Rams name Bradford starting QB for opener

2010-09-05T00:00:00Z 2010-09-07T08:31:23Z Rams name Bradford starting QB for openerBY JIM THOMAS • jthomas@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

After stellar preseason performances by Sam Bradford against New England and Baltimore, there was no suspense as to the identity of the Rams' starting quarterback. The only intrigue was when coach Steve Spagnuolo would make it official.

That came early Saturday afternoon following a light practice at Rams Park.

"I did talk with the quarterbacks this morning and visited with the team," Spagnuolo said. "We will start Sam Bradford against Arizona this week. We're confident (in Bradford). The staff's confident, the team's confident. It's well-deserved — he deserves this opportunity."

Spagnuolo finalized his decision Friday afternoon after meeting with his coaching staff. But the players were off Friday, so Spagnuolo waited until he met with the team and talked to the quarterbacks before going public.

There were no cartwheels or high fives by Bradford when he learned of his starting assignment.

"No, he went right to work," Spagnuolo said. "Obviously very positive, but very professional and businesslike, which is Sam. And that's really a good quality."

Spagnuolo said veteran A.J. Feeley, who missed the last two preseason games with a thumb injury, took the news well. Then again, given the quality of Bradford's play against the Patriots and Ravens, Feeley couldn't have been surprised.

"I think we're very, very fortunate to have a guy like A.J. Feeley in this particular role as a backup quarterback — who is what he is," Spagnuolo said. "Which is a seasoned vet that knows the ins and outs and can kind of feed that to Sam as he goes along here."

Bradford, who met with reporters following Spagnuolo's announcement, said he was "extremely excited" to get the opening-day start.

"I feel like Coach has given me a great opportunity here to start next week versus Arizona, but I realize there's a lot of responsibility that comes with that opportunity," Bradford said.

From the moment he was drafted No. 1 overall in April, it was Bradford's goal to be the opening-day starter. All along, the coaching staff worked with him to reach that goal, particularly offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Dick Curl.

Bradford took nothing for granted, and despite his lofty draft status and huge contract, went about his business in a humble, low-key way. There was never an air of presumption, or sense of entitlement, as he learned his craft in the spring and summer.

"I've said this from the beginning, it really doesn't matter what I thought," Bradford said. "It didn't matter if I thought I was ready or not. It was going to be up to our coaches. I think our coaches made that decision and they feel confident in me and they feel that I'm ready. So with their confidence, that's definitely something I can feed off of."

But make no mistake, Bradford feels he's up to the challenge.

"I'm a competitor," he said. "I sat the bench last year with an injury (shoulder surgery) and it's something that I did not enjoy at all. So just to have the opportunity to play football again, it's really something that I look forward to. I understand that I've got a lot of work ahead of me and there's a lot of things that I can still improve on, but I feel very confident that I have the ability to help this team win football games."

Bradford made it a point to praise Feeley for his help.

"A.J.'s been awesome," Bradford said. "He's definitely one of the reasons that I've been able to make progress. He's been so helpful from Day 1. I've said it all camp: He sees things out there that only a guy who has the experience of A.J. can see. And when you get pointers from a guy like that, it's really beneficial, especially for me."

At the start of training camp, Bradford didn't get a ton of reps with the starting unit. But less than a week into camp, he started flashing his skill. He had an eye-opening performance in the team scrimmage Aug. 7 at Lindenwood University. His practice reps increased.

The first two preseason games were a mixed bag for Bradford, who came off the bench in both contests. He was constantly under siege in the opener against Minnesota; some of his best work was scrambling away from the Vikings pass rush to throw the ball away.

Against Cleveland, he played in monsoon-like conditions and appeared to have a little trouble throwing in the rain. He produced only one first down in seven series against the Browns, and that came via penalty.

But even in those games, Bradford usually was on the money with the football, although there were some near misses and dropped passes. It all clicked in starting assignments against New England and Baltimore following Feeley's injury. Bradford completed 21 of 28 passes in those games for 275 yards, with three touchdowns and a passer rating of 138.5.

All along, Bradford displayed poise and a command presence that impressed his teammates. Now that he's officially No. 1 on the depth chart, Bradford was asked if he'll do things differently.

"I think there probably are some small things, just leadership-wise," he said. "I probably am able to become a little more vocal now that I have been named the starter. But I'm really not going to change anything in my approach."

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