Stakes high for Rams, Bradford

April, 22, 2010
4/22/10
11:05
PM ET
Sam BradfordNelson Chenault/US PresswireSam Bradford's selection by St. Louis was a bold, make-or-break move for the Rams.
RENTON, Wash. -- The Rams and Seahawks fielded two of the NFL's worst offenses last season.

The 49ers went through an offensive identity crisis largely because they couldn't trust their offensive line to play the smash-mouth style coordinator Jimmy Raye favored.

The Cardinals fell apart in the playoffs when injuries and other factors undercut their defense.

NFC West teams addressed all those problem areas with need-targeted picks in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft.

They appeared to get good value in most cases, although the 49ers made a puzzling move when they jumped two spots to No. 11 for Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis. Sending a fourth-round choice to Denver when Davis almost surely would have fallen to No. 13 anyway bolstered perceptions that the 49ers' front office needed a stronger hand on the wheel following general manager Scot McCloughan's departure.

That move stands as a footnote to a landmark day in the division.

Sam Bradford's selection by St. Louis with the first overall choice was the bold, make-or-break move Rams fans anticipated. Bradford may or may not turn into a top player. Some analysts, including ESPN's Trent Dilfer, raised serious questions about Bradford's prospects based on durability concerns and the nature of his offense at Oklahoma.

No matter, for now. The Rams geared their entire offseason around landing a franchise quarterback and it was pretty clear Bradford would be the choice when they failed to pursue Donovan McNabb and released veteran starter Marc Bulger. Getting cute at the last minute by trading out of the top pick, probably at a discount, would have made no sense. The Rams were committed to drafting a franchise quarterback and now they must do everything possible to help Bradford succeed.

The pressure is on offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to make this work. The offensive coordinator is always the most important hire for a team with a defensive-minded head coach. Shurmur, who came to the Rams with Steve Spagnuolo after serving a decade as Andy Reid's quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia, can become a rising star and head coaching candidate if Bradford develops into the player the Rams think they are getting.

"We’re fired up," coach Steve Spagnuolo told reporters in St. Louis. "It’s just like Billy said, this is a special guy. We thought that throughout the whole process. It just grew and grew. We made the final decision when we had to and are looking forward to moving on from here. He’s got all the things you look for in a quarterback. We’re happy that way."

The Rams should be fired up, but if Bradford falls short, everyone gets fired. They might get fired, anyway, depending on how the Rams' ownership situation shakes out. But getting positive results from Bradford relatively quickly can bring stability to the staff and, to a degree, the organization.

The stakes are always high when a team takes a quarterback early. Rams general manager Billy Devaney learned the hard way when his Chargers drafted Ryan Leaf in 1998. Bradford fits the opposite personality profile and that was obviously a priority as the Rams settled on Bradford as the face of their franchise.

"Everybody sees the accuracy, the size," Devaney told reporters. "Honestly, this guy will be one of our hardest workers. We’ve got some great workers here already. He’s going to be in that group. He’s got stuff to learn like everybody. Like we said, there’s going to be a learning curve. This guy will work. We talk about it often with players, you talk about their ceiling. I believe this guy has got a great ceiling, and whatever that ceiling is, he’s going achieve it."

The Rams did not immediately commit to Bradford as their Week 1 starter, but Spagnuolo pointed to the approach Reid took with McNabb in 1999. Veteran Doug Pederson started nine games that season. McNabb started six. The Rams brought aboard A.J. Feeley to play the Pederson role this season. That suggests the Rams won't necessarily rush Bradford into the lineup.

The Rams spent last offseason upgrading their offensive line and trying to bring in hard workers. Their locker room appears to have a good mix from that standpoint.

"I love the coaching staff, I love the attitude they have," Bradford told reporters. "They’re ready to start winning football games. When I was in St. Louis for my visit, a team like the Rams is such a good group of guys in the locker room, and I really enjoyed meeting them. They seemed like they really have a great attitude. They were working hard. They want to win, and hopefully I can come in and help them do that."

He had better.

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