The St. Louis Rams offensive line went from being a known commodity to being inexperienced and unknown in the matter of one offseason. While the Rams offensive line was known and a lot of their players were proven, that facet of the team was a total disaster last season.
Going into 2015, the Rams will have three new faces up front. Assuming rookies Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown start with Tim Barnes at center, the average age of the Rams offensive line is 23.8 compared to 26.8 this time last year.
Free agent acquisition, Garrett Reynolds, becomes the oldest player on the o-line at just 27 years old and Rodger Saffold becomes the most experienced with 60 starts. The rest of the offensive line? Reynolds has 27, Greg Robinson has 12, Tim Barnes has four, and everybody else….zero.
The Rams offensive line is an unknown commodity. While this can be frightening, it is also intriguing. This could be an experiment that goes bad or it could be one that pays off. Saffold and Robinson are the only two knowns up front, as shown from the experience stats above, everybody else we know almost nothing about.
The Rams are changing their identity on offense. They are now fully committed to being a run first, ground-and-pound team, and that is proven with the players they drafted. Here’s what makes the unknown players on the offensive line intriguing:
RT- Rob Havenstein
“Massive tackle with very functional length. Above-average power in run game and runs legs to create movement. Drive blocker by nature. Block winner at point of attack. Uses well-timed punch and has adequate foot quickness to set out to edge speed. Aggressive, play-finishing demeanor on the field. Plus body control and balance on second-level blocks with ability to sustain. Can brace against power and has feet to counter inside moves in pass pro.” -NFL.com
Havenstein fits the bill for what the Rams are looking for in their right tackle. Above average in the run game and plays with an aggressive play-finishing demeanor. He was considered the leader on the Wisconsin offensive line while opening up holes for first round pick Melvin Gordon.
Best of all, he had zero holding calls in 2014. This is interesting because the Rams had the most holding calls in 2014 among non playoff teams with 25 and had the most per game at 1.56 with the most yards lost at 15.6 per call.
RG- Rodger Saffold
Saffold is one of the players that is actually known on the Rams offensive line. Saffold had the 18th highest pass protection grade on Pro Football Focus while allowing only two sacks, two hits, and 12 hits.
Making the move from Havenstein’s spot at right tackle in 2013, Saffold has become on of the more impressive guards in the NFL. If he can stay healthy, and that’s a big if as Saffold does seem to get injured during a game at least a couple of time a year, Saffold gives the Rams some much-needed consistency up front and inside.
All three of these players have a very small sample size. Barnes has four starts in his career accumulating 281 snaps, Jones has 23 snaps in the regular season and Rhaney has 44 preseason snaps.
The Rams have a lot of unknowns up front, but none is more unknown than what they have at center. Between three players they have four total starts.
However, with the one player that only has four starts, he does have some upside. In week 13 of 2013 against the San Francisco 49ers, Barnes had a 1.7 grade on Pro Football Focus, the seventh highest grade of that week. Barnes’ performance was pretty balanced as he had a 0.8 grade in both pass blocking and run blocking, the pass blocking grade being top five for that week.
The next week Barnes struggled against the Cardinals having a -2.4 grade, among the league’s worst for that respective week.
In his third start, Barnes had a fairly average performance against the Saints, but did manage a top 15 pass blocking grade.
To finish off his year, Barnes managed a positive 1.7 grade against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers which was top ten for the week and he had the third best grade in run blocking.
In his four starts, Barnes ranked as the 24th best center in the NFL out of 46. He had zero penalties and allowed only one sack while ranking as the 20th best run blocking center.
Moving on to Barrett Jones, according to NFL.com he:
“Possesses NFL size for an interior player. Solid pass protector whether playing inside or outside. Great awareness of late blitzers and twist stunts, and he gives excellent effort to reach free rushers so his quarterback stays upright. His versatility, intelligence and high character should get him penciled in at guard or center for the next decade in the NFL.”
We have yet to see much out of Jones, if anything. 23 snaps is not a great sample size. However, given what we do know, he was a four-year starter at Alabama, the powerhouse of the SEC. His college coach, Nick Saban, compared him to NFL great Bruce Matthews.
The bottom line is with Jones is that he’s smart. He has the intelligence to play all five positions on the offensive line which is rare. The problem is that he can’t seem to stay healthy or get healthy for that matter.
Back to back year-long injuries have kept Jones sidelined and if he is ever going to be the center of the future for the Rams, the time is now.
Lastly, Demetrius Rhaney. Via NFL.com Rhaney has:
“Very good quickness, agility and balance. Gets into blocks quickly and keeps battling through the whistle. Good lower-body power. Solid anchor in pass protection. Has the size, power and agility to eventually compete for a starting job.”
Rhaney will have the ability to compete for a starting job. He’s had a year to learn. While he may be more suited for depth, he has potential, but has yet to really show anything.
LG- Jamon Brown
The Rams very well could sign Justin Blalock which would be a good signing and give the team some veteran leadership next to young players. However, if they don’t, they have Jamon Brown at left guard.
He has been a three-year starter, starting 26 games at left tackle and 13 and right tackle. However, according to NFL.com he could make the transition to guard:
“Intriguing tackle/guard prospect. His mass and athletic limitations are best-suited inside and his quickness off the snap could be an indicator that Brown’s best football could be ahead of him. With a wider base and better body control, Brown could become a starting guard or potential tackle in power scheme. Straight-line mover in space with potential to be effective blocker on inside zone plays from guard spot. Has experience at both tackle spots and at guard.”
One NFC executive said,
“”He could go much higher than anyone thinks because he’ll be on boards as a tackle or as a guard. He can move and he has some power so he will hit more teams draft boards than some of the other guys in the draft.”
Once again, the Rams have found a player that fits what they want to do. He is a straight-line mover and mauler in the run game. His versatility is valuable allowing him to not only potentially be a starting left guard, but also fill in at tackle if necessary.
LT- Greg Robinson
The Rams’ left tackle of the future whom they drafted second overall last year. Who is Greg Robinson. GRob as some call him didn’t have the best rookie season. He only started 12 games and didn’t start at tackle until midway through the year.
Robinson had grades of -5 or worse on three different occasions in 2014 and once accumulated a -8.5 grade, the sixth worst performance of any tackle last season. He also had 10 penalties of, as mentioned earlier, the Rams’ 25.
Mike Mayock compared Robinson to Orlando Pace. He has been said to be able to pave the way in the run game and be a franchise left tackle. The problem is, he has yet to show it. He was said to be raw, but this is a year in which he is going to have to step up. He has all the potential in the world, but at this point, that’s all it is, potential.
The Rams’ offensive line is in rough shape, there is no denying that. For the two rookies, the jump from college to the NFL is not going to be easy, there are going to be growing pains. The same goes for the new center that the Rams are going to have as well as Greg Robinson going into his second year.
However, with all of the problems that the Rams have on the offensive line, it is intriguing. They have beef up front now. They have players who possibly have the ability to turn into a historical offensive line like the hogs in Washington or become just as good as the offensive line in Dallas. The ability is there.
The Rams have four developmental players for the time being, but as this group grows together, this potential and intrigue could turn into something special for the long-term. Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have taken a lot of heat for not bringing back Barksdale, not signing La’el Collins, or over drafting their offensive linemen. It’s only a matter of time before we find out how this experiment plays out.
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