Friday, September 14, 2012
RG3-less Rams have the pieces
By Jeffri Chadiha ESPN.com
Sunday will not be an easy day for St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.
Even though he'll be on his home turf inside the Edward Jones Dome, he'll be on the wrong side of what will be endless, eventual comparisons. The Washington Redskins are coming to town with red-hot rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III leading the way. That's the same Robert Griffin III who went second overall in this year's draft, right after the Rams received four picks from Washington for a selection they originally owned.
Bradford's problem is the same short-term memory that affects too many NFL fans (and plenty of media members). As quickly as RG3 became the latest, greatest young quarterback to hit the league, Bradford seemingly drifted into mediocrity, as if somebody latched a cinder block to his upside and tossed it into the Mississippi River. There even have been recent reports about St. Louis fans lamenting the team's decision not to draft Griffin. It's as if everybody suddenly forgot that Bradford won the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2010.
That's sad, too. There is nothing wrong with Bradford or the deal the Rams scored in return for the pick that sent Griffin to Washington. The bigger issue surrounding St. Louis is what the team is doing to put Bradford back on the same promising track he traveled in his first season. If the Rams can keep him healthy (he missed six games with a high-ankle sprain in 2011) and increase his productivity (he threw six touchdown passes after tossing 18 as a rookie), there won't be many reasons for anybody to complain about his presence in that city.
Bradford's career has been compromised by the same shortsightedness and stupidity that tends to ruin too many young quarterbacks. For example, the Rams had success with him in the West Coast offense during his rookie year. They then decided to move to a supposedly more high-powered system when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels arrived in 2011. It would've been a sensible plan if the NFL hadn't held a five-month lockout that ruined everybody's offseason workout plans. It might even have worked if the Rams had even one receiver who could frighten a defense.
Sure, RG3 is special, but Sam Bradford (above) has all the tools to flourish.
Bradford didn't fall apart last season because he forgot how to be productive. He struggled because the Rams never grew around him. The offensive line was so disastrous that the team released two high-profile acquisitions from 2009 -- center Jason Brown and offensive tackle Jason Smith, the second pick in that year's draft. McDaniels vanished as well, right after the team fired head coach Steve Spagnuolo and before it dumped general manager Billy Devaney.
People can complain about Bradford all they want, but he is in better hands now. New general manager Les Snead is one of the brightest personnel evaluators in the business and Jeff Fisher is one of the league's most respected head coaches. Even the predictable concerns about new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who didn't exactly work wonders with Mark Sanchez with the New York Jets, aren't enough to fear for Bradford's future. There have been enough people around the Jets who questioned whether Sanchez's lack of maturity hurt his own development.
The reality is the Rams did get the better end of the deal with Washington, especially when considering their needs. As gifted as RG3 is, one player wasn't going to turn around this team immediately. St. Louis has a better chance with the first-round pick it received from Washington this year (which eventually became defensive tackle Michael Brockers), the second-round pick (cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who had first-round talent) and the first-round selections that will come in 2013 and 2014. Give Fisher and Snead enough time with all those options and the Rams will improve faster than people realize.
It's easy to question Bradford because that's how we operate in today's world -- success has to happen at warp speed and failure can be tolerated only for nanoseconds. The first-year performances by Carolina's Cam Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton last season certainly raised the bar for those who came after them. But they also made critics look in their rearview mirrors, just to see which young quarterbacks were struggling through their own growing pains. Bradford was the easiest target to blast, followed immediately by Sanchez.
As long as the Rams improve their supporting cast, Bradford will point his career back in the right direction. He has too much talent, poise and intelligence to let one rough season destroy his confidence. The Rams also have to avoid the same problem that ruins too many young quarterbacks. Bradford already is in his third offense in three seasons. That's the same kind of pace that helped turn Alex Smith into a running joke in San Francisco and Jason Campbell into a journeyman who now backs up Jay Cutler in Chicago.
Bradford has more talent than either of those two players, so his game won't implode. He also should be encouraged by playing for Fisher, who always has believed in winning with a strong running game and a vicious defense. Fisher has gotten the best out of most of his quarterbacks by sticking with that formula. The sooner the Rams can create that approach in St. Louis, the sooner their quarterback will start looking better.
Unfortunately for Bradford, there probably won't be much fun to be had Sunday, especially if Griffin plays as he did in a season-opening win over New Orleans. The Edwards Jones Dome isn't nearly as imposing as the Saints' Superdome and New Orleans has far more talent on its roster than the Rams. That's also where the comparisons in this contest should stop.
Yes, RG3 is the hottest new face in football right now. Just remember there's a reason why Bradford also held that title not too long ago.