AtlantaFalcons.com contributing writer Daniel Cox takes a listen to Wednesday's conference calls — with the Atlanta media from St. Louis head coach Steve Spagnuolo and quarterback Sam Bradford — to break down what the opposing team is saying and thinking as it heads into a Week 11 meeting with the Falcons.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —In recent years, the NFL has seen a shift from the belief that it's best to start your high-round rookie quarterback.
The success of quarterbacks like Atlanta's Matt Ryan and New York Jets' Mark Sanchez in their rookie seasons and beyond has helped debunk the myth.
This season, the Rams' first-round signal caller, Sam Bradford, is showing once again that the right quarterback can handle everything the league throws at him in his rookie season. The first-overall pick in 2010 showed the coaching staff early on that he was the right man for the job from the beginning.
"We basically, in our situation, kind of went through the same growth process that you guys did in Atlanta three years ago," Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo said on Wednesday's conference call. "It worked out pretty good for you guys and I hope we can be half as successful. I have a world of respect for Matt Ryan. I think with Sam (Bradford), it was evident when he was here early that there were some things he needed to work at and grow at. He did that. It was evident somewhere there in the preseason where the team was responding very well to that. We felt we should go with the quarterback that gave us the best potential win and that's what we did in game one."
While Bradford's stats aren't glowing, he's held the team together through injuries and the kind of expectations a 1-15 team generates, but the rookie has won games. At 4-5, the Rams are in the thick of the wide-open playoff race in the NFC West.
The one key trait among all the successful young quarterbacks is their work ethic. They weren't handed the keys to the franchise; they earned it. While Bradford appreciates what the guys before him have done, he doesn't take it as a sure-thing sign for his own success.
"Obviously, it's nice to look in front of you and see guys that have had success," Bradford said. "At the same time, I don't think you can let any of that stuff affect the way that you prepare and do your job. Regardless of where I got drafted, I worked as hard as I could to get myself on the field. I think any competitor would tell you that they would much rather be on the field playing than on the sidelines watching. That was always my mindset. It is nice, to know that there are guys that were able to come before you and step in and have success."
Bradford's work through the offseason was vital, according to Spagnuolo, to his early-career success. His contract was signed in time for the beginning of the training camp and the quarterback was on hand for every snap of the team's preseason. The evolution of film study, as well as the OTAs practices are instrumental to developing a young quarterback quicker.
"I know it's helped several young quarterbacks to get that foundation in the spring time, right into June, and certainly into training camp," Spagnuolo said. "I do think it helps, especially at that particular position. I also think it helps, going back to NFL Europe that helped young quarterbacks. They were able to play in the league and get some snaps at a high level football."
Pass rush perfection:Following the 2007 season, it was Spagnuolo's pass rush that helped the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
As the defensive coordinator of the NFC champs, Spagnuolo devised a scheme that pressured and confused the high-powered Patriots offensive attack. In 2009, Spagnuolo took his blitz-heavy, pressure defensive tactics to the Rams when he accepted the head coaching job.
He struggled through a 1-15 season as a rookie head coach, but his principles were being taught and the franchise was developing the talent to execute his defensive vision. Many of the players from last season returned this year to continue their improvement.
"The faces are pretty much the same," Spagnuolo said. "A couple of young guys we got in the draft and a key addition was Freddie Robbins. Freddie is a better athlete than people think. He's a big man so you wouldn't think he would be that athletic, but he is. On third down he's in there, I think he pushes the pocket, which I think opens up things for the guys around him. Chris Long is having a good year. James Hall has been a great football player for a long time. Both he and Freddie have seen the in's and out's of football. That experience is kind of helping us there up front."
This season the Rams defense is ranked tied for first in the league with 28 sacks. Hall and Long have 14 sacks between them and Hall's 7.5 is tied for fifth in the league.
For Spagnuolo, the success of his entire defense rests on the pass rush and ultimately the four players up on the defensive line.
"I don't think we're any different than anybody else," the head coach said. "In order to play good defense in this league, with the nature of where offenses go eventually, which is to win games of total football, they mix it up with run and pass. To me, the best way to defend a team is with the guys up front. You can talk about different coverages and different blitzes and what not, and that's part of the pass rush, but you need the four guys up front continuously putting on some kind of heat. Whether it results in a sack, or hurry, or rush or hit, the more of those you can get in the course of the game overall, the better your defense is going to be."
We meet again:Separated by 25 miles in high school, Bradford and Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton have been friends for a long time.
While a junior at Putnam City North High School in Oklahoma City, Bradford watched Lofton play a "dominant" linebacker position at Kingfisher High School.
During Bradford's first two years at Oklahoma, Lofton was becoming the star middle linebacker and future second-round pick by the Falcons. The two say they are close friends and stay in touch regularly despite their distance in the NFL.
Bradford knows his offensive line will need to account for Lofton and with the linebacker's increased pass-defense prowess this season, he'll have to personally keep his eyes on him often.
"He's a great football player; he's a great athlete," Bradford said. "He likes to bring the wood. We're going to have to be aware of where he is at all times."