The late season emergence of the Rams offense in 2013 was largely a result of the offensive line coming together as a unit. Rodger Saffold showed his ability to be an elite guard while filling in for Harvey Dahl. Jake Long was just becoming the guy the Rams payed for, and Joe Barksdale was filling in well at right tackle. Because of them, we saw great pass protection and the even better run blocking that allowed Zac Stacy to rush for nearly 1,000 yards this season.
Unfortunately, the Rams’ situation has become more complicated. Jake Long tore his ACL and it’s doubtful that he would be able to start until mid-2014. Rodger Saffold is also slated to become a pricy unrestricted free agent this year. Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl seem like logical cap casualties as cutting them would open up $8.5 million in cap space. This means that so far, the offensive line next season figures to be:
LT: Rodger Saffold
G: Chris Williams
C: Tim Barnes
G: Shelley Smith
RT: Joe Barksdale
Now this just isn’t good enough for what the Rams need from their offensive line. Shelley Smith is OK, but is simply not a starter. Chris Williams is fine, but is also a free agent in 2014. His future in St. Louis will largely be determined by who the Rams decide to draft in April.
Barrett Jones had a very limited role with the team in 2013 due to coming to the team fresh off of surgery. Fortunately, he has been working to “get bigger” all season, so it looks like next season he will be put in a position to succeed. Jones may have to battle Tim Barnes for the starting center spot, but he is also versatile enough to start effectively at guard. I expect Jones to beat out Shelley Smith in camp and start the season at right guard.
Joe Barksdale has played right tackle extremely well and should easily be able to keep the right tackle position nailed down. Since bringing him in last year, he has become one of the most underrated right tackles in the league.
Tim Barnes was a rookie this year out of Mizzou, he filled in effectively for Scott Wells, but there was still a noticeable drop in production. The job is his to lose right now, but Barrett Jones can definitely give him a run for his money.
Rodger Saffold will be hitting the open market this offseason, but I expect the Rams to resign him. While his injuries will keep him somewhat cheap, still expect us to spend a pretty penny to retain him. Especially now that Jake Long is injured, we need to keep him now more than ever. His skills as a very solid tackle and an elite guard will be vital at the beginning of the season.
Jake Long who was a vital part of our offense is reportedly on schedule with his knee recovery after tearing his ACL and MCL in week 16. Unfortunately, it is still unlikely that he plays until mid-season. Once he returns, he should be able to further stabilize what is hopefully, already a solid offensive line.
The Rams also have a wide selection of potential talent waiting in the draft. Having the second and the thirteenth overall picks this year also helps the Rams out a lot. Players like Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Greg Robinson could all fill holes immediately, and lower round guys can develop and be inserted into the lineup later in the year. If the past tells us anything, Fisher rarely uses a first round pick on an offensive lineman. I personally expect him to grab somebody with in rounds three or four. If we were to target a first rounder, expect us to trade down with Cleveland or Atlanta first.
This is a volatile time for the Rams, especially in the offensive line department. Today’s situation could be completely different come tomorrow. Only time will tell.