Sam Bradford's pro day workout should clear up top of NFL draft

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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.

The 32 first-round picks ... with a couple of asterisks.

Over the last couple of weeks, as I prepare to stick my size 14s into Dr. Z's size-55 shoes for the second time as SI's mock drafter, I've been asking NFL people about the pool of picks. Not necessarily where the players are going, but who the 32 lucky college prospects will be. I solidified over the weekend what I'm thinking (subject to change, of course), so here are the 32 players I think have the best chance to go in the first round in 24 days:

Offense (17)

Quarterbacks (3): Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow.

Running back (2): C.J. Spiller, Ryan Matthews.

Wide receiver (2): Dez Bryant, DeMaryius Thomas.

Tight end (2): Jermaine Gresham, Rob Gronkowski.

Center (1): Maurkice Pouncey.

Guard (1): Mike Iupati.

Tackle (6): Russell Okung, Bryan Bulaga, Anthony Davis, Trent Williams, Charles Brown, Bruce Campbell.

Defense (15)

End/Outside linebacker (5): Derrick Morgan, Jason Pierre-Paul, Brandon Graham, Sergio Kindle, Sean Weatherspoon.

Tackle (4): Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Dan Williams, Jared Odrick.

Cornerback (3): Joe Haden, Kyle Wilson, Devin McCourty.

Safety (2): Eric Berry, Taylor Mays.

Inside/middle linebacker (1): Rolando McClain.

Most likely to fall out of the first round: T Bruce Campbell.

Most likely to be in the first round among those I didn't choose: S Earl Thomas.

Most likely to rise from obscurity on draft weekend: CB/Return man Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (Indiana, Pa.)


The NFL is trying to fix the relatively unfixable with its Week 16 and 17 scheduling plans.

Roger Goodell said last week that in an effort to have fewer mail-it-in games at the end of the year, the NFL is likely to implement The Colts Plan (my words, not the league's) by scheduling only division rivalry games for Week 17. He hopes the schedule can be arranged similarly for Week 16, so that only intra-division games will be played in the last two weeks of the regular season.

It sounds good, and it's an effort, certainly. But it's not going to work. At least, it's not going to force the Colts to show up when they already have their playoff spot and seed clinched.

The Colts have had both opportunities in the last few years. In 2007, Indianapolis played AFC South rival Tennessee, fighting for a playoff spot against Cleveland, in the last week of the season. Indy had its spot clinched. The Colts pulled the plug on full effort by the starters, Tennessee won, and Cleveland simmered at Indy's cavalier attitude in a game of playoff significance. Last year, the Colts had two non-division games at the end of the season, with nothing to play for. Indy again played the starters sparingly, and lost.

The Colts simply won't play all out unless the game has significance to them. Is there more of a chance there could be a playoff significant game when it's a division game? Theoretically, yes, but with the Jags and Titans yo-yoing so often from good to non-factor in recent years, some team in the AFC South has to jump up and challenge the Colts consistently for there to be a chance of a 12-3 Colts team meeting a 12-3 division neighbor in Week 17.


Mike Tomlin is sure Darren Sharper will be playing football this year, not talking about it.

Tomlin was two years ahead of Sharper at William & Mary in the nineties, and he became a mentor of sorts to the young safety. I asked Tomlin at the league meetings if he thought Sharper would play this year, or if he'd take a TV job, tired of the beating he'd taken in his 14 NFL seasons. "I think Darren Sharper is playing football until he's not given the opportunity," Tomlin said. "It's in his DNA. It's how he's wired.''

Sharper told me last year he considered going to play for the Steelers last year before he signed with the Saints, but Tomlin said "we never headed down that road in any realistic form or fashion. We're old friends, and I like to keep my friends and business completely separated. I mean, I hosted Darren on his official visit to William & Mary. We grew up together. Sometimes that's not conducive to a healthy business relationship.''

Maybe not. I agree with Tomlin -- I think Sharper's going to play football this year. When I've talked to him before, he's struck me as being a lot like Brett Favre. He's going to play 'til he can't play any more. I look for him to sign with either the Saints or a strong contender sometime in July.

