The NFL lockout has created a nasty disadvantage for teams installing new offenses. In a normal year, a team that changes coordinators has an entire offseason to install the offense. By training camp, players should be well-versed in the new scheme's terminology and playbook. This year, players weren't even allowed to talk to their new coordinators. Some had playbooks, but without the coach to translate, a written copy of the offense wasn't all that meaningful.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford faced that dilemma. When coordinator Pat Shurmur left St. Louis to become head coach in Cleveland, the Rams hired Josh McDaniels to run the offense. Bradford, the 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year, couldn't pick McDaniels' brain because of the lockout. So Bradford decided to go back to school.
Just not his school.
Bradford, who won the 2008 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, spent two days in June at Florida, where he peppered first-year Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis with questions about the offense Weis ran -- and McDaniels ultimately took over -- in New England at the turn of this century. "They spent time in New England together," Bradford said. "So their offensive philosophies are fairly similar. Obviously, they don't run the exact same offense. But I just thought if I could come down and just talk some ball with coach Weis and get a feel for what his philosophy is, then it could possibly help me try to transition to Josh's offense."
During his trip to Gainesville, Bradford only had to endure a little ribbing about Florida's win against Oklahoma in the BCS title game in January 2009 from former Gators receiver Riley Cooper. Bradford's father and Cooper's father grew up together in Oklahoma. Cooper, who plays for the Eagles, served as Bradford's guide in Gainesville.
But while Cooper and his Eagles teammates know exactly what Andy Reid expects from his offense, Bradford wasn't sure what to tell his locked-out teammates about McDaniels' scheme. "I really didn't know where to start with that or what I needed to teach to our guys," said Bradford, who threw for 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns as a rookie. "One of the things I asked coach Weis is, 'If you were going to install this offense, where would you start?' He gave me a couple of places to start."
Weis, who through a Florida spokesman declined to comment for this story, also showed Bradford a video that helped drive home some of the concepts in the playbook. "I have the playbook. I can look at the paper all I want," Bradford said. "But it's a lot different when you actually have someone who can kind of talk you through it -- someone who has experienced it, knows what the reads are and can kind of tell you what to expect."
Bradford also came away impressed with Weis, who was fired as Notre Dame's head coach after the 2009 season and who came to Florida after one successful year running the Kansas City Chiefs' offense. "Just in sitting down with him for a couple of days, he knows a lot about the game," Bradford said. "He's very detail-oriented."
The session also helped Bradford teach his teammates the offense during player-led workouts throughout the lockout. Bradford said organizing the workouts felt an awful lot like his time at Oklahoma. In college, coaches aren't allowed to organize offseason on-field workouts. So other than weight room work, Bradford and his teammates had to run the show. After a year away from Norman, Bradford found himself helping organize summer workouts again. But this time he had to worry about flight schedules instead of class schedules. "The only difference is not everyone lives in the same city anymore," Bradford said with a laugh.
After the lockout ended, the real crash course began for Bradford. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he arrived Tuesday at the Rams' facility and immediately embarked on a marathon film session with McDaniels. But Bradford didn't go into the session cold. McDaniels' former boss had already given Bradford a head start.