Sam Bradford's pro day workout should clear up top of NFL draft
Sam Bradford likely No. 1 pick in draft if his shoulder checks out
St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins are most interested in the QB
List of the 32 players expected to go in first round; 10 Things I Think I Think
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Monday was the first day of the NFL Draft. That's because rehabbing Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford took the field to throw a 50-pass script that the NFL world -- particularly St. Louis, picking first in the April 22 first round, and Washington, picking fourth -- had been awaiting. By all accounts, he looked wonderful, which means he moved much closer to becoming the first pick in a very deep draft.
According to scouts, "Bradford was accurate from start to finish. He threw several beautiful strikes downfield, hitting receivers in stride some 40 yards from the line of scrimmage. He didn't display a rifle arm, yet showed enough strength to make all the throws."
Bradford, who underwent shoulder reconstruction on Oct. 28, would have had to mess up his 50 balls today, and then not be very good in private workouts with the Rams and Redskins, to not be the first player chosen in the 2010 draft.
I spoke with him before the workout and also with his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews. There's that in today's column and a detour from the NFL owners meetings to a spring training tour with my brothers, and the story of the man 95 percent of you have never heard of but who now is a major power broker in the best draft in years. But we start on the phone with Bradford.
For the last three weeks, beginning March 4, Bradford had been throwing 100 passes several days a week at Athletes Performance Institute in Pensacola, Fla. ... with, he says, no pain.
"I haven't had pain or discomfort since they turned me loose right after the combine,'' Bradford told me. "I can't believe how good it feels. There's no pain.''
"Now,'' I said, "you're going to get grilled on this Monday, and if you don't tell the whole truth, somebody's going to make a big deal of it. So be honest now.''
"I'm being totally honest,'' Bradford said. "There's been no pain. They told me that after I threw without restriction that first time, I might wake up the next morning or come in to work out the next day and feel something. But there's been nothing. Not one day have I woken up sore.''
On Sunday night, I asked Andrews about Bradford's no-pain declaration, and whether that could be true less than five months after the reconstruction of the AC joint in his throwing shoulder. That wasn't a scope Bradford had. It was a full-fledged reconstruction.
"I've tried to get him to come clean with me too,'' he said. "But he's come through it great. He's full go. The last time I saw him and questioned him about it [nine days ago], he told me, 'I feel stronger in my throwing shoulder than I ever have in my life.' I did everything I could to deliver him to this draft healthy, and I think he is.''
I asked Andrews what he'd say if the Rams and Redskins called and asked about Bradford's condition, and whether the quarterback was ready for the rigors of an NFL camp and season.
Too late. They already called. Andrews, who is a senior orthopedic consultant to the Redskins as well as one of the foremost independent orthopedic surgeons in the world, was unequivocal in his prognosis.
"I talked to the Rams, and told them Sam has no restrictions,'' Andrews said. "I gave him a clean bill of health. And I talked to the Redskins, of course, since I am affiliated with them. I told [owner] Dan Snyder, [GM] Bruce Allen and [coach] Mike Shanahan the same thing. I would have no reservations recommending him to them as the first pick.''
One of the benefits of Bradford having the surgery, then rehabbing at API in Pensacola, is the byproduct of how fit and strong he has become after putting on 13 pounds. He's up to about 235 pounds now, and the former frail-looking passer now looks more like a pro quarterback. "He looks like a man now,'' said Andrews. "The way he's worked is a credit to him. He's one of the most sincere, hard-working kids I've been around. He's in the mold of Drew Brees, and that's a pretty good mold to be in. The kid's tougher than hell, and I moved up the date he'd turn it loose by about two weeks, just because he was doing so well in his rehab.''
Bradford felt the rehab was going so well that he felt confident heading into Monday's workout.
"I don't want to hide anything,'' he said. "I know everyone's coming to see how healthy my arm is, and they're going to see me make all the throws. They're going to see the same player they saw on film in the 2008 season.''
That's when Bradford threw 50 touchdowns passes and won the Heisman Trophy as a Sooner sophomore. And when the 2009 season was twice interrupted by shoulder injuries, that's when Andrews said enough's enough, and the surgery took place.
