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The Sam Bradford timeline, pt. 3: leaving it all behind

(This is part 3 of a 3-part series on Sam Bradford's career at Oklahoma, a career that has led him to being a signature away from being the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft.  Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here.)

Before we start, a friendly reminder -  save your work often.  I'll leave it at that...

Let's funk it up with one of my favorite bands of all time:

And the obligatory Olivia Munn shot:


This just in: Olivia Munn is not ugly.  Makes it tough to focus on Sam Bradford after that, but such is my curse.

When we left pt. 2, Sam had just announced he would be returning for his redshirt junior season after winning the Heisman and coming up short in the championship.  But this year would be different.  Sam was seasoned.  Jermaine Gresham, arguably the best TE in college football, had also decided to return to Norman, along without standouts OT Trent Williams and  DT Gerald McCoy.  Oklahoma still had their running backs, Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, to pound the ball.  They had talent all over the field on both sides of the ball.  But the clock had run up of 4 starters from Oklahoma's offensive line, and some were wondering if they could step up.

Dreams unfulfilled - the 2009 season

  After losing the BCS Championship to Florida, Sooner fans were keeping an eye on recruiting and, something they hadn't seen in Norman since Wayman Tisdale, a true college basketball star (sadly, Tisdale would pass away just months later).  Blake Griffin was tearing up the college basketball scene, helping the Sooner faithful get over their missed opportunity in January.

 For Sam, he was getting used to the limelight.  Sam traveled to Oklahoma City as the Oklahoma State House of Representatives proclaimed March 2, 2009, Sam Bradford Day.  The next day, the Sooners held their first spring practice, and the consensus was strong, save for one unit: the offensive line.  It was becoming quickly apparent, and disconcerting to Sooners fans, that the line was going to have to get it together quickly if the Sooners were going to have another shot at the title.  Sure, Oklahoma was ranked 3rd in both polls, a sign of respect for the talent they had on both sides of the ball, but Texas was second with experience in every unit.  The Red River Shootout was being hyped months in advance as the game of the 2009 college football season.  But Bradford knew what could happen if you looked past the games up front, and BYU had some solid opponents: BYU at a neutral field, a resurgent Miami in Florida, and an underrated Baylor team.  Still, the offseason gave the Sooners time to prepare.

  On April 11, with Blake Griffin on his way to being the NBA's #1 overall pick, the football team scrimmaged in the annual Red & White game.  Like any spring scrimmage, there were plenty of things to work on, but again, with the refrain grating like nails on a chalkboard, the offensive line looked worse than any unit -- and this day, it was blatant.  But the fans were beggining to accept that lack of experience and point to the raw talent on the line (along with all the playmakers along side and behind them).

  Sam, meanwhile, was dutifully doing his due diligency and deceptively dithering over disciplined distractions.  Damn, deezy!  Of course, that means he was doing his homework - working to improve his overall game and get his team the trophy they missed out on.  The media couldn't help but notice, and Sam knew he was going to have to come out firing.

  The 2009 schedule was radically different than the 2008 one.  A year before, Oklahoma would start with a warm-up game against Chattanooga.  This year, their "free" game was in week 2 against Idaho St; week 1 was against #20 BYU, not exactly a team you can ignore.  And as if it needed any more scrutiny, it would be played in Jerry Jones' Temple of Footballdom - the new Dallas Cowboys stadium that made other stadiums look like mud huts.  But aside from the stadium, the Sooners would lose a key component in the run-up to the game.

  During practice just days before the season opener in Dallas, standout TE Jermaine Gresham injured his knee.  In the end, not only would he miss the game, he would miss the entire season.  It was a serious blow to the team and to Bradford specifically.  Fate had just taken his most seasoned, and arguably his most talented, target.  As a result, Oklahoma knew sophomore WR Ryan Broyles would have to step up.

  The game started sloppily for both teams.  Oklahoma committed three false start penalties on their first drive, their inexperienced O-line unable to shake the preseason criticism.  BYU, and QB Max Hall, would respond by wiggling just 28 yards down the field to set up a missed 46-yd field goal.  The Sooners' next possession was ruined by a personal foul, but BYU would fumble the punt return giving Bradford & Co. great field position.  They wouldn't waste it.

