Sam Bradford has easily been one of the most polarizing players in St. Louis sports over the last four years. And nothing he did on two drives in one exhibition game is going to change that for his detractors, but it was hard not to come away encouraged by his performance on Saturday afternoon.
Take, for example, his 41-yard completion to Brian Quick on the second drive of the game. Maybe he still hears Steve Spagnuolo shouting in his ear to get rid of the ball after only three seconds or continues to fear for his life believing that the O-line that got him beat up in 2011 will suddenly inhabit the bodies of his current offensive linemen. Whatever the reason, there have been plenty of times throughout the course of his first four seasons when Bradford hasn’t been patient enough to let deeper routes develop in front of him.
But that wasn’t the case on Saturday, as he stood tall behind solid protection and allowed Quick to complete his post pattern against Green Bay’s secondary. To Quick’s credit, he did a nice job flattening his route in order to stay under the safety and leave the cornerback on his hip pocket, then coming down with the ball after catching it at its highest point. The pass may have sailed a bit on Bradford, but he put it in a spot where his receiver could not only make a play on it, but also gain yards after the catch.
There was also a more subtle positive later in the quarter when Bradford hit Kenny Britt for a 5-yard completion on third-and-three from Green Bay’s 10-yard line.
One of the legitimate complaints about Bradford has been his lack of mobility inside the pocket. But on that specific play, Bradford looked left initially, but didn’t like what he saw, so he slid right and created an open passing window for himself. He found Britt, who nestled between defenders and got the first down before leaving the game with an apparent shoulder injury.
Bradford doesn’t have to be Russell Wilson in terms of mobility, but even Dan Marino was fleet of foot when he needed to buy himself more time. Bradford showed said mobility on that completion to Britt.
He also saved perhaps his best throw for last, as he found Lance Kendricks in the end zone for an 11-yard score midway through the second quarter. On that play, only three receivers went out for passes (four if you include running back Benny Cunningham, who ran a delay), including Kendricks, who ran a seam route. Knowing he only had a split second to fit the ball to his tight end, Bradford fired a missile between the second and third levels of the defense as Green Bay’s safety was just a hair late to break up the pass. For those who hadn’t seen it yet in camp, the play was a perfect example of how much velocity Bradford has added to his passes this offseason.
So what conclusions can we draw from Saturday? None, really. Bradford has to show all of these things in the regular season and on a consistent basis if he’s going to take the preverbal next step. It also wasn’t all good for Bradford, as he missed a wide-open Britt streaking down the sidelines in the first quarter. His detractors will point to that play and the fact that it was only two drives in a preseason game as reasons not to lessen their stranglehold around Bradford’s neck.
But it was a good start nonetheless. It’s one thing to show mobility, increased velocity and a higher penchant for throwing vertically in practice. It’s quite another to do it in a live game against a team in a different jersey. The fact that he took a hit on Saturday and also got back up without the need of the team’s medical staff was an encouraging sign as well.
We’ll see if Bradford can parlay those two positive series into a full half against the Browns, and then into a full game against the Vikings in Week 1. He has a long ways to go, but at the very least, there are some early signs that he’s going to be a more aggressive signal-caller.
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