"I told him he didn't deserve this." Those were the words uttered from Jeff Fisher to Sam Bradford after he tore his ACL for the second time in less than a year, last August.
Bradford was the face of the franchise and the primary reason for Fisher taking the Rams head coaching job. You can say that they were joined at the hip for that reason. Fisher made it no secret that Sam was the teams present and future.
At the time of Bradford's ACL tear, he was looking healthy. The ball was flying out of his hand with the best velocity anyone had ever seen come from Bradford. He was looking good in limited work and individual drills during spring practices. The confidence in his knee was sky high.
Now fast forward nine months, and it's May 2015 and Jeff Fisher is in a press conference with Les Snead and - his new "weapon" the number ten overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft - Todd Gurley.
In that press conference he made it crystal clear that Todd Gurley is not only the present face of this team, but the future, and he will not be rushed back. Patience will be shown, and they are in no hurry to get him on the field. Although the temptation has to be there not only for Gurley, but for Fisher to see him on the field as well.
I can't remember one time ever in the history of ACL rehabilitation, a player has been said to look this good and take so long to receive any sort or practice reps. They might not get preseason action, but they will get some reps in practice, even if they can't be touched. When Bradford looked this good, they let him practice. Not only did they let him practice, but they changed their mind on their approach. Initially Bradford was supposed to have a spring littered with off days to rest up. That was the big plan going in. But when Bradford showed up and showed out, that plan went to scraps as he was allowed to practice day after day after day...
Bradford's knee passed all the tests, and looked good in action, but no one could have foreseen the lack of strength around the knee would ultimately caused it to re-tear.
It appears the Rams have learned a major lesson from Sam Bradford, and that lesson is patience. The simple truth of the matter is if you are confident that the player knows the playbook and can get in the regular season games and be fine without playing in the preseason, than that player should not play. No matter how eager you are to get him back out there. Adrian Peterson hasn't played in a preseason game in years. Tom Brady averages about 15 snaps, per preseason. Neither player was shown any love in the preseason coming off their injuries.
Jeff Fisher has taken a new approach. One he does not have a history of taking. That approach is showing more patience with his favorite players. Yes, the players are eager to get on the field, but that does not mean they are the only ones. Coaches can be just as much in a hurry. Like the fans who can't wait to see this new investment in action, coaches are on the edge of their seats. They too are essentially fans, as it all starts with them liking a player enough to bring him in - and you really like him if he is brought in in the top ten picks and coming off of major knee surgery - hence the beginning of fandom.
Now one month into camp, Todd Gurley has just been allowed to take team reps. This sounds like he is more ready than ever, but then you hear about how he is not allowed to practice blitz pick-up - one of the more contact heavy drills there are - and you take and step back and remember that Fisher is going to play it as safe as possible until the season starts. While Gurley is finally getting reps, he is still not getting touched, at all!
So thank you Sam Bradford for playing such an intricate role in teaching a valuable lesson. It sucks for you and the Rams' organization that you had to suffer the fate that you did for this lesson to be learned, but ultimately, you might have saved the season and confidence of a young talented back named, Todd Gurley...