Friday, June 05, 2015

Foles settles in with Rams

Rams QB Nick Foles
Philadelphia can have the arm talent, the St. Louis Rams want the intangibles for a change.

Legendary NFL personnel executive Gil Brandt has always believed in Sam Bradford.

Back in 2010, the long-time Cowboys front-office man, who now works for NFL Media, called Bradford's pro day one of the best he's ever seen by a quarterback.

"Sam Bradford's workout Monday in front of representatives for all 32 NFL teams at Oklahoma's pro day almost left me speechless," Brandt wrote at the time. "It really was a treat to watch, and I think everyone here was in awe of Bradford's performance. In fact, he put on the best quarterback workout by a draft prospect that I've seen since I watched a private workout Troy Aikman put on for us with the Cowboys in California."

Things haven't exactly worked out for Bradford after the Rams selected him with the No. 1 overall pick that year. Injuries, a shaky supporting cast and flat-out ineffectiveness produced a perfect storm of ineptitude in the "Show Me State" for the ex-Heisman Trophy winner, resulting in a less-than-awe-inspiring 18-30-1 record as a starter with a nondescript 79.3 passer rating.

And a second-straight year derailed by an ACL tear in 2014 pushed St. Louis in a different direction this offseason as the Rams shipped the rehabilitating Bradford east to the City of Brotherly Love for fellow signal caller Nick Foles and a second-round draft choice.

Many, including Brandt, are still in awe of Bradford's skill set despite the hiccups over the years.

"He wins at everything," Brandt recently said on a Philadelphia-area radio station. "You play basketball with him, he's going to win. You play golf, he will win. He's so competitive."

There is one major problem with Brandt's assessment, though. Far too many people have actually played football against Bradford over the past five years and beat him.

Foles, on the other hand, has spent the last few seasons winning at a breakneck pace under Chip Kelly.

At 6-foot-5 with little foot speed and a third-round pedigree from the Eagles' prior regime, Foles' attributes never impressed Kelly. He's too slow, takes too long to make decisions in Chip's one-read, spread offense, and possesses the fastball of a crafty lefty, not a 100-MPH stud like Bradford.

Yet somehow Foles was the only player who took Kelly's supposed "quarterback-proof" system and turned it into victories.

Kelly is an impressive 20-12 as a head coach over his first two regular seasons with three different starting QBs, Michael Vick, Foles and Mark Sanchez. Foles was at the helm for 14 of those victories (14-4), throwing 40 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions for a man who ignored the positives to pick at the flaws. The quick math says QBs not named Foles were underwater at 6-8.

So while Bradford will bring his supposed accuracy and razor-sharp decision making as a former No. 1 overall pick to Philly, the Rams are content knowing Foles will be packing his winning ways and lugging them to the Midwest.

"I did not expect a trade and that's the truth," Foles said. "But that was the realization. Once I started to talk to coach (Jeff) Fisher, I was excited to get to know him because that's where my life was taking me. I enjoyed my time in Philadelphia. I was there for three years, I built a lot of relationships. But, I'm very fortunate to be in an organization that has a great football team, great coaches and I'm just thankful to have the opportunity to play."

"Nick's been great, not only in the team stuff but in the individual days with the receivers and everybody," Fisher said this week at the team's OTAs. "He's taken charge. He's got a good feel for our offense right now."

Foles is particularly excited to be in a more traditional pro-style setup which relies on drop back passing rather than the movement skills of the signal caller.

"It's a different offense, but I'm loving the offense," Foles said. "I'm learning the offense and it's going to be a lot of fun to play in."

Far too many people in St. Louis -- even the Rams themselves -- spent the majority of the Bradford era making excuses for what was supposed to be a franchise-defining talent, an almost natural spin because no one wants a former No. 1 overall pick to be deemed a bust.

Truly great quarterbacks, though, are like a rising tide -- they lift all boats. Bradford was never able to make his teammates all that much better in St. Louis and that's why he's got a new address.

Outside of the Foles-Bradford swap things haven't really changed much for the Rams offensively with the exception of drafting running back Todd Gurley, who some NFL scouts believe is the best pure prospect at the position since Adrian Peterson. The Rams' receivers are hardly awe inspiring and the offensive line
remains a work in progress.

"I really don't think it's a challenge. It's just fun," Foles said when talking about his impact on the Rams offense. "We really want to have a great running game, but with that we need to have a great balance in the passing game. We have a lot of talent to really stretch the ball downfield that we're going to use, but we also have great running backs and an O-Line that's going to do an outstanding job.

"It's a day-to-day thing. It's getting to know (his teammates). It's getting to know who they are as people It started in the weight room, lifting together, working out together, pushing each other on the run. Then when
you're going out here it's just communicating. It's all about communication."

That communication has changed the narrative for the Rams and there is now almost an expectation of success with Foles leading things.

"(Foles) walked in the door and he went out of his way to meet everybody," Fisher said. "He took charge. In the phase one (of OTAs) where the coaches can't be present, he took the players out, the skill players and offensive players and threw and did those things."

"The way we're going to be successful on Sunday, is the relationships," Foles added. "Come the fourth quarter, we have to know each other. We have to care about each other. That's where you stick together through adversity."

Fisher always liked Bradford as a person and his assessment of the Oklahoma product's physical gifts is similar to Brandt's gushing praise but the coach's actions this offseason speak louder than his words ever could.

No one knows Sam Bradford better than the St. Louis Rams and the organization pulled the plug on him for Nick Foles.

"Everything that we heard (about Foles) is true," Fisher said, "and I'm sure we're going to be surprised as we move ahead with him because we've been really pleased."
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