EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Sam Bradford swears he hasn't heard the criticism that he's become skittish in the pocket, mostly because he's found a way to tune out the football media.
But that doesn't mean he disagrees with the notion completely.
No, the St. Louis Rams' third-year quarterback isn't conceding happy feet or, as one ESPN analyst put it, "cabin fever." What he will cop to is that last year he took too many hits. And that this summer, with new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's help, he's taking the problem head on.
"That's a lot of what I've talked about with Schotty so far," Bradford told NFL.com after a night session last week. "Two days ago in camp, I thought I had a really good practice. I'm not sure the ball hit the ground once. And we got in the film room, and he was all over me about getting the ball out of my hands even quicker, to eliminate hits. He's made it a big point. It's part of my job to help the protection and get the ball out of my hands and make sure that, even if it's not a sack, I'm eliminating the unnecessary hits."
Last season, Bradford took 36 sacks, a number that doesn't seem so astronomical, until proper context is provided.
That context: Bradford only played in 10 games, with some of those performances limited or shortened by injury. Projected over 16 weeks of play, that sack total bulges to 58, which is 14 more than the league-leading 44 sacks taken by San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith. That's a pretty good indication as to why Bradford spent six games over three different stretches of time in street clothes in the first place.
Predictably, his completion percentage dipped 6.5 percentage points from 2010 to 2011, while his passer rating fell six points and his TD-INT ratio flattened out to even. A shaky and banged-up offensive line, a shallow pool of receivers, and an injured Steven Jackson contributed to all of that. Schottenheimer is now coaching Bradford to do something about it on his own -- while simultaneously trying to fix the other pieces. And the coordinator says he's teaching Bradford the same things he'd teach any quarterback.
"I don't worry about Sam getting hit," Schottenheimer said. "He's tough. That's the one thing that shows up; I mean, he stands in there and he's taken some punishment. It's our job to keep him from getting hit like that. And I'd be saying that to you if I was talking about Mark Sanchez, Drew Brees or any of the other guys I've coached. You don't want to get those guys hit, because when they do get hit, unfortunately, human nature, it makes you ... not afraid, or scared, but you're aware of it."
That leads to the next phase of the problem, which Schottenheimer quickly identifies.
Harrison: Power Rankings
"And you're forced to move or slide," he continued. "I mentioned the word earlier: rhythm. The best way to be an accurate, excellent passer is to be in rhythm. And when you have to move off your spot, that takes the rhythm from your body."
If Bradford's rhythm has been thrown off by an inability to get comfortable in St. Louis, it's understandable. Schottenheimer is his third coordinator in as many years, following Pat Shurmur and Josh McDaniels. And his first full offseason as a pro was cut in half by the lockout.
Look no further than Smith to see how such tumult can affect a quarterback. But Schottenheimer's found ways to stabilize Bradford's personal position.
First, this year, Bradford has an actual position coach in Frank Cignetti, whereas last year, McDaniels served as both coordinator and QB coach. Bradford said the difference has been "huge," and that it helps to have someone trained on his fundamentals, "those little things that cause you to miss throws, cause you to be late, cause you to miss reads." Second, St. Louis retained last season's backup, Kellen Clemens, who played for Schottenheimer on the New York Jets from 2006 to 2010 and sets the mental bar Bradford feels he has to reach.
Bradford makes no bones about his situation. "Ideally, I'd be going into Year 3 in the same offense I started with when I was a rookie," he said. That not being the case, though, he's taken a liking to Schottenheimer's ways.
"I like the fact that, from what we're doing right now, Schotty's main deal with me is get completions. Keep us ahead of the chains, keep us in good situations, find us a completion and move on down the road," Bradford said. "There are a lot of quick completions, getting the ball out of my hand. I don't think there's gonna be a lot of dropping back, sitting there in the pocket, patting it and waiting for guys to come open 20 yards down the field. It's gonna be about being efficient."
While Bradford's hesitant to call last year under McDaniels a big step back -- after a promising rookie year under Shurmur -- he will admit that 2011 was a disappointment.
That's why Schottenheimer's in St. Louis, along with a new head coach, Jeff Fisher, and general manager, Les Snead. It's also why, the first time they talked, the quarterback told the new coordinator that he was motivated and had "a lot to prove." Learning a new offense gives him the first chance to do that.
"I think it's a matter of me going out and playing, and playing at a high level, and executing the way I know I can," he said. "It's one thing to go into a room and look at it on paper, and have someone ask you a question, and say this, this and this. It's a totally different thing to go out on to the field and take what you learned in the classroom, see the look you talked about, make the check, get to a play, and then make the right throw. It's just a matter of time."
The quicker everything moves from here -- the process, the learning, the ball -- the better for Bradford and the Rams.