ST. LOUIS -- Sam Bradford has the Rams' starting quarterback job this week. Now he must produce.
The top pick of this year's draft will receive his first NFL start in place of veteran A.J. Feeley, who is sidelined with a sprained right thumb, but with no guarantees beyond Thursday night's game at New England. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said after practice Tuesday that he expected Bradford to play at least the first half and maybe more, depending on how much time the Rams have the ball.
"I know the spotlight's on Sam right now and everybody's anxious to see him in there with the first group with Steven Jackson in the backfield," Spagnuolo said to reporters after practice. "I'm just as anxious as you guys are."
Bradford has struggled so far, completing 12 of 27 passes for 81 yards and no touchdowns. Playing in hard rain in Saturday's preseason game at Cleveland, he passed for just 24 yards.
Bradford is still adjusting to being under center and has bobbled a number of snaps. Spagnuolo characterized the rookie's play as "up and down."
"Obviously, I want to come out and have a strong showing," Bradford said. "I want to show the guys on this team that I can play. I think this is a great learning opportunity for me and this offense, but most of all, I really want to come out and help this offense win a football game."
Spagnuolo, who gave the starting job to Feeley entering camp and could restore him for the preseason finale, has said he'll start the player who gives a team that went 1-15 last season its best chance to win. Feeley missed both practices of a short work week, but it's anticipated he'll be able to grip the football soon.
"Every time they go out there, they're being evaluated," Spagnuolo said. "We'll see at the end of it."
Few expect Bradford, signed to a six-year, $78 million contract, to be a backup for long. The former Oklahoma star will make his first start since October, when his bid for a second consecutive Heisman Trophy ended with a shoulder injury against Texas.
"My expectations are extremely high," Bradford said. "Obviously, I want to come out and perform at an extremely high level. I don't know what the fans should expect."
Spagnuolo said earlier in the week that having Jackson in the backfield for the first time would be a "comfort" to Bradford. The Rams are searching for a backup behind the bruising two-time Pro Bowl player, and reserves have run for 72 yards on 41 carries in the first two preseason games.
"Somebody has to surface there," Spagnuolo said. "In the knock-on-wood event that we need a running back, we've got to have somebody ready to go."
Jackson played in just the first series in a 19-17 victory at Cleveland, and Spagnuolo said the running back probably will play a little bit more this week.
"It's going to be a big game for all of us, not just Sam," Jackson said. "It's a good measuring stick in the New England Patriots to see where we're at as a team, how far we have come.
"It's a great test for him to see where he's at and give him some good material to study over the next two weeks."
Jackson didn't plan on saying much to Bradford before the game.
"I'm not a motivational speaker," Jackson said. "Just go out there and play hard and stay within himself and execute the things that he's working on."
Spagnuolo wants from Bradford what he got last week from Feeley, who was 5-of-6 passing for 45 yards and threw a touchdown pass several plays after injuring his thumb by banging it against the helmet of a blitzing defender.
"Start out fast, start out strong, move the team," Spagnuolo said. "That would be nice."
Backup offensive tackle Phil Trautwein was carted off during practice Tuesday with a right knee injury after a teammate fell on it, and he was scheduled for an MRI exam. The Rams waived linebacker Dominic Douglas (hamstring) with an injury settlement.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press