Rams new head coach Sean McVay and returning GM Les Snead have clearly identified the offensive line as a key area in need for improvement this offseason. As if every fan hadn’t already identified this weakness (through aggressively yelling at the TV), the Rams moved quickly, signing perhaps the top LT Free Agent available in Andrew Whitworth from the Bangles in the opening ours of free agency on March 9th. After making an offer to C Ryan Groy of the Bills, which Buffalo would ultimately match, the Rams added veteran center John Sullivan as a stop gap and to help transition the line to McVay’s system. Thus, having added several new starters to this group, consider how they look going into camp.
Projected Starter (difference from last year)
LT Andrew Whitworth (Major Improvement): Whitworth joins as not only one of the top Left Tackles in the league last year, but a reason to bump former #2 overall pick Greg Robinson down the depth chart. The downside with Whitworth? He is an old man (35) and the Rams will be lucky to get 2 good years out of him. In the meantime, he shores up one of the most important positions on the field and provides leadership in the locker room.
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LG Roger Saffold (Even to Slight Improvement): Though Saffold started the season at LG last season, he moved around a lot as the utility lineman, even starting a couple games at LT. Though you wouldn’t think the same guy starting could be an upgrade, consistency of position and better play around him could lead to a solid year for Saffold, if he can stay healthy (injuries have been a consistent mark of Saffold career thus far).
C [Enter new player here] (Slight to Significant Improvement): This is the position that is still pretty unclear. For a while I expected the Rams to sign a stopgap veteran like John Sullivan (who has visited). That could still happen, or the Rams could draft someone on day two. Either way, two things are all but certain: (1) they will add players to this position group and (2) it will be an upgrade. While Tim Barnes brought a blue-collar work ethic and hustle to the O-line, he was mostly offering backup level talent with flashes every now and then. Rhaney has had chances, but couldn’t beat out Barnes. Adding a veteran stopgap or a day 2 pick could be a significant step forward for this line.
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RG Jamon Brown (Even to Slight Improvement): Some hope that Greg Robinson makes the move to right guard, as McVay/Snead suggested he would move to the right side. However, I think Brown wins the position, and with better play around him contributes to a better season than previously. Another candidate for this spot is Cody Wichman.
RT Rob Havenstein (Even to Slight Improvement): After a solid rookie year, Havenstein had a sophomore slump. I sound like a broken record, but more consistency around him and another year with professional level coaching should allow Havenstein to put forth another solid season.
Remember, since Rob Boras took over as offensive coordinator (December 7, 2015), RB Todd Gurley has amassed exactly one (1) game of over 85 yards rushing (yes, you read that correctly). That was Boras’ first game as OC where TG put up 140 yards rushing and two scores against the Lions. Since then, Gurley has gone over 80 yards only twice. Certainly a big part of this comes from the abysmal offensive line play. But might we also assume that a big part of this has to do with who was leading the offense and calling the plays?
McVay seems primed to “feed Gurley” and get the most out of the young star. The new bodies up front (i.e. Whitworth and Sullivan) will help as well, but don’t under estimate the ability of a gifted offensive mind to create opportunities and capitalize on talent.
Consider: Washington had 3 players average over 4.0 yards per carry last season (R. Kelley, M. Jones, Chris Thompson) with at least 350 yards rushing. The most successful of these, third round Rookie out of Tulane Robert Kelley, had 704 yards and 6TDs. News flash: Todd Gurley is better at football than Robert Kelley. Look for Gurley to return to his rookie of the year form—where he rushed for 1,100 yards in 12 starts—in 2017.