- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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When Bradford stops and looks around the locker room or huddle he sees a group of youngsters, particularly in the wide receivers and running backs, only a year or two removed from being in college.
Not that Bradford minds being considered a veteran on a young team.
“It makes me feel old, No. 1,” Bradford said. “But, I think it’s great. I think those young guys bring a certain energy to our locker room. They’ve got a lot of energy. They’ve got more than some of the vets and it’s great. I think it gives us a spark.”
Although Bradford does have some help in the leadership department from a veteran offensive line that includes tackle Jake Long, guard Harvey Dahl and center Scott Wells, a big part of his responsibility moving forward is embracing a leadership role to ensure the young players surrounding him reach their potential sooner than later.
Upon the departure of running back Steven Jackson, Bradford quickly realized a leadership void beyond just the opening at running back had been created. He’s embraced that role in this camp as he can regularly be found offering pointers to his receivers during practice or working extra with them afterward.
“It’s fun for me because I get to take more of a leadership role and try to help mold some of those young players and teach them the game and teach them through experiences that I’ve had,” Bradford said. “I think it’s great that we have a lot of young guys. I think it gives us an opportunity to take a lot of steps forward.”
The reality is that Bradford probably wasn’t as equipped to take the reins as the primary voice of the offense until this season. Not only was Jackson the more established veteran but Bradford continued to find himself in a position where he never had the chance to learn all the ins and outs of the offense.
Changing offensive coordinators three times in his first three years left Bradford trying to play catch up. It’s made it difficult for him to offer advice to his receivers and backs because he’s been working to learn it himself.
Now in his second year in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense, Bradford seems more at ease with his role. The timing of that couldn’t be better given how young his wideouts and backs are.
Projecting a receiver and running back corps with an average age of 23 might be fun in terms of the locker room but it also means the Rams and Bradford have high expectations for young players at a position where youth doesn’t always quickly translate to success.
Rookie and young running backs have a long history of producing right away. Just last year, two of the league’s top five rushers (Washington’s Alfred Morris and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin) were rookies. That could bode well for second-year back Daryl Richardson and his young cohorts.
The receiver spot is a bit more difficult to make an early impact save for a select few. Among the top 20 in receiving yards in 2012, only three were in their second year but none were rookies.
Austin Pettis is the elder statesman of the receiver group entering his third season in the league. Chris Givens and Brian Quick are heading into Year 2 and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are rookies.
Tight end Jared Cook should ease some of the pressure on those young receivers a bit, but it still might be asking a lot for such a young group to contribute in a major way so early in their careers at a position where that’s generally been difficult.
Bradford is aware of that, but he’s also made it clear he doesn’t plan to wait around for them to develop.
“I think there’s obviously a certain level of patience that you have to have,” Bradford said. “Obviously, we’re going to go through growing pains, but at the same time those guys have to understand what they’re expected to come in and do -- and that’s play at a high level. I think that we’ve tried to make that clear to a lot of the rookies, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They might be rookies, but they have to grow up fast because we are depending on them for our offense to be successful. So, we can’t afford them to have a season of learning. They’ve got to be able to come in and help us immediately.”