After a very strong draft from an “on paper” standpoint, the St. Louis Rams look poised to go into OTAs and mini-camps with few remaining question marks on their young roster. Of those that remain, it’s fair to wonder how the will Rams approach the free safety position and additionally how the receiving corps will shake out. However, as it’s been noted an endless amount of times, the question mark that will ultimately shape the Rams 2014 season is the one at the quarterback position.
At this point, Sam Bradford is the Day 1 starter under center. Head coach Jeff Fisher has publicly endorsed that sentiment on multiple occasions. The questions surround his ability to recover from a Week 7 knee injury last season against the Panthers and if it will result in finally reaching the sky-high potential generally heaped on No. 1 draft picks. Prior to his premature exit last season, Bradford seemed well on his way to doing just that. He’d completed 60.7 percent of his passes (on pace for a career high), had accounted for 14 touchdowns to four interceptions, and had a quarterback rating of just over 90. However, the Rams sat at 3-3 entering that contest with the Panthers, which they’d eventually lose 30-15. The team finished 7-9 in the hands of backup quarterback Kellen Clemens and running back Zac Stacy, and it was fair to wonder “What if?”
As a result, Bradford now sits on the verge of what is unanimously considered a make-or-break season for the soon-to-be fifth year ex-Sooner. With that said, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look back at how Bradford has done when returning from lengthy injuries in the past to see if anything can be gleaned from those experiences. It begins after Bradford’s Heisman Trophy-winning 2008 campaign at the University of Oklahoma.
That season, Bradford led the Sooners to a 12-1 overall record, a 62-21 thumping of Missouri in the Big 12 title game (Still stings), and a trip to the BCS National Championship Game, where’d they’d fall 24-14 to the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators. He then opted to remain in school for his junior season despite the lure of the NFL. In the first game of the season against BYU, Bradford left the game before half time with a right shoulder injury. He’d return for the team’s victory over Baylor in Week 5, but would re-injure his shoulder the following week and be forced to sit out the remainder of the season. He declared his intent to enter the draft, and as you all know, would be selected with the first overall pick by the St. Louis Rams.
Despite the speculation over his injured shoulder, Bradford was a revelation in his rookie season. The Rams had finished 1-15 in the season prior, and Bradford would play a major role in guiding the team to a narrow playoff miss. He’d earn the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award for his efforts, and had emphatically silenced any concerns about his collegiate shoulder injury.
Bradford’s second major bout with injury came in his second season. In what was considered a major regression from his award-winning rookie season, Bradford won only a single contest while playing in 10 of the team’s games. He missed six games due to a nagging high ankle sprain, but didn’t exactly light up the box score when he was on the field. Bradford threw only six touchdown passes in his 10 starts and would sit on the bench for the final three games of the season, all losses. The Rams finished 2-14 to cap the Steve Spagnuolo era, and again Bradford would have to battle through injury concerns the begin the next season with a fresh start under Fisher and his third straight new offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer.
If 2010’s return from injury was a bar-setter from a success standpoint, 2012 fell a bit shorter. While it can be forgiven to an extent given the regime change, Bradford still didn’t show signs of being the quarterback he was drafted to be. The team was very competitive in the fledgling-but-stout NFC West – finishing 4-1-1 in the division – but remained on the outside of the playoff race. Bradford finished the season with a quarterback rating of 82.6 and accounted for 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Just OK by anyone’s standards. However, he did start each of the team’s 16 games and probably did about a well as he could have given the level of talent surrounding him.
As a result, it’s difficult to pull many conclusions from Bradford’s recovery history. Both injuries were different from the one he suffered last season, and his most recent is arguably his most severe. There is a pattern though, if you’re into that sort of thing. Beginning with his Heisman-winning 2008 campaign, Bradford’s seasons go healthy-hurt-healthy-hurt-healthy-hurt. By blindly following that logic, the 2014 Rams should be in fine shape. Bradford has done well in seasons following injuries to this point, so if nothing else, it provides a bright-side outlook as we head into training camp. As is standard with this sort of thing, we’ll just have to wait and see.