EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher did the best he could Sunday, putting on his positive face in the wake of the stunning news that quarterback Sam Bradford tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Bradford, who had the same ACL repaired after first being injured last October against the Carolina Panthers, is out for the season.
Fisher did his best Dick Vermeil imitation after being asked about the eerie similarity to 1999. That year, Trent Green tore his ACL in the third preseason game, leaving the offense in the hands of Kurt Warner, who helped lead the team to a Super Bowl win over Fisher's Tennessee Titans.
"This team's going to rally around Shaun (Hill), and we're going to go play, they really are," Fisher said. "That guy that came in (Warner) ended up being pretty good. Again, we've got all the confidence in the world in Shaun."
Fisher got the quote close. Vermeil, the Rams' head coach then, said, "We will rally around Kurt Warner, and we will play good football." Though Fisher wasn't tearing up like Vermeil, his message was clear.
"We move forward as a football team," he said. "Shaun is our guy. We brought him here. He's got experience. We've got all the confidence in the world in him. We have, around our quarterback position right now, probably as good of talent as we've had since we came here. Shaun is excited about that, and I know he'll benefit from that.
"Players are unique nowadays. They feel Sam's right pain now and his loss, but you've got to go on. That's part of our business, you go on, and so, everybody needs to pick it up a little bit more. That's kind of a cliche when these things happen, and this young group of guys will."
Fisher acknowledged being "shell-shocked" by the news, especially since Bradford wasn't hit particularly hard and the injury didn't appear that bad after it happened in the first quarter of Saturday night's game against the Cleveland Browns. He expressed optimism, while Bradford told teammates and others he thought he would be OK. That is what made the news Sunday so hard to accept.
"For Sam personally, it's devastating," Fisher said. "The news was devastating to him as you can appreciate. Anyone that's gone through that procedure and the rehab understands, and to have it happen again within the calendar year is very, very difficult. So, we're thinking of Sam.
"I met with him this morning. He's left the building. He's spending time with his parents. A lot of people worked very hard with him: (trainer) Reggie (Scott), his training staff, (strength and conditioning coach) Rock (Gullickson) and his strength staff, the doctors. If you saw him at practice or you saw him the last two preseason games, I think you would agree with me that he was 100 percent back and on his way."
Now he is on his way to another surgery and an uncertain future. By the end of the season, Bradford will have missed 31 of a possible 80 games in his five-year career, and 2015 is the last year of the six-year, $78 million contract he signed as the first overall pick in the 2010 draft.
However, Fisher said it is far too early to think about the future, adding, "We just need to get his heart and his mind right and get him focused, allow him some time to get away. We'll address that whenever we need to."
What Fisher has to do is make sure his team is focused moving forward, something he is not worried about. Last season, when Bradford was injured, there were those who predicted St. Louis wouldn't win another game, but the Rams went 4-5 with Kellen Clemens at quarterback. Hill is more equipped to be effective in the passing game than Clemens was.
In 12 NFL seasons, Hill has played just 34 games (26 starts), but has completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 6,381 yards, 41 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and an 85.9 passer rating.
Fisher spoke to Hill briefly Sunday and said, "He's ready for it. He's ready for the challenge, ready for the opportunity. He has a great feel for the offense right now, and we're going to move forward with it. We're not going to change anything. He knows the system. Again, everybody knows we're going to run the football first. We're going to do that, and we've got to do that well and we've got to do that to start the season. Everything else will come off of that.
"He's got a wealth of experience. He's played in games. He's been in different systems. The last few years, he's really only played in the preseason behind (Lions quarterback) Matthew (Stafford), but when he played, he played really well. He just makes good decisions; he's mobile. He understands defenses and he's very reliable."
While the Rams will be centered around the ground game, that only works when defenses know the passing attack is a threat. Without that, play-action is useless. Fisher believes that won't be a problem with Hill under center.
"We're improving, and the young guys are getting more and more experience," Fisher said. "But Shaun's capable of getting the ball to them; there's not a throw that he can't make. He sees well, he's got great anticipation, and we're going to cut him loose."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun