Each weekday from now until Rams rookies report to training camp on July 21st, we’ll be profiling a Rams position group. We start today with the quarterbacks.
More than any year since the St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl season in 1999, the 2014 season will be crucial to determining the future of the team’s quarterback position. Going into his fifth season and coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL, Sam Bradford needs to prove that he can be an impact player going forward. The 26-year-old former first overall pick was having a career year in 2013 before going down in the Rams’ seventh game. He had a career-high 60.7 completion percentage and 90.9 quarterback rating, which placed him 11th in the league among starters. He was on pace for 32 touchdown passes, which would have placed him fifth in the NFL. And if you throw out Bradford’s disastrous 19-for-41 performance in a Week 4 Thursday Night loss to the San Francisco 49ers, he would have had a 63.3 completion percentage, which would have tied him with Arizona’s Carson Palmer for tops in the NFC West. And after the Rams installed rookie running back Zac Stacy as the starter, giving themselves a legitimate ground attack, Bradford completed 65 percent of his passes and threw seven touchdowns passes compared to just one interception.
Still though, the premature end to Bradford’s season had many clamoring for his replacement as the Rams’ signal-caller this offseason. The Rams created a smoke screen by visiting Texas A&M to talk to Johnny Manziel, which caused many fans and some media members to campaign for the Rams to draft the diminutive quarterback, even though the Rams apparently had assured Bradford all along that the plan was just intended to throw other teams off. Despite this, NFL Media’s Michael Silver reported that the Rams briefly discussed trading up to get Manziel after he fell into the 20s on draft day.
This year, Bradford needs to take advantage of the increased line protection and young, talented skill players that the Rams have installed on offense and try to have another career year. Because of his status as a former first overall pick, there are huge expectations that are being put on him, and he needs to do all he can to make the Rams an effective passing team. In an uplifting turn of events, Bradford has gotten quality opportunities to work with the offense this offseason, participating in roughly half of the team’s OTAs and working heavily in the offseason program while continuing to rehabilitate his knee.
After losing Kellen Clemens, the veteran backup who filled in for Bradford last year, in free agency, the Rams signed 13-year veteran Shaun Hill to serve as Bradford’s understudy in 2014. Hill has some experience as a starter with the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions and is one of the more highly-regarded backups in the league, so there shouldn’t be an overwhelming amount of worry if he needs to replace Bradford for a game or two. Of course, the key will be making sure that Bradford doesn’t have any long-term injuries, which he’s had in three of his past six seasons.
Learning under Bradford and Hill in training camp will be rookie Garrett Gilbert, who was selected in the sixth round from SMU. Gilbert, who was a very highly-regarded high school quarterback, first attended Texas and famously relieved Colt McCoy in the National Championship Game before washing out and re-emerging at SMU, where he completed 66.5 percent of his passes and threw 21 touchdown passes as a senior. Gilbert, who is obviously a developmental player, may face a roster crunch, and depending on how he performs in the preseason he may end up on the practice squad. At several points in the past two years, the Rams have kept only two quarterbacks on the active roster, which really is the most practical option unless the Rams are afraid that they could lose Gilbert on the waiver wire to another team.
Also on the roster is third-year signal-caller Austin Davis, a former undrafted free agent from Southern Miss who was at one point projected to be the Rams’ primary backup in 2013, but was then released and only re-signed after Bradford went down for the season. Considering that the Rams signed Hill and then spent a draft pick on Gilbert, it probably doesn’t bode too well for Davis’s future with the team. It was rather telling that, in an interview with the Rams’ website, Gilbert said, “my goals are very simple: to compete, to try to learn about the game and the quarterback position as I can from those two guys.” One would assume that the two he was referring to were Bradford and Hill. Since Davis will be going into his third year in the Rams’ program, he’s obviously built some rapport within the organization, but it would still be somewhat surprising if he made it past the team’s first cutdown.