(Sports Network) – Rookie Sam Bradford will get the start behind center on Thursday night, as the No. 1 pick of the St. Louis Rams leads his team into battle against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Bradford will be making his third appearance of the preseason, but will open a game for the first time after relieving A.J. Feeley in a loss to the Vikings (28-7) and win over the Browns (19-17). Feeley injured his elbow and thumb in the Cleveland win, and will miss at least one game.
Bradford, the former Oklahoma star and Heisman Trophy winner, has struggled thus far during the warm-up period, completing 12-of-27 passes (44.4 percent) for 81 yards, a 51.6 passer rating, and four sacks absorbed. The rookie, who inked a contract guaranteeing him $50 million earlier this summer, is expected to work the first half before giving way to Keith Null.
The story on defense for the Rams will be the play, and health, of the secondary as they face one of the league’s top passing attacks. Cornerbacks Kevin Dockery (hip), Justin King (calf), Jerome Murphy (ankle) and safeties James Butler (knee) and Kevin Payne (knee) all missed the Cleveland win and another cornerback, Ron Bartell (neck) was injured in the contest.
The Patriots, meanwhile, will be trying to keep their collective foot on the gas after opening the preseason with encouraging wins over the Saints (27-24) and Falcons (28-10).
Quarterback Tom Brady has been razor-sharp in a couple of warm-up outings, completing 15-of-20 passes for 152 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers in his two appearances.
Adding to the optimism in last week’s win over the Falcons was the on-field presence of wide receiver Wes Welker, who caught two passes for 20 yards roughly seven-and-a-half months after suffering a major knee injury in the Pats’ regular season finale against the Houston Texans. There had been speculation following the injury that Welker would not be ready for the start of the 2010 regular season.
Brady and the New England starters should play about a half on Thursday, in keeping with third-game-of-preseason tradition, before Brian Hoyer and the second-team takes over.
Also expected to play for the Pats against the Rams is recently-acquired offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka. Ojinnaka, who appeared in 39 games with the Falcons from 2006-09, starting 12, is trying to fit in on a decimated trench group. Right tackle Nick Kaczur could miss the season after undergoing recent back surgery, and Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins is embroiled in a contract holdout with the team and looks no closer to reporting to the team.
Cornerback Leigh Bodden (knee) is among the Patriots’ injury question marks for Thursday.
The preseason series between the Rams and Patriots is knotted, 4-4, with New England evening the series by virtue of a 28-10 win in the last such meeting, in Anaheim prior to the 1994 campaign.
The teams last met in meaningful play in 2008 at Gillette Stadium, a 23-16 Patriots victory.