Linebacker Clark Haggans and the Cards' defense prepares to attack Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford this weekend in St. Louis.
When quarterback Sam Bradford was drafted by the Rams back in April, Darnell Dockett tweeted a welcome as only he could.
"Fresh meat!" was the message from the Cardinals' Pro Bowl defensive tackle.
The tone has certainly changed as the months have passed and with Bradford set to start against the Cardinals Sunday in St. Louis. Dockett, asked if he was excited to have a shot at Bradford in a game that counts, would only say "I like getting after any quarterback."
It's safe to say the Cards will make sure to get after this one.
Bradford had an impressive preseason, good enough that most are convinced the Rams indeed found their franchise quarterback of the future. But this will be his first regular-season game, his first regular-season speed, against a defense anxious to show what it is capable of after an offseason of restructuring.
"They're not going to ask him to do a whole lot," linebacker Joey Porter said. "We have to be ready to stop the run and when they do ask him to pass, make sure we are where we are supposed to be. Not allow him to feel comfortable, make sure every time this guy drops back, he feels the pressure is in his lap. Hit a young quarterback a lot, early and often, it'll pay off in the fourth quarter."
What that means specifically, of course, is being kept under wraps. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said it's about keeping Bradford off balance, and "that's not off-balance-so-every-time-we-blitz but off balance in terms of I don't know what the hell is coming."
The Rams understand all that, of course. St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo – a former defensive coordinator – sat with Bradford watching video Tuesday with Spagnuolo trying to give Bradford hints at what kinds of things the Cards might throw at him.
Spagnuolo acknowledged defensive coordinators "get a little more creative" for a rookie QB.
Bradford is coming off his best two performances, lighting up the Patriots in the third preseason game and going 6-for-6 on one touchdown-scoring drive against the Ravens.
"Are we going to be able to draw up or guess everything they're going to throw at me? No," Bradford said. "At the same time, I'm comfortable in our schemes. I know where my protection is strong. I know where it's weak. I feel comfortable enough knowing I can get the ball out of my hand if they do decide to pressure me."
Whatever Bradford brings to the game, the Cardinals are still focused more on what Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson will do. Bradford said the Rams aren't leaning on Jackson anymore given the quarterback's inexperience, but the Cardinals are confident if they stop Jackson, the Rams will have major problems.
There is another theme for the Cardinals this week that doesn't include Bradford. That is finding the defensive identity. With a new free safety (Kerry Rhodes), three new linebackers out of the four (Porter, Paris Lenon and rookie Daryl Washington) and an opportunity for big years from the 3-4 defensive ends (Dockett and Calais Campbell), there are expectations yet unknowns.
Bradford – and the Rams – just happens to be the first proving ground.
"We haven't played together as a unit for very many snaps," Davis said. "We have to see what our personality is. We have to make sure our mistakes are minimal.
"I think we are a good group. But we have to put it out there on Sundays."
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