http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/13649293...tting-other-nfl

PHILADELPHIA -- The golf course was playing difficult. The rough was up. The holes were long. Par for the 7,093-yard course was set at 70. Southern Hills Country Club was ready to host the 2009 U.S. Amateur Championship.

But first, it hosted Sam Bradford.

Bradford has a history of excelling at something the first time. His first year as a starter at Oklahoma in 2008, he won the Heisman Trophy and led the Sooners to the BCS national championship game. His first year in the National Football League in 2010, he won Offensive Rookie of the Year.

His first year in Philadelphia? The Eagles are about to find out.

But in 2009, playing from the tips with Southern Hills' long-time pro, Dave Bryan, Bradford shot even par thanks to great touch around the greens and a reliable putter. Bryan shot 74.

"Hardly anybody shot under par qualifying for the U.S. Amateur," Bryan said. "The fact that Sam could compete on the golf course and pull out that number, that's pretty cool."

"Playing with Sam, that's when it really makes you mad," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "On top of all this other talent, he's a scratch golfer. I mean he's a real golfer. He's a guy that's a legitimate scratch handicap, and most of the time he'll probably shoot under par. And that's without practicing."

Bradford's career round is a 63 at what he described as "just a little mini track back home." Beating the club pro at the famed Southern Hills, home to three U.S. Open championships and four PGAs?

"There's been a lot of those, to be honest," Bradford said before walking through a side door into the Philadelphia Eagles' locker room. He didn't have time for his beloved golf. For the first time in 22 months, Bradford had a regular-season NFL game to prepare for.

Confidence certainly has never been an issue.

Take Bradford's pro day at Oklahoma before the 2010 draft. He was several months removed from major shoulder surgery to reconstruct his AC joint, an injury that ended his Sooners career. He hadn't thrown at the NFL scouting combine, so teams really didn't know where he stood with his recovery. All 32 sent a representative.

Bradford threw 50 scripted passes using three-, five- and seven-step drops, the shotgun, play-action and rollouts. The only bad ball he threw, Stoops said, was one on the back hip of his receiver running a slant. Afterward, Seattle coach Pete Carroll tweeted Bradford "lit it up," and NFL scouting guru Gil Brandt said it was the best quarterback workout he had seen since a private workout by Troy Aikman more than 20 years earlier.

"It was one of the most impressive quarterback pro days I had ever seen," said former Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, now the New York Giants' defensive coordinator. "I remember Mike Holmgren saying the same thing, that he hadn't seen a quarterback work out like that. He knocked it dead. He was really, really impressive.

"The most impressive throws to me were -- and they were all good -- but I remember him throwing these long balls that just dropped into these receivers without them losing a stride, and every one he threw was like that. He was just so accurate, it was hard not to think that this guy wasn't going to be a quality quarterback in this league."

Afterward, Stoops overheard several team executives speculate Bradford wouldn't throw again before the draft. But when a couple of them asked Bradford if he would work out for them privately, Bradford said, "sure."

As they rode in a golf cart back to the locker room, Stoops said to Bradford: "I know why you agreed to it."

Bradford smiled.

"'Cause that wasn't a fluke," Bradford said. "I'll do it again tomorrow."

Stoops laughed.

"You can do that five times in a row," he said.

Bradford smiled again.

"He didn't want to say it, but he was like, 'Yeah, I'll throw any time they want me to throw,'" Stoops said. "That's just the confidence he has."

A.J. Feeley saw it the moment Bradford joined the Rams. Feeley had been an Eagles backup quarterback while Spagnuolo, the Rams' new head coach, and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had been Philadelphia assistants under Andy Reid. Feeley knew the deal. The Rams brought him in to compete for the starting job but also to mentor Bradford.

"When I met him as a rookie, you got the impression he'd been in the NFL for a number of years," Feeley said. "When he first got there, he was mature beyond his years in terms of dealing with the press to handling players, how to control stuff in the locker room, in the huddle, and that's not talking about how he plays. That's the off-the-field stuff that goes along with being a quarterback. He was way beyond his years."

During the Rams' first practice after the draft, Bradford threw "a rope," Feeley said, on a play where four receivers ran vertical routes. He sidestepped a rusher, stepped up in the pocket and hit Danny Amendola with a 25-yard pass.

After that practice, Feeley went up to Shurmur.

"This kid's really good," he said. "No, he's really good."

Shurmur replied: "Yeah, I told you."

That season, Bradford was named the NFL's offensive rookie of the year after setting rookie records in completions and attempts; his 3,512 passing yards were the second-most ever by a first-year quarterback.

That's the player the Eagles traded for, not the one who tore his ACL in Week 7 of the 2013 season and then tore it again last preseason. Philadelphia was willing to bet Bradford can regain his rookie form. St. Louis clearly was not.