  Bradford hit Ryan Broyles for his first TD of the season, and Norman nervously began to feel ok.  After the TD, they were just nervous.  Oklahoma would intercept Hall and return it to the BYU 30, setting up an easy scoring drive, but DeMarco Murray would fumble the ball inside BYU's 10 yard line.  Cue the confused offenses.  BYU - 3 and out.  OU - 3 and out (with another personal foul, but BYU declined since it was on 3rd down).  BYU would put half of a drive together forcing Riley Stephenson to come out for his second punt of the game, which pinned the Sooners within feet of their own end zone.  Three short runs later, and Oklahoma would be forced to punt again.  The Oklahoma offense was sputtering behind their running game; Bradford was 4/6 for just 35 yards (and a TD).  BYU just couldn't capitalize.

  Max Hall's next pass would hit McKay Jacobson for almost 50 yards bringing the Cougar offense into the red zone, but they would fumble the opportunity away - literally.  Hall hit O'Neill Chambers right at the goalline, but Oklahoma would knock it out and recover the ball in the end zone for a touchback.  It was an ugly game for both sides that showed no chance of cleaning up.  Bradford would fire off three consecutive completions, but Ryan Broyles fumbled the third, handing the ball back to BYU.  Finally, BYU got their offense in sync and marched 63 yards for the TD and a tie game.  It set up what could be the most memorable, defining drive of Sam Bradford's career.

  Sam would go 3 for 4, leading the Sooners down to the 18-yard line with just 12 seconds on the clock.  Coming out of the timeout, the call was for a 5-step drop, but as he dropped back, he saw LB Coleby Clawson blitzing.  Bradford would get a pass off just in time that would fall incomplete, but as he hit the ground, he sprained his AC joint (read this for the medical-ese), and as he got up, immediately headed to the locker room.  As I said in the college football open thread here at TST at the time, "Every OU fan must have their nuts in their throats…."  Their testicles would stay there throughout the game.

  Without Bradford, freshman Landry Jones would come in and helm the confused Oklahoma offense to no avail.  Conversely, Max Hall provided the heroics leading BYU on a 16-play drive for a game-winning TD with just over 3 minutes remaining.  By game's end, the offensive line had committed 9 penalties and misread the blitz that cost them their reigning Heisman winner and team captain, Sam Bradford.

  Over the next three weeks as Bradford underwent rehab to avoid surgery, Oklahoma would go 2-1, losing a crucial game to the battle-weary Miami Hurricanes (I say battle weary because they opened their season by playing the #18, #14, #11 and #8 teams for their first four games.  BRUTAL!), killing their chances at a national championship run.  Still, the chance for a successful season could be had if the Sooners could beat Texas in two weeks time.  But first, Bradford would return against Baylor.

  While Oklahoma looked sloppy yet again, Bradford shined in his return, going 27/49 for 389 yds. (with many incompletions due to dropped passes), battling the pain through two roughing the passer calls.  Again, the offensive line sputtered.  Failing to open up running lanes, Oklahoma had just 25 rushing yards at the half.  It was a strange tune-up for Texas, though the defense was ready.

  Led up front by standout DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma was only ceding 8 points per game.  With the D playing so well and Bradford a hit away from surgery, the Red River Shootout was set to be a defensive struggle, but the headlines would again be stolen by Bradford's shoulder.

  The sloppiness of 2009 continued into the RRS.  On the first drive of the game, Bradford went 2 for 6, but a screen pass which DeMarco Murray peeled off for 64 yards yielded only a FG.  On Texas' first play, OU committed a personal foul, but Sr. QB Colt McCoy would fumble the ball on a sack just two plays later.

  With solid field position, Bradford had a chance to grab a solid early lead over the Longhorns.  The first play of the second drive would be Bradford's last as a college football player.  Aaron Williams, a Longhorn CB, sprinted around the O-line on a blitz and tackled Bradford by the waist.  Bradford landed with all of his weight on his throwing shoulder, and like that, one of the greatest two year stretches of any college career was over.

