From opposing ends of a street named Destiny, two young men sprint toward a phone booth in the middle of the block. They arrive at the same moment, looking at each other while gauging their desire to enter the booth and change into… An elite NFL quarterback.
On this day, at this time, there is room for both to step in, and up to the next level. Both these NFL football players are on the cusp of greatness. One has two years at the NFL level, the other one. Both have intelligence, size, quickness and Howitzers for throwing arms. They both have a potential Kryptonite too, but more on that later.
The St. Louis Rams’ Sam Bradford and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman are both on the verge of becoming great NFL quarterbacks. They could very well be writing the next chapter in the book currently being written by the likes of Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts. I’m not sure if a Bradford and Freeman led game will have the high drama attached to a game in which Manning and Brady play. A Ram – Buccaneers game featuring these two rising stars will have more to do with "slam-bam" and "Arrgh" than it will Patton-esk screaming and the length of flowing locks of hair. When they meet, it will be a great game. The game will be led by Bradford and Freeman and both care nothing about drama. It will be more about living up to what each of them have dreamed of accomplishing their entire lives. They won’t meet on a Sunday in the regular season this year. Both teams have tough schedules in 2011. It’s as if the football Gods have set them on a quest to prove their metal; to earn the right for their ultimate meeting to have meaning beyond a score or standings. If they meet, it will be in the postseason and each will be a barrier to get passed to their ultimate goal –The Super Bowl.
Sam Bradford (6’4" – 232 lbs.) has led the life of the wunderkind. He is the prototypical picture of an NFL quarterback.His recruiting class in high school had him listed among quarterbacks at #17 (Josh Freeman was #15) Playing for a perennial powerhouse, the University of Oklahoma, he led an offense that ruled the air and won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2008.
Bradford’s time at OU ended his junior year when he injured his throwing shoulder that required season ending surgery. He rehabilitated the shoulder successfully and opted to enter the NFL draft in 2010. Chosen as the first overall pick in the draft by the St. Louis Rams, he entered his first NFL season with the biggest rookie contract ever and won the starting job at quarterback. He has become the banner of hope for a rebuilding Rams franchise, and it looks like the organizations trust hasn’t been misplaced. Sam Bradford is a winner through and through. Combined with a determination to build an offense around Bradford, the Rams front office and coaching staff have turned a corner and are about to smack a bunch of NFL team that used to think playing the Rams was a weekend off.
Josh Freeman (6’6" – 248lbs.) started out as a linebacker in high school. The day he converted to quarterback changed his life forever. He played college football for Kansas State University, turning NFL scouts heads with both his athletic ability and leadership. The stars aligned for Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers his freshman year. Future Tampa head coach Raheem Morse was the defensive coordinator at Kansas State that year, and Freeman left a mark on him that stayed with him to the NFL. Tampa Fans were unhappy when the team moved up two slots and chose Freeman with the #17 pick in the NFL Draft. Freeman replaced quarterback Josh Johnson midway through the 2009 season and never looked back. Freeman improved his accuracy in 2010, throwing only 6 interceptions compared to his 9 starts and 18 interceptions in 2009. Like Sam Bradford, this year is all about the next level and both have their teams behind making it happen.
The football world will be watching these to great athletes this year, and will be unforgiving if they don’t reach what is now expected by many to be a given. Putting this type of pressure on these two great young men is the way of the NFL, and it’s hardly fair. The NFL is what it is, and high expectations aren’t ever going away. The reward for a good performance, one or two years in the league, is lofty comparisons to past and present star players.
Every player has to overcome the things that can send their career off course. Athletic ability is readily evident, but it isn’t everything. Look at Vince Young, the tool were all there weren’t they? When the Tennessee Titans drafted him, no one paid much attention to his personal kryptonite: Mental attitude. He fell out of favor like a meteor from the sky. If Bradford and Freeman have anything that will send them into "What could have been" land, it won’t be mental in origins. It will be physical. The most readily apparent Kryptonite for Bradford is his surgically repaired shoulder. It’s fine you say? I believe this to be true, but if there was ever a quarterback that will live or die by his offensive line’s ability to protect him, it’s Sam Bradford.
Josh Freeman’s Kryptonite will be something I’ve seen happen to similarly built quarterback in the past, and it has the same solution as Bradford’s in his offensive line. What can break Freeman isn’t going to be hits to his shoulder or legs (which are massive). It will be a shot to the sternum. Don’t believe me? Have a look at what caused the decline of Steve McNair or even to a degree, Dante Culpepper. Big quarterbacks judge the size of the player coming at them when they stand tall in the pocket, not the kinetic energy capable of being exerted at a central target like the sternum. Break the sternum of a big quarterback and they are rarely ever the same player as before the injury. My advice to Freeman is to protect this area at all costs.
Rams and Bucs fans have something to cheer about in these two future star quarterbacks. They have the ability to bring their faithful championships, let alone excitement every Sunday. Each of these young men has solid values and demeanors that bodes well for them as players and members of their chosen communities. These two are players everyone can admire, for their ability as well as heart. They have football in their blood. A love for the game and a desire to win is held by both, as well as a dream shared to be the best quarterback in the NFL. So which one will step into the phone booth first?