When evaluating Bradford's play his first three seasons, most reviews start with the line, “the Rams need to give Bradford more weapons.”
For a change, Bradford has weapons.
The Rams traded up to No. 8 overall to grab Austin, the West Virginia star. St. Louis also signed left tackle Jake Long and veteran tight end Jared Cook. For depth, the Rams selected Austin's WVU teammate, Stedman Bailey.
Bradford's No. 1 target could be could be Givens, who showed promise last season as a rookie. Known mostly for his speed, Givens late last season evolved into an all-around threat, finishing with 42 catches for 698 yards.
There are additional weapons. Daryl Richardson, a second-year running back who has made a strong impression in training camp, takes over for Jackson. The Rams also drafted Vanderbilt rookie running back Zac Stacy in the fifth round.
Fisher likes what he's seen.
“Sam is really comfortable in this system,” Fisher told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He's throwing the ball well. He's excited about the relationship he's developing on and off the field with Cook and the young receivers. We've surrounded him with better people. All that's going to do is increase his production.”
Bradford's production has been solid. He set Rams rookie passing records. Overall he's thrown for 9,378 yards and 45 touchdowns and only 34 interceptions his first three seasons.
His 58.3 completion percentage needs to improve. But all his stats, across the board, should improve now that he has more weapons.
“It seems everything is clicking for him,” Givens said. “We have a chance to be really good on offense. We're just focusing on our camaraderie, our chemistry. We're all so young we just have to accept our responsibility because we know he'll do his job.”
It will take time for young players to mature, but there is some talent.
“We have a chance to be really good on offense,” Givens said. “Everything started clicking for Sam last year. We've been focusing on our camaraderie and our chemistry, areas Sam has done a great job.”
Bradford's primary message has been all 53 players need to buy in.
“Our young guys have to understand that it takes everyone on Sundays to win a football game,” Bradford said. “It's not like someone can take the day off and we'll be fine. It takes all 11 guys on the field doing the right things. To take the next step we have to be more consistent.”
Taking the next step
The Rams are 16-31-1 in the Bradford era.
Remarkably, winning one out of every three games is progress.
The three seasons before St. Louis selected the 2008 Heisman winner, the Rams were 6-42, including 1-15 the year before Bradford arrived.
That 2009 Rams were voted one of the worst 10 teams in the Super Bowl era.
Things are looking up. St. Louis has a playoff-caliber defense, playoff-caliber kicker and playoff-caliber special teams unit, plus a coach with playoff experience.
The key will be how much Bradford and the offense improve.
Making the playoffs in the NFC is a major challenge.
Most prognosticators have the 49ers, Seahawks, Packers, Bears, Vikings, Falcons, Saints, Redskins, Cowboys and Giants as the 10 teams fighting for six NFC playoff berths. But most agree the Buccaneers, Lions and Rams could be surprise contenders, like Minnesota a year ago.
This isn't a make-or-break year for Bradford and the Rams' offense. But it is the year marked improvement is a realistic expectation compared to the Rams averaging just 16.1 points a game in the Bradford era.
“You can kind of see a growth altogether with really the whole ‘O,'” Laurinaitis said. “It's exciting to see what they're doing to us. Quite frankly, they've done it to us all the way back to OTAs.”
For a change, Bradford and the offense have enough firepower to impact games. But when someone suggested this could be a make-or-break year for Bradford and the offense, Fisher didn't bite.
“It's just the next year,” Fisher told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He's a young quarterback with a great future ahead of him. So that (make-or-break) isn't the way we look at it.”
Bradford, who turns 26 in November, knows about the buzz. He embraces the pressure that comes with signing a six-year, $78 million deal that will average $15 million a season the next three years. But similar to his head coach, Bradford takes a day-to-day approach.
“The challenge for me is to build on last season,” Bradford said. “I'm really excited. Obviously having that consistency in any business is the key to the success. It's going to be a good year. I'm really excited. All the guys with me are excited as well.”