Pete Carroll returns, Sam Bradford debuts in NFL preseason games

For those with little interest in NFL preseason football, understanding the excitement Pete Carroll and Sam Bradford are feeling is impossible.

It should be understandable considering Carroll will coach his first pro game in a decade and Bradford will play in his first NFL game Saturday night.

Enticed by $30 million and full power of football operations, Carroll left behind a dynasty at Southern California to become coach-vice president of the Seattle Seahawks. He'll lead them against the Tennessee Titans at Qwest Field, his first game on an NFL sideline since Jan. 2, 2000 at the helm of the Patriots.

Before his three seasons in New England, Carroll coached the Jets for a year.

"I can't wait to see the fans and see the crowd. I've heard so much about it," Carroll said. "There's no way I imagine anything close to what it's going to be like going in there for the first time when we're really cranking it up and it's gametime.

"We'll get to see how far we've come."

Folks in St. Louis will get to see how far top overall draft choice Bradford has come when the Rams host Minnesota. The quarterback's contract guarantees him $50 million and if all incentives are reached, the six-year deal is worth at least $78 million.

Bradford won't start — coach Steve Spagnuolo will go with journeyman A. J. Feeley for a dozen or so plays.

"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."

Bradford will take whatever he can get.

"I'm really excited and looking forward to getting out there and playing in an actual NFL game," Bradford said. "The butterflies aren't there yet but I'm sure they will be ... In college, you don't have preseason games. I'm going to treat it like the first game of the year, which it is."

Also opening their preseason schedules Saturday night will be Tampa Bay at Miami; Detroit at Pittsburgh; Cleveland at Green Bay; Houston at Arizona; and Chicago at San Diego.

Carroll declined several previous offers to return to the NFL, and his Trojans were a powerhouse throughout his nine seasons at USC. He went 97-19, winning seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships.

It was something of a shock, then, when the Seahawks persuaded him to come to the Pacific Northwest.

His enthusiasm, though, is not at all surprising.

"No, I don't know if there's 'just any game' to me," he said. "This is huge. It is what it is, the first game of preseason. But to us, this is the first major test and it's our first opportunity to make major assessments."

In St. Louis, the assessment of Bradford also will begin, although expectations are low after the Rams went 1-15 last year. Besides, Bradford could be a backup when the schedule begins, if not for long after that.

For now, he gets to face the Vikings, an NFC favorite with a staunch defensive line.

"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."

So does the rest of the league.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is noncommittal about using Ben Roethlisberger against the Lions. Roethlisberger's six-game suspension, which could be shortened by commissioner Roger Goodell, does not begin until after the preseason.

"I want to play — I want to be out there with the guys. I'd like to play the whole game," Roethlisberger said. "If coach says I'm not going to play, it's his call."

And Tomlin isn't making that call public yet.

"We're going to make you come to the stadium to check that out," Tomlin said.