ST. LOUIS – Sam Bradford has the St. Louis Rams' starting quarterback job this week. Now he's got to produce.
The top pick of the draft gets his first pro start in place of veteran A.J. Feeley, sidelined with a sprained right thumb, but with no guarantees beyond Thursday night's game at New England. Coach Steve Spagnuolo said after practice Tuesday that he expected Bradford to play at least the first half, and maybe more depending on how much time the Rams have the ball.
"I know the spotlight's on Sam right now and everybody's anxious to see him in there with the first group with Steven Jackson in the backfield," Spagnuolo said to reporters after practice. "I'm just as anxious as you guys are."
Bradford has struggled thus far, going 12 for 27 for 81 yards and no touchdowns. Playing in hard rain in the last preseason game at Cleveland, he passed for only 24 yards.
He's still adjusting to being under center and has bobbled a number of snaps. Spagnuolo characterized his play thus far as "up and down."
"Obviously, I want to come out and have a strong showing," Bradford said. "I want to show the guys on this team that I can play. I think this is a great learning opportunity for me and this offense, but most of all I really want to come out and help this offense win a football game."
Spagnuolo gave the starting job to Feeley entering camp and could restore him for the preseason finale, giving no guarantees beyond that to Bradford beyond saying he'll start the player who gives a team that went 1-15 last year its best chance to win. Feeley missed both practices of a short work week, but anticipated he'd be able to grip the football soon.
"Every time they go out there, they're being evaluated," Spagnuolo said. "We'll see at the end of it."
Still, nobody expects the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner and the player the Rams signed to a six-year, $78 million contract to be a backup for long.
It'll be Bradford's first start since last October when his bid for a second straight Heisman Trophy ended with a shoulder injury against Texas.
"My expectations are extremely high," he said. "Obviously, I want to come out and perform at an extremely high level. I don't know what the fans should expect."
Spagnuolo said earlier in the week that having Jackson in the backfield for the first time would be a "comfort" to Bradford. The Rams are searching for a backup behind the bruising two-time Pro Bowl player, with reserves totaling 70 yards on 42 carries.
"Somebody has to surface there," Spagnuolo said. "In the knock on wood event that we need a running back, we've got to have somebody ready to go."
Jackson played only the first series in a 19-27 victory at Cleveland and Spagnuolo said he'd probably play a little bit more.
"It's going to be a big game for all of us, not just Sam," Jackson said. "It's a good measuring stick in the New England Patriots to see where we're at as a team, how far we have come.
"It's a great test for him to see where he's at and give him some good material to study over the next two weeks."
Jackson didn't play on saying much to Bradford before the game.
"I'm not a motivational speaker," Jackson said. "Just go out there and play hard and stay within himself and execute the things that he's working on."
Spagnuolo wants from Bradford what he got last week from Feeley, who was 5 for 6 for 45 yards and threw a touchdown pass several plays after injuring his thumb when he banged it against the helmet of a blitzing defender.
"Start out fast, start out strong, move the team," Spagnuolo said. "That would be nice."
Backup offensive tackle Phil Trautwein was carted off during practice with a right knee injury after a teammate fell on it and was scheduled for an MRI exam. The Rams waived linebacker Dominic Douglas (hamstring) with an injury settlement.