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NFL AM: Eagles Moving Ahead With Sam Bradford As Starter

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Just one month ago, it appeared as though the marriage between Sam Bradford and the Philadelphia Eagles was doomed to end in a quick divorce. But as the Eagles wrapped OTA this week in Philly, it seems Bradford has taken back his stranglehold on the starting job, at least for 2016.

After a brief holdout that saw him miss a handful of voluntary workouts, the six-year veteran reported back to the Eagles facility on May 9th and has since participated in every activity the team has held while getting the vast majority of first team reps and the team is happy with what they’ve seen from him.

“[He’s] taken this thing and run with it,” new Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “I think he’s done an outstanding job. Again, when you’re spreading reps equally, with three guys, that’s what you want to see, and I think he’s really done a nice job and taken that next step to be the leader of this football team and be the starter. He’s done a good job there.”

It’s a stark contrast to where things were just a month ago after the draft, when the Eagles selected quarterback Carson Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick, declaring the North Dakota State product their quarterback of the future. Bradford briefly left the team and was said to have asked for a trade. But when that could not be worked out he returned to work in Philly, where he has been “competing” with Wentz and free agent acquisition Chase Daniel.

“It’s still a competition,” Pederson said. “Listen, I brought guys in here at all positions for competition. That’s what makes you better. Iron sharpens iron. Don’t misunderstand what we’re saying. I’ve played the position. Donovan McNabb was drafted to take over my spot eventually. That’s just the nature of the deal.”

Indeed, Pederson has been in Bradford’s shoes before. In 1999, Pederson started the first nine games of the season for the Eagles, compiling a 2-7 record before he was replaced by McNabb, the No. 2 overall pick in the ’99 draft. But Philadelphia went on to compile a 5-11 record that season, so they’re hoping the same scenario with Bradford and Wentz turns out quite different.

Ideally, Bradford would lead the Eagles to a NFC East title and on a playoff run this season, making him trade bait in the offseason as they handed the reins over to Wentz. That’s been the plan since the team traded up in the draft to get Wentz, who remains a gifted but somewhat raw talent who probably won’t be ready to see NFL action from the start.

At a certain point, Bradford had to realize as well that his best remaining chance to get what he wants out of the two-year, $35 million pact he signed with the Eagles in March is to go to work and have success. If he can do that, and establish himself as one of the league’s more competent quarterbacks, something he’s failed to do over the first six years of his career, mostly due to injury, the rest is likely to work itself out for him.

The former No. 1 overall pick showed more signs of the promise that has shadowed him for much of his career late last season, something the Eagles hope he can build on. After missing two games due to injury in late November, he returned for Philadelphia’s final five games and guided the Eagles to a 3-2 mark. Over that span, he completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,428 yards and eight touchdowns vs. four interceptions. He also developed a rapport with Philly’s pass catchers that was previously absent.

The system has changed a bit now that Pederson is in charge, but reports from Philadelphia have Bradford picking up the new scheme, which is quarterback friendly due to Pederson’s experience at the position, quickly and concisely. The new Eagles coach stated this week that Bradford tops the team’s depth chart followed by Daniel and Wentz and despite the ongoing “competition” between the Eagles signal callers during practices, he doesn’t expect that to change, barring something unforeseen.

“Competition is great. It helped me as a quarterback,” Pederson said. “I look at what Sam’s done, and he’s taken this thing and run with it. It’s unbelievable what he’s done. I’m so excited about the direction he’s going, and the stuff that he’s doing on the field right now are the things that I expected and what I saw at the end of the season last year from Sam Bradford.”

BRONCOS STILL HAVE MORE QB QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

While things are looking rather rosy in Philadelphia at the quarterback position, the situation is not as good in Denver, where the defending Super Bowl Champions are still trying to figure out who will lead them out of the tunnel when they open the season on September 8th against Carolina.

After the retirement of Peyton Manning and the abrupt departure of Brock Osweiler, the man they’d groomed for years to fill Manning’s shoes, the Broncos has to scramble for solutions to their sudden quarterback crisis. They first traded with Philadelphia to acquire Mark Sanchez, who lost his spot with the Eagles when the team signed Daniel, then moved up in the draft to select Memphis QB Paxton Lynch. Denver’s only returning quarterback is 2015 seventh round pick Trevor Siemian and the Broncos have been stating recently that Siemian, who has never thrown a NFL pass and was not highly regarded as a prospect like Lynch is, has as good a chance as any to win the job.

That’s how rough things are in Denver right now.

The most obvious candidate appears to be Sanchez, the only guy who has actually started for a NFL team before. After all, this isn’t a team that’s looking to finish third or worse in their division. The Broncos continue to have Super Bowl aspirations as the defending champions and Sanchez does have playoff experience as well, having led the New York Jets to back-to-back AFC title game appearances early in his career. But the six-year veteran hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in his opportunities over the last two seasons in Philadelphia and there’s a reason the Eagles did all they could to replace him.

