|In his second system in two years, Bradford says he loves taking on Josh McDaniels' offense. (US Presswire)|
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Sitting in a chair inside an office at the St. Louis Rams' facility during a recent interview, Sam Bradford was about as cool as he looks on the field. He was polite. He was courteous. He was thoughtful. But then I made the tactical error of bringing up the team's expectations after the Rams' surprising 7-9 record in 2010, a season that saw Bradford, the top pick in the draft last year, show that he has the tools to be a top-tier quarterback. The Rams were a game away from winning the NFC West after going 1-15 in 2009, so the natural assumption is that it was a good year, including the surprise push for a playoff berth. Don't dare say that to Bradford.
"It bugs me when people like you say our expectations are higher now," Bradford said. "For most people, their expectations for this team are middle of the road. That just bugs me. If guys in this building ever start to believe in people's expectations, than we are in trouble. Our expectations are way up there. If we don't get there, we should be mad. We should be pissed off. Last year, for example, we were a game from the playoffs. And I heard more people say we had a good year. I'm like, 'Are you kidding me?' We didn't make the playoffs. We didn't win a playoff game. We didn't make the Super Bowl. You're telling us we had a great year?"
That's who Sam Bradford is as a competitor. He doesn't play anything or do anything to finish second.
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"My expectations are for us to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl," Bradford said. "If you don't think that way, you just settle. That's the worst thing in the world. If I came out and said last year that if we could just win four games it would have been awesome, that's terrible. Who wants to be 4-12? Why ever set expectations like that. It blows my mind."
It's that way wherever he competes. Take the ping-pong table. He is the best on the team. But receiver Danny Amendola beats him now and then, and Amendola said it drives Bradford crazy.
"I let him know all about it," Amendola said. "He beats me more than I beat him, so I have to get on him when I do win. He doesn't like it."
It's that drive and determination that helps feed this young team. If they see their second-year quarterback with that much drive, it has to rub off.
"He wants to be the best at ping-pong, he wants to be the best at pool, he wants to be the best at everything," Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "That's the way he is. When your quarterback is that way, guys look to that. That's what's so special about him.
"He wants to be the best quarterback. No matter how much money you give him. No matter how high the expectations, nothing will change. His goal is being the best. He's very motivated. He's very competitive."
In his first season, Bradford threw for 3,512 yards and had 18 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. It was an impressive rookie season, one that made Bradford look at times like he's been doing it for a long time.
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That was on the outside. On the inside, it was a different story. "I was trying to figure out what went along with playing the position," Bradford said. "Kind of doing it on the fly."
Bradford said early in his rookie season he would rarely get past the second read. By midseason, he was getting to third and fourth reads. That inability to go through his progressions led to what some said was too much checking down.
Bradford's yards-per-attempt average was 6.0 yards, which was lowest among starting quarterbacks -- except fellow rookie Jimmy Clausen of Carolina.
That led to the notion that Bradford wouldn't take chance throws. He doesn't like that perception. "I wouldn't say chance, I wouldn't say risky," Bradford said. "I feel as a second-year quarterback now it's a lot easier to go through my progressions. Last year, for the most part, especially early, I'm going to one and two and if it's not there I'm going to throw it away or check it down. Once you feel comfortable in going through the progressions that's where I guess what can appear to be riskier throws happen. They're really not. They're just taking what the defense gives you."
Bradford now has to learn a new offense for the second consecutive year. Just as he got settled into the offense run by Pat Shurmur, the Browns hired Shurmur away to be their head coach. Josh McDaniels replaced him. McDaniels was fired as coach of the Denver Broncos, but he brings a reputation as a good offensive mind. The new offense will have more formations. It will have more throws down the field -- be more wide open.
And Bradford loves learning a new system all over again. That's the competitor in him.
"Any quarterback would be crazy to tell you they wouldn't be excited to play with Josh," Bradford said. "The challenge of learning another new offense is what makes it fun. It's not like it's something I've been doing for 12 years and it's repetitive and boring. I'm not tired of doing the same things every day. It's something new. Every day is a challenge. Every day I feel I am getting better. Every day out there I am getting more confident."
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said the offense will be made up of 60 percent of what McDaniels brings and 40 percent of what Bradford did well last season.
"I enjoy watching the interaction between Josh and Sam and seeing how intense Sam is at getting everything down perfect," Spagnuolo said. "That's who he is. I can see that he is very determined and motivated to be perfect in this thing. That's the guy. He's motivated to run this offense better than anybody who has run it."
In case anybody's wondering, a guy named Tom Brady ran the same offense. Bradford has a long way to get to that. But he's off to a good start. Just don't tell him that. There's so much more to do -- and this is one quarterback that doesn't seem as if he will ever be content with what he's already done.