From Day 1, head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have made it a point to build their team from the trenches out. During their first draft at the helm for the Rams in 2012, Fisher and Snead opted against a flashy pick at number two overall. Instead, they traded back twice – once in the famous RGIII trade with the Redskins (traded down from two to six) and again with the Dallas Cowboys (traded down from six to 14). At 14th overall, they selected defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
After two more drafts and three cracks at free agency, the Rams have assembled a defensive line that could give opposing quarterbacks nightmares in 2014. And while the defensive line gets plenty of hype (and it’s much deserved), Snead and Fisher have focused just as much on the other side of the line.
Through free agency and the draft, the Rams have put together an offensive line that has the potential to be a major asset for the team. The only caveat: health.
Jake Long, one of the prized free agent acquisitions in 2013, represents the most important cog in the operation. After starting his career with four straight Pro Bowl selections (2008-2011), Long was struck by the injury bug. He has ended each of the last three seasons on the injured reserve – torn biceps in 2011, torn triceps in 2012 and a torn ACL and MCL in 2013.
The latter injury, which occurred in Week 16, put Long’s status for the 2014 opener in limbo. After extensive rehab, however, it now appears realistic the Rams left tackle could take the field with the rest of his teammates on September 7 against the Minnesota Vikings.
One of the most important moves the Rams made during the offseason was re-signing Rodger Saffold – even if it came after a strange series of events (namely Saffold failing his physical with the Oakland Raiders). The right guard has not been a model of health during his four-year career. After starting all 16 games his rookie season in 2010, Saffold has missed 17 games over the last three seasons.
Despite his durability concerns, Saffold played well after he was moved to right guard and provides more depth on the offensive line. And despite grumblings after being displaced from left tackle in favor of Long, Saffold seems to have found a niche at right guard.
Another free agent import, Scott Wells, has been somewhat of a disappointment since joining the Rams in 2012 – mostly due to the fact he’s only played in 19 of 32 games. The Rams’ center recently restructured his contract to save the team $2.2 million against the cap. Players such as Tim Barnes filled in admirably for Wells during his absences. But the unit as a whole is much stronger when Wells is on the field.
But the key addition to the offensive line this year has not played a snap in the NFL. Plus he’s changing positions. Greg Robinson, the former left tackle for the Auburn Tigers, the second overall pick in the 2014 draft, will begin his NFL career as a left guard.
The scouting reports rave about his ability to run block, his athleticism. They say he’s the kind of player you can plug into your lineup for the next 10 years. But he still has areas of his game in which he can improve – namely pass blocking. If Robinson can come close to living up to the hype and show continued improvement throughout the year, the Rams will be that much better off.
The Rams have invested heavily in the “Big Uglies.” The potential of the group is obvious, but health will determine their actual effectiveness. And possibly the success of the team overall.