The Sam Bradford era begins this weekend when the No. 1 overall draft choice finally steps on the field for the St. Louis Rams in their first preseason game.
St. Louis hosts the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night and Rams fans will get their first look at their expensive draft pick in NFL game conditions. Bradford's contract guarantees the quarterback $50 million and if all incentives are reached, the six-year deal is worth at least $78 million.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo said veteran A. J. Feeley will start at quarterback and go about "12 to 14 plays" against Minnesota.
"Then Sam will get in there," Spagnuolo said. "Then, we'll decide how far we'll go with Sam based on how the game's going. I would think he would get through the second quarter. Then, whether we bring him out in the second half or not, we'll decide. We may not."
It's unlikely Bradford will go against Minnesota's first-string defense and its rugged line. That's fine with Spagnuolo.
"I'm sure Sam is anxious to get in a game. I don't think he's worried about who's on the other side," Spagnuolo said. "If it doesn't happen, that's OK. That's a good football team over there. They've got pretty good players."
For his part, Bradford can't wait.
"I'm really excited and looking forward to getting out there and playing in an actual NFL game," Bradford said after Thursday afternoon's practice. "The butterflies aren't there yet but I'm sure they will be by tomorrow evening. In college, you don't have preseason games. I'm going to treat it like the first game of the year, which it is."
Bradford has not played since the third game of Oklahoma's season last year. So far in training camp, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner appears completely recovered from shoulder surgery that cost him most of his final season at Oklahoma.
Bradford has no worries about his shoulder. In act, he gets a little annoyed being asked about it.
"It's not a big deal to me," Bradford said. "I really don't know why people keep bringing it up. It's part of the game. I've taken hits all my life and it'll jus be another hit when I get hit on Saturday."
Coach Steve Spagnuolo acknowledged he hasn't thought about Bradford getting hit.
"We're not going to let him get hit; we're going to protect him," Spagnuolo quipped. "I mean, that's going to happen. He's a tough guy. We'll keep our fingers crossed that he bounces right back up."
Bradford is the centerpiece of a rebuilding effort for the Rams, who were 1-15 last year in the first season under Spagnuolo and are a woeful 6-42 the last three seasons. He will be looking for specific things in his performance against the Vikings.
"I'm kind of anxious to see how I react to a defense I haven't seen, an NFL defense that I haven't gotten reps against to see what the speed will be like during a game," Bradford said. "From everyone I've talked to, they say the speed definitely picks up during the game. I want to see how I react to all of that."
Backups Keith Null, a second-year player back from last year, and rookie free agent Thad Lewis, will see time in the second half.
The Rams also released fullback Eric Butler to make room for a kicker. Josh Brown remains out with a sore hip.