Sam Bradford quickly understood the hard road he faced after tearing his ACL in the fourth quarter of the Rams’ game vs. the Carolina Panthers last October. Prior to his surgery, the Oklahoma City native nicknamed the “Big Easy” worked diligently for nearly a month to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee (quadriceps, hamstring and calves) and hip.

Rams QB Sam Bradford on field at OTAs

The main reason for the pre-surgery rehab process: It lightens the stress on the joint itself and, hopefully, presents fewer problems when building muscle endurance following the procedure. Hours of stretching, weight-room lifting and working out in the pool with trainers, not to mention specific cardio exercises, work toward such an end result.

While many of his teammates and people in the St. Louis organization worked in offseason vacations, Bradford grinded it out. He spent almost every day with head athletic trainer Reggie Scott, using his impressive start to the 2013 season as added motivation. He prepared for his future as the leader of this franchise.

That future is now. Bradford, heading into his fifth season as signal-caller, practiced in the club’s third OTA session on Friday afternoon. He spun a good ball, with velocity and accuracy, displaying the ability to throw to an area or stick it on a receiver in drill work. Several balls sailed on No. 8, but the anticipation and timing will only improve.

Bradford’s footwook looked good and was smooth, as well. He sported a black brace on his left knee, but seemed very comfortable and confident in his movement, transferring his weight to the post (surgical) leg and delivering passes with no issues. Also on display: the former Heisman Trophy winner’s reshaped physique. He now stands 6-4 and weighs 236 pounds, with more muscle mass in both the upper and lower body.

Defensive Notes:

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has quickly put his mark on a very young unit. After stretching, the defensive players gather around Williams, who quickly puts them through a few minutes of mental conditioning as a group before they are sent off to position coaches. Williams’ distinct bark and easily recognizable voice can be heard near and far. As various players have mentioned, he considers every day to be a job interview.

Head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have constructed a roster that places a premium on competition and breeding success quickly. NFL analysts like to cite the defensive ends, led by Chris Long and Robert Quinn, as the squad’s primary strength. In reality, though, the rest of the front four seems set on making just as much of an impact. Inside tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford, draftees Aaron Donald, Michael Sam, Ethan Westbrook and veterans Alex Carrington  and Matt Conrath all continue to make strides.

Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are currently penciled in on the first unit, but backup Brandon McGee has turned a lot of heads. Greg Reid, E.J. Gaines and Darren Woodard are learning fast, too.

The back end of the defense features T.J. McDonald leading the way, but look for this position to be a true dog fight throughout training camp and the preseason. Rodney McLeod, Mo Alexander, Cody Davis and the very talented Lamarcus Joyner, whose versatility to man several positions in the secondary makes him so valuable, are among those vying for the second safety spot.