After a 2011 season that he calls the hardest of his sports-playing life, Rams quarterback
Limited to just 10 games full games by a high ankle sprain last year, Bradford was unable to finish the season and even in the six games he played dealt with the repercussions of an injury that only truly heals with rest and relaxation, two things nearly impossible to come by in the midst of a NFL season.
Bradford was finally able to shake the injury early this season and was able to start every game, missing only a single snap because of any type of injury before returning.
“Last year was extremely frustrating for me, probably one of the hardest years I’ve had at any level of sports having to sit out as many games as I did,” Bradford said. “So to be able to make it through this year completely healthy and play all 16, that’s something I hope I can continue to do and not miss any games.”
Being on the field for almost every snap allowed Bradford to make noticeable progress and put together the best statistical season of his young three-year career.
By the time the year was done, Bradford had posted career highs in passing yards (3,702), touchdown passes (21), yards per attempt (6.7) and passer rating (82.6).
“I thought Sam played well,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “I thought Sam got better as the year went on. He had a much better feel for opponents, much better feel for what we were doing. We asked him to do a lot more stuff on the line of scrimmage.”
Playing in his third offense for his third coordinator in as many seasons (four if you include his final season in college), Bradford found embraced the offense of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Bradford started his career in Pat Shurmur’s West Coast scheme switched to Josh McDaniels’ more complicated scheme with no offseason in 2011 and then to Schottenheimer’s more digit-oriented system this season.
Although Schottenheimer’s name has popped up as a potential head coach candidate, he says he’d like to stay in St. Louis to continue to oversee the development of Bradford and the offense.
The mere prospect of having the same coach and system for an entire offseason leading into a second year leaves Bradford extremely optimistic about taking another step forward in 2013.
“You have no idea,” Bradford said. “I’m extremely excited about the future of this team and this organization. Hopefully for the first time since I’ve been here, we’ll come back with the same staff, the same offense and just be able to build on what we were able to do this year.
“It’s not easy changing offenses and changing systems. I really like what we’re doing. I really like Schotty and what he was able to do this year. Hopefully he’s back, hopefully this whole staff is back and we can just fine tune everything and start working on the little things.”
The idea of continuity with the system, the coordinator and even his receiver group should be beneficial, according to Fisher, who has maintained that even if Schottenheimer were to move into a head coaching job that the system would remain.
“It’d be the first time in his career where he’ll come back in the offseason program and be looking at the same playbook,” Fisher said. “That helps. That’s helpful. We’re not going to change things here. We’re only going to do things to help him get better. We turned a lot over to him yesterday in the no-huddle and on the line of scrimmage. You can see us moving down that path with him and in order to do so, you have to maintain continuity.”
In addition to the statistical improvements and the increased win total, Bradford also took on an expanded leadership role in 2012 and that wasn’t just limited to making adjustments at the line of scrimmage and taking on greater responsibilities with audibles and sight adjustments.
Bradford was a captain for the first time in 2012 as voted on by his teammates and running back
“Sam has all the attributes to be a great leader, a great quarterback in this league and you see year in and year out he is progressing,” Jackson said. “The major thing now that we want to build is consistency around him, give him something with not so much turnover as far as offensive play calling and offensive coordinators. Once he gets settled in, we will truly see what we see day in and day our on the practice field on game day.”
In what should be an important fourth season for Bradford, a full offseason that includes continuity but also health should prove vital.
Bradford said there’s no set timetable for when he will resume throwing after a little downtime but said his body feels good and expects to resume sometime in February or March.
Last year, Bradford waited longer because the ankle continued to bother him well into the offseason, even as deep into the year as this year’s training camp.
That continued pain even fueled speculation that Bradford would need offseason surgery on the ankle. But Bradford made it through the season fine and said the ankle doesn’t bother him anymore.
“It’s one of those things that obviously last year during the spring I could still feel it but as time moved along it just kind of went away and it was something that was a really positive thing the fact that it didn’t bother me all year,” Bradford said.
Putting to rest any lingering doubt about that injury, Bradford said that surgery is no longer even a blip on the radar and his offseason will be centered on establishing a greater knowledge and command of the offense in order to elevate his game to another level.
“That was a possibility at the beginning of the year because it was giving me some problems last offseason and during the summer,” Bradford said. “But once the year got going, it kind of went away so I don’t think that’s even a possibility now.”