Thearon W. Henderson
I mentioned in a post yesterday that I'd been spending time studying game films of the 49ers and other NFL teams. I came up with a game plan ripped straight from my Lazy Boy, and though most of what I proposed or purported seemed to be right, I missed something - The play Sam Bradford.
Whether you consider observations made by fans trite or solid opinion, the subject of Sam Bradford has garnered huge responses across the spectrum. In truth, if you want to be purely objective, Bradford has had a tough time living up to his first overall draft pick in 2010. Reasons abound for why he may not have lived up to what many expected from him, and to my mind many of them are valid.
What I keep forgetting though is for every player, there is a singular time frame - unique to each - in which growth is attained. Players mature at different rates, and outside forces like teammates and coaches occlude my, and everyone else's, ability to judge them as worthy or not. Bradford has been raised in a dysfunctional NFL home since he arrived in St. Louis. It's like he's been in a NFL foster home, with players and coaches coming and going all the time, and never getting the things he needs to grow.
Bradford came to the Rams while they were in the middle of building their defense. The offense being an after thought for the defense minded Steve Spagnuolo, Sam spent his rookie year saddled with few receiving weapons and a beyond dubious offensive line. While he had a good rookie year - earning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award - the only thing he really excelled at was getting sacked. Bradford has been sacked more times than Jerusalem. In fact, he's on track to beat his two previous year's sack totals in 2012. When the current season started, the Rams faced some of the best defensive teams in the NFL. Sam began to take hits, and people began to wonder about him. Cries of "he's holding onto the ball to long..." or "He's too slow reading his receiver progressions..." began slip past the lips of fans and NFL pundits alike. For many, Sam's future came to a head shortly after the Green Bay Packers game in week #7. Fan sites began to form a Bradford version of the Mason-Dixon line, with Rams brothers pitted against Rams brothers.
Not normally known for my quiet, I held back as I observed what people were saying. Some things said were intelligent, while others were born of blind faith tinged with rudeness. What everyone didn't know is my own opinion about Bradford began to form in a loss to Miami in week #6. It was the first time I watched Sam excel without his stellar sidekick Danny Amendola, who suffered a dislocated collar bone in week #5. He racked up 315 passing yards, but what caught my eye was how many receivers he used effectively in the game. Sam used ten different receivers that day. While he took sacks and hits, there was something different about Sam Bradford. I began to think about the best quarterbacks in the NFL like Brees and Rodgers. I've always admired how they spread the ball around, but they do something else too: They make plays with what they have, and make receivers into stars.
Fast forward past the next two games, that I personally blamed the Rams coaching staff for the losses, to the San Francisco 49ers game. This was the game that sold me on Sam Bradford lock, stock and barrel. Showing an increased comfort behind a make shift line, Sam stood in against the finest defense in the NFL. He flew through his progressions and made solid choices with guys like Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks inches from crushing his body into the turf of Candlestick Park.
|2012||St. Louis Rams||9||9||179||288||62.2||2,072||7.2||10||7||25||172||85.3||22||61||2.8||1||4||0|
|2011||St. Louis Rams||10||10||191||357||53.5||2,164||6.1||6||6||36||248||70.5||18||26||1.4||0||10||7|
|2010||St. Louis Rams||16||16||354||590||60.0||3,512||6.0||18||15||34||244||76.5||27||63||2.3||1||7||2|
Take another look at the numbers above. Outside of rushing touchdowns - which stayed the same - Sam has improved in every category. He's thrown 59 fewer times than he did last season in his injury shortened year, but he's currently within 92 yards of besting his 2011 total. His interception number is up one, but I'll take that given the more aggressive use of receiving personnel this year.
The Sam of 2012 has quietly stepped over that imaginary line every NFL quarterback must to gain another level. Bradford has issues in personnel still, but I'm starting to think he'll do better than I originally thought regarding how much he'll need great players around him to be good himself. The San Francisco game showed me a quarterback who can score touchdown when he has to, and I know Rams coach Jeff Fisher thinks the same thing. Marching down the field in the fourth quarter against an elite defense, Bradford proved he possesses the talent to succeed. It might take time for the Rams to gel as a team and overcome penalty miscues. Maybe key draft picks in the next few drafts will shift this team to another plateau. But there are time when it's not a win or loss that gives you a peek at what's next for a player. Sometimes, all it takes is a tie...