ST. LOUIS – It has become a rite of training camp for Sam Bradford.
Each summer, he deals with the oversized burden of living up to getting picked first in the 2010 draft. The St. Louis Rams’ quarterback is not surprised that once again, he is supposedly at a career crossroads.
Bradford can’t remember when that wasn’t perceived to be the case, and he tries to ignore low outside expectations that include a fantasy rating in the bottom half of the league’s starting quarterbacks and other assorted doubts. He is as eager as anyone on the outside to be a difference-maker in a breakthrough season.
“Every year is a ‘make it or break it’ year according to someone,” Bradford said, then quickly shifted to team emphasis. “I think everyone in our locker room feels really good about where we’re at right now and where this football team is going.
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“I think we have a great chance to be really good.”
So far Bradford been impressive in camp, rewarded for dedication to the rehab program after having surgery on his left knee in November. Though he is wearing a brace, there have been no restrictions.
“If we have to back down, we’ll back down,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.
A big reason Bradford is a lightning-rod player is because he had the good fortune to be the last high-dollar No. 1 pick before the league went to a rookie salary cap. He has two seasons to go on a six-year deal worth $78 million that can be a bit of an albatross if the Rams aren’t winning, or if he is injured.
“No one steps on the field to lose,” Bradford said. “I think we want it just as bad as the city and the fans do.”
Former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson suggested on ESPN recently Bradford has a reputation for being “soft.” Bradford missed six games with a high ankle sprain in 2011.
Another opinion making the rounds is the notion Bradford is a mere game manager, with limited improvisational skills.
“Geez, there’s a million experts out there and they all know football so well, but they’ve never coached or played a day in their life,” defensive end Chris Long said. “If I sit there and start talking about Cardinals baseball, well, I’m not a baseball player, I’m just a fan. It’s kind of out of my lane.”
Long was chosen second overall a year before Bradford went No. 1, so he can relate to attention that sometimes borders on obsessive.
“It’s just dialogue and you’ve got to block it out, and I think he does a really good job of it,” Long said. “He’s a tough guy mentally and physically and he’s just going to have a big year, I just feel that way.”
Before his season-ending knee injury in Week 7, Bradford appeared headed for his best year, with 14 touchdown passes as opposed to four interceptions.
The Rams were 3-4 with Bradford and it could be argued he might have made enough impact to turn the tide in narrow home losses the next two weeks against the Seahawks and Tennessee Titans. The Rams went to a ground-oriented offense under journeyman backup Kellen Clemens and finished with seven victories for the second straight season.
“Sam Bradford gets hurt, you change your entire game plan,” Rams general manager Les Snead said.
• Detroit Lions officials are postponing contract talks with All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the season.
Suh, 27, is entering the final season of his contract, and team president Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew said negotiations are being tabled. Lewand and Mayhew expressed optimism a deal can eventually be reached.
“He’s told me he wants to be here. I have a good relationship with him,” Mayhew said. “I know I want him to be here.”
• The Lions activated receiver Golden Tate, a former Seahawk who is recovering from a shoulder injury, from the physically unable to perform-active list.
• Because of injuries, the San Francisco 49ers are seeking running-back depth. They agreed to terms with ex-Arizona Cardinal Alfonso Smith, 27, a league source told the San Jose Mercury News.
Smith gained 54 yards on 18 attempts for Arizona last season.
• Denver quarterback Peyton Manning showed his lighter side when he did a goofy dance during the team stretch as “Rocky Top” was blared through the loudspeakers at training camp.
Manning was dancing to the unofficial anthem of his college team, the Tennessee Volunteers.