EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Kurt Warner and Sam Bradford couldn't have taken paths any different to become the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams than the ones that ultimately landed them in the position.
But that doesn't mean Warner can't understand what Bradford goes through in his efforts to prove the job should belong to him well into the future.
"I came in as a free agent and it was its own pressure because I knew I’d get one shot and that was it and so there was pressure with that," Warner said. "There’s pressure playing the quarterback position. Being the No. 1 overall pick, when a team invests that much in you and says you’re that guy, I think it’s hard not to feel that pressure to live up to that billing."
Through most of Bradford's first four seasons, Warner has been supportive of his efforts to hold down the job that he once did. Because Warner is the only quarterback to lead the team to sustained success since its move in 1995, he remains the standard by which all quarterbacks are judged.
That's not to say Bradford has done enough to remove doubts about his status as a franchise quarterback so much as it's a reminder of the lofty status a quarterback in St. Louis must reach to be mentioned in the same breath as Warner.
In evaluating Bradford, Warner points to the need for an improved supporting cast that's existed almost since his arrival in St. Louis as the No. 1 overall pick in 2010.
"I’m the first one to say that I understand playing that position has so much to do with the people around you," Warner said. "But there’s also part of that position where you have to step up and separate yourself and be able to carry your team. Those are the expectations that are on Sam right now. They haven’t always had the pieces around him to allow him to make plays but being where he’s at, now they’ve got some young talent here, it becomes that next step for him to take that next leadership role and to take more upon himself."
Therein lies the additional ways Warner would like to see Bradford elevate his game. While he's remained a proponent of Bradford's, there's one key area he'd like to see improve. He shared that with "The Fast Lane," the afternoon drive radio show on 101 ESPN in St. Louis during a Monday interview.
"I think he wants to be great," Warner told the radio station. "I think he's a smart kid. ... there's a lot of good things that I see. I think the one thing for me when I watch film is I want to see him develop the confidence where he's willing to take some chances with the football. That he's willing to say, 'Guys, follow me.' I'm going to carry us a little bit. I'm going to take that shot down the field because I see it and I believe I can make it as opposed to second-guessing himself and throwing the check down."
Warner went on to say that he's OK with the occasional check down, but his general argument is one that has been a sticking point for many observers of Bradford since he entered the league. Some attribute his unwillingness to throw down the field to a lack of a trustworthy receiver, which also has some truth to it. But from the sound of Warner, it's more about being willing to take the risk that he can make a throw good enough to give the receiver no choice but to make the play.
In his first four seasons, Bradford's average of 6.29 yards per attempt and 5.50 yards per drop back ranks 31st in the NFL. To improve on that Bradford will have to bounce back from offseason ACL surgery, which is no easy task according to Warner.
"It’s not easy," Warner said. "It's not easy coming back from an injury, having only played half the season last year but those are the expectations that come with that position and being a franchise quarterback. I think those are the expectations now when you look at the division, you look at the NFC as a whole, you have to have that position to be successful and that position has to play well and play big at big moments. So he’s going to deal with that just because he’s a starting quarterback."