At Rams Camp on a sweltering friday afternoon, I paid close attention to Sam Bradford - his timing and his targets in his passing drills. I wanted to pay particular attention to how quickly he was able to deliver the ball after the snap, and whether he could avoid "sacks" behind his offensive line.
The good news is that Bradford was every bit as sharp as recent camp reports have made him out to be, peppering short and intermediate routes with accuracy and aplomb, and getting rid of the ball on average between two and three seconds after the snap. I missed a few passes after the first gatorade break, but on the throws I saw he completed 11 of 15 passes for what would have been maybe 120 yards or so.
Bradford seems eminently comfortable with the mechanics of Schottenheimer's offense, which has a lot of similar looks and concepts to Pat Shurmur's west coast scheme. But instead of checking down as he did in his rookie season, Bradford did a good job of looking toward the next level on the route tree. Still, though, he mixed in more than a fair number of targets to tight ends and running backs flooding the interior zones emptied out by the outside receivers.
(One highlight - Isaiah Pead took a pass on a wheel route and motored up the left sideline, into the area patroled by fellow rookie Janoris Jenkins. As Jenkins prepared to make a camp-tackle, Pead made a statement -- and an audible crack -- by lowering his padded shoulder into Jenkins' chest and driving through him for additional yardage.)
This is the rookie-year Bradford, calm and efficient and largely mistake-free. And perhaps most importantly, healthy. However, I wouldn't say he's quite all the way back yet. Sam's deep ball still appears to have a good bit of rust on it.
Bradford only tried two deep balls that I saw, both to Chris Givens. The first was overthrown and intercepted by Cortland Finnegan, though perhaps we need to give Finnegan credit for thoroughly boxing out the young receiver and preventing him from getting up to full speed on the route. The second was a duck that Givens had to come back for, giving Craig Dahl enough time to recover and break up the pass.
We're only in the first week of camp, and we've seen a lot of positive signs in the return of Bradford's game. But the mechanics of his deep ball -- his confidence in the receiver, his confidence in the blocking to wait, plant and throw, and his touch on the ball -- these will bear watching as the preseason progresses.
We can't help but make comparisons between Bradford and Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, and point out all the things that Bradford does well that Sanchez doesn't. Like reading playbooks, taking command of a huddle, staying out of the spotlight, and (oh yeah) throwing a nice accurate ball. But regardless of how bad he plays, Sanchez has the fearlessness to say "f*ck it & chuck it" and let the ball hang up for one of his talented receivers to go get. And regardless of his many faults, Sanchez does throw an awful pretty deep ball.
In three seasons, Sanchez has amassed 17 touchdown passes of 20 yards or more. In two seasons, Bradford has 8, but only two came last year. Sanchez also has eleven game-winning drives under his belt; Bradford has one.
What would have happened if Bradford had been wearing Jets green, standing behind one of the game's best offensive lines and throwing to the likes of Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and Plaxico Burress? Who knows. All I can say is that I want to see number 8 recapture that deep ball accuracy and confidence in Rams blue.