Sometimes you hit a home run in this business. Last Sept. 20 in the Boston Globe, Chris Gasper hit one long gone and hard to find in his NFL notes column. Here's what he wrote, proposing a new end to the overtime in NFL games:

"The team that gets possession first ... can only win on that possession if it scores a touchdown. If it kicks a field goal, then the other team receives the ball, and if it scores a touchdown, it wins in sudden death. If the team with the ball first doesn't score, then the second possessing team can win simply by scoring. If both teams kick field goals and the game remains tied after each has had a possession, then OT reverts to the current sudden-death format, where the first score of any kind wins. The same applies if neither team scores on its first possession. Any type of defensive score on the first overall possession of overtime also would end the game immediately.''

That, precisely, is what happened last Tuesday at the NFL meetings.

"Is it truly fair when one team doesn't get the opportunity to possess the ball? I think we've come up with a balanced system that is thoughtful, respects the game, and respects the people who play it.''

-- Roger Goodell, on the new overtime system that was approved 28-4 in a vote by owners on Tuesday.

"I hate it.''

-- New Orleans coach Sean Payton, on the new overtime rule.

"I can see the press conference now,'' Payton told me on Sirius NFL Radio the other day. " 'Coach, did you consider going for the touchdown rather than kicking the field goal?' I can write the questions right now.''

That's life in the big leagues. The one thing I've heard in the last few days, from fans mostly, is that coaches who make $4 million a year won't get much sympathy over the burden of having to make a big call with the game on the line.

"I had no idea who Charlie Whitehurst was until there was talk about him. I'd never heard of the guy. I have some friends on the San Diego staff, and they're feeling pretty darn good about the deal."

-- Fired Seattle coach Jim Mora, on ESPN Radio in Seattle, asked about the new Seattle quarterback, acquired from San Diego for a third-round pick in 2011 and a swap of seconds this year. That swap moved San Diego from 60 to 40 in the second round.

Mora might be a little prejudiced in making this trade sound boneheaded for Seattle after being unceremoniously fired and replaced by Pete Carroll in January. Maybe just a little.

Carroll faced the music on the deal at the league meetings. "It's really simple,'' he said, asked about dealing so much for a guy who hasn't thrown a pass in four NFL seasons with San Diego. "There are a lot of throws that Charlie had a chance to do over the last few years in the preseason. You can say what you want about preseason being the real deal. When you drop back and you throw comebacks, and you drop back and you throw in-routes and there are guys rushing you, you drop back and you got to move in the pocket and find a second and third receiver. That is definitely on the film clearly.

"It is not the same as week in and week out having to handle the stress and the pressure of the schedule and all of that. That is different stuff that we have to find out, but to see him carry out the demands of the position from a physical side you could see that easily. Plus, our guys had watched him coming out. We had all of those early evaluations just like you have as a draft choice and a college career behind all of that. If it is just one preseason and he only played in a couple of games that is one thing, but he has played in games for years. That was enough for us to see the kind of raw talent that we were looking for and the movement we were looking for.

"We are looking at him coming into this program like he is a very high draft pick and how we would evaluate his background at that point. So we feel good and confident about that. Now we have to develop him in our program and make him a Seahawk and make him a guy that can execute our offense and carry that and we will see how long that takes."

We'll see.

Colt McCoy seems like Drew Brees, nine years later. Accurate, confident, undersized, historically prolific at a major college. Obviously, he can only hope the comparisons many NFL scouts and coaches are making, linking the two, are valid. Comparing the college stat lines:

Brees was a high school football star at Austin (Texas) Westlake High. McCoy was a high school football star at Jim Ned (Texas) High.

Brees married a volleyball player at Purdue. McCoy is engaged to a track-and-field athlete at Baylor.

Brees is active in many children's charities and is a benefactor of a children's hospital in New Orleans. McCoy is active with the Children's Miracle Network telethon and volunteers at the children's hospital in Austin.

I return to the real world tonight after a terrific holiday with my two brothers and brother-in-law. Seven spring-training games in seven venues in six days, finishing Monday afternoon on the east coast of the state, in Viera, at Nats-Mets, weather permitting. Notes from some fun days:

Wednesday: day/nighter: Phils-Braves at Disney's Wide World of Sports, Nats-Yanks at Tampa. The Disney complex reminds me of the very old days, just out of college, when we'd go occasionally to Kings Island north of Cincinnati, and there'd be an army of park cleaners, sweeping and tidying and making sure the place was spotless, no matter the size of the crowd. At one point, I turned around and saw a woman trailing me with broom and handled dustpan. Nothing on the ground here either ... At Steinbrenner Field, it's majestic and bigger and better than anywhere else, and the barbequed pork nachos weren't bad.

