Both trenches needed to be dealt with before the St. Louis Rams would be able to fully benefit from the presence of the peripheral pieces on the perimeter. It’s not because the Rams had a ton of accomplished weapons that were unfortunately going underutilized—they didn’t—but adding talent on the outside without addressing issues up front would be frustratingly futile.
Now, it’s time.
The stage was set first on the defensive side on the ball; defensive tackles Kendall Langford (free agency) and Michael Brockers (first round) were commissioned to do work on the D-line. Twin pass-rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn were already there.
Langford was brought on just days after the Rams signed cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who would then be paired with another rookie, 2012 defensive touchdowns leader Janoris Jenkins, in the starting lineup.
The emphasis on speed has spilled into the linebacking corps as well. James Laurinaitis—and his 4.88 40-yard dash time—still anchors the defense, but the guys being installed on the outside are a bit more fleet of foot.
First up was former Georgia ‘backer Alec Ogletree. St. Louis thought enough of him to spend a first-round pick in 2013.
Ogletree had been a safety prior to living in the box for the Bulldogs.
Next came the signing of Miami’s Ray Ray Armstrong after drafting fellow defensive back Brandon McGee from the same school. Armstrong ran a 4.69 40-yard dash, and at 6’3” 216 pounds, wasn’t as big as St. Louis’ presumed starting linebackers.
That’s because he was a safety. He’s now 227 pounds and listed as a linebacker.
Safety and outside ‘backer have both been the Rams’ needs throughout the offseason. They lost both of their 2012 starting safeties, Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl, and outside linebacker Rocky McIntosh. Only one 2013 draft pick (No. 71 overall) was spent on a safety, USC’s T.J. McDonald. So why is Armstrong lining up in the box?
Speed and hits, like this one on the Dallas Cowboys' beast of a running back, DeMarco Murray.
Per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rams GM Les Snead said that Armstrong “has prototypical WIL (weakside) linebacker size and speed… With your backup linebackers, you’re trying to find people who can cover kicks.”
St. Louis’ emphasis on speed extended to the offensive side of the rock—but it, too, required things to be squared away up front, first.
The previous Rams regime knew this, adding free-agent linemen Harvey Dahl and Jason Brown in a last-ditch effort to fix the O-line before getting relieved of its duties in 2011. Brown didn’t make it through Snead’s first full month as general manager, and aside from 2010 second-rounder Rodger Saffold, no starter even matches Dahl’s tenure with the squad.
Scott Wells was picked up last offseason, Jake Long was signed during this one and, regardless of whether Rokevious Watkins or Barrett Jones secures the remaining guard spot up front, St. Louis’ starting left guard will have had very limited NFL experience.
As in fewer than two games played.
Watkins and Jones are the only two offensive linemen that Snead and Jeff Fisher have selected together. Conversely, seven of their 17 total draft picks—and three of their seven in 2013—have been spent on running backs and wide receivers.
Three were taken in 2010 and 2011. All were wide receivers, which was understandable with Steven Jackson in the fold.
Now he’s gone.
One of the Rams’ prized free-agent acquisitions, tight end Jared Cook, is as big a blur down the middle of the football field as a 6’5”, 250-pound man can be.
But he’s not Tavon Austin fast.
Austin (4.34 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Combine) and Stedman Bailey (4.52) were the twin missiles that combined for 37 touchdowns at West Virginia in 2012. Running back Zac Stacy (4.55 at 5’8”, 216 pounds) has similar wheels as Bailey (5’10”, 193) in a more compact frame.
With upfront protection for Sam Bradford, those sprinters will have the time to get open and do damage. Chris Givens averaged 16.6 yards on 42 grabs as a rookie, catching just 51.9 percent of the passes that Bradford chucked at him. Maybe that percentage goes up with better pocket protection.
When considering St. Louis speed merchants, the new pass-catching acquisitions will get most of the attention. They’re not the only guys who will be scooting around this fall, though—and it’s about time that the Rams tear up the turf again.
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