St. Louis Rams quarterback A.J. Feeley knows the score. Knows that even if he trots out to the St. Louis huddle early in the first quarter Sept. 12 against the Arizonas, his status is short-lived. Knows that soon enough, Sam Bradford will be quarterbacking the Rams.
"It’s inevitable it’s going to be Sam’s team,” Feeley said the other day after a Ram workout.
The only variable is time.
The Rams approach the first summer of the Slingin’ Sammy B. Era with one major question. Hand the reins to Bradford now and let him learn by doing or hand the reins to Bradford later and let him learn by watching.
I say now.
This is the eternal debate in the NFL. Toss a rookie quarterback into the frying pan or let him roast marshmallows? Most pro coaches will admit that quarterbacks learn only in the fire. But some delay the education because of safety issues; they don’t want a prized rookie stripped of his confidence or his head.
That’s the only reason St. Louis should consider a cautious approach with Bradford. If Ram coaches aren’t sure they can adequately protect Bradford and that reconstructed shoulder, then let Feeley take the hits. Otherwise, it’s Ram Sam time.
Of the six quarterbacks picked in the first round this decade who became stars, three didn’t make a start in their first season: Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. If Slingin’ Sam reaches their level, the Rams will be thrilled.
But the other three stars plucked from the first round started in various stages of their rookie seasons. Ben Roethlisberger took over in Game 3, Michael Vick in Game 8 and Eli Manning in Game 10.
Conversely, all-out busts have come from both sides of this argument. Brady Quinn made no starts for the 2007 Browns and JaMarcus Russell started only Oakland’s final game of 2007. But David Carr started from the get-go for the 2002 Texans and Kyle Boller started opening day for the ’03 Ravens.
Recent trends play the rookies. Of the five quarterbacks picked in the first round of the 2008 and 2009 drafts, four started their season openers and another (Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman) started Game 8. With some decent success.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (picked third) and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (18th) each posted 11-5 records as rookie starters in 2008.