Commentary

Sam Bradford not pressing to start

St. Louis Rams rookie knows many successful NFL QBs waited for their opportunity

Originally Published: August 15, 2010
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- About three hours before his first preseason game Saturday, Sam Bradford strolled around the St. Louis Rams' locker room with his headphones on and a very big grin.

Even though the Rams quarterback was smacked around pretty good by the Minnesota Vikings in his rookie debut later Saturday night, they couldn't smack the smile off his face.

"It was fun to get out there, get knocked down, get back up," Bradford said after completing 6 of 13 passes for 57 yards. "I took a couple of hits, landed on the shoulder … felt good."

The "shoulder" is the same right shoulder that underwent reconstructive surgery for the injury that ended his 2009 season at Oklahoma. When Rams general manager Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo made Bradford the No. 1 pick in the April draft, which resulted in a contract with $50 million guaranteed, it also guaranteed their wisdom will be questioned by cynics until the Oklahoma kid proves his mettle in games.

Spagnuolo has an idea when that will happen.

"When you can sense that the team feels like he's the guy, I think that's probably when you [play him]," Spagnuolo said. "We've been saying all along it's a process. He's shown us all kinds of signs he can handle it. I want to see his confidence. I want to see how he reacts to his adverse situations in preseason. See how he stands in there, see how he handles that … get him a two-minute situation, a third-and-15 and see him sacked on second down and comes back on third down."

Spagnuolo, in his second season as the Rams' coach, also concurred that a franchise that has won just six games in the past three years must learn how to win. Spagnuolo conceded that's one reason why veteran A.J. Feeley could be the starter when the Rams open the season at home against the defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals.

"We'll do all the things to lay a foundation and get things right in preseason and then we get Arizona -- boom. Let's see what happens," Spagnuolo said. "We've got a young group of guys who need a couple of wins to get some confidence."

Bradford is not na´ve. He knows the Rams are literally remaking a roster. He has done his homework and made connections with those who have been in similar situations. He talked to Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning about their rookie experiences, and he didn't come away scared.

"They both didn't have tremendous amounts of success in their rookie year, but they said they learned a lot and they really think it benefited them in the long run," Bradford said.

Nevertheless, Bradford hasn't pressed Spagnuolo to let him start the season opener. He knows that many successful NFL quarterbacks -- Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning and Drew Brees, just to name a few -- waited for their time. He already has seen what the big leap to the NFL is all about.

"The amount of things that you have to comprehend as a quarterback in this league, the number of plays you have, the number of formations -- you have to be able to execute those plays versus defenses that I've never seen before," Bradford said.

Other observations from the Rams' training camp:

• The Rams are playing two young offensive tackles. Last year's first-rounder, Jason Smith, is basically a rookie again because of a serious concussion that sidelined him the second half of '09. Smith, recovering from a broken toe in his right foot, played right tackle Saturday night. Rodger Saffold, the 33rd pick of the 2010 draft, started at left tackle and, well, looked like a rookie.

• On offense, the bell cow is still running back Steven Jackson. No player earned more respect from Spagnuolo, who said, "What can you say? Steven's a warrior. There he was [in '09], we're struggling, he hurts his back, and he still wanted to play the final four games. He's the grit of this football team."

• The Rams believe their first-team defense will be improved, led by middle linebacker James Laurinaitis , a second-rounder in 2009 from Ohio State who may have been undervalued by teams that passed on him.

• Chris Long, the first-rounder from 2008, is expected to be even more disruptive at defensive end, based on what the Rams have seen this summer.

• The most pleasant rookie surprise in camp has been seventh-round defensive end George Selvie from South Florida.

ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen will file reports from all the training camps and send updates on the road via Twitter (@mortreport).