Thursday: Braves-Pirates in Bradenton. In my early days as a backup Reds writer in Cincinnati, I remember a man who seemed like an old war horse then, the fungo-hitting Bobby Dews. And there he was again, 71 now, a little stooped over and as bow-legged as Walter Brennan, smiling and hitting grounders to third and short in between BP pitches. Rookie phenom Jason Heyward's fun to watch swing. The ball has a Bonds-like thwack coming off the bat.

Friday: Rays-Jays in Dunedin. Great vendor out in right field at the Toronto camp. "Canadian beer in an American can made in China!'' he hawked. These Rays scare this Red Sox follower. Evan Longoria hit a Frank Howard home run to left, a mile high. Cute little old-time ballpark with ospreys nesting in the left-field light tower and some very good Land Shark Lager nesting behind the first-base stands.

Saturday: Red Sox-O's in Sarasota. My brother Bob, in the first inning, points to the sky from our seats in the right-field foul-line bleachers. "Look,'' he said. "Bald eagle!'' And maybe a flock of white pelicans way up high over the field later on. But I give Ed Smith Stadium the beer award: Shock Top Belgian White, with orange slice, under the first-base stands. John Lackey looked mostly sharp for the Sox, but sticks were dormant. O's, 6-1.

Sunday: Jupiter, Fla.: Astros-Marlins in Jupiter, a split Cards/Marlins facility. Fun day at the ballpark with Bill Parcells, and stopping to meet Tony LaRussa before the Cards left to play the Mets in Port St. Lucie (interesting story about how he collaborated with Buzz Bissinger on Three Nights in August to help pay for his monstrous animal shelter in the Bay Area), then watching fielding and batting practice with some Marlins. I held Dan Uggla's bat; I think it'll take three showers to get the pine tar off my hands.

Couldn't believe how the ball jumped off the bat of catcher Ronnie Paulino during BP. "The Babe,'' Parcells called him. Later, we sat upstairs in a radio booth, and my sibs were entertained by Parcells' stories, particularly when Ron Wolf and family and then Marlins VP of player personnel Dan Jennings stopped by. Jennings worked on a trade during his time with us, and I'd like to tell you more but then I'd have to ... well, not really. I actually have no scoop for you there, Fish fans.

All in all, a very fun time with my bros. I've got to think it's more convenient to do one of these trips in Arizona, with every team being within 45 minutes of each other by next year.

"Does Tebow sponsor your page?''

-- @lizmatthews12, Liz Matthews of Seattle, apparently perturbed by the amount of attention I am paying to Tim Tebow in pre-draft coverage. Liz, you are not alone in that thought.

No on the sponsorship, but from what I hear, he'll be able to afford to when his new contract with a very big sports equipment and apparel manufacturer is announced very soon.

1. I think the thing about a Super Bowl in New Jersey in February 2014 -- which seems more and more likely with the vote due as early as May --is that too few people are thinking about the precedent it sets for future games in outdoor, cold-weather venues.

Dan Snyder has $40 million in debt service every year for FedEx Field before he even opens the doors; why wouldn't he be stomping his feet for a Super Bowl in a venue that's 222 miles south of the Meadowlands? You think good NFL soldier Pat Bowlen in his new Denver palace -- the same place that hosted the Barack Obama coronation -- won't press for a Super Bowl? Or richie rich Paul Allen in state-of-the-art Qwest Field? Dangerous ground for the NFL to travel.

2. I think unless the networks stamp their feet quite a bit, the new overtime reform will pass for the regular season when NFL owners meet in Dallas in May. I'm told by two major players who were in the room for the vote last Tuesday that if Goodell had pressed for the rule to be instituted for the regular season he could have gotten at least 24 votes for it.

"But it wasn't the right thing to do,'' one of my sources said. "You don't push that through without talking to your network partners seriously about it beforehand.'' It's true the games could be a few plays longer, but I doubt FOX and CBS (with early games that could be butting up against late-Sunday-afternoon games) will draw lines in the sand on this issue.

3. I think one thing that amazed me at the NFL meetings last week was the 15 or so league and media people who told me they gave their $5 for our "Five For Fighting'' campaign. Thanks to them, and to everyone who has given.

