No one said rescuing a struggling franchise would be easy, but the journey to this point has been more treacherous than anticipated.
Jeff Fisher's arrival as head coach this offseason represents a fresh start. Yet, as much as the Rams might want to forget their recent past, the experience Bradford has gained in 26 starts will be important to the success he might enjoy in the team's latest offense.
That was one takeaway from a telephone interview with Bradford on Tuesday. First, a little background.
The offense new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is installing marks a dramatic departure from the one St. Louis ran under predecessor Josh McDaniels last season. It's closer in approach to the system Bradford ran during his rookie season, when Pat Shurmur brought a version of the offense Andy Reid had run in Philadelphia.
Adopting a system closer to the one Bradford ran during a generally successful rookie season sounds good in theory, but just last offseason, Bradford was genuinely excited about heading in another direction. He was ready to take the next step and sounded almost giddy when discussing the possibilities during an interview from Rams training camp.
"I really like it and I’m really comfortable with it because it’s a lot more like what I did in college," Bradford said at the time, speaking of McDaniels' offense. "Because we had progressions, but at the same time, we had certain plays where, 'OK, if they give us roll, we’re going to short-cut it and we’re going to work these two receivers and this concept, and if they give us [another coverage], we're going to short-cut this and work the three-man combination right here."
On he went.
Bradford welcomed the added responsibilities McDaniels entrusted him with, taking ownership of the pre-snap protection adjustments. Bradford, having relied on his offensive line to handle those calls during his rookie season, eagerly anticipated transitioning to the system Tom Brady had mastered under McDaniels in New England years earlier. He wanted to run the show, and the Rams had drafted him first overall in 2010 to do just that.
The approach under Fisher and Schottenheimer will be different.
St. Louis signed veteran center Scott Wells from Green Bay in part to handle the protection calls before the snap, lightening the load for Bradford. Fisher has stressed the role a strong ground game plays in protecting quarterbacks, particularly young ones, from punishment.
Why would Bradford, so eager to assume greater command of the offense under McDaniels, happily hand back control? This is where the experience he has gained over the past two seasons becomes critical in striking a balance between the power Bradford coveted under McDaniels and the relief he might gain from leaning on his center.
"My rookie year, when the center was making the calls, it's not that I was scared, but I was so new that I didn't see things, and sometimes I was hesitant to trump the center's calls," Bradford said. "This year, going into my third year, I'm more comfortable out there and will not have a problem [changing a call] if I see something -- the Mike [linebacker] over there."
So, while Bradford will give back some responsibilities, he will not necessarily lose ultimate control. Ideally, Wells' involvement would free Bradford's mind, taking off some pressure. And the 26 starts Bradford has made to this point, though most of them were painful, will inform his decisions.
"The longer me and Scott play together, the better it's going to be," Bradford said.
As a rookie, Shurmur's West Coast system focused on working through progressions regardless of the coverage. The Rams would do what they do, over and over, and opponents would have a hard time matching the precision and timing that would develop eventually.
That is the essence of the West Coast approach, but as Bradford indicated last offseason, the NFL has increasingly become a week-to-week league. Under McDaniels, the Rams hoped to reach a point where they could install 30 or 40 new plays in a given week, all based on where the opponent might be vulnerable. The offense would become less about what the Rams wanted to do and more about the opportunities they could exploit.
"There is no doubt I can learn from everything I went through last year -- playing with an injury, playing in that offense, learning from Josh and the things he taught me," Bradford said. "He did teach me a lot. ... Everything we can take from last year, I've taken, moved on and am concentrating on 2012."