Last year at this time, Sam Bradford hadn't even started throwing in team drills during practice yet. The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback was still wearing a heavy brace on his leg as he rehabbed his way back from the second ACL tear of his career. Bradford is fully healthy at OTAs for the first time since 2013, and he's enjoying it.
"It’s night and day compared to last year," said Bradford after the Eagles' practice on Tuesday. "Obviously, last year at this point it was still really rehab-focused. It was about getting my knee to a place where I could go out there and practice and not having to think about it, not having to worry about it."
"Whereas this year, it’s really more about just building strength and then being able to get on the field and do everything. Take part in the OTAs and the offseason program. It’s been nice from that standpoint, to not have to have any physical limitations and be able to get out there and get the reps that I just wasn’t able to take last year."
In the limited time that Bradford has practiced, the veteran quarterback said he's gotten a good grasp of Doug Pederson's new offense. He also mentioned a notable difference between Pederson's West Coast scheme and the one Chip Kelly used.
"I think there are a lot more plays, a lot more concepts in right now compared to this time last year," explained Bradford. "Last year it was very repetitive in practice. You would see the same plays, so you’d get to run those plays multiple times. Whereas this year, we’ve got a big playbook. And you might get one run of a play that week and that’s it so you’ve really got to learn from what you see on tape."
On multiple occasions, Kelly's offense drew criticism for being too predictable during his tenure in Philadelphia. It's hard to say these claims were unsubstantiated given the gradual decline of offensive production over the past three seasons.
"Obviously the footwork is different, the timing is a little bit different," said Bradford when asked about how lining up under center differs from Kelly's preferred shotgun approach. "The protection calls are a little bit different when you’re under center."
"But at the same time I think you can get into more of some of the play action stuff. It’s a little bit more realistic when you are under center. I think some of those fakes are better. And if you stay balanced with the run and the pass under center, I think it just puts that slight second of hesitation in the defense. They’re not exactly sure what you’re doing because you’ve seen so many different looks from being under center."
Under Kelly, the Eagles did not employ the balance that Bradford is referencing here. In the rare instances they lined up under center, it was usually a run play.
Bradford didn't just talk about the differences between Kelly and Pederson. He also touched on how this offense compares to the system he ran with the Rams as a rookie in 2010.
"There’s definitely some similarities," he said. "Some of the terminology is the same because it’s West Coast based. I think from what I’ve seen so far we were probably in more two back, 21 personnel, than this offense will be. I think this is West Coast based, it’s still got some of those plays and personnel groupings."
"But I think it’s almost morphed into a little more spread [offense]. Whether that be with 11 or 12 personnel, 10 personnel, I think there’s more of those concepts than probably what we ran my rookie year in St. Louis."
Offensive familiarity isn't something Bradford typically has had the benefit of maintaining throughout his career. He's experienced a lot of coaching turnover. So just how much has that impacted his performance?
"It’s hard to say because I haven’t had that," offered Bradford. "I think that stability is something you really look for. When you are in the same system … I can look back on my time in St. Louis and just the three years when I was with [Brian Schottenheimer], when he was the offensive coordinator, by Year 3, when you’re going through this process, the offseason, you understand big picture what you’re trying to do."
"So you can really concentrate on some of the smaller details. Things that maybe you’ve learned from running those plays in game situations. Things you know that need to be addressed when you see it on film. Whereas the first time you go through, you’re really you just trying to grasp the big picture and what’s trying to be accomplished."
Unfortunately for Bradford, there's a good chance he'll have to learn yet another new scheme with another team as soon as next season. His days in Philadelphia are obviously numbered with the arrival of rookie passer Carson Wentz. In the short-term, it's up to Bradford to make the most of his time with the Eagles.