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Sam Bradford Isn't The Next Alex Smith, Right?

Alex Smith had high expectations coming off a big year in 2006. But a new offensive coordinator every year of his career has left Smith on the reclamation project short list. Sam Bradford isn't going that way, right?

2,900 yards. 16 TD's.

3,500 yards. 18 TD's.

One of those lines belongs to Alex Smith as his first full season starting for the 49ers. The other was Sam Bradford's Rookie of the Year campaign for the St. Louis Rams in 2010. Can you tell which is which without looking?

As the NFL lockout reaches its nadir this weekend, with a presumed handshake deal on the verge of being consummated, Alex Smith appears to be headed back to San Francisco to work under his seventh offensive coordinator in his seventh NFL season. 

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Sam Bradford enters his sophomore year waiting for the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. This will be Bradford's second OC in as many years, and barring a complete flop by the Rams offense in 2011, JMcD will most likely be sniffed around when it comes to hiring/firing season for head coaches around New Years.

Both men are former first-overall draft picks. Both men are helming storied NFC West franchises looking to regain some former glory. Both men needed to be in a structured NFL off-season program and weren't.

Let's hope that's where the story diverges.

At this point, all 32 NFL teams playing football in 2011, if forced to throw every player in a re-assignment draft, would have to take a hard look at Sam Bradford as the player they'd select #1 overall. He's qualmed any trepidation over his surgically repaired shoulder and proven that he could take a pretty bad team to the precipice of a playoff berth.  He might not get the nod, but he's not falling very far down the board either.

Alex Smith still has very, very small hands.

And while I think many Rams fans and other pundits would agree that Bradford has proven (thus far) to be the better draft pick with more potential to reach, It's also worth noting that Smith was also considered a top line prospect after 2006 with high expectations moving into 2007.

Talent is a huge factor in the NFL. That isn't deniable. But it's also a league where scheming, game planning and familiarity with systems are more important than ever. The Mike Martz aerial attack has morphed into a game where someone like Wes Welker can be a superstar if his team has the right mix of players and schemes to utilize what he does really well. But when you don't have time to see what is working and what is disaster in situations that don't matter (practice), then you're behind the eight ball.

Josh McDaniels offensive plan is going to be more complicated than Pat Shurmur's. Barry Switzer's ‘wishbone' offense was more complicated than Pat Shurmur's.  And as of the first week of July, Bradford can only really work on what he's seen from McDaniel's past sets and what he's learned from year one as a starter. You may know the rules of poker, but until you sit at a table and get under the gun making moves, it's hard to know truly how you'd react.

The lockout won't be the ultimate excuse if the Rams take a step back in 2011. But it should be considered a factor. It's denied Bradford and the whole Rams offense the time that was desperately needed to get up to speed with a new system and build on the positive momentum from 2011. When we look back on this spring and summer, that might be the thing we point too if the team finishes a game back and perhaps loses a game or two early that they shouldn't have.

Now maybe this will all be moot.

Maybe Bradford is much, much better than Smith and it's as simple as that. Maybe he follows up his ROY award with an MVP caliber year. Maybe Smith wasn't worth his draft value and his offensive coordinator shuffle isn't a cause of his play, but a symptom. In time, we'll find out.

But when the season resumes this month, the Rams find themselves digging out of a hole once again. This time, though, we just don't know how deep it's got.

BTW- The first line is Smith, the second Bradford. If you hadn't already forgot...