Though it's possible the Rams could trade down to Washington (or farther) if they got the right offer for Bradford, it's highly unlikely. It would probably take a ransom to get the pick from the Rams. Two years ago, St. Louis passed on Matt Ryan to pick defensive end Chris Long. Last year, the Rams passed on Mark Sanchez to choose Baylor tackle Jason Smith. If they pass on Bradford, it'll be for a defensive tackle, making it the third straight year they'd have let a potential franchise passer go for an interior lineman.
It's conceivable they could trade but only if they really like Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, and believe they could still get him with the fourth pick. But I'm hearing Bradford is the number one quarterback on their board, clearly.
Who is Trent Baalke, and how did he commandeer the first round?
In the great Red River Flood of 1997, the biggest flood of the river since 1826, people from all around North Dakota rallied to sandbag towns to keep them on the map. One of those townies was the athletic director at Shanley High in Fargo, Trent Baalke, who, like many of his peers, just tried to do his small part to help save the town.
Baalke is embarking on something a thousandth as important but with a similar sense of immediacy now, with the announcement that the 49ers -- with the 13th and 17th picks in the first round -- have given the 12-year-veteran scout the final say in their draft room. This is in the wake of the awkward dismissal of GM Scot McCloughan by the club for unspecified personal reasons. All Baalke is being asked to do is pick two cornerstone players for a franchise turned mediocre in the best overall draft in the NFL in some time.
Today, he and coach Mike Singletary hit the road for a three-day tour of college pro days -- and to get to know each other better. It's Baalke and Singletary who need to be on the same page as April 22 approaches. Baalke needs to make sure he gets Singletary players who fit not only the coach's physical profile, but also who are intense, focused players in the Singletary mold.
Baalke, 46, grew up a Packer fan in Wisconsin and went on to be a two-time all-conference linebacker at Bemidji (Minn.) State. For six years he was an assistant on the North Dakota and South Dakota State coaching staffs before settling with his wife in Fargo. In 1998, the Jets called out of the blue to interview him for a scouting job; seems a Jet scout had recommended him to Jets personnel boss Dick Haley after meeting Baalke when he was the NFL liaison to pro scouts at South Dakota State. "When the call came, I thought one of my friends was pranking me,'' he told me over the weekend. "Why would the Jets be calling me?''
To be an area scout. Washington hired him as a national scout in 2001, and he moved to the 49ers in 2004. In 2008, they named him director of player personnel, with only McCloughan above him on the personnel side.
"Until I got the call from the Jets,'' he said, "I had no ambition to work in the NFL. But once you get in the league, your perspective changes. I knew as the job unfolded I could do this job.
"The one fortunate thing that happened to me is that I started with the Jets, and that was a perfect place to start. I saw lots of good coaches -- Coach [Bill] Parcells, Bill Belichick, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel. Mr. Haley let me develop a style and wanted to know my opinion. Coach Parcells lets you know right away that he wants to know what you think. With him, it's like, 'Do you have the guts to tell me what I don't want to hear?' ''
It's the dream of every road scout to run a draft one day. Now Baalke, out of the clear sky, has been handed the keys to a Ferrari. The Niners are one of three teams (New England and Tampa Bay are the others) with three picks in the top 50. What a rush it must be. But Baalke, watching video with pro personnel director Tom Gamble Saturday in the 49er offices, was pretty stoic about it all.
"My job's really the same,'' he said. "Except I'm responsible for the final decision. We'll all team up to evaluate the players and stack the board, but my philosophy is pretty much the same as Scot's, and when Scot left, the board was 85 to 90 percent done. One guy may be the guy in control, but I don't look at it like 'I'm pulling the trigger here.' I have to trust I've learned enough along the way to make the right calls.''
Baalke could play it safe and go linebacker at 13 (Rolando McClain to play alongside Patrick Willis?), tackle at 17 (Trent Williams?), runner/returner (Jahvid Best?) at 49. Or he could trade one or more of the picks to fill more needs. "Each situation is different,'' is all he'll say about dealing.
Whatever, the Niners need a backfield threat, at least one offensive lineman, a linebacker and maybe a quarterback. It's a big laundry list, and nothing is promised to Baalke after the draft. He might be back as GM, he might not be. "I'm confident the draft will go well,'' Baalke said, and he sounded it.
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