Sam Bradford feels old. The first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft is gearing up to start his third professional season, but he already feels like a grizzled veteran thanks to a very young St. Louis Rams team surrounding him.
"Yes, I do," Bradford acknowledged when asked if the presence of 17 rookies on the team made him feel old. "Actually, I didn't realize that until we were at the luncheon the other day and, I think, someone asked Coach Fisher about it and he said we had 16 or 17 rookies and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that seems extremely high.'"
Needless to say, Bradford is optimistic, despite leading the NFL's youngest team.
New coaches and a new general manager almost always mean big changes to the roster. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have hewed to that pattern during their first year in St. Louis, maybe even taking it one step further. They kept on purging the roster of the old regime's picks through the holiday weekend.
Some of those players, like Greg Salas or Michael Hoomanawanui, were still viewed by many to be sitting on an intriguing ball of talent, just waiting for it to be extracted in the right environment. That task now falls on the shoulders of different coaching staffs.
This is the youngest team Fisher has ever coached, and he relishes the challenge.
"It's exciting, Fisher said of his youthful squad. "These guys are anxious and eager, they've got confidence. I'd much rather coach a young team than an old team."
Fisher's game plan leans heavily on that youthful roster, with rookie starters and key contributors lining up on both sides of the ball for the Rams. Young or old, Fisher sticks to what he knows, what has worked for him in the past.
"Nothing changes," Fisher said of managing his green roster. "You take the same approach, preparation-wise. You just have to maybe spend a little extra time with some of the younger guys to let them know what the regular season is all about. 17 rookies on this roster and that doesn't include practice squad. There's a good chance that quite a few of them are going to be in this ballgame."
Bradford hardly noticed the rookies on the roster. He too has worked with them just like they were seasoned pros throughout training camp and the preseason.
"I think that's really probably why it did surprise me," Bradford said. "Because we've had a lot of rookies step in, handle everything that's been thrown at them. I know the guys on offense have done a great job as far as picking up and retaining information. When they're in the huddle they're just like anyone else and I think that's a good sign."
Two rookie receivers figure prominently into the Rams' plans to turn around an offense that averaged just 12 points per game in 2011.
"The two young guys [Brian Quick and Chris Givens] they both bring something different to our offense," Bradford explained. "Quick's a bigger, more physical receiver whereas Givens has got a little bit more speed. But I think all those guys are really going to help us and I'm really confident in those guys we've got out there right now.
"The past couple weeks they've been rotating in there with the 1s quite a bit. So even though I haven't thrown to them much in games, I think we've developed a nice chemistry in practice the past two weeks."
Despite the optimism, a young team can struggle out of the gate, and they face a stiff test, rookie and veteran alike, against the Detroit Lions to start the season. Ups and downs aside, the new faces are all part of a plan to turn around a team averaging three wins over the last five seasons.
"Looking around," Bradford said, "I think we've got a lot of young guys, a lot of rookies in this locker room who are going to help us. We're better because they're here. We're better because they're on our team and I look forward to taking the field with them."