June 12, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (8) throws during minicamp at ContinuityX Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
Like any kid from Oklahoma making the trip to New York City, Sam Bradford smiled from ear to ear holding up the ceremonial St. Louis Rams jersey emblazoned with the number one. Bradford's grin became a permanent fixture for the Rams that year. He signed a $78 million contract and led the team to a 7-9 record, one game away from the playoffs.
Bradford's smile was missing most of last season, gone away along with reliable pass protection and his security blanket receiver Danny Amendola. It was a rough way to follow up his debut season.
The curtain opened on the 2012 season Sunday when the Rams hit their field for their first training camp practice under new head coach Jeff Fisher. Also returning was Bradford's youthful enthusiasm.
"It was awesome," Bradford said of the first day of practice. "It's just fun to be back out here again.
"I think there's a sense of excitement in our locker room this year," Bradford said. "I think everyone's ready to go, everyone's excited to be out here and I think it showed today in our practice. I think it was very up-tempo. I thought guys came out, everyone was flying around. Hopefully we can sustain that and do that every day."
Since spring practices Fisher's approach has earned high marks from the players. While nobody is throwing Steve Spagnuolo and the last regime under the bus, the difference for players is notable even in the standardized post-practice talking points.
"He does a good job of feeling the chemistry of a team and piecing it together," Steven Jackson said of coach Fisher. "There have been a few examples already within a day of how he takes control and asks guys for input on certain things."
Bradford echoed those thoughts, putting some context to the oft-discussed intangibles that Fisher brings to the Rams.
"I think the greatest thing about Coach Fisher is he is confident and he's so confident he doesn't feel like he has to come out and give us a bunch of lip service every meeting or every practice," Bradford explained. "I just think his natural vibe, his calmness, his confidence just rubs off on everyone. When you're around him for three or four months in the offseason every day and then you're around him in camp every day, I think everyone just feeds off that and naturally it takes over the field."
The third-year quarterback had plenty more to smile about on Sunday, including his wide receivers.
"I am really excited about the group of wide receivers we're working with this year," Bradford said about the biggest question mark on the Rams roster. "I think the guys that have been here have definitely matured over the years. I'm really happy with the way they came out and played today, the young guys, too. They've really learned a lot very quickly during the offseason so really happy with where they're at, and hopefully we can continue to progress and continue to build our chemistry and get better everyday out here."
Also getting better is Bradford's ankle. He had no problems with it on Sunday, and revealing details of a monitoring plan cooked up with trainers and coaches. If the ankle does start to give him trouble, then his reps in training camp will be limited with an eye toward being completely healthy when the regular season starts on September 9.
"I think obviously last year was extremely frustrating for everyone in this organization," Bradford said. "Coming off two years ago when we had made some progress and made some strides, everyone thought we were going to have a much better year than we did last year. I'm looking to pick up from two years ago."
Smiles have been hard to come by for Rams fans in recent years, but if the feeling at Rams Park right now is any indication, there could be plenty to celebrate in months and years ahead.