Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo enjoys few things more about his job than interacting with his players on a daily basis.
So it was a bit strange for him to not immediately grab quarterback
Spagnuolo cut his teeth as a defensive coach but if there’s one thing he understands about offense, especially on the heels of a lengthy lockout, it’s that a quarterback and a new offensive coordinator need as much time together as possible.
That’s why Spagnuolo acquiesced to new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, vowing to catch up with Bradford later.
“I saw Sam, I didn’t want to bog Sam down,” Spagnuolo said, laughing. “He was out there, he was standing in front of Josh’s office and I said, ‘I think it might be more important for you to talk to Josh right now.’ Don’t worry about me. I’ll have enough time with him. I said, ‘I’ll see you later on today or tomorrow and probably every day after that for the next four months.’”
At various points during a given day in his rookie season, Bradford had as many as four people in his ear, giving him advice on how to do something.
While that myriad advice certainly paid off on Bradford’s way to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, it was a far cry from what he was used to at Oklahoma where he dealt almost exclusively with Sooners quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel.
Now entering his second season, the bulk of Bradford’s interaction will come with McDaniels, who also holds the title of quarterbacks coach.
“It’s going to be a lot different, but it will be fairly similar to what I was used to in college,” Bradford said. “When I was at OU it was pretty much Coach Heupel communicating to me. He’s the one I talked to day-in and day-out, he’s the one who relayed messages from the offensive coordinator. And the fact that Josh is going to be both the offensive coordinator and the quarterbacks coach, I think it’s going to make my job a lot easier. There’s not going to be a breakdown in communication anywhere. It’s going to come straight from his voice, straight from his mouth. Anything he says is going to go. What we hear in the meeting room is going to be what he’s going to want us to do on the field.”
Before Tuesday, McDaniels and Bradford hadn’t had much interaction, meaning Bradford will not only get a crash course in McDaniels’ offense but the pair will also get a crash course in each other.
In fact, before they returned to work, Bradford and McDaniels had only really ever talked at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine and again briefly when the Rams met McDaniels’ Broncos in November of last season.
But there’s no doubt that the pair could easily start a mutual admiration society based on what they’ve seen the other accomplish.
“I think it’s going to be awesome (working with him),” Bradford said. “I think he’s very smart. I think he knows a lot about this game. I’m excited to learn from him. I think that if you look at what he’s done in the past and the offense that he’s led, they’ve done some special things. I think we have the opportunity for the same things here in St. Louis. I think it’s just a matter of all of getting in here, getting to work and just getting going.”
Likewise, McDaniels was on the wrong end of one of Bradford’s best professional performances in Denver last season and has only grown to like his young signal caller more by watching all of the film from the 2010 season during the offseason.
“He’s a wonderful young man, obviously with a really bright future ahead of him,” McDaniels said. “I was certainly fond of him coming out of Oklahoma and thought highly of what he could do as a quarterback in any system and nothing that I have experienced here has really changed my mind at all. I think he’s really special and he’s got a chance to be one of those unique players in the league.”
It wasn’t long after Spagnuolo told Bradford he’d catch up with him later that Bradford and McDaniels got right to work. The pair, joined by fellow quarterback
On Wednesday and again Thursday, it was wash, rinse, repeat as McDaniels and Bradford worked on getting up to speed as fast as possible before training camp starts this weekend.
Bradford was able to receive a playbook during the one day the lockout was lifted in the offseason but this week has been his first chance to see and hear the words on those pages come alive.
“There’s definitely a difference,” Bradford said. “Having the book and being able to look at it, it wasn’t like I was looking at things that I was totally unfamiliar with today. However, you know there’s a difference from just looking at something on paper and trying to figure out what words next to plays mean and actually figuring out what’s going on in Josh’s head and how he feels about a play and a certain read.”
McDaniels has no doubt that Bradford is football savvy enough to grasp the general concepts and ideas of a scheme that figures to differ fairly significantly from the one Bradford learned last year.
Although the Rams have made it a point to try to incorporate elements of the scheme from last year, there are still some not so subtle differences. That’s why McDaniels believes it’s important for Bradford to hear it straight from him.
“It might be as simple as a specific read,” McDaniels said. “We’re running a certain pattern and he may have looked at it one way and I said I want you to look at it a little bit differently, start here instead of starting there. I think the fact that he has some of his own foundation and he made sense of some things on his own, I think that’s a really big thing. They’re all going to see things differently to begin with and our goal is to try to get them to see it the same as quick as we can.”
The film study and classroom work is undoubtedly beneficial to Bradford and the rest of his offensive teammates as they continue to work on grasping the new scheme. That time is especially helpful when it comes to the hardest part of any system change: terminology.
Many of the same principles are used by every team in the league but the trick is that different offenses can call those principles different things. That’s something that can be learned in the classroom but not seen until you step on the field.
Having already gone through the process of learning a new offense in his rookie season, Bradford is well aware that it’s going to take some time for him to get up to speed. But there’s no doubt that he’s excited to see how fast he can cover the ground necessary to turn his thoughts into instinct.
“I don’t know,” Bradford said. “I think it’s just different. Obviously, I’m not going to be the way (Patriots QB) Tom Brady is with this offense or was with this offense, after you’ve been in it for a couple years. I hope to be very comfortable with it by the time training camp gets over with – I think I can be. Last year, going into my first training camp I felt like after it was over that I was fairly comfortable with the ‘West Coast’ offense. I think right now, I’m already more comfortable with this offense than I was with the ‘West Coast,’ last year at this time.”