  Just more than a week after the game, Bradford would announce his intention to enter the draft and undergo surgery to fix his shoulder.  The questions would follow Bradford.  Should he have left for the NFL after 2008?  Does he qualify as having durability issues?  Is his real name Brad Samford?  (That one was mine, and never got answered...)

  Just eight days after Texas took Sam out of college football, the NFL world would snap him up and start speculating.

Rehabilitating the shoulder...and the image - Bradford's trail to Radio City Music Hall

  After the 2009 Draft, I threw out an early 2010 mock that had Bradford going second with Oakland picking Oklahoma St. OT Russell Okung with the first pick (I'll revisit this mock in the next few days to look at how much changed over the 09-10 football calendar).  I was still high on Bradford despite the injury throughout the year, and in October, I got an e-mail from Dan over at Mocking the Draft, SBN's NFL Draft community inquiring where I thought the Rams would head if they ended up with the #1 overall pick for his upcoming mock.  My answer was easy.

I don't see how we avoid taking a QB first overall if that's where we land.  The media blitz and the furor over our QB play (whether it be Bulger or Boller) will gain so much momentum, I don't see how we escape it.
  As for who, right now you have to say (Sam) Bradford.  He's got the pedigree in terms of program and marketing, he's got tangibles galore, and he, so far, has displayed the intelligence in football terms to merit the pick.

  In my mind, it was incredibly similar to Detroit the year prior (I said as much in my first postseason mock).  St. Louis had a new front office, a new coaching staff, and a soon-to-be chaotic, but new, ownership situation.  It made sense to take a signal caller early in this era to manufacture an identity for the next half decade or so.  It all made long as Sam's arm was still Sam's arm.

  In February, Dan made the case for Sam going first; it was a strong one.  Things were falling into place.  He wouldn't be throwing at the Combine, but he'd have plenty of face time with his future employers investigating everything inside his head, trying to determine if he'd be on the Ryan Lead end of the spectrum or closer to Peyton Manning.

  Sam eased many concerns by bulking up for the combine, adding some muscle to fill out his frame.  He was putting in the work, saying the right things, doing everything he needed to to maintain the momentum that was carrying him past Nebraska's DT Ndamukong Suh.  The question of whether it was a certainty that Bradford would go #1 overall was starting to surface, even more so after the Rams met privately with Sam ahead of his pro day.  Still, the outstanding concern was whether or not he could still throw a football.  On his pro day (or as Dan called it, his Day of Reckoning)

  Not only did Sam prove he could throw, he showed how well he could, executing a near perfect marketing scheme.  The love was pouring out of every corner of the NFL world...which of course prompted the backlash.  How important was the pro day (which of course follows the "How important is the combine" period right after "How important is his performance on the field" immediately after "How important is his delivery out of his mother's birth canal", which really is the best factor in determining a prospect's bust ratio)?  There were concerns he might not even sign with the Rams.  Perhaps intended to signal the Rams commitment to his future, the Rams parted way with a QB to open the door for Sam's arrival.

  On April 5, the Rams released Marc Bulger, who, aside from some time on the Saints' and Falcons' practice squads, had spent his entire career in St. Louis.  The QB who reached 1,000 receptions faster than any QB in NFL history was now unemployed.  The door was now open.

  So here we are, caught up to the present.  And I can't really say with much certainty what's next.  Sure, the Rams have a ton of interest in Bradford.  But there are plenty of NFL teams who would love to get a QB of Bradford's caliber.  Washington rumors floated until Donovan McNabb headed from Philly to D.C.; yesterday, Van looked at some buzz that Cleveland was interested.  Until we get a contract hammered out with Sam and his agent, Tom Condon, trade rumors aren't going to go away.  Remember last year's draft day drama?

  As it looks right now, there are three distinct options:

1.) Sam Bradford is drafted #1 overall by the St. Louis Rams

2.) Sam Bradford is drafted after the top pick

3.) Sam Bradford is drafted #1 overall by a team other than the Rams

  While no.'s 2 and 3 still are in play, the reality is that in all likelihood, Sam Bradford will be the top pick in this year's draft with the hopes, expectations and, ultimately, demands on his back.  It's been a long road from Putnam City North, but there's still plenty left on the journey ahead.