It was June in South Philadelphia and dreadfully muggy. Under a white tent adjacent to the Eagles' three outdoor practice fields sat a packed crowd of local and national media. It wasn't the 105 journalists who attended the first day of Philadelphia's organized team activities -- a day when Chip Kelly, Bradford and Tim Tebow talked to the media -- but it was a packed house, and the stench of sweat was prevalent.

After Kelly finally exited the brick practice facility, he withstood a barrage of questions about yet another surprising personnel move: the release of Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis. It was a curious move for a couple of reasons. Mathis was unhappy with his contract, but he was on record as saying he planned on attending the mandatory minicamp.

When your starting quarterback has proved to have a lower body made of glass, the big boys up front, particularly on the left side of the offensive line where Mathis played, are crucial. Mathis and left tackle Jason Peters had proved they could adequately protect the quarterback. Mathis' replacement at left guard, Allen Barbre? Not so much.

Question after question picked away at the Mathis move. Toward the end of the press conference, Kelly was asked five questions about Bradford, who after consecutive ACL tears had been cleared to practice but was limited. Was there a timeline when Bradford would throw in an 11-on-11 drill? What would Bradford do in minicamp that he hadn't done during OTAs? Would he work in 7-on-7 drills? And no 11-on-11, right?

The last question of the day: Did Kelly think Bradford would be ready for 11-on-11 drills in training camp?

"God, we hope so," Kelly said.

Five questions answered with 27 words. Total.

Finished, Kelly briskly walked out of the tent and past Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis, who had been listening. "How many Sam Bradford questions can we get in a week?" Kelly said and then jogged onto the practice fields as Imagine Dragons' "On Top of the World" blared over speakers.

There's only one question about Bradford that matters, and it's the one neither Kelly nor anyone else can answer: Can Bradford stay healthy? That question has led to one big qualifier. If Bradford can stay healthy, then...

"He'll rip this league apart," said former Philadelphia All-Pro wide receiver Mike Quick, now a radio analyst for Eagles games. "This team in back-to-back years set new marks offensively. In this offense, with the way they will be able to move the ball, they'll do it again for a third time if he's healthy."

If.

The good news for the 27-year-old Bradford is that for the first time since the St. Louis Rams used the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft to select him out of Oklahoma, health might be his only potential impediment to ultimate success.

Bradford is, as Spagnuolo said, "a perfectionist."

"He doesn't like to throw one ball off target," Spagnuolo said. "He doesn't like to throw one bad ball. He doesn't like to have a misread. All the great ones are like that. They're really hard on themselves. He is that. When you're hard on yourself and you have teammates see that, I think that in itself is leadership."

So it came as no surprise to those who know Bradford that after going 10-for-10 in Philadelphia's third preseason game against Green Bay, he reportedly tabled negotiations with the Eagles on a contract extension. The Eagles were looking at a short-term deal for modest money. Bradford pulled a Joe Flacco and bet on himself.

And why not? Using a combination of Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley at quarterback, the Eagles set franchise records for scoring, touchdowns and passing yards each of the past two seasons. If Bradford stays healthy, they could set them again.

"I don't think there's any question he'll re-sign," said Feeley, who is retired from football and lives in suburban Philadelphia. "Any quarterback in this system would.

"If he has success, you don't want to leave that. And every quarterback wants to be in an offense that gives him the best opportunity to be successful, and I think this offense might be one of the best in the NFL for that. You're always put in a good situation, I feel like. If you're athletic and you're smart enough to get pre-reads and identify certain things, you're going to put yourself in the best position because there are outlets on almost every play, and that's what you want."

Bradford has what he wants: another opportunity. He said there were dark days immediately after tearing his ACL for a second time "where I was just kind of really down about everything." He initially thought the injury could be career ending.

"I think that thought comes into your head like, 'Man, I don't want to do this again. I'm tired of rehabbing. I just spent a year rehabbing and here we go again,'" Bradford said. "It wasn't like I debated for six months and was like, 'Man, I don't know about this. I don't feel good. I don't like football anymore.' It was more like a couple hour deal where I'm just tired of rehabbing. And then you just kind of suck it up and get over it."

Bradford is healthy now. He absorbed a big hit from Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs in his first preseason action and bounced back up. Bradford has shed the knee brace he wore during OTAs. He is ready to start anew.

Quick, like Bradford, is a fine golfer. He recently shot a 75 at the East Course at Merion Golf Club, site of the 2013 U.S. Open, and reported back to Bradford.

"I played great," Quick said. "I did. I played great that day. Some days I stink. That day I was on it."

Bradford replied: "I should've been there."

"I told him, 'You've got work to do,'" Quick said.

It starts with the season opener at Atlanta.

"When you have that [golf-related] type of coordination, it lends itself to being a good passer," Quick said. "And I do believe that he's the best passer, the best pure passer that I've seen in the 30 years I've been connected with this team. We've had good quarterbacks and good passers, but I think he's the best pure passer in the city."

If. He. Can. Stay. Healthy. The Eagles have gambled that Bradford indeed can and will.