It was not the kind of throw that makes headlines. It was the kind that raises eyebrows only of those wise in the ways of professional football.
When Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo saw his rookie quarterback rifle a pass between several stunned Patriot defenders in the midst of his first preseason start, Spagnuolo turned to Pro Bowl RB Steven Jackson and asked him a question.
"It was not a long pass and it wasn't something outside," Spagnuolo said of the throw. "It was zipped in between some defenders, and I remember Steven Jackson was on my right at the time and I asked him if he saw the same thing I did, and he nodded his head.
"The velocity that it got there with, the fact that it beat some guys that were in real close coverage, that's a sign of a quarterback."
Frankly, Rams fans had been waiting for such a sign ever since the team made Bradford the league's No. 1 draft pick in April, paying him a record $50 million in guaranteed money as part of a six-year, $78 million contract that seemed to shake the football world with its immensity even though rookie quarterback salaries have been escalating every time a new signalcaller rolls off the assembly line.
No one doubts that Bradford has the size, arm and personality to become the NFL's next big thing, but such transitions take time. Spagnuolo knows this, yet barely an hour after Bradford went 15-for-22 for 189 yards and two TDs against the Patriots after struggling in his first two outings, one St. Louis scribe asked, "Now every Rams fan wants to know, is Sam your starter?"
Spagnuolo smiled ruefully and replied, "We will watch the film tomorrow."
The question spoke louder than the answer, and Spagnuolo knows he'll keep hearing it until the day he hands the keys to his franchise QB, which could happen at any moment. For a team that won six games the past three years, the first QB on the depth chart, A. J. Feeley, is not the future. Bradford is, and pressure will mount if he is not also soon the present.
Bradford has accepted this with an admirable levity, but he understands the situation he's in.
"I think I put pressure on myself regardless of the situation," Bradford said.
For Bradford, "the situation" is always going to be intense, not only because of the money he is paid, but because of the weight of expectations resting on his shoulders.
If he's not ready to start by Week One of the regular season, all involved know it's just a matter of time. If he keeps delivering passes that turn Spagnuolo's head, it won't be long.
"Tonight was really the first night that I had fun," Bradford said after riddling the Patriots' secondary. "It felt like I was doing what I'm used to doing, which is moving the offense up and down the field and scoring points.
"The first two weeks I never really felt like I got myself in rhythm. Before I went out there (to face New England), I just took a deep breath and said, 'Stay in rhythm. Do what you do.' "
Spagnuolo is telling him the same thing — and Spagnuolo will be doing the same heavy breathing until Bradford does.
Ron Borges is a columnist for the Boston Herald.
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