ST. LOUIS—Sam Bradford's first weekend as a pro is over. Now the hard part begins.
"This is the beginning of the work process for me," Bradford said Sunday following the fifth and final practice of the St. Louis Rams' three-day rookie minicamp at Rams Park. "One of the great things about this weekend is I saw how far I have to go. We just put in a slight portion of the playbook, and I feel like I handled it, but I know there's so much more to come."
Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur echoed Bradford's sentiments: "The learning just began."
The top overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Bradford will return home to Oklahoma, but he will be in "daily" contact with Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Dick Curl until he returns to St. Louis in two weeks for organized team activities.
"I made a lot of improvement during these five practices, and we have 19 more before training camp," Bradford said. "I'll be able to learn just as much or more.
"I got more comfortable as the weekend went along. For the most part, I made good decisions and got the ball where it needed to go. I just need to quicken things up."
Shurmur said they tried to "mentally stress" Bradford with "lots of different plays with different protections, route combinations and progressions."
"Sam did a terrific job," Shurmur said. "All the reasons for drafting him were very obvious. He's smart, got a great command of the huddle, great attention to detail. And he's very talented. You take the talent with the working hard, and he progressed well in five practices."
Bradford will receive a copy of the film the coaches look at and will spend time on the phone going over plays with Curl and Shurmur.
Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo said that would allow Bradford to "work on verbiage" to "spit out a lot of words in the huddle."
The final day of the minicamp focused on red zone offense, and Bradford took every snap from under center during all five practices. Shurmur said that was a point of emphasis to quicken Bradford's drop and his mental clock.
"As time goes on, what naturally happens is they get smoother and smoother," Shurmur said. "Your eyes take you where your feet go, your feet take your eyes where to go."
Both Shurmur and Spagnuolo emphasized that there is no timetable for Bradford to step in as the starting quarterback.
Although quarterbacks typically don't get hit in practice, Bradford said he's looking forward to playing contact football again soon to prove that his surgically repaired right shoulder is fully healed.
"I think it will be cool, and hopefully it will calm everybody down," Bradford said of getting hit. "Everyone's freaking out, like 'if his shoulder gets touched is he going to die?'
"It's going to be OK, and I'll be able to take a hit. Sometimes it's fun to take one. You never like taking them, but it's part of the game."
Shurmur did not see any physical limitations with Bradford's shoulder following five practices in three days. Bradford said he felt fine, and that his rehabilitating throwing program was more strenuous.
Bradford said he's already developing some chemistry with former Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard, whom the Rams selected in the fourth round of this year's draft.
"It was definitely fun working with him," Bradford said. "He can do a lot of different things. He plays outside, he can play inside. He's just very versatile as a wide receiver."
Some other receivers who stood out were second-year free agent Travis Brown and Dominique Curry, a rookie from California, Pa., in camp on a tryout basis.
Despite being decimated by injuries a season ago, Shurmur feels good about this year's receiving corps. He added that a roster spot last year doesn't guarantee one in 2010.
"We're going to look for the best guys," Shurmur said. "I'm not going to really care how old they are or how young they are. When the ball goes up, if they make plays, those are the ones that will be around."
Bradford also praised tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Fendi Onobun, whom the Rams took in the fifth and sixth rounds from Illinois and Houston, respectively. He was especially impressed with a one-handed grab Hoomanawanui made on Saturday.
The coaches spent more time teaching than they would in any other camp.
"There was a lot more individual time than normal," Spagnuolo said. "The coaches get them prepared for the team, and the 7-on-7s."
Defensive coordinator Ken Flajole admitted to "spending a little extra time" with the draft picks, but tried to get around to see what "the other guys can do." All of the coaches said evaluating players without pads on is a difficult process.
"It's tough, but there are some things from an athletic standpoint you can kind of gauge," Flajole said. "But really, you're trying to get an idea on their ability to learn a scheme. We throw a few things at them in a short period of time. How fast they can process that, do they have the mental capacity to learn this game at the speed it runs?"
The 67 players now leave, most of whom will not return. The 11 drafted players, 15 signed undrafted free agents, and any others invited back return to Rams Park for OTAs the week of May 17.
Spagnuolo thinks some of the 36 tryout players will be called back.
"I got a feeling some will," Spagnuolo said. "I know they're hopeful."
For the ones that don't make it in the NFL, Spagnuolo had some encouraging words for them.
"I told them all to think about some of their college teammates who are not in NFL camps, and all of the other players around the country who'd like to be doing this," Spagnuolo said. "We're all blessed to be involved in this, coaches and players. I told the guys who will not be part of this to not give up on their dream.
"Just because, in five days, one team decided that they don't have a spot for them, doesn't mean they can't do it."
This article can also be found at The Alton Telegraph.