Posted: Monday August 9, 2010 8:44AM ; Updated: Wednesday August 11, 2010 12:38PM
Peter King
Peter King>MONDAY MORNING QB

Excitement is building in St. Louis; Texans are fighting for Cushing

Story Highlights

It's easy to see why the Rams are so optimistic about Sam Bradford

Nate Kaeding continues to see a shrink after 0-for-3 playoff game

2011 Hall of Fame odds, a great football book and 10 Things I Think

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Excitement is starting to build in St. Louis, where No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford looked good in his first scrimmage.
AP

In this week's edition of MMQB Goes to Summer Camp:

Sam Bradford aces his first test.

Nate Kaeding sees a shrink.

• The Texans back Brian Cushing, and give a reason (excuse?) why he tested PED-positive.

Roger Goodell and John Madden eat at a rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (I don't believe it was the Jeff Reed Memorial Rest Stop, however.)

Vernon Davis needed a slap in the face, and his coach was the one to give it to him.

• At least one NFL star knows exactly how lucky he is to have the life he has.

• I'm not sure the Bucs have any players who shave yet. Well, Ronde Barber, maybe.

• The Most Valuable Coach on the Chicago staff this year? Not Mike Martz. Not Lovie Smith. Give you a clue: He bears a slight resemblance to Mike Stivic from All in the Family.

On with the show.

***

This is not the second coming of JaMarcus Russell

ST. CHARLES, Mo. -- On the Rams sideline Saturday night, during the club's first scrimmage of the summer, at woody Lindenwood University, all eyes were, of course, on rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, the first pick of the 2010 draft. "What's uncanny,'' said GM Billy Devaney, "is how he doesn't just complete the pass. He completes the pass most often where his guy can get it and the defender can't. Drives the corners crazy.'' On cue, Bradford took one of his 34 snaps of the evening, dropped back, and threw a spiral high and outside to 6-foot-4 wideout Jordan Kent at the goal line. Kent and the covering corner both jumped for it, but Kent had half a foot on him and won the ball easily.

A few minutes later, pressured, Bradford let one fly 45 yards downfield on a corner route to wideout Danny Amendola, in tight coverage. The ball floated perfectly into his arms before he got pushed out. Gain of 50. "The boy can throw that football!'' corner Ron Bartell exulted next to me. "You see that?!!'' Now that's a corner exulting when one of his brethren in the secondary got beat. Not a common thing for training camp. But when you've lost 42 of your last 48 games, and your passing game is probably the biggest reason why, you want any hope you can find. And in St. Louis, hope is spelled B-R-A-D-F-O-R-D.

You have to have a little perspective over what happened here Saturday night. On the first throw of third-string quarterback Keith Null's night, he rainbowed a bomb over corner Kevin Dockery to an undrafted free agent, Brandon McRae. The cornerback group, other than Bartell (Larry Fitzgerald calls playing Bartell his tough Sunday in the division), is a weak one, with injuries sidelining a couple of the presumptive members of the final roster. But I soon saw what my SI.com teammate Don "Donnie Brasco'' Banks was writing about when he watched Bradford at camp Friday. Bradford went nine of 12 with a couple of touchdowns and two drops in live periods, for something around 120 yards.

What I'd thought about Bradford in draft prep was that he was highly accurate, but a robo-QB. Watching him at Oklahoma, you'd see Bradford and his receivers and backs stare at the sidelines for the formation and play-call. Once they got it, they'd all jump to the line and snap the ball. Bradford didn't have to read much, if anything. He'd have a prescribed 1-2 progression to read and usually go to his first option. How would that translate to the NFL?

I still worry. A scrimmage where the quarterback is untouched and knows he's not going to get rapped around is no time to find out if a college phenom is the long-term answer. "I don't think the fact he's done it differently in college is setting him back,'' coach Steve Spagnuolo said on the bus on the way to the scrimmage. "From what I've seen of him so far, I'll be surprised if he's not able to grasp it.''

Walking off the Lindenwood field afterward (to the shrieks of every autograph-seeking kid within three miles), Bradford said he felt a little confused a few days ago with all that was being thrown at him during the offensive installation. "But I felt really comfortable tonight,'' he said. "The more second-nature it becomes, the more comfortable I'll be.''

Bradford said his surgically repaired right shoulder hasn't bothered him at camp. He said he was very happy with his accuracy in camp. Quarterbacks in the NFL need lots of traits to succeed, but none is more important than that last one -- accuracy. At the base of it all, that's why Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Peyton Manning have succeeded. And it's why JaMarcus Russell, Cade McNown and Kyle Boller didn't.

"So far he's been the perfect package,'' Bartell said. Key words: so far. But it's easy to be optimistic about the Rams for the first time in a while, watching this kid.

***

Introducing America to "Overtrained Athlete Syndrome."

HOUSTON -- The owner of the Houston Texans, Bob McNair, told me he believes his young linebacker, reigning NFL defensive rookie of the year Brian Cushing, is not guilty of taking a performance-enhancer called hCG. To that end, McNair plans to appeal Cushing's four-game suspension to commissioner Roger Goodell today in New York, according to Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston.

The NFL claims Cushing did test positive last September, and after a lengthy appeals process banned him for the first four games of the 2011 season. The NFL has been very clear about the rules of its program covering performance-enhancing substances, and I'd be surprised if the four-game ban would be adjusted by Goodell, regardless of McNair's arguments.

In an interview here Friday, Cushing said he thinks he knows why he tested positive for elevated levels of hCG. "Everything points to that overtrained athlete syndrome,'' Cushing said, walking back to the Texans' locker room after their afternoon practice. "I'm pretty sure it is. I'm pretty positive. I didn't take anything. It's not a tainted supplement. So all roads lead to that.''

The syndrome results from athletes training intensely for a long period, with the possibility of a testosterone imbalance resulting when an athlete stops training. I must stress the word "possibility,'' because no player in the history of the NFL substance-abuse program before Cushing tested positive for the higher level of hCG. The widespread belief in NFL circles was that a player who tests positive for hCG would be a steroid user trying to re-start regular testosterone production after it has been interrupted in a cycle of steroid use.

Rumors of steroid use have dogged Cushing since his high-school days in New Jersey, and followed him to USC. Despite the evidence against him, Cushing has denied that he took hCG. And Friday, his employer agreed.

"He shows no sign of ever having been on steroids,'' McNair said. "His weight hasn't changed appreciably since he's been with us. I've looked into it pretty thoroughly, and I haven't found anything that would lead me to believe that he has ever taken a performance-enhancing drug.''

Cushing said he is "well aware'' that the American public probably won't believe this claim. I think most people will view it as a dog-ate-my-homework defense. "It's tough when you know what kind of discipline you have, and what kind of work ethic you have, and the whole world doesn't believe you, and is against you. It's frustrating. But I know that the quickest way to answer all of this is by production on the field,'' Cushing said.

In other words, he needs to keep testing clean for any PEDs, and he needs to play well for the public to think he's playing clean. "The funny part -- well, not funny, really -- is that my worst month playing football last year was September, and that's when I tested positive. I had five or six tests after that. All negative,'' he said.

On Friday, Cushing sounded like he was resigned to playing a 12-game season and being the best player he could be for those 12.

"There is no question in my mind I'll be a better football player than I was last season,' he said. "I'm going into my second year. The plays I'm making on the practice field this year compared to last year, I'm so much more of a well-rounded football player than I was.''

I expect Cushing to come back possessed. We all do. Whether there's anything to this latest wrinkle is something I'll be following up on in the coming days, but the only way fans will look at Cushing as a great player is if he stays clean. For years..

 
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