The new coaching staff has arrived with a new offensive. Beyond the skill players learning and executing Pat Shurmur’s new offense, the offensive line may prove to be the biggest key. Without running lanes for Steven Jackson or protection for Marc Bugler it will not matter if Shurmur’s offense truly is genius.
Over the past two seasons, not only have the Rams been dismal, but the offensive line has been a particular sore spot. The rash of injuries in 2007 can help explain the poor performance but last year’s offensive line was not much better the street lineman lineups of the prior year.
A prior article reviewed the offensive line coach, Steve Loney; here we are going to look at the projected starters and backups.
Offensive Tackle: Alex Barron, Jason Smith, Adam Goldberg
Orlando Pace is gone. Although many in Rams Nation were saddened at his departure, we do live in an era of salary caps. Along with the salary cap and injuries, the rock at left tackle for 12 seasons saw his time in St. Louis expire. The departure of Orlando Pace leaves three players at the tackle position; Alex Barron, Jason Smith, and Adam Goldberg. Alex Barron has 58 starts since being drafted out of Florida State by the Rams in 2005. Most of the starts have been at right tackle and some time at left tackle in 2006 and 2007 when Pace was on injured reserve. Although a gifted athlete and solid, he does have one problem, false starts. I never seen the official statistics, but I understand that Alex Barron leads the league in this category. Even without seeing the official statistics, I don’t doubt it. He could be the Rams new left tackle or will it be Jason Smith, this year’s first round pick out of Baylor. Jason Smith started as tight end before changing to the tackle position, seeing starts at both right and left tackle. So who wins the starting job at left tackle? I don’t think it matters, may the better of two win. At the very least, completion in camp for the left tackle spot should make both of them better. If Smith adjusts well to the NFL, pairing him with Barron forms at the very least a good tackle combination. Originally drafted by Minnesota in 2004, Adam Goldberg signed with the Rams in 2006 and has served in both tackle positions and at guard for the Rams. His play in St. Louis has been solid and the Rams resigning him this year with a two year contract provides good depth and experience at the tackle position.
The Rams are at the very least good at the tackle position with excellent back-ups. Barron and Smith could prove to be the better bookends in the NFC West with a good season from both of them.
Guard: Richie Incognito, Jacob Bell, Mark Setterstrom, John Greco , Roy Schuening.
The projected starters at guard would be Richie Incognito and Jacob Bell. Richie Incognito can be a solid guard, however he is known more for his temper, play after the whistle and resulting unsportsman like conduct penalties. He can be nasty and plays with passion, if he could bridle some of the passion he could be one of the better guards in the NFC. Based on his interviews during the OTA’s he is turning over a new leave this year and focusing on becoming that better player. He change in attitude was discussed in a prior article. Jacob Bell was a solid acquisition from the Tennessee Titans prior to the start of the 2008 season. Last he was playing well under his normal playing weight but has bulked back up this season adding another 20 to 25 pounds to his normal playing weight. Mark Setterstrom is a solid back-up, still young but has suffered through two years on injury shortened seasons. A seventh round draft pick out of Minnesota in 2006, Mark Setterstrom did six starts his rookie year. John Greco and Roy Schuening are unproven as backups are only entering their second year. John Greco did see one start last season as a rookie at tackle, he could provide some versatility in the lineup.
Again, the Rams appear to have two solid starters at guard, but depending on Mark Setterstrom health may be thin in back-up positions.
Center: Jason Brown
The Rams offseason acquisition of Jason Brown from Baltimore, arguably one of the best free agent interior lineman available, fills a big void in the offensive line. Jason Brown only started playing at center last season, but he is young at 26 years old and a rising star. Last season’s centers of Nick Lecky and Brett Romberg (both departed in free agency to the Saints and Falcons respectively) were undersized centers. Brown provides an extra 20 pounds of bulk in the interior of the line. Assuming the Rams keep 9 or 10 offensive lineman, either Mark Setterstrom or Richie Incognito will serve as the backup center. Mark Setterstrom did take reps in the OTAs and Incognito as served as the starting center prior to the 2007 season.
A healthy season from Jason Brown is the key at center. While the backups will prove adequate, it is definitely a step backwards.
At the very least, the St. Louis Rams offensive should be solid with the potential to be in the top third of the offensive line units. This is a young line and certainly has the potential to mature as a unit over the next few years. As I was in 2008, I am optimistic but this year I hope that I am not proved wrong.