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Behind the scenes, Sam Bradford has impressed his receivers

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's tough to evaluate Sam Bradford based on the Arizona Cardinals' preseason.

The 30-year-old quarterback attempted 11 passes in three games, completing eight with none longer than 16 yards. Bradford was efficient and effective while running an offense designed to keep him under wraps. It made sense. Arizona couldn't afford to let his fragile left knee get injured before the games counted.

As the regular season begins, however, the real Sam Bradford -- the one his receivers see every day in practice -- will be unveiled.

And they can't wait.

"Sam is as good as advertised," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "When he's on the field, the guy has unbelievable placement and accuracy."

In preseason, Bradford has shown his ability to take short drops, get the ball out quickly and orchestrate an efficient short game. But throwing quick passes meant Bradford was limited in how far he could go downfield. Other than the 16-yarder, Bradford's completions went for pedestrian yardage: minus-6, 0, 3, 3, 5, 6 and 6. Those numbers don't support Fitzgerald's faith in his QB.

But behind the closed doors of practice, a different Bradford was on display -- the one who will take the field Sunday against the Washington Redskins in his Arizona debut.

"He's executed and performed exactly how we thought he would," Cardinals first-year coach Steve Wilks said. "He does a great job just getting the offense into the right position based on the defensive look.

"His accuracy is on point. This guy can throw guys open, and that's so important at this level. You can't wait until guys come out their breaks, and he does a tremendous job with that."

In practice, Bradford has been showing off the traits that made him one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL when healthy. He has been second in pass efficiency since 2013 behind the Saints' Drew Brees, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. He has also missed 42 games over that stretch.

"I like his deep ball," receiver J.J. Nelson said. "He's going to throw it out there early, on time and on point. It's up to you to run up under it and make that play."

A smile crept across second-year receiver Chad Williams' face when he thought about what Bradford hasn't shown yet.

"I can't explain it, man," Williams said. "Sam is awesome. What haven't you guys seen that we have seen in practice? The playmaking availability, the way he's so decisive, where he wants to go with the ball, the way he reacts to defenses when he does certain things, the types of windows he's putting the balls in.

"It's just fun to watch. From my point of view, it's just real fun to watch."

That one trait -- the ability to throw receivers open -- has helped Bradford build trust with his new receivers and speed up the development of their relationships.

Nelson had noticed it was becoming harder to get separation at the top of his routes each season, perhaps, he suggested, because more defensive backs are digging into film study. But with Bradford's ability to place the ball, as well as the amount of power and velocity he puts on his passes, Bradford is already throwing it before Nelson, or the other receivers, make their break.

"It helps the receiver be able to make a play on the ball even in tight coverage and things like that," Nelson said. "Having a quarterback that's gifted like that helps a receiver out a lot."

With that trust, Bradford builds confidence in his receivers, Williams said. It also helps them as they try to put their own take on their routes. Regardless of the receiver, they know Bradford's passes will be on target.

"That's the best part about it," Williams said. "Because we're trusting each other at these points. Wait until Week 3, Week 4. It's going to be clicking."