As many of you know, I'm asking $5 (or a donation of your choice) to help the men and women in our Armed Forces -- particularly those who serve at remote bases with only life's necessities and no creature comforts. The donation will help with recreation equipment for the troops in need in Iraq and Afghanistan, equipment like TVs, video games, sports stuff and weights for the 135-soldier company like Mike McGuire's. He's the longtime MMQB friend and Army First Sergeant (to be deployed to Afghanistan this year).

Please keep it coming for one more week; I'd like to get at least 10 companies or platoons outfitted. If you know someone who would like to keep the donations coming, please pass along the link. As an additional way to support the "Five For Fighting'' campaign, the USO has created a virtual wall which we will share directly with First Sgt. McGuire. If you'd like, please take a moment and offer a few words to let those men know that they're in our thoughts back here. Click here to send your best.

I'll give you the final verdict a week from today on how many lives you have impacted with your generosity to Mike McGuire and his men, and to some other troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. For now, here's one last missive from McGuire for a while. It arrived in my e-mail box Friday morning, and if you ever think your thoughts and donations don't impact our men and women over there, read this:

"Peter: Getting ready to leave today for 5.5 weeks of field training, gunnery, etc. Time to start turning the screw to the right and tighten hard on these new soldiers. I read a lot of the posts that people wrote on the wall that the USO set up. Pretty amazing stuff. We are all very humbled. I have never kept record of anything I did, but you have managed to do that for me from the beginning. Thank you. My children will appreciate it later in life, as I save every one. Every person who wrote on that wall has a place with me now -- with me and my fellas, Thank you. Peter, you have became the spokesman for the Soldier. You rock ... Our first company from the Battalion leaves here REAL soon. Will keep you posted once they are in place down range. Take care. Mike.''

4. I think the more I hear about Ben Roethlisberger and the immense distraction of the sexual-assault allegation (Adam Schefter reports the QB will stay away from the Steeler offseason program, which begins for vets today in Pittsburgh, to avoid the circus it would create), the more I think the Steelers have to plan for life without Roethlisberger this year, just in case. And I don't mean just Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon.

I mean, if they're not truly committed to Dixon in the event he has to play the season, they have to draft a solid insurance policy -- maybe someone like NCAA touchdown record-setter Dan LeFevour -- to get ready just in case. I've been alarmed by some of the hearsay I've heard said about the Roethlisberger case, and the Steelers (and their fans) need to understand the seriousness of the charge and the fact that there's no guarantee about his future if this case goes to trial.

5. I think it was a good idea for Jets owner Woody Johnson to show his human side in a very good profile by Greg Bishop in Sunday's New York Times. Interesting how Johnson rides a little scooter to work in Manhattan many days, and he's interested in making his players more star-like in a starry city. "I'm hoping to let the players come out of the tunnel without their helmets on,'' Johnson told Bishop. "I'd like the fans to get to know the players. It's hard to see a football player. When the fans get to know the players, they'll be very impressed, as I am.''

Johnson said he supports the media getting good inside information about his team, because it makes the fans more intrigued by the team. "We don't want to make this the secret to Coke or whatever.''

Uh, Woody: Can you talk to your fellow owners about that?

6. I think I cannot see Gene Smith, the Jacksonville GM, taking Tim Tebow. First round, second round, any round.

7. I think one of the most influential young coaches in the game is getting to be Kyle Shanahan. The new offensive coordinator of the Redskins is 30, and he's doing quite a bit more than most Washington observers thought he'd be doing under his dad -- like running all of the private Tebow workouts for the Redskins recently.

8. I think Joey Porter and Milton Bradley might have been separated at birth.

9. I think I'd sign Pacman if I were you, Jim Schwartz. You need a cover guy, and if he screws up one time, he's back on the street. It's no big risk as I see it.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Tremendous defense against Cornell, Kentucky.

b. Has there ever been better clutch shooting in the last 12 minutes of a Sweet 16 game as there was in Xavier-Kansas State?

c. Drat. I was really pulling for Northern Iowa.

d. I'm not a college basketball guy (what a shock!), but I'd say people are handing the national title to West Virginia way too soon.

e. One fun thing about driving across central Florida is stopping at an orange grove, getting out of the car, and just smelling the air. Citrusy. Outstanding.

f. Coffeenerdness: Had a pleasant evening writing in the Starbucks in Port St. Lucie Sunday night. That is, until I saw the dead rat in the parking lot.

g. Say hi to me in Viera today -- if there's a game.