done it, and you don't know how the Rams do it, it's a huge deal. Especially for a quarterback."
Obviously learning the language of a new offensive scheme is a big step.
"The verbiage is really important," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "There's a lot of words he's got to spit out in that huddle in a short amount of time."
And once the play is called, timing is very important, particularly in the passing game. On Sunday, the Rams worked almost exclusively on red zone offense (and defense) in "team" periods.
"I was really anxious to see the way he would react in the red zone," Spagnuolo said. "Now when we were down there doing the seven-on-seven (red zone work) with no linemen in front of him, I reminded him that down here you can't hold on to the football. Everything happens a little faster."
Bradford got the message. During the full 11-on-11 red zone session later in practice, he looked sharp and decisive.
"I thought he got it out pretty quick," Spagnuolo said. "He had one nice throw down here in the corner." (On a fade route to wide receiver Dominique Curry, who was at the minicamp as a tryout player.)
Even with that success, Bradford knows the speed of the game picks up in two weeks, when he starts practicing with the veterans. It will speed up again once preseason play arrives, and then finally once the regular season starts.
"I felt like I was in the right place most of the time with the ball," Bradford said. "But even at the speed we were playing this weekend, I was a half a count or a count late. It may not look like it, but I know it when I let it go, if I can get it out just a half-count quicker, it's that much better."
In the five practices, Bradford threw hundreds of passes over about a 50-hour period. But his surgically repaired throwing shoulder showed no ill effects from the workload.
Of course, there's one area of Bradford's game that can't be addressed until the games begin. Namely, how his throwing shoulder will respond to that first hit. And the second, and the third. ...
"I think it'll be cool, and hopefully it'll kind of calm everyone down because I think everyone's freaking out about it like, 'If his shoulder gets touched is he going to, like, die?"' Bradford said, chuckling. "It's going to be OK. I'm going to be able to take a hit."