Oklahoma's spring practices are in a lull this week as the Sooners were given off the week for Spring Break. As the Sooners take it easy, find out if that's the approach Sam Bradford is taking to this spring after a highly successful freshman campaign.

One would think after the season Sam Bradford had as a redshirt freshman in 2007 that he'd be able to take it easy this offseason and spring.

After all, Bradford set an NCAA freshman record with 36 touchdown passes and he led the nation in passing efficiency (176.53). He threw for over 3,100 yards, completed 69.5 percent of his passes and had only eight picks in 341 pass attempts.

He guided Oklahoma to an 11-3 record, a Big 12 championship and to the Fiesta Bowl.

In other words, he had one of the greatest seasons ever by an OU quarterback. All that after the 2007 spring and fall drills in which he didn't even know if he'd be the starter. He was embattled in a wrestling match for the starting spot with freshman Keith Nichol and junior Joey Halzle.

But after putting up those kinds of numbers and having that kind of success, Bradford can take it easy this time around.



"I think I have to approach it the same way," Bradford said of this spring. "There's still three other quarterbacks here. Nothing is guaranteed. I'm still going to have to go out there and prove I belong.

"I have to look at it as still a competition. I've got to go out there and make plays every day."

In fact, Bradford's improvement began the day after the Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia when quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel sat Bradford down in the team hotel before heading to the airport.

"We talked about how the season went and all the things I need to improve on; all the things I could do to help make our offense better," Bradford said.

How could he possibly improve? Just ask a coach.

"There's a lot of things he can be better at," Heupel said, before naming off the laundry list. "He can get quicker with the ball out of his hand, he can make better decisions with the football, throwing it on time, being more accurate."

In other words, he gave Bradford plenty to think about in the winter before spring practices approached.

"He knows there are a lot of things he can do to get better," Heupel said, "and he's excited about working on those things."

Bradford's already done one thing: Get bigger. He put on 12 pounds of muscle since the Fiesta Bowl and now tips the scale at 220 pounds.

"I want to be able to take a few more hits and not get so banged up during the season," he said. "I want to be able to stay healthy longer."

Although there's talk of competition for the starting job, there's very little doubt that it belongs to Bradford. And that's an advantage this spring as he can get more repetitions in with the starting unit, develop more chemistry and expand his role at the position.

That's something being worked on this spring and something we should see next fall.

"Just having the ability to check a protection if I see a blitz coming. Knowing when I'm hot and where I'm going with it and not having to look to the sideline to get (the right) protection," he said. "I can make those checks myself."

Bradford said more complex receiving routes could be run as well as he's more comfortable in the offense with a season under his belt. He also said he's now more apt to check his progressions in the passing game, ie. look to his third option instead of bailing after the first two aren't open.

"Day 1 we have a lot (of the offense) in compared to this time last year," he said. "We'll be able to put new things in on top of that, so it will help."

All that on top of the installation of a no-huddle offense, which is being tinkered with this spring, none of which would have been thought of last year.

There's also the expanded leadership.

"Everyone is more comfortable in the huddle," he said. "They known what I'm bringing to the huddle. They know what I expect from them in the huddle and how things should be going. And I feel more comfortable saying things to guys now."

Bradford realizes his improvement doesn't necessarily rely on his stats and he doesn't plan to judge next year's success against his freshman year's numbers.

"There's a lot of different things a quarterback does other than numbers. I could go out and not put up nearly as good numbers and be a better quarterback," he said.

"I'm glad he said," said Heupel, "because it's true."

One of the improvements Bradford mentioned was knowing when to throw the ball away as opposed to taking a sack.

That brings to mind the mobility issue, which usually brings the versatile Nichol into the conversation. Some fans seem to make the Jason White-to-Paul Thompson comparison (circa 2003) when comparing Bradford to Nichol.

It's not like Bradford is a statue. He was a standout basketball player as well as a quarterback who could make plays on the run at Putnam City North High School.

It's a part of his game he knows he still has – he'd just prefer not to use it.

"If the line keeps me protected and I'm able to stay in the pocket…who wouldn't want that?" he said. "If I am forced to get out (of the pocket), I think I do have the ability to make plays and find receivers because I did do it in high school quite often. If that happens, I'm fine with that, but I'd much rather stay in the pocket and make reads from there."

But all that is contingent on Bradford being on the field. He said he's approaching this spring as if it were last year. After all, Nichol and Halzle are both back and improved. Also on campus is four-star gunslinger Landry Jones, who graduated high school a semester early to take part in the spring.

"There's still four guys here and obviously everyone wants to be No. 1 so it's still a competition," Bradford said. "Everyone's still really competitive and wants to go out there and play great, so today was a battle again, just like last year."

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