There's an extra set of eyes on Sam Bradford this season at Rams Park. And with the possible exception of Frank Cignetti himself, no one is happier about this than Bradford.
Cignetti was hired by Jeff Fisher to be Rams quarterbacks coach in February. It's a position that basically went unfilled on Steve Spagnuolo's last Rams coaching staff. True, Josh McDaniels tried to both coordinate and coach the quarterbacks — but that didn't work out too well.
"I think it was just a lot for Josh to handle," Bradford said after Cignetti was hired. "Sometimes some of the little things such as drops, footwork, throwing mechanics kind of got put aside."
That won't be the case this year. Cignetti, 46, is watching and evaluating Bradford's every move on the football field, as well as the other QBs in camp.
"A big part of my job is the preparation of the quarterback so he can be successful," Cignetti said. "The fundamentals, the mechanics. Whether it's run-game footwork or pass-game footwork. Whether it's ball-handling, decision-making. It's just constant evaluation of the fundamentals of the position."
It's something Cignetti and Bradford have worked on since practices and minicamps began months ago in the spring.
"Absolutely," Cignetti said. "You never get away from the fundamentals, starting with your stance and building it from there."
With new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer busy installing his scheme, it's impossible for him to give Bradford his undivided attention. That's where Cignetti comes in. Beyond that, the Rams have a ground camera on the quarterbacks at all times, allowing Cignetti to get an up-close view of Bradford's footwork and mechanics in the film room.
"It's been great having Cig around," Bradford said. "Just the little things that he reminds me of, whether it's in the middle of practice, in warm-ups. ... At the beginning of the year you're so conscious of those. But as the season goes along, sometimes you forget about the small things, and just concentrate on the big picture. But I don't think that'll be the case this year at all with Cig."
Cignetti may not be a household name to football fans, but he has extensive experience as a college coordinator and has worked for Kansas City, New Orleans and San Francisco in the NFL. He grew up in a coaching household, too. His father, Frank Cignetti Sr., once was head coach at West Virginia and was a longtime small-college coach at Indiana (Pa.) University. They still talk every day.
At Fresno State, the younger Cignetti coordinated offenses that finished fifth nationally in total offense in 2004 and seventh in 2005. The '04 team became only the sixth team in NCAA history to score 50-plus points in four consecutive games. In '09 at the University of Pittsburgh, the Panthers had one of the most prolific offenses in school history, averaging 32.1 points a game.
In the NFL, he worked with former Fresno State quarterback Trent Dilfer at San Francisco in '07. Dilfer is one of Cignetti's closest friends, and they've talked a lot over the years about how to develop quarterbacks and the common traits in great quarterbacks.
So like most coaches, Cignetti has tried to pick up bits and pieces from every stop on the coaching trail.
"Frank's been through the West Coast quarterback school if you will," Fisher said. "He understands this offense, and the fundamentals and the techniques very, very well. That's why we hired him."
He worked with former NFL head coach Dave Wannstedt at the University of Pittsburgh, current Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers, and with one of his best friends in the business — current Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy — at New Orleans.
"Mike and I go back to 1989 when we were GAs (graduate assistants) together (at Pitt)," Cignetti said. "We stayed very close. When Mike got the coordinator's job in New Orleans, I got the opportunity to go as his quarterback coach.
"Just like I'm working with Coach Schottenheimer here, side by side learning from Brian, I sat next to Mike McCarthy every day for two years. Mike really trained me to be a coordinator, and on how to train the quarterback. It was a tremendous experience."
Turns out Schottenheimer and McCarthy also are good friends, and that's one reason Cignetti is now in St. Louis.
"Frank's been a guy I've known about for a long time," Schottenheimer said. "Mike and I have talked about him going back five, six, seven, years. We had a position open a couple years ago in New York (with the Jets), and Frank was one of the guys that we talked about."
Schottenheimer was attracted to what he called Cignetti's "unbelievable feel for the fundamentals" as well as his experience working with and developing quarterbacks. For his part, Schottenheimer also likes having that extra set of eyes on the quarterbacks.
"Obviously, as a coordinator you have a lot of responsibility," Schottenheimer said. "I'm very involved in the room. But Frank's my right-hand guy. He's Sam's right-hand guy."
And make no mistake, Schottenheimer was a draw for Cignetti in St. Louis. Fisher was a big draw. But he has never worked with a quarterback with Bradford's potential.
"You look at the physical measurables," Cignetti said. "You're talking about a young man that's tall, can stand in the pocket, has great posture, great poise. Can make all his throws. He has great movement. So when you look at Sam, you see a quarterback that is capable of doing all the things that you'd like to do."
Now it's Cignetti's job to help turn those skills and assets into a top-tier NFL quarterback.