On the other side of the coin, the Broncos clearly have the most invested in Lynch, whom they traded up in the first round of the draft to select. Lynch was believed by some draft experts to be the best quarterback with the highest ceiling in a fairly weak draft class, but he’s perhaps even more raw than even Carson Wentz, which caused the Memphis product to tumble to the bottom of the first round, long after the Rams and Eagles made Jared Goff and Wentz the top two picks. Lynch has a lot to learn about the NFL game and how to run a pro style offense, and Denver doesn’t have the luxury of low expectations that might allow him to learn on the job like other rookie quarterbacks have.

Then there’s Siemian, an afterthought in the 2015 NFL Draft who, for a short time a month after the Super Bowl became the only quarterback on the roster of the defending Super Bowl Champions. Siemian looks the part, but he was not a successful college quarterback and his pro prospects were dim at best when the Broncos scooped him up with the 250th of 256 picks in last year’s draft. He didn’t have much success in the 2015 preseason for Denver either, so it’s hard to believe the Broncos consider him a serious option, but perhaps that’s just how desperate they are. Still with plenty of time to make a choice, the franchises cornerstones aren’t panicking yet.

“We’re not worried,” star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said recently. “We still got time. These guys are going to be fine. Sanchez has won playoff games. I can’t say much about (the experience of) Paxton and Trevor, but they’ve been great so far. So we’ll be fine. We got playmakers around them and coaches will put them in the right situation, and of course we’ve still got our great defense.”

Indeed, the Broncos do still have that defense and they’ll have to lean heavily on it regardless of who emerges as the starting quarterback, because it’s highly unlikely any of them will be able to duplicate the success Manning and Osweiler had in 2015. But Denver is going to give them every chance to try.

“Let me just say this: I’m very comfortable with our three guys right now,” head coach Gary Kubiak said. “That’s where I’m at. I love the competition that’s going on. They’re all very capable of helping this football team win. That’s why they’re here.”

NINERS WAITING PATIENTLY ON KAP

One player that many believed might solve the Broncos’ problems was San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was rumored to be Denver bound from the moment Osweiler walked out on the Broncos. But for whatever reason, a trade never materialized leaving both teams with issues.

Now things are looking similarly unsettled as they are in Denver in San Francisco, where the 49ers just wrapped their first OTAs under new coach Chip Kelly. Kaepernick was present for those team activities, but not active as he continues to recover from offseason surgeries on his shoulder, thumb and knee. The five-year veteran has not yet been cleared by doctors for football activities.

Still Kelly has been impressed by what he’s seen and heard from Kaepernick over their first several weeks together, mostly in the film room and team meetings, and he’s excited to see what the quarterback can do once he is cleared to return to the field.

“On a football level and on a day-to-day basis and how we get along, it’s been fantastic. We set that kind of parameter to begin with: When you’re here, we’re going to coach the heck out of you. He understands that, and he’s been great with that,” Kelly said. “He can put the things together really quickly. I was really struck how intelligent he is and how sharp he is in the classroom.”

The looming uncertainty around Kaepernick, who not long ago was thought to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league before completely falling off the map in the last two years, creates some intrigue in San Francisco for the coming season. The athletic quarterback seems to be a strong fit for the type of offense Kelly wants to run and will probably get ample opportunity to win back the job he lost last year.

However, Kelly and his staff also like what they’ve seen from incumbent starter Blaine Gabbert. The 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft to Jacksonville, Gabbert appeared to be on his way to all-time draft bust status before resurrecting his career in San Fran last season.

Gabbert ended up starting the final eight games for the 49ers last season and put up solid numbers, completing better than 63 percent of his passes for over 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, though he still proved to be mistake prone with seven picks in eight games. And the new 49ers offense under Kelly, once thought to be a bad fit for Gabbert, is proving easier for him to run than anyone expected.

“The one thing that jumped out right away was just how athletic Blaine was,” Kelly said. “We did not play against him when I was in Philly, so this is really my first exposure to him. But I think his athleticism is the first thing that kind of jumped out at me.”

The 49ers like what they see in Gabbert, and they’re excited to see what they have in Kaepernick, setting the stage for a full blown quarterback competition by the bay this summer.

“We as coaches, our job is to coach who’s out there on the field practicing. Whenever they say Colin’s healthy, I’m sure he’ll be there. He’s around us, he’s in the meetings, he’s doing a great job,” offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins said. “[Gabbert]’s been good for us. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. We’re looking forward to seeing that continue and seeing how it shapes out.”


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys