“It’s actually great, I love it,” he said. “Compared to back home, I can pretty much go anywhere, and no one really says anything. I really enjoy that.”
The 22-year-old Bradford, who was a legend in his home state of Oklahoma, won’t enjoy such anonymity for much longer. The No. 1 overall draft pick will start the Rams season opener on Sunday afternoon against the visiting Arizona Cardinals.
“Yeah, I’m extremely excited right now,” Bradford said. “… This is everything a kid dreams of, being able to start a game in the NFL. To be able to do it as a rookie Week One…it’s extremely exciting.”
Bradford, who signed a contract that included a record $50 million in guaranteed money, entered training camp as the back-up quarterback behind veteran A.J. Feeley.
But after Feeley suffered an injured thumb on his throwing hand against the Cleveland Browns in the second preseason game, it opened the door for the rookie to start the final two games of the preseason against the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.
The quarterback contended during training camp that he would be fine if Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo went him or Feeley as the starting quarterback to start the regular season.
“All along, I went in with the attitude that if I continued to make progress and got better every day, I was going to be happy with that,” Bradford said. “I knew that the coaches would make the decision and they would play me when they felt I was ready. I said all along, it wasn’t up to me. It didn’t matter if I thought I was ready. It was up to them. I felt like, with that attitude, I was able to come in here and get better. Fortunately, now I have the opportunity to start at quarterback for this football team.”
The University of Oklahoma product struggled some in the team’s first two preseason games but played very well in the final two that he started. In four preseason games he completed 60 percent of his passes (33 of 55) for 338 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Spagnuolo announced Bradford as the starter last Saturday.
“We’re confident, the staff’s confident, the team’s confident,” Spagnuolo said when announcing the decision. “It’s well-deserved. He deserves this opportunity.”
Bradford has impressed the coaching staff and his teammates with his cool and calm demeanor and the work he put in to get to know the playbook inside and out.
“I’m pleased with how calm he stays in the face of things that might be a little chaotic,” Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “I’m fond of that type of quarterback.”
Shurmur acknowledged that the rookie has passed all of his tests so far, but he’ll have a much more difficult challenge during the regular season.
“I think Sam’s done a good job, but we’re entering a new world now,” Shurmur said. “Regular season games, the speed will be greater than it is in the preseason, but I feel like he’s kind of passed the test to this point. This just happens to be the next one playing Arizona.”
Bradford has been in big games before and played in front of big crowds week in and week out at the University of Oklahoma.
The 2008 Heisman Trophy winner had a record-setting career at OU — he started 31 games and finished his career with 8.403 passing yards and 88 touchdowns while completing 67.6 percent of his passes — before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last fall.
That resume is one of the reasons the Rams, who went 1-15 last season, picked the quarterback No. 1 overall and tabbed him as the central figure in the team’s rebuilding effort.
The Rams have been working for months to prepare Bradford to make the transition from college superstar to NFL rookie quarterback. This past week, that meant trying to ready him for situations and defensive schemes he has never seen before and possibly never even thought of.
Spagnuolo, a former defensive coordinator, spent some time with Bradford this week and tried to prepare the rookie for the kind of tricks opposing defensive coordinators will throw at him.
“I think the mindset of any defensive coordinator that’s going to face a rookie quarterback is going to make it as tough and confusing as he can,” Spagnuolo said. “Usually that means not doing things that they’ve already seen on film and make the quarterback make adjustments on the sideline during the game. So we’ve certainly anticipated that.”
Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole was asked this week how he would approach facing a rookie quarterback.
“I’d spend a lot of time on disguising coverages so that I give him false reads about what he thinks he’s getting, and then obviously I’d pressure him,” Flajole said. “You have to force a guy into making an early mistake and that type of thing. I think — again, now I’m just speaking if this was somebody that we were facing — I’d probably make sure we got after them early in the game.
“Hit him early so that again, maybe that guy is looking around a little bit the rest of the game so when you’re bluffing and disguising and maybe you’re playing coverage and it looks like you’re blitzing, maybe he gets the ball out sooner than he wants to and the timing between him and the receivers isn’t what it should be. Now again, I’m not an offensive coach, but I sure like the guy that we got.”
That’s been the consensus at Rams Park and from the parade of national sportswriters who visited the Rams during training camp and left impressed by the 22-year-old rookie’s poise, maturity and right arm.
All eyes will be on Bradford on Sunday afternoon. It will be the first real test of many he’ll face in the NFL, but win or lose the rookie quarterback will be ready to show what he can do.
Nate Latsch is the publisher of GridIronGateway.com. For subscription information visit GridIronGateway.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/natelatsch