Few players will be watched as closely in 2012 as St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. The 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year fell hard and fast from that perch last season, opening up a debate about whether or not he could be the franchise cornerstone the team needed.
Jeff Fisher certainly thinks so. He and general manager Les Snead praise Bradford openly for his skills. They also advise writing off the young quarterback's 2011 season. NFL Films guru Greg Cosell offered a similar, more detailed take on Bradford in a Tuesday afternoon blog post, which we need to discuss.
Cosell runs back through the scouting report on Bradford as he came out of Oklahoma in 2010, citing all of the skills that go into a talented quarterback, his accuracy and label as a "top arm talent." As rookie, those skills were on display, along with a few others that Cosell notes.
He was decisive in reading the blitz and getting the ball out quickly to the right receiver. He was firm in the pocket, willing to look down the gun barrel and make strong throws in the face of pressure. He had a refined sense of timing and anticipation, showing the ability to pull the trigger before his receivers came out of their breaks. All positives, and all quantifiable measures of top-level quarterback play in the NFL.
But it wasn't all perfect. The sensei of tape grinding noted instances where Bradford looked uncomfortable in the pocket with defenders closing in on him. He also noted some instances where the quarterback did not take advantage of more downfield throwing opportunities, which could be attributed to experience and comfort level.
Then came 2011.
So what happened in 2011? The problems began the opening Sunday. Bradford was tentative in the pocket, not mentally sharp, and at times he did not let it loose when he had a throw. An inconsistent profile had been established. What really stood out as the year progressed was Bradford's reaction to pressure - the issue that first surfaced in his rookie season against Kansas City. It is easy to place the blame on the Rams' poor pass protection, but that circumvents the more essential point. You must be able to function effectively in a muddied and noisy pocket to play quarterback well in the NFL, and Bradford began to perceive pressure that was not there. He was anticipating the rush, and you cannot perform that way, no matter what kind of talent you have throwing the football.
I've probably clipped way more than I should have, and there's way more from Cosell to read. So click over there and read it.
Cosell points to injuries and poor receiver play as bigger detractors on Bradford's play than pass protection from the offensive line. I would add to that a new offense coordinator, little time to prepare and the lack of a dedicated quarterback coach while trying to install a new system. I'm not a sports psychologist, but it's not too much of a leap to read about a quarterback's tentativeness and struggles with pressure and think about the difference more prep time and the guiding hand of a coach/teacher would make.
The good news here is that the raw skills are still there. That's something that Fisher and Snead saw, and redoubled their efforts to make sure that potential is not squandered. They brought in a talented veteran center who can help with protection reads. They hired a dedicated quarterbacks coach. They brought back a veteran quarterback who goes way back with the new offensive coordinator.
Bradford has shown a remarkable ability to rebound in his past, from shoulder injuries that wiped out his 2009 season at OU to an NFL Rookie of the Year award. With the right conditions, another rebound is hardly out of the question ... and should be expected.