After the Josh Gordy trade to the Colts, Jeff Fisher could not help but to fill the vacancy in the roster with more potential defensive talent, especially since the Rams are a bit short-handed at the DE position going into Saturday’s matchup against the Cowboys. Fisher has made it clear that, although the first team units will be seeing more reps, they are only staying in for a certain number of cycles and then will be sidelined with the shoulder pads off. Thus, the signing of Vernon Gholston , who, if nothing else, can immediately jump in and take some snaps with the second and third team.
Gholston is the poster child for what we would call a “bust” at the NFL level. He was taken with the sixth overall pick by the New York Jets in 2008, four picks after the Rams snatched up Chris Long with the second overall selection.Sport Illustrated described him as an
“Explosive pass-rusher who makes a lot of plays in the backfield. Displays outstanding first-step quickness, plays with good pad level, and fast off the edge or in pursuit of the ball-carrier. Gets leverage on blockers, stays within his pass-rush angles, and effortlessly alters his angle of attack to make plays in any direction of the field. Constantly doubled, yet deceptively strong and holds his ground. Possesses a great closing burst of speed and very explosive in his all-around game.”
However, all the positive descriptions in the world cannot compensate for a lack of production on the field. In three years, Gholston has accumulated a minuscule 24 solo tackle (42 combined), and has yet to record a sack or pass deflection in the 45 games where he has seen the field. To put that number into perspective, Robert Quinn, who played sparingly last season while learning the defensive end position from veteran James Hall, recorded 20 solo tackles, 5 sacks, and 2 pass deflections in just 15 games.
So, the question is… Why would the St. Louis Rams pick up Gholston? The answer is probably simple; namely, that they will sign him for next-to-nothing and he is oozing with potential that has yet to be tapped. It is not unheard of for a player to miserably fail in one coach’s scheme and thrive in another. Ryan Fitzpatrick was once the St. Louis Rams’ third string quarterback, behind Marc Bulger and Jamie Martin, at time where 3 wins was a vast improvement over the previous season’s performance. Fast forward to Buffalo, in a different offense, surrounded by different players and coaches , and Fitzpatrick is being modestly looked at as a second-tier, top-20 quarterback in the NFL. So, how would the Rams defense benefit Gholston?
Pro Football Focus’s Mike Clay, calculated that in 2011 the Jets ran their based 3-4 defense only 37 percent of the time, played with seven defensive backs on 17 percent of their snaps, and 7 percent with fewer than the typical four defensive backs. One of the only knocks against Gholston coming out into the draft was his inexperience in football as a whole, picking up the sport late, as a sophomore in high school. Some, like James Laurinaitis, are football geniuses, relying heavily on their knowledge of the game to compensate for any inadequacies they may have as an athlete. Gholston is pure, raw talent that has relied solely on his speed, strength, and quickness to beat defenders and get to the quarterback. A defensive scheme that forces an instinctual player into more of an intellectual, systematic role is clearly not going to embrace that players strengths.
The Rams, as opposed to the Jets, were easily one of the the least varied team defensively, essentially switching between our base 4-3 defense (56 percents), our nickel, or 4-2-5, defense (15 percent), and our dime, or 4-1-6, defense (27 percent). In the Rams’ scheme, players like Gholston wouldn’t be asked to drop back into complex zone coverages, play man-to-man on a tight end or running back, or waste his athletic ability trying to think about anything other than getting to the quarterback. Rotate him in on obvious passing downs for players like Rocky McIntosh or Mario Haggan to rush the quarterback. Realistically, the offensive line can only block so many players. With Chris Long demanding a consistent double team, Michael Brockers clogging the middle, and Quinn speed rushing on the outside, there are going to be missed assignments ripe for the blitzing. Or, throw Gholston into the defensive end rotation, it isn’t like he never played with his hand in the dirt at Ohio State, and he is almost identical to Robert Quinn in terms of size (Quinn: 6’4, 264; Gholston: 6’3, 262). Heck, throw him in on kickoff team, he did run a freakin’ 4.56 at the combine back in the 2008. Hopefully for the Rams, the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” philosophy will hold true. If the Rams have the open spot and he is willing to work for table scraps, why not give the guy a shot?