McDaniels can rebuild reputation by helping Bradford develop

January and February are a time for reflection in the NFL, with coaching turnover being the inevitable offshoot. And that's not just head coaches. Coordinators are moving around all over the league, and not always because someone got fired.

Such is the case with the Rams. Perception was that the St. Louis offense made huge strides with rookie quarterback Sam Bradford -- despite the unit ranking 26th in the league -- and former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur got a head-coaching job in Cleveland because of it. That, and the fact that some guy named Holmgren is in his corner. Browns fans are obviously hoping that's a good fit.

But is new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels right for St. Louis?

He of Broncos fame? He of pushing Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall out of town fame? Or 11-17 fame? To Rams general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo, it's he of the 2007 Patriots juggernaut fame.

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Some Rams fans seem to be fired up about the possibilities, given McDaniels' reputation for pumping life into an offense, while others aren't too thrilled about his arrival.

"I can see how people can be concerned about him being head coach, given his personnel decisions," said NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi. "But as an offensive coordinator, I don't see where there could be any criticism. Look at what he did with (Kyle) Orton's game and Brandon Lloyd … Tom Brady can't say enough about McDaniels."

That's the deal. He's not making personnel decisions, rather, he's been tasked with taking Bradford's game to a new level. Anything approaching Brady's 2007 performance (50 touchdowns with only eight interceptions) would be a huge bonus. As a 31-year-old coordinator of that record-setting Patriots offense (589 points in the regular season), McDaniels made a name for himself, thus landing the Broncos' head-coaching gig in 2009.

But here's the rub in his new digs: His reputation and performance in Denver were less than stellar, and some eyebrows were raised in the media and among fans when it was reported last week that McDaniels had yet to meet with Bradford.

"Hearing that he hadn't met with Bradford after being hired made me re-think my previous opinions about the hiring," said Stephen Monte, a long-time Rams fan who works as a producer for Fox Sports Net. "I had thought that the guy would be a good fit as a coordinator, simply because he was in control of nothing other than the offense and therefore couldn't ruin the team."

For his part, Bradford has said he's eager to learn McDaniels' offense and seems to believe in his reputation, but even he let out what seemed to be a small bit of disappointment.

"Part of me's a little bit frustrated," Bradford told *The Oklahoman*. "I was really looking forward to spending more time in the West Coast (offense) and really getting into detail this offseason."

But there are reasons for Bradford to be excited about the change. The quarterback ran a similar style offense while at Oklahoma. Plus, Orton put up some big numbers last season (3,653 yards and 20 touchdowns in only 13 games.) And then, of course, there's McDaniels' track record with Brady. Still, the Rams are a different deal. While Bradford and McDaniels haven't met, it turns out they have spoken. However, the more important issue is considering what the new coordinator is inheriting.

» A 23-year-old quarterback with one season under his belt, not a three-time Super Bowl winner (Brady), or a guy who had won 21 of 33 career starts in Chicago (Orton).

» An offense built on running the ball with Steven Jackson, not passing the ball 40-plus times a game.

» A bunch of kid wide receivers and tight ends who have a ways to go to make this offense special.

McDaniels has the skins on the wall to deal with the latter. While his Broncos receivers were old pros, no one in their right mind thought the Broncos would have the success they did throwing to Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney. If anyone can get better play out of Laurent Robinson, Danario Alexander, and the hopefully-healthy Donnie Avery, it might be McDaniels.

Bradford, by all accounts, has a great attitude and is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. McDaniels, by some accounts, succeeded greatly at alienating certain players as well as his fellow coaches. Every situation is different, but with Bradford being so young, fans and followers of this organization have the right to wonder if the new offensive coordinator will cause some dissension after how things went down in Denver.

That brings us to the second issue, one that is purely X-and-O related. How much will McDaniels run the football? This is an area the Rams must improve on from last season to help their young quarterback. That said, the Broncos were among the worst rushing teams in 2010, slightly improving once thinly disguised tailback Tim Tebow replaced Orton under center.

An effective ground game might not mean as much to winning as it once did, but it slows down the pass rush. If you watched the Rams this past season, then you know the offensive line could use some help. Running the rock will also get the offense's best player -- running back Steven Jackson -- more involved.

"But can't you call all those short passes to Wes Welker in New England 'running plays?' That's basically what they are," Lombardi said. "I think Josh will be situation-specific."

Lombardi would know all about that, as his first job in the NFL was working under legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who essentially invented the idea of using the short passing game as the equivalent to an effective running attack. Lombardi points out that Jackson should be used heavily in the passing game, as situations dictate.

Maybe that's what should be taken the most from the McDaniels hiring in St. Louis. The guy has always found a way to get the ball to his playmakers. Randy Moss caught an NFL-record 23 touchdown passes his first season in McDaniels' offense after having three the previous year. Lloyd had more yards and touchdowns in 2010 then he did in the previous four seasons combined. If McDaniels determines Jackson to be a playmaker, then that's who'll be featured.

He's proven he can lead a top-flight offense. There will be plenty of time for coach and quarterback to meet, and recent history shows that Bradford will be the better for working with his new offensive coordinator. Perhaps the real concern should be what if McDaniels does too good of job, and gets another head-coaching opportunity in 2012. That will mean Bradford would have a third coordinator in as many years. While that's a very real possibility, perhaps some worries are good ones to have.

Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

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