Sam Bradford runs through the play calls on the practice field, getting his protections straight.
"Rise and Grind" has become the unofficial anthem of the self-motivated athlete -- the mantra spoken as he wills himself forward through pain and frustration toward a goal of his choosing. Away from the lights, the promise of glory, or a coach's whistle, there has to be something in his core driving him to succeed, and sometimes it just needs a few words to be voiced.
"It's great to get out here, get to know the guys, and get to know the offense and everything we're going to have to be learning," said first-year pro Greg Salas. "You can see the difference with the leadership and the maturity of the men out here."
The leadership comes from three players who are nearly impossible to out-study or out-work: Ron Bartell, James Laurinaitis, and Sam Bradford. This trio got an assist in maturity from two former Rams greats who are now entering their second act in the NFL, Corey Chavous and Torry Holt. But, especially on offense, this was Bradford's show from the beginning.
New Rams DE Robert Quinn, all smiles on draft day, faced an arduous path on his way to the pros.
Robert Quinn’s football career has been a true test of character.
It began after he was diagnosed with a serious brain tumor while in high school after suffering severe headaches and blackouts. He underwent serious surgery in his senior season after doctors said he should have been brain dead.
“It was just heartbreaking but it didn’t slow me down and I’m still going.”
Despite his brush with death, he posted five sacks, 54 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 21 quarterback hurries. He finished his high school career as the 18th rated defensive end by Rivals.com and the 11th rated defensive end by ESPN.com.
He accepted a scholarship offer from North Carolina, posting a monster 11 sack campaign as a sophomore that earned him first-team all-ACC honors and second-team all-American honors.
However, entering his junior year as a Tar Heel, he was suspended for the entire 2010 season after reportedly receiving improper benefits from an agent. He was declared permanently ineligible after an NCAA investigation deemed he received travel accommodations and jewelry, then lied about it to officials three separate times.
Quinn was apologetic at the NFL combine for the harm he caused to his teammates following the reported NCAA infractions.
“I made a selfish mistake that me and my team, my family and coaches paid a price for,” Quinn said.
“God gave me a talent, and in a second, he can take it away from me.”
Sam Bradford stands under center in his first game as a pro, a few yards north of midfield, trying to lead his team out of an early 3-0 hole. His eyes scan the Cardinals' defense from right to left, a typical pattern for him, as he barks out the play and the protection scheme. He sees Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson lined up deep right before his eyes move to the left side of the field.
The next time Bradford sees Wilson, just two seconds after the ball is snapped, he's barreling into the pocket like a freight train, the red number 24 completely filling the young quarterback's field of vision. An instant later, Bradford is picking himself off the turf, and kicking himself for blowing the play.
For the canny veteran Wilson, this was just a part of a monster day. He also grabbed two interceptions and blocked a field goal, but this play might have been his stealthiest, and his luckiest. After duping the young play-caller with his deep set and seeing Bradford's eyes shift away, Wilson blasted toward the line of scrimmage expecting to create havoc on the line somehow ... his sudden presence would force a missed block somewhere, allowing somebody to get in and blow up the play. Darnell Dockett (#90) helped clear a path by shifting to his left, to telegraphing a speed rush to the outside shoulder of the right tackle, Jason Smith, who would be forced to turn and engage.
But even Wilson had to be surprised by just how easy his path would be, as right guard Adam Goldberg pulled left, completely vacating the spot Wilson was charging toward at full speed. You could blame Goldberg, but the veteran offensive lineman was only executing the play as called by his young quarterback.
While the focus is on Bradford, his offensive line is doing work.
He may have just finished his first season in the NFL, but already Sam Bradford is the only quarterback close to being a "sure thing" as starter in the NFC West.
The Seahawks may or may not bring back Matt Hasselbeck (probably not), may or may not ride with Charlie Whitehurst (again, probably not but you never know). The 49ers gave a playbook to Alex Smith, even though he isn't under contract -- can't be signed to a contract as long as this lockout continues. And they may or may not have their future in Colin Kaepernick. And the Cardinals appear to be ready to nuke their internal options and a big chunk of their draft future in exchange for Kevin Kolb.
While each of these teams is hungry for help under center, each of them -- including the Rams -- have uncertainties lining up next to center. Whether you're starting a rookie or bringing in a new veteran, the most important thing you can do to ensure offensive success is to keep him upright. Even as their team's record was crashing and burning, the Rams' braintrust knew this and was busily laying groundwork for an offensive rennaisance by investing heavily in Jacob Bell, Jason Brown, Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold before considering starting anew with Bradford.
How did our line do in protecting him? And how ready are our divisional opponents to start fresh with new QB options? Here's a comparison.
Using statistics from ProFootballFocus, we can see that in terms of raw numbers, the Rams were marginally better than their opponents at preventing sacks -- a division-low 28 were "charged" to the offensive line. However, Bradford was "hurried" and hit as much as any QB under center this year. Not the kind of results we should expect, considering how much more solid our line is supposed to be, as compared to our counterparts.
However, we also need to consider that the Rams were one of the pass-heaviest teams in the league last year, with Bradford dropping back to throw a record number of times for an NFL rookie. While Pat Shurmur kept the offense close and conservative, presumably for his young quarterback's benefit, he wasn't shy about putting the onus on the rookie to win or lose games for the Rams.
Keeping that in mind, let's look at these numbers on a per-pass basis.
