Nearly a month to the day that Greg Cosell's film study of Bradford's 2011 season raised pocket awareness concerns (and Van's reaction likely raised more), ESPN's Ron Jaworski cited the issue again, calling it "cabin fever."
While there's something amiss with the ranking report in that link (Evan Silva says Jaws had Bradford as the 21st best QB, but Carson Palmer was *supposedly 21st yesterday so...), that's irrelevant. The real question is that if Bradford did indeed suffer from an anticipation of the pass rush that affected his ability to see the field, make correct decisions and put the ball where it needed to be, how much of that is on Sam and how much is on the O-line?
The reason that question is so vital is simple - the Rams won't be playing the same five people on their O-line as last year. Bradford, though, will still be the starting QB as long as he's healthy.
The Rams quickly moved to change up the starting linemen by letting C Jason Brown and LG Jacob Bell go. In Brown's stead, the Rams signed a proven veteran center in Scott Wells. The left guard position though is still up for grabs, and could perhaps fall to fifth round selection Rokevious Watkins. No, it wasn't a huge overhaul of the unit, but letting Brown and Bell go provide the opportunity to get more consistent positive production at those two positions.
The test for Fisher's stewardship of the offensive line will be what he can make out of LT Rodger Saffold and RT Jason Smith. Given Smith's restructured deal, it's safe to say that there's a very, very good chance he's not a Ram in 2013. Should that come to pass, the Rams will likely be looking for a RT in the 2013 NFL Draft if they don't find a quality free agent to fill the role.
Since Jaws is calling it "cabin fever", I'll call it "Bulgeritis." By the end of his time in St. Louis, Marc Bulger was taking more hits than anyone deserves to. Well maybe Ben Roethlisberger deserves that many hits, but no decent person. It affected his ability to run a play competently and confidently. The Rams can't afford for that to happen with Sam.
There are only really three ways to ensure Sam doesn't take as much punishment in 2012 as he did in 2011
1.) Get rid of the ball faster (hello, Danny Amendola)
2.) Protect Sam better (that's a risky proposition, given the status of our two tackles)
3.) Run the ball more
With Fisher's history, as well as OC Brian Schottenheimer's, and the drafting of Isaiah Pead, #3 looks the likely candidate.
Don't count out the first option though. Amendola, a healthy Greg Salas and possibly Brian Quick could help improve a passing game that languished in the latter stages of the 2011 season.
And while it would be nice to see the O-line suddenly protect Sam fervently and unyieldingly, last season left a concern that's hard to shake.
Let's hope Sam Bradford has already shaken it.
*UPDATE: Just for clarity, Evan noted that Sam was indeed ranked 20th:
@3k_ Bradford was 20 in Jaws' rankings. I screwed that up initially. Palmer 21, you are correct.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) June 21, 2012
And yes, you should be following Evan on Twitter if you're into that kinda thing.