St. Louis Rams training camp preview: Offensive line

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With the St. Louis Rams inching closer and closer to training camp, one group that is still sort of up in the air is the offensive line. Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have reached out and signed veterans and have stockpiled young players from the draft. The Rams have many options and scenarios that could unfold with injury or a great camp by an unproven younger player.

The Players:

Tackles: Greg Robinson**, Joe Barksdale, Sean Hooey, Jake Long, Mike Person**, Abasi Salimu**, Mitchell Van Dyk**

Guards: Davin Joseph, Brandon Washington, Rodger Saffold. Barrett Jones*, Greg Robinson* **, Rodger Saffold*

Centers: Scott Wells, Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones, Demetrius Rhaney**

* Indicates player who can play multiple positions

**Indicates rookie

The Background:

Injuries have plagued the Rams offensive line since Sam Bradford was drafted in 2010, and because of the frequency of injury, the turnover on the offensive line has been far too frequent to be consistent.

What the Rams have done recently, though, is create depth at all positions on the offensive line—most recently with the drafting of Greg Robinson and signing of free agent Davin Joseph. More importantly, the Rams have acquired players who can play multiple positions and play them well. Rodger Saffold can play tackle well and only moved to guard by necessity—apparently garnering pro bowl potential at the guard position along the way. Greg Robinson is taking the Jonathan Ogden approach and starting his career as a left guard. However, that is not to say Robinson could not play left tackle if he is needed.

One player who is not a big name but might be the most important part of the offensive line is right tackle Joe Barksdale. Keeping Sam Bradford upright in the pocket is in large part up to the tackles, and while Barksdale hasn’t had much of an opportunity to show himself off, in his small sample size, he performed well. The only issue in his game was his pass blocking ability, but with offensive line coach Paul Bodreau having an entire offseason to work with him, Barksdale could be the missing piece in finally getting Sam Bradford enough time in the pocket to succeed.

The other tackle position doesn’t have any question marks when it comes to playing ability. Jake Long, when healthy, is a pro bowl talent. The Rams need Long to stay healthy for the greatest potential of protecting Sam Bradford. If Long is not healthy, the Rams’ offensive line might do a bit of a hat dance — which in previous years, would have been reason to cancel your season ticket purchases. This year, the Rams will be just fine (although not as productive) without Jake Long. The signing of Davin Joseph gave the Rams the ability to move Rodger Saffold out to left tackle and slide Joseph into right guard. Joseph, before his knee injuries, was a Pro Bowl guard and obviously very capable.

Assuming Long is healthy (as all Ram fans are hoping), the Rams’ interior line will be most successful if another veteran can stay healthy, center Scott Wells. Wells may have lost a step physically, but his football knowledge is still an unmatchable commodity. With Robinson (rookie) and Saffold (former tackle) on either side of Wells, it will be extremely important that the center is making the correct line calls. If Wells is at center, it will allow Robinson and Saffold to not think and just play football—this is not to say that Robinson and Saffold don’t have enough knowledge to play on their own, Wells is more seasoned and has a superb amount of football smarts.

The Battles:

Health. If the Rams offensive line can stay healthy, the running game could be in the top five, or better at the end of the year. The drop-off between first- and second-string talent isn’t as big as some teams, but it will still be the biggest battle for the Rams offensive line.

The Outlook:

The Rams offense is poised to make a leap in the upcoming season because of the steamrolling capability of the huge offensive line. The Rams could bulldoze their way to the wild card playoff berth this year with a healthy line. The passing game will succeed because of the potentially dominant running game as long as the line can keep Sam Bradford healthy. Rams fans finally have reason to be excited about the offensive line.

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