Now we're starting to get somewhere. The Rams have the lowest sack rate in the division, and even their hit rate fares pretty well. However, Bradford was "hurried" quite often: throwing the ball with a hand in his face, or being forced to take off running before the route tree bears fruit. What makes Bradford so exciting is that he so often used those opportunities to extend plays and come away with thrilling results, like so:
Compare, though, the hurry rate and hit rate in the chart above between the rookie-led Rams and the veteran-led Seahawks. Matt Hasselbeck has been under center long enough, and been battered around in the pocket long enough, that his sixth sense for pocket pressure is now a finely-tuned survival mechanism. Whether it's a better awareness for sniffing out blitzes, a quicker release to his hot read, or a greater willingness to simply throw the ball away in exchange for a new down, Hasselbeck was able to make a pretty bad offensive line look like it was giving pretty good protection.
As we'll look at in our Rams Rewind series, this is a skill that Bradford made visible improvements in over the course of the season, but as these numbers show, he still has a long way to go.
The nice section: Today is Laurent Robinson's birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to re-congratulate him for catching Bradford's first ever NFL touchdown pass.
At this point, my entire set of 2011 posts might as well be categorized as "offseason." Because unless something breaks next month, the possibilities of having an "on-season" are dubious.
The 8th District Court here in St Louis issued a ruling Monday, finding with the owners and issuing a permanent stay to Judge Nelson's lift of the lockout. While this isn't quite a fumble on the goal line -- neither side is close to scoring anything substantive -- it does put the owner's group back on offense, and they have already made a new offer to players. One that is likely to be rejected, or perhaps even ignored.
One of the most effective strategies in labor battles is to drive a wedge between your opposing party. But while the owners have mostly failed to split up a group of players -- ironically a group that is in full agreement to "split up" their union -- it appears from the Apellate ruling that the owners' legal team successfully drove a wedge through their second great enemy, the U.S. Court system.
“We have serious doubts that the district court had jurisdiction to enjoin the League’s lockout, and accordingly conclude that the League has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits.”
The intermediate courts found themselves locked between two different judicial conflicts, one initiatied by the players through the 8th Circuit, and the other initiated by the owners before the National Labor Review Board. The owners' group tried to argue that Judge Nelson didn't have jurisdiction to lift the lockout while the NLRB's decision was pending. (Judge Nelson's ruling opened a can of legal whoop-ass on that idea.) But the NFL's lawyers kept hammering away, and the appelate court found themselves forced to pick their poison -- stonewall the NLRB? or the junior member of their own district?
As fans, we have to stop looking at this in terms of winners or losers, though. Each side is still essentially stranded at midfield, and there is no game clock. Whether it comes via an anti-trust lawsuit, the intervention of the US Congress, or a simple return to the bargaining table by both parties, no one wins until an agreement is in place and football kicks off.
Football Sundays are back! Join us in reliving the Rams' 2010 season, week by week.
The predictions were coming in all preseason -- despite the buzz around Sam Bradford, the 2010 season was going to be another long mudslog through the worst division in football. SI's pundits, former NFL scouts and sophisticated prediction machines agreed: it would take another year and another top-five draft pick, maybe another coaching change, before the excitement returned to St Louis.
Bradford, Spagnuolo, and a cast of surprising players said to hell with all of that, we think we can win NOW!
As we get set to relive the 2010 season, using NFL.com's invaluable Game Rewind, let's re-set the table for that season by identifying three key themes from training camp that would carry over to the big rebound year.
“Get in where you fit” and “Know your role,” both great lines and words that carry a lot of weight with the Ram’s crop of WR’s this offseason. Something that stuck with before the 2010 NFL Draft was a comment by Rams GM Billy Devaney. He talked about the Ram’s need to improve talent wise across the board, at all positions. That even a slight upgrade at a spot will put the team in a better position to win and the need to turn the talent over in this fashion every year. Don’t believe him...then you apparently did not pay attention to the Rams 2011 Draft…at all…and shame on you for that.
Tyson Langland from Pro Football Focus "Here's how I see it. Clayton, Avery, Amendola, DX, Pettis, Salas--6max"
Essentially Billy D came out and said “…unless your #8, consider yourself on notice.” Okay…no need to scour the papers he didn’t actually come out and say that, but his actions might as well have. By taking Kendricks, Pettis & Salas he sent a message to Clayton, Avery, DX and the other Ram’s receivers and TE’s that the Rams no longer will settle for what they have but rather strive to attain what they do not.
Tevin Broner from Turf Show Times "here's mine, Amendola, Gibson, Clayton, DX, Gilyard, and 2 rookies. I think Rams ahve to keep 7"
Myself, I like it. I am a Mizzou grad and big DX fan. I thought Clayton showed a great connection with Bradford in their short time together last season. But if ya ain’t helping the team get better ya gots to go. As a kid I can remember how my Dad loved tell me any time I messed up, “you better be glad you’re the only one we got.”…for the Ram’s WR’s that is a luxury they do not have. I just hope Devaney doesn’t make ‘em cry, not that I cried, I’m just saying. You know what, whatever…don’t judge me…
Yours Truly from RamsHerd "I can see those 6+ a wildcard which could be Gilyard or an extra TE. McD likes those 2 TE sets. Gilyard's best shot is KR."
Here are some good links and conversation on who could be staying, who should be staying and who’s out the door.