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. The Jets’ Mark Sanchez (picked fifth) went 10-8, including two playoff victories. Ryan and Flacco each threw more touchdowns than interceptions; that’s rare for an NFL rookie. But those situations are not relevant to Bradford and the Rams. The Falcons, Ravens and Jets had big-time running games and solid defenses. The Rams have neither. So whoever quarterbacks St. Louis in 2010 will be a Ram led to slaughter. But the Rams should play Bradford anyway. Physically, Bradford is ready. He’ll turn 23 in November. He’s 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. Mentally, no rookie quarterback is ready for the NFL, but Bradford is as ready to deal with the madness as any rookie could be. He’s smart and he’s calculated. I’m not saying Bradford will be a star, but NFL defenses won’t befuddle him. "He looks great for a rookie,” said Ram receiver Donnie Avery. Said Feeley of Bradford, "He’s a bright guy. He’s big. He’s strong. He plays that way, too. He can throw the football. He’s accurate. You can tell he wants to learn. He wants to play.” So play him. It’s not like the Rams are going anywhere in 2010. That sounds like a reason to be patient, but instead, it’s a reason to give Bradford the playing time that will come in handy if and when the Rams get competitive. The Lions a year ago picked quarterback Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall and started him on opening day. Stafford had some injuries but made 10 starts, going 2-8. He threw 13 TDs and 20 interceptions. It was another miserable year for Detroit fans. And a glorious year for Detroit fans. They are a year closer to having a winning quarterback, and maybe that winner is named Matthew Stafford. Same as Bradford, we don’t know if Stafford will star. But we do know that he won’t blossom until he pays his Sunday dues. Which is what Bradford must do. No time better than 2010 to start. Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.